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Gearoid Reidy

Tourists and the Japanese Art of Pandemic Envy

Japan is debating when and how to take off masks. The country should proceed cautiously. 

Who wants to go first?

Who wants to go first?

Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images AsiaPac

The first tourists have begun to trickle back into Japan, with a few guided tour groups arriving this week in a small experiment designed to get locals used to the idea of foreign visitors. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is promising to let in more package tours starting next month as the country starts to reopen.  

Foreigners have actually been visible for several weeks in Tokyo because citizens and permanent residents are allowed to invite family members in for visits. The sight of the stereotypical western tourist — tattooed, clad in backpacks and cargo shorts, necks craned to gaze up at Tokyo’s glass-wrapped skyscrapers — isn’t really off-putting. What’s alarming for some here is that the visitors are frequently unmasked.