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Aussie travel to Japan on par with pre-pandemic levels for 2023; hits new record for Dec

Despite its delayed reopening post-pandemic - or perhaps because of it, as people rushed back to what had been a burgeoning destination among Australians before 2020 - Japan welcomed almost as many Aussies in 2023 as it did in 2019.

Despite its delayed reopening post-pandemic – or perhaps because of it, as people rushed back to what had been a burgeoning destination among Australians before 2020 – Japan welcomed almost as many Aussies in 2023 as it did in 2019.

According to just-released Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) data, some 613,100 Australians visited Japan in 2023, equal to 98.6 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. This holds extra significance given the huge year the country had in 2019, with its hosting of the Rugby World Cup luring more Australians than usual.

With its big return to Japan, Australia finished the year in the top 10 source markets for the country, placing eighth among all markets. It also ended the year as the second biggest long-haul market, behind the US, as it did in 2019. 

Australia, along with the US, Canada, Mexico and the Middle East, was one of the few long-haul source markets to either closely match or surpass pre-pandemic visitor numbers.

Japan opened its borders to travellers in October 2022, but didn’t drop its proof of vaccination requirements until May 2023. 

Record December

Meanwhile, Australian travel to Japan hit new heights last month, breaking the all-time December record for visitation. JNTO data shows that 89,500 Australians travelled to the Asian nation in December 2023, surpassing the previous monthly record of December 2019 by a massive 23.2 per cent (72,653). 

The huge uplift in travel in December was no doubt spurred by interest in the country’s snow sport offering, which JNTO expects to continue into the new year.

It anticipates strong visitation to follow during the popular spring cherry blossom season.

“The pace at which Australians have returned to Japan has heartened us, and we are so pleased to see these numbers bouncing back,” JNTO Sydney Office Executive Director Naoki Kitazawa says. 

“It confirms what we know – Australians truly love Japan. Australians are warmly welcomed in Japan, and we cannot wait to see what this year brings.”

More air

Virgin Australia x ANA All Nippon Airways 1920x1080 1

Extra air capacity also helped boost visitation to the country, with all major airlines including Qantas, Virgin Australia, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Jetstar all either increasing existing frequencies or adding new routes.

Among these was the recently launched Virgin Australia Cairns to Tokyo Haneda service and Jetstar’s Sydney to Osaka service.

Do it differently

Ginzan Onsen, Tohoku. (Credit Japan National Tourism Organization)
Ginzan Onsen, Tohoku. (Credit JNTO)

JNTO wants Australians, especially those who have been to Japan before, to explore more than just the country’s famous destinations, encouraging people to venture into rural and less-known areas, like hiking in National Parks or trying a traditional temple stay, among other experiences. 

“We hope to see Australians explore Japan responsibly and sustainably, partly to help us avoid over-tourism, but also to discover lesser-known corners,” Kitazawa says. 

“Everyone should make time to explore amazing cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, but we always encourage Australians to venture into the rural and regional areas of Japan which are home to a variety of authentic culinary, outdoor, and cultural experiences.”

Futagoji Temple - Kunisaki Region Oita Japan
Futagoji Temple, Kunisaki

In total, more than 25 million tourists hit Japanese shores in 2023, with South Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and the United States the leading markets overall. 

Eight per cent higher than the pre-pandemic level seen in December 2019, last month was a record month for visitation for December among all markets.

The question is: how much bigger can travel to Japan get?

Check out our first-timer’s guide to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, including where to stay, how to get there, what to eat, and most importantly, how to skip the queues!

Also, read our accommodation review of the Mimaru Asakusa, the king of convenience in a city where convenience is king.