Nagoya castle and city skyline in Japan at sunset

Rather than cherry blossom, or “Sakura Season” dominating travel headlines about Japan at this time of year, it’s been murmurs of xenophobia and a hatred for foreign visitors, lately. Even as the world reopened, Japan was seemingly staying shut.

After South Korea loosened travel restrictions this week, garnering excitement around the world, it was only a matter of time before Japan would respond.

From April 8th, 2022 travel to Japan will begin to change. On Friday, the Japanese Government will move to end long standing travel bans impacting arrivals from 106 countries. It’s an exciting change, but not one without its quirks or limitations.

Add in a dose of confusion, and welcome to travel in 2022.

Before you go and grab the next flight, the news isn’t nearly as exciting as one might hope. That’s because travel for the purpose of tourism still appears to be excluded under the plans. Yep, travel bans may be over, but that doesn’t automatically mean you can go.

Image by Masashi Wakui from Pixabay

Japan Starts To Officially Ease Travel Restrictions

From April 8th, 2022 blanket arrival bans prohibiting travel to Japan from 106 countries will be dropped.

Select travelers hoping to visit the beloved North Asian country will once again be able to enter from this date, including arrivals from the US, UK and much of Europe, among others.

The bad news is, that doesn’t mean tourists. At least, for now. Visitor numbers will also still be capped at 10,000 per day, a change from 7,000.

Entry during this period will require a visa in advance, and visas will remain mostly restricted to businesspeople, students and trainees traveling on work orders. A desire to see cherry blossom while enjoying ramen on a picnic blanket won’t get you in, yet.

Tourists are still out, for now. But, for how long?

Was This News An Accidental Slip From The Government?

There’s contrasting news coming out of Japan in regards to the statement.

Days ago, Japan lowered the outbound travel “risk” advisories for 106 countries in a separate release. According to the Japan Times, the people actually allowed to enter Japan won’t change at all, despite the new notice from the government.

This raises the question of whether plans do actually exist to allow tourists from these 106 countries, and the timings of announcements were just botched. Nikkei Asia says limits on visas may be a key factor. In fact, requiring visas at all is the key hold up.

It’s hard to know what to make of the changes, but it’s likely that they either represent a very bureaucratic shift in recognition, or the accidental preview of new travel plans to come. If it’s the latter, it might not be long at all.

Nagoya castle and city skyline in Japan at sunset

This Is Still Big News For Travel To Japan

Rumors have been swirling for months now that Japan would eventually take some level of action on border restrictions, particularly as country reopening plans began to accelerate. Asia was the last mover in the global reopening game, but that’s shifted.

Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia joined Thailand and Singapore in a series of weeks, adding increased pressure on Japan. When South Korea joined them, the stakes went even higher.

By removing blanketing travel bans on 106 countries, the country has now responded. Albeit, with the most risk averse approach in mind. It might have even been a mistake leak of future plans.

Even though these new restrictions fall far short of test free, visa free travel for tourists like the old days, movement of any kind is significant. These measures pave the way for tourism to be next.

My guess? By September. I certainly wouldn’t mind 48 hours in Osaka, Tokyo or Kyoto at that time of year.

The Japanese public has been supportive of border measures, so this couldn’t have been easy on officials. Recent polls suggested as much as 65% of the Japanese public liked the measures in place. These changes may not be popular domestically, but they could prove to be a key step in reopening international travel.

With the door cracked open, a broad tourism reopening could “soon” follow.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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8 Comments

  1. I’ve been living in Japan for multiple decades and while I do think there is some small degree of “xenophobia” in Japan’s covid response, I think the more prominent reason is the Japanese public’s growing frustration with overtourism.

    In 2019 there were about 20 million visitors to the country. This led to long lines and huge crowds at popular sites. In Kyoto for example regular citizens couldn’t get into shopping districts because tourists seeking an authentic Japanese experience flooded the streets. A similar situation was occurring in the area around Ueno station in Tokyo.

    Before the pandemic, Shinzo Abe’s administration was devising plans to increase tourism and allow for 40 million tourists per year even as regional governors and mayors vociferously complained about the crowds that were already there.

    Further people here (like anywhere else in the world) want to be respected. When youtubers and social media influencers like Jake Paul and others show up to do stupid stunts and act disrespectfully it really sours opinions towards foreigners.

    The Invisible Tourist has an interesting article on the impacts of overtourism here. I’m not sure how you feel about links, so I will not include one.

    Thanks for you article, it was an interesting read.

    1. Andrew, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’m passionate about the ills of overtourism and creating sustainable approaches that benefit locals, visitors and the environment. Please feel free to share the article, if you like!

  2. The solution to “overtourism” (which in my opinion is a classist, racist myth, like “overpopulation”) is not to turn the spigot off totally and indefinitely. Also, if the Japanese wanted to live prosperously within foreign tourists, students and workers in their country, they should’ve had more babies…30 years ago.

  3. Been waiting for Japan to open up – US is opened for Japan and they can travel here without any issues. But American cannot travel to Japan?

    JAPAN OPEN UP YOUR COUNTRY – so we all can help your economy!

  4. I am a Japanese woman with British passport. I have lived in UK for over 59 years.. I still have my brothers and sisters living in Japan. I used to visit my family every year until Covid lock down. I miss seeing my family. Please open up the country so that I can visit them before I get too old to travel or my family get too old to recognise me. Thank you.

  5. I want to visit for a religious pilgrimage for a good 8-12 weeks so I hope Japan opens up soon so I can book my ticket for summer

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