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Japan to welcome back tourists after 2-year pandemic shutdown

Starting June 10, Americans and many other foreign visitors can travel to Japan on guided tours

Tourists in traditional Japanese kimonos walk in the Asakusa district in Tokyo in July 2020. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)
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After closing to foreign tourists for more than two years, Japan will allow a wide range of leisure travelers back in next month — with conditions.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Thursday that starting June 10, the nation will welcome visitors on guided package tours, which include transportation and accommodations. Tourists from 98 countries with low coronavirus infection rates will be permitted; the United States is in that group. June’s larger reopening follows a small trial that allowed about 50 people on organized tours to visit 12 prefectures, starting this week.

“Step by step we will aim to accept [tourists] as we did in normal times, taking into consideration the status of infections,” he said.

Visitors from the low-risk countries will not have to show proof of vaccination and will not need to isolate or test on arrival regardless of their vaccination status. According to a checklist published by Japan’s National Tourism Organization, travelers must show proof of a negative test within 72 hours of departure for the country.

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The number of people allowed to enter the country daily will increase to 20,000 from the current cap of 10,000. The current number includes business travelers, foreign workers and students but not tourists.

Japan has tightly controlled its borders throughout the pandemic and continued to ban tourists even after many other Asian destinations started welcoming visitors back. With leisure travelers prohibited, just 250,000 visited the country last year, compared to more than 30 million annually before the pandemic.

The country’s tourism agency estimated that a little more than 100,000 people visited the country between January and March compared to more than 8 million people during the same period in 2019.

Seino Satoshi, president of Japan National Tourism Organization, said in a statement that the group is working with local governments, destination marketing organizations, travel agencies at home and abroad, airlines and others to prepare for inbound travel to start again.

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“I wholeheartedly welcome the accelerating pace at which the international community is preparing for the recovery of travel for tourism purposes,” he said. “The government has announced a policy on Japan initiating action to join that effort. I take this as a first step toward the recovery of inbound tourism to Japan.”

Peggy Goldman, president and co-owner of tour operator Friendly Planet Travel, said Friday that her company has been preparing to bring tourists back to Japan. Given the limits on how many people can come to the country, she expects the return to roll out slowly.

“Honestly, I don’t believe that we’re going to be able to actually start a robust touring program before next spring,” she said.

“There is demand,” she said. “We’ll be able to evaluate how much demand we have once we tell people that we’re beginning to take reservations.”

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