Japan is buzzing because finally, after two years, the country is poised to open up to tourism from the outside world. Starting today, June 10, foreign tourism is officially restarting, as Japan’s long-dormant tourism industry begins what it hopes will be a strong recovery after two years of dark economic days. Read details about the reopening, and see pictures from my trip to Osaka and Kyoto, in this post!
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Tourism Returns to Japan. How Will It Go Down?
The COVID-19 situation hurt some industries (bars and restaurants, hotels, taxi drivers) far more than others (any kind of delivered or digital products). It’s been especially sad to talk to Japan’s knowledgable and professional taxi drivers, whose cars are always kept spotless, and hear how hard the COVID crisis has been on them. Hopefully, that will change soon, as Japan re-introduces foreign tourism!
Under the new trial system, tourists from outside Japan will have to enter group tours, and travel agencies have to follow various rules, including getting agreement from visitors that they agree to comply with certain measures, which include following local mask guidelines, buying insurance to cover costs if they get sick while in Japan, and so on. Visitors to Japan will be required to get a negative COVID test one day before their flights. The first four countries to be reopened are the U.S, Australia, Thailand, and Singapore.
Currently, masks are required indoors in Japan, but if you’re socially distancing outside, you’re allowed to take them off.
I Went to Osaka and Kyoto. What Did I Find?
I recently got back from a short vacation to the Kansai area, because there were some museum exhibitions I wanted to catch, and also because it was the last chance to experience these two cities before things “return to normal” (if that’s ever going to happen). It was wonderful, and a little strange, to be one of the few foreigners doing sightseeing in two of Japan’s most exciting cities.
What did Shinjuku look like in the depths of the COVID lockdown? I documented it for you in this post!
The first stop was Osaka, that large, commercial jungle of concrete and steel that is such an enigmatic place. Among other things, the Kansai area is where most anime locations are set, and even without looking for them, it’s easy to walk past famous anime “holy lands,” such as the guitar shop from K-On!
What was the first anime holy land? Read this post about my visit to the Please Teacher town.
Of course, many parts of Osaka are bright and shiny, but I’m amazed at how easy it is to turn a corner and find yourself transported back in time to the late Showa Period. Walking through the shotengai looking for interesting bars to duck into, it’s hard to believe it’s actually the year 2022 and not 1982.
One thing I like to do is explore the alleyways near the Dōbutsuen-mae subway station, which has many old-school karaoke bars where you can sing songs with cute bar girls and talk with other patrons. Here’s a Google Maps link if you want to visit this part of the city someday.
The main goal of my trip to Kansai was to visit the Hideaki Anno Exhibition in Osaka. The museum exhibition was outstanding, giving a perfect snapshot of every anime, manga, or tokusatsu series that influenced the famous anime director, along with a detailed look at everything he created over his long career. Here are some photos:
Next I headed to Kyoto, because I wanted to see an exhibition on Pompeii, which the Japanese have a great fascination with, being a highly volcanic country themselves. We got to see beautiful frescoes that had been carefully removed and transported to Kyoto, statues and tools buried for nearly 2000 years, and more.
I smirkingly thought to myself, “If Japan had anything to say about it, there’d probably be a cute yuru-chara character promoting official goods from Pompeii.” Then I got to the gift shop and saw… a cute yuru-chara character promoting official goods from Pompeii. He’s a version of the Pomponpurin dog character from Sanrio and represents the famous “beware of dog” mosaic from the ruins.
Any visit to Kyoto is a unique experience, but being one of only a few dozen (?) foreign tourists in the city was definitely a strange one. I wasn’t the only person sightseeing, though…there were several thousand Japanese junior high schoolers on school trips around me, many clearly wanting to talk with this lone American sightseer but being too shy. While not having to elbow past hundreds of other tourists to get the photo I want is welcome, it was weird being one of so few gaijin in the entire city.
While I’d say that the drinking districts in Tokyo are 70% recovered, with happy patrons happily imbibing together, trying to go drinking in Kyoto was downright depressing. Every store was open but had few or no customers. Happily, I found an “otaku bar” and had a fun chat with the staff working there about anime and visual novels. The Google Maps link is here if you ever want to plan a visit!
Thanks for reading this post about the reopening of foreign tourism in Japan, and my trip to Kansai. Do you have any plans to visit Japan soon? Tell us in the comments below, or on Twitter!
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