Former prime minister thinks the exchange rate is creating an unprecedented opportunity.

This Friday, Japan will finally be reopening to foreign tourism, with inbound tour groups allowed into the country after two years of travel suspension. It’s a big step for Japan, which has maintained some of the tightest border controls in the world during the coronavirus pandemic, but one prominent Japanese politician would like to see the remaining restrictions to inbound leisure travelers removed as quickly as possible.

Yoshihide Suga was Japan’s prime minister from 2020 to 2021, stepping into the position when predecessor Shinzo Abe resigned due to health reasons. Prior to that, Suga served as chief cabinet secretary for a period of more than seven and a half years, and had his public recognition boosted even higher by being the person who presented Japan’s new imperial era name, Reiwa, in 2019.

In 2019, the last full year before the effects of the pandemic began being felt in Japan, the country welcomed 31,882,049 visitors from overseas, its most ever. That number fell to just 245,862 people in 2021, but Suga believes that Japan’s tourism numbers have the potential to not only recover, but climb to even higher record levels, thanks to something that’s weighing heavily on the Japanese economy: the weak yen.

The yen has plummeted in value against the U.S. dollar in recent months. On Monday, the exchange rate fell to 132 yen to the dollar, the lowest value for Japan’s currency in 20 years, and it’s continued to drop, reaching 133.5 yen to the dollar on Wednesday. While that’s heartbreaking news for Japanese consumers and companies buying things from overseas, it means that for international travelers, the exchange rate is more favorable than it’s been for more than two decades.

“Within Japan currently, only the negative effects of the weakened yen are being felt,” said Suga at a speech last weekend in Yokohama, parts of which Suga represents in the Diet as a member of the House of Representatives. “For travelers coming to Japan, though, there’s never been a better situation! In negotiations with other countries, I urge the government to relax border [restrictions], and eliminating limits [on the number of inbound foreign travelers] should be done as quickly as possible.”

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, in 2019 inbound foreign tourists spent roughly 4.8 trillion yen in Japan (including food and lodging expenditures), so when Japan does open up to unrestricted foreign tourism, there’s likely to be a swelling of demand for yen that will eventually lead to it strengthening against other currencies. For foreigners who make it to Japan early, though, the favorable exchange rate might create some serious bargains, and Suga hopes visitors will be able to take advantage of that opportunity soon.

Source: J-Cast News via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
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