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.
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.
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.