Tourists flock to Japan after Covid restrictions are lifted


    Most Japanese are still wearing masks, just about everywhere. Many stores and restaurants require mask-wearing, as well as sanitizing hands at entrances, though there is talk of relaxing such recommendations in open outdoor spaces. Some establishments close early or have shuttered completely.

    Still, bookings from abroad at Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways Co., or ANA, have already jumped five-fold compared to the previous week, while those flying out of Japan doubled. The surge is coming on top of lesser, more gradual increases recorded the previous week.

    Air Canada said bookings for Canadian travel to Japan jumped 51% this month compared to last month, while travelers from Japan to Canada grew 16% over the same period.

    The Japanese economy can use the influx of tourist spending.

    Fitch Ratings forecast Japan’s real GDP growth at 1.7% in 2022 and 1.3% in 2023, supported by its loose fiscal policy, a recovery in the service sector, and a gradual fix to supply-chain problems, which will boost manufacturing and exports. The reopening to overseas visitors is expected to work as a positive, despite risks from geopolitical tensions and higher prices.

    Japan had basically shut its borders to tourists but started allowing packaged tours in June. Many people opted to wait for open-ended individual travel before getting a plane ticket.

    With declining nervousness about the risks of infections, local trips by Japanese are also increasing — encouraged by discounts offered by airlines, bullet trains, onsen hot spring resorts and hotels to jumpstart the ailing travel industry.

    Although Japan offers various attractions from the ski slopes of northern Hokkaido to the tropical beaches of Okinawa islands in the south, experts insist the coming months are the best to enjoy what Japan has to offer.

    Foliage is turning vibrant colors; the weather is moderate, not freezing, sweltering or humid; seafood, grapes, chestnuts and other culinary delights are fresh and plentiful.

    “Now we are all ready to welcome people from abroad,” said Shuso Imada, general manager at the Japan Sake and Shochu Information Center.

    Imada’s work is to promote sake rice wine and shochu, made from barley, potatoes or other vegetable, domestically and abroad.

    “Autumn is the best season to enjoy Japanese food with sake and shochu,” he said.

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