Japan's Resumption of Accepting Foreigners as a Sign of Recovery from the Coronavirus Pandemic
By Tetsuhiro Hagiwara
On October 11, 2022, the Japanese government drastically eased border control measures (entry requirements) and reopened visa-free entry to Japan for visitors from 68 countries and regions. In a delay of several months after similar measures were relaxed in Europe, the U.S., and other countries around the world, Japan’s ban preventing foreign travelers entering the country was finally lifted. In Japan, there are daily upbeat news reports such as "foreigners are rushing to Japan because of the weak yen" and "foreign tourists are buying explosively again". In this issue, I would like to focus on the resumption of accepting foreign visitors to Japan, which could be a catalyst for the Japanese economy to finally turn upward after the long, long tunnel of the Coronavirus pandemic.
1. Relaxation of border control measures (entry requirements) by the Japanese government
First, let us review the entry requirements into Japan as of the end of October 2022. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, “After midnight on October 11, 2022 (Japan Standard Time), all returnees and entrants to Japan, with the exception of those with symptoms of suspected infection with the coronavirus, will not, in principle, be subject to inspection upon entry, and will not be required to wait at home or in accommodation after entering Japan, to follow up during the waiting period, or to refrain from using public transportation. In principle, no inspection will be conducted at the time of entry for all returnees and entrants, except for those with symptoms. However, all returnees and entrants shall be required to submit either a certificate of vaccination (3 doses) with a vaccine listed on the World Health Organization's Emergency Use List or a certificate with a negative result of a test taken within 72 hours prior to departure from the country.”
Since March of this year, when the corona outbreak was under control, the Japanese government has gradually eased restrictions on the entry of foreigners, resuming the admission of tourists in June for group travel only, and in September, raising the daily limit to 50,000. However, due to persistent requests from various quarters for the resumption of individual travel and visa-free visits to Japan, the situation has finally returned to a level close to what it was before the Coronavirus pandemic. As a result, the cap of 50,000 daily visitors has been lifted, individual travelers are now accepted, and those entering Japan for tourism purposes from outside the country are exempted from obtaining the short-stay visas that they were seeking, bringing them in line with the entry requirements of Europe, the U.S., and other countries around the world.
In comparison to before the Coronavirus pandemic, a certificate with a negative test result within 72 hours of travel is still required for "those who have not received three doses of the vaccine." However, considering the fact that approximately 70% of the world's population has been vaccinated at least once, it can be said that the hurdle has been lowered considerably for travelers planning to visit Japan.
The Japanese government has stated that it will continue to require all visitors returning to or entering Japan to present a certificate of three vaccinations or a negative PCR test result within 72 hours prior to departure from Japan. The U.S. and Japan are the only G7 countries that have introduced this measure, and both governments will consider easing the measure after assessing the state of infections domestically and overseas, and the response of other countries.
<Pre-register online for quarantine and customs procedures, vaccination certificates, and other documents required for entry into Japan>
At a post-cabinet press conference on October 18, Digital Minister Taro Kono announced that “Visit Japan Web,” a web-based support site that enables foreign tourists visiting Japan and Japanese nationals returning from overseas to complete quarantine, customs, and other procedures necessary for entry into Japan online, will be integrated with the “MY (My SOS)” (Confirmation of the Health and Whereabouts of the Swine Flu) function, which allows registration of vaccination certificates and negative testimonies for entry requirements against new-coronavirus infection, on November 1. (As part of efforts to unify online pre-entry procedures, MY SOS will cease to be offered on November 14). Some of the information entered so far is common information, such as passport details and date of return, and the integration will reduce the number of times for entering that information and improve convenience. At the press conference, Minister Kono said, "The Visit Japan Web will allow you to complete the necessary (web-based) procedures for entry into Japan. We want to make sure that you enter all the necessary information before you arrive so that you can pass smoothly through the airport".
2. Foreign visitors to Japan enjoying "Cool Japan" and "Cheap Japan”
Now, as mentioned above, the hurdle for foreigners to visit Japan has finally been lowered. In Japan, it is reported every day that the number of foreign tourists is increasing in popular tourist destinations such as Tokyo and Osaka.
Increasing number of foreign tourists in various places, including tourist destinations
Foreign tourists touring Tokyo
Tourists from Denmark listening to a guide in front of Sensoji Temple
Some enjoy shopping with the weak yen
A couple from Israel
Foreign man shopping for anime goods in Akihabara
3. Japanese government's intention to aim for 5 trillion yen in tourism consumption per year and expectations from the economic community
I would like to share the Japanese government's expectations for inbound consumption and the industry's reaction to the recent significant easing of entry requirements.
Before the Coronavirus pandemic, a record 31.88 million foreign travelers visited Japan in 2019. Inbound spending amounted to approximately 4.8 trillion yen annually, bringing significant economic benefits to the metropolitan area and tourist destinations. However, from the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the Japanese government began gradually strengthening its border control measures, and the number of inbound visitors to Japan plummeted to 4.11 million in 2020 and 240,000 in 2021, with the tourism industry still suffering a major blow. Japan continues to have the strictest entry restrictions among the G7 countries, and was in the process of receiving requests from various countries for the resumption of tourism for individuals. As for the Japanese government's intention, Prime Minister Kishida stated in his policy speech in early October that "Japan is a country that has prospered through the free flow of people, goods, and money to and from the rest of the world. With the weak yen and other factors as a backdrop, we would like to achieve an annual inbound consumption exceeding 5 trillion yen, which is more than the amount before the Coronavirus pandemic". With the recent drastic easing of entry requirements, the government intends to resume full-scale tourism. The Japanese government has also announced its intention to formulate a new plan to become a "tourism-oriented nation" by the end of this fiscal year, with the perspective of hosting the Osaka-Kansai World Expo in 2025.
Nomura Research Institute estimates that the economic impact of the increase in the number of visitors to Japan will be 2.1 trillion yen in 2023. And SMBC Nikko Securities forecasts that inbound spending will regain its pre-COVID momentum by the end of 2024, taking into account the effect of the yen's depreciation, and is expecting a resurgence of explosive buying by visitors to Japan against the backdrop of the historically weak yen.
The response of the economic community to the government's action has, of course, been positive, with airlines, whose business performance had been severely affected by the previous border control measures, seeing a sharp increase in bookings for international flights from overseas to Japan immediately after easing of the ban was announced.
JAL (Japan Airlines)
(Expressing support for the easing of entry requirements)
"We want to be well prepared to welcome our customers and contribute to the recovery of the Japanese economy."
ANA (All Nippon Airways), President Inoue
"We are very pleased with the long-awaited deregulation. The economic impact of visitors to Japan before the Coronavirus pandemic was approximately 5 trillion yen, and we expect to see a recovery of the same scale. (Also, regarding the resumption of visa-free individual tourism) I believe that many people who have not been able to visit Japan for a long time will be able to come to Japan from now on. We expect to see an increase in demand not only for urban tourism, but also for regional tourism."
Narita International Airport Corporation, President Tamura
"The reason why the number of international arrivals and departures has not increased is because of Japan's strict entry requirements, so we are very grateful for the easing [or requirements]. I think it will take one or two months to see the actual effect. We will watch with anticipation whether demand for air travel will recover from the year-end and New Year holidays."
With the recent drastic relaxation of entry requirements, there are high expectations for inbound consumption by foreign visitors to Japan as a catalyst for Japan's economic recovery, but a look at reactions overseas reveals that foreign visitors' mindsets are not necessarily favorable.
The Washington Post (U.S.A.), in an article titled "Japan is reopening. But the effects of its border closure will linger," pointed out the following. "Japan strictly limits foreign arrivals out of covid-19 concerns, a scientifically specious approach that has made the country an outlier among top economies and most Asia-Pacific neighbors that have reopened to tourists.
Xenophobia has festered as policymakers and news coverage have tied foreigners to the spread of the virus. Investors, academics and international students have diverted their plans elsewhere. Even after Japan began accepting group tours recently, the intense monitoring and bureaucratic hurdles have largely kept tourists’ interest at bay.
Now, Japan faces a credibility gap as it looks to rejoin the world. Figures in business, academia, policymaking and diplomacy are concerned the closure has punctured Japan’s image as a culture that values hospitality. Even with a full reopening, Japan would need concrete steps to restore its standing."
Also, Chinese tourists, who were the main source of demand and inbound consumption in Japan before the Coronavirus pandemic, spending approximately 9.5 million in 2019, are expected to take a certain amount of time to return to Japan as overseas travel is still heavily restricted under the Chinese government's strong "Zero Corona Policy." The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts that the number of world travelers will exceed the pre-COVID level by 103% in 2024 compared to 2019, but only 97% will be in from the Asia-Pacific region, and it will be 2025 before the number exceeds pre-COVID levels. In the Asia-Pacific region, the recovery is expected to be delayed in China, where restrictions have not been eased.
Other reasons for why the number of foreign visitors to Japan and inbound demand is unlikely to return to 2019 levels all at once, according to Nomura Research Institute, include the current high rate of new infections in Japan compared to other countries and the fact that many countries will refrain from overseas travel if the global economy slows in the future due to soaring prices and tightening monetary policies.
However, we should learn from the experiences and measure outcomes of Europe and the U.S., which have been ahead of other countries in restoring borders and accepting foreigners during the coronavirus pandemic, and look forward to future trends to revive "Japan, the land of hospitality" that attract tourists from all over the world, while meanwhile balancing preventing the spread of infection and recovering inbound travel.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Japan Tourism Agency
The Washington Post
Nomura Research Institute
Global Outlook for Air Transport Times of Turbulence - IATA