Is Japan gearing up for a full reopening after Covid-19?

Japan’s ancient temples, tranquil hot springs, cherry blossoms and futuristic skyscrapers could soon be open for more people to enjoy again as the country has further eased Covid-19 restrictions.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that non-escorted visitors on package tours will be able to travel to Japan from next Wednesday. Speaking at an online press conference, he also said the daily arrival cap on visitor numbers would increase to 50,000 from the same date.

That’s an increase from the existing 20,000 policy.

Both changes, announced on Wednesday, are a significant step toward moving the nation’s border restrictions on par with other major economies. However, tourists hoping to hop on a plane and explore the Land of the Rising Sun at their leisure will have to sit tight.

The new rules allow tourists from “low-risk” countries into Japan without the need to join a guided tour, but only if visits have been arranged via a travel agency.

These agencies are responsible for managing holidaymakers schedules and travelers must book a complete package tour. They will only be allowed to visit or experience other attractions listed on the approved itinerary.

Holidaymakers entering Japan on package tours will also need to have medical travel insurance covering Covid-19 treatment.

Last week, authorities in Japan eased Covid-19 entry requirements with tourists no longer needing to show a negative PCR test result to travel to the country so long as they have received three vaccination doses.

According to reports, tourists traveling to Japan will have to follow isolation guidelines in place if they test positive for the virus during a visit. These currently include self-quarantining for 10 days or no less than 72 hours after symptoms subside. Two negative tests are required before travelers are able to end isolation.

A slow start to post-pandemic travel in Japan

A rickshaw puller carries a tourist near Sensoji Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district, Tokyo.  AP

As one of the countries with the strictest lockdown measures during the pandemic, Japan reopened in June just in time for summer travel.

In the first month, only 1,500 tourists traveled to the country according to its Immigration Services Agency.

That is 95 per cent less than traveler numbers in the same period pre-pandemic.

The strict travel agency rules and compulsory guide are joined by visa issues as stumbling blocks in reviving the industry.

The border is currently only open for those with pre-issued tourism visas, citizens and long-term visa holders. Visa waivers for travel, which were in place before the pandemic, have not been reinstated since they were halted.

Before the pandemic, Japan hosted 32 million foreign visitors in 2019 and had been on track to achieve its goal of 40 million in 2020.

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Updated: August 31, 2022, 9:13 AM

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