8 Ways to Visit Japan Sustainably: Traveling with Purpose and Respect

Useful Tips For Planning A Trip To Japan – A World to Travel (10)

So, you’re planning a trip to Japan? From the beauty of its rural landscapes to the futuristic metropolis of Tokyo, it’s little wonder that this unique country draws in visitors from around the globe. Its rich history and fascinating culture have a charisma that captures the imagination.

But as the global consciousness shifts towards more sustainable and responsible travel practices, more and more travelers want to explore the Land of the Rising Sun with minimal environmental and cultural impact.

This is surprisingly easy — Japan is already geared towards sustainable tourism and travel. The famous bullet trains are a great example, cutting down on the need to hire cars. Get one of the JRP regional passes to zip around the area in an eco-friendly way.

Read on to learn more about how you can visit Japan sustainably.

What Is Sustainable Tourism? 

At its core, sustainable tourism aims to leave a light footprint on the environment, respect local cultures, support local economies, and ensure that the experiences of both visitors and hosts are enriching. 

This means not just enjoying a place for its beauty and attractions but also helping it thrive for future generations.

How to Travel Sustainably in Japan

1. Opt for Public Transportation:

Japan boasts one of the world’s most efficient public transportation systems. The Shinkansen (bullet train), local trains, buses, and subways are not only punctual but also eco-friendly. 

By choosing public transport over rental cars, you significantly reduce your carbon footprint.

2. Stay in Traditional Lodgings:

Instead of international hotel chains, consider staying in a ryokan (traditional inn) or a minshuku (family-run bed and breakfast). These establishments often practice age-old sustainable methods, from architecture to food sourcing.

Ryokan in rural areas are often located near hot springs (onsen) and use the natural hot water for the bathing facilities.

3. Support Local Artisans: 

Japan has a rich tradition of craftsmanship. Whether it’s pottery in Kyushu or textile arts in Okinawa, buying directly from artisans ensures your money supports local industries and keeps traditions alive.

4. Practice ‘Leave No Trace’:

While this should be standard practice worldwide, it’s particularly important in Japan, where nature is revered. Always dispose of waste properly, and avoid picking plants or disturbing wildlife.

5. Respect Cultural Norms: 

From temple visits to public baths, always familiarize yourself with local customs and etiquette. It not only ensures you don’t inadvertently offend locals but also enhances your travel experience.

Remember that Japanese culture places a lot of importance on respect. There are a lot of unwritten social rules that it would be a good idea to know. You might get a pass in some places for being a foreigner, but the further you get off the beaten track, the more important it becomes.

Here are eight tips to explore Japanese culture in a respectful way:

  1. Honor Tradition: Begin by acquainting yourself with Japanese customs and rituals, such as bowing, shoe removal upon entering homes, and adhering to specific etiquettes in public spaces, laying the groundwork for cultural understanding and appreciation.
  2. Respect the Ritual of Business Cards (Meishi): Understand the significance of exchanging business cards and mastering the proper presentation and reception of cards as a gesture of courtesy.
  3. Acknowledge the Hierarchy: Recognize the importance of hierarchy in Japanese business culture, learning appropriate addressing and maintaining formality in professional settings.
  4. Practice Considerate Behavior on Public Transportation: Learn the expectations for behavior while using public transportation, emphasizing maintaining a low profile, keeping conversations subdued, and being mindful of others, especially vulnerable passengers.
  5. Embrace Punctuality: Comprehend the cultural value of timeliness, emphasizing the importance of timely attendance for work-related commitments and the disrespect associated with tardiness.
  6. Prioritize Group Harmony: Value collective unity in Japanese workplaces, emphasizing effective collaboration, positive contribution to team efforts, and avoidance of confrontation.
  7. Master Indirect Communication: Understand the subtleties of indirect communication in Japanese culture, practicing active listening, interpretation of non-verbal cues, and seeking clarification for mutual understanding.
  8. Embrace Silence: Appreciate the Japanese esteem for tranquility, recognizing the discouragement of unnecessary chatter in public spaces and the respect shown by maintaining low noise levels, particularly in residential areas.

Read also these top tips for planning a trip to Japan, including how to show good manners.

6. Dine Locally:

Japanese cuisine is diverse and region-specific. Avoid chains and choose locally-owned establishments. You not only get a more authentic taste of the region but also support local economies.

Find out more about the local dishes in different regions of Japan with this foodie’s guide.

7. Engage in Ecotourism:

There are many ecotourism opportunities in Japan, from forest bathing in the ancient woods of Koyasan to bird-watching in Hokkaido. Such experiences are low-impact and often contribute to conservation efforts.

8. Travel Off the Beaten Path: 

While Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka are must-visit cities, consider exploring lesser-known regions like the San’in coast or the northern Tohoku region. 

This distributes tourism’s economic benefits more evenly and reduces strain on popular sites.

It also gives you the chance to discover different parts of the country and have completely new experiences. 

Why Japan?

Japan has always been at the forefront of combining tradition with innovation. In many ways, this mindset aligns perfectly with sustainable tourism.

There’s so much to see and do in Japan. The country has a diverse range of climates and environments, from wild sub-Arctic coastlines to tropical archipelagos; from mountain peaks to dramatic sand dunes; from lush forests to open countryside. There’s also the combination of the old and the new, from Tokyo’s neon lights and skyscrapers to Kyoto’s focus on the traditional and historical.

The country sees a high number of tourists come to its shores every year. Many regions and local businesses have taken steps to ensure that tourism supports rather than detracts from their way of life.

Check out the top Japanese adventure spots to learn more about the best places to visit.

Local Initiatives Championing Sustainable Tourism

Kyoto, a classical destination for photography

Several initiatives in Japan aim to promote sustainability:

  • Japan Ecotourism Society (JES): This organization promotes eco-friendly tourism practices and helps travelers find sustainable tours and accommodations.
  • Japan Ecolodge Association (ECOLA): Focused on lodging, this association certifies establishments that meet strict environmental and cultural sustainability criteria.

In conclusion, sustainable tourism in Japan is more than just a trend—it’s a mindset that resonates with the country’s age-old values. 

By traveling responsibly, you’re not only ensuring that Japan remains pristine and vibrant for future generations, but you’re also guaranteeing a more meaningful and authentic experience for yourself.

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