The National Tourism Organization of Japan launched a glossy website last week for international visitors looking to experience the country. An introductory video shows views of lush green islands, sleek hotel rooms, and a close-up of elegantly prepared seafood.
Good luck seeing it in person.
Normally, this would be a peak season for tourism to Japan. As the cherry blossoms burst into bloom along Kyoto's ancient, temple-lined alleys and boat tours ply the waters of Tokyo's flower-lined rivers, Japanese tourists largely have the spectacular display to themselves.
The country sealed its borders to most foreign travelers early in the Pandemic and has only recently begun to allow a slow trickle of students and business people to return.
Those hoping to visit Japan for fun shouldn't hold their breath. Koichi Wada, the head of Japan's tourism agency, told parliament last month that it was difficult to forecast the long-term trends for inbound tourism.
Japanese politicians and the public have maintained a more cautious approach to the H1N1 epidemic because most of the world has decided to pretend the epidemic is over. The border controls have been very popular with people at home. More than 65 percent of respondents in a recent NHK poll approved of the measures or felt they should be strengthened.
With an important parliamentary election coming up in July, the country's political leadership is unlikely to do anything that might endanger their party's chances of winning a comfortable majority.
James Brady, the head Japan analyst at Teneo, said that it will not happen before the election.
There may be some movement once votes are in. Mr. Brady said that the Japanese Prime Minister would have the flexibility to roll things back and open up.
Policymakers are likely to remove the restrictions bit by bit. Hideki Yamamoto, a professor of health policy at Te, said that the idea that Japan has had the most stringent travel restrictions on foreigners in the Group of 7 nations has played well domestically.
Japan has had more success fighting the Pandemic than almost all other countries because it has been able to keep the number of infections low and the death rates low. At the peak of the Pandemic this February, daily case counts never exceeded 100,000.
Even as the United States and much of Europe battled the Delta and Omicron waves with more restrictions, life in Japan continued as normal, with people dining out, shopping, and attending live music.
It is not clear what accounts for Japan's success in fighting the virus. Most experts credit the public's embrace of public health recommendations along with high vaccination rates for the fact that nearly 80 percent of the population has received at least two shots. Other, sometimes eccentric, theories include Japan's preference for bow over handshakes.
The public perception is that the restrictions on foreigners have been effective. Most people ignore the fact that Japanese nationals can leave and enter the country as they please.
Not everyone supports keeping the country closed to tourists. The restrictions have made it difficult for some local economies to rely on guests from China, South Korea and other places. Ski resorts in the Japanese Alps, spa towns in Kyushu, and tropical islands are all in dire financial straits.
A professor at Kansai University said that shutting down the country's tourism industry would cost Japan at least $90 billion in 2020.
In a city like Kyoto, which is dependent on tourists dollars, some locals are happy to have a break from the crush of bus tours that used to fill the streets.
In a recent essay, novelist and Kyoto native Keiichiro Kashiwagi wrote that his fellow Kyotoites were unhappy with tourism that drowned out the city's tranquility.
When the country reopens, it will need to rethink how it promotes itself to visitors, according to the transportation minister.
Businesses anxious for the return of tourists have been aided by large government subsidies and a boost in domestic tourism that has come as Japanese travelers have become more reluctant to take vacations abroad because of the health risks.
While Japanese officials would like to allow more tourists in as quickly as possible, they are cautious until they see how the domestic situation develops, according to a ruling party lawmaker.
The Omicron variant pushed case numbers to record highs as the country emerged from a national emergency. In the Tokyo area, locals are getting out to enjoy the cherry blossoms. The seven day average was 42,000 as of Thursday, up from 20,000 a week before.
Looking ahead. The travel industry hopes this will be the year that travel comes roaring back after governments loosen coronaviruses. What to expect.
There is lodging. Travelers discovered the privacy offered by rental residences. They hope to compete by offering stylish extended-stay properties, sustainable options, rooftop bars and co-working spaces.
Rental cars. Travelers can expect higher prices and older cars with high mileage since companies still haven't been able to expand their fleets. Are you looking for an alternative? Car-sharing platforms might be more affordable.
Cruises. Demand for cruises remains high despite a bumpy start to the year. Because they sail on smaller ships and steer away from crowded destinations, luxury expedition voyages are particularly appealing right now.
There are destinations. Travelers are eager to explore the sights and sounds of a city like Paris or New York. Some resorts in the U.S. are experimenting with an almost all-inclusive model that takes the guess work out of planning a vacation.
Experiences. Sexy travel options include couples retreats and beachfront sessions with intimacy coaches. Trips with an educational bent are becoming more popular with families with children.
For the time being, we're welcoming domestic tourists and Japanese tourists, as a warm up, since it's not clear how a sudden influx of tourists would affect the situation.
In recent months, many countries in Southeast Asia have loosened restrictions on international tourism, arguing that their high vaccination rates and determination to live safely with the virus make them deserving of a broad restart of unfettered travel.
Three of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have strict restrictions on international arrivals. The experiment in July of 2016 limited travelers to that heavily touristed island. Some countries are competing to see who can make travel the most hassle-free for foreigners.
South Korea announced on March 11 that it would exempt vaccine visitors from a seven-day quark starting on April 1.
China is perhaps the biggest outlier. The zero- Covid strategy has led to it effectively shutting its borders, making it almost impossible for tourists to visit.
Japan is currently allowing 7,000 people to enter the country each day, a number that includes students, business travelers, residents and Japanese nationals. The limit is expected to be raised to 10,000 by mid-April.
Most travelers have stiff entry requirements. If you can get a visa, you will need to pass a negative Covid test 72 hours before departure and a second test at the airport.
Depending on where you are traveling and your vaccine status, you may or may not be required to suck. Select foreign nationals, including Americans, who can prove they have received three shots and have a negative test at the airport in Japan are free to travel on. Everyone else will have to deal with some level of quark, either at home or in a hotel on the government's dime.
In an email, Japan's cultural affairs agency, which assisted with the creation of the new tourism website, said that it was unclear when tourists would be able to return.
We are promoting Japan's charms online until then.