Japan, one of the last major nations to retain strict Covid controls on visitors, will finally open to independent travellers on 11 October.
The country banned arrivals from dozens of countries, including the UK, on 1 April 2020, with borders closed to tourists for over two years.
In June there was a partial relaxation, with travellers on organised tours allowed to enter subject to a daily cap in arrivals. Earlier this month the concession was extended to visitors on individual packages, when sponsored by an approved Japanese travel agency.
Now the prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has told a news conference in New York – which he is visiting for the UN General Assembly – that Japan will allow independent foreign visitors within weeks.
He said: “We are a nation that has flourished through the free flow of people, goods and capital.
“Covid-19, of course, interrupted all of these benefits, but from 11 October, Japan will relax border control measures to be on par with the US, as well as resume visa-free travel and individual travel.
“I hope many people will utilise it. I want to support the travel, entertainment and other industries that have been struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Assuming entry rules remain the same, visitors will need to be triple vaccinated (with an initial course plus at least one booster) or provide a negative result from a PCR Covid test in the 72 hours before departure to Japan.
Tourist numbers to Japan reached a record 32 million in 2019, but slumped to just 250,000 in 2021.
For a time at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Diamond Princess cruise ship – held offshore from Yokohama in Japan – was itself one of the world’s leading virus hotspots.
In late 2020 and early 2021, Japan briefly had a special programme for business travellers, but this was swiftly scrapped when Covid infection numbers rose.
Also on 11 October, the Japanese government will launch a nationwide travel discount programme aimed mainly at stimulating domestic holidaymakers. It offers a subsidy of up to 11,000 yen (?68) per person for a one-night stay.