Tourism in Japan and the world

Last year, the number of tourists worldwide reached an astonishing 1.035 billion arrivals, according to an annual survey by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Despite worldwide economic uncertainty, more people than ever before traveled to other countries. Tourism is clearly an economic and cultural force that will continue increasing every year.

The survey found that tourism around the world increased by 4 percent overall from 2011 to 2012. Europe is still the most visited area, with 535 million visitors, but visitor arrivals continued to increase in every region of the world except the Middle East.

Tourism in the Asia-Pacific region was up 7 percent. The region’s best performer was Southeast Asia with arrivals up 8.7 percent from 2011. Japan saw revenue from international tourism increase by 37 percent in 2012, a higher number than the vast majority of countries.

Part of that upsurge reflects a recovery from the rapid and massive drop in tourism following the earthquake, tsunami and radiation fears in 2011, but it also supports the understanding that Japan is still an untapped tourist destination. Developing a larger tourist market can contribute to a healthy, diversified economy and serve as one source of economic vitality.

Japan has not yet developed its tourist market fully, but given the ongoing economic depression, it should be considered more seriously as an important industry. Perhaps because the rest of Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, leaped ahead too quickly into tourism without sufficient controls and infrastructure, some Japanese may fear the result of a huge influx of tourists here.

However, a more developed tourist industry would leave Japanese culture intact and unharmed since the Japanese economy is not as vulnerable to fluctuations as developing economies might be. It is unlikely that huge numbers of tourists will have negative effects on the already mature and established culture, or produce a tourism-addicted economy, in the way it might have once done in more fragile cultures and developing economies.

Japanese outbound tourism also improved in 2012. The slight improvement in the Japanese economy contributed significantly to the rise in Japanese visitors throughout Asia. Tourism is never a one-way industry, but benefits many countries at the same time.

Tourism can do harm, but it can also help foster understanding. Asian cooperation and coordination in tourism can help improve political and economic relations. Japan would do well to support its tourist industry. Nurturing it is one positive way of interacting with its Asian neighbors and fostering cross-cultural awareness.

  • Having spent my whole life in New York City, visiting Japan was a wonderful and broadening experience. I think the japanese people have so very much that they can take pride in. While I found the language-barrier to be somewhat daunting, it was also a fun challenge as well. Smart-phone apps are a big help!

    Some more gregarious americans might feel a bit put off by the relative reserve of many japanese, however the legendary politeness and consideration for others is genuine and it is like a breath of fresh air.

    A visit to Tokyo and Kyoto should definitely be on your “bucket list”!

    As for concerns with potential negative effects of increased tourism, I tend to agree with the author’s position. It appeared to me that japanese culture is mature and robust and probably wouldn’t feel any significant negative effects. I do wonder what the nationalists’ position are on this issue.

    • Masa Chekov

      The nationalists are such a small, unimportant segment of Japanese society. Their opinions are unimportant, honestly. I feel there is more made of the right-wingers’ opinions outside of Japan than in.

  • Masa Chekov

    Tourism to Japan is easier than ever. There’s lots of english-language sites for train information, hotel reservation, etc. So many taxis have “point and speak” guides for communication. Lots of restaurants have bilingual (or tri, quad-lingual).

    As always, Japanese people are very polite and helpful for foreigners as well, especially in the countryside!

  • sandifjm

    I lived in Japan for nearly a decade, and remain very fond of it. But I understand why it’s not a top destination for a lot of travelers. Cost remains a huge factor. Compared to most other destinations in Asia, it’s incredibly expensive. One week in Japan can cost the average traveler the equivalent of a month in southeast Asia. The language barrier is also an issue. While signage and information in other languages are more widely available than let’s say 10 years ago, it can still be very daunting for newly arrived tourists who don’t speak any Japanese. And if you head outside of the big cities, pretty much everything is still Japanese only. Japan will continue to struggle to attract large numbers of foreign tourists, but frankly, I think that’s fine with many (most) Japanese anyway.