Oscar Wilde once said that "the whole of Japan is a pure invention.”

"There is no such country, there are no such people,” Wilde wrote. He meant that the Japan we think of is mostly a product of the imagination of outsiders. But with the country’s borders closed to tourists for two years now and its international significance dimming, Wilde’s words are closer to becoming reality.

Japan’s out of sight, and threatens to become out of mind with one of its main lines of communication to the world still cut — the tens of millions of tourists who returned home each year with gushing tales of encounters with the country’s people, culture and food. That was the single unquestionable success of the economic program of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. What was once a tourist backwater that attracted just 5 million visitors in 2003 saw a surge, swelling the numbers to more than 30 million in 2019.