Japan sees 1st foreign cruise ship arrival in 3 years amid pandemic

A foreign cruise ship docked in a Shizuoka Prefecture port Wednesday to become the first such vessel to arrive in Japan in about three years following a government-mandated suspension of cruises due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The cruise ship Amadea's stop at the port of Shimizu in the central Japan city of Shizuoka was the first of 212 vessels scheduled to arrive in the country in 2023, with some ships expected to make multiple port calls.

The Amadea, operated by German firm Phoenix Reisen GmbH, with its approximately 500 passengers and 300 crew, docked around 8 a.m. in clear weather with nearby Mt. Fuji in view. It was welcomed by a taiko drum performance by musicians including some from the local area.

Passengers began disembarking after 9 a.m. following the completion of health checks on board.

A 69-year-old German woman traveling with her husband said she had been moved by the sight of Japan's iconic mountain, and that she was looking forward to visiting a shrine.

The 29,000-ton ship, which departed Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands on Feb. 25, is scheduled to leave Shizuoka for Tokyo on Wednesday night.

In 2019, before the start of the pandemic, cruise ships made 1,932 port calls in Japan, bringing with them about 2.15 million tourists who spent an estimated 80.5 billion yen ($590 million).

The Japanese government decided last November to reopen ports to cruise ships due to worries the nation may lose its share of the lucrative cruise traveler market after countries in Europe and North America began reopening from around June 2021.

A key factor behind the government decision was guidelines crafted by industry associations, with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism also involved in drawing up the measures.

They specify requirements including that travelers' vaccination statuses are confirmed, any infected passengers are quarantined and that ship doctors decide on whether journeys can continue.

Acceptance of foreign cruise ships was suspended in March 2020 following a mass coronavirus outbreak on the Diamond Princess, which caused thousands to be quarantined in Yokohama in February 2020 and left 13 of the over 700 infected crew and passengers dead.

Further recovery will be hampered by Beijing's ongoing ban on tour groups from China, where 80 percent of maritime visitors to Japan originated in 2019. How to test passengers arriving in the country and whether infection responses can ease local anxieties also remain a concern.

Before accepting foreign cruise ships, the government called on local authorities to discuss and reach agreements with ship operators and local health and customs authorities over responses to coronavirus infections.

A recent Kyodo News survey showed the frequency of foreign cruise arrivals could soon approach that seen before the pandemic, with 89 arrivals expected in 23 of Japan's 42 major ports in March this year, compared to 125 port calls in 42 locations in March 2019.

© Kyodo News