When a 41-year-old Hong Kong resident learned that the borders to Japan were reopening for individual tourists, she immediately booked a ticket.
“It’s been three years. I can’t wait,” said the woman, who operates a trading business.
It cost her about three to four times more than it did in pre-COVID-19 times, but she wanted to visit Japan more than ever.
She plans to visit Japan in December to travel around Tokyo, Kyoto and Kyushu. And because of the weak yen, she said, “I can go binge shopping and eating.”
The woman is one of the many eager foreign tourists headed to the Land of the Rising Sun now that travel restrictions have been lifted.
Immediately after Japan eased its COVID-19 border rules on Oct. 11, tour companies in Hong Kong received a flood of reservations–about 15 times more than the previous month.
Hong Kong used to be a big inbound market for the country. In 2019, 2.29 million people in Hong Kong visited Japan–roughly one-third of its population.
But Japan’s strict travel rules instituted amid the coronavirus scare created about two years’ worth of pent-up tourism demand.
The Hong Kong government announced on Sept. 23 that it would lift its requirement for visitors arriving by air from abroad to go into a three-day mandatory quarantine.
Around the same time, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan will allow people visiting from 68 countries and areas, including the United States and Hong Kong, to enter Japan for a short-term stay under a visa waiver program, and that Japan will allow individual tourists to enter the country once again.
Wanderlusts quickly set out to planning.
EGL Tours, a tour company in Hong Kong, said it received a flood of reservations for Japan tours and made about 600 bookings over two days starting Sept. 24.
Until Sept. 23, it fielded requests from about 20 people per day to book a group tour.
Many tourists plan to take advantage of the depreciated yen.
Ellen Chin, 36, who works at an electricity company, has exchanged Hong Kong dollars to Japanese yen three times since spring, when the yen began to plunge steeply, in anticipation of traveling to Japan.
Chin now has about 600,000 yen ($4,100) in the bank.
Not everyone has waited patiently for it to reopen its doors to tourism as usual.
Winnie Chow, who works at a bank in Hong Kong, could not wait until Oct. 11.
Chow obtained a tourist visa and arrived in Japan on Oct. 7. Chow has stayed at a five-star hotel in Osaka, dined at a three Michelin-starred restaurant and enjoyed ramen noodles.
“In the first three days, I spent 40,000 Hong Kong dollars (about 740,000 yen),” Chow said.