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Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/11 18:58
Hi, we have been travelling throughout Japan since 2008 and we realized that the numbers of tourists were skyrocketing since. Unfortunately, the infrastructure has not improved at the same pace. The formerly very useful Japan Rail Pass lost some of its value because the number of Shinkansen trains for which it is valid has been reduced (while the numbers of tourists increased sixfold!) and the possibility to book trains in advance was also limited. For our last trip we were not allowed to book all trains we needed at the the first day of our journey but we were limited to three bookings per booking procedure. In addition, the top tourist attractions such as Kinkakuji or Himeji were incredibly overcrowded and far from the calm and piece we experienced in earlier years. It got almost impossible to take a bus and actually in most cases we were faster by foot. The only positive development is that the number of new (and good!) hotels increased significantly.
I do not want to bash Japan at all. I love almost every aspect of Japan but I just want to know if this observation of clear signs of overtourism only strikes me or if there are others who also feel increasingly annoyed.
by HoVo  

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/12 09:00
First increase in tourism is not only for Japan.
In Europe the same is happening.

In Japan the popular areas are getting crowded and true that infrastructure can not handle the increase.
But there are limitations to expand infrastructure without requiring space, or without changing the environment for which a place is popular.

If you do not like high tourism than you can avoid high season.
by justmyday rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/12 09:21
There are apparently many who feel increasingly annoyed (unfortunately, this seems to be leading to an ever-increasing level of xenophobia, which I find very disturbing). I am not among them. If anything, I would say that Kyoto (supposedly the most over-touristed place in Japan) has become a value destination, because so many hotels have opened in the last five or so years. If you go outside the busiest seasons/holidays, hotel rooms there, especially single rooms, are a real bargain. Furthermore, if you simply resist the pull of the tourist magnet sites, you can easily find the qualities that have long made Kyoto one of the most amazing cities in the world. Why in the world do you have to go to Kinkakuji? Sure, it's a pretty picture, but there are countless sites in Kyoto that are at least as good (far better, if you ask me). I haven't been to Kiyomizudera for years and am perfectly happy not to ever go again, because I have my own favorite places in Kyoto that are generally deserted, and every time I go I discover new ones. I guess it is hard to say good-bye to a place like Fushimi Inari Jinja, but I have found so many other wonderful places that I have no regrets. In fact, I am really grateful for the tourist magnet sites, because they suck up all the tourists! Just avoid them, and you will find very few tourists. It's as easy as that.

As for Himeji Castle, I was there last June and when I went it was not crowded at all. I wouldn't go in April, or any time on a weekend, but I went on a weekday about an hour before they closed the gates for admission (which gave me more than 90 minutes inside, which is certainly plenty), and lots of people were coming out but almost nobody was going in. Then the next day I went to Kokoen next door when it opened in the morning, and had several of the subgardens completely to myself for close to an hour. It was just amazing. A lot of places I visited last year were like that.

If you love Japan, then just consider going beyond the famous tourist sites. The country has so much more to offer, and what you are looking for is still very much there. Also, if you can go during less-busy times (for example, late May or early June, or February), you will have a lot fewer people to deal with.
by Kim (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/12 10:00
What’s crowded to one may not be so to the others. I attended schools in Tokyo riding over-packed trains everyday, so the recent influx of tourists in Kyoto, while definitely more crowded than before, is tolerable to me. If you are a resident of Kyoto, I can understand the concern you have of losing the old Kyoto. I would partially blame the city planners for approving new hotel constructions, yet not doing anything for increased traffic. And I am sure a time will come when the demand falls to the point of hotels begging for more customers. Until then, go to places that are less crowded, or at least tolerable to you.

by kamahen (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/12 10:53
"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." - Yogi Berra

The "over" part of "overcrowded" is totally subjective, and while Kinkakuji and Himeji are too crowded for your tastes, they're obviously not so for a lot of other people. Given that they're historical sites, I'm not sure what sort of "infrastructure" improvements could be made to make them feel less crowded, other than capping the number of visitors and/or limiting the amount of time visitors can spend there. That sort of sounds like it would cause the sort of problem you have with the Shinkansen though, in that reservations would be required and harder to come by.

It is indeed sad to find you can't enjoy a certain place as much as you did in the past, though. Personally, I try to keep a place's historical context in mind, though. There's an image in a lot of modern popular culture of Japan's temples as quiet secluded sites, where monks exchange silent greetings on solemn misty mornings. But the truth is that a lot of them were the centers of the community in the past. Pilgrims and worshipers came in droves, and they needed places to eat and sleep, so inns, restaurants, and tea houses sprung up close to the temples. For the most past, Japan doesn't frown upon such secular concerns being placed near religious sites, and while the crowds might be bigger in their total number of people, in a relative sense a lot of those temple neighborhoods were always crowded.

At the risk of sounding rude, you mention that you've been traveling throughout Japan since 2008, but that you're now dissatisfied with the crowds on the Shinkansen and at Kinkakuji and Himeji Castle. Kinkakuji is on pretty much on every first-time visitor to Japan's itinerary, and Himeji is constantly at the top of the "if you visit one castle in Japan, make it this one" lists. Likewise, the Shinkansen is pretty much the only long-haul train that most visitors to Japan ride.

If you've got over a decade of experience traveling in Japan, and it's starting to feel too crowded to you, you might want to consider expanding your itinerary to attractions outside the ones that are famous/standard enough that they're regularly featured right on the front cover of guidebooks. Japan still has tons of sparsely visited, and beautiful, historical sites if you're willing to get outside of Kyoto and the Tokaido Shinkansen line.
by . . . . (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/12 11:39
I'm confused.. Are you asking a question about Japan or are you just stating your opinions and bashing what you don't like about it? It just seems like you're ranting on things that you don't like. Sure, some areas of Japan are quite crowded with tourists, but if you make a plan of where to go and when to go, you can avoid it just like any other parts of the world where tourists go.

If you don't like traveling with other tourists, perhaps you should stay home if it's not for you. The world only gets busier, but to each their own.
by Motti15 rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/12 13:48
Hi!

I think overall the improvement to hotels in Kyoto and in Tokyo has been enormous. There are good prices and lovely accommodations to be had by two people as well as by single travelers. I was going to Japan back in 2008 (as well as even longer ago) and the plethora of nice accommodations available now make such a huge difference to me. It's also way easier to book places with many hotels having English reservation pages on top of being listed on multiple booking sites. I remember on some early trips staying in Kobe or Osaka because I had a hard time finding places to stay in Kyoto and now there are just so many options.

Speaking as someone with dietary restrictions there have been enormous jumps in that arena as well. I've seen ryokan start to cater to people with restrictions and there are a lot more restaurants options. I also feel like there is a heck of a lot more English. I really notice it in places like Takayama where the tour I did in 2010 that was Japanese only is now offered in Japanese and English.

Kyoto is weird. Some places like Fushimi Inari which use to be empty are now packed to the gills but there are also so many temples and shrines (many easily accessible) that are still not that busy. Despite being a short walk from Yasaka jinja, Kodaiji was very quiet when I visited and Ninnaji was completely empty. Kitano TenmanGu was hopping when I was there because there was a flea market, but I expect without the flea market it would have been quiet, since the actual shrine itself was not so crowded. So if you want to go to the same 5-10 temples everyone going to Kyoto wants to visit, then sure, it's super crowded. But if you're willing to visit any other temple it's a lot less so. I've not been back to Himeji, but I expect that if it is crowded now, then it just means visit other castles. I believe Hikone is still quite quiet and it is almost as easy to reach from Kyoto as Himeji. I went to Matsumoto in 2018 and it certainly didn't feel crowded.

In terms of the rail pass, well, it really depends on where you want to go. While if you plan to travel between Tokyo and Fukuoka on the Tokaido-Sanyo line, sure, there are fewer trains. But if instead you use the rail pass on the Hokuriku line or the Tohoku line (or a combination of them, like I am next trip) it's still a great deal and there are no train restrictions. I love being able to take a shinkansen to Kanazawa now (in '08 the line ended in Nagano) and I haven't gone to Shin-Hakodate yet, but I definitely appreciate the line going all the way there and not ending in Hachinohoe (like in '08) In '09 I went by train from Hakodate to Aomori to Sendai and it was a scenic but much slower trip. Heck, because the line goes all the way to Shin-Hakodate now, there are now Hayabusa-Komachi trains that go to Sendai in ~90 minutes. Close to 30 minutes faster than in '08.

And that is really what it comes down to. While some places have tour buses and lots of foreign tourists other really do not. I was the only obvious foreigner visiting the hydrangea forest in Ichinoseki this past Summer. While Takayama's old town and Shirakawa Go might get tour buses, Hida no Sato was quiet and had few tourists. Most of the tourists I saw at Zenkoji in 2018 were Japanese school kids. I think if you feel certain places are "overtouristed" maybe you need to visit someplace else, since there are plenty of areas of Japan which are not and I am sure would be happy to have some tourist revenues.
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/12 13:52
It's pretty simple to me.

Popular Places = Busy

It takes time to build new infrastructure, with it's main aim to meet the needs of the populace living there. Tourism is helpful to an economy - but it's not the biggest employer in the country by far.

I've also traveled Japan more than most and there are many (like over 80%) of tourist areas just slightly away from the major touristy cities which are screaming out for tourists and is worth visiting.

The comment on times to visit also makes a big difference. On the JR Pass - I still see it as the best value in relation to price and availability in any major country. It truly beats the Eurail pass. Think of a train like a plane. They get filled up and there are no longer seats - they are not going to spend a couple of hundred billion just for the JR pass in infrastructure.
by mfedley rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/12 13:53
And BTW I am an overweight American and I was walking faster than the buses in Kyoto during peak times in '08. They've always been slow outside of the first few buses of the day and the buses after 19:00. This is not a change.
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/12 14:31
therefore, local people will not go such places without necessity.
now, foreigners are in rather less, because of China and Korea problems. local visitors are happier than ever, but souvenir shops and hotels are unhappy.
as already pointed out by others, why do you come to places and seasons which are full with foreigners ?
by ken (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/12 20:44
Try flying to another city and use regional passes that allow unlimited use of all Shinkansen services. I haven't purchased the "JRP" in the last 8 trips, but I use the Nozomi at will on the Sanyo Shinkansen.
by John B digs Japan rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/13 14:50
Yes, it's easy to give this type of advice to someone like the OP, but it's not realistic for the majority of first-time visitors who also happen to be from the Western countries. Anyone who's been working in the travel industry knows why. You can't sell Kodaiji instead of Kinkakuji, and you normally can't convince the guest to visit Gokayama instead of Shirakawa-go, even if you know they'll like Gokayama better. It just doesn't work like that for the regular market. There's a reason why most agents and websites sell the same stuff on their popular menu.

Overtourism is a serious problem for Japan and it hasn't even gone to its worst stage yet, as the government sets its goal at 40 million tourists (last year they amounted to 31 mln). In his latest book Alex Kerr suggests indeed some measures of limitation and restriction, such as increasing the entrance fees, limiting the daily number of visitors to a particular site (he compares with similar restrictions in Machu Picchu), introducing reservations only for museums, closing the town centers for tourist buses and driving the giant cruises away so that visitors should walk or use special shuttle buses to the spots (like in Amsterdam). Currently there are several influential opinion makers like him whose ideas are always quickly adopted by the government, so I can tell you that in the years to come most of the above will happen. It will start with increasing entrance fees, so don't be surprised when you visit Kinkakuji next time to find out that it costs 2500 JPY to enter.
by AlexanderStankov rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/13 15:21
「Overtourism is a serious problem for Japan and it hasn't even gone to its worst stage yet, as the government sets its goal at 40 million tourists (last year they amounted to 31 mln).」

How are you defining "serious problem?" Does it mean "destruction of the sites being visited?" While they're more crowded than they used to be, I haven't noticed Kyomizu, Fushimi Inari, or any of the other major Kyoto attractions looking run-down or poorly maintained compared to how they looked before the Japan travel boom.

Does it mean "visiting the sites is no longer enjoyable?" Enjoyable to who? It's a contradiction to say that nobody likes going to a place because it's too crowded. If the experience was universally unpleasant, then people would stop going, or at least a smaller number of people would go. We're talking about tourism attractions, not places people have to go to like schools, hospitals, or offices. If the crowds are getting bigger, it means that a larger number of people are OK with the size (in the sense that they still want to go) than who aren't OK with them.

No one in the thread is suggesting first-time visitors to Japan jump right off the beaten path and visit Kodaiji instead of Kinkakuji. What they're saying is that if you've already visited Kinkakuji, and you're lamenting that Japan is too crowded, that there are less crowded sites to see in Japan as well.

As for Kyoto adopting policies like Machu Picchu, those are two completely different communities. Many of Kyoto's major attractions are right in the middle of a big, modern city, so administering the community like a national park isn't really a viable option.

Raising prices and requiring reservations probably would reduce crowds, but the trade-off there is making those places more exclusive. It's one thing if locals are upset about the crowds, but severely limiting access to Japan's representative historical sites, just to conform with a "quiet and secluded" ideal that travelers who are able to pay higher fees/navigate reservation systems have, doesn't seem like such a smart move.
by . . . . (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/13 15:39
I don't feel the need to explain why overtourism is a problem. There's plenty of literature on this topic if you wish to learn, plus case studies such as Barcelona and Venice. In the case of Kyoto and Kamakura it's mostly a severe blow to the locals and their lifestyle.
Of course there are damaged sites, the bamboo forest in Arashiyama is a popular example.
I agree with you that many of the suggested measures are problematic or inapplicable, but it's the way things are heading to. The general policy of the government (as advised by the consultants) is towards focusing on the exclusive content and market. Just wait a few more years and you'll see.
by AlexanderStankov rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/13 15:51
No one is saying overtousim isn't a problem. The question is where you're drawing the line between tourism and overtourism. "It's more crowded than I like" or "It doesn't fit the image of the generations-old lifestyle I think the local people should be following" doesn't qualify as "over."

I live in Kanagawa, and I've been going to Kamakura regularly for the past decade. There haven't been any tourism-triggered changes that are destroying a local way of life, unless tourists are expecting that the locals should live like it's still the 13th century Kamakura Jidai, and devote themselves to tilling picturesque rice fields and meditating.
by . . . . (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/14 00:39
@AlexanderStankov,

But OP is the person complaining about the overcrowding vs. 2008 and HAS been to Japan more than once. A first time visitor isn't going to think, "Oh, well Fushimi Inari is much more crowded now than it was 12 years ago." So OP rather than being upset about overcrowding should be looking to try new places they've not been before. My child was a first time visitor to Japan in 2016 and so I took her to Kinkakuji then. I was surprised. It wasn't as crowded as I expected it to be. I'd seen it that crowded pre-2010 and I had no problem getting pictures of my child alone with Kinkakuji as a backdrop. And as I said previously, Fushimi Inari was bad when we were leaving but since we arrived earlier the upper area was quite pleasant. If I'm frank, I actually enjoyed doing the upper area where I could see other people, having done it a few times when no one else was present. So if you're a first time visitor... just go to the most popular places early, as early as possible.

Honestly, I think a lot of people try to shoehorn Shirakawa Go into trips it doesn't belong. Most "first" trips to Japan it doesn't belong because it's just really far from most other places people are trying to do in a first trip (like Kyoto.) Shirakawa Go is also up there in places I have been once and I never need to go back to again and I went in 2010, so it wasn't the crowds that caused this opinion.

I honestly feel like the places i've been that have changed for the absolute worst are the Nishiki shopping district and the shopping areas around Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi in Osaka and I can't see those getting "tourist caps" or an increased fee to visit.

And it is the job of travel agents and travel writers to sell destinations and sell tours. it is the selling on Instagram or in travel articles or guide books that gets someplace a "must do." Selling Gokayama or Ainokura or Hida no Sato should be doable with the right pictures and words, but it's easier to just take people to Shirakawa Go. Do tours all sell the same places because that is what people want to do, or do people do the same places because they feel uncomfortable booking Japan independently and the tours all offer the same places?
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: Is Japan overcrowded? 2020/2/14 12:26
"Do tours all sell the same places because that is what people want to do, or do people do the same places because they feel uncomfortable booking Japan independently and the tours all offer the same places?"

Both. And agents don't do it just out of convenience; in fact it's more convenient to bring guests to a less known and less crowded place (easier transportation wise, easier to book restaurants, etc), but it's not what the majority of first timers want to see. When you go to Paris for the first time you want to see the Eiffel Tower, it is similar to how things work in Japan. I completely agree it's the job of promoters and influencers to increase the brand awareness of other places. It takes some time though.
by AlexanderStankov rate this post as useful

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