For the last two and a half years, it’s been a huge challenge to travel to Japan. It has been extremely cautious about reopening its borders to tourists after the pandemic-induced shutdowns of 2020 and 2021.
But with the land of the rising sun finally lifting even more of its restrictions for independent travellers and starting to return to what looks a lot like the old normal, revenge travel is on many our minds now.
Before you book that flight, though, here’s what you need to know.
What Are the Latest Travel Restrictions in Japan?
Just like pre-Covid, Japan will once again allow citizens of 68 nationalities to enter visa-free for visits of up to 90 days, and Singapore is one of the 68 countries.
Japan has also removed pre-departure testing for fully vaccinated travellers back in early September 2022, so you don’t have to take a PCR test prior to flying.
Proof of Covid vaccination will also not be required for travelers from “blue” countries if one has completed the primary course (any combination of Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca) and had a booster dose (of the same or a different vaccine).
For those who do not meet the vaccination criteria, a negative pre-departure PCR test result within 72 hours of departure has to be shown in place of vaccination status.
On top of that is perhaps what most independent travellers are looking forward to: the scrapping of the guided tour format pre-arranged travel agent bookings, as well as the 50,000-person daily limit on overseas entries. This basically means that you will be able to travel around Japan like you could during pre-pandemic, organising your own flights and accommodations without a guide telling you where you are allowed to go.
However, you will need to use the MySOS app to enter Japan and mask up when indoors or commuting as the locals do.
Time to Visit Japan?
The Japanese government is seeking to capitalise on the surge of independent travellers visiting the country, especially now that the weak yen is making travel to Japan cheaper than it has been for years.
Japan is still keeping its quarantine system in place for arrivals from at-risk countries, although currently no countries are considered at-risk.
So now that Japan is open to travellers and the yen is at a multi-decade low, you might want to start planning your trip before the crowds return.
Still, with flight capacity remaining limited and airport taxes going up, travelling to Japan seems like it would be an expensive affair. But if you’re itching to visit, then here are some of the must-visit spots.
Best Tourist Spots in Japan
Japan offers a juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern, imperial castles next to cutting-edge technology. Despite being one of the world’s most advanced industrialised countries, Japan still retains a rich history dating back centuries. Temples, shrines, and castles are well preserved and offer some respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, while cities boast a seemingly inexhaustible list of attractions, things to do and see.
It might be impossible to cover them all in one trip, but here are some of the must-visit places in Japan.
1. Mount Fuji
This iconic landmark towers at 3,776 metres and overlooks a mostly flat landscape in the south and east of Japan. In fact, it is the country's highest mountain peak. For centuries, the majestic Mount Fuji has been celebrated in art and literature and was recognised by UNESCO for its cultural significance in 2013.
You can choose to begin your climb from the base or start from above the halfway mark (at the fifth station) for a less intense ascent for a glimpse of sunrise from the summit. Otherwise, you can view the mountain from a distance or a train.
2. Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, Kyoto
The Fushimi Inari shrine is one of the most important shrines in Japan as Inari, the Shinto god of rice, is one of the most important gods in the religion.
Located in southern Kyoto, the shrine features the famous vermillion gates (there are thousands of them!) that arch over a series of trails that allow for a tranquil stroll towards the forest around Mt. Inari. Many travellers come for the gates, but you can also explore the shrine and appreciate the architecture, or make the two-hour hike to the top of the mountain, along which you can visit more shrines and smaller gates, as well as grab a bite.
3. Osaka Castle
Built in 1586, Osaka Castle was the largest and most crucial fortress in the country at the time. It had been destroyed and rebuilt several times since, but the present structure constructed in 1931 remains true to the original.
One of the castle’s highlights is the five-storey main tower that was built on a 14m tall stone base and features numerous displays showcasing the castle and city’s history. You can also catch a panoramic view of Osaka from the top floor, particularly at sunset.
On top of that, you might want to visit the Hokoku Shrine in Osaka Castle Park and Osaka's first Buddhist temple, Shitennō-ji, which dates back to 59 AD and features a five-story pagoda.
4. Hakone Open-Air Museum, Hakone
Located in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the town of Hakone is known for its picturesque mountains and hot spring resorts. Another major draw, however, is its majestic open-air museum. As its name suggests, this outdoor museum is in fact a sculpture park that spans across 17 acres. It is one of Japan’s first open-air museums and features over 100 sculptures. One of the most jaw-dropping sculptures is the Symphonic Sculpture, in which visitors get to climb a stained-glass tower to reach a viewing platform that overlooks the other sculptures on the ground as well as the surrounding mountains.
On top of the outdoor exhibits, the museum also has an indoor exhibit that includes one of the world's most extensive collections by renowned artist Picasso. You’ll get to feast your eyes on over 300 of the great Spanish painter's works, including sculptures, oil paintings, prints, and even ceramics.
5. Churaumi Aquarium, Okinawa
The Okinawan archipelago comprises over 150 islands in the area between Taiwan and mainland Japan. Okinawa itself is home to the Churaumi Aquarium, best known for its Kuroshio Tank that houses about 60 different species of animals, including whale sharks and manta rays.
Other attractions include a deep-water exhibit of bioluminescent fish, a dedicated area for tiger sharks and bull sharks, and outdoor pools for dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles.
6. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo
Shinjuku District is one of Tokyo's most famous districts, and best known for its vibrant nightlife, trendy shops, and upscale restaurants. But in the heart of the district is one of Tokyo's gems — the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
Built during the Edo Period (1603-1867) as the part of a feudal lord’s residence, the park later became an entertaining ground for the imperial family in the early 20th century before opening up in 1949 as a public park. It features sprawling greenery and walking paths that meander around beautiful floral displays, manicured shrubbery, and tranquil ponds. There are also three different styles of garden landscapes — Japanese, English, and French — to enjoy. During cherry blossom season, the park is one of the hottest spots to experience the visual feast of sakura blossoms.
7. Shrine Island of Miyajima
Just a quick ferry ride from mainland Hiroshima is Miyajima, best known as Japan's island shrine. It covers 30 square kilometres in Hiroshima Bay and is the home of the Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto temple that dates back to the eighth century. Supported only by piles, most of the shrine rises out of the waters of a small bay, which makes the visual effect at high tide absolutely stunning — the structures (including the famous Great Floating Gate) appear like they're floating on water!
Linked by numerous bridges and walkways, the shrine offers much to explore. One feature is the exquisite halls — Honden (Main Hall), Heiden (the Offerings Hall), Haiden (the Prayer Hall), and Senjokaku (The Hall of a Thousand Mats).
Another notable feature of the shrine is its stage, where visitors are entertained with musical performances and traditional dances, and the gardens, which are home to bird colonies and even wild deer.