Japan Struggles to Find Solutions to Overtourism

Residents of tourist hotspots in Japan are expressing their frustration as overtourism causes congestion and creates safety hazards.

Unseen Japan


By Jay Allen


As tourism to Japan ramps back up, many businesses are smiling. But residents in traditional and trending tourist hotspots are fuming. They say that “overtourism” is pushing them off of public transit and making daily life difficult. Here’s how Japan’s national and local governments are responding — and what you can do to help.

From no tourists to “no more tourists”

Sensoji in Asakusa, Tokyo. (Picture: gandhi / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

Overtourism isn’t a new concern in Japan. We wrote back in 2019 about how some stores were refusing to serve non-Japanese (or, at their more charitable, non-Japanese speakers) because of a lack of foreign language-capable staff. The government had also instituted a 1000 yen (appr. $7) “sayonara tax” on airfare tickets to help improve tourist experiences.

Of course, this was all before an international health crisis in 2019 derailed travel everywhere. The pandemic upended, not only inbound tourism, but domestic tourism as well.

Japan’s travel industry is still recovering from this shock. The good news is, it’s recovering briskly. The last we wrote about this issue, inbound tourism (tourism from other countries) was up to about 63% of its pre-pandemic level. According to the Japanese National Tourism Organization (日本政府観光局), in September, foreign visitors were down only 3.9% compared to 2019.

Tourism from China lags due to the ongoing tensions between the two countries; it’s only about 64% of pre-pandemic levels. But visitors from certain countries, such as the United States, are already exceeding their 2019 totals.

Domestic tourism is also booming again. According to Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun, hotel bookings by Japanese residents are up compared to last year.

This is all good for businesses that depend on tourism. It is, however, taxing on one specific kind of…