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COVID-19 cases in Japan have plunged, but the country is keeping its tourism freeze in place

Posted at 4:30 AM, Oct 29, 2021

Filled with pink and fuzzy things and cuddly bears, 6%DOKIDOKI, a tiny store in the heart of Tokyo's Harajuku district, is bursting with "kawaii," the Japanese for "cuteness."

What it doesn't have enough of, as in zero, are foreign tourists — and it could sure use some.

Like much of Asia, including Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia, Japan's borders remain closed to tourists from abroad. But while other Asian countries inch toward reopening, Japan looks likely to keep its borders shut for some time to come.

That's a hardship for the many businesses that had come to rely on foreign tourists, who numbered 32 million in 2019, before the pandemic.

"Foreigners understand 'kawaii' more emotionally than do Japanese. They use, 'Kawaii!,' in the same way they say, 'Wonderful,' 'Awesome,' or 'Lovely,'" said Yui Yoshida, the manager of a store in the center of Tokyo's Harajuku district.

"We had so many foreign customers before the pandemic," she said. "Then suddenly, no one could come."

Yoshida doesn't expect foreign visitors to return until cherry blossom season next year. That even might be optimistic.

According to The Associated Press, much of Japan's tourism industry depends on whether COVID-19 cases will be contained. Medical experts worry infections might shoot up again in another seasonal wave.

For now, the government is preparing to restart its "GoTo" promotions for domestic travel, which provide discounts for travel, lodging and other spending. Last year the program was canceled after five months when the virus surged back.