Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced that from 7 September onwards, the country will open up to foreign visitors who are travelling without chaperones.
Additionally, they have increased the daily limit for arrivals from 20,000 to 50,000 people, and this applies to foreign residents, business individuals and tourists entering with visas, as well as Japanese nationals.
Before you cry from happiness at being able to finally use all the Yen you snatched up when the currency tanked, and start looking up flights to book for your next Japanese getaway, know that this announcement doesn’t necessarily mean that all visitors can enter the country just yet.
Non-Guided Tour Groups to be Allowed to Enter Japan
Since June, Japan has only allowed for leisure travellers to enter if they are part of a guided tour with a registered tour company. This proved too restrictive for many outsiders, who valued the freedom of visiting the country on their own.
The announcement has made leeway for non-guided tour groups to start entering Japan. It was cheered as a positive step in Japan’s reception to tourists, as the country has been relatively far behind most major global economies in easing their border controls
But what exactly is a “non-guided tour group”, you ask?
While there aren’t any exact definitions given for this, it seems that it would just be a normal tour, without the tour guide or a chaperone.
In other words, individual tourists still won’t be allowed into the country.
Looks like that solo trip to find yourself in Japan will just have to wait.
Travellers Can Only Enter on Certain Conditions
While the news certainly marks a step in Japan’s tourism returning to its pre-COVID state, the impact of these new measures is decidedly unclear, given that free-and-easy trips by private individuals still would be prohibited, and travellers entering have to still adhere to a set of conditions.
Firstly, all travellers are required to get a visa from authorised travel agents in order to enter Japan on a “non-guided packaged tour”.
Next, even without a designated chaperon, travel agencies that are visa sponsors of these travellers will still have to provide and manage the travel itineraries, while travellers will likely not be allowed to deviate from their itineraries.
In addition, travel agencies will be responsible for ensuring that travellers are adhering to Japan’s COVID-19 laws throughout their travels, using communication and reporting modes
Lastly, it is still a legal requirement for all those who have received fewer than three jabs of approved vaccines to take the pre-departure polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within least 72 hours before their flight, though the country announced it would be removing this measure starting from 7 September.
It is to be noted that Japan also does not accept Chinese-made vaccines for, well, pretty obvious reasons.
During the conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Kishida stated that “[Japan will] further ease border control requirements by taking into consideration the changing COVID-19 situation within the country and abroad, as well as measures employed by other nations,” although he did not elaborate further.
Statistics show that the number of visitors Japan has had hardly budged since 2020, where it currently hovers above 16,000. The country has chosen a more prudent approach in recovering its tourism sector, given that cases soared after it was hit with a seventh COVID-19 wave spurred mainly by the Omicron variant.
Data from the WHO shows that that Japan has topped the world in new COVID-19 infections consecutively for the past five weeks.
However, this seems to be less of a concern now, as cases have been down by about 30 per cent from the week before the announcement was made.
The Japanese government is also making arrangements to start rolling out coronavirus vaccines targeting the Omicron variant as early as September.
In the meantime, I guess we’ll all just head down to Don Don Donki more often to fill the void.
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