Modern Japan is fast becoming one of Asia's most popular tourist destinations, with the number of foreign tourists quadrupling between 2011 and 2018.
According to the JTB Tourism and Consulting Company, Japan welcomed almost three million overseas tourists in April for the cherry tree blossom season. The Japan Tourism Agency expects the country to receive more than 30 million tourists in 2018.
Contributing factors to the surge in tourism include the relative weakness of the Japanese yen and the relaxation of visa requirements for Chinese citizens, who were Japan's biggest source of tourism for the past three years.
One of the main reasons to visit is “Japanese hospitality,” according to Juan Miguel Ortega, a Costa Rican student currently based in Xiamen who visited Japan last April.
Mario Honrubia, a Spanish tourism analyst based in Beijing, visited Japan for the first time last May. He noted that Spanish tourists are increasingly visiting Japan because of a change in the perception of the country. “A few years ago, Japan was an expensive destination for some European visitors but, now that the euro has been devalued, Japan is more accessible for the average tourist,” said Mr. Honrubia. “Plane tickets are the largest portion of the [travel budget to Japan], which is why it is not such a popular destination among European backpackers,” he added.
One of Japan's primary selling points is the diversity of tradition and experiences available to tourists. A stroll around any neighborhood in Tokyo yields an emblematic temple or sanctuary linked to a modern tree-lined avenue. The capital city offers a taste of tradition and modern city life, such as the Japanese teenagers who hang out in Harajuku dressed as goths, lolitas or anime characters.
“Visiting Japan is a magical and mysterious journey full of both natural and cultural wonders,” said Mr. Ortega. “After a tiring day walking around any Japanese city, it is a pleasure for your senses to visit the nearest local onsen, public baths with saunas,” he added. “You can follow that up with a good night's sleep at a ryokan, the typical Japanese hotel where beds are tatami mats carefully placed on the floor.”
Travelers can also discover an inexpensive but delicious meal of sushi and miso soup or Kobe beef while surrounded by wood panels and lanterns in Kyoto's legendary Pontocho Alley.
Japanese tourism is also boosted by the country's excellent transport infrastructure. Bullet train routes thread throughout the Japanese archipelago, whisking tourists to their destinations in comfort at speeds of up to 320 kilometers per hour. Japan's high-speed rail system is widely seen as a key symbol of modern Japan.
The country's fast trains (Shinkansen) speed to destinations such as Gion, Kyoto's famed geisha district, which is soaked in the timeless traditions of ancient Japan.
The Japan Rail Pass grants tourists unlimited use of the country's intercity and urban rail system at a fixed price for blocks of seven, 14 or 21 days, pending the availability of seats.
The pass even extends to ferries servicing islands such as Hokkaido and Itsukushima, popularly known as Miyajima or Shrine Island.
Japan's must-see scenic spots are legendary and include destinations such as Kyushu, Kanazawa and the iconic Mount Fuji.
Other attractions include Kumano Kodo, a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage route once used by emperors, aristocrats and people from every social class. This UNESCO World Heritage network of routes stretches across the mountainous Kii Peninsula. The highlight of the route is the Kumano Sanzan, the collective name for three shrines within 40 kilometers of each other that are regarded as the most sacred places in Japan.