Japanese City Introduces Visitor Tax to Create Sustainable Community

The Japanese city of Hatsukaichi in the Hiroshima Prefecture, home to the centuries-old Itsukushima Shrine, one of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, has introduced a new tax on visitors to its sightseeing island, leading the nation’s initiative to preserve legacies and create sustainable tourism communities.

While several major tourist cities such as the ancient capital of Kyoto have already levied a hotel tax, Hatsukaichi became Japan’s first municipality introducing a broader local tax exclusively imposed upon visitors to a sightseeing area, city officials said. On October 1, Hatsukaichi started collecting 100 yen ($0.67) from each tourist to Miyajima Island in the city’s southern region where the shrine is located. The tax is charged as a fee included in the boarding ticket for ferries to the island. Visitors can also choose an annual tax of 500 yen that allows them to make multiple visits.

“We are responsible for preserving nature, history and culture and passing them on to the next generations,” said Shunji Mukai, an official of the city’s planning and coordination division for Miyajima. The center of sightseeing on the island is the seaside shrine, which was founded in 593. The vermilion-lacquered compound is widely known for its iconic “floating” torii gate and designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1996. 

Itsukushima, just 10 miles southwest of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, drew global attention in May when the Group of Seven leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, visited the shrine during the G7 Hiroshima Summit 2023. “We feel the need to create a hospitable environment for tourists, while securing the livelihood of islanders,” Mukai said, adding that stable financial resources are “essential” to deal with these challenges. “We hope that tourists will become stakeholders who join us to protect Miyajima by sharing responsibilities,” he said. 

The city plans to spend the new tax money on maintaining tourism information desks and restrooms, preserving cultural assets and historical architecture, reducing the impact on the natural environment and promoting ecotourism. According to a survey conducted by the city three years ago, some 93 percent of tourists to Miyajima supported introducing the tax.

“Without stable financial resources, we would face difficulties in surviving as a tourist destination,” Mukai said, expressing hope that the new tax will help the city offer “sustainable tourism.”

The tax is also aimed to deal with over-tourism as the city sees the number of tourists surge after the new coronavirus was settling down globally and the central government lifted restrictions. The number of visitors to the island fell to a low of 1.88 million in 2021 due to the pandemic but recovered to 2.83 million last year and is expected to top four million this year.

Hatsukaichi also hopes to act as an example for other tourism-dependent towns considering introducing similar taxes. “We have heard that more and more local municipalities are facing the need to take measures against over-tourism,” Mukai said. “We hope that our implementation of the visitor tax can be of some help for them. The precious nature and history that we have throughout the country is an asset to Japan.”

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