Australian Travel Obsession with Japan

by Inga Yandell

Travel expert and Lonely Planet APAC Spokesperson, Chris Zeiher reveals the new trend in ‘Reverse Tourism’ between Japan and Australia.

For over 12 months, Lonely Planet’s guidebook to Japan (now in its 15th edition) has dominated the bookselling charts riding high as the #1 selling title in the travel category on ACNielsen Bookscan. But it’s not this title alone selling in unprecedented numbers. Lonely Planet’s Best of Japan 1 currently sits at the #2 selling title on the same chart and Lonely Planet’s Japanese Phrasebook 8 occupies the #4 position. That’s 3 of the bestselling guidebooks in Australia to one destination; Japan.

Having just returned from Japan myself it was evident with the volume of Aussie and Kiwi accents I encountered during the trip that this nation is the current “it child” for both Australian and New Zealand travellers.   

And it’s easy to see why. Incredibly efficient and affordable public transport, a favourable timezone (hooray, no jetlag), a competitive exchange rate and increased competition on direct flight options all adds to this destinations desirability. And the number of visitors has skyrocketed. Australian arrivals into Japan have increased by nearly 1000% in the last two decades where now close to half a million Australians are travelling annually.

Sadly however, the reverse is true of the Japanese traveller venturing to Australia. In the late 1990’s, arrival numbers were strong with in excess of 800,000 Japanese visiting Australia. Fast-forward by two decades and these numbers have halved. It’s not the Australian travel offering that’s contributing to this decline but simple economics. It’s more expensive for Japanese travellers to visit Australia than 2 decades ago and less expensive for Aussies heading to Japan – delivering better value for one and a decrease for the other.

As a destination Japan offers a vast and varied amount of experiences for the traveller. Japan’s cities are huge; the metropolis’ of Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama appear to be competing to out-bling one another. But it’s venturing further afield where Japan’s heart is quietly revealed. The forever scarred cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a must-visit for any traveller to Japan. Hiroshima’s Peace Park will bring any hardened traveller to tears; it’s a profound experience horribly unique to this now bustling and vibrant city.

But it’s not just the cities that are attracting the attention of the traveller. Japan’s ski fields have been a favourite haunt for travellers for years with Hokkaido’s ski resorts boasting some of the best powder in the world. Additionally, Japan’s cultural activities are driving travellers to the likes of Kyoto where the eagled-eyed try to spot a Geisha on her way to work in the city’s old town of Gion. The Japanese Alps town of Takayama is also drawing crowds with its abundance of Sake breweries, local produce markets and beautifully preserved old district.

Then there’s the food. Japan is a fantastic food adventure where travellers can choose from local favourites such as okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) and teppanyaki, to mouth-watering yakitori, soba noodle dishes, wasabi-salt encrusted tempura and a mind-boggling array of sushi and sashimi—you won’t leave Japan hungry.

Whatever the reason for visiting, Japan is proving to be one of the world’s best travel experiences and worthy of making it onto anyone’s ultimate travelist.

Explore Japan and the World @ LonelyPlanet.com

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
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