• Angad Chowdhry

An Alternative Travel Guide To Japan in Light of Climate Change

We published an alternative travel guide to Vietnam and Mexico in our magazine last week. This was the first of our two-part blog series on exploring tourism-heavy countries responsibly. Today, we take you to Japan.

Japan is a much sought-after travel destination in Asia. In 2017, it received 27 million international visitors and 40 million domestic tourists! This isn’t surprising given Japan’s rich cultural heritage, modern cities, tech innovations, picturesque landscapes, and underlying spirituality. Tokyo and Kyoto tend to be the most popular places, followed by Osaka, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Hokkaido.

Thanks to Japan’s well-connected rail network, traveling outside the big cities and into the countryside is easy and environmentally sustainable. For more remote places, cars are available, but knowledge of the Japanese language is a helpful prerequisite for such journeys.

So what are some of the alternative places we can visit as tourists in lieu of the usual over-crowded cities?

Kyushu, the birthplace of Japan’s most popular distilled liquor: shochu, is known for its natural scenery and onsen (hot springs). Its largest city, Fukuoka, is considered to be Japan’s most ‘livable’ big city for its weather, friendly people, vibrant art scene, and delicious cuisine, making for an excellent alternative destination.

Beppu, which we covered in one of our earlier blogs, is Kyushu’s most famous onsen destination, with the largest collection of hot springs. Yakushima island is another natural wonder of this region.

Shikoku, another of Japan’s five main islands, stands out for its beautiful landscapes, peaceful villages, Japan’s best udon, and rich traditions, including matsuri, such as the lively Awa Odori. Most travelers enter Shikoku via the cities of Takamatsu or Tokushima.

Matsuyama, too, is full of historical fervor, and the well-preserved Matsuyama Castle is a must-visit. It is also home to Japan’s oldest onsens.

On the southern coast of Shikoku lies the laidback city of Kochi, which has a castle, lots of temples, great local cuisine, and a beach.

In the Kinki region lies Wakayama city, an hour away from Osaka, and yet entirely off the usual tourist trail. Home to stunning beaches, natural hot springs, and the Wakayama Castle, it promises yummy seafood and the best ramen! For the more spiritually-inclined travelers, Mount Koya is the birthplace of Shingon Buddhist. The Okunoin Buddhist Cemetery has over 200,000 headstones, and Kobo Dashi’s Mausoleum lit with 10,000 wall-lanterns.

Further up north, the Aizuwakamatsu Castle in Fukushima province is the perfect place to witness samurai culture. The last samurai fought here during the Japanese Revolution in 1868.

Japan has tons of alternative options to the overcrowded cities and tourist hot spots. We just need to make an effort to find out and set foot!

Drawing from the insights on Quilt.AI’s Climate Data Analysis Tool, most places we highlight in our blog have high climate variability, based on increasing temperatures, frequency of floods and droughts, and rising sea levels in Japan. However, the socio-economic risks faced by Japan (including GDP, land use, food security, livelihoods, and inequalities) range from low to medium, as does the climate denial behavior, ensuring that the overall vulnerability to climate change is low.

For example, Fukuoka ranks 544 out of 1887 cities worldwide in Quilt.AI’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index. While its climate variability is higher than both the country average as well as the global average, its socio-economic vulnerability is low and the people are active allies for climate action. This ensures that Fukuoka’s overall climate change vulnerability remains low.

Climate Change Vulnerability Index for Fukuoka

Despite high climate variability in some regions and mostly low to medium socio-economic risk, the residents of Japan are aware of the effects of climate change and are actively engaged in reversing it.

Quilt.AI’s Climate Change Analysis Tool

Most cities in Japan are classified as ‘activists’ or ‘active allies’ in our audience clusters based on attitudes and behavior towards climate change. A few cities fall under ‘unactivated allies’ — that is, they’re aware of the impact of climate change but aren’t actively engaged in doing something about it.

Interestingly, Hiroshima and Kanazawa were found to be ‘skeptical’ towards climate change, whereas the people of Osaka were found to be ‘indifferent’. These cities show a high volume of searches using terms such as “is climate change real”, “climate change hoax”, “global warming is not real”, and “evidence against global warming”.

Hiroshima ranks above country average in online search behavior on climate change denial

One of the most obvious effects of climate change in Japan has been diminishing snowfall and shorter snow seasons. So much so that the Sapporo Snow Festival had to import snow in 2020. This has also hit Japan’s ski-industry hard. Cherry blossoms are said to be blooming earlier every year, and warming oceans are disrupting marine ecosystems and could impact the availability of sushi and sake.

While the future looks bleak, Japan’s aware citizenry, coupled with responsible tourists, and proactive government action to limit the effects of climate change could change the script.

To know more about how to build a communications and advocacy strategy for climate action, read our blog on how to put climate and data to action.

For more country-level and city-level insights on climate vulnerability, socio-economic risks, and people’s attitudes and behavior towards climate change, explore Quilt.AI’s Climate Data Analysis Tool.