The big day is finally here: Japan is, at last, opening its borders to individual tourists again as of midnight, October 11th 2022 after having locked out leisure travel for the last 2.5 years.
Since I’m already in Japan for the past week to monitor and track preparations of the government as well as the hospitality industry I think it’s a good time to highlight what people can expect when returning.
There has been A LOT of confusion during the past 2.5 years when it came to anything Japan travel related and pretty much all of it was their own doing by sending mixed signals through frequent policy changes / adjustments.
One question we frequently received was about transit flights via Japan en route to another country such as between North American to South East Asia via Tokyo. This was never a problem, provided the ticket was sold in one itinerary and on the same day without airport changes. I’ve transited four times in Tokyo-Haneda as well as Narita during the pandemic when the country was closed to tourists and it was fine aside from the rather dull airport experience as most shops were closed.
Last week I entered Japan at Tokyo-Haneda Airport using the visitor visa which I applied for with the help of a business partner in Tokyo and while this will be no longer be necessary starting in a few hours, the fast track system (which I found extremely efficient) will remain in place.
There was also an article in the Japan Times today, highlighting the main requirements once more.
Having arrived at this stage via staggered increments, it can still be a little confusing for those outside Japan — many of whom have lost work or school opportunities, struggled to maintain long-distance relationships, or simply found themselves unable to enjoy a culture that they love — to figure out just how open the country will become.
Below are answers to the most pressing questions would-be tourists and other arrivals should be asking as they dust off their suitcases, open up those phrase books and get ready once again for a journey to Japan.
From Tuesday, Japan will completely lift its daily cap of 50,000 arrivals and recommence visa-free independent travel for those arriving from any of the 68 countries previously on its short-term visa-exemption list. Travelers from countries not on the visa exemption list remain subject to the same pre-pandemic entry restrictions.
Will I need to book a guided tour?
The short answer — no!
Will I need to be tested or vaccinated to enter?
An on-arrival COVID-19 test is no longer required once you get to Japan.
However, to enter, you must still fulfill one of the two following requirements:
- Obtain a certificate confirming you have received at least three shots of a vaccine recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). The document should be issued by an official body, such as a government agency, and should have an attached Japanese or English translation if originally written in another language.
- Obtain a certificate confirming the negative status of a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to departure for Japan from your country of origin.
In both instances, travelers must fill out a pre-arrival COVID-19 questionnaire, which the government recommends they complete online in advance using their “Fast Track” service — which is available in Japanese, English, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian — and an associated app called MySOS, which you can install on your smartphone via QR code or a link.
Do I need to quarantine? What should I do if I get sick?
In principle, visitors will no longer be required to isolate upon arrival, meaning they can move freely other than in cases where they have been diagnosed with the coronavirus after arrival in Japan.
In the event a traveler to Japan suspects they may have caught COVID-19 following their arrival, the government recommends that they contact the Japan Visitor Hotline at 050-3816-2787 for an over-the-phone consultation with a health professional who will determine the severity of the case and offer advice on the next steps to take. The service is offered in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean.
Do I need to wear a mask?
As a general rule — yes.
The situation is complicated as, despite the government’s repeated calls for the public to remove their face masks while outdoors, the majority of Japanese people still continue to wear masks while outside the house, even in situations where overseas travelers might consider it unnecessary.
The government is expected to revise legislation to allow hotel operators the right to refuse entry to anyone not wearing a mask.
Entering Japan will be contingent either upon having received three doses of a vaccine and being able to prove it with a government-issued document or by taking a pre-departure PCR test.
As far as the vaccines are concerned, these are the details of what is accepted:
The MySOS app was very efficient and quite user-friendly, also I had to fumble around with it for a while to figure out which vaccine certificate could be uploaded. I received my BLUE barcode (departing to Japan from Germany) within a few hours of registration.
Arrival at Haneda was very easy. The barcode was scanned twice and then arriving passengers were sent to the immigration counters, where processing took place with less than two minutes of wait. Picking up the suitcase and proceeding through customs was the last formality after which I was free to go.
Situation in Japan – Hotels, Public Outdoor Areas, Public Transport
While not mandatory by law, I’d say 97% of people are wearing a mask at all times and the vast majority even outdoors. You can handle that as you wish and how it suits the situation. I wear a mask indoors and always on public transportation. Outdoors I’m not wearing a mask, and no matter where we went neither myself or my Japanese friends have been hassled about masks.
We’ve always worn masks in Japan, especially when we didn’t feel well or during train/plane travel so this whole pandemic mask situation wasn’t a mirage that suddenly made its way into the life of people living here (or in Korea for that matter).
Restaurants are still equipped with plastic or plexiglass shields which might take away from the dining experience depending on where you go. The New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo has a big screen across the bar table as strangers usually face each other there so this makes total sense. However, rather than having a nice view over Tokyo, you now look through a plastic shield first and that takes away the purpose of visiting the NY Bar as it’s just a mood killer.
This was the first time in two decades that I’ve seen the bar EMPTY on a Saturday night. Even the staff didn’t know what happened. That bar feasts off the energy in the room, and unfortunately, there was none, so we left after one drink and ~ 40 minutes.
Service at the hotels was friendly and professional. A lot of the shops were happy to see tourists again, especially those watch- and luxury good stores in Shinjuku and Nakano that used to have a lot of foreign customer traffic. I talked to some of the salespeople today while looking at watches and they hope people come back so that sales pick up again. Even though their Chinese customers probably won’t be coming anytime soon. If you’re in the market for any such items there are great deals to be had on the Japanese grey market for watches and handbags.
Starting in a few hours – from midnight, October 11th 2022 – individual tourists can once again re-enter Japan without the need to apply for visas, participate in guided “North Korea style” tours or have a local contact invite you for business reasons. Visa waiver agreements are all in place again.
Travelers are required to utilize the MySOS App to receive a Barcode for the Fast Track service and upload their vaccine credentials or PCR Test results in preparation for arrival in Japan.
I have a friend who will arrive on Thursday under the new framework and will update the post if there are any significant, noteworthy items that are of interest.