As COVID fears ebb, Japan readies for tourists from abroad

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A rickshaw puller carries his customers around Tokyo’s Asakusa area famous for sightseeing. AP

The rickshaw men in Tokyo are adding English-speaking staff, a sure sign Japan is bracing for a return of tourists from abroad.

Japan’s border controls to curb the spread of coronavirus infections began gradually loosening earlier this month.

That’s great news for Yusuke Otomo, owner of Daikichi, a kimono rental shop in Asakusa, an old district of Tokyo famous for its temples, quaint restaurants and rickshaw rides. He can barely contain his excitement.

Japan travel 2 Thai travelers ine up for check-in for their trip to Osaka and Tokyo. AP

“Those were a hard three years. But we managed to endure until today. And after such an experience, to think people from abroad can finally come back is simply thrilling,” Otomo told The Associated Press.

“I’m thinking that maybe, just as before COVID, my shop, the city of Asakusa and everyone’s hearts can flourish again. I can’t wait.”

Before the pandemic, Asakusa was so brimming with foreigners they sometimes outnumbered the Japanese. After the coronavirus struck, the streets were deserted.

Japan travel 3 Yusuke Otomo, the owner of Daikichi kimono rental shop, brings a traditional Japanese umbrella for a prop during a photo session. AP

“Not a soul in sight,” he said sadly.

Some kimono rental stores folded. Restaurants were shuttered.

The crowds are finally back with a gradual relaxing of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions, which called for restaurants to close early and people to social distance and limit attendance at events. But most of the visitors are Japanese.

Shuso Imada, general manager at JSS Information Center, a sake and shochu showroom in downtown Tokyo, said he has been feeling pretty lonely and is itching to tell foreign visitors about how to match the traditional Japanese rice wine with all kinds of non-Japanese food, even cheese and beef.

“In a way, we didn’t have much to do and we just had to wait. The gates have now reopened,” he said.

Japan travel 4 People shop around at an arcade lined with restaurants and souvenir shops in Tokyo’s Asakusa area famous for sightseeing. AP

But like others waiting for tourists, he acknowledged that the limited entry for tour groups now in effect may not allow time for a relaxing visit to his center.

Visitors have to abide by guidelines requiring travelers to have a special coordinator, stay on specific routes and abide by rules like wearing masks and regularly using disinfectant.

Associated Press

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