Calls grow in Japan to charge foreign tourists more
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Calls grow in Japan to charge foreign tourists more

Travel boom fuelled by weak yen brings more complaints about overcrowding and bad behaviour

Tourists gather outside the Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto, Japan in March 2023. (Photo: Reuters)
Tourists gather outside the Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto, Japan in March 2023. (Photo: Reuters)

As the flood of overseas tourists to Japan shows no sign of slowing, complaints about overcrowding and poor behaviour by visitors are prompting some people to look at ways of controlling the flow without losing income — including by charging higher prices for foreigners.

Foreign tourist arrivals reached 3.04 million in May, up 9.6% from the same month in 2019 and marking the third straight month at more than 3 million, the Japan National Tourism Organization said on Wednesday. The weak yen has helped spur visitor numbers.

While many businesses benefit from visitors’ spending in ageing and shrinking Japan, the crowds have started to rattle some locals annoyed about being crowded out of their favourite attractions or even being unable to squeeze onto the bus to work.

In the latest sign of a growing backlash, the mayor of the western city of Himeji said on Sunday that he would like to start charging foreign tourists six times more than locals to visit the city’s famed 400-year-old castle. Overseas visitors should pay around $30 to visit the World Heritage-listed Himeji Castle, compared to about $5 for local residents, the mayor said.

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura this week expressed support for the idea and said he would like to do the same at Osaka Castle, the broadcaster FNN said.

In Kyoto, tourists have been banned from parts of the historical Gion geisha district. In Fujikawaguchiko, at the base of Mount Fuji, local authorities last month erected a barrier to stop tourists from taking photos of a convenience store with the mountain in the background — a spot that had gone viral on social media.

Yamanashi prefecture, one of the two prefectures Mount Fuji straddles, has also limited the number of people allowed to climb the mountain this summer amid concern about overcrowding, trash and waste. Just 4,000 people a day will be allowed on the most popular route, with a new ¥2,000 ($13) fee imposed on each climber.

The number of foreign tourists visiting Himeji castle — which was completed in 1609 and is one of only a dozen “original castles” that have withstood war, earthquakes and fire — reached a record 400,000 last year, accounting for around 30% of total visitors.

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