TOKYO, April 30 ― As Japan gets ready to stage the Osaka World Expo in 2025, the country has never attracted so many overseas visitors, setting record after record. As a result, action to regulate tourist numbers at popular sites is already being taken.

Month after month, Japan is breaking its own visitor records. Earlier this year, the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) reported visitor numbers totalling 2.79 million international travellers for February 2024, the highest figure since the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the closure of borders. In March, a symbolic milestone was reached, with more than three million visitors. This represents an increase of 11.9 per cent compared to March 2019, i.e., before the pandemic and when the tourism industry was operating at full capacity. In short, Japan is a popular destination! For December 2023, the country had already topped the 2.73 million visitor mark, while over the whole of last year, the tourist board counted more than 25 million overseas visitors. At the end of the year, when the totals are calculated again, the record of 31.9 million visitors recorded in 2019 is likely to be beaten.

After being completely closed to international visitors due to the pandemic, Japan is once again open for business and attracting curious travellers to admire its legendary cherry blossom season, underway since March. Easter breaks have also contributed to this new visitor record. But these are not the only reasons for this historic number of visitors. The financial context is in favour of American and European consumers, whose purchasing power has increased thanks to a weaker yen against the US dollar and the euro. At the end of March, the Japanese currency had even plunged against the US dollar to a level not seen since 1990. As a result, American and German tourists grew by 64.3 per cent and 66.1 per cent respectively in March 2024 compared to March 2019.


And Westerners aren't the only ones visiting Japan. Asian visitors are flocking there too, especially those from Hong Kong and Singapore. Since January, South Koreans have been the most numerous overseas visitors to cross the Japanese border (2.3 million). Visitor numbers are up 12.4 per cent, while Taiwanese visitor numbers are up 24.3 per cent, compared to the same period in 2019. Chinese nationals, however, are the second most numerous overseas visitors to Japan, although the number of Chinese visitors has fallen drastically by 38.8 per cent (1.3 million) compared to 2019.

Against a backdrop of tourist overcrowding, and its harmful effects on both the environment and on the lives of local residents, Japan has already taken several measures that demonstrate the country's awareness of the damaging effects that tourism can have. From July, hikers heading to Japan's sacred mountain, Mount Fuji, will have to pay a ¥2,000 (RM62) fee. This idea was already on the agenda last year, after the base station from which the Mount Fuji hike departs welcomed four million people in the summer of 2023. Already last fall, the sacred island of Miyajima, in Hiroshima Bay, introduced an entrance fee included in the price of the ferry ticket. These are just some of the solutions being used to regulate tourist overcrowding at a time when Japan's popularity is unlikely to wane over the coming year, if only thanks to the World Expo taking place in Osaka from April 13 to October 13, 2025. ― ETX Studio