Japan finally opened up to foreign tourists earlier this month, as the country struggles to return to normal. Even those loud and smelly Mario Kart go-carts can be heard racing through the streets around Tokyo Big Sight. Does it mean that the horror of COVID-19 is finally behind us?
Japan Opens Up to Foreign Tourists! How Are Things Now?
In 2019, Japan hosted the Rugby World Cup, and it was a huge success, with millions of rugby supporters visiting to cheer on their favorite teams and in between games, explore all the wonderful sights that Japan has to offer. A staggering 32 million foreign tourists came to Japan that year. All the bars I frequented in Tokyo were overflowing with them, in some cases literally — compared to the average Japanese person, some of those guys are really big. 2019 was such a huge windfall for Japan’s hospitality industry that, in retrospect, it seemed that it must have stirred the Gods of Karma somehow, setting the country up for some disaster as payback.
With the arrival of shingata corona uirus (as COVID is known in Japan, using the German pronunciation of “virus” because all medical terms were imported from German during the late 19th century), Japan’s tourism industry was devastated, as the number of foreign visitors dropped down to practically zero overnight. And the disaster came just as every business was preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, spending money on renovations and introducing English menus for all foreigners visiting.
Lockdown hit different parts of the economy in different ways, with Kyoto’s fabulous ryokans and businesses like the
Mario Cart Street Kart racing company having zero customers. In contrast, online-focused businesses like J-List were busier than ever. (Thanks, everyone!)
During COVID, Japan was a completely different place. The popular Shinjuku and Kabukicho districts became ghost towns, and every business had to change or die out. Because it wasn’t safe to eat at restaurants, smart business owners started selling bento boxes in front of their establishments. Those businesses did well, but we lost two local restaurants run by elderly owners who were too tired to change their business models.
Now things are finally getting back to normal. Japan first allowed tightly structured group tours in July, but for a foreigner visiting Tokyo, that’s no fun. You want to be free to wander around random streets until you get lost, walk into a shop where no one speaks English, and order something you can’t identify. And happily, now you can, thanks to ending all restrictions on foreign tourists!
(Well… not all restrictions. It’s a given that you will bring proof of vaccination and will agree to wear masks while in public places.)
I saw yesterday that ANA had increased international flights by 40% to account for the increased number of foreign visitors expected to arrive. This is great news, not only for the foreigners who will be having fun exploring Japan but for J-List, since it means EMS shipping rates might start to normalize soon. Fingers crossed!
The best time to visit Kyoto is in the fall when the weather is mild and you can take in the city’s beauty with fiery autumn leaves. Knowing this, the city and Japan Rail produce the most wonderful TV commercials every year, showing exotic scenes of the city with the tagline so da, Kyoto e ikou (“I’ve got an idea, let’s go to Kyoto!”). Those videos went on hiatus during the pandemic but now have returned with a vengeance, making me want to head to Kyoto even though I was just there a few months ago.
It’s Great to Be Free from Covid But Let’s Be Careful
After 2+ years of lockdown, it’s understandable that people are eager to get out with other people and spread their wings. But we must also be careful to do it safely and avoid situations like the terrible tragedy that happened over the weekend in Itaewon, Seoul, where more than 150 people were crushed. Itaewon is the Roppongi of Seoul, a fashionable place where Koreans and foreigners gather to drink and celebrate Halloween together. In the first post-Covid Halloween, the crowds were so massive that they became deadly, especially with a poorly planned system of narrow streets. So wherever you are, please be sure to enjoy the new post-COVID era in a safe manner!
Thanks for reading this blog post about the glorious return of foreign tourists to Tokyo. When are you planning your next trip? Tell us below, or reply to us on Twitter!
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