Japan eases Covid travel restrictions and allows entry to independent tourists

NEW YORK — Japan’s strict border restrictions will be eased next month, the prime minister announced Thursday, allowing tourists easy entry for the first time since the pandemic began.

At a news conference at the foot of New York’s Central Park, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said independent tourists would be welcome again from October 11, not just those traveling with authorized groups.

A cap on the number of tourists allowed to enter – which has been gradually increased this year – will be removed altogether. And visa requirements that have been imposed in response to the pandemic will also be waived.

Japan’s tough Covid-19 restrictions have sent visitor numbers plummeting and rocked its tourism industry. Although foreign tourists were welcomed in June after a break of more than two years, the reopening has been confusing for many people looking to visit.

A previous announcement presented as a relaxation of the group tour rule turned out, for many tourists, to be anything but the introduction of a complicated process requiring permission to be obtained through a Japanese travel agent, often with high fees or commissions.

Now the country appears to be back to normal, in time for some to book a trip for Japan’s fall foliage. Kishida said a campaign to strengthen the tourism industry would be rolled out by offering discounts.

“We hope many citizens will benefit from it,” he said at the end of a trip to New York.

So far, Japan has persisted with pandemic travel rules that many other countries have long abandoned. Some tourists have moved their vacations to countries like South Korea and Thailand, which have recently applied looser rules.

Kishida spoke on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. In other remarks, he called for reform of the UN Security Council and dismissed any skepticism about Japan’s increased military spending, saying it remained a “peace-loving nation”.

He also said Japan would “boldly take the necessary steps” to combat excessive swings in the yen, which has fallen to its lowest level against the US dollar in more than two decades.

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