Tourists flock to Japan after COVID restrictions are lifted

TOKYO – Eager to admire colorful foliage, eat sushi and go shopping, crowds of overseas tourists arrived in Japan on Tuesday to celebrate the first day of the lifting of border restrictions, which have been in place for more than two years to curb the spread of the virus coronavirus pandemic were in effect.

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

The daily cap of 50,000 arrivals is gone. Airlines have added flights in response to the full reopening of borders. Visa-free travel is back for short-term business trips and tourists from more than 60 nations.

David Beall, a Los Angeles-based photographer who has been to Japan 12 times, has already booked a flight and plans to travel to Fukui, Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. He was last in Japan in October 2019. But most of all, he looks forward to everyday things like the popular Japanese dish of fried pork, tonkatsu.

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

As a tip for other travel planners, he 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 before COVID-19, are welcome for good reason. Many will have more purchasing power because the The Japanese yen has fallen in value against the US dollar, the euro and other currencies in recent months.

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

Both cases and deaths have declined compared to the recent spike in Japan, when reported infections topped 200,000 people nationwide in August. Last week, an average of eight people died every day across the country. Japan has provided free COVID-19 vaccines, particularly encouraging the elderly and those who are medically vulnerable to get vaccinated.

However, visitors may need to get used to wearing face masks.

Most Japanese still wear masks almost everywhere. Many shops and restaurants are requiring masks to be worn and hands sanitized at entrances, although there is talk of relaxing such recommendations in open outdoor areas. Some businesses close earlier or have closed completely.

Still, bookings from overseas at Japanese airline All Nippon Airways Co., or ANA, have already quintupled compared to the previous week, while flights from Japan have doubled. The rise comes on top of smaller, more gradual increases recorded over the previous week.

According to Air Canada, bookings for Canadian travel to Japan increased 51% this month compared to last month, while travelers from Japan to Canada grew 16% over the same period.

The Japanese economy can capitalize on the influx of tourist spending.

Fitch Ratings forecast Japan’s real GDP growth of 1.7% in 2022 and 1.3% in 2023, supported by its loose fiscal policy, a recovery in the services sector and a gradual resolution of supply chain issues affecting manufacturing and consumption will boost exports. The reopening to overseas visitors is expected to have a positive impact, despite risks from geopolitical tensions and higher prices.

Japan had basically closed its borders to tourists, but started to allow package tours in June. Many people chose to wait for unlimited individual travel before getting a plane ticket.

As nervousness about the risk of infection wanes, local travel by Japanese is also on the rise – encouraged by discounts being offered by airlines, bullet trains, hot-spring onsen resorts and hotels to boost the ailing travel industry.

Although Japan offers diverse attractions, from the ski slopes of northern Hokkaido to the tropical beaches of the Okinawa Islands in the south, experts insist the coming months are the best for enjoying what Japan has to offer.

The foliage takes on bright colors; the weather is temperate, not freezing, muggy or muggy; 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 of 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 at home and abroad.

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

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/10/11/tourists-flock-to-japan-after-covid-restrictions-lifted/ Tourists flock to Japan after COVID restrictions are lifted

Sarah Y. Kim

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