Is Japan Open to Tourists?

japan travel may 8 2023

Is Japan open for international individual travelers? Are borders open as normal in 2024? What are the testing, face mask, and vaccine requirements for visitors? If you’re planning a trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, or anywhere else in Japan, these are questions that might be on your mind.

The good news is that after nearly two years of uncertainty, we finally have the answers. Japan reopened to guided tour groups on October 11, 2022, and since then, there have been additional changes that make it basically business as usual for visiting Japan in 2024. As someone who has already returned to Japan and spent about a month exploring Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and other areas, I can share my experiences as a foreign visitor and give you a sense of what has changed, including crowd conditions, expenses, and, most importantly, the Japan Face Mask Rules in 2024.

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The Latest News

As of May 8, 2023, the current vaccine and testing policies have come to an end. Japan has officially downgraded the legal status of COVID-19 to the same category as common infectious diseases like seasonal influenza. This policy shift relaxes the COVID-19 prevention rules, including movement restrictions for infected individuals and their close contacts. As a result, non-residents should soon be able to enter Japan without PCR tests or additional paperwork. The border will revert to its status in late 2019, but keep in mind that things could change between now and then.

The Economic Impact

Japan’s decision to reopen its borders is not only a relief for travelers but also a crucial move for the country’s economy. The prolonged closures and restrictions have taken a toll on Japan’s economic recovery, resulting in decreased tourism, falling exports, reduced consumer spending, a weak yen, and growing national debt. By reopening to international visitors, Japan aims to boost its consumption-driven economy and revitalize its previously thriving tourism industry.

While the exact reopening timeline remains uncertain, economists fear a “double dip” recession if the border remains closed for an extended period. The economic benefits of international tourism are undeniable, and Japan is expected to make every effort to attract foreign visitors in the near future. The government’s goal is to recover to 2019 international travel levels by 2024 and attract 60 million foreign visitors by 2030. These targets reflect Japan’s commitment to rebuilding its economy and stimulating growth.

Japan’s Reopening Plans

Multiple media outlets, including NHK, Kyodo, Nikkei, and Fuji TV, have reported that Japan’s government is planning to further relax restrictions and border measures by the start of October. While the specifics are not consistent among outlets, there is consensus that the daily arrival cap, currently set at 50,000, will be eliminated entirely. This is a necessary step to facilitate the resumption of more inbound international flights.

Another possibility being considered is allowing individual foreign tourists to enter Japan without visas if they have been vaccinated three times or produce a negative pre-arrival test result. However, there is some disagreement among major outlets regarding this particular plan. The Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, is expected to make a decision on these matters soon.

The Road to Reopening

The strict border control measures implemented by Japan can largely be attributed to the country’s cultural conservatism and apprehensiveness towards outsiders. While these characteristics have been valued by visitors in the past, they have also influenced policy-making during the COVID-19 pandemic. Japan has taken a cautious approach, leading to slower economic recovery compared to other developed nations.

However, the country now recognizes the need to rebuild its economy and revitalize the tourism sector. The weakening yen and the economic advantages of welcoming international tourists have prompted a change in mindset. Leaders, including Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, have expressed their willingness to open the country’s doors to foreign visitors and take advantage of the depreciating yen.

Best, Worst, and Base-Case Scenarios

In terms of reopening to individual tourists, there are three possible scenarios: best-case, worst-case, and base-case.

In the best-case scenario, Japan downgrades COVID-19 from its special status, eliminating the legal requirement of a responsible receiving party for visitors. In this scenario, the borders could return to their pre-closure status as early as October. The visa exemption would be reinstated, and the arrivals cap would be eliminated.

The base-case scenario aligns with the best-case scenario, and we now expect that Japan will reopen to individual tourists in early October. There is also a possibility of a middle ground, where the reopening for individual tourists happens a few weeks after the elimination of the daily arrival cap.

The worst-case scenario is becoming highly unlikely, as Japan has already relaxed its border measures and is showing a willingness to move forward. The worst-case scenario would involve Japan relying solely on its domestic “Go to Travel” campaign to stimulate the tourism sector and potentially delaying the reopening until the first half of 2023.

Moving Forward

Overall, the signs are positive for Japan reopening its borders to individual tourists in the near future. The political and economic appetite for relaxation exists, and there is a growing chorus of politicians advocating for reopening. While Japan’s cautious decision-making process may cause some delays, the country is now aligning with the rest of the world in moving forward and finding a balance between managing the pandemic and resuming normalcy.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, targeting November or later would be a good bet. The autumn season, known for its beautiful foliage, offers a great opportunity to visit Japan’s popular cities like Kyoto and Tokyo. Keep an eye on our Japan Fall Colors Forecast & Autumn Foliage Viewing Guide for tips on avoiding crowds and planning your itinerary.

In conclusion, Japan’s reopening to international tourists is now a matter of “when” rather than “if.” As always, we’ll keep you updated with the latest news and developments. Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below, and let us know if you’re considering a trip to Japan later this year.

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