Every few years, certain destinations emerge as major travel hotspots for American tourists. HuffPost recently asked travel experts to predict the most popular choices for 2024, and while many shared a variety of countries, cities, islands and other locales, a lot of them gave the same answer: Japan.
“The destination that comes to mind first for me is Japan,” said Sarah Firshein, head of editorial at Tripadvisor. “With travelers increasingly eager to spend their discretionary income on experiences and activities, I’m fully expecting Japan’s ancient temples, diverse cultures and communities, next-level food scene, and extraordinary art and architecture to be a huge draw in 2024.”
Of course, Tokyo is likely the first city that comes to mind when you think of travel to Japan. But with the growing tourist crowds, you might want to set your sights beyond the capital as well. Below, experts share the other amazing Japanese destinations they recommend.
“The city of Sapporo, famous for their Sapporo beer, is in the northernmost region of Hokkaido, which receives abundant snow,” said Gabby Beckford, a travel expert and founder of Packs Light.
She praised Sapporo’s cityscape, onsen, nearby skiing options and ease of access ― a flight of less than two hours or a scenic four-hour train ride on the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo.
“I’m going to Sapporo to experience their annual Snow Festival held in February, where they’ll debut hundreds of gigantic ice sculptures, transforming the city into a true winter wonderland,” Beckford said.
“Osaka has some of the world’s most affordable high-end restaurants,” said Laura Lindsay, global travel trends expert at Skyscanner. “There are 93 Michelin-starred restaurants in Osaka, including 80 one-star establishments, many of which are genuinely affordable. So there’s plenty of opportunity to bag a bougie meal for less. It’s no wonder Osaka is known as the ‘kitchen of Japan.’”
Indeed, she noted that Osaka ranks at No. 4 for cities with the most Michelin stars in the world. Visitors can expect to enjoy high-quality ramen, okonomiyaki and much more. And luxury travelers are no doubt anticipating the opening of the new Four Seasons Osaka later this year.
“There are lots of foodie events happening in the coming years,” Lindsay added. “One is the first Time Out Market in Asia, featuring some of the best chefs, food, drinks and cultural experiences. Another is the World Food Expo, held every four years, which will be packed with not only Japanese cuisine but food from all over the world.”
“For so many years, Okinawa has been known for its relationship to World War II and the continued U.S. military presence there,” Beckford said. “But 2024 is the year it becomes known for being the idyllic destination for wellness and adventure travelers.”
In the first episode of the Netflix documentary “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zone,” viewers learned about the island’s wellness-promoting lifestyle.
“The island boasts beaches with crystal blue waters and a surprisingly mountainous rainforest ― and is extremely safe, especially for solo female travelers,” Beckford said.
“We’ve seen incredible growth to Asia, and Japan is the fastest-growing destination for Gen Z and millennial travelers,” said Audrey Hendley, president of American Express Travel. “Travelers are looking for new experiences and want to immerse themselves in the local culture of the destinations they visit. Niseko was included on our 2024 Trending Destinations list as a great ski destination and an alternative to Sapporo.”
Also located on Hokkaido, Niseko has long been popular with Australians looking for an epic ski escape, and now it seems Americans are catching on. In addition to plenty of fresh powder, visitors can enjoy top-notch Japanese restaurants and nightlife.
“I am certain travelers will continue to flock to Japan in 2024, especially with the country’s low yen and reputation for safety,” said travel expert and author La Carmina. “However, Tokyo has become extremely overcrowded with tourists, so I predict that more travelers will take a 1.5-hour train or bus from the capital to peaceful Hakone.”
Travelers can get in touch with nature and enjoy peaceful relaxation at the many scenic spas in the area.
“The beautiful mountain town is known for its hot springs, and at luxurious accommodations like Hiramatsu Hotels & Resorts Sengokuhara, you can soak in your own private onsen bath while looking out at postcard-perfect views of the mountains,” La Carmina said.
Kyoto has long been a popular add-on to Tokyo trips, and for good reason. The many incredible temples, shrines, palaces and gardens offer a glimpse into Japan’s past.
The former capital and imperial residence also has excellent hotels.
“Japan offers a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience, and with the U.S. dollar particularly strong, now is a great time to go,” said Henley Vazquez, co-founder of Fora. “Top of the traveler wish list is Mitsui Kyoto.”