Japan’s slow reopening restricts individual foreign tourists, but not celebrities

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TOKYO — Rapper Kanye West, actor Tom Cruise, and K-pop Super Junior stars may not seem to have much in common. But they are in Japan: they are among the foreign artists who have recently entered the country amid strict border closures.

Their high-profile performances in the city have drawn attention to inconsistencies in Japan’s slow reopening as it determines which foreigners are considered safe and which are still considered hazardous to health.

At the moment, some business travelers, international students and foreign workers are accepted, but many family members of foreign residents are not accepted. Group tours resume this month, but not individual tourism.

Japan’s tiny travel test will host 50 foreign travelers

In May, artists from the US and South Korea traveling on business met with hundreds of fans to promote their work seamlessly. In the same month, about 50 tourists went on a test flight, every step was followed.

But this week, Japan canceled one of those trial tours after a traveler from Thailand tested positive for COVID-19 and infected three more people. The trial run was designed to prepare Japan to receive group tours from 98 countries starting June 10th. A Covid-positive patient in a Thai travel group is not expected to change those reopening plans, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said.

Japan’s continued restrictions on foreigners are not only out of step with the big G7 economies, but also with neighboring countries in the Asia-Pacific region, which have completely taken stock of free tourism amid subsiding coronavirus cases.

Closing the pandemic remained popular domestically, but opponents liked Japan’s isolationist policies from the early 1600s to the 1850s. Corporate and travel industry executives have stepped up their public criticism in recent weeks, calling Japan’s reopening overcautious and damaging to its economy and global image.

Om Prakash, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, said the previous total travel ban “had a real economic and human cost.”

“This has undermined efforts to revive the economy, attract international students and promote Japan as a destination for investment and tourism,” he said. “To jump-start the economy and restore Japan’s reputation as a welcoming and open place, the government must quickly lift the remaining entry restrictions, let more tourists in and let them enjoy this amazing country freely.”

Covid cases in Japan have steadily declined since the omicron peak earlier this year. Tokyo, a city of 14 million people, reported 2,362 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday that with the number of cases declining, the government plans to introduce new measures to admit more foreigners.

Kishida said some airports would resume international flights, but did not specify when the new measures would take effect…

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