After two years of strict border control, Japan finally relaxed its restrictions on October 11th, 2022, allowing foreign visitors to return. Our South Korean-based reporter, Soon Pyon, had spent more than a decade in Japan and had never left for more than a week until the pandemic kept him out. He was one of the first passengers on an overseas airline to arrive and meet us.
Soon Pyon had been expecting Japan to be exactly as he remembered it, but he was surprised to find that some things had changed. Here are five of the most startling differences he noticed.
More Vending Machines Than Before
Japan is known for its vending machines, but returning after a long absence really brings home how many there are. Soon Pyon thought there were even more machines than before, which could be due to the rise in non-face-to-face sales methods during the pandemic.
Not only is the number of machines greater, but their variety has also increased. For example, Soon Pyon saw a vending machine selling caramels in front of the Number Sugar caramel shop in Daikanyama, Tokyo. These machines were originally put in place to help businesses stay open during coronavirus-related restrictions.
Everyone Waits In Line For Everything
This may be familiar to foreign tourists, but it is still striking to those returning to Japan after a long absence. Everywhere Soon Pyon went, people were lined up behind one another.
No one cut in front of the line, and everyone waited politely, bringing order to the chaos.
Korean Food is Easier to Find
Shin-Okubo, Tokyo’s Koreatown, was not the well-known tourist destination back when Soon Pyon’s family first immigrated to Japan in the 2000s. The only places to buy Korean goods were the Korean supermarkets in Shin-Okubo.
Now, however, Korean food can be found in many supermarkets, including the large novelty chain store Don Quijote.
You Still Need to Use Physical Money Make Purchase
Japan has made great strides in the area of cashless transactions since the pandemic, but it still needs to catch up to other countries.
In Korea, Soon Pyon no longer carries a wallet; instead, he uses his credit card or smartphone to make purchases. In Japan, however, many merchants still do not accept cashless payments, so you will need to carry a wallet with actual cash.
Inflation Is Relatively Tame
The cost of living and necessities has risen slightly in Japan recently, but tourists are unlikely to notice this. Restaurant menus and admission rates to parks and museums have mostly stayed the same in the past two years.
In fact, tickets for Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea has been temporarily reduced by 20%, and the yen is now less expensive than it was before the outbreak.
These five things surprised Soon Pyon when he returned to Japan after a long absence. He was eager to come back, and his extended absence allowed him to fall in love with the country all over again and see it through new eyes.