Japan eager to welcome tourists from abroad amid cheap yen

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TOKYO (AP) — It’s hard to tell from his serious demeanor, but Akky International Corp. Chief Executive Hideyuki Abe can barely contain his excitement.

Foreign tourists, those cash-laden overseas visitors who used to flock to his colorful shop in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district, filled with clocks and memorabilia like samurai swords and toy cats with bouncy heads, are returning.

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Individual travelers will be able to visit Japan visa-free starting Tuesday, just as in the pre-Covid-19 era, and electronics stores, airlines and several tourist spots have high hopes for the reactivation of their business

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Japan kept its borders closed to most foreign travelers for much of the pandemic. Since June, only package trips are allowed. Meanwhile, the yen has weakened sharply against the dollar, giving some visitors much higher purchasing power and making Japan almost irresistible to regatta hunters.

Abe employs about 50 people and had resorted to layoffs after the pandemic broke out in 2020. Some shops in Akihabara have since closed, but he bided his time.

“Holding on is where the power lies,” Abe said. “Now, I’m a little worried about the labor shortage.”

Akihabara retailers and other businesses in Japan that rely heavily on visitors from all over have had a tough couple of years. Major retail chain Laox closed its Akihabara store, keeping open only its outlets at Narita Airport and the former capital of Kyoto.

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The city of Nara, famous for its temples, shrines and sake breweries, attracts tourists from other parts of Japan along with those from abroad. A pastoral getaway with deer roaming freely in the parks and glorious autumn foliage, it’s a recommended destination for people worried about the risks of visiting crowded destinations, said Katsunori Tsuji of Nara Prefecture’s tourism promotion division.

“There are aspects of life that the Japanese have preserved over the years in Nara that you can really feel and enjoy, that spiritual element,” he said.

About 10 years ago, Chinese tourists, visiting in large groups to snag European luxury brands and even high-tech toilet seats, bought so much that their purchases were known as “baku-gai,” combining the Japanese words for “explosive” and “purchase”. .”

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About 32 million foreign tourists visited Japan in 2019, before the pandemic. The travel and tourism sector contributed more than 7% to Japan’s economy, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Japan’s major airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, are increasing flights in response to the expected increase in demand. Both sharply reduced flights during the pandemic.

“The impact that inbound visitors have on the Japanese economy is said to be around 5 trillion yen ($35 billion), so we have high hopes for what we can expect,” Shinichi Inoue said recently , general manager of ANA, to journalists.

Flights to resume in the coming months include routes there from places like Honolulu, Frankfurt, New York, Seoul and Paris. They are meant to appeal not only to inbound tourists, but also to Japanese people planning a dream vacation during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

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To serve shoppers from various countries, including places like Vietnam, Europe and America, the staff at Abe’s three stores speak more than a dozen languages ​​among themselves.

It has endured several crises, including the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, at a time when the yen was stronger against the dollar, making Japan an ultra-expensive destination.

In 2011, the US dollar cost about 80 yen. Last year, the dollar cost about 111 yen. Now, it’s at a nearly three-decade high of about 145 yen, and pandemic restrictions are easing. Tourists will return.

“This time, it’s a perfect opportunity,” Abe said.


Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/yurikageyama



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