Japan Reopening for Guided Tours

For over the past year, we’ve been chronicling every little update to Japan’s border closure in When Will Japan Reopen for Travel? Well, that’ll happen in June 2022…but with the colossal asterisk that Japan will only accept guided tour groups.

It’s not quite time to retire that post, but this is technically a reopening to some degree. As such, we’re separating the news out here for the handful of you willing and somehow able to take a guided tour of Japan on three weeks’ notice.

At a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday, May 26, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that Japan will resume accepting foreign tourists from June 10, 2022. He stated that the country will continue to ease its border controls.

“Step by step we will aim to accept tourists as we did in normal times, taking into consideration the status of infections,” said Kishida.

He went on to indicate that now that proper health care measures are in place and the country has bought time to vaccinate the population, Japan’s previously strict border controls are no longer necessary.

The move to reopen Japan for package tour groups comes after the country began a series of trial of “demonstration” tours involving foreign tourists on Tuesday. People from the United States, Australia, Thailand and Singapore are participating in the demonstration tours, which involve a grand total of 50 individuals.

All of the participants of the demonstration tours are members of the media or travel agency officials (e.g. JTB USA), split across 15 groups sightseeing in 12 prefectures. The first two groups arrived from the United States in Japan on Tuesday, with 6 from Hawaii and 1 from Los Angeles.

Policies for the guided group tours of Japan beginning on June 10, 2022 will be identical to those for the demonstration tours. All visitors will need to be vaccinated three times, including a booster shot, to participate in the tours, which each consist of a small number of people.

As part of infection prevention measures, Japan’s government has compiled guidelines for accommodation facilities and other tourism businesses, and plans to call on inbound visitors to take anti-virus measures such as wearing masks, officials said. A correspondence system is also in place up for cases where someone tests positive mid-tour.

The government’s decision will set the stage for resuming inbound tourism for the first time in over two years. Still, relaxations will be implemented in stages and it will likely take time to again see a large number of foreign tourists, and self-guided tourists are still banned.

To that point, Japan is currently the only Group of Seven country still refusing to allow the normal entry of foreign tourists. Its policies remain more in line with authoritarian countries than major democracies.

In terms of commentary, we’ll reiterate here what we said about the demonstration tours when those were announced. We don’t see these tours as anything more than theater. The primary motivation is likely shaping public opinion, resetting expectations, and gradually easing voters into the border reopening.

These tours are likely performative: photo ops and footage for NHK segments to demonstrate to a weary public that tourists have the ability to wear masks and not become vectors for a superspreader event.

Logistically, the tours make little sense as an actual means of restarting Japan’s battered tourism industry. For one thing, each will have an incredibly low number of participants yet will require tremendous resources for monitoring and documenting their every movement to ensure compliance.

For another thing, there’s the quick turnaround time. These tours will begin on June 10, and they are not yet available for booking anywhere that we see. (While JTB Los Angeles and Honolulu are both on the current demonstration tours and sharing photos on social media, neither have opened up these packages yet. To the contrary, they are booking for December 10–all earlier tours have been cancelled.)

It’s unlikely that there is significant overlap between people who can travel on short notice and people who want the “comfort and convenience” of a guided tour. No knock on those who enjoy guided tours, but their participants are typically the opposite of spontaneous.

As such, it still seems like the resumption of guided tours is a perfunctory step, not being undertaken for its own sake, but as an ongoing demonstration. A measure to coddle Japanese voters who fear outsiders ahead of the July election.

To that point, the approval rating for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet rose to 61.5%, the highest since he took office last October last year, a Kyodo News survey showed this week.

Among other things, the survey showed that 65.5% of respondents favor the relaxation of the border closure. This is a significant reversal from even last month, when that was below 50%. In another turn of events, 53.7% now believe that Japan should prioritize economic activity over antivirus precautions.

Perhaps most stunning of all is that 53.9% back the government’s recent decision to change its policy on masks, now saying that wearing them outdoors is not necessary.

In another step to lay the groundwork for further reopening, Japan is easing testing and quarantine rules for arrivals. Countries are now divided into three groups based on risk levels, with the overwhelming majority falling into the lowest-risk blue group.

Travelers from the aforementioned blue group will be exempt from testing upon arrival in Japan and quarantining at home. They will still need to show a pre-departure negative test result.

Arrivals from countries in the moderate-risk yellow group need to be tested upon arrival and stay for 3 days at home or quarantine facilities. However, this does not apply to people who have received their third vaccine dose.

Finally, those coming from countries in the highest-risk red group will take tests when entering Japan and must stay for 3 days at quarantine facilities. The goal for the relaxed arrival process was to make the entry of visitors smooth and facilitate a higher number of daily arrivals, as it would reduce the burden on Japan’s testing and quarantine infrastructure.

Japan will also double the maximum daily limit on eligible overseas arrivals to 20,000 from its current 10,000 level in June 2022. Kishida also said international flights to and from the Naha and New Chitose airports, gateways to popular tourist spots in Okinawa and Hokkaido, will restart in June.

However, no date for lifting tourist entry restrictions on individuals has been set forth by Japan’s government.

Japan’s business community has been pushing the country to ease entry restrictions and allow in foreign tourists since last year. Masakazu Tokura, chairman of Keidanren, the nation’s biggest business lobby, voiced his expectation Monday that Japan will further ease its border controls.

“The 20,000 cap is just a process. I expect it will become 50,000 and then 100,000, and eventually there will be free and open border controls similar to that of G7 countries,” Tokura said.

Last week, Shinichi Inoue, president of All Nippon Airways Co., welcomed the end of border control measures in Japan.

He applauded the increased arrival cap and streamlined process for entry, while also saying: “We truly hope all restrictions will be eased and scrapped in a speedy manner from now on as well.”

Several travel industry groups jointly submitted a letter urging the transport ministry to resume inbound tourism.

“At present, the countries that do not allow tourists to enter are a minority, including Japan and China,” the letter said. “If this continues, Japan will lose in the worldwide competition to attract tourists.”

In 2019, foreign visitors to Japan peaked at 31.2 million people as part of the country’s decade-long initiative to increase tourism. In 2020, that number was projected to reach a new all-time high thanks to the Olympics. However, in actuality, the number of foreign visitors shrank to 4.12 million, dipping even further in 2021 to 245,900–a decrease of over 99.8% in the two years.

Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at the Nomura Research Institute, estimates that if the government does apply the 20,000-person cap, then the economic effect from foreign students, people staying long term and tourists would add 8.13 trillion yen ($63.8 billion) to the economy a year.

Ultimately, reopening to small guided tour groups is a relatively insignificant step in isolation, and it’s unlikely that anyone watching this site for updates was anxiously awaiting the return of carefully choreographed and monitored tours.

From our perspective, this is rather disappointing–yet altogether unsurprising–news. It reinforces the notion that Japan will not rip the Band-Aid off when it comes to resuming normal travel, nor will it bring itself in line with other Group of Seven nations. However, it is nonetheless a positive development–and one that paves the way for more in the coming months as, slowly but surely, Japan builds towards a proper reopening. We’ll keep monitoring the situation and providing regular updates in When Will Japan Reopen for Individual Self-Guided Tourists?

If you’re planning a trip to the Japan, check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other things to do! We also recommend consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto and Ultimate Guide to Tokyo to plan.

Your Thoughts

Would you consider visiting Japan in June 2022 as part of a guided tour group? Or is that a hard pass for you? When do you expect a proper reopening to individual tourists? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? If you’re planning your trip to Japan, what do you think about these itineraries? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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27 replies
  1. Bernie
    Bernie says:

    Hi I am waiting for tourists just to come in. I have family I want to visit in Saitama. These rules seem so tight. I know everyone coming to Japan needs the 3 vaccines, but that should be it. Because even with the shots people can get Covid anyway, so why make it so hard for people to come

    Reply
    • AndyO
      AndyO says:

      Japan no longer requires 3 shots for entry, or even 1. For anybody (including these upcoming tour groups). That requirement was removed June 1st.

      Reply
  2. S. Gonzalvez
    S. Gonzalvez says:

    My guess is, Japan will allow foreign tourists again when there are zero new Covid cases, or at least no more Covid-related deaths. Which is far away, of course. It shows just how minor tourism is to the Japanese economy. More tourist-dependent countries were screaming for, bending the rules on, and welcoming foreign tourist planeloads even during the lockdowns. But Japan is self-supporting to an unusual degree. One only needs to see how busy Osaka Itami airport is, on purely domestic Japanese air traffic, to realise this. Personally, I am not booking anything while the border remains closed to me -once bitten, twice shy. I have since 2019 a €666 Finnair voucher, which I need to keep renewing yearly to save from expiry and which has now become virtually worthless, since Finnair flight prices to Japan have more than doubled courtesy of the Russian airspace closure. Looking forward to enjoy Japan once more in 2023.

    Reply
  3. Deborah Vogt
    Deborah Vogt says:

    I will have a 19 hour layover at Tokyo’s NRT, and was hoping to take a guided nighttime photography tour or another guided tour. I hope I can find one to book and be excepted!

    Reply
    • AndyO
      AndyO says:

      I hope your layover isn’t anytime soon and/or overnight.

      NRT terminals are not 24hrs. So any layover overnight at NRT requires entry through immigration, even if you stay within the airport area.

      But transit passengers are currently classified like tourists, so you can not enter Japan under the current guidelines unless with a tour (with which you can get a tourist visa).

      However it is very unlikely there will any one-day tour which provides such a visa which you can utilize.

      So if your ticket has an overnight layover, the airline will actually not let you board the plane on original departure, even though they sold it to you knowing this. Apparently its your responsibility to realize this.

      Maybe this will change this summer (there has been no announcement yet), but this NRT layover situation has been an issue for the past 2+ years. Good Luck!

      See more here:
      https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g294232-i525-k13901448-Layover_in_Narita_during_Covid_can_we_get_out-Japan.html

      Reply
  4. Teresa
    Teresa says:

    I have been waiting to go visit family and have rebooked my trip several times. Currently we have our fingers crossed for September 2022.

    Reply
  5. Vicky
    Vicky says:

    Thank you very much for the detailed update as always 🙏
    Any idea where we can find the list of countries in each group? I couldn’t find it anywhere but I’ve read about the blue group being 98 countries in total
    I’m curious to know where my country falls in right now 🤔

    Reply
  6. Ken W
    Ken W says:

    Hard pass on the guided tours, especially with such limited itinerary. Frankly, losing interest in Japan. I understand the politicians’ dilemma with elections upon them, the population reluctant to welcome tourists and business interests urging a fast opening. BUT, there is no scientific support for this xenophobia and I’m not sure I want to spend my time or money in a country whose populace doesn’t welcome non-Japanese.

    Reply
    • S. Gonzalvez
      S. Gonzalvez says:

      Fair enough. As a wealthy insular nation with only a tiny foreign resident minority, Japan can be easily perceived a xenophobic, although, on the ground, this can be more than outweighed by the Japanese culture’s emphasis on politeness and high level of customer service. I wouldn’t t say allowing only visitors in guided tours is based on xenophobia, but on a strong drive to control things -and THAT, I agree, is indeed very Japanese. Even during “normal” (pre-Pandemic) times, the fussy questioning every tourist usually gets from Japan’s immigration officials an arrival has always made me think Japan considers it is making me a favour by allowing me to spend my money there. So, it isn’t really a surprise that now they are plain refusing to admit self-guided tourists. Japan wouldn’t be as special a place as it is if it hadn’t adopted a policy of seclusion for a long time. It’s part of the price we have to pay. You also need to understand that, even for people working in the travel industry or around top tourist attractions, foreign customers only make up a very small percentage of their market. And when you hardly benefit from foreign tourism personally, would you be prepared to risk even more Pandemic trouble (Japan is one of the most severely Covid-affected nations in the world) just for the sake of fairness and so that hotel owners can fill their pockets as much as normal?

      Reply
  7. Harvey Mushman
    Harvey Mushman says:

    While it’s great to see our favorite tour guide back in Japan we’ve set our sights on February 2024 to visit Hokkaido; it’s going to take at least 18 months for them to get back to 80%. One positive thing Covid has taught us is patience . . . Well some of us!

    Having said that I’m really looking forward to hearing the stories of those who hit the road. Have a great time and stay safe.

    Reply
  8. Peter
    Peter says:

    Hi! Thank you very much for your work on this blog.
    Can you tell me what to you think when Japanese tourist can take outbound tours for example to europe? Thanks a lot, Peter

    Reply
  9. Sarah Brewster
    Sarah Brewster says:

    We are a group of seven friends who arranged a guided trip with a Japanese tour guide a year ago. Our plans are to depart from the US July 26, 2022. Our itinerary is set. We are all vaxed and double boosted and willingly wear masks. Is there a way for us to volunteer to be “selected tourists”? Realistically, what do you think our chances of making this trip are?

    Reply
  10. Janet
    Janet says:

    Ageism: it’s not a good look on you Tom.
    “it’s unlikely that anyone watching this site for updates was anxiously awaiting the return of carefully choreographed and monitored tours. (That is, unless this blog is somehow popular with 80 year olds and we just don’t know our own demo.)”

    Reply
    • Jeff Green
      Jeff Green says:

      Janet, Tom sells tours, but I would not buy one from him, or in fact from anyone that has his attitude. I will be 86 on July 25, on July 24, My granddaughter and I are due to fly from USA to Haneda on Delta Airlines. We did it back in 2019 on plans that we set for own interests. We have done the same for 2022. But these rules are crazy. Our plan. July 25 to 31 in Tokyo, On July 31 shinkansen to Hiroshima, two nights, then take shinkansen from Hiroshima to Kyoto on August 2, then train from Kyoto on August 8 to Osaka.
      All of these arrangements done by granddaughter and me! Our itinerary done by us, not a travel agent, or tour guides, we don’t need them. Last July our trip to Japan was cancelled by Covid. Instead we went to France, stayed in Paris then took their high speed train to Nice, In Paris my granddaughter treated me to my birthday lunch. Lovely vacation, and not a travel agent, or tour organizer in sight.
      Tom Your comments were a little misguided.

      Reply
      • Tom Bricker
        Tom Bricker says:

        I do not sell tours…or anything, for that matter. This site contains a ton of self-guided itineraries for Japan and beyond: https://www.travelcaffeine.com/itinerary-japan-kyoto-tokyo-walking-tours/

        With that said, you’re right that my comment was misguided, and for that I apologize. I hope you’re able to have a fun trip–your plan sounds solid to me. The only thing I’d add (that perhaps you’re already doing) is to make time for Miyajima while in Hiroshima–it’s an absolute must see island! 🙂

  11. C. Bart
    C. Bart says:

    Our Japan cruises booked in fall of 2021 and 2022 were both cancelled. We were not surprised.
    We have rebooked for fall 2023. We love Japan and look forward to going back. I don’t think your “commentary” regarding the Japanese government’s motives for carefully and methodically lifting its tourism ban is necessary. I get that you’re frustrated, but your analytics based on your opinions really aren’t helpful.

    Reply
  12. NCTipper
    NCTipper says:

    I have a three week trip to Japan and Seoul planned for late September, but have made sure not to book anything non-cancellable and won’t be out any money (or miles) if I have to unwind the trip, which I’ve already done twice in the past two years. Seriously hoping Japan opens the gates fully by late August or so, and it sure seems like that is more than likely at this point, but you never know. And because of that uncertainty, I’ve also fully planned a three week trip to Scandinavia for the same timeframe, so one way or another we’re having a great trip this fall. But I do hope it’s the Japan one – I can’t go another year without a gyoza dog at DisneySea!

    Reply
    • Janet
      Janet says:

      I also have a trip booked to Japan, starting September 12th 2022, so wish me luck! It is part self guided plus 12 days on a guided tour, totalling 1 month. Like you everything I have booked I can cancel free of charge if it’s a no go. I am a 78yr old woman, and having been to Japan alone many times I feel like I can still cope….but time is running out! I have not had a vacation in 3 years now and am desperate to get off this rock called Maui for a while.

      Reply
  13. Galo
    Galo says:

    I believe the tours-only limitation will be place until the July election has passed.

    Afterwards, it’s quite possible we’ll see a G7-limited tourism opening first, and perhaps a general tourism openingin Q4.

    Reply
  14. Darrell
    Darrell says:

    I was hoping to travel to Japan in September, but I need a month or so advance notice to make plans. If the country isn’t completely open by middle of August I will travel to Europe instead. I will not book travelers to Japan until at least 3-6 months after the country opens

    Reply
  15. Judy Trembley
    Judy Trembley says:

    I have tickets for myself and Grandson for June 22. Am praying everyday that I will be able to use them

    Reply

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