Tourism in Japan

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Crowds of tourists at a bamboo forest in Kyoto

Japan attracted 31.19 million international tourists in 2018.[1] Japan has 21 World Heritage Sites, including Himeji Castle, Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and Nara. Popular foreigner attractions include Tokyo and Hiroshima, Mount Fuji, ski resorts such as Niseko in Hokkaido, Okinawa, riding the shinkansen and taking advantage of Japan's hotel and hotspring network.

The 2017 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report ranked Japan 4th out of 141 countries overall, which was the highest in Asia. Japan gained relatively high scores in almost all of the featured aspects, such as health and hygiene, safety and security, cultural resources and business travel.[2]


The origins of early traditions of visits to picturesque sites are unclear, but an early sight-seeing excursion was Matsuo Bashō's 1689 trip to the then "far north" of Japan, which occurred not long after Hayashi Razan categorized the Three Views of Japan in 1643. During the Edo era of Japan, from around 1600 to the Meiji Restoration in 1867, travel was regulated within the country through the use of shukuba or post stations, towns where travelers had to present appropriate documentation. Despite these restrictions, porter stations and horse stables, as well as places for lodging and food were available on well-traveled routes. During this time, Japan was a closed country to foreigners, so no foreign tourism existed in Japan.

Following the Meiji Restoration and the building of a national railroad network, tourism became more of an affordable prospect for domestic citizens and visitors from foreign countries could enter Japan legally. As early as 1887, government officials recognized the need for an organized system of attracting foreign tourists; the Kihinkai (貴賓会), which aimed to coordinate the players in tourism, was established that year with Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi's blessing. Its early leaders included Shibusawa Eiichi and Ekida Takashi. Another major milestone in the development of the tourism industry in Japan was the 1907 passage of the Hotel Development Law, as a result of which the Railways Ministry began to construct publicly owned hotels throughout Japan.[3]

For much of post-World War II history, Japan has been an exceptionally unattractive tourist destination for its population and GDP size; from 1995 to 2014, it was by far the least visited country in the G7 despite being the second largest country in the group,[4] and as of 2013 was one of the least visited countries in the OECD on a per capita basis.[5]


Foreign tourists to Japan

In 2018, 31,191,856 foreign tourists visited Japan.[6]

Rank Country Number (people)
in 2018
Percentage change
2017 to 2018
Number (people)
in 2017
Percentage change
2016 to 2017
Number (people)
in 2016
Percentage change
2015 to 2016
1  China 8,380,034 13.9% 7,355,800 15.4% 6,373,000 27.6%
2  South Korea 7,538,952 5.5% 7,140,200 40.3% 5,090,300 27.2%
3  Taiwan 4,757,258 4.2% 4,564,100 9.5% 4,167,400 13.3%
4  Hong Kong 2,207,804 -1.1% 2,231,500 21.3% 1,839,200 20.7%
5  United States 1,526,407 11.0% 1,375,000 10.6% 1,242,700 20.3%
6  Thailand 1,132,160 14.7% 987,100 9.5% 901,400 13.1%
7  Australia 552,440 11.3% 496,100 11.2% 445,200 18.4%
8  Philippines 503,976 18.6% 424,200 21.9% 347,800 29.6%
9  Malaysia 468,360 6.6% 439,500 11.5% 394,200 29.1%
10  Singapore 437,280 8.1% 404,100 11.7% 361,800 17.2%
11  Indonesia 396,852 12.7% 352,200 30.0% 271,014 32.1%
12  Vietnam 389,004 26.2% 308,900 32.1% 233,763 26.1%
Total (all countries) 31,191,856 8.7% 28,690,900 19.3% 24,039,053 21.8%

Tourism today[edit]

Domestic tourism remains a vital part of the Japanese economy and Japanese culture. Children in many middle schools see the highlight of their years as a visit to Tokyo Disneyland or perhaps Tokyo Tower, and many high school students often visit Okinawa or Hokkaido. The extensive rail network together with domestic flights sometimes in planes with modifications to favor the relatively short distances involved in intra-Japan travel allows efficient and speedy transport. International tourism plays a smaller role in the Japanese economy compared to other developed countries; in 2013, international tourist receipts was 0.3% of Japan's GDP, while the corresponding figure was 1.3% for the United States and 2.3% for France.[7][8]

In inbound tourism, Japan was ranked 28th in the world in 2007 when the country had the 2nd largest GDP. In 2009, the Yomiuri Shimbun published a modern list of famous sights under the name Heisei Hyakkei (the Hundred Views of the Heisei period).

Tourists from South Korea have made up the largest number of inbound tourists several times in the past. In 2010, their 2.4 million arrivals made up 27% of the tourists visiting Japan.[9]

Travelers from China have been the highest spenders in Japan by country, spending an estimated 196.4 billion yen (US$2.4 billion) in 2011, or almost a quarter of total expenditure by foreign visitors, according to data from the Japan Tourism Agency.[10]

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization in 2017, 3 out of 4 foreign tourists came from other parts of East Asia, namely South Korea, Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.[11]

Japanese video games, manga and anime play a role in driving tourism to Japan. In surveys held by Statista between 2019-2020, 24.2% of tourists from the United States, 7.7% of tourists from China and 6.1% of tourists from South Korea said they were motivated to visit Japan because of Japanese popular culture.[12]

Prior to the COVID-19 and 5 major variants, Japanese government hopes to receive 40 million foreign tourists every year by 2020,[13] and also the country received 4.12 million foreign tourists.[14]

Major tourist destinations[edit]

Goko Five Lakes in Shiretoko (WHS)
Shinjuku in Tokyo, and Mount Fuji
Tōdai-ji Daibutsu in Nara (WHS)


Tōhoku region[edit]

Kantō region[edit]

Chūbu region[edit]

Kansai region[edit]

Chūgoku region[edit]


Kyushu and Okinawa[edit]

Tourism after the Fukushima disaster[edit]

After the triple melt-down of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, the number of foreign visitors declined for months. In September 2011 some 539,000 foreign people visited Japan, this was 25 percent down compared with the same month in 2010. This decline was largely attributed to the Fukushima nuclear accident and the stronger yen made a visit to Japan more expensive.

To boost tourism the Japanese Tourism Agency announced in October 2011 a plan to give 10,000 round-trip air tickets to Japan to encourage visitors to come. In 2012 free tickets would be offered if the winners would write online about their experiences in Japan. They also would need to answer some questions about how they felt while visiting Japan after the earthquake and how the interest in tourism in Japan could be renewed. About US$15 million would be spent on this program.[16][17] On December 26, 2011, The Japan Tourism Agency reported on their site that the "Fly to Japan! Project", which would have given out 10,000 round-trip tickets to Japan, was not approved by the government for fiscal year 2012.[18]

By 2012, international tourism inflows had recovered to pre-2011 levels.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tourism Statistics". JTB Tourism Research & Consulting Co.
  2. ^ "The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017" (PDF). World Economic Forum. April 2017.
  3. ^ Leheny, David Richard (2003). The Rules of Play: National Identity and the Shaping of Japanese Leisure. Cornell University Press. p. 59. ISBN 0-8014-4091-2.
  4. ^ "International tourism, number of arrivals - United States, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada | Data". Retrieved March 16, 2020.
  5. ^ Silver, Nate (August 18, 2014). "The Countries Where You're Surrounded By Tourists". FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved March 16, 2020.
  6. ^ "2017年推計値" (PDF). Japan National Tourism Organization. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 8, 2016.
  7. ^ "International tourism, receipts (current US$) | Data". Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  8. ^ "GDP (current US$) | Data". Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  9. ^ Dickie, Mure (January 26, 2011). "Tourists flock to Japan despite China spat". Financial Times. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
  10. ^ "Tokyu Group in steadfast pursuit of Chinese tourists". TTGmice. Retrieved April 18, 2013.
  11. ^ "Japan Tourism Agency aims to draw more Western tourists amid boom in Asian visitors". Japan National Tourism Organization. February 6, 2018. Archived from the original on January 7, 2019.
  12. ^ "Anime industry in Japan - statistics and facts". Statista. February 26, 2021.
  13. ^ Bhattacharjya, Samhati (May 17, 2016). "Japan to offer 10-year multi-entry visas for Chinese as part of tourism push". International Business Times. Retrieved May 17, 2016.
  14. ^ NEWS, KYODO. "Foreign visitors to Japan in 2020 plunge 87.1%, biggest since 1964". Kyodo News+. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  15. ^ "Overseas tourists are changing the face of Japan". Nikkei Asian Review.
  16. ^ NHK-world (October 21, 2011) Japan to give away air tickets to 10,000 visitors Archived October 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ JAIF (October 22, 2011)Earthquake report 242: Japan to give away air tickets to 10,000 visitors
  18. ^ ""Fly to Japan! Project"(10,000 FREE FLIGHTS TO FOREIGNERS) | Japan Tourism Agency". Japan Tourism Agency. December 26, 2011. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
  19. ^ "International tourism, number of arrivals - Japan | Data". Retrieved January 20, 2021.

External links[edit]