Japan still closed to most travelers, despite Asia reopening

In a recent essay, novelist and Kyoto native Keiichiro Kashiwagi wrote that his Kyoto compatriots had long lamented the “clamor” of tourism that drowned the tranquility of the city, and that “the irony of the great calamity that was the corona pandemic is that it restored the city’s lost beauty.

When the country reopens, it will have to rethink the way the country has presented itself to visitors, including taking steps to “prevent overtourism”, Tetsuo Saito, the transport minister, told Japan’s parliament in March.

Businesses concerned about returning tourists have been helped by large government subsidies and also by an increase in domestic tourism that has occurred as Japanese travelers have become more reluctant to risk the complications and possible health implications of take a holiday abroad.

While Japanese officials would like to allow more tourists in as soon as possible, they remain cautious until they see how the domestic situation develops, said Toshifumi Kojima, a ruling party lawmaker.

The country has just emerged from a national emergency which was declared as the Omicron variant pushed the number of cases to record highs. But numbers have risen again in the Tokyo area as locals come out to enjoy the cherry blossoms. The seven-day average as of Thursday was around 42,000, down from around 20,000 a week earlier.

Since it is not clear how a sudden influx of tourists would affect the situation, “for now, we are welcoming domestic tourists, Japanese tourists, as a warm-up, and we are considering how to increase incoming tourists from overseas,” Mr. Kojima said.

In recent months, Southeast Asian countries have been busy easing restrictions on international tourism, arguing that their relatively high vaccination rates and determination to live safely with the virus and resuscitate their tourism sectors moribund justified a broad resumption of unfettered travel.