Japan's Tourism Flipflop
After creating the most complicated system ever for tourism last week, it now seems like Japan will simply re-open borders from October.
Japan... oh Japan. Although we love this country with all our heart, sometimes it can be confusing and mind-blowing beyond belief.
Last week we reported how the government had created a uniquely complex system to enable tourists to maybe enter Japan - requiring bookings through agents, flights booked through 3rd parties and still needing visas. Horror stories were already appearing of people having to wait 8 weeks to get appointments at embassies, everyone was confused about what constituted an "agent" and why tourists were seemingly unable to book their own flights.
And then today someone in the government woke up on the right side of bed, threw open the curtains and thought "maybe we should bring international tourism back next month"! (Maybe…!)
Multiple news sources including The Japan Times are reporting that, following a huge blow back from industry, embassies and tourists, the government is now planning to bring back visa-free travel. Even better, it appears it might happen as early as next month! (It might...)
So after sending the travel industry into a mad scramble for a week trying to understand what on earth the new rules meant, it appears that there is a chance we might be back to normal from next month.
There is, of course, the massive caveat that the Japanese government can change her mind at any moment and that timing has not been confirmed! But reports suggest that:
- Entry caps (currently 50,000 people a day) will be abolished entirely
- Restrictions on independent travel will be lifted (currently you need to be on a tour or have your itinerary arranged by an agent who is ultimately responsible for you)
- Visas will no longer be required for countries who enjoyed visa-waiver privileges pre-pandemic (currently ALL visitors require a visa)
PLEASE NOTE that none of this is confirmed yet. As of today your only way into Japan as an unsupervised tourist is by booking your flights and accommodation through an agent, getting a letter of invitation from the agent, taking that letter and heading to your local Japanese embassy to get a tourist visa.
But usually these things do not get so much airtime unless they will happen. It's hard to put into words what a massive change in direction this is, but if the reports are accurate we cannot wait to welcome people back with open arms to enjoy Japan's best resorts again soon!
Coupled with the fact the USD now buys over 144 yen, it is an amazing time to visit and an even better time to invest in Japanese property!
If you are fortunate enough to visit this winter, please do remember to follow all guidelines on etiquette regarding Covid19 and remember that Japan does still require a 7 day isolation if you test positive.
What should we do now if we want to come for winter?
The rules are changing on an almost daily basis, but as things stand today (12th September) there are two options for coming in as a tourist.
- Book a supervised tour.
- Book all your Japan accommodation and flights (international and domestic) through a travel agent.
Both these options require the agent to issue you a letter of invitation, which you will need to take to your local Japanese embassy (along with any other documentation) in order for you to get a tourist visa. Some agents are charging a fee (probably non-refundable) for this letter.
While the news being reported is a positive sign that these requirements might be lifted, it is not yet guaranteed and we do not know if there will be delays or conditions still attached to travel. The safest bet for now, if you definitely want to come in this winter, is to book through an agent. We suggest also getting your appointment with the embassy booked urgently as some are reporting being fully booked until December already.
Full Japan Times article below
The government is planning to allow independent tourists to come to Japan and exempt them from visas if they have been vaccinated three times or submit a pre-arrival test result, Fuji TV reported Monday. It also intends to abolish the daily arrival cap, which is currently set at 50,000, the report added.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reportedly plans to make a decision as early as the end of this week, with an eye to implementing the revisions by October.
If the plan goes ahead, it would mark a major shift in Japan’s border restrictions, which have been conservative compared with those of fellow Group of Seven members. Up until now, the government has eased access to the country in baby steps amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report came after Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara told a Fuji TV program on Sunday that Japan will consider easing all three restrictions — the daily arrival cap, restrictions on independent tourists and visa requirements for short-term visitors from countries previously eligible for a waiver — in the “not-so-distant future.”
“Amid the weakening yen, inbound (tourism) will have the greatest effect” on the economy, Kihara said, also noting that fall is famed as being a good time for eating in Japan. “And there are the autumn leaves and powder snow. There are many foreign visitors who want to come visit Japan.”
Last week, the yen fell to a 24-year low of ¥144 to the dollar.
Japan eased its border restrictions last Wednesday, raising the daily arrival cap from 20,000 to 50,000, allowing non-guided tourists to come to Japan and dropping the requirement for pre-arrival PCR testing for vaccinated travelers.
“If people ask me if it is enough, I don’t think it is,” Kihara said, referring to the easing of the arrival cap, which also encompasses Japanese citizens and returning foreign residents.
Non-guided tours include more flexible tours offered by travel agencies that only include flights and hotels and can be booked by individuals, in contrast with the strict group tours that were permitted from June.
But many travel agencies have complained that foreign tourists, especially those from Western countries, want greater freedom, while requiring visas is also discouraging them from coming to Japan.
The Japan Business Federation, better known as Keidanren, has also been urging the government to further ease restrictions to allow more foreign tourists, citing the fact that before the pandemic 80% of foreign tourists to Japan were independent travelers.
“I welcome the fact that border restrictions are easing, but that’s not enough,” Keidanren Chairman Masakazu Tokura said during a news conference on September 5th. “I hope the government will take further measures quickly.”
The daily arrival cap was raised from 3,500 to 5,000 on March 1st, with occasional increases over the course of several months leading to the 50,000 level established last week.
On Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno didn’t elaborate on the report about the planned changes, simply saying that the government will “decide appropriately” based on the infection situation in Japan and abroad, the demand for people wanting to visit Japan and the border restrictions of other major countries.
Daily new COVID-19 cases nationwide have been on the downtrend for the past few weeks, with 81,470 posted Sunday, down from 123,396 the same day two weeks ago, according to government data.
The Kishida administration has been shifting its virus policies toward a “living with COVID-19” phase, in an attempt to mitigate the spread of infections but also boost the economy. The self-isolation period for those infected with the coronavirus and developing symptoms was shortened to seven days from ten days last week.