June 21, 2024
Land Of The Rising Crowds? How Japan Is Tackling Overtourism Woes
Tokyo, Japan | Image Credit: Thomas La Mela/Shutterstock

The post-pandemic boom, yielding a newfound appreciation for travel and self-discovery, witnessed tourists flocking to globally loved holiday hotspots, including Japan. From cherry blossoms and shinkansens to snow festivals, the country has a magnetic pull on tourists, so much so that in March 2024, the beginning of the cherry blossom season, the country welcomed 3.08 million visitors, according to a report by Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO). This was the first time Japan’s monthly influx crossed the 3 million mark since 1964. While the numbers are great for Japan’s economy, weary locals battling overtourism headlined mainstream media.

Today, the country is grappling with hoards of tourists causing chaos at prime locations like Mount Fuji and Kyoto. How grave is the impact and what is Japan doing to curtail the commotion? We find out.

Also, explore our guide to a road trip in Japan’s Izu Peninsula for splendid views of Mount Fuji.

Soaring tourism

overtourism in japan
Chureito Pagoda, Yamanashi, Japan | Image Credit: KenSoftTH/Shutterstock

Compared to 2022, Japan witnessed a sixfold surge in tourism last year, as a whopping 25.1 million tourists visited the country. According to the Japan Tourism Agency, the financial spending by tourists in just the first quarter of 2024 equalled USD 11.4 billion, the highest-ever quarterly number recorded in the country. While some suggest the increase in tourism is due to the weak yen, which makes spending in Japan easy, others accord it to the country’s heartfelt hospitality concept of omotenashi. But at the heart of it, the credit lies in the numerous attractions such as shrines, thriving anime culture, comforting onsens, ryokans, high-tech exhibits, and theme parks.

While the peak season attracting crowd clusters falls from March to May and September to November, we recommend exploring the scenic country during the shoulder season i.e. December to February, and June to July, because of the overtourism woes in Japan.

Major areas impacted by over-tourism

Kyoto

Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is a tourist favourite owing to its Buddhist temples, imperial palaces, lush gardens, typical wooden houses, and Shinto shrines. Just a two-hour bullet train journey from Tokyo, the city is currently in the throes of overtourism. It is struggling to find a balance between tourist satisfaction and local population not just because of overcrowding, but also due to tourist misbehaviour. According to a report in Japan Times, private alleys in Kyoto’s vibrant Geisha district are now banned for tourists. The locals were harassed, particularly in the Gion district where Geiko (the local term for Geisha) and their young maiko apprentices perform. Disparaging acts such as tearing a maiko’s kimono and putting a cigarette butt in her collar have been reported. Tourists also made geishas uncomfortable by acting like paparazzi as they emerged from narrow lanes just one or two metres wide.

Kyoto, with a population of just about 1.5 million, welcomed over 20 times that number, a staggering 32 million tourists in 2023.

Fujikawaguchiko

The Japanese town of Fujikawaguchiko is another victim of overtourism. Here, tourists block traffic to click photographs with Mount Fuji in the background. This led to concerns like traffic jams, trespassing, jaywalking, and littering. A medical practice, called the Ibishi Dental Clinic, also erected a barricade to keep tourists away and make way for patients. The clinic stated on its official website, “When we asked people to move their cars, some yelled back, and some even threw lit cigarettes. There are days when it’s difficult to provide proper medical services.” Furthermore, views of the 3,776-metre peak of Mount Fuji have also been blocked by a massive black mesh, 20 m long and 2.5 m high, to keep the crowds at bay.

Japan’s tallest peak Mount Fuji and other sought-after tourist attractions like Tokyo and Kamakura are also tackling mounting crowds, congestion, and littering.

Also, check out our guide to essential Japanese phrases for your Japan trip.


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Negative impacts of over-tourism in Japan

overtourism in japan
Japanese town erects a barrier to block views of Mount Fuji, as an effort against overtourism. | Image Credit: @AFP/X

A dynamic surge in Japan’s tourism and related misdemeanours has led the society to crumble in ways, more than one. Waste management, quality of life of the locals, and public transportation are among the areas of impact. It has also caused the residents of various cities to feel marginalised in their society, where adverse effects of over-tourism like pollution, attacking cultural heritage, congestion, and irresponsible tourist behaviour have created resentment. Moreover, the sheer number of tourists on public buses has also caused inconvenience to the elderly and young mothers with strollers.

In Nara and Miyajima, a rapid uptick in tourist crowds, particularly those clicking selfies with the sacred deer in the region, has caused injuries and even deer deaths due to the ingestion of plastic waste.

As Mount Fuji reopened in 2023 for the first time after 2019, swarms of tourists set course for the peak where remnants of their explorations remained in the form of pollution, littered garbage, and increased CO2 emissions. According to the Yamanashi prefectural government, the number of visitors to Mount Fuji went from 2 million in 2012 to more than double the number, i.e. over 5 million in 2019. The crowds also hamper the collective mountaineering experience.

Smaller cities like Biei and Hokkaido also bore the brunt as tourists callously trespassed on farms, damaging crops in pursuit of the most aesthetic pictures. Overcrowding on farms also elevates the risk of pests and infestations for crops. This poses a challenge for the local population in these cities, which rely on agriculture for their livelihood.

The whitewashed houses and labyrinth-like lanes of Binibeca Vell have earned the town the title of Mykonos of Menorca. However, the uncontrollable tourist numbers in the town posed challenges like garbage-laden streets, loud drinking parties on the streets, tourists entering homes and stealing belongings, and climbing walls.

Why is overtourism an issue in Japan?

Shibuya Tokyo
Tokyo, Japan | Image Credit: Yellow Cat/Shutterstock

With international arrivals growing steadily year-on-year, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan is expected to welcome 60 million tourists by the end of 2030. And while these numbers are a massive feat for the economy, the tipping point to over-tourism has already been reached and affected the local population most gravely. Issues like public littering, escalating prices, property damage, traffic delays, and overcrowding have impacted social cohesion among communities.

Moreover, cultural differences prevail, and boldly, as tourists assume it’s acceptable to engage in loud telephonic conversations on public transport and feast on snacks and beverages while browsing shops (activities that are frowned upon in Japanese culture). Concerns became more alarming when reports of tourist misbehaviour such as damaging historical sites and harrassing Geishas surfaced.

Other countries reeling with overtourism woes include Croatia, Amsterdam, Venice, Italy, Bhutan, and Barcelona, among others. In Croatia, mounds of visitors arrive on cruise ships (in addition to other tourists) bringing noise and disruption throughout the year. Venice, too, has been in the headlines for tourist-induced inconvenience, as a result of which the country has implemented a tourist tax for day-trippers. Barcelona coped with the crowds by introducing noise restrictions and capping the size of tour groups, among other measures.


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Japan’s efforts to tackle overtourism

  • Kyoto has announced the closing of private property alleys in its Geisha district after battling harassment and inappropriate behaviour by tourists. With signages in place, any tourist who breaks the rules can be fined Yen 10,000 (RM 299).
  • Starting May 2024, Menorca’s Binibeca Vell town implemented visiting hours for tourists between 11 am to 8 pm. The town authorities have also warned tourists over inappropriate behaviour; the town may consider closing down to tourists altogether if it continues.
  • The city of Hatsukaichi in western Japan has implemented a tourist tax. Tourists planning to visit Miyajima Island must pay a fee of Yen 100 (RM 2).
  • Authorities are also considering hiking bus fees during peak travel hours to mitigate crowding and promote explorations during less busy hours.
  • The country is also planning to expand its bus fleet, aiming to introduce specific buses for tourists.
  • With tourists hoarding souvenirs, shopping hauls, and more, the increased luggage strains transport facilities. As a result, Japan has implemented a ‘luggage forwarding’ scheme under which tourists can travel without luggage from Kansai and Narita (Tokyo) airports, benefit from coin lockers at Tokyo station, and avail of carriage services as part of the Hands-Free Kyoto campaign.
  • Ahead of the Mount Fuji mountaineering season, authorities have implemented a new gate, a shorter entry window, and a higher fee at the widely popular Yoshida trail. In addition to making the reservations, tourists must pay Yen 2,000 (RM 59). Additionally, the entrance gate will be shut from 4 am to 3 pm, and the upper limit of tourists per day is capped at 4,000.
  • Kyoto has eliminated the Bus One-Day Pass option for tourists.
  • Promoting ‘Model Destinations’ to dissuade tourists from visiting the tourist-packed destinations of Tokyo and Kyoto, and explore the hidden marvels of Japan. 11 model destinations have been included in this scheme so far: Mount Hachimantai in Iwate, nature activities at Nasu in Tochigi, Samurai culture of Hokuriku, the Alps of Nagano/Gifu, Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine and surrounding areas in Tottori, cycling routes in Setouchi, the national parks of Eastern Hokkaido, Ise Shrine in Mie, the unique Ryukyu culture of Okinawa, volcanoes in Kagoshima, and the pilgrimage routes in Nara.
  • Japan has also implemented hiked prices for the Japan Rail Pass. For the seven-day pass, the price for regular seats has been increased from Yen 29,650 to Yen 50,000 (RM 887 to RM 1,457), and the price for green car seats has escalated from Yen 39,600 to Yen 70,000 (RM 1,185 to RM 2,096). For the 14-day pass, the price for regular seats has increased from Yen 47,250 to Yen 80,000 (RM 1,414 to RM 2,395), and the price for green car seats has shot up from Yen 64,120 to Yen 111,000 (RM 1,920 to RM 3,323).

Can tourists help reduce the impact of overtourism in Japan?

Japan tourism
Yamagata prefecture, Japan | Image Credit: CandyRetriever/Shutterstock

Some steps that visitors can take to curb overtourism woes in Japan include exploring the less crowded avenues of Kyushu Island, Onomichi, Tott0ri, Naoshima, Nagano, and Aomori, among others. Referring to Japan’s Model Destinations list for curating itineraries is also a good practice to ease the burden on tourist hotspots. Lastly, we recommend travelling to the country during the shoulder season (December to February, and June to July) to enjoy Japan’s beauty sans crowds and chaos.

Destination dupes for popular Japanese cities

Kanazawa City, Japan
Kanazawa City, Japan | Image Credit: leochachaume24/Shutterstock
  • Instead of the Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama, savour the surreal mountain views from Kyoto’s Shodenji Temple.
  • Instead of Kyoto, consider Takayama, famed for its Edo-period infrastructure, sake breweries, and trademark wooden houses.
  • Instead of Tokyo, consider Kanazawa City for its verdant gardens, castles, historical neighbourhoods, and delectable seafood. Also, explore Fukuoka City and Hamamatsu City.
  • Instead of Japan, we recommend giving the Philippines a shot. The budget-friendly country delights with cerulean seas, cultural fervour, and a culinary feast.


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(Feature Image Credit: Thomas La Mela/Shutterstock)

Related: This Tree House Resort In Japan Has A Slide From A Sauna Into The Genka River

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

– What are some lesser-known destinations in Japan worth visiting?
When it comes to Japan tourism, there’s no dearth of options. Some lesser-known destinations include Mount Hachimantai in Iwate, Nature activities at Nasu in Tochigi, the Samurai culture of Hokuriku, The Alps of Nagano/Gifu, Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine and surrounding areas in Tottori, the unique Ryukyu culture of Okinawa, Volcanoes in Kagoshima, and the pilgrimage routes in Nara.

– Are there any benefits of overtourism in Japan?
Over-tourism in Japan has caused several inconveniences for the local population such as littering, traffic congestion, crowded public transport, pollution, and inappropriate behaviour towards the country’s cultural code.

– What are the other destinations like Japan facing issues related to over-tourism?
Other countries battling overtourism include the Netherlands, Venice, Italy, Barcelona, Croatia, and Bhutan, among others.






Written By

Yashita Vashishth

Yashita Vashishth

Senior Digital Writer – Growth, Travel

Writer by day, reader by night, Yashita has a flair for all things travel, wellness and food. She has previously worked at Condé Nast India and Times Internet. When not working, you can catch her binge-reading the latest thriller on the block, re-watching Friends, trying a new recipe or hosting her friends.


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