As Japan throws open its doors to visitors this week after more than two years of pandemic isolation, hopes for a tourism boom face tough headwinds amid shuttered shops and a shortage of hospitality workers.
From Tuesday, Japan will reinstate visa-free travel to dozens of countries, ending some of world’s strictest border controls to slow the spread of COVID-19. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is counting on tourism to help invigorate the economy and reap some benefits from the yen’s slide to a 24-year low.
Arata Sawa is among those eager for the return of foreign tourists, who previously comprised up to 90% of the guests at his traditional inn.
“I’m hoping and anticipating that a lot of foreigners will come to Japan, just like before COVID,” said Sawa, the third-generation owner of the Sawanoya ryokan in Tokyo.
Just over half a million visitors have come to Japan so far in 2022, compared with a record 31.8 million in 2019. The government had a goal of 40 million in 2020 timed with the Summer Olympics until both were upended by the coronavirus.