Many travellers have been eagerly awaiting the full reopening of Japan’s borders for the purposes of tourism with bated breath. With each announcement, the country has been inching towards opening its borders in a painfully slow manner.
On September 7, Japan will take another major step towards opening its borders for tourism.
While this doesn’t quite mark the full reopening of this much-loved destination, it does mean that Canadian travellers can now embark on independent, unaccompanied travel to Japan for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Japan Travel Restrictions
As of September 7, independent tourists will be able to enter Japan for the purpose of tourism as long as they have booked a package tour with a Japanese travel agency.
Prior to this date, some tourists have been allowed to enter the country for tourism, but only on closely guarded package tours. With the upcoming changes, tourists will no longer have to be accompanied throughout their stay in Japan.
Of course, tourists will have to fulfil other entry obligations, including showing proof of vaccination (including a third booster dose), possessing a valid visa (that must be applied for prior to entry), and filling out a few documents.
Furthermore, the country is increasing the daily arrival cap to 50,000 on September 7, which is up from the 20,000 daily cap imposed in June. This move will allow more foreigners into arguably the most sought-after country to visit after the world closed down more than two years ago.
How Can Canadians Enter Japan?
Until now, business travellers and international students have been allowed to enter Japan by air, most likely through the national capital of Tokyo. Since June 10, foreign tourists have also been permitted entry to Japan, but only on guided tours.
The uptake of the tours has been rather low, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
As of September 7, travellers coming from Canada must present the following:
- Proof of vaccination upon entering Japan
- A valid Japan visa, which requires a package tour purchased from an accredited travel agency in Japan
- A completed health questionnaire
Eligible Canadian travellers may submit their visa applications electronically via the consulates of Japan in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, or Montreal. Visa applications can take 3–5 business days to process.
How to Book an Unguided Package Tour to Enter Japan
Prior to booking applying for a visa, Canadians will need to book an unguided package tour to fulfil the new entry requirements.
The definition of an “unguided package tour” is fairly loose, and includes situations in which individuals simply book their own flights and hotels and submit the “tour” itinerary to a Japanese travel agency in order to process a tourist visa.
This process is fairly straightforward, although it still requires you to jump over a few hurdles in the process. The main factor here is that you need to have a “Certificate for Completion of Registration to the ERFS system” when you make your visa application.
The ERFS is the “Entrants, Returnees Follow-up System”, which makes it easier for the government to track anyone who falls ill with COVID-19 during their stay in Japan.
The first step is to find an accredited travel agency who is authorized to sell unguided package tours. Some agencies that we’ve found include:
For a fee of ¥30,000 ($280 CAD), Japan Guide Agency can offer an unguided package tour that fulfils the Japanese government’s requirements. You’ll receive support for your visa application, including information required for the ERFS certificate, which includes:
- A signed and stamped letter from the travel agency stating the name, contact number, dates of travel, duration of stay, names & addresses of accommodation in Japan
- Details of your tour itinerary, including your daily hotel’s name and address
- A certificate of completion of registration in the ERFS
With this information, you can proceed with your visa application. Once you’ve received the visa, you’re all set to travel to Japan on an unguided package tour.
My Experience Getting a Japan e-Visa for Tourism
With a view of travelling to Japan as soon as borders are open, I decided to apply for a Japan tourist visa through Japan Guide Agency this week. The price of the service was ¥20,000 ($188 CAD) at the time that I had purchased the package, although it has since risen to ¥30,000 ($280 CAD).
When purchasing the unguided tour package, Japan Guide Agency asks for your flight and hotel details.
These essentially represent the “details” of your unguided tour, which only includes your flight and hotel. Japan Guide Agency even goes so far as to say that any of these details can be changed later on, as they’re presumably only used for registration to the ERFS system.
Within 12 hours of my purchase, Japan Guide Agency was able to issue my ERFS document. The confirmation email clearly states that “Issei Fujiwara of JGA Inc.” is acting as the travel agency that is providing me with my unguided tour package:
The ERFS document looks as follows:
The next step was to submit an application for a Japan tourist visa. Canadian and US citizens may submit an e-visa through the Japan government website, while citizens of other countries will need to submit a visa application in-person at their local consulates.
To start the e-visa application, you’ll need to first register for an account. Once you’ve logged in, click on “New registration” to begin a new e-visa application.
You’ll then be guided through several steps of the visa application. You’ll want to include “Tourism” as the purpose of visit, and the rest of the fields are fairly straightforward (names, photos, addresses, passport numbers, accommodation and flight details, etc.)
On the last screen, you’ll be asked to submit the “Certificate of Completion of Registration to the ERFS system”. Upload the PDF document that you received from your Japanese travel agency here.
Once that’s done, you can submit your e-visa application. You’ll receive an email confirmation of receipt within an hour or so.
And although the Japan e-visa website states that the processing time can be 3–5 business days, I happened to receive my newly-minted Japan tourist e-visa within the very next day – 15 hours later, to be precise.
Indeed, logging back into the e-visa website, I was able to pull up my “Notice of Visa Issuance” – the coveted immigration document that will be checked prior to my Japan-bound flight!
Current Health Requirements in Japan
March 18, 2022 marked the date that Japan’s state of emergency was lifted in all 18 remaining prefectures, meaning that COVID cases have dropped sufficiently low enough that life can return to semi-normal.
Restaurants are fully open once again, as are movie theatres, museums, cultural events, and generally any other tourist attractions. In fact, this is the first time since October 2021 that are no gathering or business hour restrictions on restaurants and bars in Japan.
Interestingly enough, there are no vaccination requirements for any of the above, nor will there be any vaccination checks.
There are still some minor restrictions in place, such as “non-certified restaurants” only being able to seat up to four people per table, but that shouldn’t have a big impact on your trip.
Masks are required in all indoor spaces as well as all outdoors where you “may encounter other people”, which basically means they’re required all the time. Despite things being a bit different with restrictions at home, don’t forget to maximize your baggage allowance with sufficient face masks.
How to Get to Japan
To East Asia, Aeroplan naturally comes to mind with its fantastic rate of 75,000 points one-way in business class, as long as the overall routing falls at or under 7,500 miles in distance flown — which includes all direct flights from North America.
West Coast residents in particular will benefit from Aeroplan’s fantastic sweet spot of only 55,000 points one-way for a direct flight from Vancouver or Calgary to Tokyo.
Air Canada flights can still be priced exorbitantly under dynamic pricing, so using your eUpgrades with the “Latitude Attitude” strategy is the optimal way to upgrade into a business class seat.
For those who dabble in the US credit card game, you can book a one-way trip in ANA First Class for just 55,000 Virgin Atlantic miles from the West Coast and 60,000 Virgin Atlantic miles from the East Coast.
This is arguably the best sweet spot that currently exists out there, and there’s nothing quite like bottomless Hibiki 21 whiskey and Japanese fine dining in the sky to celebrate Japan’s long-awaited reopening.
With Alaska Mileage Plan, you can also fly direct on on Japan Airlines for 60,000 miles in business class and 70,000 miles in First Class, another excellent sweet spot to aim for on your first academic or commercial visit to Japan in the post-pandemic era.
Japan Airlines First Class award space is quite plentiful 14 days prior to the date of departure.
After what feels like an eternity of being closed off to the world, Japan is one step closer to be being fully open again.
Have your proof of vaccination, unguided package tour, tourist visa, and various forms and statements ready to present for entry in to Japan.
We’ll continue to update this article as Japan’s restrictions ease even further. One thing’s for sure: expect flights to Japan to be packed when the country finally fully reopens for tourism with no visa restrictions, so now may be the best time to experience Japan with relatively few visitors yet.