Open for Business

In June, I had the opportunity to return to Japan for the first time since the global pandemic began.

As well assessing the general feel ‘on the ground’, the purpose of my visit was to research and meet with companies that had the potential to emerge from pandemic stronger than their pre-COVID positions. This placed the focus on domestic companies that had initially suffered from the dip in tourism but had managed to offset those losses by diversifying their strategy.

Flying into Japan, my expectations of what life might look like post-pandemic were low. It’s no secret that the country has been slow to re-open in the wake of COVID-19, and any radical change seemed unlikely. However, on arrival, I found it was very much business as usual on the ground, with little change from my previous visits. In Tokyo and other cities the streets were bustling and full of life, while offices appeared to be mostly populated. The only difference from my previous visits were face masks, which were worn by all.

This sense of normalcy appeared due, on a relative basis, to the stability of Japan’s political and macroeconomic situations, the latter of which, despite being relatively low growth, has left Japan somewhat insulated from the rise in global inflation. This is perhaps the legacy that of Shinzo Abe, the late former prime minister. Abe was Japan’s longest-serving leader and through his economic reforms, known as ‘Abenomics’, the country has become a bastion of stability. This stability showed itself in summer in terms of how the country responded to the BA5 variant of coronavirus that was beginning to spread across Japan. There was no state of emergency issued by the Japanese government or local authorities. This sense of calm allowed Japan to quietly adapt and continue with little disruption.

Navigating the pandemic

The reopening of the economy after the pandemic has been conservatively paced, with borders having only fully reopened in October. Tourism and foreign spending appear to be coming largely from visitors from Hong Kong and mainland China. Both Hong Kong and mainland China have quarantine policies in place for returning travellers so tourism is likely to bloom slower than one might hope. But it is nevertheless an encouraging sign that normality is resuming.