Japan delighted its many travel fans the world over on Wednesday, when it announced that it would lift its blanket travel ban on foreign visitors from 106 countries, including the UK and US.
However, don’t book a ticket just yet – it also appears that travellers arriving for the purpose of tourism are still barred.
The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the lift of the travel ban, which came into effect at midnight last night, saying: “The following 106 countries will not be subject to denial of permission to enter Japan from 0.00 am (JST) on 8 April 2022.”
The list of countries includes the UK, US, Canada, and 42 European nations.
Most African nations, along with European countries including Russia and Armenia, remain banned.
But the devil is in the detail: with visa exemption agreements still suspended and embassies abroad still restricting visas, tourists remain unable to get in.
“In reality, there will be no change to who can enter Japan,” a Justice Ministry official told The Japan Times, when asked to clarify the statement. “There won’t be anyone new who will be able to enter Japan as a result of this change.”
The Foreign Office advice for Britons says, “You may apply for a visa to enter Japan for business, study or purposes other than tourism”.
Business travellers, foreign workers and visitors such as entertainers have been allowed into the country since 1 March, subject to a PCR or LAMP Covid test taken with 72 hours, plus a health form and signed pledge committing to Japan’s Covid guidelines.
As the government has given no signal as to when they might ease visa restrictions for the 100+ countries no longer barred, the wait continues for tourists eager to return after two years.
Japan closed its borders in spring 2020 and has maintained some of the strictest Covid restrictions in the world since then.
It has shown signs of wanting to open up – at the end of February, the government eased the cap on daily visitors from 3,500 to 5,000 per day, then 7,000, with reports that this will rise to 10,000 on 10 April.
Many travellers were hoping to be able to visit during cherry blossom (sakura) season, which began in mid-March and runs until early May.
“Although this wasn’t the big reopening announcement that InsideJapan and the travel industry was waiting for, every announcement that comes from the Japanese government is significant,” said Alastair Donnelly, cofounder of Inside Travel Group, which includes the specialist InsideJapan.
“The government will have identified a series of steps that need to be taken to reopen the country. Today’s move may have been just a change to a legal technicality, but it was also quite a big move towards opening to international travel.
“Although slow, Japan is moving closer to opening to international tourism again and we cannot wait to get people there again.”