Streams of foreign tourists began arriving in Japan on Tuesday for the first day of the lifting of border restrictions, which had been in place for more than two years to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
Travelers are expected to provide a much-needed 5 trillion yen ($35 billion) boost to the world’s third-largest economy. And the flow of visitors should continue to grow.
The daily cap of 50,000 arrivals is over. Airlines have added flights to respond to the full reopening of borders. Visa-free travel is back for business and short-term tourism to over 60 countries.
David Beall, a Los Angeles-based photographer who has been to Japan 12 times, has already booked a flight.
“As cliché as it sounds, being back in Japan after all this time is what I’m most looking forward to. Of course that includes hopefully meeting new people, eating the food I missed like a good tonkatsu, being out in nature at this time of year, taking the trains,” he said.
Tourists like Beall, who numbered around 32 million people before Covid-19, are welcome for good reason. Many will have more purchasing power because the Japanese yen has lost value in recent months against the US dollar, euro and other currencies.
The only remaining protocols for entry are that one must be fully vaccinated with a booster or have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure.
Compared to the most recent outbreak in Japan, when reported infections nationwide topped 200,000 people in August, cases and deaths have declined. Last week, daily deaths averaged eight people nationwide.
Japan has provided free vaccines against Covid-19, particularly encouraging the elderly and medically vulnerable people to get vaccinated.
Many shops and restaurants also require the wearing of a mask, as well as hand sanitizing at entrances, although there is talk of relaxing these recommendations in open outdoor spaces.
Some establishments close early or have closed completely.
Yet bookings from overseas with Japanese airline All Nippon Airways Co., or ANA, have already increased fivefold from the previous week, while those from Japan have doubled. The surge comes on top of smaller and more gradual increases recorded the previous week.
Fitch Ratings forecasts 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 , which will boost manufacturing and exports .
The reopening to foreign visitors is expected to work out positively, despite the risks associated with geopolitical tensions and rising prices.
Japan has closed its borders to tourists, but started allowing organized tours in June. Many people have chosen to wait for an individual trip of indefinite duration before obtaining a plane ticket.
With waning nervousness over the risk of infections, local travel by Japanese people is also increasing – encouraged by discounts offered by airlines, high-speed trains, onsen hot springs and hotels to revive the travel industry in difficulty.
Although Japan offers various attractions, experts insist that the coming months are the best to enjoy what Japan has to offer.