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The final piece of the global travel puzzle has fallen into place – here’s why you should go

For sushi, sakura and sumo lovers, it’s been brewing for a long time. Today, Japan – one of the last tourist hotspots on the planet still largely closed to travelers – has taken a big step towards normal travel.

While countless other countries are enjoying a post-pandemic tourist rush, Japan has remained firmly off the travel map for more than two years, after closing its borders to non-resident visitors in the spring of 2020.

Today, however, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida – speaking from his official residence where he is currently recovering from Covid – announced his intention to start easing entry regulations.

As a first step, from September 7 – just in time for the country’s annual fiery autumn leaf exhibition – vaccinated visitors arriving in Japan will no longer be required to present a negative Covid test result taken within 72 hours after departure.

Japanese media previously reported new plans to more than double the cap of 20,000 daily visitors and lift the current requirement for all tourists to take escorted tours. However, those announcements weren’t made today – although travel industry insiders widely expect them to arrive soon.

“We will continue to gradually relax these measures,” Kishida told reporters.

Japan may be the last major world economy to rely on conservative border controls to manage the pandemic, despite having a vaccination rate of more than 80%.

A slight easing of government entry measures in June initially raised hopes among travelers that they might visit Japan. However, the new rules only allowed entry to a small number of tourists, all of whom had to go on official escorted tour packages, with daily visitor numbers capped at 20,000.

Today’s announcement goes even further – and raises hopes that full-fledged international tourism could be back in a few months.

A test of patience

For Japan-focused tour operators, the countdown to the country’s reopening has been a patience-testing process, reminiscent of a desire not to want the Tokyo Olympics made more difficult by the fact that almost every other major world tourist sites have long reopened their borders to tourists.

“Many of our customers have been waiting for three years or more to travel and they will finally have the opportunity to experience this amazing country and culture,” says James Mundy of InsideJapan Tours.

Anticipating something like a post-pandemic influx of visitors, he adds that sooner is probably better for those planning to return. “We would like to encourage people to travel in October and November for the fall leaves and the chance to see Japan while staying calm,” he says.

Japan lovers and tour operators won’t be the only ones celebrating the country’s full reopening. Business leaders and tourism-related industries in Japan have also been increasingly outspoken in pointing out the negative impact of the government’s stance.