After more than two years in the desert, Japan has finally reopened to tourists, albeit in a very limited way.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida confirmed the long-awaited news in May, saying, “We will resume accepting tourists on package tours with guides from the 10th of next month.
“Step by step, we will aim to accept tourists as we have done in normal times, taking into account the status of infections.”
The country’s limited reopening plan means that only tourists booked for accompanied private tours approved by the Japanese government are allowed to visit. Applications are now open, but the first visitors are not expected until later this month and a daily cap on overseas arrivals remains in place.
Japan is one of the last major tourist destinations to remain largely closed to vacationers. In 2019, the country welcomed nearly 32 million foreign visitors and was growing in popularity. However, that figure fell to just 250,000 in 2021 as the country stuck to fortress-style border restrictions, even as it hosted the delayed Tokyo Olympics.
Below, we review its current rules and consider what the tourist experience might look like in the coming months.
Can I go to Japan?
British tourists are now allowed to enter Japan provided they are sponsored and registered on the Incoming and Repatriating Tracking System (ERFS) by a licensed Japanese travel agency. They must travel accompanied and follow strict rules on the ground. Individual tourist visas remain suspended.
Travelers must be fully vaccinated, which Japan considers to mean two doses plus a booster.
Persons authorized to travel must meet the following conditions before traveling to Japan:
- Show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of your flight departure time
- Sign a written pledge that commits you to abide by all quarantine and self-isolation rules and a number of other requirements
- Complete an online health questionnaire
A cap on overseas arrivals remains in place and currently stands at 20,000 passengers a day, up from 7,000 earlier this year. This figure includes returning Japanese citizens as well as visitors.
What will a guided trip to Japan look like?
All visits must be approved by the Japanese government. Currently, tourists from 98 “low risk” countries are accepted, including the UK, US and Australia. Groups are asked to wear face masks in most settings and carry strong insurance in case they contract Covid. A tour guide must be present throughout all excursions.
Should I wear a face mask?
Yes, all travelers on group tours are required to wear face masks in most settings. Unlike much of Europe where mask wearing has been phased out, many Japanese citizens still wear face coverings in public spaces, including outdoors where they are no longer required.
When will Japan fully reopen?
Pressure is mounting on the Japanese government to reopen more meaningfully, with the country’s biggest business lobbies recently urging Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to ease travel restrictions further.
Among their demands were to make business travel smoother, accept individual tourists and remove the cap on daily arrivals. However, Japan’s persistence with strict policies long after other “fortress” countries have brought down their barricades suggests that it will be some time before large-scale tourism resumes.
What is the Covid situation on the ground?
Japan has recorded nine million Covid cases since the start of the pandemic, but only 30,843 deaths from the virus – a far lower number than many other comparable countries. Cases have declined steadily since an omicron-fueled surge earlier this year.
In terms of on-the-ground restrictions, its national state of emergency was lifted in March and cross-country travel, dining out and other activities are permitted. Masks are worn by overwhelming numbers of citizens indoors and outdoors and social distancing guidelines remain in place.