It’s hard to believe that only a year has passed since Japan lifted its international travel restrictions post-pandemic. The country’s tourism industry resurgence has defied expectations and a raft of new hotels, recently awarded destinations, and unique events and experiences make Japan a must-visit destination in 2024.
With the advantage of being one of the few places in the world with a strong Australian dollar and with so many new treasures (and old favourites) waiting to be explored, there has never been a better moment to start planning for your 2024 visit. Whether it’s uncovering a new destination or staying updated on the latest hotel openings, here are the latest travel news and tips for your next trip to Japan.
The latest travel news and accommodation
Four Japanese villages have been added to UNWTO’s Best Tourism Villages list, while Lonely Planet has named Hokkaido as one of the top sustainable travel spots in the world. If you’re looking for a new experience outside the big cities, it’s time to seek out some of the undiscovered wonders in Japan’s inaka (countryside). Four villages in Japan have been included by the UN’s World Tourism Organisation on its annual list of the world’s Best Tourism Villages. Biei in Hokkaido Prefecture, Hakuba in Nagano Prefecture, Oku-Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture and Shirakawa in Gifu Prefecture were all included, chosen due to their outstanding tourism initiatives seeking to uphold traditions and culture.
Meanwhile, Lonely Planet has unveiled its list of the most sustainable destinations for 2024, which now includes Hokkaido Prefecture. The list highlights destinations where there is an awareness of sustainable travel and its impact on the environment.
Long on the radar of winter sports enthusiasts, tourism authorities in Hokkaido are supporting eco-friendly activities and accommodation, plus a cultural renaissance for the indigenous Ainu people. Hokkaido is committed to advancing its climate-related plans, with initiatives like using geothermal energy to heat hotels and other buildings demonstrating the region’s dedication to sustainability.
Beppu’s healing hot waters will make the town a top trending destination for 2024. According to online travel agent Booking.com, water-centric travel is poised to become the hottest trend in tourism, noting water’s calming embrace and its endless recreational possibilities. And it comes as no surprise that the historic onsen resort town of Beppu in Kyushu has been named a must-visit destination. Nestled between Beppu Bay and dramatic Mt Tsurumi, the ‘onsen capital of Japan’ is home to more natural hot springs than anywhere else in the country.
Osaka is the third most searched destination around the globe and the top in Australia. Skyscanner’s Travel Trends report for 2024 named Osaka as the top trending destination in Australia, with a 455% year-on-year increase in searches to the foodie hotspot. The report noted that one of the main factors driving travel is a destination’s food offering and Osaka is known to be one of the country’s top foodie hotspots, often nicknamed ‘the kitchen of Japan’. This comes ahead of Osaka preparing to host World Expo 2025, the international fair that brings together people and innovations from around the world. And it’ll be even easier to get to Osaka in 2024 – with Jetstar announcing a new service from Sydney to Osaka.
New hotels in Tokyo. A wave of new hotels have opened in the capital since Japan’s borders swung open a year ago. True to Tokyo’s hotel traditions, these properties push the limits of what people expect, defying conventions and raising the bar for visitors.
- Trunk Hotel Yoyogi Park is cosy with just 25 rooms including five suites, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in wow factor. The highlight of the new hotel is the gorgeous rooftop bar and outdoor infinity pool overlooking the lush Yoyogi Park grounds. It’s situated in Shibuya’s trendy Tomigaya neighbourhood, just across the street from Yoyogi Park.
- With more travellers beginning and ending their journey at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, it comes as welcome news that the Mercure Tokyo Haneda Airport opens its doors this month. With a blend of Japanese and European aesthetics, guests can enjoy a modern take on a traditional Ochaya teahouse and indulge in the upscale dining area any time of day.
- Tokyo EDITION, Ginza is slated to open in early 2024, situated just off Chuo Dori, one of the largest upscale entertainment and shopping destinations in the city. The ‘lifestyle hotel’ will feature premier on-site dining and a 24-hour gym.
Japan’s regions welcome new digs too. It’s not just Tokyo that’s welcoming new hotels and resorts. Across the country, a swathe of new properties have opened, giving travellers to Japan a variety of options from a new mega ski resort, to secluded island luxury, and a tropical escape just outside Tokyo.
- If you’re looking to escape bustling Tokyo without going too far, consider the newly opened Botanical Pool Club. This luxurious hotel is located in Chiba Prefecture, not too far from Awa-Katsuyama Station (with links to Tokyo Station), and it’s surrounded by lush greenery. The infinity pool is the hotel’s most impressive feature, aligned perfectly to the direction of the setting sun. Bask in the views from the water or a seat on the poolside rotunda’s rooftop.
- Two ski resorts in Fukushima Prefecture that are located on opposite sides of the ridge of Mt Nekomagadake have for the first time been connected to create one of Japan’s largest winter skiing destinations. Nekoma Mountain is the country’s newest integrated snow resort, set to rank against other skiing destinations like Niseko and Hakuba. The lift traverses the 1,280 metres connecting Alts Bandai with Nekoma Snow Park. The combined slope area totals 189 hectares over 33 courses accessed by 13 ski lifts.
- And finally, if it’s high luxury you’re after, an all-villa resort on Mikayo Island in the Okinawan archipelago will mark Rosewood Hotels & Resorts’ first venture in Japan. Rosewood Miyakojima will occupy a secluded peninsula on the island, which is known for its white sand beaches and clear ocean waters – ideal for snorkelling, diving and fishing. The resort’s 55 villas will each have private pools, gardens and sea views.
New events, attractions and travel trends
teamLabs Borderless returns to new Tokyo precinct Azabudai Hills. Taking luxury to new heights, the new ‘modern urban village’ Azabudai Hills precinct will open in Tokyo’s southwest, neighboured by the popular districts of Roppongi, Shiodome, Toranomon, and Shinagawa. The precinct will see a range of new openings including Tokyo Node, a diverse space boasting restaurants, experimental art galleries and a rooftop garden fitted with an infinity pool. Art enthusiasts can anticipate the new location of the much-awaited rebirth of teamLab Borderless museum, while foodies can look forward to dining at Florilège, which is set to debut a new plant-based menu.
Dark sky tourism is on the agenda. Taking advantage of unpolluted night skies, this form of ecotourism is growing in popularity in Japan, encompassing sky-gazing, moon-bathing, nocturnal creature-guided tours, night sky-inspired events and other activities. The IDSP (International Dark Sky Places) designated three ‘dark sky places’ in Japan, including Bisei in Ibara, Okayama Prefecture. With the name Bisei literally meaning “beautiful stars,” the small district is unsurprisingly among the destinations leading the way in this expanding travel segment.
International and domestic films showcased at the Zushi Beach Film Festival. Now in its 11th year, the Zushi Beach Film Festival showcases a variety of international and domestic films in a picturesque coastal location. This popular beach in Kanagawa Prefecture turns into an open-air cinema over Golden Week, the carnival-like atmosphere is full of food stalls, rides, skate ramps, DJs, music performances, and market stalls. There’s even the opportunity to participate in some weekend beach yoga.
JNTO’s advice for your next trip
Book early to avoid disappointment. Tourism in Japan is still on the post-pandemic rebound and while flight availability has increased since the country reopened, demand is still high.
“We’re already hearing from our partners and operators that tours and hotel availability for spring 2024 are close to hitting capacity,” says Naoki Kitazawa, Executive Director of Japan National Tourism Organization’s Sydney office.
“If you are planning a trip, book early to avoid disappointment. Especially if you are looking at popular travel times such as the school holidays.”
Explore beyond Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka aka ‘The Golden Route’. Whilst first-time travellers of course want to visit these iconic destinations, returning visitors to Japan (or those simply seeking out lesser-known experiences) have a huge variety of experiences, seasons and destinations to choose from when it comes to travelling in Japan.
“Japan is a country that really does offer everything for everyone. Whether you’re seeking outdoor adventure in Hokkaido’s wild east coast, or looking at a beach holiday in Okinawa, the country has many options beyond the more traditional view of what Japan offers travellers.”
Think outside the (direct) box when it comes to airfares. Jetstar’s resumption of its Carins to Narita, direct flights from Sydney to Osaka from 1 April 2024, and Virgin’s recently launched Cairns to Haneda service mean that Australia now has a number of affordable competitive one-stop domestic connections to Japan.
Whilst there are plenty of direct connections to Tokyo’s two major airports Haneda and Narita, there are also plenty of indirect routes that will connect you to areas of interest all over Japan. Why not consider a one-hop trip to Fukuoka or a seamless connection to airports in Hokkaido?
“It pays to do your research and think beyond the obvious air routes to Japan, particularly if you do not necessarily need or want to visit Tokyo. There are many carriers operating through North Asia that offer good connections to some of Japan’s smaller regional centres.”
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