Update: Japan Border Reopening

Update: It looks like the border reopening has been set for October 11.

Well it seems it didn’t take too long since my last post, but we interrupt my permanent hiatus to inform you that the Prime Minister of Japan has announced plans for Japan to further ease border restrictions next month. He announced this last night at a dinner in New York City, where he has attended the United Nations General Assembly.

More details are yet to come, but as of right now it’s *expected* that if you have had three COVID shots and are coming from a country or territory that has a visa exemption with Japan for short-term travel, you will be able to enter Japan without testing, quarantine or travel restrictions! This is what is being widely reported by media outlets.

I am still not planning to actively contribute to this page, especially right now as I have more things that I have to worry about… recently I suffered a fall in my summer home, broke my hip and underwent a hip replacement surgery. However I did want to pass along the good news that one of our favorite countries now appears to be taking steps to reopen to independent tourism!

Once I have additional details I’ll pass them along.

Update on Japan’s Quarantine Measures

Updated on February 28, 2022 to reflect Japan’s definition of “fully vaccinated” for quarantine purposes, and rules on public transportation.

Following up on last week’s post regarding the opening of Japan’s borders to foreigners for purposes other than tourism, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has posted an update to their web page concerning Border measures to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

If you can fully read and understand all of the measures on that web page, you deserve an award. It’s extremely complicated with a myriad of rules and regulations that are both recently updated and left over since the onset of the pandemic.

What the page does specify, however, is how quarantine will be handled for arrivals starting next month.

Currently, all international arrivals are required to quarantine for seven days. Either three or six of those days, depending on where the traveler has stayed in the last two weeks, must be spent at a government quarantine facility while the remaining time is spent in self-isolation at a hotel or residence of the traveler’s choosing. These rules are regardless of whether or not someone is vaccinated.

Starting on March 1st, the Japanese government will change the quarantine rules based on two criteria:
* Where the traveler has been in the last two weeks, and
* Whether or not the traveler is fully vaccinated against COVID-19

IMPORTANT NOTE: Japan defines “fully vaccinated” as having received a full series of COVID-19 vaccinations AND a booster shot. For the full series, Japan recognizes the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson vaccines. For the booster, Japan recognizes Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

If a traveler is arriving from a country or territory that has been designated by the Japanese government as high risk for COVID-19 (or in the government documentation, at risk for the Omicron variant):
* If not fully vaccinated, the traveler must spend three days at a quarantine facility and must take a test after three days.
* If fully vaccinated, the traveler must spend seven days in home quarantine in principle, however quarantine can end after a minimum of three days and a negative COVID test result.

If a traveler is arriving from a country or territory that has been designated by the Japanese government as low risk for COVID-19:
* If not fully vaccinated, the traveler must spend seven days in home quarantine in principle, however quarantine can end after a minimum of three days and a negative COVID test result.
* If fully vaccinated, no quarantine is required.

Public transportation restrictions:
If quarantine IS NOT required, there are no restrictions on the use of public transportation.
If home quarantine is required, public transportation is allowed only to and from the location of quarantine using the most direct route. This applies for the duration of the quarantine.
If facility quarantine is required, I infer from the posted regulations that the use of public transportation will only be allowed after finishing the quarantine.

As always I’ll share more updates as they become available and understood!

Japan’s Revised Border Measures (No Tourists for now)

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has officially announced the new border measures for foreigners who would like to enter Japan, which will take effect from March 1, 2022. Foreigners will be permitted to enter Japan for purposes except tourism (which is what many had expected).

Here’s what border measures will look like starting on March 1st:
– Daily arrival caps (Japanese citizens and foreigners alike) will be increased to 5,000 per day
– Foreign arrivals will be required to be under the supervision of a person or an organization responsible for the visit. Tourists will still be denied entry for the time being.
– Quarantine will remain at seven days, however, those who test negative for COVID-19 after three days and meet certain other conditions will be eligible to end their quarantine early
– Those who have received three shots of a COVID-19 vaccine AND are arriving from a location deemed low-risk for COVID by the Japanese government will not have to quarantine at all

Note: There will probably be some other requirements forthcoming that are not in the initial news reports. I will do my best to update this article as additional information becomes available.

It is a fine line that Prime Minister Kishida has been toeing with regard to the border issue. Public support for the strict border measures seems to be softening in Japan; 81% of respondents in a December NHK poll supported the border restrictions, but an NHK poll released earlier this week showed that number dropped to 57%.

A number of businesses and institutions have welcomed the eased border restrictions. Some have complained that the cap of 5,000 daily arrivals is too low, as there is a backlog of around 400,000 foreigners—including some 147,000 students—waiting to enter the country, according to government numbers. Some political observers were also quoted as saying that opening the borders to tourism before an Upper House election in July would be “difficult.”

I, for one, am happy and relieved that Japan is reopening the spigot slowly, and finally allowing those who absolutely need to travel to the country to do so – especially the students that will go on to help shape many futures. I am eagerly looking forward to more updates as the situation hopefully continues to improve.

As always, I’ll provide further updates on the border measures as necessary. Otherwise, I don’t anticipate writing many posts… especially about travel tips, as there is still no tourism to be had.

Thanks for your continued support of this blog!

Japan Expected to Announce Easing of Borders

2/15/22 Update: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to announce the new border measures on Thursday, February 17 (Japan Time). There is a mix of new regulations being considered; I’ll post what is officially announced as soon as I learn the details.

Happy New Year everyone, and welcome to the first post of 2022! Today I wanted to share a very quick update that Japan is expected to announce the easing of border measures for foreign nationals as soon as this week, which will likely take effect after the current restrictions expire at the end of February.

There has been growing pressure and international criticism on Japan’s border policy towards foreigners, as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads domestically in Japan. Some have cried “xenophobia” and “neo-sakoku” (referring to Japan’s isolation policy from 1603 to 1868), while within Japan many have expressed support for the border measures.

I expect that Japan, like a few months ago when the borders opened up for a little while, will not initially permit tourists. Once again, I expect that students, business travelers and those who will be staying in Japan for a longer period of time (i.e. skilled workers) will be given first priority.

There is no word yet on what will happen with quarantine rules. Currently, the quarantine is 7 days for anyone allowed in (Japanese nationals, permanent residents, special circumstances), with a portion of that time likely to be spent at a government quarantine facility. Those waiting to enter Japan that have been interviewed by various newspapers have said that they would be more than willing to follow the country’s measures. There is speculation in the press reports that Japan might reduce the quarantine under certain circumstances, as was the case for business travelers last autumn.

Once the border situation becomes clearer, I’ll post another update. As always, thanks for your support!

Omicron: Japan Closes Borders Again

Not much to say in this update: Due to the discovery of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, Japan is immediately closing its borders to all foreigners once again, undoing an easing of measures that had been implemented almost a month ago.

This follows measures being implemented around the world to put the brakes on travel after the discovery of the new variant in South Africa. However, in Japan’s case, it’s not just restrictions on those coming from South Africa and surrounding countries… all foreigners are now denied entry once again, except arrivals due to special circumstances at the discretion of immigration authorities.

We await to find out in the coming weeks the impact of the omicron variant. Stay tuned…

Update: Japan Slowly Easing Quarantine

UPDATED November 6 with information announced by the Japanese Government

Hello blog readers! Today I am breaking the hiatus a bit to report on some good travel news coming out of Japan.

Per multiple news sources including Japan Times and Kyodo, later this month (November 2021) Japan is expected to ease quarantine for certain arrivals. Those who are entering Japan for business purposes, or staying in Japan for at least three months (i.e. students, technical work) will be allowed. Such arrivals will be asked to quarantine for 3-14 days upon arrival in the country, with fully vaccinated business travelers eligible for the reduced three-day quarantine.

This is wonderful news for those who have been wanting to visit Japan, especially those who have been wanting to go since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, Japan has virtually closed its borders to foreigners, save for a short period of time this past winter. Now, COVID cases within Japan are low and the vaccination rates are high: Over 75% of the population, according to estimates by Reuters.

Some of my friends and family have been asking when Japan might reopen its borders to vaccinated arrivals, given that some other countries are lifting travel restrictions. You may have seen in the news that other Asian nations, including Thailand and Singapore, are almost completely lifting the quarantine requirements for all foreign arrivals.

I expected that Japan would probably not make any changes until around now at the earliest, given that the Lower House election for the national government was just held. I also do not expect Japan to be as bold as their Asian neighbors. Rather, I expect them to take a “baby step” approach, in line with what they had attempted to do last winter before the borders were closed again. Given this slow turn of the spigot I predict that fully vaccinated tourists, or other similar short-term visitors, will be among the last to be permitted entry.

To recap: The new entry rules, as reported, will mean that fully vaccinated foreigners arriving for business purposes (staying three months or less) will be required to quarantine for three days after landing. Long term arrivals allowed into the country (staying at least three months) will need to quarantine for 14 days; those fully vaccinated can exit quarantine with a negative test result after 10 days. All other foreigners will still be banned in principle from entering Japan, except those allowed under exceptional circumstances. It’s also important to note that whereas some countries are permitting those with World Health Organization-approved vaccines to be eligible for reduced quarantines, in Japan’s case only vaccines approved by Japan will be eligible. As of this writing, these include the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. Those with other vaccines such as Johnson & Johnson, Covishield, Sinopharm or Sinovac will not be eligible for the reduced quarantine.

Of course, once you are in Japan you’ll be expected to follow Japan’s health-related measures to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19.

Foreigners with resident status returning to Japan will also be eligible for a reduced quarantine of three days if they are fully vaccinated as described above.

I hope to pass along further updates with regards to Japan’s travel and quarantine measures – hopefully good updates – when they come over the news wires or are officially announced.

As always, thank you for your support of this blog over so many years. Please reach out if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer them.

On Hiatus

Thank you so much for your support of Jose’s Japan Tips over the years.

I regret to announce that due to the continuing nature of the coronavirus in Japan and the current border control situation, I have decided to put Jose’s Japan Tips on indefinite hiatus. I’ll consider contributing again once Japan’s borders reopen to tourism.

My mailbox will remain open in case you have any Japan-related travel questions. You can reach me by going to https://www.facebook.com/myjapantips and leaving a direct message there.

I appreciate your understanding, and thank you again for your support of this page.

Happy Reiwa 3!

Happy 2021 (or Reiwa 3) to all of my blog followers. Thank you so much for following this blog over the years and I’m sorry that I haven’t updated things in so long. I feel sometimes that this blog might be useless for the time being, since we can’t go around the world to Japan or to the other places that we want to go.

While the vaccine is making its way around at a slow pace, COVID-19 is still very much a threat. It still remains to be seen if and when global tourism will begin again, even with vaccinations now taking place and taking hold.

Lately I’ve stumbled upon a few YouTube channels depicting slow walks through Japanese scenery and nightlife, and also just realized that a content creator I’ve followed for many years – John Daub – just recently went out on his own as he continues to publish online videos. With this and other factors, I’ve started to – slowly – turn the wheels in my brain to plan for another possible trip. The ideal departure would be late 2021, but in all honestly, I should just plan for when Japan re-opens the borders.

I may try to post some more tips and content as the months go by, so please continue to follow for updates. Once again, thanks for your support!

Travel to Japan – What’s Next?

9/30/2020 Update: Since this was posted, Japan’s Ministry of Justice has published revised guidelines for entry into the country. Any foreign nationals entering Japan under the revised guidelines must be sponsored by a Japanese business or organization that can provide assurance of COVID-19 prevention measures (i.e., ensuring that the arriving person will be quarantined).

It seems like it has been ages since I last published a post here on my travel blog. Unfortunately, we are still in the midst of a pandemic that is choking our world and delaying many well-deserved holidays and vacations. COVID is still a threat as of this writing, and my thoughts and prayers are with those that have been affected, especially the first responders that continue to put themselves on the line.

If COVID wasn’t a thing, I would be in Japan this coming December. Soon after the threat of COVID became a reality, Japan slowly closed its borders, enacting one of the strictest entry bans in the world: No foreign nationals who have stayed in most countries and territories affected by the virus – 159, as of this writing – are being allowed to enter Japan in principle, except for extraordinary circumstances. Those foreign nationals who lived in Japan and left the country were generally not permitted to come back.

In recent months, Japan has begun to allow some foreigners to enter or re-enter the country. Foreigners with permanent resident status in Japan were allowed to re-enter Japan earlier this month. In recent weeks, business travelers and long-term residents from certain Asian countries where the virus was deemed to be under control were permitted to enter Japan.

Those allowed to enter Japan are required to follow a strict framework:

  1. Apply for permission (i.e. permit) to enter or re-enter Japan from the local Japanese embassy or consulate.
  2. Take a COVID PCR test within 72 hours of departure, and receive proof of a certified negative result.
  3. Take a second COVID PCR test after landing at an airport in Japan with a negative result.
  4. Self-quarantine at a residence, hotel, or other designated facility for 14 days, avoiding the use of public transportation (certain short-term business travelers do not have to quarantine if they submit their travel plans to the Japanese government in advance).
  5. Install a contact tracing app on their smartphone.

In the last week, the new Japanese government led by new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was formed. Suga was the Chief Cabinet Secretary for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who stepped down for health reasons. Suga appears to be placing a priority on revitalizing the economy, telling a government panel on September 25 that it is “indispensable to resume international travel.” To that end, Japan has decided that starting in October, entry restrictions will be lifted on all foreign nationals who will enter the country for purposes other than tourism or short-term stays. (source: Kyodo News)

Those who intend to stay in Japan for at least 90 days for professional purposes (i.e. students, medical, cultural, sports-related activities) will be permitted to enter Japan, provided they follow the new protocols for permit application, COVID testing, entry and quarantine. They must also be sponsored by a Japanese business or organization that can provide assurance that COVID prevention measures will be followed, such as adherence to quarantine.

Entry into Japan for tourism will still not be permitted for the time being, as will stays of less than 90 days unless it is for business purposes.

This news is a positive step for foreigners wishing to go to one of the most beautiful places in the world. However, absent of further mitigation and treatment of COVID-19, it will likely be some time before Japan reopens its gates to international tourism.

In the coming weeks I hope to share my thoughts on some things you can check out when visiting Japan… when it is permitted and it is safe to do so.

Stay health and safe, and thanks so much for your continued support of this blog.

QR Codes coming to the Japan Rail Pass

As I have mentioned in previous posts (here and here), Japan Railways (JR) is planning to make a cosmetic change to the appearance to the national Japan Rail Pass.

Given that the coronavirus pandemic is still an issue, JR is still planning to implement the Rail Pass changes on June 1, 2020 as of the time of this post.

The newly upgraded Japan Rail Pass will turn the pass into a magnetic ticket. You will be able to use the ticket to pass through automatic ticket gates at JR stations as opposed to using the manned gates. Furthermore, you will be able to use ticket reservation machines at JR stations to make a free seat reservation or pick up existing reservations.

It appears from images just recently posted on the Japan Rail Pass website that access to the machines will be a two-step process. All of the new Japan Rail Pass tickets will be printed with a QR code on them. To access, you will select the Japan Rail Pass option on the home screen and hold up your ticket’s QR code to the machine’s QR scanner. (If there is no QR scanner then you will type in the ticket number on your rail pass using the touch screen.) After that, you will enter your passport number to confirm that you are the owner of the ticket.

Entering your passport number into the machine might cause concern for a few, though I believe the option will still exist of going to a manned counter to make seat reservations if needed.

Regardless, you will have to go to a manned counter once in order to receive the actual rail pass. You will be asked to show your passport to the clerk to confirm your eligibility, and you will also be required to turn in your exchange voucher or show proof of payment.

As mentioned before, the Japan Rail Pass will be sold directly by JR on a dedicated website. The prices will be in Japanese Yen and will be slightly higher than the prices for exchange vouchers. However, one perk of purchasing your pass through JR directly is that you will have access to JR’s reservation system to make free seat reservations beforehand if you wish, within the validity of your pass.

The exchange voucher system will be in place until at least 2023. Exchange vouchers are sold by authorized travel agencies and retailers in your local country (in person and online) and in your local currency, plus any markups/shipping fees that may be added by the seller. It appears to have been clarified – contrary to earlier posts – that even if you use an exchange voucher, you will still receive a Japan Rail Pass ticket with a QR code, you can still use a ticket machine to make seat reservations and pick up reservations after receiving your pass, and you can still use the automatic ticket gates. However, you cannot make advance train reservations before your trip and must wait until you arrive in Japan to make the reservations.

It might make sense, then, to purchase directly through JR if there is a specific train or two you would like to reserve in advance, or if you are traveling when it might be busy and a seat reservation might be hard to obtain at the last minute. Otherwise, purchasing an exchange voucher the old way may save you some money.

Remember that in some instances you may not need a reserved seat ticket… if you are able to access non-reserved seating then you can simply walk into a non-reserved car and find any open seat. Your Japan Rail Pass will be enough for the journey.

Also, don’t forget that depending on your situation, you might not need to get a Japan Rail Pass. Please read my post on whether or not the Japan Rail Pass is right for you.

Learning more about the advantages the refreshed Japan Rail Pass offers gives me more inspiration to plan for my next Japan trip… whenever it happens.

Will you take advantage of the new Japan Rail Pass product? Let me know in the comments below.