June 21, 2024

Authorities in Japan are struggling to manage the influx of millions of visitors, particularly those who disregard the environment and local customs one year after lifting travel restrictions.

Close to one year after Japan lifted all COVID-19 travel restrictions, international visitors have made a robust return, enticed by a depreciated yen, exceptional cuisine, and the allure of an unforgettable holiday in a country that was once perceived as a tourism underdog.

Last year, 25.8 million foreign visitors were enticed by these and other attractions in Japan, marking a sixfold increase from 2022, as reported by immigration authorities, reported The Guardian.

Collectively, they contributed to a record expenditure of £28.3billion (¥5.3trillion), according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

The Japanese government aims even higher, setting an ambitious target of 60 million visitors and £80million (¥15trillion) in spending by the end of the decade.

Some argue that Japan is inadequately equipped to handle an increased influx of tourists, pointing to heightened pressure on accommodations, public transport, and the service industry.

This concern is particularly pronounced at a time when the country is grappling with a severe labour shortage.

Some local authorities are taking proactive measures, expressing concern that over-tourism is causing harm to sites of historical and ecological significance.

For instance, visitors to Itsukushima Shrine, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, are now required to pay a ¥100 (53p) admission fee. Additionally, later this year, tourists heading to the Taketomi islands will face a yet-to-be-determined charge aimed at preserving the pristine beaches.

Starting this summer, individuals planning to hike to the summit of Mount Fuji, another UNESCO site, will be levied a ¥2,000 (£10.70) fee.

This initiative is an effort by local authorities to alleviate the strain on crowded trails, which saw over 5 million visitors in 2019.

Karlÿn de Bruin, who was visiting Tokyo from the Netherlands with her father and brother told the Guardian: “Japan has become a bucket-list destination. I can imagine that local people get fed up, so we try to mind our own business. But you can feel the social media vibe … people dressing up and taking photos in certain ways because it makes good content.”

Kenichi Kondō, a Tsukiji fishmonger whose business has occupied the same spot for over 50 years, said: “Our takings are up tenfold compared to a couple of years ago.

“First we had a lot of people from North America and Europe, but now they are mainly from Southeast Asia, and we’re expecting a lot of Chinese visitors when they celebrate their new year soon.”

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