Japan Set To Fully Reopen Its Borders In October

Julia Schneemann | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Skier powder
A skier in Niseko, picture: SkiJapan.com

Great news for Japow lovers as local news channels in Japan are reporting that Japan will fully reopen its borders to international tourists from ‘blue list’ countries in October. Two years ago the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs created strict border restrictions for international travelers and as part of that created blue, yellow, and red lists to categorize countries by their perceived covid-19-risk to Japan. Tourists are currently only allowed from the blue list— countries deemed a low-transmission risk of Covid-19. The US, Canada, Australia, UK, Switzerland, and most EU countries are on this blue list.

The plan under review by the government is to remove the current 50,000 daily visitor cap as well as the requirement for booking through a travel agent. Most importantly it appears the government is ready to abandon the requirement for a visa for short-term travel. At the moment, international travelers have to obtain a travel visa. Pre-covid international travelers from 68 countries like the US or EU were exempt from visa requirements for stays up to 90 days. A return to visa-free travel for these nationalities along with the removal of other restrictions would bring Japan close to pre-pandemic travel rules.

On September 7, the Japanese government last eased their travel restrictions, upping the daily cap from previously 20,000 daily tourists to 50,000 and abandoning the requirement for travelers to be accompanied by a tour guide. However, trips still had to be booked through a travel agent who was in charge of keeping track of their clients and dealing with any covid outbreaks.

Mt Yotei
Mt Yotei, Niseko, Japan, picture: Julia Schneemann

The easing however has not brought about a significant increase in bookings, forcing the Kishida government to further consider an easing of restrictions in order to attract international travel. European, Australian, and American tourists prefer individual travel which was prohibited under the current restrictions. Since the current easings of the tourism policy did not increase international travel, the Kishida government was pressured to amend travel policies even further, in order to encourage more foreign tourists.

Tourism brought an estimated 1 trillion Yen ($9.7 billion) to the Japanese economy in the year pre-covid. The Japanese government had been seeking to foster international tourism as part of the economic stimulus plan created under Shinzo Abe in 2016, targeting 40 million international tourists to Japan by 2020. In 2019, Japan was close to achieving this target, having recorded 15 million international arrivals recorded in the six-month period from March to August 2019. This year, a mere 590,000 international travelers arrived in Japan in the same period, representing only 4% of pre-covid levels.

It looks like the 22/23 ski season will be the perfect time to head to Japan for skiing as many international travelers have locked in other destinations due to the ongoing uncertainty in Japan. In addition, the Yen is the weakest it has been in over 20 years, trading at 140 yen to the US Dollar. It is anticipated that the government will ease current entry restrictions by October but no official announcement has been made yet. We will keep you updated when the government announcement is made. Before booking any travel, please check the Japanese government websites for the most up-to-date requirements.

Going deep into the world famous Niseko powder, picture: Mountainwatch

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