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 are coming back, those big-spending visitors from abroad who used to flock into his colorful store in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district, its colorful shelves filled with watches and souvenirs like samurai swords and toy cats with bobbing heads.
Individual travelers will be able to visit Japan without a visa beginning Oct. 11, just like in pre-Covid-19 times, and electronics stores, airlines and various tourists spots have big hopes for a revival of their businesses.
Japan kept its borders closed to most foreign travelers during much of the pandemic.
Only packaged tours have been allowed since June. Meanwhile, the yen has weakened sharply against the dollar, giving some visitors much heftier buying power and making Japan nearly irresistible to bargain hunters.
Abe employs about 50 people and had resorted to layoffs after the pandemic struck in 2020. Some Akihabara shops have closed down since then, but he bided his time.
“Hanging on is where power lies,” Abe said. “Now, I am a bit worried about a shortage of workers.”
The city of Nara, famous for its temples, shrines and sake breweries, is banking on the return of tourists from other parts of Japan along with those from abroad.
A pastoral getaway with deer roaming free in parks and glorious autumn foliage — it’s a destination recommended for people worried about risks of visiting crowded destinations, said Katsunori Tsuji of Nara Prefecture’s tourism promotion division.
Some 32 million foreign tourists visited Japan in 2019, before the pandemic. The travel and tourism sector then contributed more than 7 percent to Japan’s economy, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
Japan’s major carriers All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines are increasing flights in response to expected higher demand. Both sharply reduced flights during the pandemic.
Flights resuming in the months ahead include routes to and from places like Honolulu, Frankfurt, New York, Seoul and Paris.
They are meant to appeal not only to incoming tourists but also to Japanese planning dream vacations over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
In 2011, the U.S. 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 the pandemic restrictions are waning. The tourists will be back.
“This time, it’s a perfect opportunity,” Abe said.