Tourism in Japan (日本の観光)

The history of tourism in Japan is discussed in this section.

Before the Meiji period

In the medieval period, travelling by common people was restricted. The sekisho (checking station) were set up throughout Japan. They were once abolished by Nobunaga ODA, but were brought back in the Edo period. Sneaking through the sekisho by detouring was deemed as a capital offence. The sekisho's control loosened as people were enjoying the lasting peace and tranquility. With necessary documents and tolls, most travelers were admitted at the sekisho unless they looked exceptionally shady.

In the Edo period, Japan was in national isolation so there was only limited contact with foreign countries. However there were times that okage mairi (a group pilgrimage to the Ise-jingu Shrine) became a fad during the Edo period. This could be taken as a herald of present-day tourism.

Until the end of the World War II

Japan ended its national isolation at the end of the Edo period, but not many foreigners visited this Far Eastern country, Japan.

Japanese who went overseas at that time were emigrants or students studying abroad, except for a few wealthy people who enjoyed travelling abroad. Also, foreigners visiting Japan were mainly employees for the Japanese government or immigrants or students from mainland China, Taiwan or the Korean Peninsula.

The development of railroads made domestic travel easier, which gradually promoted travelling by Japanese people.

After the World War II

After the end of the World War II, Japan's rapid economic growth increased its national income. Overseas travel was deregulated in 1964, and the number of Japanese going abroad increased rapidly. Today Japan is the world's top deficit country regarding tourism.
Hawaii was the most popular destination right after the deregulation because of the television program called "Up-Down Quiz" (the prize was a trip to Hawaii.)
Later people's choice spread to various places around the world, and it is now difficult to find a tourist site where you cannot spot any Japanese. Recently China, Korea and Southeast Asia are the most popular as closer destinations, followed by North America and Europe. Travelling has become diversified as some people want to experience an ecotourism, a trip to unexplored regions or a cruise tour.

Foreigners visiting Japan are increasing but still less than Japanese going abroad. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is trying to increase foreign tourists by mounting the Visit Japan Campaign (VJC) and launching the Japan Tourism Agency.

As for domestic tourism, developed network of Shinkansen and expressways has made travelling easier. In every season, transportation facilities as well as tourist spots are crowded with Japanese on holiday.

After the postwar chaos, people started to settle down during the high-growth period, and tourist spots such as hot springs became busy. Large hotels were built in hot springs with amusement area, such as Atami Onsen Hot Springs, Kinugawa Onsen Hot Springs, and Beppu Onsen Hot Springs. Expositions were started to be held in many places after the Japan World Exposition was held in Osaka. Following the successful Tokyo Disney Land (TDL), theme parks of foreign countries or fairy tales were built in many places. However none of them except TDL and Universal Studios Japan gets a lot of business. During the bubble economy, the Law for Development of Comprehensive Resort Areas (Resort Law) was enacted, and people planned to build golf courses, resort hotels and marinas in many places. Due to the collapse of the bubble economy, most of these facilities are suffering from poor business results.

Tourism resources

Japan has abundant tourist resources with beautiful scenery, majestic nature, and a variety of culture.

National park
Quasi-national park
World heritage
- 14 areas are registered as World Heritage sites.
National treasure
Important cultural property
Japanese food
- Seen from overseas, Japan's food culture is so unique that it is regarded as an important tourism resource.
Theme park
Japanese painting
- Art museum
Shrine and temple
The list of castles in Japan
The list of sight seeing areas in Japan
The list of hotels in Japan
Hot spring


The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism as well as industry groups collect and release the statistics about tourism in Japan. Local municipalities take and release the statistics every year. Major travel agencies gather their own data, some of which including projections are released.

The statistics about tourism are classified into two broad categories: "the number of visitors" and "the amount of consumption." "The amount of consumption" is the product of "the number of visitors" and the average visitor spending. The number of visitors is divided into local visitors and nonlocal visitors, or overnight visitors and day-trippers. In addition, the breakdown of the places where nonlocal visitors come from is also surveyed. The amount of consumption is divided into accommodations, meals, souvenirs, and others. The average visitor spending and the total amount (of consumption) for each category are released. The fact is, however, that these statistics are merely based on estimated figures.

Problems in the tourism statistics

The statistics of tourism are not fully-established, and its reliability is lower than other economic statistics. There are many problems to be solved about the tourism statistics.

There are only limited monthly data as most data are provided yearly.
(Therefore, it is difficult to implement timely policies based on the data.)

The data lack versatility as the statistics are sometimes taken in inconsistent methods, so you have to be careful when you compare regional statistics taken in different methods.

When there is a change in a structure attracting tourists, it is difficult to review the estimating method.
(If the method is reviewed, the previously collected data need to be updated for consistency.)

The data are mainly collected by sampling surveys, but the collection rate is generally low, thus the data are not very reliable.

The statistics of tourism are not fully-established for the following reasons.

The concept of tourism is indefinite.

It was difficult to figure out the situations of many businesses in the tourism industry which have nothing to do with the government approval and license.

If businesses in the tourism industry are asked to report for the statistics, their data are unconvincing in terms of accuracy. (As for the amount of consumption, in particular, the data are directly linked to their sales, so it is hard to expect them to make accurate reports.

The statistics are not designated by Japan's law, thus they are non-restrictive.

In order to develop tourism as a key industry in Japan, improving the statistics method is necessary.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism started taking accommodation statistics in 2006 (except for small facilities.)
The Ministry is also trying to establish the methods of the tourism statistics regarding consumption, accommodations, and visitors.