Just in time for the summer travel season, Japan aims to reopen to international tourists in June. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made the announcement yesterday while visiting London.
“We will further relax controls, so that in June it will be possible to enter the country as smoothly as other G7 nations,” said Kishida.
What that means, exactly, is still unclear, since entry rules are not uniform across G7 nations. For example, the United States, Canada and Germany require foreign leisure travelers to be fully vaccinated, while Italy, France and the United Kingdom do not.
In general, Asian countries have been much slower to reopen to international tourism than the rest of world. In recent months, though, foreign visitors have been welcomed back to a growing number of Asian destinations, including India, South Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia.
Now Kishida has apparently decided that the time is right for Japan to follow suit, and is hoping that tourism will help buoy the weakened Japanese yen.
Kishida has credited his country’s strict entry policies with helping Japan weather the pandemic better than many other nations. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Japan has recorded fewer than 30,000 deaths due to Covid-19, at a rate of 23.5 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Comparatively, over one million Americans have died from Covid-19, at a rate of 302.5 deaths per 100,000 residents.
In another press conference yesterday, Kishida said that changes to Japan’s entry requirements would be implemented in stages. The Japanese government will wait two weeks to see the impact of the Golden Week holidays before making a final decision, reports Nikkei. Japan may reopen first to small tour groups before cranking open the door for general tourism, according to The Japan Times.
For months now, Japan’s tourism industry has been urging the government to allow in more overseas visitors. In the decade before the pandemic, tourism was an enormous success story as the number of foreign visitors ballooned five fold.
By 2019, tourism contributes $359 billion to Japan’s GDP, making it the world’s third-largest tourism market after the United States and China. But, significantly due to Japan’s strict pandemic border measures, the number of foreign visitors plummeted from nearly 32 million in 2019 to just 250,000 last year, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently has Japan on a Level 3 travel health notice, meaning that the destination has a “high” risk of Covid-19 spread. Notably, the United States and 111 other nations in the world are also at Level 3.
To visit countries at Level 3, the CDC recommends that travelers be “up to date” with Covid-19 vaccines – meaning fully vaccinated at boosted – before traveling. About three out of four (74.7%) Americans age 12 and over are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, but fewer than half of Americans eligible for a booster shot have received one.