Tourists flock to Japan after COVID restrictions are lifted

TOKYO (AP) — Eager to admire colorful foliage, eat sushi and go shopping, crowds of tourists from abroad began arriving in Japan on Tuesday for the first day of the lifting of border restrictions that had been in place for more than two years to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Travelers are expected to provide a 5 trillion yen ($35 billion) much-needed boost to the world’s third-largest economy. And the flood of visitors is expected to continue to grow.

The daily cap of 50,000 arrivals is gone. Airlines have added flights to accommodate the full opening of borders. Visa-free travel returns for short-term business and tourism from more than 60 countries.

David Beall, a Los Angeles-based photographer who has been to Japan 12 times, has already booked a flight, planning to go to Fukui, Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. The last time he was in Japan was in October 2019. But it’s the everyday things he looks forward to the most, like eating Japan’s popular fried pork dish, tonkatsu.

“As cliché as it sounds, coming back to Japan after so long is what I’m looking forward to the most. That of course includes, I hope, meeting new people, eating the food I’ve missed like good tonkatsu, being in nature at that time of year, riding the trains,” he said.

As a tip for others planning trips, she recommends getting a Japan Rail Pass and a Suica or other card that allows cashless payments for easy travel.

Tourists like Beall, who numbered about 32 million people before COVID-19, are welcome for good reason. Many will have more spending power because the Japanese yen has weakened in recent months in value compared to the US dollar, the euro and other currencies.

The only protocols left for entry are that you must be fully vaccinated with a booster or have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure. Then, almost all visitors from the US, the rest of Asia, Europe and South America will not need to quarantine.

Compared to the most recent spike in Japan, when reported infections nationwide topped 200,000 in August, both cases and deaths have declined. Last week, daily deaths averaged eight people nationally. Japan provided free vaccines for COVID-19, particularly encouraging the elderly and the medically vulnerable to get vaccinated.

But visitors may need to adjust to face masks.

Most Japanese people still wear masks, almost everywhere. Many shops and restaurants require the use of masks, as well as hand sanitisation at the entrances, although there is talk of relaxing such recommendations in open outdoor areas. Some facilities close early or are closed altogether.

However, overseas bookings on Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways Co., or ANA, have already increased fivefold compared with the previous week, while those flying outside of Japan have doubled. The surge comes on top of smaller, more gradual gains recorded last week.

Air Canada said bookings for Canadian travel to Japan rose 51 per cent this month compared to last month, while travelers from Japan to Canada rose 16 per cent over the same period.

The Japanese economy can use the influx of tourism spending.

Fitch Ratings forecasts Japan’s real GDP growth at 1.7% in 2022 and 1.3% in 2023, supported by its loose fiscal policy, recovery in the services sector and gradual resolution of supply chain issues, which they will boost manufacturing and exports. The opening to foreign visitors is expected to work positively, despite the risks of geopolitical tensions and higher prices.

Japan had effectively closed its borders to tourists, but began allowing organized tours in June. Many people chose to wait for individual trips indefinitely before getting a plane ticket.

As jitters about the risks of infection ease, local travel by Japanese is on the rise – encouraged by discounts offered by airlines, trains, onsen resorts and hotels to jump-start the struggling travel industry.

Although Japan offers a variety of attractions from the ski slopes of Hokkaido in the north to the tropical beaches of the Okinawa islands in the south, experts insist that the coming months are the best to enjoy what Japan has to offer.

Foliage takes on vibrant colors. the weather is mild, not frosty, sweltering, or wet. Seafood, grapes, chestnuts and other culinary delights are fresh and plentiful.

“Now we are all ready to welcome people from abroad,” said Shuso Imada, general manager at the Japan Sake and Shochu Information Center.

Imada’s work is to promote sake rice wine and shochu, made from barley, potatoes or other vegetables, domestically and abroad.

“Autumn is the best time to enjoy Japanese food with sake and shochu,” he said.


Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter at

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