Japan travel advice: latest news as PM finally indicates tourism will restart

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Japan reopening for tourism - John Su/500px
Japan reopening for tourism - John Su/500px

After more than two years in the wilderness, Japan is finally planning to reopen to some tourists from next month.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on May 5 that the country will start easing its strict border rules from June and bring its approach more in line with other G7 countries. However, he gave no exact details on what the loosening of restrictions might look like.

In a speech to the City of London Corporation he said: “At the end of last year, Japan strengthened its border control measures in response to the global spread of the omicron variant. We have now eased border control measures significantly, with the next easing taking place in June, when Japan will introduce a smoother entry process similar to that of other G7 members”.

It’s worth noting that all other G7 countries (UK, USA, Canada, Germany, France and Italy) are open to tourists, though some still have vaccination or test requirements.

Specialist tour operator InsideJapan was among those celebrating the news. “This is something we have waited over two years for and something that can’t come soon enough,” said co-founder, Simon King.

“Although details and dates are yet to be confirmed, it would seem that Japan is set to open for tourism again in June. We have thousands of customers that cannot wait to travel, and enquiries are verging on pre-pandemic levels.” he added.

Japan is one of the last major tourist destinations to remain shut off to holidaymakers. In 2019, the country welcomed nearly 32 million overseas visitors and was growing in popularity. However, this figure slumped to just 250,000 in 2021 as the country stuck to fortress-style border restrictions, even while it hosted the delayed Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo Olympics stadium - iStock Editorial
Tokyo Olympics stadium - iStock Editorial

Below, we run through its current rules and look at what the tourist experience might look like if the country meaningfully reopens this summer.

Can I go to Japan?

Tourist visas remain suspended so it is not currently possible to holiday in Japan. Foreign nationals with residence permits are allowed to travel and it is possible to apply to visit on business or studying grounds. A cap on overseas arrivals remains in place and currently stands at 10,000 passengers per day, up from 7,000 earlier this year.

Those who obtain a visa must meet the following conditions before travelling Japan:

  • Show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before your flight departure time

  • Sign a written pledge that commits you to abiding by any quarantine and self-isolation rules and to a number of other requirements

  • Complete an online health questionnaire

On arrival, visitors must take another PCR test and download a health monitoring app.

When is it reopening?

No announcements have been made on exact timings but Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s statement on May 5 suggests the first tourists will be able to travel to the country from June.

Following the Prime Minister’s tentative announcement, Japan’s major newspapers have offered conflicting reports on timelines and how the reopening might look, though most have suggested at least some tourists will be able to visit from next month.

What will the rules be?

Details are yet to be confirmed but Japan’s Fuji News Network has reported that those planning on visiting the country must have received at least three Covid vaccinations. Furthermore, they are expected to be required to travel as part of a package tour and will not have free movement around the country. Citing government officials, the broadcaster said the limited reopening would be treated as an experiment and expanded if it didn’t adversely impact Covid rates.

A daily cap of visitors is also likely to remain, meaning competition to travel to Japan could be fierce. However, the Nikkei newspaper has suggested that this will at least be doubled to 20,000.

It’s worth noting that if the country was genuinely to follow other G7 countries, as suggested by Prime Minister Kishida’s speech, then restrictions might range from nothing (as per the UK) to both proof of vaccination and a negative pre-departure test (as per the US).

What is the Covid situation on the ground?

Japan has recorded 7.99 million Covid cases since the start of the pandemic but only 29,724 deaths from the virus – a much lower tally than many other comparable countries. Cases have been steadily decreasing since an omicron-fuelled surge earlier this year.

In terms of restrictions on the ground, its national state of emergency was lifted in March and cross-country travel, eating out and other activities are permitted. Masks are worn by an overwhelming number of citizens both indoors and outside and social distancing guidelines remain in place.

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