Travel to Japan has been heavily restricted since borders snapped shut two-and-a-half years ago. Up until now, it hasn't been easy for tourists to get there, with only organized group tours allowed into the country for much of 2022. But last week, the government announced that things are changing, and self-guided trips are back.

By self-guided trips, we mean that travelers no longer need to be accompanied by a guide during their trip. But unrestricted tourism is still off the cards. In order to visit Japan, travelers must book their flights and accommodation through a licensed travel agency. 

There are reports, however, that Japan could remove the daily cap of 50,000 arrivals by the end of the month and return to visa-free and independent travel. Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, said the government is considering ways to ease the current pandemic restrictions while "maintaining a balance between preventing the spread of infection and promoting social and economic activities".

In the meantime, if you've long dreamed of visiting the neon-bright neighborhoods of Tokyo or the once-in-a-lifetime attractions of Kyoto, and you're keen to do it as soon as possible, here's what you need to know about entry and visa rules for visiting Japan as a tourist.

The 10 most spectacular road trips in Japan

Get trusted guidance to the world's most breathtaking experiences delivered to your inbox weekly with our email newsletter.

Japan's new entry rules

In June, tourists were allowed to return to Japan but as part of an organized group tour whereby they have to be accompanied by a local guide for the duration of their trip. But that rule was scrapped on September 7 in favor of a more relaxed policy that allows self-guided trips.

That said, you can't rock up after booking a flight online. You must book your flight and accommodation through a registered travel agency, so the government has a point of contact for you. That means the only route in is via package vacations, for now, guided or self-guided - whatever your preference.

You must wear masks and adhere to other COVID-19 measures. You'll also need to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their departure date if you haven't been triple vaccinated and you must install the MySOS app, where you can register your test results.

Before the pandemic, Japan offered visa-free entry to visitors from some 68 countries,s including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea, and Malaysia, but for now, "everyone needs a visa," according to the Foreign Ministry, regardless of where they are coming from.

Discover Japan's 10 most spectacular natural wonders

Young couple leaving restaurant in Tokyo
Tourism in Japan has been restricted to domestic tourism during the pandemic © Getty Images

How tourists can apply for a visa to visit Japan

The visa exemption scheme for Japan remains on hold for now, which means that anyone who wishes to visit must apply for and obtain a tourist visa first. You can apply for a certificate for registration to ERFS (Entrants, Returnees Follow-up System) through the travel agency you've booked their trip with. Once that's processed, you'll receive a document you can take to your local Japanese embassy or consulate to obtain a visa or apply for the visa directly with the tourism agency. The turnaround time is generally five working days after the documents are received and accepted.

US and Canadian citizens can apply for an eVisa

A new eVisa scheme was introduced last month for US and Canadian citizens. The eVisa is available for tourist and business travelers and those visiting relatives. Applicants must hold a valid US or Canadian passport.

Before applying for the eVisa, applicants must obtain a certificate for registration to the ERFS through the travel agency they've booked their trip with. According to the Japanese embassy, those visiting relatives don't need to apply for an ERFS, but they must instead download marriage certificates or proof of kinship.

If you're looking to apply, you must have these forms in order, and then complete the eVisa form online through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You'll need passport information, travel documents, and supporting documents like ERFS to hand. A processing fee will also apply. Once the application is completed and approved, the eVisa will be issued by email.

Japan's best food and drink experiences

Japan's COVID-19 vaccination requirements

Japan categorizes countries into blue, yellow, or red based on their COVID risk. Travelers from blue countries have the option to show proof of vaccination or take a test before traveling. Blue countries include the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Argentina, Mexico, and more. The complete list of countries can be viewed here.

Travelers from yellow and red countries are subject to additional entry requirements, such as testing upon arrival and quarantine.

This article was first published Oct 13, 2020 and updated Sep 12, 2022.

Explore related stories

Black man standing on Great Wall of China, Beijing, Beijing, China

Destination Practicalities

🌍 Help me, LP! How do I plan a trip to China now that international travel is back?

Mar 28, 2023 • 3 min read