Tourism in Japan is booming. The last decade has seen the country’s tourism sector become the fastest-growing in the world, with 2019 having its highest number of foreign visitors on record.
From the beautiful historical buildings of Kyoto to the vibrant futuristic metropolis of Tokyo, Japan has a wealth of things to see and experience. The natural beauty of its national parks, Mount Fuji, and the Okinawa archipelago and the fascinating culture and traditions of its people make it a perfect holiday destination.
However, with numbers of foreign visitors increasing, sustainable tourism is more important than ever to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the beauty of this East Asian country.
Discover how you can visit Japan in an eco-friendly way with this guide to sustainable travel to Japan.
How to Make Traveling to Japan Sustainable
Japan’s tourism boom has been a recent but intense phenomenon. Visitor numbers were around 8 million in 2012 and skyrocketed to 31 million by 2018.
More international travelers means more resources are needed and more waste is produced. This has led to concern from locals about the sustainability of the rising number of visitors.
However, it has also provided a motivating factor for companies to create opportunities for eco-tourism. This can help to counter the negative impact of tourism in Japan.
There are various things that visitors can do to reduce their impact on the environment, many of which are considered the norm in Japan. For example, littering is rare in the country, since everyone recycles.
Eco-friendly travel tips include:
- Recycle your waste
- Use bicycles, buses, and trains rather than cars, taxis, or domestic flights
- Bring your own chopsticks
Take the Train, Not a Plane
The Japanese public transport system is famously among the best in the world. The shinkansen, or bullet train, is a high-speed railway network that connects most of the major urban centers in the country.
Fast, safe, and efficient, traveling by shinkansen around the country leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than taking a domestic flight as well as offering views of the Japanese countryside, including the iconic Mount Fuji.
The bullet train has been operational for over 50 years and there have been no incidents resulting in fatality or injury to any passenger—a spotless record that no other transport system in the world can match.
The JR Pass makes traveling by train a very affordable option.
Eco-Friendly Eating in Japan
Seasonal eating forms a big part of Japanese culture and food is often sourced locally, especially the food served at traditional restaurants. Visitors who want to travel sustainably may want to try eating at these establishments rather than at tourist hot-spots.
Vegetarian and vegan options are on the rise, becoming popular particularly in urban areas and among the younger generation. These restaurants are generally very eco-friendly.
One important tip for reducing the impact of travel on the environment is to bring or buy a pair of reusable chopsticks. Many restaurants provide disposable ones and with millions of people in Japan using them for every meal, natural resources such as wood and bamboo are put under strain.
As well as reducing the demand for disposable chopsticks, buying a nice set from Japan means you have a useful souvenir to take home.
Take Advantage of Japanese Eco-tourism
Eco-tourism in Japan is becoming more and more popular. Activities that do minimal damage to the environment and bring the visitor closer to nature and the country’s heritage include:
- River rafting
- Scuba diving and snorkeling
- Visiting hot springs
- Visiting temples and shrines
Some eco-tourism agencies offer international travelers the chance to give something back to offset their carbon footprint, for example by participating in river-cleaning days.
WWOOFing is also becoming popular among some eco-travelers. Willing Workers on Organic Farms is a loose network of organization that allows visitors to stay on host farms in Japan in return for helping either on the farm itself or by participating in other eco-friendly work.
Bring a Refillable Water Bottle
Plastic bottles are commonplace in Japan and while recycling is also widespread in most locations, it is more eco-friendly to avoid using plastic whenever possible.
Bringing a refillable bottle is an excellent way to reduce plastic waste. Tap water is safe to drink in Japan and water fountains can be found spread throughout most towns. Cafés, restaurants, and hotels will likely be happy to refill your bottle before you go.
Equally important is reducing dependence on plastic bags.
Visitors trying to reduce their environmental impact should try and rely on a backpack and learn phrases in Japanese such as ‘fukuro wa iranai desu’ (I don’t need a bag) to politely decline when offered a plastic bag in a shop.
Research Japanese Wildlife Experiences
Japan is filled with a diverse range of animals from brown bears to flying squirrels. The seas surrounding the island country are good places to spot whales, dolphins and dugongs.
However, it is difficult to know how well the animals are treated at zoos and tourist attractions. For this reason, it is important to research wildlife experiences and, if possible, choose an operator that allows you to see the wildlife in its natural habitat.
Traveling to Japan Sustainably
For most international visitors, the only feasible way to arrive in Japan will be by plane. However, once they arrive, they can avoid leaving a larger carbon footprint by making use of public transport.
As previously mentioned, the bullet train provides an alternative way to travel between Japanese cities and it leaves less of a carbon footprint than another plane.
Travelers from nearby countries such as South Korea and China may prefer to travel by sea and avoid flying altogether.
All travelers should ensure they have permission to enter Japan once they arrive at its border. For some nationalities, this will involve obtaining a Japanese eVisa.
The applicant must complete the eVisa form online. This is a quick and easy process, which can be done from the applicant’s own home, without having to travel to an embassy.
Check the entry visa requirements to see if you are eligible for the eVisa.