Japan to allow nonguided tour groups from September but entry will still be severely limited
Japan has further relaxed its COVID-19-related travel restrictions, finally allowing travelers to visit the Land of the Rising Sun without an escort.
From Sept. 7, foreign tourists will be able to visit the Pacific archipelago without being tied to a guided tour. Additionally, the arrival cap will marginally increase from 20,000 to 50,000 daily tourists.
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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he hoped the new measures would awaken the former economic powerhouse’s tourism industry, still groggy from almost three years of travel restrictions. He added that tourist-friendly exchange rates in particular should prove a major lure.
“In countries worldwide, international exchange is growing,” said Kishida. “To participate in these exchanges and to benefit from the weaker yen, we will raise the daily arrival cap to 50,000 from Sept 7, as well as allow [tourists on] nonguided tours from all countries to enter the country.”
Tourists will still need to be vaccinated and assigned to a package tour to obtain a visa, but they will no longer need to be supervised.
What exactly constitutes a package tour is not clear, but ministers said guidelines will be released in the coming days.
Related: Japan announces limited reopening plan — hope for an eventual return of tourism?
This is a big step for Japan. One of the world’s last COVID-19 travel-ban holdouts, it had been closed to tourists since 2020.
In June, it began allowing foreign tourists into the country, but only on tightly controlled guided tours. On top of that, visitors were expected to provide proof of a negative test up to 72 hours before departure and apply for a visa — a laborious and time-consuming process that industry experts said turned people off from visiting Japan.
Ministers hope that loosening their current restrictions will breathe life into the nation’s wheezing economy, as the strict, guided tours have not been popular with tourists. According to Japan’s Immigration Services Agency, only 8,155 foreign tourists visited Japan in June and July. Maintaining a strict 50,000-tourist arrival cap could still deter some tourists from booking trips.
What do I need to enter Japan?
At the time of writing, the U.S. Department of State has not yet updated guidance on its website; however, you will no longer need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test up to 72 hours prior to your departure, nor will you have to be signed up for an approved tour.
Instead, you simply need to be fully vaccinated and signed up for a package tour, the exact details of which are not yet available.
What does it mean to be ‘fully vaccinated’ in Japan?
If you can prove you have received two doses of the AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna vaccines (or one of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) as well as an additional booster shot from Pfizer or Moderna, then you will be considered fully vaccinated. You will be exempt from quarantine and self-isolation. AstraZeneca is not accepted as a valid booster.
If you are identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive on arrival, you will be required to quarantine or self-isolate for seven days.
Unvaccinated travelers no longer need to self-isolate but are expected to provide proof of a negative test up to 72 hours before departure; it must be signed and stamped by the laboratory where the test was taken.
For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State website, or the Japan National Tourism Organization website.