OUTSIDE of Tokyo and one or two other major cities, mass tourism is something the Japanese took part in rather than experienced for themselves until recently. However, as the world shrinks and tourists look for something different from sun, sea and sangria, Japan is seeing a year on year increase in foreign visitors – and not all the locals like it. The famous dunes in Tottori which are attracting increasing numbers of tourists illustrate this well. The breath-taking sand mountains stretch for almost 20 kilometres along the coast and undulate dramatically, reaching heights of up to 50 meters. However, there is an increasing problem with “sand graffiti”, basically people carving out messages, pictures and whatever takes their fancy, defacing the formerly pristine dunes.
A couple of months ago a 25-metre-long message saying “Happy Birthday Natalie”, doubtless destined for an Instagram account somewhere near you, was the final straw for angry locals who lived in relatively splendid isolation until recently. Fines were introduced a decade ago to halt the practice but they have now taken to putting up signs in various languages, including English and Korean with muttered talk of banning visitors.
2018 was the first year Japan ever exceeded 30 million foreign tourists and, with Tokyo hosting the Olympics in 2020, they are gearing up for a significant rise from that figure. However, many are struggling to cope with Western habits such as eating when walking, excessive drinking and over informality. The irony that the Japanese themselves are one of the most travelled people on the planet won’t be lost on many of course.