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Will Japan open to tourists this winter 2022/2023? It’s a tough one

Otaru winter

This is the one question on everyone’s mind. For over 2 years since the start of covid-19, Japan has held its reins tight with its border policy. While other developed nations have welcomed overseas tourists again with welcome arms, Japan has been using a drip-feed approach. Its current regulations allow only pre-arranged guided tour groups by a travel agency. The daily cap of arrivals is set at 20,000, but this number includes Japanese nationals and foreign residents. With such a slow approach, the number of COVID cases rising, no roadmap for the country’s reopening and the government’s tendency to backflip on its decisions, will Japan open to tourists fully for the winter 2022/2023 season?

Daily cap on arrivals

Japan has been capping the number of daily arrivals since opening its borders to non-Japanese. It started with a 3,500 limit in November 2021 before gradually increasing every few months (7,000 in mid-March,10,000 in mid-April, then to the current cap of 20,000 daily arrivals, which was set on 1 June). If the numbers continue on this path, the cap will be around 100,000 to 150,000 by December 2021. Keep in mind, though, that this number also includes Japanese nationals. Therefore, Japan will be open to tourists in winter, but how many people will it grant entry? It is hard to guess.

Japan is keeping a cap on the daily arrivals into the country

Rising Covid-19 cases

Keeping a low number of Covid-19 cases has been a priority for the Japanese government since the start of Covid-19. It has been an influencing factor in its policy decisions. On Friday, 23 July, the number of cases surpassed 200,000 for the first time. Yet the government announced that it would not consider any new restrictions despite the rising numbers – a positive sign. However, the government also recently suspended the Go To Travel campaign, a program targeted at the domestic Japanese market, encouraging travel. This move raises questions about exactly what direction the government is going. Although there is no introduction of new restrictions, the government does not want to support activities that will increase numbers either. Opening borders will undoubtedly lead to a rise in cases, so whether the government will fully open Japan to tourists by this winter remains to be seen.

Keeping the Japanese people happy

The government currently allows entry only to tourists that are part of guided tours arranged by the travel agent. This conservative approach is to satisfy both opposing views of the Japanese business and tourism industry and the Japanese people. Japanese businesses and the tourism industry have been demanding that borders reopen so their struggling companies can stay alive. The Japanese people, however, overwhelmingly prefer to keep the borders closed and foreigners away. Culturally the Japanese people are homogeneous and do not look favourably upon non-Japanese. The government, therefore, has been very cautious in its response. Whether Japan will permit independent travel by the time winter comes around will depend on the sentiment of the Japanese people. And that is something we cannot predict.

A director at Ibaraki's tourism division, left, escorts tourists from Hawaii as they tour a shrine. Photographer: Kanoko Matsuyama/Bloomberg

Staying hopeful

Japan is the one country that people worldwide are waiting for to open completely. When that is, it remains unknown. The Japanese government is currently amid discussions on the matter, and a decision is expected to be made in the coming weeks. If Japan does open its borders to tourists this winter, it would be a welcome relief. However it is still unclear if the country would be willing to take on the risk of allowing tourists in. Only time will tell if Japan will be open to tourists for this coming winter 2022/2023 season. We hope that international skiers and snowboarders will be able to join us in Japow soon. Until then get in touch and let us know how we can assist you in preparation for your next ski trip. 

Have any questions regarding the above? Feel free to send us your enquiry to [email protected].

Anthea Hung

Anthea Hung

Anthea is the Co-Founder and COO of Hokkaido Ski Club. She also loves teaching ski and snowboard, having almost 20 years of teaching experience as a snowsports instructor, violin and piano teacher. She is passionate about children and education in the hope of making the world a better place. When not on snow, she loves meeting new people, delighting in international cuisines, and spending time with her family.
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