Many of us who love Japan or would love to go to Japan have been wondering when will tourists be allowed back? Just to clarify the current situation, unlike many European countries, Japan has barred non-citizens from visiting their country, with few exceptions. According to the US State Department, “Travel for tourism and most other short-term purposes is still not permitted, and there is no indication that this will change in the short term. Visa-free travel is suspended. Travelers who believe they qualify for an exception to Japan’s strict entry controls should contact their nearest Japanese Embassy or consulate for information.”
At this time, COVID-19 cases in Japan are continuing to climb, with most of the country essentially in a lockdown. So, even if you could manage to get into the country, you would be very limited in what you would be able to do.
At the beginning of the epidemic, Japan was doing quite well in comparison to the US and most other countries. We can personally confirm that, having been traveling in Japan in March of 2020. It has been said that this early success lessened the government’s sense of urgency to vaccinate the population. Now, with the more contagious Delta variant spreading rapidly, Japan is doing its best to acquire more vaccines and vaccinate more citizens as fast as possible. Currently, about 80% of seniors are fully vaccinated with only around 39% (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/region/japan) of the population fully protected. According to the Associated Press, Prime Minister Suga said “his goal of fully vaccinating all willing elderly people by the end of July has been mostly achieved. As he pushes to inoculate younger people, Suga aims to fully vaccinate 40% of all those 12 years and older by the end of August, and to complete shots for all those who wish to do so by October or November.”
On August 18, 2021, Japan reported nearly 24,000 new COVID-19 cases, for a total of 1,207,309. Putting that into some perspective, The US State of Florida is reporting 21,669 new cases (nearly as many as all of Japan) and an overall total of 2.96 million cases. The population of Florida is 21,538,187 vs. the country of Japan’s population of 126,476,461 people. So, there are US states that have a much greater per capita COVID-19 rate than Japan.
Getting back to the subject of when tourists can return to Japan, the situation is too volatile to predict with any certainty right now. That said, some experts, like NHK Television’s Peter Barikan, feel that it is unlikely that the country will be open until the spring of 2022 at the earliest. But because there is a much higher rate of mask-wearing compliance in Japan than in the US, it is likely that once 70+ percent of the population has been vaccinated, infection rates should begin to drop fast.
Whenever Japan does reopen to tourism, expect that it will require travelers to show proof of vaccination, and possibly a preflight COVID-19 test result.
So, if you are craving a trip to Japan, this is a terrific time to research your travel options and have fun planning for that someday trip. If you happen upon a great airfare deal and can’t resist, aim for travel in late March at the earliest—and be sure that the ticket is fully refundable if a cancellation is necessary.