Japan announced yesterday that it would end its strict Covid-19 restrictions on foreign tourists and reopen its borders after a two-and-a-half-year closure.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that the Covid-19 pandemic had disrupted the free flow of people, goods, and capital that had helped his country thrive.
“However, beginning October 11, Japan will relax its border controls to match those of the United States. Japan will also resume visa-free travel and individual travel,” said Kishida.
Japan and China have been a lone holdout in maintaining strict visitor restrictions as the rest of the world have moved on from the pandemic.
Unlike China, however, Japan did not impose a strict lockdown during the crisis.
Weak Yen Bonus to tourists visiting Japan
Tourists visiting Japan will benefit from a weak yen, which has fallen so low against the dollar that the finance ministry intervened in the currency market for the first time since 1998 on Thursday.
The reinstatement of the visa-waiver program, suspended in March 2020, will restore the ease of access that resulted in a record 31.9 million foreign visitors in 2019.
According to the Japan Times, the government has allowed tourists to visit in groups accompanied by guides since June, a requirement that has since been relaxed to include self-guided package tours.
According to James Brady, Japan analysis lead at US-based consultancy Teneo, the cautious approach to reopening was deliberate.
Brady told AFP that Kishida “took office a year ago knowing that perceived mismanagement of the pandemic had been a key factor in undermining public confidence” in his predecessor’s government.
“He has taken great care not to repeat those errors.”
Japan has recorded around 42,600 coronavirus deaths, a much lower rate than many other countries, and 90 percent of residents aged 65 and up have received three vaccine shots.
Although no law requires people to wear masks, they are still common in public places such as trains and shops, with many Japanese willing to wear masks even before the pandemic.
Booking already starting
While the return of mass tourism should give Japan’s economy a “slight boost,” Brady believes China’s zero-Covid policy will limit the benefits.
“Much of the pre-pandemic economic benefit came from a large number of Chinese visitors coming and spending a lot of money on tech products and cosmetics,” he explained.
However, “at the moment, Chinese citizens face their travel restrictions at home and will not travel to Japan in large numbers.”
According to Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights for travel analytics firm ForwardKeys, there is pent-up demand for travel to the country.
“Searches for travel to Japan reached their highest point this year at the end of August,” Ponti said, adding that while flight bookings were only 16 percent of 2019 levels in early September, “we’d expect bookings to jump” once visa restrictions are lifted.
According to Liz Ortiguera, CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, demand from Europe may remain subdued “due to the increase in the cost of living in Europe caused by the Russian-Ukraine crisis, as well as rising fuel costs driving up air travel costs.”