Update August 31: The new policy with eased restrictions is coming into force from September 7. The Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on Wednesday, August 31, the start date for the new travel policy. The quick ratification gives hope that further easing of travel restrictions will come into force before Christmas.
If you have booked your own trip to Japan and are starting to get nervous that you might actually not be able to go, you would be right to be worried. Japan is a popular destination for Australians who have their summer holidays from mid-December to late January. Usually, it is the perfect time to capture some of Japan’s famous powder. However, Japan is the last G-7 country to still impose strict travel restrictions on foreign nationals.
The Japanese Government announced during their cabinet meeting on Tuesday, August 23, that travel restrictions to the country will be relaxed.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno announced an amended tourism policy to allow tours without a tour conductor and an increase of the previous cap to 50,000 foreign tourists per day. The plan is further to scrap the requirement for a negative PCR test, provided the foreign national is triple vaccinated against Covid-19.
Japan opened its borders on June 10 this year to foreign tourists, but stipulated the following conditions for the visa application:
- tourists had to come from a “blue” country (more info below)
- numbers were capped to 20,000 a day
- tourists had to be part of a tour with a tour conductor
- travelers had to be triple vaccinated against Covid-19
- all arrivals required a negative PCR-test
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had created blue, yellow, and red country lists, requiring different quarantining rules for entrants from various countries. Tourists are still only allowed from the “blue” list, aka those deemed a low-transmission risk of Covid-19. The US, Canada, Australia, UK, Switzerland, and most EU countries are on this blue list. Entrants from the yellow or red list can only travel for business or relocation purposes and have to quarantine upon arrival. The ministry also denies entry to a few Latin American and African countries, like Haiti or Somalia.
More than two months have passed since the reopening, but the number of tourists entering the country remained at about 7,900 a day last month, significantly below the cap. The total number of tourists for the month of July was a mere 140,000 compared to three million in 2019.
In 2016, the Japanese government under Shinzo Abe issued a new tourism strategy to invigorate the Japanese economy. The strategy targeted an increase of foreign tourists to 40 million by 2020 and 60 million by 2030. The country was on track to reaching this goal in 2020 when the pandemic hit. The boost in tourism had brought an estimated 1 trillion Yen ($9.7 billion) to the economy.
Therefore, it is not coming as a big surprise that the current government is revisiting its tourism policy. Certain areas in Japan like Hokkaido are very reliant on tourism income. Following advice from travel agencies that European and American tourists prefer traveling on their own and not with a tour guide, the government felt the pressure to consider amending the current policy to encourage more foreign tourists.
The timing of this new, more lenient policy is still subject to parliamentary discussion, but you can trust SnowBrains to keep you on top of developments. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will decide the exact timing of this new policy this week.”We will make decisions appropriately in view of the infection situation at home and abroad, and border control measures taken by major countries,” Hirokazu Matsuno said at Tuesday’s news conference.
Personal travel by foreign nationals will remain prohibited for the foreseeable future. So if you have made your own travel arrangements, you might not be eligible for a visa by December, unless the Kishida government makes some drastic changes in the next three months.
Before booking any travel, please check the Japanese government websites for the most up-to-date requirements and speak to your travel agent. Currently, no independent travel is allowed and you need to be part of a tour, even if unguided, as travel agencies will be required to manage travelers’ schedules and have to follow strict guidelines for dealing with infected people.
*Updated August 31