TOKYO/SAPPORO, Japan -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised to bring 40 million overseas visitors to Japan by 2020. Now it's up to local communities to accommodate them.
More than 30 million visitors came to Japan in 2018, part of a prolonged tourism boom that has brought roughly 4.5 trillion yen ($41 billion) a year to communities across the country.
But residents are chafing at the rising prices, raucous behavior and other disturbances that come with more overseas visitors. Businesses and communities throughout Japan are taking measures to manage the influx in a safe and sustainable way ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
In some places the revenue earned from tourism is critical. Some 40% of visitors go to the Kansai region in western Japan, netting the area more than 1 trillion yen a year in tourist spending.
Central Osaka’s uniquely designed Umeda Sky Building attracted about 1.5 million guests in fiscal 2017, three times more than in 2008 when it was named one of the top 20 buildings around the world by The Times newspaper of the U.K.
Foreigners make up 75% of the building’s visitors, and the admission fee more than doubled to 1,500 yen in March 2015 from 700 yen, in anticipation of more overseas visitors.
The increase elicited local complaints. Some Japanese say the price is too high and it keeps them from visiting the building. The number of Japanese patrons fell by more than 30% to 370,000 in fiscal 2017 compared with three years earlier.
Prices are also surging at Kuromon market, a food market renowned as the "kitchen of Osaka." High-end crab legs, for example, can cost as much as 2,000 yen a pop.
One German tourist said he did not want to spend thousands of yen on crab legs and high-end Kobe beef in the market and would rather go to a restaurant.
And while foreign visitors can bring in welcome revenue for local establishments, their behavior can pose challenges. Last autumn, Kyoto's Nishiki market started putting up signs in English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese, urging shoppers to refrain from eating while walking. The hope is to cut down on littering by the growing number of tourists.
The market’s promotion association is calling on its tenants to set up more garbage cans and dining spaces.
Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, is also under pressure. In 2017, tourists rented about 80,000 cars in the prefecture, a fivefold increase from five years earlier. The traffic fatality rate among foreigners driving rented cars is four times that of Japanese drivers.
Local police, in cooperation with the municipal government, set up about 400 English-language stop signs near New Chitose Airport and major tourist spots.
The growing number of foreign visitors staying in private homes is also causing trouble, with residents complaining about noise and other annoyances.
Rakuten Communications, a unit of online retail giant Rakuten, developed a system that displays “Please be quiet” in multiple languages on tablet computers in hotel rooms when noise is detected.
These challenges are not likely to disappear anytime soon. Japan needs to brace for a record number of foreign visitors as the Tokyo Olympics approach.