International visitors to Japan reach 96% of pre-COVID level in Sept – Nationwide
Japan welcomed more than 2 million international visitors for a fourth consecutive month in September, official data showed, marking a near full recovery to pre-pandemic levels even though the Chinese market has been slow to rebound. The number of foreign visitors for business and leisure was 2.18 million last month, data from the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) showed, up slightly from 2.16 million in August. Visitor numbers improved to 96.1% of levels seen in 2019 before the outbreak of COVID-19 led to travel curbs around the world.
Japan ended some of the world’s strictest COVID-19 border restrictions a year ago when it resumed visa-free travel for many countries, and went on to scrap all remaining controls in May. Arrivals have maintained a rapid recovery pace, peaking at 2.32 million in July, as airlines added more international flights and the yen’s slide to a near 33-year low made Japan a bargain destination.
The number of visitors arriving from 15 markets, including the United States, South Korea and Singapore, reached record levels for the month of September, the JNTO said. Travellers from Mexico were a record for any month. The strong demand from those markets is helping to compensate for figures from mainland China that are still 60% below 2019, when Chinese accounted for nearly a third of all visitors and 40% of all tourist spending in Japan.
Chinese arrivals were down slightly from August when Beijing lifted restrictions on group travel to Japan. Diplomatic relations have soured following Japan’s decision to release treated water from its stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean. The treated water issue appears to be weighing on Chinese tourism demand, but “the trend towards recovery is likely to remain unchanged,” Sompo Institute Plus economist Masato Koike said in a note.
Japan’s new foreign trainee program to be more flexible for workers – Nationwide
A government panel proposed replacing Japan’s controversial trainee program for foreigners with a new system with more flexibility and oversight to prevent human rights infringements, according its draft report. The panel called for enabling trainees who attain a certain level of skills and Japanese language ability after working for a year at one place to transfer to another within the same business sector, which is not allowed in principle under the present system.
Supervising organizations, which act as brokers and also supervise companies accepting foreign trainees, will be restricted from holding executive posts at the companies concerned as the practice has been criticized for leading to their failure to prevent abuses against trainees, such as harassment and unpaid wages.
The draft will be finalized in November following further discussions, and the government will seek to submit related bills to the ordinary parliamentary session next year. The new system would clearly state that it is intended to secure and develop human resources. It calls for bolstering the trainees’ skills and facilitating their shift to the specified skilled worker system that allows for long-term employment and residency.
The current program’s stringent rules, which basically do not permit trainees to change workplaces, as well as the lack of support from supervising organizations have led to cases of trainees running away. But the new system will allow trainees to transfer if they have the requisite Japanese language level and have passed the skills test.
Regarding support networks, the panel’s draft suggested hiring external lawyers to monitor the supervising organizations run by the chamber of commerce and other business-related groups. It also outlined plans that would make companies pay commission fees that trainees are often asked to shoulder. Currently, many workers go into debt to come to Japan under the program. As of the end of June, there were around 358,000 foreign trainees in Japan.