After two years of locked borders, Japan is reopening to small groups of 'test tourists' on chaperoned package tours.
Japan has reopened to international tourists from the 10 June - but only those booked on private tour groups approved by the government.
The tourists will be some of the first to visit the country since it slammed its borders shut at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
They’ll have their itineraries cautiously managed, and be accompanied by tour conductors at all times.
For many, the appeal of travel lies in spontaneity - discovering hidden gems that aren’t in any guidebooks.
But after the two-year ban, would you sacrifice some freedoms for the chance to see Japan?
How do you book one of Japan's guided tours?
From 10 June, tourists will be allowed to enter from countries on Japan's 'blue list'. This includes the UK, the US and a number of countries in the European Union.
They will also need to be sponsored and registered on the Entrants, Returnees Follow-up System (ERFS) by an approved Japanese travel agent.
As the website is entirely in Japanese, anyone wanting to visit will need the help of a specialist tour operator.
Once they have booked a tour, tourists have to:
- Take an approved COVID-19 test (RT-PCR or LAMP test or a qualitative antigen test) 72 hours before their flight departure time.
- Sign a written pledge committing to abide by self-isolation and quarantine rules alongside a number of other requirements.
- Complete a health questionnaire and obtain a QR code.
You can find the approved list of COVID tests here.
Why is Japan offering package tours?
The new experiment is a way of testing how tourism providers deal with outbreaks of Covid-19.
The government defended the program as a necessary stepping stone to open borders.
“In reopening Japan to overseas tourism, it is necessary to consider how to foster a sense of understanding and peace of mind,” Minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism Tetsuo Saito said.
After the project, the government will compile guidelines for travel agencies including measures to be taken if a tourist contract Covid.
Japan is currently recording a seven-day rolling average of around 35,000 new virus cases per day, but is cautious to let in visitors in case they import new variants.
When will Japan open up to all tourists?
Earlier this month, prime minister Fumio Kishida told a City of London event that the government would heavily relax border controls in June - but he has not yet elaborated further.
For many in the country’s beleaguered tourism industry, it can’t come soon enough.
In 2019, Japan hosted 31.9 million foreign visitors, who spent 4.81tn yen (€35.2billion). This revenue all but disappeared when the pandemic hit.
When the beautiful island country does re-open, tourists will flock back to its bustling cities, snow-capped mountains, and volcanic islands.