The COVID-19 pandemic brought Japan to close its borders to foreign tourists in April 2020.
Foreign tourism arrivals dropped by over 90% to 245,900 in 2020, from a record 31.9 million visitors in 2019, almost eliminating the pre-pandemic inbound tourism economy of over ￥4 trillion JPY ($31 billion USD), according to Japan National Tourism Organization statistics from 2022.
As the COVID-19 situation has improved, the travel restrictions have been loosened in phases since March, with the welcome mat coming out for some business travelers, interns, and students, but not tourists.
Japanese authorities are considering, however, raising the daily limit of inbound arrivals to 20,000 people in June, from the current 10,000 per day.
Experimental Fixed Package Tours
On May 17 Japan announced that it would soon begin allowing small package tours from the United States, Australia, Thailand, and Singapore.
A tightened border control against COVID-19 variants does not apply to the four countries. Infection situations have also stabilized in those four countries, according to the government.
The entering tourists must be accompanied by tour conductors from travel agencies.
According to The Japan Tourism Agency, six travel agencies will participate in the experimental project, including JTB Corp., Nippon Travel Agency Co., and Jalpack Co.
Guidelines will be drawn up by the central government after an analysis of the anti-infection measures in the trial run, and the responses to cases of travelers becoming infected during tours.
The tours will be conducted within prefectures that have no COVID-19 emergency measures in place at the time and where the prefectural governments have agreed to accept them during the trial phase.
The trial will allow the government to see if it can keep a handle on the movement of tourists and tailor how to respond if a COVID-19 case is detected. The success of the trial run is expected to help the government determine when it can implement a full border opening.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, only visitors who have received three COVID-19 shots will be eligible to participate.
The Japan Tourism Agency has said that each tour can have a maximum of four people, and a total of 50 participants are expected to take part in the experiment.
A special visa will be required for participants, not a tourist visa, the agency said. According to the statement, the results will be used to provide Coronavirus guidelines for tour operators, hotels, and other related businesses.
The current PCR test requirements to enter the country will remain the same. It is mandatory for visitors to take a government-approved PCR test showing a negative result within 72 hours of departure, submit the result on a Japanese government-approved form, and take another test at the airport immediately upon arrival.
"We would like to consider allowing smooth entry as other G-7 countries have done, with careful assessment of the infection situation after the Golden Week holidays," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuo said at a press conference on May 16.
Japan will implement the plan while trying to maintain a balance between socio-economic activities and anti-COVID-19 measures.
The decision to reopen Japan to people who are traveling on a special tourist visa could be officially announced as early as this week. This will be the first time that Japan has welcomed tourists since April 2020.
Author: Shaun Fernando