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Japan’s Endless Border Closure

Japan’s Endless Border Closure

When will Japan reopen to tourism? This is a question I’ve been asking since early April 2020, when the country first closed its border to leisure travelers.

At that time, it seemed inconceivable to me that tourism to Japan would still be shut down more than two years later. Now, I wouldn’t be shocked if Japan maintained some degree of travel restrictions for several more months.

This doesn’t mean the country will stay fully closed, of course, or that you’ll only be able to visit Japan in 2023 or later. However, if you’re asking yourself “when will Japan allow tourists?” the answer is not a date but a constellation of circumstances.

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Japan’s Current Entry Restrictions

As of May 2022, all foreigners are banned from entering Japan for the purpose of tourism. Notably, this includes most short-term business travelers and foreigners with Japanese partners to whom they are not married—Japan considers these people “tourists,” if you can believe that. People with medium- to long-term Japanese visas (such as students and workers) can enter Japan, in many cases without quarantine.

What about the future? Although Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stoked a storm of excitement and expectations in early May 2022, when he suggested Japan’s border measures would imminently be in line with those of other G7 nations, the facts on the ground have so far failed to bear this out. If tourists are allowed in June 2022, they will likely do so under a brutally surveilled “monitor tour” scheme that seems more befitting of Iran or North Korea than an ostensibly free country like Japan.

How (and When) Japan’s Border Will Open

North Korea-style “monitor tours”

Unfortunately, although the idea was hatched in late 2020 before the arrival of vaccines, it does appear Japan’s tourism reopening will begin with so-called “monitor tours.” As their name suggests, these authoritarian adventures will see tourists carted around Japan like livestock, spending most of their time confined to buses and locked inside their hotel rooms. The concept is especially absurd given the fact that virtually the entire rest of the world (including most of Asia) has fully reopened to tourism as of early 2022.

Elimination of testing on arrival (and entry caps)

Japan’s continued closure to tourists is not due to covid-19 itself, or even (completely) due to xenophobia. Rather, it’s a logistical issue: As of May 2022, every person who enters Japan—the current limit is 20,000 per day, about 15% of the pre-pandemic number—must take a rapid antigen test upon arrival, in addition to submitting piles of paperwork to different groups of officials, multiple times over. In order to shorten excessive processing times and eventually eliminate the entry cap they necessitate, the Japanese government is planning to exempt certain travelers from this “on-arrival inspection” starting in June 2022, although the specifics of who may qualify and how it will all work are currently unclear.

Reopening to individual tourists

Once on-arrival testing is eliminated and entry caps are removed, there will be no reason for Japan to stay closed to tourists. In spite of this, I don’t anticipate that Japan will allow all tourists back in at once. Rather, I expect that Japan will kick off its reopening to individual tourists by restoring visa exemptions for countries in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region, likely only those who have been vaccinated and boosted, and who can funish negative results from a pre-departure covid test. If this goes smoothly, I expect that Japanese embassies and consulates around the world will resume accepting tourist visa applications from citizens of all countries shortly thereafter.

Full border reopening

Will Japan open borders in 2023? The good news is that I think many tourists will be able to enter Japan well before January 1, 2023. The bad news? It’s possible that a “full” border reopening—meaning no covid testing on either end of travel, and no vaccine requirement—may be a 2023 event rather than a 2022 one. However, if no new SARS-CoV-2 variant has emerged by the time Japan reopens to individual travelers, a full return to 2019 border measures may quickly follow.

The July 2022 election

Many observers of the #JapanTravelBan (as it’s known on social media) believe that Japan’s July 2022 House of Councillors election is the reason Japan’s border has remained closed to tourists for so long—I am not among them. With this being said, Prime Minister Kishida’s motivations for keeping Japan’s border closed are clearly more political than scientific. After all, it is not foreigners but the Japanese themselves (who have been free to come and go the entire pandemic, as quarantine is not legally enforceable for citizens) who have imported SARS-CoV-2 and all its variants into Japan, resulting in six increasingly severe waves of infection.

Will Japan Open Borders in 2022?

I continue to believe, despite slow progress in reopening borders and the continued vagueness of the information the government releases, that Japan will reopen to tourism sometime in 2022. If I had to give my best guess, I’d postulate that Japan’s will begin accepting individual tourists no earlier than July 1, 2022, but no later than October 1, 2022.

For people who’ve been waiting since early 2020, this likely comes across as bad news. There’s not any good news, except perhaps for the fact that the continued delay creates additional space for you to plan your trip to Japan, as well as to allocate resources toward travel. For example, if you’re planning a 2023 trip to Japan, you can allocate a certain amount of money to playing games at https://luckychika.jp/ and save the rest for pachinko parlors on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka.

 

Other FAQ About Post-Pandemic Travel to Japan

When will Japan lift travel ban for US citizens?

Contrary to popular belief, US citizens have never been banned from entering Japan. Travelers originating in the US were banned, in principle, between April 2020 and April 2022, but this was not based on the passport or citizenship of the traveler—it was based on travel history. As of May 2022, any traveler originating in the United States who has a valid visa can enter Japan for any purpose except tourism.

When will Japan open borders for tourism?

Currently, I expected Japan to begin reopening to tourism in mid-to-late 2022, assuming that the global Covid situation continues to improve. Note that Japan’s borders may initially open only to travelers originating in designated countries, or who can provide proof of vaccination against Covid-19.

When will Japan open borders for students?

Japan’s borders reopened to students in March 2022, having closed in January 2021 after just three months of being open. As of May 2022, I do not expect Japan to close its borders to students again, irrespective of any changes in the global pandemic situation.

The Bottom Line

When will Japan reopen to tourism? If I had to guess today, my vote would be for sometime during the second half (probably the third quarter) of 2022. Any number of factors could change this, however. An unexpected negative development with Japan’s domestic Covid situation could delay it; a mutation of Covid-19 into a much less deadly variant could see Japan reopen sooner, although I don’t think the latter is as likely as the former. Compounding Japan’s indefinite closure is an antiquated bureaucracy, as well as attitudes toward the outside world that would be considered racist in any other country. No matter when Japan ends up opening, I do hope you’ll consider hiring me to plan your trip when it does.

 

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