The Return of Japanese Tourism

Before the pandemic tourism was big business in Japan with a record 32 million foreign visitors to the country in 2019 and last year, there were fewer than 250,000.

I heard from friends the restrictions are being lifted and tourism will begin although restricted, so what does all this mean to travellers itching to return to Japan? 

The headlines read, Travel agencies rush to meet COVID-19 guidelines, and as I see it most agencies will struggle to meet the guidelines. So, let’s not get too excited given the opening of the floodgates will mean more to Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) than it will to those smaller agencies and tourists dreaming to return.

Under the Japan’s Covid-19 restrictions tourists are not allowed to roam around on their own. Under the rules, tourists will also have to avoid closed spaces, crowded places and close contact settings. The earliest departure will likely be after mid-July due to the requirement for tourist visa application for all travellers.

The restrictions are aimed at slowing down tourists and stopping random tourists from heading here even if it was announced that Japan will reopen its borders to travellers on guided tours from June 10, 2022. In order to visit Japan as a tourist, the following conditions will apply:

1. Travellers must visit Japan on a guided tour with predetermined itinerary that is organized by a Japan-based travel agency or operator. The travel agency or operator will handle application procedures and be held responsible for the tour participants.

2. Travellers must have spent the 14 days before arrival in Japan in a country on the “blue list”, i.e. a country where the risk of catching the coronavirus is considered low. There are currently 98 countries on the “blue list”, including most countries in North America, East Asia, Europe and Oceania. Prominent countries not on the list include India, Vietnam, Portugal and Turkey.

3. During their stay, travelers must adhere to basic infection prevention measures, such as wearing masks and disinfecting hands, and they need to be enrolled in a travel insurance plan that covers medical expenses related to the coronavirus.

4. A negative result from a PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to departure is required to enter Japan; however, there will be no test and no quarantine upon arrival in Japan for foreign tourists regardless of vaccination status.

5. Note furthermore that because the visa-waiver system is currently suspended, all travelers will need to apply for a visa in order to enter Japan.

The problem is; if someone would get sick in Japan and I reference Covid, and particularly because any tour operative could be faced with a group getting infected, the issue becomes important. How complex was it at hospitals during Covid from 2019 until today? 

The answer is very complicated: we had a friend who has lived here for 20 years and tested positive for Corona, and then had difficulties breathing. His doctor called an ambulance and he was almost 3 hours in the ambulance until they could determine which hospital could admit him. After being admitted he was forced to eat and couldn’t be released until he was controlled carefully.

Imagine if a foreigner and or a group travelling would become infected, the hospitals couldn’t easily manage those patients; hospitals cannot easily communicate with foreigners, cooperation becomes awkward, and payment for services is a serious problem because hospitals aren’t equipped to deal with non-Japanese, or foreign insurance. The main issue and obstacle will be getting satisfactory Covid insurance — that won’t likely happen, and hence travel is almost impossible except for Japanese tour operators, who will likely manage this caveat.

And getting a Visa isn’t straight forward as embassies are backlogged with applicants. That is one fundamental issue— I therefore recommend you wait, travel here when possible and if Covid returns to “normal” in time the borders will re-open. 

I guess by next year or never, after all, the situation in Japan is more or less under control and Japanese risk embarrassment if tourists carry Covid-19 here. If it would happen once it would be game over so the opening of borders will happen slowly. That’s not to say, the airport has strict entrance procedures which take up to 2+ hours so perhaps as time passes the government will see the return of tourism. I know it is so frustrating but the system is inflexible and slow, yet dependable something all tourists appreciate.