As the Japanese government eases travel restrictions, tourists from Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Southeast Asia, and other countries have increased. However, still subject to China’s “zero-COVID” policy, most Chinese still fail to travel abroad.
Japan’s borders are now open to independent foreign travelers and Japan has reintroduced visa-free entry. Quarantine and on-arrival testing are no longer enforced, although travelers are still required to show either triple-vaccinated status or proof of a negative COVID test taken 72 hours prior to departure.
An estimated 10,000 people booked flights to Japan in the first week after the country lifted its daily limit of 50,000 people on Oct. 11, Nikkei Asia reported. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways started daily flights to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Nov. 1 and will restart four weekly flights to Sapporo on Dec. 1. There will be 50 flights a week from Hong Kong to Japan by the end of October and 120 a week by December.
In 2019, a total of more than 31.88 million tourists visited Japan, spending more than 4.8 trillion yen ($32.3 billion). After the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Japanese government to tighten its border controls in 2020, the number of visitors dropped sharply. The number of visitors in August 2022 was only 7 percent of the August 2019 number.
Tourists from Hong Kong, in particular, like to visit Tokyo, Osaka, and Okinawa. Japanese anime is hugely popular in Hong Kong, and many Hong Kongers love Japanese food. In 2019, before the outbreak of COVID-19, about 2.29 million people from Hong Kong visited Japan, equivalent to one-third of its population.
Koji Hayamizu, head of Japan Airlines’ Hong Kong office, told Nikkei Asia that since the relaxation of restrictions by Japan, bookings have been pouring in. The number of flight reservations increased by more than 1,400 in the 2 weeks from Oct. 11 to 31. “It is expected that more than 90 percent of the bookings are from Hong Kong, and even business classes were well booked,” Koji said.
Tourist Hot Spots
Now that Japan’s border policy has been relaxed and independent tours have resumed, what do tourists want to do most when they visit Japan? Recently, The Epoch Times visited some shops and scenic spots in Osaka to see what visitors are doing.
At noon on Oct. 30, many tourists were eating seafood barbecue at Kuromon Market in Osaka. Most of them were Asian, from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
Mr. Wong (a pseudonym), who was visiting from Hong Kong, told The Epoch Times that his family visited Japan four years ago.
“A lot of things have happened in Hong Kong in the past few years, and with the epidemic prevention control, people are under a lot of pressure,” he said. “So as soon as Japan opened up for independent tours, [we] immediately booked tickets and a hotel. This time, [we] will mainly visit Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. [We] plan to go to Hokkaido in the New Year.”
At Osaka Castle, we saw a number of tour buses from South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and other Southeast Asian countries. At the Tenshu, the central tower of the castle, we saw some Taiwanese and Hong Kongers, all of whom were visiting Japan independently.
Coming to Shop
At an electronics store in Namba, a staff member told The Epoch Times that when the Japanese government opened to foreign tour groups in June, many stores prepared for a rush of tourists enjoying duty-shopping and special tourist coupons. However, although stores are seeing more business, it’s not up to pre-pandemic levels.
“The number of tourists shopping is increasing every day, but it is still far from the purchasing power before the pandemic. [It’s] mainly because Chinese tourists can’t come,” the staff member said.
We saw several Taiwanese shoppers who said they enjoy buying household essentials from Japan and came here to shop before the pandemic. This time, they came to buy rice cookers and said they will return.
At the Hankyu Department Store in Osaka, many tourists were buying brand-name products like bags, clothes, and watches. Sonny, a Mexican tourist, told The Epoch Times that now is a good time to convert dollars into yen. The same brand-name products he was buying in Japan are five to six times more expensive at home, he said.
At the Apple store in Shinsaibashi, we saw several Vietnamese tourists buying iPhones and iPads. Nguyen Dinh Kyun, a Vietnamese student, told The Epoch Times that an iPhone in Japan is at least 100,000 yen (about $673) cheaper than it is in Vietnam.
Zero-COVID Still Impacts the Tourist Trade
On Oct. 31, at Osaka Bay Tower, two Chinese travelers spoke to The Epoch Times, saying China’s strict “Zero-COVID” policy makes it hard to get approval to travel to Japan.
“You won’t be able to come out in the name of travel. It’s even hard to apply for a passport. The scrutiny is stricter than before,” they said.
“Not many can come out in the name of studying abroad either. Many graduates want to study abroad, [because] they can’t find a job in China. Even if they find a job, the salary is very low. They’re all factory workers, and the knowledge they learned in school isn’t being used.”
The owner of a vacation rental, who gave his name as Mr. Fujiyi, told The Epoch Times that he is starting to see guests, and reservations for the new year are being made now. Late November is the time when Osaka’s leaves are at their most beautiful, so reservations, mostly from Southeast Asian countries, are usually made well in advance. However, cancellations are a problem, particularly from travelers who find themselves in lockdown.
“In late September, a Chinese family of three made an appointment to come to Japan from Nov. 20 to 27, but canceled it on Oct. 28, saying that they were under lockdown and did not know when they could get out,” Fujiyi said.