Tourists enjoy 1st weekend after Japan scraps COVID border controls

Numerous tourist spots in Japan saw visitors return Saturday, the first weekend after the government scrapped coronavirus border controls and implemented a domestic travel subsidy program in a bid to spur inbound and local tourism.

The changes implemented Tuesday are part of government efforts to “live with the coronavirus” by reviving the economy while curbing the spread of COVID-19.

In a shopping area lined with classic buildings near Ise Jingu, a shrine in Mie Prefecture, central Japan, a Swiss tourist expressed his excitement about visiting the country for the first time in three years.

Ise Jingu shrine in the Mie Prefecture city of Ise is crowded with tourists on Oct. 15, 2022, the start of the first weekend after the Oct. 11 introduction of a national travel subsidy program aimed at buoying the COVID-hit domestic tourism industry. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

In a shopping area lined with classic buildings near Ise Jingu, a shrine in Mie Prefecture, central Japan, a Swiss tourist expressed his excitement about visiting the country for the first time in three years.

Stephan Paletzki told Kyodo News in the Okage Yokocho district that he had traveled to Japan every year before the pandemic and he was not worried now as he had received three COVID-19 vaccine shots.

Wearing a mask, which he said was a bit tight around the ears, Paletzki, 49, said people no longer wear masks in Switzerland.

Earlier Saturday, people jostled at East Japan Railway Co.’s Tokyo Station as they waited to board bullet trains to western Japan.

Travelers wait to board bullet trains at JR Tokyo Station on Oct. 15, 2022. (Kyodo)

“I saw some foreign tourists and I feel as if our pre-pandemic life is coming back,” said Shinya Kato, a 27-year old company employee from Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo.

“There might be another wave later so I want to enjoy myself as much as I can while the disease’s spread is still low,” Kato said.

He said he was traveling with his friend to the Kansai region in the west that includes the major cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe.

Japan removed its 50,000-person daily entry cap and its ban on individual travelers and non-prearranged trips, allowing foreign tourists to travel freely in the country.

Along with more inbound travelers, the tourism industry is hoping that the National Travel Discount program will help the sector to emerge from a slump caused by the pandemic.

The program has started in all 47 prefectures, except Tokyo that will join on Oct. 20. It offers residents of Japan subsidies of up to 11,000 yen ($74) per night up to a total of seven nights.

Related coverage:

FOCUS: Japan travel scheme rollout stunted as firms spend quota prematurely

Japan scraps COVID border controls in hopes of reviving tourism boom

Japan to run new domestic travel subsidy program to late Dec.: gov’t