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Asia Minute: South Korean airlines ramping up Japan travel plans

Narita international airport Tokyo tourism
Shuji Kajiyama/AP
Visitors wearing face masks arrive at Narita International Airport near Tokyo on Friday, June 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

In less than two weeks, you’ll be able to travel to Japan without a visa — and without making special arrangements with a travel agency. But the initial demand for tickets isn’t coming from the United States.

Less than a week ago, the top leaders of Japan and South Korea met for the first time in nearly three years.

But when it comes to tourism, there’s apparently no such hesitation.

On Tuesday, South Korea’s Asiana Airlines announced it will soon boost flights from Incheon to Tokyo’s Narita Airport by 20%.

Flights from Incheon to Osaka are rising at twice that rate.

Overall, the airline plans to ramp up flights to Japan to 40% of their 2019 levels by the end of this year.

Back in the pre-pandemic days of 2019, Japan was setting records for international visitors — and South Korea was a big part of those numbers.

Government figures show nearly 32 million travelers to Japan that year — a growth of more than 60% in less than five years.

Five points of origin topped 1 million visitors to Japan — but not all of them are likely to immediately return to strong demand.

Number five is the United States, number four is Hong Kong, and number three is Taiwan.

South Korea was the second-biggest source of foreign travelers to Japan in 2019.

But the largest market still has complications: China topped the list — but international travel remains difficult under the country’s policy known as “Covid Zero.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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