Japan is getting closer to free-range tourism again. In September, travelers will no longer be constrained to guided tour groups.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that they would be rolling back a little of Japan’s strict border controls, currently among the strictest in the world. Until June this year, Japan did not allow tourism at all. Since then, they’ve had rigid visitor caps and visa requirements. And most confining, they required all tourists to be part of guided tours with package trips including lodging and all activities.

As of September 7th, Kishida announced, the daily entry cap would be more than doubled. It will go from 20,000 people a day up to 50,000. In addition, tourists would no longer have to be part of guided tours. Groups would still have to follow preset itineraries, and individual tourists are still banned, but non-guided tours have at least a little more flexibility, and to many travelers, a greater appeal.

The border is also still open to only those with Japanese nationality, long-term, or pre-issued tourism visas. Ordinarily, Japan waives visa requirements for those with applicable passports, but that has stopped pending the pandemic.

Prior the pandemic, Japan saw between 25 and 32 million tourists a year. In 2021, a mere 236,000 foreign visitors made it past the restrictions. Hotels, airlines, and retailers in Japan are all struggling without those millions of additional customers. Tourist dollars have plummeted from 4.8 trillion yen to 120 billion, one fortieth as much.

After Wednesday’s announcement, tourism-linked stocks in Japan rose optimistically, especially for Japan’s international airlines. Many hope that travel will bounce back enthusiastically with more eligible travelers hoping to take advantage of the currently weak yen.

Last week, Kishida also announced that Japan would cease requiring negative COVID-19 test results from already-vaccinated travelers.

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