Japan indicates it will fully reopen to tourists in October


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan announced on Thursday, Sept. 22, the long-awaited news that Japan plans to fully reopen for foreign tourism on Oct. 11, Bloomberg reported.

Japan is one of the last remaining nations with strict COVID-19 bans and restrictions on general tourism.

While supervised group tours to Japan have been available for the past few months, the restrictions on travel discouraged many people from booking trips. If the plan to reopen more fully moves forward, Japan will welcome back individual tourists and resume visa waivers, among other changes.

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Travelers should be mindful that the Japanese government has not yet publicly supplied official details for the reopening. Given prior announcements of plans to reopen for tourism that proved quite limited, TPG recommends travelers await specific details from the Japanese Consulate before booking a trip.

Read on to find out the available details of the announcement and what it might mean in terms of planning your long-awaited trip to Japan.

Japan reopening details

In his Sept. 22 press conference in New York, Prime Minister Kishida said individual tourists will soon be welcomed to Japan without the requirement of visas or group tours.

JAPAN NATIONAL TOURISM ORGANIZATION

TPG reached out to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Japanese Consulate in Chicago for confirmation, but neither provided any further information regarding the visa program. The consulate in Chicago told TPG they had not been given any information about the visa rule change and didn’t expect any official updates until Sept. 26, given that this Friday is a national holiday in Japan.

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which governs entry requirements, has also not yet updated its information page with updated visa information, nor has the visa website for the Embassy of Japan in the U.S. Travelers planning a trip should consult these websites for updates prior to making any travel arrangements.

Assuming Japan visa regulations return to pre-COVID-19 policies, tourists from the U.S. and most other countries will be permitted to visit Japan for periods of up to 90 days without a visa.

However, travelers may need to provide proof of vaccination (including a booster shot) or a negative COVID-19 PCR test to enter the country without quarantine, according to a Kyodo News report cited by The Japan Times.

The cap on daily visitors to Japan, which had recently risen from 20,000 to 50,000, will also reportedly be lifted as of Oct. 11 to allow an unrestricted number of foreign entries, according to the Prime Minister.

Related: Japan reopens for tour groups

How to plan a Japan trip now

Miyajima, Hirosihima, Honshu, Japan  TRAUMLIK FABRIK/GETTY IMAGES

Assuming unrestricted visa-free tourism returns to Japan in October, expect there to be a huge uptick in flight, lodging and tour reservations. Once we have confirmed details about Japan’s return to normal tourism practices, you’ll want to make arrangements as soon as possible.

Even though signing up for a group tour may no longer be required for entry to Japan, many visitors typically combine a group tour with a few days on either end of the visit for individual travel. Plus, Japan’s eased travel restrictions will mean that tours will have increased access to people, places and activities that might have been curtailed during the pandemic.

So, if you’re interested in having a guide for at least part of your trip, try to confirm those plans as soon as possible.

Expect some tour companies to offer enticing “return to Japan” deals to help relaunch tours. But be aware many people who have had tours canceled in the past due to visa restrictions will have priority for obtaining tour space with these operators.

“We’re absolutely delighted to hear this,” Julie McCormack, program director for Asia for the MT Sobek tour operator, told TPG on a call to discuss Kishida’s announcement. “We’ve been hoping for this for a long time. Japan had been such a good destination for us before [COVID-19].”

A strong dollar versus the yen will also make travel within Japan more affordable to Americans. The recent exchange rate of 142 yen to $1 set a 24-year low for the currency.

Prime Minister Kishida also announced the launch of a travel discount program within Japan to help promote tourism. Details are not yet available as to what extent the discounts might be available for foreign visitors. Consult the Japan National Tourism Organization website for the latest details on any potential discount programs.

Related: Using points and miles for a trip to Japan

Bottom line

If Japan does finally reopen to tourists without strict group travel or visa requirements, expect to see a surge of demand for travel to the country. Book as soon as possible, and keep your eyes open for attractive package deals from tour operators eager to rebuild their businesses.

But, given prior false alarms on Japan’s reopening, be sure to confirm the latest visa details with the Japanese Embassy or Consulate websites prior to making any nonrefundable reservations.



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