Japan's Tourism Industry

In 2010 Japan attracted over nine million foreign tourists, but the devastating earthquakes and tsunami of 2011 caused the number of foreign visitors to fall by 25 per cent. Tourist numbers have since grown steadily, returning to over eight million in 2012, and the Japanese government has a target of 18 million visitors by 2016. The majority of tourists come from neighbouring South East Asian countries, with the highest number coming from China and South Korea. Domestic tourism plays a major role in the economy, with the country's extensive rail network encouraging internal travel.

Japan is spread over four major islands in the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, and covers an area of 377,873 square kilometres. The scenery is varied and features volcanic mountains, valleys, hot springs and forests. Most of the 127 million population live in urban areas, with over 13 million living in the capital, Tokyo.


The Japanese capital is the largest metropolitan area in the world and is often called a 'mega-city.' Earthquakes and war have left little of the past in Tokyo and most buildings are modern and contemporary. The Imperial Palace, which stands in the centre of Tokyo, is one of the few remaining historic sites in the city. As well as being home to the Japanese Royal Family, it also includes museums, parks and the Budo-kan music stadium. Many tourists visit the shopping areas of Shinjuku and Ginza, or travel to Shibuya and Jarajuku to see its youth culture and cosplay fashion. The Tokyo Tower, inspired by the Eiffel Tower, attracts many visitors to its observation decks and to the shopping complex at its base. Near the city, overlooking Tokyo Bay, is Tokyo Disneyland. Opened in 1983, it was the first Disney theme park outside the USA and attracted a record 27.5 million visitors in 2012.


Japan's unique culture and history drives much of its tourism. One of the most visited attractions in Japan is Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Covered in gold leaf and standing among gardens on a peaceful pond, the temple was built in the 14th century. It was destroyed by arson in the 1950s but has been faithfully reconstructed. It lies in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. Other temples that attract millions of visitors are the Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple at Kyoto with its indoor waterfall and the Todaiji Temple in Nara. This is the largest wooden building in the world, and houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha. Nara also contains the Horyuji Temple, the world's oldest surviving wooden structure. The sacred island of Miyajima is home to the Itsukushima Shrine with its iconic, floating torii gate.

World Heritage Sites

Many of Japan's temples have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Another much-visited site with this status is the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima. This was one of the few structures left standing after the 1945 atomic bombing of the city, and is the site of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The Himeji Castle, a towering, white feudal castle in the west of Japan, has survived many centuries in its original form. The castle is currently undergoing renovation.


While Japan is a highly industrialised country, it has a rural past that can still be seen in many places, and retains large areas of unspoiled, natural beauty. The symbol of Japan around the world is the mountain and volcano, Mount Fuji or Fujisan. It is Japan's highest mountain, and many visitors come to climb it or view it. Another natural attraction with high visitor numbers is the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, a hot spring area which attracts wild Snow Monkeys, who relax in the warm waters to heat their bodies during the snowy winter months. There are many protected natural parks in Japan. Many are designated UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites, including the islands of Yakushima and Ogasaware, the Shireteko Peninsula and the Shirakam Sanchi mountain ranges. A natural phenomenon that is a particular feature of domestic tourism in Japan is the annual flowering of cherry blossom in the spring months. The Japanese traditionally hold Hanami festivals, travelling to areas with cherry trees to view them and to picnic under the flowering branches.

The Future of Japanese Tourism

Japan has been selected to host the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games and this will bring many more visitors to the country. Several new Japanese budget airlines were established in 2012, including Air Asia, Jetstar and Peach. Bullet train routes are expanding to areas that are currently inaccessible, and Haneda Airport has introduced international flights to take pressure off the busy Narita International Airport. Japan has recently relaxed visa restrictions for many South East Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, which is further boosting the number of foreign visitors.