Rules for Monitored Tour Groups in Japan

Japan’s tourism ministry has released guidelines for tourists and travel agencies that will run monitored tours as part of the country’s very limited resumption of group tourism. This post will cover the preposterous proposals, and offer commentary about what’s motivating these rules.

First, basic background about the monitored tours that’ll begin on June 10, 2022 can be found in Japan Reopening for Guided Tours. That details the trial tours that have been underway up until now, as well as the road ahead for this plan.

In a nutshell, Japan is going to allow tourists to enter the country for the first time in 27 months, but the 98 countries (such as the United States, France, Britain, China, South Korea, and Thailand) that Japan views as low risk and under strict parameters.

“To resume inbound tourism, it is important that the places where tourists will be visiting are willing to accept them and feel safe,” Japan Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito said at a press conference.

“If travel agencies and others comply with the guidelines, inbound tourism will resume smoothly and lead to a further increase (in foreign tourists).”

Along with that press conference, the Japan Tourism Agency released guidelines (in Japanese) setting out what travel agencies and their escorts, as well as foreign tourists, will be required to do before and during their trips to Japan.

Most notably, foreign tourists will be required to wear face masks and take out insurance to cover medical expenses in the event they contract COVID-19. To help foreign tourists understand these guidelines, the JNTO has released “helpful” infographics that we’ll insert and reference throughout this post.

If foreign tourists don’t comply with the guidelines, they may not be allowed to continue participating in the tour. (As such, these aren’t so much “guidelines” as they are enforceable rules carrying consequences.)

Under the guidelines regimented rules, travel agencies will gain the consent of tour participants to comply with the measures by explaining upon sales or reservation of tours that they will not be penalized for failing to comply. However, they may not be able to take part in tours if they don’t. (Again, not being allowed to take part in the tour–when the only other option is leaving the country–is absolutely a penalty.)

Prior to traveling, Foreign tourists will also need to register before their monitored trips with the Visit Japan Web and MySOS app for Fast-Track services, which will allow them to upload their immigration and quarantine paperwork before landing in Japan.

Upon arrival, travelers will show the MySOS’s Blue Screen at a quarantine office, which indicates that all required information has been submitted and the authorities’ review is complete. Following that, travelers will show QR codes from Visit Japan Web at Immigration and Customs. Tourists who failed to purchase travel insurance will also be able to buy a version that offers medical facilities, interpreters, and has cashless medical service.

While on the ground traveling throughout Japan, foreign tourists will need to take basic precautions: disinfecting their hands and avoid the “three Cs” of closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings.

Some of this is grounded in science. In particular, it’s nice to see an emphasis on ventilation–something from which other countries could have benefited two years ago. Other advice is more dubious, giving the impression that these guidelines were drafted in March 2020, rather than June 2022.

For instance, it has long been well-settled that fomite transmission is exceedingly rare in real-world settings. Yet, many of the guidelines are premised upon it. (“Portion out servings in advance when sharing food” is a fun one!)

Then there are the many guidelines about talking. While vocalization does change the transmission risk profile, there’s also the sense that Japan is seizing this opportunity to make enforceable rules prohibiting tourists from being obnoxious. (I’ve seen “keep quiet” signs in Kyoto for years before COVID-19.) Can’t fault them for trying, I guess.

The guidelines also state that travel agencies will set tour routes to avoid crowded areas and select facilities that thoroughly implement antivirus measures, and gather information on multilingual medical institutions and hotels for isolation.

While in Japan, the travel agencies will transport tour participants found to be infected to medical institutions and support them until they leave the country. The groups will also ask participants to notify the agencies if the individual is found to be infected within a week after returning home.

The travel agencies will keep records of the tours, including places they visited and where each individual sat in public transportation (no joke!), so that if participants are found to be infected they can quickly identify close contacts who need to be isolated.

Those who are not close contacts will be able to continue their tour. In Japan, a close contact is defined as someone who spent 15 minutes or more unmasked within 1 meter of a positive case, meaning that anyone who dines with or near someone who becomes infected will be a close contact.

This isn’t just some theoretical issue or something that’ll be ignored in practice. It’s already happened during Japan’s trial tours for travel agents from the United States, Australia, Singapore and Thailand.

During the first of those, the Thai group’s tour was suspended after one participant tested positive for the virus. Given the pre-departure and arrival testing protocol, that travel agent was almost certainly infected in Japan.

To that point, it’s also worth noting that Japan’s average daily number of COVID-19 cases has been above the global average since January. This is even without taking into account Japan’s testing infrastructure, which was insufficient and more limited than most developed nations during the peak of the Omicron wave.

So, the notion that only foreigners can “import” cases to Japan is not just ludicrous, it’s objectively incorrect. Statistically speaking, residents of Japan are more likely to infect foreign tourists than vice-versa. The widespread belief that Japan is still outperforming the rest of the world is belied by this year’s data.

Most of these rules/guidelines would simply be eye roll inducing if it weren’t for this data. Just another instance of “Japan being Japan,” a culture preoccupied with rules and a compulsion for orderliness and control. Some of them could even be construed as nice reminders of best practices for staying healthy, etc.

However, there’s also the animating context for these policies, which is that the Japanese view their approach to COVID-19 as superior to the rest of the world. That lends a misplaced sense of authority to imposing draconic rules like this on cultural outsiders who lack the same sensibilities and hygiene that helped Japan achieve its perceived success.

To that point, these rules are also nonsensical. (We’d stop slightly short of calling them racist or xenophobic, but only because they apply based on travel visa status or residency, and not on nationality or ethnicity. In practice, that’s a distinction without much of a difference.)

No one but foreign tourists is subject to these rules. Japanese residents have been able to freely travel domestically and abroad for a while, and are not subject to such onerous requirements upon returning home. Nor is anyone who is simply living and going about daily life in Japan required to follow such guidelines. And, as indicated above, those individuals are the ones who have a higher risk profile than foreign tourists arriving from lower risk countries. Again, as an objective matter based on daily case counts.

The argument could be made that there’s a social contract in Japan that people wear masks and engage (or don’t) in other social customs and mores. That’s entirely fair, and it’s also true that culturally, Japan has been better about these practices than virtually anywhere else. (Of course, that ‘superior hygiene’ coupled with the case data does beg the question: are any of these measures actually effective at preventing infection? But that can of worms is beyond the scope of this post.)

That doesn’t change the reality that no one aside from foreign tourists is subject to these “guidelines” and there are no real consequences for anyone else choosing to not mask, disinfect their hands, or whatever. Glaring looks or other passive aggressive reactions don’t count as an actual consequence.

On a positive note, the Japan Tourism Agency also indicated that policies that apply to other short-term travelers from abroad will likewise apply to those on the monitored tours. “It doesn’t mean [tourists in groups] are banned from going out on their own in their free time…it’s the same as with business travelers. They are allowed to have their own free time, and so are the tourists.”

Rather, travel agencies will act as the host for the tourists and make sure they comply with COVID-19 restrictions, seek medical treatment if one of them is infected with the virus, and report to public health authorities. In that sense, the travel agencies are the responsible party and ones vouching for the tourists–similar as the hosts for others now able to enter Japan. The critical distinction is that these tours are also on specific itineraries that are actively being monitored, and noncompliance with “guidelines” could result in their (necessary) hosting being terminated early.

Ultimately, these rules for monitored tours are arguably draconian, stuck in March 2020, and carry concerning consequences. While calling them North Korea-style would be hyperbolic, it’s not that far off base. These “guidelines” are certainly closer to that than they are to anything being done by Japan’s counterparts in the Group of Seven.

Nevertheless, these guided tours are also likely symbolic. As we’ve stated before, these are not going to occur at any meaningful scale, and as such will not be economically fruitful in the way that an actual border reopening would be. To the contrary, it’s entirely possible that the money being spent on drafting guidelines and monitoring mechanisms far exceeds any revenue resulting from the tourists who join these groups.

The goal here is more likely demonstrating to the Japanese public that the government is doing everything it can to train and control reckless and irresponsible foreigners, making sure they’re on their best behavior when visiting Japan so as to not infect those with superior hygiene (but higher case rates). Like recent interviews and other incremental changes, this feels like it’s more about gradually shifting public opinion and behavior, laying the groundwork for more substantive and materially meaningful changes–ones that can bear economic fruit–in the months to come.

There is a bit of irony that these stringent guidelines are being released at the same time Japan’s government is trying to encourage its own citizens that it’s okay to relax their precautions and resume daily life. These disparate approaches likely have the same end in mind: a gradual resumption of consumption and economic activity. While Japan is missing out on the tourism boom being experience in other countries around the world in part by keeping its border closed, it’s also missing out on that to an even larger degree based on the reticence of the Japanese to get back to normal.

In any case, we’ll keep monitoring the situation and providing regular updates in When Will Japan Reopen for Individual Self-Guided Tourists? Here’s hoping for some news about an actual resumption of tourism to Japan in the not-too-distant future.

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

What do you think of the “guidelines” that Japan has released for monitored tours? Anything strike you as reasonable or unreasonable? Would you consider visiting Japan this summer or fall 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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53 replies
  1. めんどくさい
    めんどくさい says:

    What happens if, say, I get married during the trip? My fiance lives there and I haven’t seen her since 2020. Of course, I will have my affidavit of marriage on my person, as well as all the documents I’ve been gathering for the past five years that we’ve been together. Do I have to go home with the group or can I just stay after the tour is over? Or should I just apply for a visa under Annex 5 guidelines of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan visa application?

  2. ラボル・パトリック
    ラボル・パトリック says:

    I found a lot of the comments and reporting here regarding the prevention measures of Corona by the Japanese Government not only incorrect, inaccurate, and offensive. Calling the rules that Japan has “nonsensical” and insinuating that they are “short of being racist or xenophobic”, only “because they apply based on travel visa status or residency, and not on nationality or ethnicity” is a complete miss understanding of the intent and purpose of the rules and in and of themselves are offensive and shows me how much the writer lacks understand of and how Japan works. Instead of trying to understand the purpose and even why Japanese think like this in the first place, the rules are called racist. These rules are not “just for foreign visitors” as stated, but have been for all citizens and people in Japan who have been following these common sense rules since the beginning of the pandemic. Because of these measures, Japan has one of the world’s lowest death rates from Corona and to call the rules that are designed by medical experts to protect “all” life and that have been effective ridiculous is not only arrogant but indicate that they are indeed all the more necessary for visitors. Many foreign visitors have shown for years that they do not understand how Japanese society works by their frequent disregard for the unwritten manners and customs, let alone its history and culture that explain many of these rules, and lack the understanding behind social responsibility shared by Japanese. Because of that lack of understanding, being direct with these rules is necessary. Calling them stupid just because you do not understand them or agree with them does a disservice to your readers and people like that should just stay away from Japan! I am sure that many here will dislike my comment, but after 40 years in Japan, the last 20 of which has been spent in the travel business, I can back up what I am saying, and all I ask is a little more respect and understanding of the rules in Japan, and I did not find that here.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Japan’s border policies and disparate treatment speak for themselves, so I’m not going to relitigate that. I’m also not going to change your mind with regard to the actual efficacy of certain health measures, so we can agree to disagree there.

      “Many foreign visitors have shown for years that they do not understand how Japanese society works by their frequent disregard for the unwritten manners and customs…”

      This is true everywhere. I’ve lived and worked in two major tourist destinations, and faux pas among foreigners are common. Cultural outsiders cannot possibly be expected to understand every little quirk, norm, or more. It comes with the territory, which is something most people who live or work in places dependent upon the hospitality industry learn.

      Indeed, some locals reacted with racism–just as many do in Japan. That’s no excuse, and cultural faux pas certainly don’t validate racist responses.

    • ラボル・パトリック
      ラボル・パトリック says:

      Thank you for your response to my comment, but it seems to me to be a none-answer-answer. I do not disagree that many visitors here – as well as to others countries – are unaware of local custom and manners as you say, but in far too many cases I have seen visitors disregard manners even after being reminded through announcements (on trains), or by train or station or other personnel. These are are not quirks, norms, or mores. A lot of them seem to stem from lack of observation or lack of trying to learn before one comes, but a lot comes across as disrespectful, and open disregard, and a bit of “the rules don’t apply to me because I don’t like them” syndrome. Regarding the Corona rules, there is still far more unknown about the virus than is known and I think it is responsible for people in your position – and I as a tour leader – to be careful how we/you inform people who are interested in visiting not only about these rules, but why they should be followed. Unless you are a medical expert and know something that the leading medical experts here in Japan do not know, advising people to follow the recommended rules is the responsible thing to do. Calling the rules ridiculous, insensitive and insinuating that they are “racist” is hardly what I call responsible and only encourages visitors to disregard them! Whether one likes the rules or not, they “are” the accepted rules and are willingly adopted by the majority plus of the Japanese. Japanese tourist are required to follow requests for masking, social distancing, not getting too animated in bars and restaurants, and when staying at inns and hot springs showing their vaccination record. These are not just for foreign visitors and it is disingenuous to suggest that they are. I am just calling for some responsibility in reporting and for people in the position that you are in to remind visitors that Japan may be different in its response to Corona and although it may seem like a lot of things to outsiders, it is not stupid. It is not about changing my mind!

    • Robert
      Robert says:

      I think the rules speak for themselves. There is no lack of understanding here. The Japanese cultural history is xenophobic and border on racism. The rules they are attempting to enforce are not based on logic so therefore move towards stupidity.

  3. Ra
    Ra says:

    Found this post very educated, amusing and accurate as someone who has lived in Japan for 7 years. Well done. It is long past time for Japan to open to tourists. They should just require a vaccine, a negative pre travel test result, and allow entry, just like every other country on Earth. Stay closed after the vaccine is just showcasing Japan’s incompetence to the world, and as someone who loves Japan, let’s do better!

  4. Nixon
    Nixon says:

    I think it’s unfair that they let Japanese citizens fly out of the country to visit other countries but won’t do the same for tourists. If you’re going to keep people from flying to your country you better make it so that your own citizens are kept from visiting other places too.

  5. Marguerite
    Marguerite says:

    Greetings, I just got a ticket using points from SFO to Tokyo for next April 2023. I’m traveling solo and hoping the guided tour thing will be over as that is a deal breaker for me, thanks for great info !

    • Bob
      Bob says:

      I’m in the same position as you. Just booked my ticket to Tokyo from Vancouver, BC in April 2023, really hope I can explore freely and not with a tour group.

  6. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    Loved this post – very amusing and informative. I’m pretty familiar with the conservative culture (being from Singapore), so I thought you wrote it very diplomatically (and tried not to come off as offensive). Great post, and thanks for the other updates regarding individual tourism.

    If xenophobia is such a problem, and coupled with rising COVID cases… a practical solution that I wish they would implement: just set an entry quota for travelers, and also open a bidding system.

    E.g. 1,000 new individual tourists / week… and the 1,000 will be the highest bidders selected from the pool of applicants per month. It could be a win win:
    1. Only the wealthiest tourists
    2. Money goes back to Japan’s struggling economy
    3. Safety concerns easier to regulate
    4. Most importantly!!! The winners won’t have to deal with millions of other tourists. Honestly, I got really sick of that and am actually kinda worried that’s going to happen again. Crowds are bad enough, but if I have to pay to fly, stay, wait, more waiting, and being shoved around or hit by thousands of other tourists just to see ONE SHRINE or tea shop … for hours!! Days!! I am not interested in that. And I can understand Japanese locals not wanting that either. I would pay premium to enjoy Japan at even 50% of the crowds pre-COVID.

    And they could set limits too. E.g. a tourist could visit only once every 3 months, to give other tourists a chance. I think that’s pretty fair, given how long we’ve had to tolerate 0 admittance.

  7. Lenka
    Lenka says:

    I don’t think tourists care at all! My experience from this week: I contacted several travel agencies in Japan, including NTA, JTB… I also agreed to the strict conditions, unfortunately everyone politely wrote me off that they don’t want us… Either they want big groups or I have contact another travel agent. I don’t know what to think about it 🤔

  8. Steve
    Steve says:

    I have a trip planned in Sept. for Japan that has been put off since 2020. Don’t think I will go if I have to wear a mask everywhere I go. Interesting that OAT has not sent out these restrictions. Japan can wait and I will go to welcoming countries.

  9. Bob, Chicago
    Bob, Chicago says:

    Mr. Bricker,
    Thank you for the information about the rules being imposed on tourists visiting Japan.

    One point that is missed in your elsewise informative article is that Japan has, in fact, has been very successful in dealing with Covid. Infections and/or deaths need to be evaluated “per capita,” that is, relative to the population. Some examples of infection rates are 12% for Taiwan and only 7% for Japan. The US leads with 26%.

    Since Japan has had a superior record, their travel restrictions may not be all that unreasonable.

    • Dave Coleman
      Dave Coleman says:

      The U.S. does NOT “lead” in Covid cases with 26%. Many countries are higher per capita than the U.S.: France – 45%, Germany – 31%, UK – 32%, South Korea – 35%, Italy – 29%, Spain – 27%, Netherlands – 47%, Australia – 29%, Portugal – 48%, Austria – 47%, Switzerland – 42%, Ireland – 32%, and there are many more. Please stop spreading misinformation.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Not only that, but testing capacity and reporting makes a HUGE difference.

      The United States had excellent infrastructure and data reporting; Japan did not.

      To be sure, Japan far outperformed the United States when it comes to deaths per capita, but that’s irrelevant in a conversation of transmission risk. The best predictors of death rates are comorbidities–unless Americans visiting Japan will suddenly make the latter’s population significantly more obese, it’s not germane to this conversation.

    • Bob C, Chicago
      Bob C, Chicago says:

      Mr. Bricker,

      You make a good point about “reporting bias.” However, there would have to be a huge amount of such bias for Japan to begin to approach the U.S. infection rate.

      Focusing on deaths per capita largely avoids “reporting bias.” Let’s look at a bit of data: 1,010,791 deaths / 329,484,000 population = 0.31% for the U.S.; 30,843 deaths / 125,836,000 population = 0.02% for Japan. The U.S. has a death rate more than 15 times that of Japan. Agreed, “big Mac’s” in the U.S. explain part of this huge difference, but recall that Japan has a much older, hence more vulnerable, population.

      The point remains — journalistic excesses aside — that Japan has had a much more favorable experience with Covid. Their caution in opening the country is at least understandable (if not regrettable, as it lead to the cancellation of my own trip to Hokkaido this summer).

    • Angela
      Angela says:

      ALL of the patients I have taken care of in the ICU have had co-morbidities. Most commonly obesity &/or hypertension &/or diabetes. I am sure there were and are outliers who did not meet this criteria who got sick and died. I didn’t take care of those patients. Despite modern medicine many in the US died because you cannot reverse the damage people have done to themselves by living an unhealthy lifestyle. We have one of the most unhealthy populations in the world. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how much tourism will return with all of these rules. I am not eager to book a trip there. Can you imagine spending the money for a trip only to test positive and end up spending your vacation under quarantine. I’ll pass

    • Bob C, Chicago
      Bob C, Chicago says:

      Mr. Coleman,
      Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

      You have taken a somewhat odd interpretation of “leads.” My intention, consistent with context, was that the U.S. “leads Taiwan and Japan.” The story, after all, was about Japan.

      You take a broader view and interpret “leads” as “leads in the world.” Agreed that the U.S. does not have the highest infection rate. Again, context dictated that it was not my intention to claim otherwise. Glad to see that you are focusing on the per capita data.

    • AndyO
      AndyO says:

      Japan did outperform “the world” and it is dubious and utterly misleading to claim it did not.

      Death would be, for anyone, the main measure of why Covid was ever something of concern. If infection did not cause a high death rate (compared to the flu), nobody would have ever cared about Covid. The only reason the lockdowns and border controls existed is because of potential for death.

      These numbers are deaths per million population:
      Japan: 245
      Thailand: 432
      South Korea: 474
      Philippines: 538
      The world: 812
      Hong Kong: 1233
      Western Europe: 1200-3000
      Eastern Europe: 2800-5000
      UK: 2613
      USA: 3093

      (its also worth noting that nearly half of Japan’s deaths occurred since late January this year from the “weaker” Omicron, and this was after the country was 80% vaccinated.)

      So the particularly low death rate in Japan can not be attributed solely to co-morbidities (You honestly think there are no fat people in Japan? Not to mention, Japan has a diabetes rate of 6.6%, which is exactly the same as the EU. It is less than the 10.7% of the US… but not 13 times less).

      But here’s a country that performed better than Japan…
      Taiwan: 159
      But their borders are still locked tighter than Japan’s.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      “(its also worth noting that nearly half of Japan’s deaths occurred since late January this year from the “weaker” Omicron, and this was after the country was 80% vaccinated.)”

      I think that coupled with fewer comorbidities is largely why Japan outperformed much of the world. Japan got hit hardest when its population was no longer immunologically naive, so the outcomes were better.

      If your air quotes around weaker are suggesting that it wasn’t actually, my only response would be that the higher number of deaths is owing to the staggeringly higher number of (mostly unreported) infections–not that Omicron was actually deadlier. (Mosquitos kill more people per year than sharks, but I doubt many people fear being bitten by the former more than the latter.)

      Obviously deaths are the main reason why anyone was ever concerned about COVID; that should go without saying. However, we’re having a conversation about border closures in 2022 in a world where vaccines, therapeutics, and other forms of improved treatment exist. That is not even remotely comparable to the discussion had in March 2020.

    • AndyO
      AndyO says:

      Do you realize you literally just said “Japan outperformed the world”?

      And that we are now having this discussion about whether Japan outperformed the world due to that being one of the supporting points in your article? (Bob C. also tried to point this out).

      Whether it was due to co-morbidities, mask etiquette, border closure, lack of strict lockdowns, or Japan’s unique DNA does not matter in assessing the statement that Japan somehow “did not” outperform the world. It did, the numbers unequivocally say so, and now you also say so.

      Sorry, but you really should amend your article to reflect this, as well as any argument extrapolated based on that false statement.

    • Deb
      Deb says:

      Not to mention, also, that the US drastically and intentionally inflated the number of cases. Many states’ have been sued over this and was made to update their databases.

  10. Mrs Suzuki
    Mrs Suzuki says:

    I am British and my husband is Japanese, we live together in the UK and I have not been able to see his family in Japan now for 3 years, he hasn’t seen them in over 1 year. We desperately want to visit, his grandma is aging and his mum is battling cancer. We are missing out on precious time with family because of this isolationist approach when the rest of the world is moving on. As the British wife of a Japanese citizen, covered under the visa waiver system prior to the pandemic, I find it utterly insulting that I have to apply for a visa just to visit my own family over there, when my husband’s family would be free to visit my country with no restrictions whatsoever (but due to illness and age they are not able to). I absolutely refuse to jump through these ridiculous hoops the Japanese Government have put in place, being with family should be a right that cannot be taken away like this. My husband, living in the same country as me, the same house as me, driving the same car as me, going on the same flight as me, staying in the same place in Japan as me, is subject to no restrictions simply because he is a Japanese citizen. It screams xenophobia and it makes me angry.
    I miss our family, WE miss our family. We are dearly dearly hoping for a full re-opening and reinstatement of the visa waiver system in the near future – at least for ‘blue’ listed countries or the fully vaccinated until they catch up with the rest of the world.

    • hfy
      hfy says:

      There are third generation Koreans born in Japan, raised Japanese, who must, once becoming an adult, apply for visas every three years to stay in the only country they’ve ever known.

      So, yeah, Japan does not treat “foreigners” well in terms of documentation and acceptance. And, yeah, it’s xenophobia. But if seeing your family is important to you, why are you boycotting them? Do you seriously believe your stance will affect the Japanese government?

  11. Darrell Clausen
    Darrell Clausen says:

    I will not recommend any of my American clients to go to Japan until the country completely opens up. I’m sending those interested to Europe instead.

    • Dave Coleman
      Dave Coleman says:

      I have had a group tour organized for Japan in November and have postponed it in 2020 and 2021. After reading the new restrictions, I just cancelled it today. Not postponed, cancelled. I will not even think of organizing a new tour until things are back to the way they were. If that’s never, so be it. I’m done.

  12. Judy Burke
    Judy Burke says:

    We have family in Japan and after huge efforts to persuade the Japanese Embassy that we should be allowed to visit on compassionate grounds – grandchild we’d never met etc – we were finally given visas (this was before the new kinship visas) and spent 6 weeks in Japan in March-April this year.
    We sailed through the arrival procedures using the SOS app we’d downloaded but had were held up at Passport Control by Immigration officers who were reluctant to accept a visa issued by their own government ! We were ushered into a side area and all our documentation was rechecked. Finally, an officer phoned my Japanese daughter in law and asked her whether she was ill, the only reason for us being allowed in that she could imagine being that we were needed to look after sick grandchildren !
    After a lengthy wait and no apologies or explanations, we were finally allowed through. We were initially anxious that we would be tracked by the app and interrogated if we ventured away from my son’s house but after Day 3 we were informed via the app that we were no longer being tracked and we moved freely around Japan, sometimes with my son’s family but also on our own. We didn’t experience any xenophobia although we certainly did stick out due to our western appearance far more than on our many previous trips to Japan. We decided to revisit Nikko one day. It was wonderful for us as there were so few tourists and those who were visiting were domestic tourists. However, it was sad to see so many usually thriving restaurants and shops closed up and there were virtually no guests in the normally busy hotel we stayed in – the large dining room was empty except for one other couple. It was clear to see the effects of this policy on people who depend on tourism for their living here and in other places we visited during our stay.
    We love Japan and know it well. We have literally despaired at the intransigent and illogical attitude of the Japanese government. This was not supported, in our experience, by the people we spoke to who were hugely welcoming as normal and increasingly frustrated by their government’s approach.
    The ultimate irony was that, having escaped Covid for the duration of the entire pandemic in the UK, I tested positive the day after our return, strongly suggesting that I picked it up in Japan!

    • Stephen G
      Stephen G says:

      Thanks Judy, this is most informative. We have family in Japan and have not seen them since January 2020, but are hopeful of visiting in July, depending on our Visa application. Useful to know which area of Japan you were based and also which airport you used – as we usually fly into Kansai.

    • Rita
      Rita says:

      Hello. My daughter and family are stationed in Yokosuka. Are there different rules for visiting Navy personnel?

    • Deb
      Deb says:

      Hi Rita, My son is also stationed in Japan with the US Navy. I just received my visa but the only way I could get one is because my son is married to a Japanese national. Check with your local consulate about visiting your daughter. My consulate in Denver said that I am ‘technically’ not visiting my son, but visiting my daughter in law.

    • Judy Butkr
      Judy Butkr says:

      Hi and if you have family in Japan you should be fine now that thé so called kinship visa is in place, which will not protect you from all the bureaucracy but should guarantee your safe passage through immigration. We came through Haneda and I can’t comment on Kansai but I would recommend taking copies of all the documentation you have to supply for the visa. Once you get through, it’s a breeze!

    • Deb
      Deb says:

      Judy, Thank you so much for sharing your disparaging experience. I just received my visa and was hoping that that was the worst of it. Now I am nervous about even getting on that plane in late June. It is frustrating, as Americans, we cannot go see our sons and daughters that are, quite literally, defending the country of Japan in the military. I am just one of the lucky ones that have a Japanese daughter in law. I find it Ludacris that the Japanese government is opening for group tours when individual persons, traveling alone cannot go. Single people, obviously, pose a smaller threat that large groups of people in general. These rules make no sense in my opinion.

    • Judy Burke
      Judy Burke says:

      Just make sure you have copies of all the documentation you supplied for your visa. The Embassy In London recommended that and they were dead right. You’ll be fine!

    • Anne
      Anne says:

      We sailed through Haneda with no problem last week, though there was a lot of queueing! We had our MySos app completed and though we took paper copies of paper documents, we didn’t need them. Our son has permanent residence and our daughter in law is Japanese, as are our grandchildren, but we applied based on his permanent residence.

    • Karen Hovis
      Karen Hovis says:

      Hi Judy. We are hoping to visit Japan March 2023. Do you know if we MUST have vaccines before entering Japan. You might have the correct answer to this with all your Japan experience. Thank you, K. Hovis

    • Debbie
      Debbie says:

      Super insightful, thank you for sharing! Very sad that there was still so much hesitation at the visa issued by their own government. Perhaps it was an unusual / exceptional case, but I feel like they could have communicated it better to your family at the airport (instead of no explanations).

  13. Anne
    Anne says:

    Hi, I plan on doing a summer school in Kyoto in September. Last year we spent the whole week doing online research on our campus in Brussels because we weren’t allowed to travel to Japan, so now I’m really looking forward to it.
    I’m not really worried about sanitary rules (I’m vaccinated and there’s not a lot of covid-infections anymore in Belgium), but I’m worried that maybe the Japanese inhabitants won’t be very welcoming to foreigners.

    • Judy Burke
      Judy Burke says:

      Our experience on a 6 week stay was that we met literally no negative or unwelcoming responses from the inhabitants we came across and we travelled around freely. So don’t worry – so long as you wear your mask, you’ll be fine!

    • Nixon
      Nixon says:

      The only people that don’t want foreigners visiting are the people in the Japanese government apparently.

  14. Charles Mander
    Charles Mander says:

    I’m living here at the moment and I do not recommend to visit until this nonsense is over and done with.

    People are still wearing masks in big open parks and alone in their cars. I prefer not to, and it’s common to get the stink eye. I’ve also received a couple of mini lectures from staff for momentarily taking my mask off in the gym to get a bit of fresh air.

    It’s sad and worrying that individuals do not seem to think logically think for themselves, although it’s not surprising.

    Don’t put yourself through the hassle of one of these DPRK-styled tours…. Just wait a bit more .

    The conservatives will win the July election (as usual) , and they’ll surely do a U-turn on their creepy isolationism promises thereafter.

    • Robert
      Robert says:

      Wow. Hilarious that nobody wears a mask when they all sit around drinking beer and eating, but they wear a mask when exercising. Such sound reasoning…lol

  15. Huskerpaul
    Huskerpaul says:

    We are planning to visit in Fall 2024. Sure hope I don’t have to wear a mask while portioning out our food in a sanitized room with the window open at dinner not talking to my wife. Sounds fun.

    Thanks for the update. Your frustration with the situation comes through clearly and is shared by many.

  16. emma
    emma says:

    planning a trip for the end of september, hopefully things are open by then, i don’t mind doing health check ins, i have 3 vaccines and am willing to get another, i don’t even care if i face xenophobia while im there! i have a very important concert to attend and the only thing that could stop me are these ridiculous guidelines!

    • Kayla
      Kayla says:

      It’s not. It’s 100% not. period. Ugh the fact that this article suggested it was is irresponsible.
      Did your country not have ridiculous rules for foreign travellers upon reopening?? My country certainly did. I was allowed to go around like “normal” while travellers were testing, and spending days in hotels for no reason “just to be sure”. Most countries had pretty stupid rules upon re-opening. Most countries have moved past that. Now Japan is re-opening and it’s their turn for some stupid rules for awhile. It likely wouldn’t be responsible of their government to hold off THIS long from travellers to then just full blown open with no middle steps. Again, don’t get me wrong the rules are stupid, but they’re temporary. That isn’t xenophobia.

  17. Christopher Pineau
    Christopher Pineau says:

    I intend upon waiting until things open up completely AKA Japan’s government coming to its senses and finally admitting that they need those tourist dollars to boost a moribund economy. I’ve not had the injection and will not get it for a couple of reasons, notably that I’ve already had the virus twice and am far from worried about it. I say all this as someone who loves Japan and is well aware of its cultural differences, and is not taking it personally, contrary to what this may imply otherwise. Besides, I’d rather wait and see if and when I can find a good air fare due to airlines charging ridiculous fares at this time for most anywhere, and for me that means waiting for things to settle down and level out some more. Whatever Japan does is on them, ultimately, not me, and I know better than to take it personally.

  18. Coz
    Coz says:

    Japan was our favorite country to visit pre Covid, we have been a number of times and fell in love with the country and it’s culture. We we’re very excited to hear they were starting the process of reopening and had penciled in a trip for April next year but the new rules and restrictions are very disheartening and honestly, off-putting. I’m not sure what the reasoning is behind these measures, these things always seem to be a mix of science and politics, but it certainly makes me concerned about the welcome we would receive as returning tourists.


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