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Beginning June 10, Japan will allow in people on tours with fixed schedules. Photo: Shutterstock

ExplainerJapan gradually opens up to foreign tourists from June 10: what you need to know

  • A new ‘traffic light’ system allows in tourists with fixed schedules and guides; on-arrival test, quarantine rules depend on which country they’re coming from
  • Masks must still be worn, and only five airports are accepting international flights, but the yen’s weakening makes Japan a good holiday option
For the first time in more than two years, tourists are returning to Japan as the government there begins to ease some of the world’s strictest border measures amid a drop in Covid-19 cases.

From June 10, Japan will allow a limited number of foreign visitors on package tours. Last week a few “test tours” – mainly of overseas travel agents – began arriving, closely monitored and subject to tight hygiene measures.

For most of the pandemic, Japan has barred all tourists, allowing entry to only citizens and foreign residents, although even the latter have periodically been shut out.

Here is the lowdown on Japan’s relaxed travel rules.

Women in traditional robes at a shrine in Japan. On June 10 package tours from overseas will start to bring tourists back to the country. Photo: Bloomberg

Who will be eligible to enter Japan?

From June 1, Japan will double its cap on daily arrivals to 20,000.

Beginning June 10, it will allow in people on tours with fixed schedules and guides from a low-risk “blue” list of 98 countries and regions representing the lowest risk of Covid-19 infection.

These include the United States, Britain, mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia and most members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( Asean). The list is subject to review at any time.

As tourism restarts, what are the dos and don’ts of post-pandemic travel?

While keeping a close eye on infection rates, Japan will gradually accept more tourists to the level of arrivals before the pandemic, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.

“Free and active exchange of people is the foundation of economy and society, as well as that of Asia’s development,” he said.

However, it will take some time before foreign visitors can enter Japan for individual tourism, said Makoto Shimoaraiso, a cabinet official in charge of pandemic measures.

Japan welcomed a record 31.9 million foreign visitors in 2019 and expected to reach its goal of 40 million in 2020 before the pandemic hit.


Japan to welcome small tour groups after scrapping travel curbs on international visitors

Japan to welcome small tour groups after scrapping travel curbs on international visitors

Are there any arrival rules?

All visitors must test negative for Covid-19 before going to Japan.

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals from the lowest risk “blue group” countries can travel to the nation, with no quarantine or an on-arrival test required, but they will be asked to take precautionary steps, such as wearing masks.

People from the 99 countries and regions in the middle-risk “yellow” group also do not have to go through testing or a three-day quarantine, as long as they have proof they have been vaccinated.

Those from “yellow” countries without vaccination proof and people arriving from four highest-risk “red” nations – Albania, Fiji, Pakistan and Sierra Leone will not be exempt from testing and quarantine.

A visitor in a face mask in Kumamoto, Japan, in May. Photo: Bloomberg

Is mask-wearing mandatory?

Yes. Tour groups are expected to take responsibility for ensuring visitors respect Japan’s near-universal mask-wearing and other measures that have helped keep the toll from Covid-19 comparatively low.

The government will also ask tour operators to tell visitors to abide by the instructions and persuade companies, schools and other entities accepting foreign citizens to do likewise.

According to people who were part of the test tours that began on May 24, local tour staff checked their temperatures and health status each morning. Every time they got on their bus, someone was at the door to spray their hands with sanitiser.

They were also asked to keep their masks on as much as possible, refrain from eating on the bus and keep talking in restaurants to a minimum.

“It’s a lot of work just to get here,” said Sonya Miyashiro, who works for Regal Travel in Honolulu. “You’ve got to go through 2.5 hours of more stuff at the airport. So finally we got to our room, it was like, ‘Let me kiss the ground. I’m here’.”

People cross a street in the tourist district of Asakusa, near the landmark Tokyo Skytree tower. Photo: AP

Do all Japanese airports accept tourists?

Currently, international flights are limited to five airports – Haneda, Narita, Kansai, Chubu and Fukuoka. But Prime Minister Kishida said he plans to allow more regional airports to accept overseas visitors.

“We will enable regional airports such as Sendai (in northeastern Japan) to resume accepting international flights, in consultation with local governments,” he said.

Naha and New Chitose airports, gateways to popular tourist spots in Okinawa and Hokkaido, respectively, are set to resume accepting international flights by the end of June.

On June 7, the government will also unveil guidelines on Covid-era inbound tourism for the travel industry, Kishida added.

A rickshaw puller carries tourists near the Sensoji Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Photo: AP

What’s the reaction from the tourism sector?

Japan’s travel industry, hit hard by border controls, is eager for foreign tourism to resume but not everyone is upbeat.

Hotel operator Resol Holdings Co Ltd opened four new locations in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, expecting a massive influx of foreign tourists. It was a waste of time, said operations manager Hideaki Kageyama.

“You can’t pay the bills, the rent, the labour without inbound tourism,” he said, adding that allowing in more visitors now will not be enough to quickly revive the industry.

The number of hotels that closed for good nationwide last year was the highest in five years, and hotel debt levels have more than doubled since 2019, according to financial research firm Teikoku Databank Ltd.

Hong Kong travellers flock to agents to find out about tours to Japan

Rickshaw pullers in Tokyo’s Asakusa temple district have survived by giving rides to domestic tourists instead of the throngs of Chinese who used to come.

“I want the foreigners to return,” said Yui Oikawa of Rise Up Tokyo Rickshaw. “It was more lively that way, with people from all over coming to Asakusa to pray or have a drink.”

It may not just be the easing of border controls that entices them back. With the yen at its weakest level in 20 years, Japan is a cheaper destination than it was.

“The resumption of inbound tourism carries great significance in that the benefits of the weak yen can be felt,” Kishida said.

Reporting by Reuters, Kyodo, Bloomberg, Associated Press