After more than two years, Japan opened back up to Australian travellers on June 10 this year. Well, sort of. It opened to foreign visitors who arrive as part of an approved organised tour group, and who have private medical insurance.
“There is no requirement for number of days or number of passengers, and flights may be booked separately, but the trip must be fully escorted from arrival airport to departure airport,” Japan National Tourism Organisation’s (JNTO) Sydney-based executive director Yoko Tanaka told Traveller at the time.
Though Australians travellers are no longer required to quarantine or to complete a COVID-19 test on arrive, they do need to produce a negative PCR test within 72 hours of their flight to Japan, and, as mentioned, be part of a group tour that will organise VISAs for them and have private medical insurance.
So, with all those rules of entry, are travellers visiting? Looks like no. Between June 10 and July 10, the country welcomed a mere 1,500 leisure tourists from around the world, according to data from Japan’s Immigration Services Agency via CNN Travel.
That compared to pre-pandemic visit numbers, which showed over 522,000 Australian residents returned from a short visit to Japan in 2019, a rise of over 13% on 2018 figures, reports the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). This meant that Japan became the seventh most popular international destination for Australians — the result of more than 10 years of impressive visitor growth.
“Ultimately, Japan’s strength and appeal as a travel destination lies in our difference,” Tanaka told The Latch. She says the country’s appeal is in the one-of-a-kind experiences it offers.
“Whether you are a foodie looking to hit the city streets to discover Japan’s culinary scene, an adventure seeker looking for thrills and snowsports on majestic snowy mountains, or you enjoy exploring Japan’s rich and unique history and culture — it’s all here.”
Though Nicola Laing, a group manager, is a big fan of Japan, she has no plans to visit soon — for a couple reasons.
“Group tours aren’t for me,” she says. “My partner and I are holding out for it to open for ski season. I am also hoping that it will be quiet this year because if they don’t decide to open it until the very last minute, I assume prices will be really high and lots of people won’t go.”
She says she’d also prefer to go to Japan during ski season so she can resume the 2020 holiday she had to cut short because of COVID.
For others, like Chris Singh, a digital writer and another frequent Japan visitor, it’s a matter of taking advantage of Japan’s restrictions to push him to try somewhere new.
“I’ve taken all of my annual leave to go to Europe for the simple fact that I’ve only ever been to Europe once before,” he says. “I’ve been Japan seven or eight times.”
Alyce Thomas, a senior partnerships manager, who did a semester exchange in Japan and has been several times since, says her choice to overlook Japan this year is the result of wanting a summer holiday after lockdown and rain NSW has seen.
“My focus is Europe next year, then maybe Japan back on the list again following that,” she says.
As for the group tour factor being the drawback, Katie Skelly, a content lead who’s written extensively about Japan and has been three times, sees both sides. She says she’s booked several tours during her visits there.
“There’s something to be said for the knowledge only a local can pass on,” she says. “Having said that, I do get why people aren’t rushing to join a tour — I have several friends waiting for Japan to open up fully, at which time they’ll book the first planes out.”
Skelly thinks that after being grounded for several years, travellers want to be reminded of what it means to be free.
“They want to swap schedules for spontaneity,” she says. “They want to wander aimlessly. They want to wake up one day with no agenda and let that day happen to them. I know I want those things, too.“
No word yet on when the final traveller restrictions in Japan will be lifted. “We are looking ahead to a broader resumption of travel to Japan from Australia, and are working with travel agencies, airlines, and other organisations, to prepare,” says the JNTO rep.
For more information, they suggest visiting:
・Border measures to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan)
・COVID-19: Current Japanese Border Measures and Restrictions (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)