Japan considers opening border to foreign tours groups by the end of the year.

Japan has reopened its border to business people, students and technical trainees, with changes coming into effect on Monday. These include a reduction of the quarantine period from 10 days to three, subject to certain conditions being met. The country remains effectively closed to tourists, though it is considering allowing foreign tour groups by the end of the year.

Japan’s coronavirus cases have fallen dramatically since the peak of its third wave in August, with case numbers now at their lowest since July 2020. Its success in battling the Delta strain has been largely attributed to the rise in vaccination levels, with more than 70% of its population fully vaccinated, as well as the widespread use of masks in public.

Travellers with an eye on the ski season will be hopeful that efforts to relax restrictions and open up the country continue, however there are signs that Japan’s re-opening will be gradual and calculated.

On Tuesday, The Japan Times shed light on the many hurdles business travellers now face in attempting to have their quarantine period reduced to three days, noting that  “the easing of travel rules may not be as good as it sounds” and that “companies need to jump through a considerable number of hoops to be eligible for a shortened quarantine period”.

These include a detailed travel plan for days 4–10, three COVID-19 tests within the first ten days of arrival and a company report at the conclusion of the trip, detailing whether employees followed the rules or tested positive to COVID-19. In addition, business travellers are only permitted to use public transport if they have reserved seats (precluding them from using many of the local rail and bus services).

So while it’s tempting to look optimistically at the announcement from Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara that Japan is to consider a possibility of allowing foreign tour groups by the end of the year, it’s also relevant to consider what group travel might actually look like, especially considering the onerous requirements for business travel noted above.

Kihara’s announcement included an admission that the government would be looking at ways to control and monitor activities of tour groups before making any changes, so the likelihood of travel resembling anything pre-pandemic appears low, at least for now.

And with time running out before the start of the ski season, it may be that foreign travellers simply decide that it’s all too hard, and instead look to finalise their ski holiday in one of the countries making it easier for tourists.

What do you think? Are you still holding out hope for a ski holiday in Japan this winter? Let us know in the comments below.

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