When Will Japan Reopen in 2021?

When will Japan lift its travel ban and reopen for international tourists? We’re closely monitoring all advisories, the latest news, plans for the Tokyo Summer Olympics, and states of emergency. (Updated May 11, 2021.)

The latest update is mostly bad news. Japan’s central government has extended its state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi, and Fukuoka in an effort to curb a surge in cases through the beginning of June 2021. This will include restrictions on restaurants, bars, malls, karaoke, movie theaters, and theme parks–requesting many major businesses temporarily close through May 31, 2021. (Universal Studios Japan, for example, is closed.)

While this is not a “hard lockdown” like some other countries have imposed, the measures are more significant than past state of emergencies declared by Japan in the past year. The emergency declaration covers one-quarter of Japan’s population and about a third of its economy. It also comes just months until the Tokyo Summer Olympics begin. Despite this, the president of the Olympic’s organizing committee said that canceling the games is not being considered…

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. That was now one year ago.

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 two return trips since then. At this point, we’re aiming for November 2021, and wouldn’t be surprised if that can’t happen, either.

In terms of current travel advisories, Japan has imposed entry bans on 152 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 14 days upon arrival. Most foreigners, including those with residency in Japan or 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…

At this point, everything being done is with an eye on the Tokyo Olympics, due to start on July 23, 2021 following an unprecedented one-year postponement. While a cancellation is still possible if the situation worsens, all indications are that Japan plans to proceed with the Olympics and that it’s more a matter of how rather than if.

The heads of organizing bodies of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have decided not to allow overseas spectators at the games. The Japanese government concluded that welcoming overseas spectators for the Tokyo Summer Olympics is not safe, due to fears that foreign travelers could lead to the spread. This is unsurprising, as Japan has been incredibly conservative with its borders and foreigners, scapegoating outsiders for transmission despite the border closure.

It should go without saying, but the Tokyo Olympics are a very big deal to Japan and the country’s economic prospects. Economists project that the absence of overseas spectators at the Olympics and Paralympics is likely to decrease overall consumer spending by 60 to 70 billion yen ($643 million) from the total of 207.9 billion yen projected for the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

While it’ll inflict damage on the tourism industry, public support in Japan for the Olympics has waned, as has also been the case for the government each time there has been a surge in new cases. Despite 60% of people in Japan wanting the Games cancelled, they are moving forward in large part due to sunk costs and the long-term value they’ll offer to Japan’s tourism marketing initiatives.

Beyond the Olympics, the economic reliance on international tourists is one big reason why Japan is expected to reopen its border later in 2021. Boosting tourism was core to Prime Minister Abe’s economic revitalization, and new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has indicated intent to maintain continuity with those economic 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 state of emergency, with the outlook for the next year-plus only looking optimistic if reopening can proceed. Decreased tourism plus falling exports, an increased consumption tax, reduced consumer spending, and growing national debt.

Suffice to say, Japan’s economic health is likewise a serious issue and inbound tourism was previously a bright spot. At some point, reopening to international visitors will be necessary for Japan’s economy.

Previously, our prediction for Japan’s reopening was that it hinged upon the status of the Olympics. If the Summer Games didn’t allow foreign spectators, Fall 2021 would be the earliest conceivable timeframe for Japan reopening its borders. The Olympics are now irrelevant for reopening purposes, as are current states of emergency.

What does matter is vaccinations. Japan has been slow thus far, which is frustrating given how pivotal of a role the vaccine will play in the eventual reopening. Japan lags behind many other countries in its vaccine rollout, with less than 3% of its population having received at least one shot. Part of this is out of the country’s control, as supply is limited. Another problem is lack of manpower to administer doses, with most of Japan’s vaccines sitting unused in freezers. However, we have some very good news on both fronts!

Local regulators will decide by May 20, 2021 whether to approve the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines–30 million doses of the latter have already been manufactured locally. Additionally, a large scale vaccination center with the capacity to inoculate 10,000 people per day will open in Tokyo on May 24, with another in Osaka coming online around the same time. Most significantly, Japan is set to receive 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine between May and June.

If the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are approved as anticipated, Japan would have enough doses to vaccinate its population by late summer. Regardless, Japan has reached a deal with Pfizer that will increase its supply of the vaccine, allowing the country to have enough doses of that vaccine alone by the end of September 2021 to inoculate all eligible residents.

Japan aims to finish vaccinating its 36 million elderly residents by July 2021. Athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics may receive vaccines by late June 2021. After that, all residents age 16 and older will eligible for the free vaccine by sometime in July 2021.

We further suspect that more supply will open up for Japan as vaccine demand continues to slow in the United States and elsewhere. Infrastructure in administering the inoculations will be the biggest impediment to meeting those timelines; don’t be surprised if those targets each slip by a month or two. Obviously, this isn’t directly related to Japan’s reopening, but vaccinations are essentially the way out of this endless cycle.

Our expectation is that Japan will continue playing things cautiously and will not reopen on a widespread level this summer. That doesn’t rule out Fall 2021, especially with the current vaccine timeline, and the fact that tourists are crucial to Japan’s economy.

Some readers have questioned this optimism for Fall 2021, wondering why Japan would block Olympics attendees but allow them only a month or two later. The reasons are two-fold. First, the timing of vaccinations, with widespread availability more or less coinciding with the Olympics. That would dramatically ease the health burden and facilitate a loosening of restrictions, especially if Japan’s case trends follow every other country once ~50-60% of its population has been vaccinated.

Second, the Olympics will involve a lot of domestic traveling within Japan, plus athletes and support staff arriving in the country. That alone will pose risk and could cause another case spike. Add tens of thousands of foreign visitors, and that would be further exacerbated.

However, if those foreign visitors are shifted to a couple months later, they’re potentially less of a concern. It also doesn’t help that the Olympics are tremendously unpopular among the Japanese–adding foreign visitors to the mix is simply not palatable among the population.

Once Japan resumes reopening its borders, it’s expected to be a phased process starting with foreign residents, followed by students and certain business travelers. 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.

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 map and a dedicated “Fever Health Consultation Support Centre.”

In order to visit Japan, foreign tourists would be required to download the health management app, and will also need to obtain a pre-departure negative test certificate. Upon entering Japan, the tourist would once again be required to take a rapid PCR test. If the new arrival tests positive after entering Japan, they will be required to take out private medical insurance (or leave).

Those who test negative upon arrival to Japan will not be required to quarantine inside a hotel for 14 days. Instead, they’ll be required to report their health status through the health management app for 14 days after entering Japan. The Health Center will be set up in Tokyo specifically for overseas visitors to Japan as a way to take the pressure off local governments and avoid overburdening the Japanese health system.

However, it’s worth noting that this program began development last fall, and its debut was expected before vaccine rollout began. Although Japan is still in the process of developing this system, it may be superseded by something else: vaccine passports.

There have been recent headlines stating that Japan plans to introduce vaccine passports, following the lead of the European Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and China. That certainly sounds promising. However, in actually reading these stories, it’s that certain businesses and trade groups are pushing for it, and various ministers have indicated that Japan will consider vaccine passports. Thinking about doing something is not the same as doing something. We’ve seen this time and time again from Japan.

Our expectation is that Japan will not end up utilizing vaccine passports among its population, but potentially will for arriving foreign tourists–and at a much later date than the EU or other countries that are planning on rolling out the digital health passports this summer. Japan was previously opposed to a vaccine passport system out of fears that it would discriminate those who cannot be inoculated, for example those with allergies, which is not an insignificant chunk of Japan’s population.

We still expect the aforementioned health safety “journey” to roll out eventually, but it’s possible vaccine passports for arriving tourists will replace or supplement that. Regardless, we expect either or both after the Tokyo Summer Olympics instead of before them. Japan would not block foreign spectators to the summer games but allow visitors for other purposes.

Ultimately, nothing is going to change until Japan’s case numbers see a sustained decline, which will likely require a substantial portion of Japan’s population to be vaccinated to achieve. Other countries that have resumed tourism for vaccinated foreigners before their own populations could be inoculated have faced understandable public backlash among locals; Japan is very sensitive to public trepidations, and will likely avoid a similar controversy.

As such, we recommend Americans, Canadians, and Europeans take a conservative approach when choosing dates for your next trip to Japan. Summer 2021 is now out the window. Our recommendation at this point is late Fall 2021 at the absolute earliest, which seems reasonable from both a vaccine rollout standpoint and is when domestic tourism starts slowing. Now that Japan has made the decision not to allow foreign spectators at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, the border is unlikely to reopen until then.

To end on an optimistic note, as bleak as it feels now for travel to Japan, things could change in a hurry after the Olympics end and vaccinations accelerate. We’re seeing this exact scenario play out in other places where vaccination rates are high; while Japan is more cautious and conservative, they’re also dependent upon tourism. Accordingly, we’re tentatively planning our next trip during fall foliage season in late November 2021–our favorite time of year in Japan!

There’s nothing to say Japan will reopen even by those dates; it’s entirely possible Japan stays closed until early 2022 at this point. 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! If you’d like to be notified as soon as more details are announced by Japan, subscribe to our free email newsletter.

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 until 2022? Thoughts on Japan’s decision not to allow foreign spectators at the Tokyo Summer Olympics? Are you assuaged at all by the relatively low number of cases in Japan? 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!

213 replies
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  1. Victor Davidson
    Victor Davidson says:

    Having visited Japan regularly for 45 years it is in my soul. I can go another 5 years without but it would of be a bonus to visit by 2025.

    Reply
  2. Kristine
    Kristine says:

    Bought tickets for the Olympics. Now contemplating whether to cancel and lose a 20% fee or risk not getting a refund hoping they allow vaccinated people to get in. I’m from the US and anticipate getting the vaccine by June at most. After reading this blog, I’m now leaning to cancellation. 😭

    Reply
    • Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Please don’t fear monger, there is nothing to suggest that the vaccines “will soon be totally ineffective” against mutations. While some may be less resistant to new strains, all evidence currently shows that vaccines continue to offer some protection even against variants, especially in preventing the most severe symptoms and death.

      Reply
    • Curt
      Curt says:

      Did you make your decision, I see CoSport has a 4/9 deadline to choose one of its unreasonable options – 80% refund and waiver of all liability or keep the tickets at your own risk. Weighing the same decision

      Reply
    • Gay L Wilson
      Gay L Wilson says:

      I’m in your camp! As I sit here tonight contemplating my decision (and the possibility of losing $1,600 in fees!), I’ve kept hoping things would change – but I fear that won’t happen either : ( I feel like there should be a class action lawsuit to get our fees back!

      Reply
  3. Meredith Marlin
    Meredith Marlin says:

    I can’t wait to visit Japan when the ban is lifted! I loved hearing they are rediscovering their own culture and I have high hopes “tourism” will be focused less on foreigners and more on Japanese culture!

    Reply
  4. Denisse Montenegro
    Denisse Montenegro says:

    Thank you for all the information. We currently have a trip scheduled for the end of November. I hope things change. We are looking forward to going as soon as they allow 🙂

    Reply
  5. Stefania
    Stefania says:

    I live in Japan, I don t think there will be any opening for tourism this year. Next year maybe but I would not bet on it, not on the same scale as encore at least. However I must, say Japan without foreign tourists Is paradise, and Japanese are rediscovering their own country after years of massive disruptive influx of all kinds of people, from the barbaric uncivilized to the more respectful souls. Personally i hope in a better and more controlled management and entry of tourists. As much they are appreciated for revitalizing economies, they are also disruptive in many ways, often unprepared on basic etiquette if not downright rude.

    Reply
    • Kim
      Kim says:

      I would not be surprised in the least if Japan kept the restrictions high even after the pandemic is long over with. Most Japanese are extremely xenophobic and many are just outright racist. They’ve just been handed the perfect excuse to keep the “dirty gaijin” out and i don’t see them wanting to give that up anytime soon.

      Reply
      • Tom Bricker
        Tom Bricker says:

        What the Japanese people want and what the government does will likely diverge at some point. We’re already seeing that happen with the Olympics–the public is overwhelmingly against the games being held, but they’re going to happen anyway because of the sunk costs and so much of the country’s future tourism prospects (obviously not *during* the Olympics) is riding on the event and the publicity the broadcasts will generate.

        Japan has hitched its economic wagon to the tourism industry. At some point, the reality of that will set in and restrictions will need to be loosened out of necessity, even if it is convenient to scapegoat and vilify the cultural outsiders.

        Reply
    • Will
      Will says:

      That can go both ways I have been to japan and there are just as many Japanese that are volatile to their own country as foreigners I think you have a very narrow-minded perspective of people in general to make such an arrogant statement if you think foreigners only purpose is to help revitalize your economy then you are the one that’s alart of the problem and not the solution

      Reply
    • Henry
      Henry says:

      You are right. Abe’s move to massively increase tourism was a disaster. Tokyo, Kyoto and other popular spots became nightmares and the quality of life was destroyed – all for what was a relatively trivial contribution to GDP. Hopefully, COVID will provide an excuse for the government to backtrack on its disastrous policies.

      Reply
  6. Michael George
    Michael George says:

    Nice that everyone becomes a vax expert for what’s right for Japan based on what one agency or manufacturer says or a study here or there. Doesn’t it take time to see whos actually right, not just politics or money? I can see Japans point, they do have an elderly population, declining already as it is.

    Reply
  7. Ron
    Ron says:

    Hoping to be able to return in October.

    And if you’re booked to go soon, they will make you quarantine for 14 days. So you might as well cancel your trip.

    Reply
  8. Wassim Hellal
    Wassim Hellal says:

    To Vivi, who said im spresding lies, lol you should learn how to talk with respect, i can teach you, foreigner residents who applied for a visa can enter with a specific reason but its rare, so learn how to talk to others redneck, when its not intentional its not a lie, your act like a Karen

    Reply
  9. Jo
    Jo says:

    Hoping to travel to Japan without the 14 day quarantine in early 2022. Hopefully no restrictions. I want to visit Japan in all it’s glory!!

    Reply
  10. PM
    PM says:

    If people with allergies can’t get vaccinated or show proof of a prior infection, they shouldn’t be traveling. It’s nature’s discrimination.
    I’m more interested in them granting “green visas” than “green passports”.
    A lot of people will be looking to travel post vaccination and blow some cash after being trapped for so long.
    The US is expected to have vaccines for everyone who will accept it within the next two months.
    Japan is going to miss a big wave of fat wallet summer tourists for a nonsense reason if they don’t work something out.

    Reply
    • Wassim Hellal
      Wassim Hellal says:

      well, you being vaccinated is not enough, because you can transmit the virus even if you are vaccinated. Vaccination in Japan is going slowly, they need to protect their people, maybe nothing will happen to you, but imagine you give the virus to someone who is not vaccinated, well he could be really sick

      Reply
        • Wassim Hellal
          Wassim Hellal says:

          Too early to say that, the cdc says something, pfizer and moderna say that you can still transmit it, canadian health director said you can still transmit is, its too early to say who is right

    • Wassim Hellal
      Wassim Hellal says:

      right now only 0.5% of the people in japan is vaccinated so and again, you or me being vaccinated we can still give the virus to people

      Reply
      • Suzanne
        Suzanne says:

        They are still figuring out the efficacy of the vaccines on transmission, but so far there is at least 80% efficacy for non-transmission for at least one of the vaccines.

        Reply
        • Wassim Hellal
          Wassim Hellal says:

          Exactly, they are still testing the efficiency of the vaccine on transmission but i think its too soon to have results, with the variants and all

  11. francis parrett
    francis parrett says:

    planned trip from australia in april 2021 have now put back to october 2021 feel sad may have to put back further,,so sd anyway i love japan thank you for your informative article, have to be patient i guess fp australia

    Reply
    • Wassim Hellal
      Wassim Hellal says:

      same thing i was supposed to go in apreil 2020, and after that i changed it for april 2021 and now its gonna be for november 2021, hoppefully we will visit japan

      Reply
  12. Henry
    Henry says:

    Hi, thank you for the informative post. I am checking a ton every day to get updates and I like how this one was very recent. If you could, please do daily updates on the status of getting into Japan – I am very appreciative!

    Thank you.

    Reply
  13. Jen Evans
    Jen Evans says:

    I very much appreciate the info. I’m beyond sad for my daughter (junior in college) who is an “international studies” student. At her university, a semester abroad is required for graduation. Her minor is in Japanese-unfortunately her Summer semester abroad at a Tokyo University in 2020 was of course canceled along with this summer 2021 too. Now, she will have no chance for this requirement/experience as she graduates this coming December. Now my daughter and boyfriend have a personal trip to Japan planned for end of December 2021 into January 2022. It sounds like if your article holds true, that there may be hope for her trip end of this December??

    Reply
    • Han
      Han says:

      I hope your daughter and her boyfriend will be able to go at the end of the year. That is currently my plan right now. My boyfriend and I are long distance, he lives in Japan. The last time we saw each other in person was the beginning of December of 2019. I so hope he is able to come to the US in the late summer, and for I do go to Japan in the winter. We’ve had to change our tickets three times now…so, I hope things will continue to get better.

      Reply
    • Robyn
      Robyn says:

      Hi Carmen,
      I tried to go to Japan through American Airlines in October 2020 and got turned away at the border, if you are a tourist you absolutely cannot enter and I would recommend getting a credit from American Airlines. If you are a foreign resident, or hold a visa (spouse, work, business) you may be able to cross the Japanese border with proper documentation and a 14 day quarantine period. I think the tickets are available for anyone to buy online, but they are mostly targetting Japanese people trying to return back home, hence the price being so cheap. I got this information from the Ministry of Japan and my Japanese friends have also advised me that tourism is impossible at this point.

      Reply
  14. Flávio Gonçalves
    Flávio Gonçalves says:

    I just want to thank you for providing us all these very important information…I was looking forward to visit Japan in fall with friends but even with everything going well, we will certainly have some limitations like masks everywhere, maybe a few rejections there and then. So i honestly think it is better to avoid Japan this year and try it next year…

    Reply
  15. Wassim Hellal
    Wassim Hellal says:

    vaccine passport is a must to travel to be honest (im not for a vaccine passport when its about going to the gym or restaurant but to travel ye), we shouldnt forget that japan is in the G7, UK have the presidency this year, Canada thinks about developping one, UK already has one, USA as well, europe is developping one, I dont think Japan will be the only one of the group without a vaccine passport

    Reply
    • Joe
      Joe says:

      How can they justify a vaccine passport when they say that they don’t even know that it prevents you from infecting others, and are demanding that even vaccinated people still follow the health protocols?

      Reply
      • Wassim Hellal
        Wassim Hellal says:

        the vaccine doesnt prevent you from infecting others, but if the population is vaccinated (japanese) and the travelers are vaccinated, the risk is really low to have complications even if you are infected and others as well. The people in the country you visit should be vaccinated as well, I dont wanna sound selfish, because even if im vaccinated i know i can infect others

        Reply
        • inorm
          inorm says:

          do you even know what you are talking about? If you did, you would have just realized you stepped off a cliff

    • Keith Stonell
      Keith Stonell says:

      The UK does not yet have a vaccine passport, but the Government is considering it (although they are uneasy about this as being a restriction of personal privacy…) I agree that such a passport is needed for travel, but Japan seems to be very slow at getting their vaccinations rolled out!

      Reply
  16. Wassim Hellal
    Wassim Hellal says:

    I was supposed to go in April 2020, I changed it for April 2021, but i had to cancel for a second time in december 2020, since december 2020 I’m planning to go maybe in november 2021, hopefully they will ease borders for those with a vaccine

    Reply
    • D
      D says:

      Did you have to pay a cancelation fee for changing? JAL has not been helpful in giving options if they aren’t open in November. They seem to think rescheduling due to mandatory 14 day quarantine is a voluntary reschedule and will most likely cost a bunch of money.

      Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] However, Japan has made the decision not to allow foreign spectators at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, which means it’s highly likely that the current border closure will last until after August 2021. If you’re still planning a trip for Fall 2021 or beyond that in early 2022, we cover all of the details, whether Japan will use a vaccine passport, and make predictions in When Will Japan Reopen in 2021?  […]

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