Foreign tourists visiting Japan will wear masks, purchase private health insurance, and be accompanied throughout their stay, the Japanese government announced on June 7.
It is a sign that Japan is reopening slowly after two years of COVID-19 restrictions.
Only visitors on package tours are allowed in during the first phase, which begins from June 10, the Japan Tourism Agency said. There is currently a cap of 20,000 people allowed to enter the country per day for all categories of people, such as Japanese nationals, foreign residents, students, and business visitors. From June 10, incoming tourists are included in that figure.
The last time tourists were allowed to enter Japan was in March 2020.
Under the new guidelines, visitors are once again welcome, but with conditions. They must use the services of travel agencies registered in Japan. Those agencies are responsible for processing their visas and guaranteeing their travel, according to a new sixteen-page guideline handbook.
Some Key Points
Masks: The new guidance calls for participants to be frequently reminded of the necessary sanitation precautions, such as wearing masks and removing them only when they are not required throughout the tour.
Masks are deemed unnecessary when locations are not crowded, while bathing in spas, or when participating in outdoor activities. In situations where people converse in close proximity, however, masks should be worn even outdoors.
Medical insurance: Travelers are required to take out medical insurance to cover any costs of treatment or care in the event they contract COVID-19.
In addition, they are to be chaperoned by tour guides throughout their trip. Guides are required to keep an itinerary to track close contacts in case of infections.
Comply if you Want to Stay
The guides will make sure that visitors abide by the rules. And those who refuse to do so could be asked to leave Japan.
Tourist agencies are required to choose sites that comply with all infection prevention measures. And hotels must post guidelines in different languages for their guests to follow.
“Understanding of the guidelines and compliance will lead to the smooth resumption of inbound tourism and its expansion,” Japan’s tourism minister Tetsuo Saito told a press conference on June 7.
Japan’s new measures propose to balance the enormous economic importance of tourism with concerns that travelers would trigger a COVID outbreak.
Travelers are divided into countries of origin in a three-color tier system, blue, yellow and red. All travelers are asked to submit, if available, a valid vaccination certificate, and get a PCR test 72 hours prior to arrival in Japan.
Those in the blue category can enter Japan without further follow up. Those in the high-risk red category must additionally take a PCR test upon arrival in Japan and quarantine at the place they are registered to stay for three days.
Those in the middle yellow category can forgo the PCR test upon arrival and the 3-day quarantine if they have submitted a certificate of vaccination valid in Japan.
As might be expected when it comes to Japanese government bureaucracy, not everyone is impressed with the new guidelines.
Strict rules and itineraries have been mocked online as reminiscent of a visit to North Korea.
Some people in the business world have also asked for the government to further relax entry measures. A joint statement on June 10 by the Japanese Business Federation and the chamber of commerce associations of several countries suggests that the Japanese government lift the daily cap on international entrants, for example.
Voices from the Ground
Reactions from Japanese citizens in the tourism industry are also mixed.
Many welcome the incoming tourists. This is the case with Masaharu Matsuoka, who works in the business promotion section of Kinki Nippon Tourist.
“We have been waiting for more than two years and with so much anticipation for this moment, it feels like it has finally arrived,” he told Sankei Shimbun.
Yet, there are also those expressing worry about the cumbersome rules that tour agencies need to follow.
“The burden on tour guides is really quite significant,” pointed out Kotaro Toriumi, an analyst specializing in travel and tourism, as reported by The Sankei Shimbun.
Some are expecting confusion on the mask wearing practices as well. Japan has recently updated its guidelines for masks, but with some exceptions mask wearing in the country is almost universal.
That said, masks are not normally worn in spas or bathhouses. According to information released by the Ministry of Tourism, Land and Infrastructure, among the trial tours conducted from late May there were some foreign tourists who were still wearing masks in bathhouses.
Japan’s Hospitality Industry
Prior to the pandemic, tourism was an important source of revenue for Japan. In 2019, a record of 32 million foreign tourists visited the country, spending an equivalent of $38 billion USD.
Looking toward normalization in a post-COVID era, the government hopes to surpass that record and attract 60 million tourists by 2030.
At any rate, the 2022 summer period will also be a time when domestic tourism can pick up.
“The real question will be how to welcome foreign tourists back to Japan while jump-starting domestic travel. It’s a great opportunity to think about how to balance these two aspects,” travel journalist Kazuko Murata commented to The Sankei Shimbun.
Author: Arielle Busetto, Shaun Fernando