As countries across Asia reopen to international visitors, Japan – one of the continent’s most popular destinations – remains staunchly closed.
That could soon change. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Thursday at a press conference in London that Japan will relax border controls in June.
Locals usually celebrate the easing of pandemic-related border restrictions, but some in Japan say they are keeping the measures in place.
Even before the pandemic, many locals still preferred to travel within the country, with a total domestic tourism value of 21.9 trillion yen ($167 billion) in 2019, according to support government Japan Tourism Agency.
Although Japanese are now allowed to travel abroad, many “don’t want to go abroad” and instead choose “domestic tourism,” said Dai Miyamoto, founder of the travel agency. Japanese localization.
Izumi Mikami, senior executive officer of Japan Space Systems, visited Kyushu island and Okinawa island, two tourist hotspots before the pandemic. He says he feels safer when there are fewer tourists around.
Some people are taking the opportunity to go outdoors after spending a lot of time at home.
Shogo Morishige, a college student, has taken several ski trips to Nagano – the province that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympic Games – and says it is “surprisingly crowded” with locals.
“People similar to us haven’t traveled in a long time… Right now, it’s almost [Covid-19] Morishige said.
Others venture to new destinations.
“After moving to Yamagata Prefecture, I started going to places I wouldn’t normally go, such as ski resorts… mountain hot springs, aquariums, and sandy beaches,” said Shion Ichikawa, an employee. risk manager at internet company Line, said. .
International tourist arrivals to Japan have dropped from nearly 32 million in 2019 to only 250,000 in 2021according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.
With a clientele of nearly all locals, some tour companies have redesigned their tours to suit local preferences.
“Japanese tourists stay away from visiting big cities and opt for outdoor experiences that they can ‘explore on foot’,” says Miyamoto. So Japan Localized – which provided tours for English-speaking foreigners before the pandemic – partnered with a local travel agency Mai Mai Kyoto and Mai Mai Tokyo to offer walking tours in Japanese.
People all over Japan are also spending time at camping sites and hot springs – or Lee Xian Jie, development director of Craft Tabby travel agency, said hot spring – spa.
“The campsites have become very popular,” he said. “Motorcycle rentals and outdoor gear sales are doing very well because people are going outdoors more.”
Upscale pubs popular with young people “are doing pretty well”, but traditional pubs are being influenced by elderly people who are “quite scared of Covid” and don’t go out much, Lee said. .
Craft Tabby used to run walking and cycling tours in Kyoto, but switched to online when the pandemic hit. As countries reopened their borders, “online tours aren’t doing well” and participation has “nearly dropped to zero,” Lee said.
“Tourists’ tastes are changing and people are looking for ‘appropriate’ activities in ‘rural areas where there are not too many people’,” he said.
Lee now lives south of Kyoto in a village called Ryujinmura and is planning to organize tours in the rural town when tourists return.
“We need to think about travel and activities here where people can discover new things,” he added.
According to the Japan Tourism Agency, Japan welcomed nearly 32 million international visitors in 2019 – up from 6.8 million just 10 years ago.
The rapid increase in tourists has caused major attractions, such as the culturally rich city of Kyoto, to grapple with overtourism.
People in Kyoto are now saying that “the silence has returned,” said Miyamoto, who recounts cases of foreign tourists speaking loudly and being rude to locals.
Similarly, Lee says that “a lot of people are quite upset about the over-tourism in Kyoto” who are now saying “it feels like Kyoto 20 years ago – an old Kyoto.”
But that may be coming to an end.
Prime Minister Kishida’s statement may not be welcome news to some Japanese people.
More than 65% of respondents in a recent survey conducted by Japanese broadcaster NHK said they agree with the border measures or believe they need to be strengthened, according to the report. The New York Times.
Local The report indicates International travelers may need multiple Covid-19 tests and package tours to participate, though JNTO told CNBC it has yet to receive word about this. However, this may not be enough to reassure some residents.
Shintaro Okuno, partner and president of Bain & Company Japan, said: “Foreign visitor spending contributes less than 5% to Japan’s overall gross domestic product, so it’s not necessarily surprising. However, when the government makes the decision to prioritize “other industries. the country is closed.
Women wearing kimonos tie a lucky band “omikuji” outside Yasaka Shrine during the Golden Week holiday in Kyoto, Japan, on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.
Kosuke Okahara | Bloomberg | beautiful pictures
Ichikawa said the recent decision may not be popular with Japan’s elderly citizens. Nearly a third of over 65 years old, do Japan has the largest percentage of elderly people in the worldaccording to the research organization PRB.
“Elderly people tend to be more prejudiced than younger people about Covid-19 being brought in by foreigners,” Ichikawa said. “It is understandable that in Japan – the country of the elderly – politicians have to tighten borders to protect them physically and psychologically.”
When the pandemic peaked, the Japanese were even wary of people from other parts of Japan visiting their homeland.
“I see signs at public parks and tourist attractions that say ‘cars are not allowed from outside Wakayama. “People are quite afraid of other people from outside the province.”
However, residents living in cities may feel differently.
“Japan is too strict and conservative” in controlling Covid-19, said Mikami, who is based in Tokyo.
Miyako Komai, a teacher living in Tokyo, said she was ready to move on.
“We need to invite more foreigners” for Japan’s economy to recover, she said. “I don’t agree that we want the measures to be ramped up… We need to start living a normal life.”