After more than two years of being sealed off to the world because of the coronavirus pandemic, Japan is getting ready to welcome international tourists again.

The Japanese government is bowing to pressure from its economic circles by considering reopening the country to non-essential foreign travellers from June 1st, 2022.

It has been reported that new rules also allow up to 20,000 daily overseas visitors to fly to the country.

Japan is one of the last countries in the world to open to foreign travellers, following the pandemic. The reason behind the country’s reticence to reopen, according to reports, is due to strong opposition from locals.

The Japan Times reported that in a NHK (Japanese television network) poll conducted in March, 30% of respondents said the country should not ease restrictions, while 35% said the government’s border restrictions were “appropriate.” Only 27% were for the relaxation of border restrictions.

Tourism was the brightest star for Japan’s economy until Covid-19

Despite this, until 2020, tourism was until 2020 one of the brightest star in the country’s economy. From 2010 to 2019, total foreign arrivals to the country rose from 8.36 to 31.88 million. Before collapsing to 4.12 million in 2020 and 0.25 million last year…

A Kansai University professor told the Japan Times that the loss of revenue from the lack of foreign visitors was estimated at over US$82.5 billion in 2020. And probably running at over 200 billion across the two years.

In a statement in early March, the Keidanren – the powerful Japan Business Federation – asked the government to “to declare [the coronavirus as] endemic as soon as possible.” The group’s chairman, Masakazu Tokura who is also chairman of Sumitomo Chemical, said: “We must not lose fans of Japan due to the border controls. We want the government to ease the stringent entry restrictions as soon as possible.”

Osaka castle (Photo: JNTO)

Keidanren wants the government to create a central database that tracks vaccine records, using the country’s own identification system.

In March, Japan started to relax slightly its borders by allowing again essential business travellers, students and workers; rising the cap on passengers allowed to come in from 3,500 a day to 10,000. On June 1st, further easing of restrictions are expected.

Groups of tourists should be first allowed from June

In a speech made in London on May 5, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida declared that the Covid-19 infection situation has been stabilising in Japan and that the government would consult with public health experts before reviewing the country’s Covid-19 measures “in stages”.

However, according to reports, Japan is set to start opening up to small groups of vaccinated foreign tourists while the daily cap on foreign air arrivals would be raised to 20,000.

The possibility will still be limited and submitted to further criteria. Reports, for example, suggest that only tourists who have received three Covid-19 vaccinations will be allowed and that they should also be part of a package tour with a fixed itinerary. The strict resumption of international tourism movements will be taken as an experiment before further opening. In case of infections remaining low, officials would then expand the program.

The reopening of Japan is even more essential that tourists would certainly enjoy the fact that the archipelago is currently turning into a bargain. The Yen has been plunging by 25% in value since the start of the year, lowering the costs of living for potential visitors.

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