Tourists flocked to Japan this year. The number of tourists in the country has almost reached pre-pandemic levels according to official data.
In the four consecutive months through September, the country welcomed more than 2 million international visitors, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) found. This figure is equivalent to more than 96 percent of 2019 tourist figures before the COVID-19 outbreak caused travel restrictions around the world.
The fall in the Japanese currency yen also makes this famously expensive destination more affordable.
The strictest Covid-19 restrictions
Japan is one of the countries that implemented the strictest COVID-19 restrictions in the world and was one of the last countries to lift these restrictions. The country only resumed visa-free travel to many countries last year and all remaining controls were removed in May.
Although restrictions have been lifted, the country also appears unprepared for the first wave of tourists. Many shops are closed and hospitality workers are minimal. Visitors were also initially only allowed to travel with government-approved private tour groups.
Now visitors are coming again, especially because the yen has fallen to its lowest level in 33 years. Japan is also a cheap holiday destination.
“With inflation in the United States, everything has become very expensive, and if you come here, it’s much cheaper,” said John Hardisty, a tourist from Hawaii, while shopping in Tokyo recently, as quoted by Euronews.
The number of visitors coming from the United States, South Korea and Singapore reached a record high in September, JNTO said. Tourists from Mexico set a new record.
Overtourism at famous sites
The influx of tourists is putting pressure on Japan’s most popular sites. Mount Fuji is experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of visitors which is causing pollution, safety concerns, and issues regarding restricted access. The large number of climbers has raised concerns about human traffic jams on mountain slope climbing routes.
“Overtourism also poses many risks, including the safety of climbers,” explained Masatake Izumi, a Yamanashi prefectural official.
Instead of rushing to visit tourist attractions in Japan, try choosing an alternative destination. In 2021, the remote island of Iriomote was add to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. Iriomote is part of an archipelago of 160 subtropical islands in Okinawa prefecture in the East China Sea.
The island is a nature lover’s paradise, with more than 90 percent of it covered in tropical forest, and is home to Japan’s largest mangrove forest. It’s not just beautiful beaches, there are also the stunning Mariudo Falls, and lush hiking trails, all away from mass tourism.