Japan raises daily arrival limit to 50,000 as tourism industry is slow


Japan on Wednesday raised its daily entry limit for arrivals from 20,000 to 50,000 as the country’s tourism industry languishes due to strict COVID-19 border controls that have been imposed for more than two years.

From the same day, incoming travelers who have been vaccinated at least three times will not have to undergo coronavirus testing and prove that they are not infected within 72 hours of departure.

People arrive at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on September 7, 2022. (TBEN)

“I had to undergo seven or eight PCR tests when I got back from China last spring,” said Hiroyuki Kushida, an auto parts company employee who had just returned to Japan from a business trip to India.

“There were no tests this time. I’m happy to get off the plane right away,” said Kushida, 37, after landing at Narita airport near Tokyo.

Japan has apparently lagged behind other major economies in opening its doors to inbound tourism. But foreign tourists are now allowed to tour without a guide, in a move that could encourage more people from abroad to visit.

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The major Japanese travel agency JTB Corp. welcomed the relaxed border controls and said it believes “overseas itineraries will recover as the number of foreign arrivals increases” and that it will prepare to attract inbound travelers.

An official of Japan Airlines Co. also said that “flight reservations to and from Japan are increasing.”

With the world’s third-largest economy showing little sign of a strong recovery, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government has sought to boost growth by inviting more foreign visitors, who would benefit from the rapid depreciation of the Japanese yen.

Against the US dollar, the yen fell to the 144 level in Tokyo on Wednesday, reaching a new 24-year low. A weaker yen increases the purchasing power of foreign travelers to Japan, with the value of their currencies, such as the dollar and euro, rising against the Japanese unit.

In November 2021, Japan banned all new entries from foreigners around the world in response to the rise of the highly contagious Omicron variant, which has been criticized at home and abroad for its strict border control measures.

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As vaccination progresses in the country as other countries resume international travel, Japanese controls have recently been relaxed on entries for businessmen, students, technical interns and others entering for non-tourism purposes.

The daily limit for overseas arrivals, including Japanese nationals, has been incrementally increased since March to 20,000 in June, although all foreign tourists to Japan are still required to apply for a visa and wear face masks during their trip.

At a press conference late last month, Kishida pledged to further ease the country’s border controls by taking into account the infection situation, the needs of travelers and border measures taken by other countries.

Only 245,900 foreign visitors came to Japan in 2021, the lowest figure since comparable data became available in 1964, dealing a serious blow to the country’s travel industry, which was boosted by inbound tourist demand before the pandemic raged in early 2020.

Japan, meanwhile, is battling the seventh wave of coronavirus infections. August saw a record high for monthly COVID-19 deaths of more than 7,000 nationwide, up from 1,300 in July, according to a TBEN News tally of daily counts.

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The previous peak of virus-related deaths occurred during the sixth wave in February, in which 4,900 people died.

Despite the spate of new infections, the Kishida government has not imposed additional antivirus restrictions in an effort to prop up the economy, which has been hurt by price hikes resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the decline in the yen.

Japan’s economy recovered to pre-Covid size in the April-June period, growing at an annualized rate of 2.2 percent from a quarter earlier. But analysts said the outlook remains bleak as a resurgence in infections and rising costs could weigh on consumer spending.

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