Reasons For The Sharp Decline of Japanese Tourists in Southeast Asia | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Reasons For The Sharp Decline of Japanese Tourists in Southeast Asia

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Downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Lots of pedestrians, but few Japanese tourists were in sight.
The waitresses at the girls’ bar asked, “Where did all the Japanese go?” they whispered.
The street, usually crowded with Japanese tourists, was deserted, and women were playing with their cell phones in their spare time.

Japanese tourists who used to come here in droves have disappeared.

This is what people are whispering about in Southeast Asia, a popular tourist destination for the Japanese. Journalists who traveled to Thailand and Vietnam in early May report on the current situation there.


“The number of whites is slowly returning, but it is only about 60% of what it was before Corona,” said a journalist who traveled to Thailand and Vietnam. The Japanese are not doing so well.

A club bar worker in his twenties grumbled when we visited Bui Vien Street, a famous entertainment district in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest commercial center, in early May.

Bui Vien Street is known as “Party Street” and is lined with clubs and bars. It is also known as a place for backpackers to rest their weary bones before heading off to Vietnam’s deeper tourist spots, but the street is filled with noisy explosions throughout the night. If you stay in a hotel on the street, you can almost feel the building shake with the noise, and it is far from quiet.

I went into the club bar where the 20-something waitress I mentioned earlier was working, and found that the place could easily accommodate 200 people, but because it was early at 9:00 p.m. on a weekday night, about half of the seats were occupied by regulars and white tourists. As I watched the dancers dance and slurped down a Saigon, a local beer, the number of customers gradually increased, but there were no Japanese in sight. Customers varied from asking for fruit to tipping the dancers, but almost no one was wearing a mask in the restaurant.

Tourist foot traffic has returned since the Vietnamese government fully reopened tourism in March, and the streets are said to be packed with people on weekends. In fact, after 10:00 p.m., it became difficult to walk down the street as more and more people started to arrive. It became chaotic, with peddlers selling cigarettes and other items, and street performers swallowing torches and putting them out.

As I was walking down the street, I suddenly felt a tug on my arm.

“Anata, anata, would you like a massage?”

Two women in their early twenties stopped me in broken Japanese, and when I asked them about it, they told me that they could give me a massage, including sexual intercourse, for about 10,000 yen.

In poor English, she explained to me that business was slowing down due to the Corona disaster. We politely declined and moved on. We were approached by touts at a girls’ bar-like establishment in Japan, but they told us the situation was the same.

Bui Vien Street is famous mainly as a playground for Westerners, but I wondered what was happening on Letang Thong Street, known as the Japanese quarter.

When I visited there later, I was surprised to find almost no customers. Middle-aged Japanese men in suits, who appeared to be expatriates, could be seen here and there entering Japanese restaurants to entertain their guests. Karaoke bars with local female hostesses and massage parlors like those on Bui Vien Street were numerous but deserted.

A young woman wearing an ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese costume for women, asked me with a straight face, “Japanese, where did you go?” I was at a loss to answer.

The manager of a local restaurant told me, “The head office has issued strict orders for expatriates not to go to such restaurants, because it would be a disaster if they were infected with corona while playing with women in the area. If they were to bring home coronas, it would be a crisis that could destroy their families.”

He explained the situation to us.

Vietnam has been making efforts to attract foreign visitors in recent years. In 2019, before the Corona disaster, a record 18 million people visited the country, of which about 950,000 were Japanese. However, due to the sharp decline in tourists from China and Japan, the volume zone, the number of visitors in 2022 is expected to be around 5 to 6 million.


Vietnam is not the only country without Japanese tourists. Japanese have also disappeared from Bangkok, Thailand, which is very popular among Japanese.

As you can see in the photo taken in May, the area is deserted. According to a local resident, more and more stores have gradually reopened this year, but the business situation on Thaniya Street remains difficult, as the women who work there have returned to the countryside and there is a shortage of staff.

 “The mood of self-restraint among the local Japanese expatriate community became extremely strong,” said a local restaurant worker.


On the other hand, Bourbon Street, where Westerners, known locally as “farang,” gather, is gradually regaining the tourist crowds it had before the Corona disaster, although not to the same extent as before. Drunken patrons of bars and men visiting go-go bars can also be seen here and there. Compared to the near-zero number of Japanese tourists, the difference is significant.

Why do Japanese people hesitate to visit Southeast Asia? One reason is the high cost of inspections. A negative certificate from a PCR test is required for travel from Japan to Southeast Asia, but unlike the saliva test commonly used in Japan, the test requires a swabbing method to remove body fluids from the back of the nose, which costs 20,000 yen at the lowest, and as much as 40,000 yen if an express fare is paid. In addition to this, an infection prevention application must be installed on a smartphone, and the complicated procedure is a hindrance to individual travelers, especially those without support.

When will the day come when Japanese tourists can once again visit Southeast Asia with peace of mind?

A downtown area in Thailand. There were almost no Japanese tourists here either.
A deserted Japanese town in Thailand.
Interview, text, and photographs by Yuji Ebisuoka (freelance journalist)
  • Interview, text, and photographs Yuji Ebisuoka

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