When Will Japan Reopen to Tourists? (January 2022 Update)

When will Japan lift its travel ban and reopen for international tourists? Will borders open in Spring 2022? These are two common questions among those planning trips to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and beyond. We monitor foreign visitor advisories, news, states of emergency, vaccine passports, and inoculation progress for answers. (Updated January 5, 2022.)

While there is currently no state of emergency nor is the healthcare system stressed in any way, Japan’s sixth wave–fueled by the Omicron variant–is now underway. More on the latest numbers, and how this has thrown a monkey wrench into reopening plans, in the January 2022 Update section below.

If you’re simply looking for an official answer about when Japan will reopen, we don’t have that–and no one knows. If you’d like to be notified as soon as an announcement is made by Japan’s government, subscribe to our free email newsletter. This post is speculative, with commentary about variables that’ll impact Japan’s border reopening later, and when we anticipate the travel ban ending…

Prior to Japan declaring its first state of emergency, we planned on traveling to Japan for sakura season, staying for a couple of months for research and additions to our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto. These plans were abandoned at the last minute, and we stayed in the United States.

For the last year, we’ve been closely watching the improvements in Japan, hoping for some clarity as to when the country will fully reopen and Japan will begin allowing international tourists to enter once again. We’ve cancelled three return trips since then, most recently for last December.

In terms of current travel advisories, Japan has imposed entry bans on over 150 countries including the United States, Canada, all of Europe (including the United Kingdom), and most of Asia. The travel bans are currently in effect indefinitely. Japan has also temporarily suspended visa exemptions, making it necessary to apply for a visa prior to traveling.

Additionally, everyone entering Japan must undergo a mandatory quarantine at a designated location and may not use public transportation for 10 days upon arrival. (This was just shortened from 14 days at the end of last month.) Most foreigners, including those who have been to countries on the entry ban list within 14 days of their arrival in Japan, will be turned away under current border control measures.

In a nutshell, it’s presently impossible to visit Japan unless you are a Japanese citizen or meet one of the few exceptions. That’s probably not going to apply to anyone reading this English language blog post, so let’s turn to what the future holds…

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are both over, having been held behind closed doors and without the normal surge of tourism the Games generate. Economists are projecting staggering direct losses due to the absence of spectators at the Olympics and Paralympics, which is likely to decrease overall consumer spending by as much as 70 billion yen ($643 million).

However, some indirect economic advantages of the Olympics remain. The Games exposed and highlighted Japan to a global audience for two weeks, which normally has a high residual value for the travel & tourism sectors. It’s unclear whether the Tokyo Summer Olympics will prove as valuable to Japan’s tourism marketing initiatives, as fewer viewers at home were likely enticed to book international trips while watching the travelogue segments.

Beyond the Olympics, the economic benefits of international tourists is one big reason why Japan is expected to reopen its border. Boosting tourism was core to former Prime Minister Abe’s economic revitalization, and both subsequent prime ministers have indicated their intentions to maintain continuity with those plans

The Tokyo Olympics were instrumental to these plans, with Japan’s inbound tourism target for last year being 40 million visitors, up from a record 31.9 million visitors the year before. Instead, only ~4 million international travelers visited Japan.

Economists fear a “double dip” recession in Japan due to the prolonged closures and restrictions. Decreased tourism plus falling exports, an increased consumption tax, reduced consumer spending, and growing national debt. Suffice to say, Japan’s economy has serious issues and inbound tourism was previously a bright spot.

In other words, reopening to international visitors will be important to the health of Japan’s consumption-driven economy at some point in the not too distant future. However, a necessary prerequisite is the country’s physical health. With that in mind, let’s take a look at current case numbers and vaccinations…

January 2022 Update

We’re back with an update for January 2022, and it’s another pessimistic one. A little over a month ago, Japan closed its borders to new entries by foreigners amid concern over the new Omicron variant, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowing to act fast to “avoid the worst-case scenario.”

Kishida stated that Japan “will study the situation after the year-end and New Year (holiday).” Kishida said closing Japan’s border was a “temporary measure until information about the Omicron variant becomes clear,” adding that “when dealing with an unknown risk, it’s best to take every precaution.”

Japan had eased its ban on new entries by some foreigners last November, allowing business travelers on short stays, students in study abroad programs, and participants in its technical internship program. That lasted for only a few weeks, and Japan never reopened to tourists at that point.

In addition to the ban on foreign business travelers, students, and technical interns, Japan added stricter quarantine requirements. The government also lowered its daily limit for the number of people arriving from 5,000 back down to 3,500. Returning Japanese citizens and foreign residents are now required to isolate for two weeks, regardless of whether they are fully vaccinated.

A decision on whether to maintain the closure is expected sometime within the next week, in mid-January 2022. We’re back with an update before then because, honestly, it doesn’t matter what’s decided with the border closure at that point. Japan is still months away from reopening to tourists, and the fate of that downstream decision isn’t really impacted by what Japan does with its border closure in the short-term.

Personally, my expectation is that the border will remain closed in the short term, so next week’s update will likely be of the “non-update” variety, anyway. Cases are starting to surge, and Japan will maintain the border’s status quo while turning its attention to declaring states of emergency and ensuring the health care system isn’t overwhelmed during the Omicron-fueled sixth wave.

Speaking of which, Japan confirmed a total of 2,638 new cases on January 5, surpassing the 2,000 mark for the first time in over three months amid the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. This is the second straight day of cases over 1,000 after they had been in the 100-200 range for a while.

Okinawa accounted for 623 new infections, with its governor requesting that Japan’s central government declare a quasi-state of emergency in the southern island prefecture. Tokyo reported 390 new cases, more than double the previous day and hitting the highest level in three months. In all likelihood, given what’s happening around the globe, that case numbers are only going to soar from here. (Hospitalizations and deaths are another story.)

Our last update expressed fear that if Japan’s numbers remained low through the holiday season, it could vindicate those within Japan who warned of reopening or fear-mongered foreigners. It wasn’t hard to envision a scenario where “success” would’ve been attributed to the border closure–even though Japan’s numbers have been low for several months prior to the closure.

It should go without saying, but we are not “happy” to see Japan’s case numbers rise; there are human consequences to that and we’d much rather see numbers fall everywhere. However, the silver lining here is that banning foreigners proved unproductive, as Omicron entered Japan regardless. That’s what happens with a “leaky” border closure–it’s possible to buy some time, but only delay the inevitable. (Nevertheless, it seems like a foregone conclusion that some within Japan will blame U.S. military bases in Okinawa for this–overlooking the fact that Omicron was confirmed in 37 of Japan’s 47 prefectures before the Okinawa outbreak.)

From that perspective, Omicron evading the border closure is arguably a positive development for the long-term prospects of tourists. For one, it demonstrates the inefficacy of the measure. For another, it moves forward the timeline for the milder Omicron variant to work its way through Japan’s population. While a lot is still unknown about Omicron, data out of South Africa and the United Kingdom is showing it to be far less likely to result in severe illness or hospitalizations. If Japan’s health care system is not tested even with rising cases, this could be the beginning of the end on restrictions.

Regardless of how things play out with Omicron, this will be a sustained setback to Japan’s reopening progress in the coming couple of months. While tourists hadn’t yet been allowed to reenter Japan, the country will still scale up slowly when reopening does resume–and this is at least 3-4 months of lost time. Even assuming the absolute best case scenario, no foreign tourists will be entering Japan until sometime in Spring 2022.

Compared to most highly industrialized nations, Japan remains relatively insular and apprehensive of outsiders. For better or worse, it’s a culturally conservative country–a characteristic that is often valued by visitors. Not so much in the last couple of years, as this has been reflected in policy-making. Japan has vilified and scapegoated foreigners and had an overly aggressive approach to its borders.

That’s one of the reasons we previously cautioned against expecting any reopening announcements prior to Japan’s election. For many voters, reopening was simply a politically unpalatable policy. However, another thing that’s politically unpalatable is a struggling economy. Japan has lagged behind economically, seeing slower recovery than the United States and other counterparts that have more aggressively reopened. The point is that the general public often holds internally incompatible beliefs or desires, which cannot be reconciled in making public policy.

Based on public statements, the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party recognize this and were focusing on rebuilding the economy. Speaking on NHK, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that his top priority was formulating new economic measures and implementing these goals.

“With the results of this election, we will swiftly put together economic measures,” Kishida said. The major pillars of the economic measures will be to provide benefits for businesses and households that have been hit especially hard. The government will also take measures to stimulate and jump-start the economy.

The ruling government is doing so with an eye towards Summer 2022, when the upper house election will almost certainly be decided on the basis of how well the economy has recovered. Even officials in the LDP have conceded that accumulating achievements and quantifiable results will be necessary for success.

Among the business community and economists, there’s a belief that the government will also reform border controls at some point before mid-2022. “While international travel won’t make or break the economy, it’s an easy-to-observe metric that may shape public sentiment,” said Kenneth Mori McElwain of the University of Tokyo. It’s also a signifier of normalcy and recovery, and after 2 years of this, people are ready to get on with life.

Japan is also maintaining its goal of attracting 60 million foreign visitors by 2030. Additionally, the Japan National Tourism Organization has set 2024 as its goal for recovering to 2019 international travel levels. Both of these statements are reassuring given the current border closures, and indicate that Japan will unwind its travel ban in months, not years.

In the near-term, there’s not much reason for optimism. Japanese airlines are already backtracking plans on scaling up operations in early 2022, and both ANA and JAL have suspended some routes from January 2022 through late March 2022.

Prior to Omicron, many countries–including those that had been incredibly restrictive of movement–shifted strategies and signaled a move towards reopening. Perhaps most notably, there’s New Zealand, which announced a shift from suppressing all outbreaks and new cases to “living with the virus.” The country has seemingly acknowledged that chasing zero cases is a fool’s errand, as the disease will become endemic.

Now, many experts are saying that Omicron will hasten the transition to endemicity. That’s a good thing in the medium to long term, but not so much in the immediate future as cases are likely to continue surging in Japan. However, once this surge ends (likely in 4-6 weeks if other countries are instructive), the pace of reopening plans could accelerate–just has occurred elsewhere around the world.

Other countries that have been among the most “locked down” in the world have adopted similar strategies. The increased momentum towards a “life with the virus” approach recognizes it becoming endemic. Other countries are contemplating similar policy changes, undoubtedly recognizing the same practical realities.

However, many countries around the world have had knee-jerk reactions to Omicron, seemingly embracing the mentality that “we have to do something!” even if that something is wholly ineffective, mostly symbolic, or forestalling the inevitable. Japan is perhaps the leading example of this mentality. Border closures are low-hanging fruit, a signal to the public that the government is “doing something” about a virus it cannot control.

While Japan’s measures have never been as stringent as New Zealand, many of Japan’s policy moves–or lack thereof–have been driven by fear of cultural outsiders, the unknown, and indecisiveness. Immunity is essentially the only way out of this endless cycle of lockdowns and loosening of restrictions. Those policies made some degree of sense when attempting to buy time while waiting for a vaccine. That is no longer the case.

Whenever it happens, Japan’s reopening will be a phased approach starting with students, business travelers, and certain training programs. The tentative plan is–or was–to allow leisure travel after that. Japan has a plan to roll out countermeasures and a travel program set up for international tourists. Once these safety measures are in place, the government plans to lift Japan’s travel ban on foreign tourists gradually.

Originally, the proposed health safety measures aim to cover the three steps of a tourist’s “journey” to Japan from arrival to stay to departure. This would be done via the establishment of a health management app and a dedicated “Fever Health Consultation Support Centre.” However, it’s worth noting that this program began development last fall, and its debut was expected before vaccine rollout began. This might still debut at some point for unvaccinated visitors, but our expectation is that it’ll be largely superseded by vaccine passports and certificates.

One component of last year’s version of Japan’s reopening program was that it was slated to begin rolling out in the winter. At the time, the goal was to gradually resume tourism with a soft launch during the off-season when travel volume was lower. From there, it would scale up for spring and summer, when demand naturally increases.

This is noteworthy because we’ve seen many readers comment with the expectation that Japan will reopen right to all before the sakura season in Spring 2022. Based on the totality of the circumstances and Japan’s measured and methodical (to use charitable terms) approach, we highly doubt Japan will simply open the floodgates for its busiest travel season of the year. More likely, it’ll be a pilot program and/or slow launch targeting a time when travel is lower.

When is an open question, and largely dependent upon how the current Omicron surge plays out. As noted above, Japan has been preparing hospitals for a sixth wave of cases. With the arrival of Omicron, that wave is now about to materialize in Japan. If it stretches the health care system to the brink again, it will delay reopening plans. If Japan emerges with a higher case count but without corresponding hospitalizations, it could accelerate reopening plans.

Accordingly, it’s our view that a phased reopening beginning in March or April 2022 is plausible if things go well and Omicron isn’t a serious setback. If there are significant problems–or even if there aren’t but Japan opts to maintain an overly cautious course–reopening might get pushed back to Summer 2022.

Ultimately, Japan reopening to tourists as part of its phased approach in the first half of 2022 is just a guess–and we’ve made several overly optimistic guesses that have turned out to be wrong. With Omicron now in the picture and Japan on the precipice of its sixth wave, it’s entirely possible that Japan won’t reopen until the second half of 2022.

If Omicron in Japan follows a similar trajectory to South Africa and the United Kingdom, international travel to Japan still seems likely by late Spring 2022. Even though Japan is cautious and conservative, with a slow and belabored decision-making process that often embodies “analysis paralysis,” the tides seem to be turning all around the world, as people are ready to move on with life. Japan cannot stay its present course without economic consequences, and its government recognizes this.

If you’re planning a visit, our recommendation at this point is to target the 2022 cherry blossom season at the earliest. Fall colors season (November/December 2022) might be the safer bet. Not because we think that is precisely when Japan will reopen, but because we anticipate the reopening to have scaled up and smoothed out by that point–and because that’s simply a good time to visit Japan.

Either way, we’ll keep watching the news and keep you posted if/when there are further developments about Japan reopening and allowing entry to travelers from the United States, Canada, Europe, and beyond. Again, if you’d like to be notified as soon as more details are released or rumored, subscribe to our free email newsletter for ongoing updates and alerts:

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 later this year, or is international travel out of the question for you anytime soon? Are you concerned that Japan won’t reopen until 2023, or think Spring or Summer 2022 are still realistic? Think the need to adapt and live with the endemic virus will outweigh fear when it comes to Japan’s reopening plans? 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!

580 replies
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  1. Mariam
    Mariam says:

    I’m so frustrated about the situation their restrictions are so strict I’m suppost to go to Japan in the beginning of May but I’m fearing that I’ll get a flight credit. I dont get it no one has those strict restrictions bcz the pandemic is worldwide and we can’t continue to live like this fearing the virus it’s everywhere. Other countries accepted the fact that we can’t do anything about it why can’t they???

    Reply
  2. Toronamon
    Toronamon says:

    So much of the ongoing frustration and confusion can be explained if you guys understand that in Japan you are guilty until proven otherwise (this is the basis of their judicial system). Foreigners are dirty and dangerous until proven otherwise. For your own sake stop obsessing over facts and reason as Japan operates differently to the rest of the world.

    Reply
  3. Kev
    Kev says:

    Even after all this, Japan STILL possesses the world’s most powerful passport (tied with Singapore).

    At this point, the only people I’m more disgusted with than the Japanese government are all the other world governments who are letting Japan get away with this “all take, no give” arrangement. Not just tourism, but business and travel, too. Unacceptable.

    Reciprocity should be the key to ending this overly cautious nonsense.

    Reply
  4. Taro
    Taro says:

    I’ve had a fiancée who is Japanese since fall 2019. Tried booking tickets to visit her in 2020 for spring and then fall, which turned into flight credit that’s currently set to expire at the end of March. It took us this long to reach the final step of her K-1 visa process, but after 2 years waiting we hoped it would be possible to hold a small ceremony in Japan for her parents who can’t come to a wedding in America.
    We decided to wait no later than May, in the case a Japan ceremony becomes possible but also getting ready for her to come here if not. Japanese people around her think there’s a chance of reopening by then after the booster is available in March. I’m going to hold out hope and tentatively plan since it’s important to both of us, but I get why others are frustrated and are considering fall a more realistic goal.

    Reply
  5. Koru
    Koru says:

    I guess summer is still possible for tourism. The virologist think in summer the cases will be low and other nations and Japan is likely to be boostered by late spring. In summer we also will have the omicron vaccine available, so it should be fine to open. It will show some sort of recovery so that’s a good sign regarding the elections in July. No idea what would happen if some new variant is showing up though. I guess all other nations will react calm and not like last time but for Japan …who knows we will see.

    Reply
  6. Leonidas
    Leonidas says:

    sorry for another comment but I like exposing my opinions here since I won’t do it on Nikkei or Japan Times lmao

    Turns out full closure announced until end of February. At this point idk anymore.

    There seems to be indeed people inside Kishida’s government that really want that isolated Japan back, so they will use the pandemic as an excuse for as long as they can, under the logo of being “extremely cautious” and the infamous “worst-case-scenario”.

    My 2022 vacations will be elsewhere, in a country who uses science and not stupidity as guide for their decisions. Now I’ve officially gave up in being optimistic. lol

    Reply
      • Suzanne
        Suzanne says:

        Hahaha. Well we knew with Omicron that Japan wasn’t going to REOPEN in February. I think this is good news. Like Tom, I am cautiously optimistic for a late spring or summer reopening.

        Reply
    • Koru
      Koru says:

      It was obvious that they won’t open on February for some students. They don’t care for students at all since students are most of the time rather poor. Omicron is peaking in america and europe in early February and going down in late February. Yeah this decision was really obvious.

      Reply
    • Red
      Red says:

      Good luck finding a single country not using stupidity (read: money and control for the corrupt) as a guide for their decisions!
      Let me know if you find one, lol.

      Reply
      • MacJ
        MacJ says:

        Yes, but it’s too easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some countries (such as the one that is the topic of our comments…) are behaving much worse than others.

        Reply
      • Leonidas
        Leonidas says:

        Countries like Germany, France, Spain, and many many others where you currently can travel normally as a tourist because they don’t see you as a treat and recognize the community transmission of the virus instead of what most of Asia insists on doing.

        Let me tell you an example, Ireland started asking for negative tests for everyone when Omicron started rampaging Europe.
        Once Omicron completely took over Ireland itself , they dropped the need of testing.

        That’s the kind of science decision I’m talking about, whether it’s moved by tourist money or not, it’s a science decision that makes sense.

        Reply
  7. Renzo
    Renzo says:

    The acute phase of the pandemic is over. This is supported by various studies in UK, South Africa and even the good old US of A. Covid is has begun its transition to a simple seasonal cold and most of the world has recognized it except china (because of their garbage vaccines) and Japan. Japan’s barring of foreigners was never about public health; it was political and tribal pure and simple. Now watch them drag their feet in “reopening” and marvel at their dumbfounded insistence of wearing masks outdoors for YEARS to come. To heck with them!

    Reply
    • Red
      Red says:

      Basically no country has recognized that it’s over. All countries are still making up more and more lame excuses to maintain and further their control over citizens. It’s disgusting.

      Reply
  8. Leonidas
    Leonidas says:

    This week’s government decision will be very important.

    When the full closure was announced in November, Kishida let it clear that it was a decision to “buy time” and because “the virus was unknown”

    Now that Omicron is already spread through the country and there really isn’t more “time to buy”, he technically has no real reason to keep such strict border controls.

    Sadly tho, in an interview this sunday he once again said “(…)there are things we don’t fully understand. We need to confirm those things properly and until then, I want to be extremely cautious”.

    As always, the japanese might spread as much as they want but the gaijins are always of the “highest risk” even if talking about the same exact virus variant.

    I was hopeful before but after this last declaration I feel like the gaijin fear will once again speak louder and even students and workers will still not be able to enter the country. (someone said Japan and China are the only 2 countries in the world closed for those categories but not sure, New Zealand is too right?)

    Reply
  9. StopRacisminJapan
    StopRacisminJapan says:

    Everyone should boycott Japanese products until this racist discriminatory border nonsense stops. Only if the Japanese economy is struggling, those nazi politicians and their blind followers will understand that isolationalism is not an option.

    Reply
  10. James
    James says:

    Essentially, Japan is envy of foreigners’ money and assets, but they don’t want foreigners to come. Japan is treating foreigners as source of money, but not as people.
    I gave up visiting Japan last December, and went to Thailand instead. Not just in Thailand, but a lot of places in South East Asia resembles Japan, yet having a lot less border restrictions. I was able to shop in Don Quixote, Daiso, eating Yoshinoya, Matsunoya and Kaiseki.
    If Japan does not reopen soon, then I think Japanese government will lose the majority of us forever, because we can find good alternatives.

    Reply

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