TOKYO: Excitement is growing in tourist areas across Japan as the country reopens its border to group tourists from abroad Friday after a pandemic-induced hiatus of two years and two months.
For the time being, entry of foreign tourists will be allowed only to those on group tours.
International passenger flight services connecting foreign airports with New Chitose Airport in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido and Naha Airport in Okinawa Prefecture, southernmost Japan, will also be resumed this month.
“I’m glad. This is amazing!” said Yusuke Otomo, the 50-year-old manager of the ‘Daikichi’ kimono rental shop in Tokyo’s Asakusa tourist district.
About 50 of some 70 kimono rental shops that used to operate around the district closed down due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
All part-timers who worked at Daikichi as interpreters for foreign customers quit amid the virus crisis.
Some of them, however, told Otomo that they want to work at Daikichi again after the government announced the border reopening plan.
Otomo is preparing to welcome foreign tourists, such as making a map with instructions in foreign languages.
His biggest concern right now is whether foreign tourists will wear face masks properly.
If they do not wear them, “it might drive Japanese customers away,” Otomo said.
“I’m trying to find a nice and humorous way of asking them to wear face masks,” he added.
Expectations for a recovery in inbound tourism demand are also growing in Hokkaido, a popular travel site among foreigners.
A man in his 30s who runs a souvenir shop in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, said he is “beyond excited” about the resumption of international flights at New Chitose Airport.
“Now is our chance,” he said, noting that the yen’s recent weakness works in favor of the tourism sector.
“We can’t recover our losses with domestic demand as Japan is being hurt by the virus pandemic, so we’ll recover them with demand from foreign visitors,” the man added.
A public relations official at Upopoy, or the National Ainu Museum and Park, in the Hokkaido town of Shiraoi, also is pinning hopes on the recovery in tourists from abroad.
“We’ll be able to let people from various countries learn Ainu culture,” the official said.
Meanwhile, the official voiced worries, saying that Upopoy has little experience in dealing with foreign visitors as it opened in July 2020 amid the pandemic.
Kinya Fukuda, the 65-year-old owner of Turtle Inn Nikko, a “ryokan” Japanese-style inn in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, eastern Japan, expressed mixed feelings. The city hosts many popular tourist spots, including Nikko Toshogu shrine.
Most of the users of the ryokan before the pandemic were from foreign countries, according to Fukuda.
While welcoming the restart of the acceptance of foreign tourists, Fukuda said that “small accommodation facilities like ours mainly deal with individual travelers” and not those on group tours.
“Opportunities need to be given to small businesses, too, in order to bring things back to the way they used to be,” Fukuda said, voicing hope for a reopening of the border also to individual foreign tourists.