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Japan is simply keeping the stable door shut long after the horse has bolted. Alpha, Delta and Omicron all found their way in despite a lack of tourists.

15 Comments

Bloomberg columnist Gearoid Reidy, referring to Japan's strict border controls in dealing with the pandemic, which are devastating the tourism industry.

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Oh well, they're not really necessary anyway as they're obviously a very fickle source of income. Better to invest in domestic STEM education

-10 ( +2 / -12 )

OK, let's assume Japan decides to let in foreign tourists immediately.

With that, what would happen if a visiting foreign tourist caught Covid while traveling here? How other countries deal with sick tourists ranges from hotel lockdown (Thailand) to hey, who cares? (US) But how about Japan?

The sick can't isolate at home in Japan, and no hotel would want them (aside from any covid-descrimination, extending the booking multiple days or weeks would wreck havoc on any other hotel bookings. Imagine this conversation: "Sorry Mr. Repeat Customer, we had to cancel you reservation because the sick gaijin shall be in your room. Care to try back next week when he hopefully leaves?")

Not to mention if a hotel did host a sick person, they would need to lock them away but somehow need to supply food (what about the places like small hotels, cabins, guesthouses, rental homes, and AirBnBs which have no food?). And then there is the cleaning of the hotel (good luck onsens) as well as staff health issues.

And besides, can you imagine a Japanese hotel allowing non-sick guests to stay in a room next to someone sick in quarantine? So much for omotenashi!

But if there were some other type of quarantine facility instead, they would have to be located all over the place (something the government couldn't even do for its citizens in the past 2+ years) and these facilities would need to be all staffed with foreign language speaking medical personnel. And how would tourists even get there if the sick aren't suppose to use public transport?

Sure, other countries have completely flipped their living-with-covid attitudes 180 degrees in the past month or two, but widespread attitude change like that in Japan is like turning a 50,000 ton container ship (and the narrow minds of Japan are like the Suez Canal).

8 ( +15 / -7 )

To be clear, here is a little more of what Gearoid Reidy said in context in his 4 April column, "With Borders Still Shut, Japan Risks Becoming ‘Pure Invention;’ Japan should join Asian neighbors in relaxing its borders to tourists, lest it fade even further from global consciousness":

Like many of the country’s Covid steps, strict border controls once had their place. Japan’s cautious approach to the pandemic has been vindicated, seeing fewer Covid deaths in the two years since the pandemic began than the U.S. saw in the month of March alone. 

But it’s no longer clear what Japan is waiting for. The population is well vaccinated, with more than 80% of those aged 65 or older having been boosted. It’s not as if it’s keeping out a foreign threat. Unlike China, Japan has never attempted to pursue a Covid-zero strategy, and currently sees around 40,000 coronavirus cases a day.

In other words, Japan is simply keeping the stable door shut long after the horse has bolted. Alpha, delta and omicron all found their way in despite a lack of tourists. Japan does not fully control its porous borders, with the flow of U.S. military troops blamed by some for introducing omicron.

One reason the ban persists is that, effective or not, border controls are popular. An NHK opinion poll last month found fewer than a third were in favor in opening up further. At least some of this can be laid at the door of a fever-pitch campaign against holding the Olympics, which helped amplify in a nation’s mind the message that Covid was imported.

The wider need is also to halt the declining relevance of Japan to the outside world. Japanese politicians have long spoken of the shift from the “Japan Bashing” of the 1980s to “Japan Passing” — the phenomenon of Japan being overlooked internationally, coined after Bill Clinton skipped over the country on a visit to China.

That’s now a common occurrence. But Japan’s isolation during the pandemic is only accelerating this trend, crowded out by South Korean soft power and Chinese economic might.

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2022-04-04/japan-s-covid-isolation-has-gone-on-too-long-it-should-open-up-to-tourism

8 ( +11 / -3 )

There are a long list of reasons why Japan won't be welcoming tourists back quickly. It's clear that it's not about keeping the stable door shut for medical reasons.

One simple reason is that this country doesn't have the means nor the desire to take care of huge numbers of sick foreign tourists. Japan is very much a place that likes to avoid dealing with issues, so not having tourists here in the first place means complete avoidance of the complicated issue of how to take care of loads of people potentially getting sick whilst in the country.

They don't want to have to deal with it. They know hospitals and clinics and hotels and the country in general don't have the language skills to deal with it. They know that the medical system isn't flexible enough to deal with it. The costs, and work required, to change these things is just not feasible. The people in charge at the highest levels of government and local authorities would look at it as requiring Olympics level funding and organization - in terms of needing volunteers with language skills to help guide foreigners around hospitals and help with the paperwork, help centers etc. - and this would be an ongoing requirement, not just for a fixed period of 1-2 months like the Olympics.

Therefore avoiding the issue completely is the most logical response. I expect the tourist ban to continue for the whole of this year, if not well into next year.

4 ( +11 / -7 )

@Wobot

Yes, surely a bunch of people with math degrees will save the economy, LOL!

4 ( +6 / -2 )

By remaining closed they are just promoting xenophobia which let's face it is pretty rampant in many areas of Japan! There is no scientific justification for it as already stated all the variants have made their way into Japan Via Japanese nationals travelling OS on business!

Open up move on! The world has had enough of the Covid scare mongering!

0 ( +8 / -8 )

I agree with the assessment of the commenters above: At this point, Japan is neither willing nor able to deal with the medical responsibility of an unrestricted influx of tourists. It would be brutal, but also honest to say "we would love to have you, we really do, but we can't guarantee your wellbeing, so in both our best interest let's take a raincheck on your visit."

If only Japan could be bothered to spell out their plans. But the deafening silence leads to the whole world wondering how xenophobic Japan is after all, coming to possibly undeserved conclusions.

The tourist situation will probably get better if there's widespread availability of actual Covid medication, once isolation and hospitalisation are not the only available treatment options.

All that being said, what must happen soon is non-tourist immigration aside from students and short-term business travels, both of which are not an option for anyone whose life plans include a relocation to Japan. International couples and families are suffering hard and are getting close to their breaking point.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

Agree. But xenophobia is a comfortable emotion to play to

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Divinda , HBJ you guys nailed it. Pulling the racist card or xenophobia charge is just more low resolution thinking and judgement from the usual place. Japans massive tourism boom before the pandemic cancels that for a counter argument. What was it 30 plus million a year at the peak?

It is down to simple logistics, and as HBJ brilliantly put it, “Japan is very much a place that likes to avoid dealing with issues” and these ones are just too much to deal with. Japans healthcare system is rightly focused on Japan. Nearly quit my job three years ago to ride the inbound wave too! Talk about dodging a bullet , and my heart goes out to those that invested in the numbers. Mechakucha taihen. Some very clever people did manage to adapt and survive though. One fella has found a market for doing Japanese sake tours ( in English!) for domestic tourists and apparently doing rather well. Found a niche. Thought that was brilliant.

have heard the year 2025 being floated around as the year to expect Japan to fully open up again. It simply is, what it is. Would be fascinating to see how those in the industry plan to ‘deal’ with above mentioned issues, which seem almost insurmountable when you take the time to process them. The ‘Just open up’ solution certainly won’t kick it. Perhaps they may just be praying for a super vaccine, to rid this thing once and for all. In the meantime folks, good time to travel if you are actually here!

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Who in other countries has still the money for excessive touristic tours to Japan? They are all pandemic hit for years there too. Those handful people who could, surely won’t happily press themselves into an airplane seat and fly the longer 16 hours, because they cannot fly over Ukraine or Russia, and the some nearer ones , riches from China , have already bought what they had wanted or also have become poorer by the pandemic and currently with rising infection numbers won’t even manage to leave their quarantine quarters and make it to any airport. The rest is usual mass tourism , bringing only little money but many necessary impossible efforts and service providing as well as you guess it, loads of new viruses. Currently, there’s no way to revive tourism to pre pandemic levels in both numbers and money influx.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

The Japanese government has hundreds of policies on hundreds of things. The media does not poll the Japanese public about them on a monthly basis. I can guarantee you that far more Japanese care about the level of taxes or pension payments than care about whether some gaijin san can come but others can't and how much testing there is or isn't of fellow Japanese coming from gaikoku. However, Kyodo consistently asks people about this border policy. It's just as loaded a question as all the others. "Do video games/heavy metal/horror movies make people violent?" etc. etc. I bet 100% of Japanese would say you cannot live on the 68000 yen a month the kokumin nenkin pension pays out. This is not and will never be headline news however, because Kyodo does not make an issue of it.

You need to pass a PCR in gaikoku to get on a plane to Japan, so 90%+ of foreigners testing positive for Covid in Japan would be catching it here. It would not be a result of their lack of kokumin-sei in the unhygenic wild west of gaikoku. The net result of the border being closed is costly schemes like GoTo and free handouts to tourism companies with huge drops in sales. I have a tourism related sideline and have already received over two million yen from you the taxpayer. Keeping the border closed will mean the government continuing to shovel public money at the tourism sector to (slightly) compensate for lost sales. This is not a cost-free "Urgh! Tourists!" schadenfraude fest at the expense of the tourism industry. It consumes a huge amount of money that should be spent elsewhere.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

HBJ nailed it on the head. Brava. Japan is not, will not be willing to invest in the facilities and language skills necessary to deal with the influx of potentially ill tourists. At this point, I can see Japan remaining closed to tourists for the foreseeable future just so they don't have to deal with their needs.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

They're not so much strict policies as they are racist and completely devoid of meaning, ESPECIALLY when they will let in anyone to compete in an international event they insist holding. Foreign traveler or spouse of Japanese? Not allowed in. Foreign business person? Two weeks quarantine. Japanese returning from abroad where they were welcomed to travel for whatever reason? No prob! Just take public transport home and self-quarantine if you like.

Japan didn't shut the stable door after the horses had left, it took all the doors of the chicken coup and told all the chickens to come and go as they please, but always return home to roost.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Foreign traveler or spouse of Japanese? Not allowed in.

Smith, you are simply wrong on that. Foreign spouses or any immediate family member (parent, child, sibling, etc) of a Japanese citizen or a foreign long term resident (such as a PR or spouse of Japanese) can have their family visit Japan. They just need a visitor's visa from their home embassy. Some red tape, yes. But they are allowed.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The COVID situation here would have been much much much much worse if tourists were allowed into Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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