Why Hasn't Japan Reopened to International Travelers? In Asia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia (including Bali), Cambodia, and Vietnam have all reopened to vaccinated travelers. But Japan remains closed to international visitors visiting for leisure purposes, and is likely to remain so until at least August 2022. Here's why:
1. July Elections
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will likely seek to delay Japan reopening to foreign travelers until after the July 25, 2022 House of Councillors election, where 124 members of the 245 member upper house of parliament will be elected. With such a major election, Kishida and his Liberal Democratic Party want to avoid any upsurge in COVID-19 that opponents could attribute to a relaxation of Japan's current strict border policies, even though the BA.2 variant (“stealth Omicron) is already present and spreading quickly in Japan.
2. Many Japanese Support the Current Restrictive Border Policy
An NHK poll in March 2022 showed that 65% of those surveyed supported or favored a stricter approach in terms of the government's limit on foreign arrivals (which at the time had increased to 7000 per day, with an increase to 10,000 being considered). As a point of reference, in 2019, Japan saw over 87,000 international arrivals per day.
3. Overtourism / Rude Visitors Have Irritated Many Japanese
Why are so many Japanese, at least those not in the travel and hospitality industry, either ambivalent or opposed to international visitors returning? Perhaps because they've been irritated by so much bad behavior on the part of some visitors, particularly in Kyoto, where some have harassed Maiko and Geisha to try to get selfies, locals have had to contend with city buses crowded with tourists and their luggage, and restaurant and shop owners sometimes have social media-type tourists come in for photos, while not buying anything. In 2018, the government had to crack down on illegal Airbnb rentals in areas not zoned for tourist accommodation, which drew increasing complaints from neighboring locals.
4. Japan's Slower Vaccine Rollout + Greater Caution
Japan's COVID-19 vaccine rollout was slower than in many other OECD countries, as Japan requires vaccine tests of its own nationals, which took time. Japan does not consider the two dose mRNA vaccines fully vaccinated. Hence, reopening the country to tourism is seen as contingent on achieving optimal protection (3 doses of vaccine) for 70-80% of the Japanese population, which won't occur until September 2022 if the booster dose roll-out continues at its current pace.
At time of writing, over half of Japanese have received their third vaccine dose, with nearly 87% of those 65 and older fully boosted, although among young people in their 20s and 30s, just over 30% are boosted. Those numbers look great compared to the U.S., but Japanese COVID-19 advisors are more cautious, with the government continuing to recommend wearing a face mask in schools and workplaces. The conservative approach is also exemplified by the head of the Japanese Medical Association, Toshio Nakagawa, who said (bolding mine) “I believe that the day people can stop wearing masks will never come in Japan so long as the country continues seeing coronavirus cases.”
Where to Stay
Most who are visiting Japan for the first time visit Japan's capital, Tokyo, as well as Japan's former capital, Kyoto, which served as Japan's capital for over 1000 years and was spared from most destruction during WWII. Tokyo is one of the top luxury hotel cities; we recommend Aman Tokyo, the Andaz Tokyo at Toranomon Hills, and the new Four Seasons Tokyo at Otemachi. An enjoyable weekend trip is Hakone, for example with a stay at the Hyatt Regency Hakone, or Nagano, with a stay at Hoshinoya Karuizawa.
There are of course many other destinations and hidden gems in Japan; TravelSort Clients can engage our trip planning services for bespoke itineraries.
Are you hoping to visit Japan when it reopens for international visitors?
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