Citing Overtourism, Japan’s Himeji Castle May Charge Tourists 4x

Citing Overtourism, Japan’s Himeji Castle May Charge Tourists 4x

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Himeji Castle, Hyogo Prefecture
Picture: はっち / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Himeji Castle says it may charge foreign tourists four times more than locals. Is two-tier pricing in Japan sending mixed messages?

Recently, the mayor of Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture said the city might implement separate pricing for tourists from abroad. It’s a strategy that other areas are considering to combat overtourism in Japan. However, some foreign residents worry this will result in blatant discrimination. Meanwhile, others wonder whether it’ll do anything to reduce overtourism in a meaningful way.

Charging tourists 4x as much?

Himeji Castle in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, remains a popular draw for both domestic and inbound travelers in Japan. It’s consistently ranked the most popular castle in Japan for domestic tourists.

Along with the rest of the country, Himeji has struggled with how to control overtourism to the historic location. Himeji’s mayor, Kiyomoto Hideyasu, thinks he has a solution: charge foreign tourists more—way more—to visit.

Entering Himeji currently costs 1,000 yen (USD $6.33) for anyone 18 and older and only 300 yen ($1.90) for students through high school. At a press conference, Kiyomoto said the city is considering raising those rates for foreign tourists to around USD $30, or over 4000 yen – a 4x increase for visitors versus city residents.

Kiyomoto said the additional revenue generated would fund restoration efforts at the castle. The city raised rates once back in 2015 to fund renovations. At that time, rates went up from 600 yen to their current 1,000 yen mark. However, Kiyomoto says he wants to avoid raising rates again for locals so they can continue to visit the castle casually.

Himeji may well make good money off of the change. However, it’s doubtful whether it’ll do much to reduce overtourism. In 2023, Himeji Castle saw 1.48 million visitors. Of those, only 30% – 450,000 – were foreign tourists.

Does two-tier pricing make Japan a developing country?

Person paying for kushiyaki - Japan two-tier tourist charging system
Picture: CHAI / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Ever since Japan re-opened its doors to tourists, business has been booming. In March, it welcomed three million visitors. Since then, it’s seen at least three million visitors every consecutive month.

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As tourists flood in, popular attractions like Mt. Fuji are struggling with the crush produced by overtourism. Some businesses that primarily serve locals say that they’re seeing tourists drive out their regulars and change the “atmosphere” of stores.

Meanwhile, other businesses simply want to find ways to earn more money. With Japan’s weak yen, most foreign visitors view the country as a bargain. They’re willing to spend more than the locals – and many restaurants and attractions want to take advantage of that.

As a result of all these factors, more experts are encouraging businesses and municipalities to consider a two-tier pricing system like Himeji is proposing. They argue that many countries worldwide already do this and that Japan’s behind the curve. Charging separate prices for foreign visitors also prevents Japanese citizens and residents who earn in yen from paying prices only tourists can afford.

Some, however, argue that the move debases Japan. They say that while some developed countries like the US and France have two-tiered pricing in certain places, most countries using it are developing nations.

Two-tier pricing: Distinction…or discrimination?

The two-tier pricing trend has also sparked a debate over whether having separate charges for locals and non-locals will lead to discrimination against foreign residents. When we initially wrote about this on our X account, responses were split between those who thought it was a good idea and those who wondered what Japan was thinking.

Himeji Castle two-tier pricing story

Theoretically, a two-tier system just means that foreign residents or nationalized citizens need to show a residence card, a driver’s license, or a health care card to prove they’re not tourists. However, some commenters worried that restaurants would base charges on people’s appearances, charging higher prices to anyone who doesn’t look Japanese.

Others said the move sends mixed messages. “Japan needs to get its messaging sorted out. Do they want tourism or not?” one commenter wondered.

Others, like Emily (@WriterOfScratch) on X, a Masters student in Asian Studies with a focus on Japan, argued that the better overtourism strategy is to spread the love to other areas of the nation:

Emily offers several recommendations on less-touristed areas in her thread, including Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka and Tanabe in Wakayama Prefecture. (I’d also personally encourage people to check out Izumo Taisha in Shimane Prefecture and Kanazawa and the larger Noto/Ishikawa Prefecture area.)

Indeed, a new government report shows that inbound tourism to Japan is lopsided. 60% of tourist dollars are spent in Tokyo and Osaka. While Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto have seen a 14% increase in tourism, other areas are still struggling with a 26% decrease compared to 2019.

Moral of the story: If you come to Japan, try to get out of the big cities more. (And if you need some ideas, contact us – we’d be happy to plan an itinerary for you.)

However, don’t be shocked if you pay more than expected once you get there. Something tells me that, when it comes to two-tier pricing, this is just the beginning.

What to read next

Sources

姫路城、外国人観光客の入城料値上げ検討 市民との価格差25ドルか. Mainichi Shimbun

世界遺産「姫路城」の入場料 外国人観光客に限り4倍程度に値上げ検討. NTV News

世界遺産・姫路城の入場料“外国人観光客は4倍値上げ”は差別か区別か。いっぽうで「ついに日本も途上国転落…」との嘆きも噴出中.

姫路城の入場料、外国人観光客のみ「4倍に」検討…観光公害対策で. Livedoor News

インバウンド恩恵は全国に行き渡らず、訪日客消費額は東京と大阪で全体の6割…「観光白書」. Yomiuri Shimbun

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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