Relax, this is not the future of Japanese tourism

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Tourists are returning to Japan – but if they used to race Mario Karts through the central streets of Tokyo, now they are asked to sit in groups away from the locals in restaurants and not take off their masks while eating.

For those looking to return to Japan, the country’s first move to open up to tourists in the form of escorted tour groups, which began on Friday, has been met with much derision. Social media users compared the move to North Korea tours.

But relax: this is not the future of tourism in what people often consider to be the place people want to visit the most. For a country that was rather skeptical about the virtues of tourism even before Covid, a measured opening is the right approach.

Japan’s success in dealing with the pandemic has prompted caution among politicians and the public alike, which is understandable given the country has had just as few deaths per capita as New Zealand, which is the hero of the pandemic without resorting to lockdowns. One might think that Tokyo is backward, still living in the era of the pandemic, while other countries with softer policies have beaten Covid: if this is true, then an elderly Japan will not tolerate only huge losses.

Tokyo is skeptical that foreign tourists will follow informal social behaviors such as the near-universal wearing of masks, which its experts say reduces mortality. Some suspicion of outsiders stems from last year’s media frenzy over the prospect of people coming to the country to compete in the Olympics. The role of local media here should not be overlooked: if Japan adopts a “let it rip” approach to borders, the pressure will no doubt be intense, and the potential retaliation will be more devastating to tourism in the long run. Each visitor who came to the cluster got into the news; A single infection in the test group made national headlines earlier this month.

Indeed, many in Japan also see an opportunity to redefine the country’s relationship with tourism, which came to the country suddenly and was not always fully welcomed. The people of Tokyo are long tired of these Mario Karts, and now the streets are better off without them (a fundraising campaign for a single operator during the pandemic did not receive any support, it was attended by only four people).

In the tourist mecca of Kyoto, many were glad that the temples and streets were no longer clogged with foreigners. A local newspaper recently urged the city not to go back to the over-tourism of the past and to develop a new style that also works for locals.

It is clear that most people are not so desperate to go to Japan to join the tour. The country’s domestic and international business community rallied on Friday, calling on the government for further reopening, including a “quick reopening” of individual tourist travel and bringing Japan’s entry procedures in line with other G-7 countries.

With Japan’s largest…

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