Japan Travel Update


Japan Travel Update

Japan Travel Update

Japan Border Controls Eased Further – Farewell to Visa Paperwork

Updated 14th Jan 2023

Adjustments have been made to Japan border restrictions and travel allowable for most individual travellers without visa.  This includes:

  • removal of the daily cap on visitors
  • reinstatement of the visa waiver (for certain countries)  
  • there is no longer the requirement to book a package through a Japanese travel agency
After a long period of isolation and many international skiers and snowboarders not enjoying the powder since 2020 due to the incredibly cautious policies on border control, it's exciting that Japan has finally opened its borders with minimal restrictions.

Japan had recently had previous attempts to boost tourism which have failed. The need to visit on a fully guided tour with many strict provisos bombed out. The daily cap was 20,000 prior to September 7, yet daily arrivals were far less because not many tourists were enticed to visit under the group tour restrictions. During June and July, only 8,155 foreign tourists visited Japan! Then the next experiment was the need to book a package through a Japanese travel agency which was met with negative feedback, in part because of the hoops required to jump through to get a visa. Thankfully Japan is now open to independent travellers.

Remaining Restrictions

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan have released some details that provide some clarity but not all, regarding the relaxation of restrictions.

It seems that visa-free travel for short stays (under 90 days) is only for visitors from one of the countries deemed as low risk by Japan that fall under the blue category and not yellow or red (they mustn’t have wanted a green category because of the green Covid emoji!). Visitors from Thailand and Indonesia may be limited to 15 day stays. Currently these rules are for the country that you were in just prior to arriving in Japan, and it’s not clear if this will continue, so keep this in mind if you’re considering a stop-over en-route to Japan.

Travellers that are triple vaccinated with a WHO approved vaccine do not have to undertake pre-travel Covid testing. If your first dose was Johnson & Johnson (JCOVDEN/Janssen), this is considered to be the equivalent of two doses.

Those that are not triple vaccinated require a negative result from a PCR test taken 72 hours prior to departure. Quarantine is not required for those from blue countries.

Children under 18 who do not meet the vaccination criteria can receive a special exemption if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian who is triple vaccinated. Otherwise the child needs to undergo pre-arrival testing, unless they are pre-school age (ie under 6). See details on page 13.

After January 12th, those who are entering Japan via a direct flight from China or Macao need to have a test certificate and an on-arrival test. Those who have stayed in China (within 7 days) need to have an on-arrival test.

The Visit Japan Web outlines fast track information to upload vaccination records or test results, which will provide a QR code to show on arrival.

It is unclear whether the former restriction will remain that all travellers need to have travel insurance that covers medical expenses related to Covid 19. If you’re not vaccinated and you test positive on your pre-arrival swab, you can’t fly so it would be wise to have insurance.

Whilst there are no enforceable laws about wearing masks, there are guidelines and major societal expectations about wearing a mask in public (especially if you’re talking loudly!), and mask-free tourists would be considered taboo. Regulations may also be revised to allow hotels to refuse entry to guests not wearing a mask or abiding by other infection prevention measures.

Weak Yen

The very weak yen was a major catalyst for opening the borders and stimulating the tourism industry as a key element of economic revival, and here’s hoping that a tsunami of tourism dollars is about to hit Japan soon. In recent months the yen has been trading at a 24 year low against the US dollar (e.g. 1USD = 143.4 yen).  This is why many ski/snowboard tours have been very affordable, and accommodation packages inexpensive. In the past couple of days, the yen has strengthened a little due to intervention.

Inflation is rather equivocal, so travel, dining out and staying in local accommodation should also be pretty cheap and imagine how many Chu-His you can buy from the vending machine, However if some of the westernised high profile Japanese resorts follow the lead of ski resorts in USA and Australia for example as they emerged from their Covid slump, prices for accommodation may be beefed up as demand increases to make up for lost time.

Whilst flight prices to Japan were cheap and then very expensive, it’s not known how flight prices will look now that tourism has opened up much more. Hopefully airlines will put more flights on, and prices will be reasonable. It’s also hoped that more international flights into Sapporo may come on board, because currently there are negligible international flights into Sapporo, with routes coming in via Narita or Haneda in Tokyo. Routes via Hong Kong or mainland China may remain negligible because Chinese residents may be reluctant to fly to Japan due to their onerous quarantine requirements on return. You can look at flight routes and prices here.

The yen is likely to improve over the coming months, particularly if further interventions occur, so now could be the time to purchase some yen cash. You shouldn’t have any trouble spending it, because whilst many parts of the world went fully cash free during Covid, many Japan businesses still love cash.

Covid Situation

The wave of COVID-19 cases has subsided, as have the implications such as hospitalisation and deaths.

The self-isolation period for those infected with the coronavirus and developing symptoms was shortened to seven days from 10 days in September.

A new vaccine to combat the omicron variant was introduced in September, so in winter there should be more vaccine and natural immunity, well to current variants anyhow.

Whilst those not triple vaccinated may feel a bit miffed or ostracized, these small addition hoops have been put in place for under-vaccinated or unvaccinated visitors to minimise any further burden on the hospital system.

Timeline Since Late 2021

The Japanese borders have been closed to your average tourist for what seems like eons. This extreme caution has been frustrating for those chomping at the bit to chase powder, but the approach to risk and conservative behaviour is part of the culture of the Japanese. Other than the powder, we have to remind ourselves that the unique Japanese culture is one of the reasons that travelling there is so appealing.
  • Nov 30 2021: Japan banned non-resident foreign nationals in line with the emergence of the very contagious omicron variant of Covid 19.
  • March 1, 2022: Foreign nationals arriving for purposes other than tourism were allowed to re-enter the country (business travellers, international students). Daily visitor cap reduced from 5,000 to 3,000.
  • June 1, 2022: The daily arrival cap was raised to 20,000.
  • June 10, 2022: Foreign tourists were allowed to visit but only on fully guided tours with many strict provisos.
  • Sept 7, 2022: Foreign tourists on non-guided tours allowed entry with package booking via travel agent. The daily arrival cap lifted to 50,000. No more pre-arrival PCR tests for triple vaccinated travellers.
  • Oct 11,2022: Japan further eased border restrictions to get rid of the daily visitor cap & allow visa-free entry for independent tourists.