For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, foreign travelers who have received at least one booster shot (or come with a negative PCR test taken with 72 hours of departure) will be able to visit Japan without supervision.
The new protocols, which go into effect on October 11, are a cautious step forward for a country that has imposed some of the strictest tourism restrictions since the pandemic began.
Any independent tourist—not just those traveling with authorized groups, which has been the case since June 10, or through a travel agent, the rule since September 7—will be able to enter and travel within the country as they please. The change was announced by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on September 22 in New York City’s Central Park. The Prime Minister also announced that the cap on the number of tourists allowed in each day would be abolished altogether. And visa requirements enacted in response to the pandemic will also be discontinued.
What has changed for travel to Japan?
Japan has been very measured about allowing visitors to enter. It wasn’t until June 10 this year that a limited number of travelers (initially a maximum of 20,000 per day, a number that was raised to 50,000 per day this month) from 98 countries—including the United States—were allowed to visit.
The news that the country would fully reopen came just two weeks after a previous update to entry requirements that ended the need for visitors to arrive with a negative predeparture COVID-19 test, register with the government, get a QR code for immigration, and obtain travel insurance. Visitors also, unpopularly, had to be on an organized tour. The rules were in effect from June 10—when Japan first allowed visitors to enter, more than two years after the onset of the pandemic—until September 7.
As of September 7, foreign travelers have been able to enter Japan as long as they’ve had at least one booster shot and worked with a travel agent. The move—billed as an easing of the rule that visitors had to be on a group tour—turned out, for many tourists, to be anything but a simpler path forward. It instead proved to introduce a convoluted process requiring clearance via a Japanese travel agent, often with hefty fees or commissions attached.
Business organizations within and outside Japan have called for the country to ease its border controls to support the economy, especially the tourism industry, which has been badly hurt by the pandemic (the yen has currently dropped to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar in more than two decades). Still, many Japanese are wary of further easing border measures because the country has been struggling with a seventh wave of infections.
The Associated Press contributed to this reporting.