Japan will lift the ban on individual travel and allow visa-free entry to the country, starting October 11th. This was announced by Prime Minister Kishida at a press conference in New York on September 22nd and reported by the Nikkei newspaper. The government will also do away with the daily cap on the number of people entering the country.
The announcement marks a major policy shift after almost two and half years of strict COVID-19 restrictions.
Japan has allowed tourists since June but only for people on guided tours. In early September, the government started allowing individual travelers on unaccompanied tours but only if they booked their flights and hotels through registered travel agencies.
However, these measures have been unpopular with many foreign tourists who want to be able to travel freely in the country.
Tourists entering Japan will still need to be vaccinated three times or submit a pre-departure negative COVID-19 test result, Kyodo News reported, citing government sources.
The government will also launch a nationwide travel discount program to encourage domestic tourism. This program had been temporarily halted to help prevent the spread of coronavirus infections. People who have been vaccinated three times or submit a negative test result will be eligible for the discounts and can receive up to ¥11,000 ($77 USD) per person for a one-night stay.
The tourism industry in Japan has been lobbying for these changes for some time, as the border restrictions have dealt a severe blow to the industry.
In 2019, Japan welcomed a record 32 million foreign tourists and had aimed to reach 40 million in 2020. Before the pandemic, 80 percent of international visitors were individuals who were not part of group tours, according to the Japan Business Federation. In 2021, just 245,900 foreign visitors came to Japan, the lowest figure since comparable data became available in 1964.
The decision to re-open the border also comes amidst as Japan tries to recover from the pandemic and a depreciating yen, which hit a 24-year low against the dollar recently. Business leaders have said that fully allowing inbound travel will grease the economy since many tourists are likely to take advantage of the weak currency.
In 2021, immigration to Japan plummeted by about 99% compared to pre-COVID times. Many industries in Japan, including agriculture and fisheries, are highly dependent on foreign labor, especially people staying in Japan on technical trainee visas.
Source: Nikkei newspaper, September 22, 2022
Photo credit: iStock/YiuCheung
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