Japan tourist restrictions to end on October 11: Independent travel to resume

It’s the news so many Australians have been waiting for: Japan is reopening to independent travellers.

The nation that has been one of the world’s most cautious in its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping its borders closed to tourists into 2022, and then beginning a staged reopening with guided group tours, and then unguided package tours, has announced that from October 11, Japan will resume allowing visa-free, independent travel for foreign visitors.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made the long-awaited announcement during a speech at the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, following a pledge he made in May that Japan would bring its border controls more in line with other Group of Seven nations.

“We are a nation that has flourished through the free flow of people, goods and capital,” Kishida said. “COVID-19, of course, interrupted all of these benefits, but from October 11, Japan will relax border control measures to be on par with the US, as well as resume visa-free travel and individual travel.”

The announcement will be welcome news in Australia in particular, given Antipodean travellers’ fascination with Japan over the past decade. The country was one of our top 10 international destinations before the pandemic – number seven in 2019, just behind Thailand and China – and Japan was also the most-searched country on Traveller.com.au before international travel restrictions took hold.

An October reopening to independent travellers paves the way for Australians to enjoy the ski season this northern hemisphere winter in Japan. Resorts such as Niseko on the northern island of Hokkaido, and Hakuba in Honshu, have long been favourites for Australian skiers and snowboarders, offering mountains of snow combined with off-mountain cultural experiences. The annual cherry-blossom-viewing season, in April, is also now a possibility for those who prefer to travel independently.

There’s further good news for Australians, too: the Japanese yen is currently at its weakest in decades, with one Australian dollar buying almost 95 yen; pre-pandemic, one dollar was buying only 65 yen. That makes a holiday to Japan far more affordable than it previously has been.

Both Qantas and Jetstar have already resumed direct flights to Japan, from Sydney, Cairns and the Gold Coast to Tokyo, with more flights from further destinations expected to be announced following Thursday’s announcement. Japanese airlines ANA and JAL are also operating flights from Sydney and Melbourne into the country.

Japan has maintained some of the strictest border measures among major economies since the pandemic’s onset, having effectively blocked entry to visitors for two years until it began a gradual reopening in June.

Japan’s insistence that visitors obtain visas to enter the country and then adhere to planned package tours has been a major sticking point. Prior to the pandemic, Japan had visa waiver agreements with nearly 70 countries and regions, including Australia, as well as the United States, the European Union, and many Asian neighbours.

From October 11, Japan will restore individual tourism and visa-waiver travel to people from certain countries, including Australia, as long as they are vaccinated. At the same time, it will also scrap a daily cap on arrivals to the country, currently set at 50,000, and may revise regulations on hotels, allowing them to refuse guests who don’t abide by infection controls, such as mask wearing during an outbreak, domestic media reported.

Japan officially let in tourists in June for the first time in two years, but only about 8000 arrived through July, compared with more than 80,000 visitors a day before the pandemic.

See also: Twenty things that will surprise first-time visitors to Japan

See also: Podcast: Why we love Tokyo

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