by Philip Patrick
Wednesday, 8
June 2022
Dispatch
14:00

Japan (reluctantly) lifts ban on foreigners

Visitors are allowed again, but there are strings attached
by Philip Patrick
Tourists can visit Japan — but not the tourist attractions. Credit: Getty

Tokyo

Finally, after two hermetically sealed years, the Japanese government will lift its blanket ban on tourists on 10th June. But before you start planning your trip to the land of the rising sun (and sinking yen — thanks partly to the ban) be aware, there are catches aplenty.

For a start, its tour groups can only be from the 98 countries the government has deemed ‘low risk’. Independent travellers, wherever they come from, remain barred. That excludes a huge number of potential visitors who don’t want to spend their trip shepherded around by a flag-toting guide, or would prefer to choose where and when they eat, or where they stay.

And it’s masks on — at all times. This one is a bit weird as the Japanese government has been making tentative efforts to wean people off face coverings of late, at least when you are not chatting. This has not been due to any latent Covid scepticism, but out of fear that with seriously hot weather approaching, it might not be a great idea to walk around with your face swathed in cotton. Thousand of people are hospitalised due to heat exhaustion each year in Japan so the advice makes sense, but the consideration does not apparently extend to foreign visitors.

Also curious is that tour companies are being told not to take their clients to areas with large numbers of people…like tourist attractions. Meiji Jingu shrine, Tokyo tower, and Disneyland may be struck off the itinerary then.

Tour guides will be instructed to closely ‘monitor’ their groups, and at the first cough or splutter, to isolate them. They are also being instructed to keep a close eye on trouble-makers (i.e. anyone not wearing a mask or not sanitising their hands). They too will be identified and may be summarily ejected.

It’s hard not to feel this singling out of foreigner visitors a bit disturbing. Although mask wearing and hand sanitising remains obsessive in Japan, it is all voluntary. There are virtually no restrictions left and if you do want to walk around maskless, it is most unlikely anyone will challenge you. Why should visitors from countries declared safe, who have submitted negative PCR tests to qualify for entry, and paid thousands of pounds for their tour, be treated not just as cash cows but as lab rats too?

There are two reasons: politics and bureaucracy. It has been startling to witness how popular the ban on tourists has been; PM Fumio Kishida has been enjoying historically high approval ratings, and with Upper House elections in July there seems little point in changing a winning formula. What’s more, a whole industry has been created around the enforcement of a bewilderingly complex set of regulations with thousands employed and a huge budget. Dismantling that and redeploying the staff, in a country where government employees are almost never laid off, is not easy, or, for those in power, necessarily desirable.

But Kishida had to do something: he has faced heavy criticism from the tourism sector with visitor numbers down 90% from pre-pandemic times; and grumblings from overseas, with Japan retaining some of the strictest Covid entry requirements of the G7.

Given the niggardly welcome, initial numbers aren’t likely to be huge. If all goes well, his partial reopening will be declared a success and little by little the restrictions will be dropped. And if all doesn’t go well, the government will try to limit the damage by blaming the tourism sector lobbyists.

My advice to anyone contemplating Japan for a holiday is to hold off until all restrictions have been removed and traditional Japanese hospitality has been fully restored. When that will be is anyone’s guess. Mine is a short period after the elections have been successfully concluded.

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Jason Highley
Jason Highley
17 days ago

As someone who lived in Japan from 2016 to 2020, it doesn’t surprise me that the Japanese should have become so comfortable becoming so insular. I think these policies will last longer than you think they will. Case in point: how difficult it was even pre-COVID to try to work or immigrate as a foreigner.

Tommy Dill
Tommy Dill
16 days ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

I lived in Japan in the early 2000s. It’s extremely insular even in this day and age.

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
17 days ago

Even at its most welcoming, Japan is always in a defensive posture against ‘foreigners’. Discrimination is the norm, whether positive or negative. The positive can be very pleasant if one’s visit is short-term, but staying longer, as in working or living there, one will soon encounter the negative, and it can be quite jarring. They are very hospitable, but the firm expectation is that you will be leaving soon.

Last edited 17 days ago by Alan Girling
R Wright
R Wright
16 days ago

The xenophobia of the Japanese is a powerful thing. It has helped keep their country stable and peaceful for decades. They take only a few dozen refugees a year normally.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
16 days ago
Reply to  R Wright

And they are allowed to adopt that strategy without being pilloried? How about such as happy Bhutan, a country that, I believe, proudly ejects its citizens on a regular basis and takes no refugees in order to remain ethnically pure. All whilst being lauded as an icon of cultural beautification…anyone else smell the hypocrisy?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
15 days ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

The identitarian Left, critical theory and all that guff is overwhelmingly a western phenomenon, originating in German and French academia and then further toxified in the US’s political polarised condition. They actually only care about America, as you can see from the rhetoric and terminology, occasionally showing a slight interest in Britain in passing (‘terf island’ ‘hands up, don’t shoot’!) and have absolutely no interest let alone understanding of non-Western nations and cultures.

Last edited 15 days ago by Andrew Fisher
Chris Neyt
Chris Neyt
15 days ago

We left our yacht in Japan on December 10, 2019 to spend wintermonths in the Philippines. Than came the pandemic and since then, we moved heaven and earth to be aurhorized to enter the country to take our property and sail away. The japanese authorities refused. Now 2 1/2 years later nothing in their attitude is changed and we are desperate. Our beautiful yacht who is our real home since 1994 is rotting in a small marina.
Do somebody have an idea how to handle this

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
16 days ago

An involuntary tribute to its oft-despised neighbour, the “Hermit Kingdom”?

Peter Spurrier
Peter Spurrier
16 days ago

Isn’t the Japanese attitude to foreigners quite natural and normal? I sympathise with it.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
16 days ago

Perhaps Japan is just trying to protect its ageing population susceptible to Covid!

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
17 days ago

How truly dreadful , and thank you for alerting us to the pathetic state of Japan.
Odd that the fabled ‘land of the Samurai’ should be reduced to such a jibbering wreck by a mere two Nuclear bombs. I for one thought they had more resilience.
What happened to the Bushido spirit may I ask?

Last edited 15 days ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
16 days ago

Why would anyone really want go to Japan? Like China it is almost bereft of any buildings of real historical interest, thanks to a policy of building mainly in wood and brick. Unfortunately many such buildings that do remain, have been massively ‘reconstructed’.
The topography is hardly exceptional, and the people schizophrenic to say the least.
For naval buffs there is however the 1902 British built Pre-Dreadnought ‘Mikasa’ the only one of its kind to survive*.
Otherwise I would advise anyone heading east to try both Taiwan and South Korea where they will encounter a far friendlier reception.

(* Admiral Tojo’s flagship at the 1905 Battle of Tsushima, that saw the near total destruction of the Russian Imperial Fleet.)

Andrew F
Andrew F
16 days ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Thanks for alternative take on Japan.
I always wanted to visit Japan (Kurosawa movies) and NZ (scenery of Lord of the Rings) but it looks like both are most unwelcoming countries on Earth.
I hated covid restrictions and definitely will not visit country with mask mandates, especially outdoor and only for visitors.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
15 days ago
Reply to  Andrew F

The most splendid things in NZ are the sheep….the real ones!