I don’t think anyone had “viral pandemic” on their bingo board as we left 2019 and entered 2020, but a pandemic is what we got. After around 30 months of barring entry to foreign tourists to curb the spread of Covid-19, Japan is finally reopening its doors to gaikokujin from around the world.
On Thursday, September 22nd, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that Japan would be removing many of the restrictive border control measures that had been in place since late March 2020. Japan’s border control measures were among the strictest in the world, banning almost all foreign travel into the country unless under exceptional circumstances, such as diplomatic and political reasons. Foreigners that weren’t already working in Japan had no recourse for entering the country, to say nothing of the zero percent chance of entering for leisure or tourism. Students seeking to study abroad had to either forestall their plans or seek opportunities elsewhere.
Even when Japan did eventually reopen its borders for business in March of 2022, the measures were still very strict. I recall having to have all of my vaccine documents, time-sensitive RT-PCR test results, MySOS covid tracing app, and legal paperwork perfectly arranged to get in, and it was quite a process. In the months since, under pressure from municipal governments, prefectural governments, and the tourism industry, Japan has gradually allowed tourism back into the country. I talked about Japan’s cautious reopening of their borders here, where foreigners were allowed in on guided tours with government minders and other weird measures in place. In recent history, they dropped government-guided tours in favor of tours arranged through travel agencies, which is also far from ideal if you want to explore on your own terms.
All of that is going out the window starting on October 11th, with the entry cap and travel agency arrangements being discarded altogether. Do you want to visit the Peace Park in Hiroshima? You can do that. Do you want to visit Tokugawa Ieyasu’s final resting place in Nikko Toushouguu? Go for it. Want to go to Akihabara in the morning, hop on a shinkansen to Nagoya in the afternoon, then take some local lines to Lake Biwa and spend the evening on the shores of Japan’s largest freshwater lake? Nothing is stopping you.
I hear Kyoto’s pretty starved for foreign tourism money, and the US dollar is exceptionally strong to the yen right now, so that might be a good place to visit. Bear in mind that Japan is still quite mask-happy, so pack some N-95s with you when you come.
Nihon he youkoso. (Welcome to Japan.)