Japan has reopened its borders to foreign tourists for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The gradual reopening will start with small-scale test tours from a limited number of countries.
In a controversial move, the number of visitors that can enter the country is currently capped at 50. These individuals will be split into small groups and their arrivals staggered.
The Japanese Tourism Agency explains:
“The limited visits will be used to test coronavirus measures, including infection prevention and emergency response. Information will be sent to travel agencies, hotels, and other travel businesses. Visitors must be accompanied by a tour guide and can only go to areas where there is not a state of emergency and government officials have agreed to welcome them.”
Japan has been following a reopening plan since the start of 2022. In March, the country started to allow business travelers, technical intern trainees, and other non-tourist visitors to enter. This is the first time since the outbreak of coronavirus that tourists will be granted entry.
Japan’s Tourism Sector During the Pandemic
In December 2020, Japan closed its borders to all foreign arrivals in an attempt to control the spread of coronavirus. In November, the country briefly relaxed entry restrictions, however, borders were once again closed following the Omicron variant.
Japan’s tourism industry has taken a drastic hit due to the ban on new tourist arrivals. In 2019, the number of foreign visitors to Japan totaled 31.88 million—the highest on record. In notable contrast, strict pandemic border controls made 2021 the lowest since data were made available in 1964, with just 245,900 foreign arrivals.
Like most nations post-pandemic, Japan is trying to recover its tourism sector while simultaneously controlling COVID-19 cases. The country has consistently maintained a more cautious approach to reopening its borders, resulting in an extremely low number of international tourist arrivals.
Who Can Enter Japan?
For now, Japan has limited the number of tourists from overseas to just 50. Although this is a very limited amount, this marks a move in the right direction for international tourism and will hopefully lead to more relaxed border measures for tourists across the globe.
The allocated spots for this small-scale test were limited to citizens of certain countries that are deemed priority markets by Japan: Australia, Singapore, Thailand, and the United States. These tourists must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a booster dose.
The 50 individuals will be split into 15 organized tour groups, comprising no more than 4 people. These tour groups will follow coronavirus measures, such as wearing a mask at tourist sights and on transport.
The first 7 tourists have already entered Japan. They arrived from Hawaii and Los Angeles, landing at Narita Airport just outside Tokyo.
When Will Japan Reopen Fully?
There is currently no date for lifting all entry restrictions for tourists, however, it is hoped to be in the near future. Current plans include doubling the maximum daily limit on eligible arrivals to 20,000 from June, which would be a welcome boost to Japan’s tourism industry.
Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at the Nomura Research Institute, estimates that if the Japanese government applies the 20,000-person cap, the economic effect would add 8.13 trillion yen ($63.8 billion) a year to Japan’s economy.
When Japan announces the reopening of its borders to the rest of the world, the Japan eVisa is expected to be launched shortly after. This new electronic visa system was due to be introduced in 2020, however, it is delayed until further notice. The online visa will make traveling to Japan a lot easier for foreign tourists, thanks to its digitalized format.