In the fight against overtourism, popular Japan is planning to enhance its transport networks and introduce measures to spread the footfall of its current tourism boom.
Japan’s tourist sector is back, with a vengeance, nearly to pre-pandemic tourist numbers. Over 2 million international visitors per month over four consecutive months, according to the National Tourism Organization (JNTO), puts Japan 2023 at 96% of 2019’s figures. But while businesses celebrate, the country’s politicians are grappling with the same problem faced by many destinations: overtourism and its impact on locals.
Taxes and caps
Some authorities have already begun sounding the alarm and taking action. Mount Fuji has been described as “screaming” with overtourism. High levels of pollution, litter, tourists who are ill-prepared to visit the mountain and create hold-ups, as well as sheer numbers of visitors, are placing huge strain on the landscape and the infrastructure.
Near Hiroshima and designated among Japan’s top three scenic places, the famous “floating” torii gateway to the Itsukushima Shrine receives millions of visitors every year. Its island community custodians are introducing a small tax to help them look after the heritage.
Meanwhile, Iriomote Island is capping visitor numbers to protect its population of wild cats.
Now the country’s officials have agreed it is time to take action to mitigate the negative impacts of mass tourist arrivals. Expanding bus and taxi fleets to add flexibility and capacity to transit options in big cities is just one of the solutions being considered. Some destinations, such as ski resorts, suffer from acute increases in demand at certain times of year, leaving local firms unable to serve everyone.
Creating more direct bus routes for key destinations is seen as part of the answer, as well as applying higher fares at peak travel times, to push people to choose to travel at times when the network can better cope.
Spread the joy
In addition, the tourism ministry is proposing the creation of 11 so-called “model destinations”.
Ise-Shima on the Mie peninsula, about four hours south of Tokyo by train, is one such candidate under discussion. It has no bullet train connection and while its landscape is said to lack drama, it offers calm inlets and bays, and is rich in history, seafood and culture (it is the birthplace of Matsuo Bashō, the renowned 17th-century poet whose haikus made the genre famous).
It is the perfect example of a region whose natural appeal and heritage is currently underappreciated but which has the potential to draw tourists away from other places that are overrun.