Japan Travel Update

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Japan Travel Update

The Japan borders are currently not fully open to all tourists. See the Japan travel update below for information on the current state of play.

Updated Aug 17th 2022

The question on every powder hound’s lips is “when will Japan fully open to skiers and snowboarders?”.

The Japanese borders have been closed to your average tourist for what seems like eons. This extreme caution is frustrating for those chomping at the bit to chase powder, but the approach to risk and conservative behaviour is part of the culture of the Japanese. Other than the powder, we have to remind ourselves that the unique Japanese culture is one of the reasons that travelling there is so appealing.

Progressive Reopening

Japan has taken a few baby steps towards reopening borders to tourists, and caps on daily arrivals into Japan have increased to 20,000. Whilst self-guided independent travellers cannot visit, tour groups are permitted to enter the country with some fairly strict provisos (see below).

Business travellers on short stays and students studying in Japan are also able to enter.

Most travellers don’t need a Covid-19 test or to quarantine. Only visitors from Pakistan, Fiji, Albania and Sierra Leone need to undergo quarantine. Visitors from “yellow zone” countries are also required to undergo testing and quarantine if not fully vaccinated.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has indicated that Japan will move forwards with easing of border controls in a staged approach, whilst carefully monitoring domestic infections and the further rollout of booster vaccinations.

Whilst many Japanese people are happy for the tight border controls to remain in place, a major driver to open is likely to be the dire need for economic growth. The Japanese yen has been way down at a 20 year low (which is why many ski packages are currently so inexpensive), and boosting tourism is a key element to economic revival.

Monitored Tour Groups – Guided Package Tours

Since early June 2022, rules have been in place to allow group tourism in Japan. The many stipulations are somewhat laughable and “Japanese”, but they are at least a step in the right direction.

Examples of some of the rules
  • Visitors must be from one of the countries (within 14 days of entry to Japan) deemed as low risk by Japan (see blue category here – they mustn’t have wanted a green category because of the green Covid emoji!).  
  • Tours must be arranged by travel agencies, with Japanese travel service providers (ie land operators) providing the tour. Itineraries must be prearranged and booked by your agent.
  • Guests must be accompanied by a tour leader from entry to departure so there’s no sneaking off to Lawsons convenience store for a midnight snack.
  • You must take out travel insurance that provides cover if you contract Covid19.
  • There are various Japanese style paperwork procedures and applications.
  • There are lots of guidelines that outline risk minimisation such as hand hygiene, wearing a mask, social distancing and not talking too loudly in public!
  • The tour guide has to keep track of everyone’s movements including information on facilities used, seat locations on transportation, and seating arrangements in restaurants (no playing of musical chairs)!
  • Visitors must agree that infractions may lead to them not being able to continue to participate in the tours.

Current Covid 19 Situation

Japan has undergone another spike in Covid infections and perhaps it's now just on the downward trend. Cases were reasonably low during spring and they are now at 1,572 daily cases per million people (196,000). Cases include the highly transmissible BA.5 Omicron subvariant.

Whilst the good news is that hospitalisation rates have not increased, death rates continue to increase and the Covid situation has put the brakes on reopening plans. With so much Covid spreading around, you'd think that they wouldn't be too concerned about tourists bringing Covid into the country, but perhaps it's more about putting additional strain on the health system.

When Will Border Restrictions Lifts?

If hospitalisation rates remain reasonably low and the peak of the current wave has just passed, the government may downgrade the Covid alert rating. Best case scenario, the border restrictions could be loosened in late August.

However it’s more likely that restrictions will be lifted in an ongoing staged approach and there are no guarantees that the current wave will run its course according to plan. Hopefully come mid-September, it will be clear what the plan is for ongoing reopening and October will mark a time for celebration. Fingers crossed! In the meantime, we’ll just keep rubbing our crystal ball.

What if Japan Isn’t Fully Open by 22/23 Ski Season?

First of all, we’ll all cry in our coffee.

We work with a few Japanese tour operators that may be able to conform to the rules of the guided tour packages. For those lucky enough to snag a spot on one of these multi-day tours, the powder rewards will be abundant. The tour operators would need to make modifications to the trips such that a guide needs to be with the guests for every part of the trip, and this may include accompanying guests from Tokyo airports if necessary, as well as applying for guests' visas. Nothing is definite at this stage but these tour operators may be able to continue to provide multi-day tours that are fully hosted:
We’ll provide updates on the Powderhounds Facebook Page regarding any applicable tours that will be operating.

For other tour operators not under Japanese ownership, you’ll need to cancel your trip. Each tour operator’s T&Cs are listed for each tour on Powderhounds.com and include whether penalty-free cancellations are possible prior to a certain date or whether cancellations are fine if Japanese border restrictions remain in place. In a few instances, a credit to the following year is applied.

If looking to book accommodation there are some great deals on offer at the moment. Lots of hotels and other lodging differ with respect to what happens if border restrictions prevent travel. Most are generous and offer the ability to cancel with no penalty by a certain date. You’ll need to check an individual property’s cancellation policy for information. If booking a ski package, the ability to cancel is also related to the specific hotel/accommodation.