Suggested reading: Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world for 265 years. Here’s why.

by Tim Brinkhof

On September 22, the Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, announced the country would be reopening its border for tourists. Starting October 11, you will no longer need a visa to visit the Land of the Rising Sun, nor will you have to join a government-approved, guided tour. Best of all, Japan is abolishing its daily arrival cap, which at one point was set as low as 20,000 visitors.

These restrictions, some of the strictest in the entire world, were introduced at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, and remained in place long after other East Asian countries opened up their borders. Though effective in some ways – Japan’s COVID death toll is well below the global average – they have proven destructive in others, not in the least because Japan’s shrinking population and economy are becoming increasingly reliant on contact with the outside world.

Equally alarming were the double standards baked into Japan’s pandemic policies. Where other countries prohibited their own citizens from leaving just as they prevented foreigners from entering, Japanese citizens were allowed to visit any nation not in lockdown. And as one door opened, others remained firmly shut. The Asian news website Nikkei reported that about 370,000 guest workers and foreign students struggled to get back into Japan, even though they all had residence visas.

According to The Economist, Japan’s pandemic policies – which repeatedly discriminated where the coronavirus did not – betray its deeply rooted fear and distrust of foreigners. As former dean of Kyoto Seika University Oussouby Sacko explained, the country “conceptualised covid as something that comes from the outside,” and feared that tourists – in contrast to the notoriously clean and confirming Japanese – would not respect pandemic practices like mask wearing or silent eating.

The COVID pandemic may have reinvigorated anti-foreign sentiments in Japan, but the latter is much older than the former. Similar to the U.S. and other island nations, Japanese politics has been dominated by themes of isolationism and xenophobia for centuries. Once, under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, the country actually managed to completely sever all of its relations with the outside world. This period, now referred to as “Sakoku” or chained country, lasted 265 years. … (continue at Big Think)