July 20, 2024

Local residents would be given a discount as part of the new plan.

After closing its borders to foreign travellers during the pandemic, Japan is back open for business and the inbound tourism sector is booming again, with overseas tourists now visiting in record-breaking numbers.

However, coinciding with this tourism boom is an incredibly weak yen, making the gap in discretionary spending between locals and tourists wider than ever before. With living costs rising and wages remaining stagnant, many locals are struggling to keep their heads above water while visitors from overseas have money to burn, revelling in how cheap everything is in the midst of current exchange rates.

▼ Seems like locals can only have one or the other these days.

It’s a situation that has led some businesses to hike up their prices in popular tourist spots, but catering to the tourist dollar essentially prices locals out, sparking debate and division amongst those who believe it will help bolster the economy and counter overtourism, and those who see the practice as unfair.

One person who sits in the former camp is Hideyasu Kiyomoto, the mayor of Himeji City in Hyogo Prefecture, who recently revealed his plans to charge foreigners more to enter Himeji Castle. Speaking at an international conference held in the city on 16 June, the mayor said he was considering a price increase for foreign tourists that would see them paying roughly four times more than the current entry fee.

Adult entry fees are set at 1,000 yen, which equates to US$6.33 according to current exchange rates. Mayor Kiyomoto says he would like to see foreigners pay around US$30 for entry, and local citizens pay a fee equivalent to around $5. This would bring things more in line with discretionary spending levels on either side of the divide, and the mayor says the extra money generated would be used for overtourism countermeasures and castle repairs.

▼ Himeji Castle is Japan’s largest and most visited, due to it being one of only a dozen original castles left standing in the country.

Registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, Himeji Castle is a Japanese National Treasure, with parts of it dating back to the 1400s. Consisting of over 80 buildings, the upkeep is considerable, and in 2023 alone the castle welcomed about 1.48 million visitors, of which around 450,000, or roughly 30 percent, were foreign tourists, a record high.

Himeji Castle is one of Japan’s three premier castles, alongside Matsumoto and Kumamoto castles, making it a must-visit site for history buffs and castle lovers. With such a revered reputation, a price hike is unlikely to deter overseas tourists from visiting the castle; if anything, the discount for locals will encourage more residents to visit, ultimately generating more income from both sides of the divide.

However, in defence of his position, Mayor Kiyomoto says that Himeji Castle is the only World Heritage Site that can be visited for less than $7, and he also pointed out that separate prices for tourists has become the standard at a number of tourist sites overseas.

Any price hike will need to be approved by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, though, and a representative from the agency says no castle has implemented separate prices for tourists, and they are yet to be consulted over the issue.

While we wait to see whether the mayor’s plan will be put in place, the announcement shows how so-called nijukaku, or “two-tiered pricing” is becoming more of a viable option for sites in Japan looking for ways to combat overtourism. Not all leaders are in support of the idea though, with the Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture saying “foreign travelers are Japan’s guests“.

In Japan’s current economic climate, these are very rich guests, and once they congregate in large numbers, they can cause problems for residents, putting pressure on local governments to ramp up countermeasures. Unlike the Mt Fuji Lawson, though, at least in Himeji they’re yet to block the view.

Source: Himeji Castle, Kobe Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun via Yahoo! Japan
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2)

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