Japan reopens tourist door

TOKYO, Japan (AFP) — Japan reopened its doors to tourists Tuesday after two-and-a-half years of tough Covid-19 restrictions, with officials hoping an influx of travellers enticed by a weak yen will boost the economy.

By mid-morning, tourists from Israel, France and Britain were already pouring in, including Chris Irwin, 38, on his first trip to Japan.

“We have always wanted to come to Japan, and it seemed like the stars just aligned,” said Irwin, who arrived at Haneda airport from Britain with his wife.

“It’s a long, long dream come true,” Adi Bromshtine, a 69-year-old retiree from Israel, told AFP.

Japan slammed its borders shut early in the pandemic, at one point even barring foreign residents from returning, and has only recently begun cautiously reopening.

In June, it began allowing tourists to visit in groups accompanied by guides, a requirement that was further relaxed to include self-guided package tours.

From Tuesday, visa-free entry resumed for travelers from 68 countries and territories.

Japan also lifted a cap on the number of arrivals and ended the package tour requirement.

Tourists must still present either proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test taken three days before departure.

The country is still adhering to many of the health guidelines that helped it keep pandemic deaths to around 45,500, far lower than many other developed economies.

Masks are ubiquitous, and though not mandated by law, parliament is set to pass legislation allowing hotels to deny service to customers who refuse to wear one or flout other health rules.

In 2019, a record 31.9 million foreign visitors came to Japan, putting the country on track for its goal of 40 million by 2020, when Tokyo was supposed to host the Summer Olympics.

But in 2021, the figure plummeted to just 250,000.

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