Having barred foreign tourists from entering the country for more than two years, you’d have thought Japan would have dropped down in any world tourism ranking list. Instead, it topped a 2021 travel and tourism development report by the World Economic Forum. It’s encouraging news for a nation that’s gradually starting to reopen its borders. On Thursday Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that Japan will finally start accepting foreign tourists on package tours from June 10.  

The “Test Tourism” trial began on Tuesday with seven people arriving at Narita Airport from the US. Also coming in from America this week were President Joe Biden, actor Tom Cruise and director Jerry Bruckheimer. Other news in our latest roundup includes protests and counter-protests over the new AV law in Shinjuku. The most recent opinion polls from Kyodo News. And in entertainment, Chie Hayakawa makes a big impression in Cannes with her chilling movie, Plan 75.  

Japan Takes Top Spot in World Tourism List 

Japan is the world’s number one tourist destination. At least it is according to the latest Travel and Tourism Development Index by the World Economic Forum. Published biannually, the index covers 117 countries and identifies the key factors in enabling the sustainable and resilient growth of travel and tourism economies. Within the various categories, Japan ranked fourth in air transport infrastructure and cultural resources. Its lowest position was 107th for its response to climate change.  

Since the index began back in 2007, Japan has always placed fairly high and finished fourth when it was last published in 2019. This, though, is the first time it has topped the list. America finished second, while Spain, which held the top spot between 2015 and 2019, came third. The latest index highlighted the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to invest in travel and tourism. It concluded that a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient sector must be created. 

Image by Anna Petek

Japan to Allow Foreign Tourists on Package Tours from Next Month 

From June 10, foreign tourists will finally be allowed to enter Japan, but only via package tours. Prime Minister Kishida said the strict border controls have been necessary to buy time to vaccinate the population. He added that the government will start easing restrictions from here on. “Step by step, we will aim to accept (tourists) as we did in normal times, taking into consideration the status of infections,” he told reporters on Thursday.  

The news came two days after Japan accepted its first “Test Tour” from overseas. Seven people from the United States arrived at Narita Airport on Tuesday, including six from Hawaii and one from Los Angeles. There are two separate itineraries. One includes a visit to Zenkoji Temple in Nagano Prefecture and Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture. For the other, tourists will visit Hanamaki Onsen Hot Spring Village in Iwate Prefecture and Mogami River in Yamagata Prefecture.  

Protests Against New Porn Law in Shinjuku 

On April 1, 2022, the age of adulthood in Japan was lowered from 20 to 18. This meant 18- and 19-year-olds no longer required their parents’ permission to do things such as renting an apartment. It also meant they didn’t need parental consent to appear in porn films. There were, therefore, fears that this could lead to an increase in teenagers being coerced into having sex. A new law was subsequently introduced that allows performers to release themselves from contracts they may have signed against their will.  

Though intended to protect young people from being exploited, many feel this legislation hasn’t gone far enough. Calls have been growing for more soft-core content, eliminating the filming of full intercourse. There were protests against the new law in Shinjuku on Saturday. These were met with counter-protests by sex workers who don’t want to be labeled as victims. “I just hope the safety of workers will be ensured and they won’t be discriminated against,” #KuToo Movement founder, Yumi Ishikawa told TW. 

Kishida’s Approval Rating Highest Since Coming to Power  

The approval rating for Prime Minister Kishida’s Cabinet has risen to 61.5 percent. That’s a 3.7 percent increase from a month ago and the highest it’s been since the Hiroshima-native took office last October. The two-day survey, taken by Kyodo News last weekend, also found that 53.9 percent of respondents were in favor of the latest guidelines on masks, which states they aren’t always necessary outdoors, as long as people aren’t conversing.  

As for Japan’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 71.2 percent said they supported what the government’s done so far. According to 53,7 percent of those who answered, economic activity should take priority over precautions against Covid-19, while 44.6 percent said the opposite. The survey also showed that 65.5 percent were in favor of relaxing border controls. The two-day telephone survey ran from last Saturday and had more than 1,000 respondents.  

Biden Pledges to Protect Taiwan in Event of Chinese Attack 

Joe Biden arrived in Japan on Sunday for his first official presidential trip here. He was joined by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australia’s new PM Anthony Albanese for a meeting of the quadrilateral security dialogue (Quad), a group focused on curbing China’s assertiveness in the region. On Monday, Biden appeared alongside Kishida at a press conference during which he said the US would intervene militarily if China were to invade Taiwan.  

Two other high-profile Americans arrived in Japan on Monday. Tom Cruise and director Jerry Bruckheimer were here to promote Top Gun: Maverick. Speaking at the Roppongi Midtown Conference Hall, Cruise said it was “exciting” and a “privilege” to be back in Japan after a four-year absence. He added that it was “emotional” for both him and Bruckheimer to be in the country. The following day, they greeted fans at a red-carpet event in Yokohama. Top Gun: Maverick premieres in Japan today.  

Plan 75 Makes A Big Impression in Cannes 

Another movie making headlines this week was Chie Hayakawa’s Plan 75, which premiered in Cannes on May 20. The title refers to a disturbing plan to solve the issue of Japan’s super-aging society. Set in the not-too-distant future, the government arranges a program that calls on citizens aged 75 and over to die voluntarily through assisted suicide in return for a sum of money. The film received a five-minute standing ovation.  

The Cannes International Film Festival is set to finish tomorrow with the awards ceremony taking place today. Plan 75 is one of the nominees for the Un Certain Regard prize while Hirokazu Koreeda’s Broker is in contention for the Palme d’Or, the main award at the festival. It’s the Japanese director’s first Korean production. It stars Song Kang-ho, who rose to international prominence thanks to movies such as Snowpiercer (2013) and Parasite (2019).