Japan Tourism Monitored Tours

No, Japan Does Not Open (Yet) to Free Tourism From June 10, 2022

⏱ 7 minutes

Over the past few days, you may have seen a lot of deceptive (to say the least) titles announcing the resumption of tourism in Japan from June 10.

This is false.

Or, to a certain extent, it is a trickery move and one can say without a doubt that Fumio Kishida, the Japanese Prime Minister, lied to the world during his early May trip in London when he swore to "start a smoother accession process similar to the rest of the G7". And it is blatant since June 12 as the United States don’t require a PCR test anymore before arriving on their territory.
Thus, Japan has become the loathed "nail that sticks out".

Let’s review the actual progresses and perspectives of sightseeing Japan in the next months.

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Who can enter in Japan since March 2022?

Let us recall that since March 1rst, all visas – except tourists – are granted access to Japan again:

  • Students for short and (mainly) long term stays;
  • Business-people, interns, associations, artists and even sponsored work-holidays visa holders;
  • Spouses and families of Japanese residents.

Since this reopening a little bit more than 3 months ago, hundreds of thousand foreigners have come in Japan and the new Covid 🦠 cases’ curve is still going down.

Moreover, and it is quite ironic, the majority of the short stays (less than 3 months) travelers have their passports stamped with the "temporary visitors" status, in other words a tourist visa in disguise:

Japan’s daily cap rose from the initial 5,000 to 10,000 since April 10.

As a comparison, the average daily pre-Covid entries amounted approximately to 100,000 in 2019, with peaks to nearly 300,000 in April and July. However, the Chinese, Hong-Kong citizens and Taiwanese, who are currently almost forbidden to leave their own countries, made 45% of these numbers (North America about 6%).

🚶 Package-tour tests between May 24 to June 4

For about ten days between late May and early June, test tours have been conducted in Japan as the 1rst step in the preparation for inbound tourism resumption.

Whereas Japan only ranked 41th in the international Covid Resilience Ranking (the U.S. were 31th, and most of European countries being above 30th rank), its conditions for participation were restrictive:

  • 50 participants selected among tourism professionals (sometimes of Japanese descent), triple-vaccinated, dispatched into 15 groups;
  • From 4 countries only: United States (Hawaii), Australia, Singapore and Thailand;
  • Pre-determined trips of a few days and permanently chaperoned by guides;
  • Participation of only 12 out of the 47 Japanese prefectures (Ishikawa, Nagano, Fukuoka, Tochigi, Iwate, Yamagata, etc. but not Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido or Okinawa);
  • Tours exclusively operated by only 2 Japanese travel agencies with close ties to the government;
  • Each traveler had to apply for an exceptional visa beforehand;
  • Daily body temperature checks and frequent antigenic tests.

It is by the way the last condition that had one of the tours abruptly stopped: 1 member of the 4-persons group from Thailand tested positive for Covid after 5 days of travel (they could as much have been contaminated upon arriving in Japan) resulting in the group immediately placed in quarantine.

🚦 Changes since June 1rst

1️⃣ The daily entry cap was increased to 20,000 persons, and is still on the rise.

2️⃣ A list of countries was established, with simplified entry requirements for each country group:

  • 🔵 Blue (80% of travelers – 98 countries including Europe and North America):
    • No Covid test upon landing;
    • No quarantine, even for non-vaccinated people!
  • 🟡 Yellow (another hundred of countries):
    • No Covid test upon landing;
    • No quarantine for vaccinated people / Self-isolation at home for non-vaccinated people.
  • 🔴 Red (Albania, Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Fiji):
    • Covid test upon landing;
    • 3 to 7 days quarantine in a government designated hotel, even for vaccinated people.

Getting a negative PCR test 72h prior to departure is still mandatory however.

3️⃣ Foreign partners (fiances and perhaps cohabitants) of Japanese nationals can theoretically solicit a visa, but actually, the procedure is so long and confusing that even Embassies and Consulates cannot make head or tail of it.

It almost seems wiser to wait until being allowed in as a simple tourist.

Furthermore, face mask 😷 is not recommended in the outdoor anymore, especially due to the risk of heat stroke, but social pressure still weights on the population who is still reluctant to take it off. Nevertheless, the Japanese government thought it was a good idea to prevent foreigners’ "bad manners" and insist on the necessity for them to strictly follow the rules.

🚧 June 10’s smokescreen easing

The so-called reopening to tourism on June 10 is in fact only a slightly watered down extension of the "North-Korean style tours" to all the blue countries.

The announced easing, rather coy, bring very few actual progresses for the vast majority of travelers, nearly 800 days after the borders closing.

See for yourself:

  • Trip itinerary is still pre-determined and chaperoned 24/24, 7/7 (a guide must be present to all the meals during the trip and the travel agency is held accountable for all travels);
  • Face mask is required at all times, even in the outdoor, otherwise travelers cannot go out the hotel;
  • Maintaining social distancing as well as avoiding the most crowded places and rush hours (transport, eating);
  • Mandatory medical insurance and any Covid infection must be declared immediately (which naturally ends the travel for the patient and their contact-cases) and up to 7 days after the end of the trip;
  • The travel agency must keep a comprehensive reporting of the trip (including the exact seats where travelers ate or used in transportation) at hand to submit to the immigration authorities when controlled;
  • Condescending manner recommendations by the Japan National Tourism Organization;
  • Travelers must apply for a visa and the sponsor travel agency must file an individual declaration beforehand on the ERFS platform to get issued an ID number and QR Code required to receive the visa at the nearest Japan Embassy or Consulate, and to provide to the immigration services to enter in Japan.

One must admit however that there are some significant easing:

  • Lift of the travelers number limit per group (a group can include from 1 to any number of travelers);
  • No restricted prefectures anymore, Japan as a whole is accessible to travelers;
  • Any certified travel agency can organize the tour, even if its headquarters are outside Japan (as long as they have a subsidiary in the archipelago);
  • The guide is not necessarily an expensive guide-interpreter anymore, now only the national guide certification is required (but it is still mandatory and expensive) as the guides must nonetheless be registered in Japan);
  • Travelers can book their flight ✈️ and hotels 🏨 themselves.

However, such advances do not compensate the overall strictness of these tours.
Upon reading these conditions anyone can understand that there is no true resumption of tourism, but a play on words to keep a status quo until the critical parliamentary elections of July 10, whose campaign is starting on June 22nd.

However, if you don’t feel rebuked by these guidelines, feel free to get in touch with your certified travel agency to book your trip, as places will be limited to the number of guides available this summer.

🛂 When will tourists be allowed without limitation?

That is the perennial question. Our estimate is that it will be possible from September, depending on the pressures (domestic and international), as well as, naturally, the sanitary situation.

We have already explained this point of view as soon as early March:

Want to know when Japan will reopen its borders to free individual travelers? Subscribe to Kanpai’s Newsletter and get information on real time:

As for July, 2 things are very likely:

  • The entry daily cap will raise to 30,000 (at last a realistic number for a beginning of tourism resumption) and could even be canceled;
  • GoTo Travel, the subsidized domestic travel campaign, could make its come back (even as soon as the end of June), under another name.

Meanwhile, celebs don’t have to wait:

  • Tom Cruise met his Japanese fans and did not hide his bright smile behind a mask;
  • This summer, music festivals in Japan will gather large crowds for concerts of performers such as Halsey, Post Malone or Megan Thee Stallion (and the Fuji Rock Festival, on the other hand, requires wearing face mask, maintaining social distance and asks not to shout during the concerts!).

The current reopening timeline is therefore drawn against all logic, be it scientific or economic, and for the sole politic agenda of the Kishida faction in the ruling party. Except that now, more than 2/3 of the Japanese population is favorable to the borders reopening.

Tick-tock, tick-tock...

Updated on June 13, 2022 - Non, le Japon n'ouvre pas (encore) au tourisme libre le 10 juin 2022