Japan is taking tentative steps towards reopening its borders, with plans to start relaxing entry requirements from October 1.
Visitors from 159 countries are currently unable to enter Japan after the government imposed stringent controls earlier this year. However, revised rules starting this week will allow entry to non-Japanese visitors who have permission to stay for three months or longer.
The revision will still not allow those on a tourist visa to visit Japan, but will permit in phases different types of longer-stay visitors, initially including those working in medical, cultural or sports-related activities.
Daily entry numbers are also likely to be limited to 1,000 and visitors must test negative for coronavirus before arrival and self-isolate for 14 days in Japan, with assurances that they will not use public transport during this period.
Announcing the relaxation, prime minister Yoshihide Suga said: “To revitalise the economy, it is indispensable to resume international travel.”
Yasutoshi Nishimura, economic revitalisation minister, added: “We will start relaxing entry restrictions by looking at the situation of infections in each country and also considering the degree of need (for travel).”
Japan’s previously booming international tourism industry has been obliterated this year, and the pandemic peaked at a time when the nation was preparing to host record levels of overseas visitors for its now postponed Tokyo Olympics.
Instead, the nation is now grappling with almost zero foreign visitors, although a seemingly endless number of new hotels – clearly timed to coincide with a predicted games-related tourism boom – are still opening their doors.
Government figures show that incoming tourist rates plummeted 99.9 per cent in April compared to the previous year, with only 2,900 overseas visitors entering the country.
On the plus side for tourists, when they are eventually able to make it to Japan (some operators are pinning hopes on being able to visit by next spring’s cherry blossom season), the nation has kept coronavirus levels lower than other large countries, with 82,131 cases reported so far, and 1,548 deaths.
Observers attribute this, in part, to Japan’s strict entry rules, with other possible factors including near-ubiquitous mask-wearing in public (from young children to pensioners alike), the nation’s famed focus on cleanliness and hygiene, better general health, as well as low testing rates.
In the meantime, many hotels and local tour operators appear to be staying afloat by recalibrating their focus onto a growing domestic market, bolstered by the government’s Go To Travel campaign which is offering heavy subsidies on transport and accommodation.
While overseas tourists still have to wait to get on a plane to Japan, the new relaxation of rules is being welcomed as an important step towards the country once again opening up.
“This is a positive step in the right direction from the Japanese government and early signs of Japan beginning to open doors to foreign travellers again,” James Mundy, PR manager at InsideJapan Tours, the UK-based Japan specialists, told the Telegraph.
“Japan is often very cautious, but we can be confident that the government will be working to a carefully designed plan, only opening up in a manner they consider it completely safe for inbound travellers and for its citizens.
“As a Japan travel specialist, it is reassuring to hear this news and we hope that measures can be gradually extended to inbound tourism over the coming months in the lead up to the blossom season in spring.”