Japan - Tourism, travel, and recreation

Tourism in Japan is regarded as a major industry, since many foreign visitors as well as the Japanese themselves tour the country extensively. In 2000, Japan had an estimated 4.7 million foreign visitors. Tourist expenditures for that year totaled approximately US $3.3 billion. Japan's estimated 1,580,226 hotel rooms had a 69% rate of occupancy in 2000.

Japan's chief sightseeing attractions are in the ancient former capital of Kyoto: Nijo Castle, Heian Shrine, the 13th-century Sanjusangendo temple and the Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), the Ryoan-ji (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon), famed for its garden of stones and raked sand, and numerous other ancient Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Nearby sights in the vicinity of Nara include the Great Buddha, a huge bronze statue originally cast in the eighth century; the Kofuku-ji pagoda; and Horyu-ji, the seventh century temple from which Buddhism spread throughout Japan. There are few historic sites in the capital—Tokyo was devastated by an earthquake in 1923 and virtually destroyed in World War II—but nearby attractions include Mt. Fuji and the hot springs of Fuji-Hakkone-Izu National Park; Nikko National Park, site of the Toshogu Shrine, where the first Tokugawa shogun is entombed; and the summer and winter sports facilities in the mountains of central Japan—the so-called Japan Alps. The Hiroshima Peace Park and Peace Memorial Museum commemorate the destruction of the city by an atomic bomb in 1945.

Baseball is Japan's national pastime; there are two professional leagues, each with six teams. Sumo, a Japanese form of wrestling, is also popular, with tournaments held six times a year. Golf, an expensive sport because of the lack of open space, is used mainly as a means of entertaining business clients. Other pastimes include judo, karate, table tennis, fishing, and volleyball. Gardening is the most popular hobby among men and women alike.

The costs of traveling in Japan, among the highest in the world, were reduced slightly when a 3% tourism tax, in effect since 1960, was abolished on 1 April 2000. According to 2002 US Department of State estimates, daily expenses in Tokyo were approximately $289 per day. Daily expenses were about $225 in Okinawa, $177 in Kanazawa, and $278 in Osaka-Kobe.

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