Japan keeps tourism freeze despite plunge in COVID-19 cases

Published on : Friday, October 29, 2021

Like much of Asia, including Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia, Japan’s borders remain closed to tourists. While other Asian countries are inching toward reopening, Japanese borders will likely remain shut for some time to come.

That’s a hardship for the many businesses that had come to rely on foreign tourists, who numbered 32 million in 2019, before the pandemic.

“Foreigners understand ‘kawaii’ more emotionally than do Japanese. They use, ‘Kawaii!,’ in the same way they say, ‘Wonderful,’ ‘Awesome,’ or ‘Lovely,’ ” said manager Yui Yoshida, noting Japanese tend to use the word mainly for tangible things like cute puppies.

6%DOKIDOKI opened 26 years ago and has a loyal following: when it was imperiled by the pandemic downturn, supporters in and outside Japan started up crowd-funding campaigns to keep it afloat. It is also boosting mail-order sales and has introduced colorful face masks in a psychedelic flurry of hues and bear-shaped pouches useful for carrying hand sanitizers.

Yoshida doesn’t expect foreign visitors to return until cherry blossom season next year. That even might be optimistic.

While mandatory quarantine requirements have been eased somewhat after the number of new coronavirus cases plunged from hundreds per day to a few dozen per day in Tokyo, unlike the Indonesian resort island of Bali and some destinations in Thailand, Japan remains off-limits to foreign tourists.

Japan has also effectively shut out foreign students and business travelers. A big exception, much criticized, was made for athletes and officials arriving for the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year. People remain nervous about foreign travel in this insular “island culture,” said Kotaro Toriumi, a tourism analyst and travel books author.

Toriumi, who teaches at Tokyo’s Teikyo University, thinks foreign tourism won’t revive for another year or two, even though about 73% of Japanese are fully vaccinated. That’s a much higher rate than most other Asian countries, except for Singapore.

Even if the borders reopen, tourism won’t revive if Japan continues to require 10-day quarantines by travelers arriving from overseas, he said. Even one day of quarantine is going to squelch tourism,” Toriumi said, having just returned from a business trip to France, still the No. 1 destination for global tourists.

Much depends on whether COVID-19 cases will be contained. Medical experts worry infections might shoot up again in another seasonal wave.

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