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Japan’s tiny tourism test will let in 50 foreign travelers

Small groups from four countries are supposed to start visiting in May

A visitor ties omikuji fortune slips on the ropes at Heian Shrine in Kyoto on May 3. (Kosuke Okahara/Bloomberg News)
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Japan is preparing to welcome a small number of tourists back to the country after shutting its borders during the pandemic — but don’t count on being one of them.

In a test to prepare for a larger resumption of travel, the country is planning to allow about 50 vaccinated-and-boosted travelers to visit as part of organized tours later this month, the Japan Tourism Agency said Tuesday. The pool of 50 travelers will be allowed from four countries Japan has designated as priority markets: the United States, Australia, Thailand and Singapore.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the travelers would be selected, or which tour companies would be involved. The Associated Press reported that each tour group would be capped at four people.

In a statement, the tourism agency said the limited visits will be used to test coronavirus measures, including infection prevention and emergency response. Information will be sent to travel agencies, hotels and other travel businesses. Visitors must be accompanied by a tour guide and can only go to areas where there is not a state of emergency and government officials have agreed to welcome them.

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The rise of the omicron variant late last year — and the resulting border crackdown in Japan — delayed plans to run a tourism test earlier, the statement said.

Japan had allowed some visitors, including business travelers, students and foreign workers to enter the country in November, but tightened restrictions again later that month. Some visitors were allowed back in March, though tourists were still prohibited.

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The country’s border controls have remained tight even as many other countries in Asia relaxed theirs and started welcoming visitors back, including Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea.

According to an estimate from the tourism agency, a little more than 100,000 people visited Japan between January and March compared to more than 8 million people during the same period in 2019.

While visiting London earlier this month, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan would further ease coronavirus border restrictions in June, Kyodo News reported.

Julia Mio Inuma contributed to this report.

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