Tourists flock to Japan after COVID restrictions lifted

Eager to admire colorful foliage, eat sushi and go shopping, droves of tourists from abroad started arriving in Japan on Tuesday, the first day of lifted border restrictions.

For more than two years, Japan put strict border controls in place to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Tourists are expected to deliver a sorely needed 5 trillion yen ($35 billion) boost to the world’s third-largest economy. And the flood of visitors is expected to keep growing.

Among those who arrived on Tuesday was Nadine Lackmann who came from Germany with her wife to enjoy a much-awaited trip in Tokyo.

“It’s the first day that we can come here and we are so so happy,” said Lackmann.

The daily cap of 50,000 arrivals is gone.

Airlines have added flights to respond to the full re-opening of borders. Visa-free travel is back for short-term business and tourism from more than 60 nations.

The only protocols left for entry are that you must be fully vaccinated with one booster or have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure.

Then, virtually all visitors from the U.S., the rest of Asia, Europe and South America won’t have to quarantine.

Compared to the most recent surge in Japan, when reported infections nationwide topped 200,000 people in August, both cases and deaths have dwindled.

Last week, daily deaths averaged eight people nationwide. Japan has provided free COVID-19 vaccines, especially encouraging the elderly and the medically vulnerable to get inoculated.

But visitors may have to adjust to face masks.

Most Japanese are still wearing masks, just about everywhere.

Many stores and restaurants require mask-wearing, as well as sanitizing hands at entrances, though there is talk of relaxing such recommendations in outdoor spaces.

Some establishments close early, or have shuttered completely.

Still, bookings from abroad at Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways Co., or ANA, have already jumped five-fold compared to the previous week, while those flying out of Japan doubled.

The surge is coming on top of lesser, more gradual increases recorded the previous week.

AP video filmed by: Chisato Tanaka