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Visit Japan in 2021

Will We Be Able to Visit Japan in 2021?

by Robert Schrader on August 11, 2020

If you’re planning to visit Japan in 2021, or even thinking about it, I’ll start this post with a reality check: Japan’s border is closed to all foreign tourists as of December 2020—and the country has no firm plans in place to re-open it.

With this being said, news on the vaccine front (not to mention, the fast-approaching Tokyo Olympics) makes me optimistic. As of now, I’m creating custom itineraries for travelers to Japan starting in Summer 2021, and advise those of you planning your own trips to consider a similar timeline.

To lay it out plainly, I do anticipate Japan’s border being re-open to most (vaccinated) travelers by June or July 2021. Continue reading for answers to other frequently-asked questions about Japan’s Covid-related travel bans.

UPDATE: A January 2021 re-closure of the Japanese border has alarmed many travelers who had been planning to visit Japan this year. Here’s why I wouldn’t worry just yet.

Need help planning your 2021 trip to Japan? Commission a custom Japan itinerary!

Why You (Probably) Couldn’t Visit Japan in 2020

At this point, a 2021 trip to Japan is your best-case scenario—I never would’ve said this in May or June 2020. At that time, I hoped that once Japan exited its short-lived state of emergency, the country would clear its backlog of stranded overseas residents, and then begin the “phased” re-opening of its borders it’s been discussing almost since it closed them. These hopes—all hopes, when it comes to visiting Japan in 2020—have since been dashed.

It’s the waning days of 2020 as I’m writing this, almost five months after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would have ended, had they been held this year. As of today, only travelers with long-stay visas are allowed to enter (or re-enter) the country, and only after fulfilling a long (and, in some cases, unattainable) list of preconditions. Watch the video below for more insights as to the status quo of Japan’s travel ban as of late 2020—I’ll provide more details and context in writing in a few paragraphs.

FAQ About Visiting Japan in 2021

Will Japan re-open its borders in 2021?

Given recent news about vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, both of which Japan has pre-purchased, I would say with near-certainty that Japan will fully re-open its borders before the end of 2021. As far as specifically when will Japan re-open its borders? A recent Jiji News report speculates tourists will begin returning to Japan in April 2021, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to concretely address this.

When should I visit Japan in 2021?

Personally, I anticipate that (vaccinated) tourist will be able to enter Japan no later than July 2021 (i.e. in time for the postponed Olympics), although this may occur sooner depending on vaccine developments, or for travelers from “safe” countries. I am currently planning custom Japan itineraries from Summer 2021 onwards, and recommend those planning their own trips take the same approach.

What month is cherry blossom in Japan 2021?

As is the case in any other year, the Japan cherry blossom season of 2021 will begin in late March in Tokyo, Shikoku and Kyushu, and travel slowly north and east, peaking in Kyoto in early April, in the Tohoku region in mid-to-late April and finally, in Hokkaido in late April or early May. There are also cherry blossoms in Okinawa in early February.

When is Golden Week in 2021?

Personally, when I visit Japan after Covid-19, Golden Week is going to be a time I want to avoid. 2021’s Golden Week, which will take place from April 29-May 5, will likely be even more crowded than usual, given that 2020’s was largely canceled due to the coronavirus state of emergency.

Will the Tokyo Olympics be canceled?

Following the initial delay of Tokyo 2020 to 2021, I was optimistic about the Games eventually taking place. Then, my optimism soured, due to Japan’s inability to control both its borders and the spread of the virus within them. At this point, however, mostly due to positive news on the vaccine front, I do believe the Tokyo 2021 Games will occur, even if they limp to their final realization.

The Truth About Japan’s Border Closure

If you’ve been following this website since the beginning of the Covid crisis, you know I’ve held the Japanese government’s feet to the fire. After waiting too long to close the border in the first place, authorities (in particular the hapless foreign minister) waffled back and forth on re-opening literally for months, stranding even permanent residents outside the country until the beginning of September, a whopping five months after most were locked out in the first place.

Where I now give the Japanese government credit is that their slow, deliberate re-opening seems to be a sustainable one. They haven’t had to backtrack (at least not thus far) due to how air-tight the system is. I imagine, as soon as it’s clear that nascent vaccines prevent large-scale outbreaks of disease, Japan will quickly (and perhaps even with some fanfare) throw its doors back open, at least to travelers who themselves are vaccinated. It’s almost a sure bet that you will be able to visit Japan in 2021!

Where to Go in Japan in 2021

Tokyo

 

Tokyo is futuristic, but it’s also timeless—it’ll be as amazing to visit on your 2021 Japan as it would’ve been back in 1821, when it was known as Edo. However, with the anticipation—anxiety—of the Olympics Games like to have passed by the time Japan’s borders are fully open again, you can explore a megacity that has breathed a sigh of relief, whether amid the neon signs and manic crosswalks of Shinjuku and Shibuya, or in historical districts such as Asakusa and Nippori.

Kyoto

 

I’ll admit that I’m biased when I suggest you go to Kyoto if you visit Japan in 2021—I’m moving to the former capital in January, when I’ll begin a long-term Japanese language course. However, 2021 will present a unique opportunity in this former (and no doubt future) tourist trap, with temple-filled Higashiyama, lush Arashiyama and colorful Fushimi as empty as they’re likely ever to be again.

Shikoku or Kyushu

 

I say Shikoku or Kyushu not because I want you to visit just one of these secondary islands—I’d prefer for you to see both—but because if you only spend around two weeks in Japan (as most travelers do), that’s all you’re likely to have time for. Both will suit you well: Kyushu is famous for ramen, volcanoes and hot springs, while Shikoku is home to an 88-temple pilgrimage trail and a quantity of feudal castles that belies its small size.

Hokkaido and Tohoku

 

On the other hand, I say Hokkaido and Tohoku because these northernmost regions of Japan complement one another to the extent I think you can see both when visit Japan in 2021, since your trip to them needn’t be exhaustive. Tohoku tends to have more traditionally Japanese culture, whether in the form of Yamagata prefecture’s Yamadera temple, or the Samurai district of Kakunodate in Akita prefecture. Hokkaido, on the other hand, is all about the scenery, be that in the form of Furano‘s lavender fields in summer, or the ski resorts of Niseko in winter.

Okinawa

 

Okinawa is known as the “Hawaii of Japan,” which I’ve always found strange, given how many Japanese people fly all the way to Hawaii for vacation instead. Hawaii is beautiful, of course, but Okinawa’s beaches are some of my favorites in Asia, whether on islands like Ie and Tokashiki within day trip distance of Naha, the prefectural capital, or the even more resplendent Kabira Bay on outlying Ishigaki island. We all need to relax after the nightmare of 2020—why not kick back in Okinawa in 2021?

Keep Up to Date With Japan’s Latest Travel Restrictions

The bad news? Regardless of the particular ways they change, the tangled web of Japan entry restrictions is unlikely to get any less complicated as time goes on. The good news? I’ve devoted myself to understanding and keeping up to date with it, and will publish a new article when a meaningful update occurs. You can keep up to date with those by keeping tabs on my Japan travel blog, or when you follow Japan Starts Here on Facebook.

It’s my hope, as 2020 (finally) draws to a close, that the conversation will shift from outright bans and rare exceptions to them, and more to practical ways for pioneers (as I like to think of myself, as maybe you) to travel once again in Japan. Quarantine would be a bummer, for example, but I’d settle for having to spend a couple weeks in isolation if it meant I was free to travel around my favorite country again afterwards. And I plan to be the first person in line to get a coronavirus vaccine!

The Bottom Line

You’ll almost certainly be able to visit Japan in 2021, but the process almost certainly won’t be “normal,” at least not during the first half of the year. Even as the country’s borders continue their slow re-opening, they’re likely to do so in a piecemeal fashion; authorities may not allow people traveling from your location to enter except under special circumstances. On the other hand, things change fast (and often) in the pandemic ravaged dystopia we’re all living in, so anything is possible. In spite of this sobering reality check, I remain hopeful that Japan will re-open to tourists at some point in 2021. This probably won’t occur before sakura season in March and April, but will almost certainly happen before the delayed Tokyo Olympics at the end of July. Regardless of when you think you’ll visit Japan again (or, perhaps more pertinently, when you’ll legally be able to do so), I hope you’ll keep returning to Japan Starts Here for updates.

About The Author

is the author of 181 posts on Japan Starts Here. Robert created Japan Starts Here so the web would have a beautiful hub of Japan travel information and inspiration. He also runs the popular website Leave Your Daily Hell.

 
 

Japan Starts Here is information—and inspiration—for all your trips to Japan. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 
 

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