Date
24 April 2018
People walk past cherry trees in bloom at a park in Osaka, in this picture taken on March 28. Japan is drawing more overseas visitors, particularly from the Greater China region. Photo: Bloomberg
People walk past cherry trees in bloom at a park in Osaka, in this picture taken on March 28. Japan is drawing more overseas visitors, particularly from the Greater China region. Photo: Bloomberg

Japan’s ‘sayonara tax’ won’t deter HK travelers

Mention Japan’s impending “sayonara tax” to any travel enthusiast in Hong Kong, and his or her response would probably be: “Let’s go there before January.”

Well, one can assume that quite a few people will hasten their travel plans in order to beat a new levy that the island nation will introduce next year on overseas travelers.

But you would be wrong if you think that visitor flows from Hong Kong will get dented after the new Japan tax goes into effect early January next year. 

Let’s not forget that Japan is one of the most favored travel spots for Hongkongers.

And that is especially the case with many local ladies who like to call Japan their second home and are never tired of going there every few months.

Speaking for myself, I am currently on a trip to Japan and have no doubt that I will be returning to the country many more times, regardless of the tax.

Also, what is an extra 1,000 yen (US$9.4, HK$74), anyway?  It’s just too small an amount for us Hong Kong residents who are used to high living costs. 

On Wednesday, Japan’s parliament passed a bill that will result in travelers paying a departure tax of a thousand yen when they leave the country.

The new levy, dubbed “sayonara tax”, will apply to both Japanese and foreign travelers leaving the country by plane or ship.

Only kids aged less than two years and transit passengers leaving the country within 24 hours of arrival will be exempt from the tax, which will go into effect on January 7.  

Funds raised from the new levy, which will be added to the cost of airfares and shipfares, will go to boosting tourism-related initiatives in Japan.

No one likes tax, especially one that comes on top of an 8 percent sales tax in 2014 and which will further increase to 10 percent next year. All the same, not too many tourists are voicing any real complaints about the additional 1,000 yen cost.

“One thousand yen is only a lunch set, or a discounted Uniqlo T-shirt, forget it,” a fellow visitor remarked.

The acceptance of the new departure tax is not surprising, given that Japan has a special place in the hearts of many tourists.

There is no country like Japan in term of cleanliness, safety and above all, food delicacies. In the eyes of Hongkongers, the Land of the Rising Sun would be a perfect retirement paradise if one could speak the Japanese language.

Japan had a record-breaking month in February when it hosted 2.5 million tourists during the Lunar New Year holiday season.

China topped the visitor flows during the month, sending over 716,400 tourists, up 40 percent over the same period last year, according to Japan National Tourism Organization.

The rise in Chinese tourist numbers came thanks to a relaxation in visa policies.

No wonder Alipay has built a significant presence in Japan’s retail shops in major tourist areas in the past year.

In February, Hong Kong visitors to Japan stood at 178,500, up nearly 27 percent over a year ago and ranking fourth overall in the tourist numbers behind China, South Korea and Taiwan.

Japan drew 28.69 million tourists overall last year and it aims to boost the number to as much as 40 million in 2020 when Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics.

A new 1,000 yen tax is unlikely to crimp visitor flows to the lovely country or dampen the mood of tourists.

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RC

EJ Insight writer

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