Japan’s Plan to Allow Tourists Has Changed: It Now Allows Tour Groups from 36 Countries from 10 June

Japan has changed its mind, for the better.

Instead of just having tourists from four countries, it will now be opening up to more parts of the world.

Increase From 4 to 36 Countries

On Thursday (26 May), Japan announced that it will reopen to tourists from 36 countries starting June 10, but travellers will only be allowed in with tour groups.

The countries now include Britain, Spain, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia.

Last week, Japan’s government said it would do a test by allowing small group tours with visitors from the United States, Australia, Thailand and Singapore from this month.

But on Thursday, border controls were revised to resume accepting package tours from 36 countries and regions where the COVID-19 situation is relatively stable.

Japan will also expand the number of airports that accept international flights to seven, adding Naha in its southern Okinawa prefecture and Chitose near Sapporo in northern Hokkaido.

Japan has already announced it would double its cap on overseas arrivals to 20,000 a day starting in June, far below the levels seen before the pandemic.

Tour groups are not expected to be counted in that figure, local media reported.

Pandemic Situation in Japan

For most of the pandemic, Japan barred all tourists and allowed only citizens and foreign residents entry, though even the latter have periodically been shut out.

Perhaps that was why Japan fared relatively well during the pandemic, recording just over 30,000 deaths from the virus so far.

However, the government decided it was time to end the two-year pandemic closure.

“Active exchanges between people are the foundation of the economy and society,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a speech at the Future of Asia conference in Tokyo.

Mr Kishida has also come under pressure from business lobbies to further open the borders, as the travel industry is losing out on what could have been a windfall from the weak yen.

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Citizens Hesitant Towards Reopening

At the same time, Mr Kishida is well aware of Japanese citizens’ hesitance toward reopening their borders.

As an election for the upper house of parliament is upcoming in July, there is public wary of the potential health implications.

A poll published by the Mainichi newspaper last weekend found 43 per cent of respondents were in favour of relaxing border controls, while 41 per cent were against the idea.

Three Categories of Virus Risk

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that the easing of restrictions would mean about 80 per cent of arrivals would be able to enter the country without undergoing testing on arrival, or quarantine.

Countries and regions will be divided into three categories — red, yellow and blue — depending on their assessed virus risk.

Travellers arriving from countries or regions on the blue list would be able to bypass quarantine as long as they pass a pre-departure PCR test.

Those on the yellow list would require proof of vaccination with selected vaccines to skip quarantine.

Japan is considering putting Hong Kong on the blue list, reported the South China Morning Post.

The move comes after the government allowed some small package tours for overseas visitors to be conducted on a trial basis this month.

Tour groups are expected to take responsibility for ensuring visitors respect Japan’s near-universal mask-wearing and other measures that have helped keep the toll from COVID-19 comparatively low.

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