After nearly three years of heavy pandemic restrictions, Japan reopened its borders to independent foreign travelers on Oct. 11. Still, tourists need to prove they’ve had at least three vaccine doses or provide a negative coronavirus test result within 72 hours of departure to enter the country.
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Pre-pandemic, Tokyo’s reputation as a safe, clean travel destination dense with modern and ancient culture drew tens of millions of tourists a year. The border closure as the pandemic took hold in early 2020 signaled a difficult time ahead for Japan’s many tourism-reliant industries. However, there was a palpable sigh of relief from residents and businesses who felt strained to keep up with the ever-growing crowds of tourists. For some, the period of closed borders was a welcome break to take stock and implement new strategies for when tourism recommenced.
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Now that the tourism floodgates are open, Tokyo hospitality workers and business owners are bracing for another wave of foreign travelers eager to rediscover what was once one of the top destinations in the world.
The following interviews have been translated and edited for clarity.
“This hotel opened in September of 2020 and has never been operating at full capacity. As domestic pandemic restrictions began to ease, we slowly began to see a return of domestic guests; however, Akihabara is not generally known among local travelers as a neighborhood to book a hotel. Foreign travelers, on the other hand, especially those interested in gaming and anime, are very keen to stay here, and since the borders have opened, the number of rooms booked jumped another 20 percent.”
“Tsukishima is not a place that is as famous as Asakusa or Shibuya, but we get our share of tourists interested in trying monjayaki, a Tokyo specialty. During the pandemic restrictions, we would sell kits for local Japanese people to cook [monja] at home, and once domestic travel started returning, we started getting a lot of people from the Kansai region visiting for a taste. The borders reopening hasn’t brought in a large amount of tourists to this neighborhood yet; our branch restaurants in Asakusa and Tokyo Station are definitely reporting a large increase in patronage.”
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“[Our family shop] was very popular before the pandemic, and we were expecting a huge surge for the 2020 Olympics, but, of course, the tourism explosion never happened. We pivoted to online sales to keep the business afloat, but, of course, people want to feel and handle our artisan-crafted knives in person, so we have had an uptick in visitors since tourism resumed.”
“While the borders were shut during the pandemic, we started using online platforms such as TikTok to keep us in people’s minds for when people could visit again. Even though the numbers of tourists are yet to reach pre-pandemic levels, we are making more money than before the borders shut, which means people are specifically coming to Asakusa to experience our service.”
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“Pre-covid, our customer base was 90 percent tourists, so when the borders were closed, we were really in trouble. Luckily, we were able to get a government small-business stimulus package that kept us going until the borders reopened. The unexpected outcome of the pandemic is that more bars in Golden Gai than ever are welcoming of foreign tourists, as they are hoping it will help their business bounce back.”
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