TOKYO -- Japan will open its doors wider to wealthy travelers from all over the world starting next April, allowing them to stay for up to one year on a special long-term visa.
The government has decided to ease the rules on visas as part of its push for international tourism. Currently, most business travelers and tourists are allowed to enter the country without a visa and stay for a maximum of 90 days.
Under a plan being drawn up, foreign visitors will be given a special permit -- renewable once -- for an extended stay of up to six months, provided they hail from one of the 66 countries and regions that have reciprocal visa exemption arrangements with Japan. In addition, they must be at least 60 years of age, provide a bank certificate showing a balance of 30 million yen ($277,000) or more for a married couple and prove that they have health coverage.
Many countries offer long-stay visas for foreigners. Portugal, for example, launched in 2012 its so-called golden visa program, which requires the recipient to make an investment in the country, such as purchasing real estate. The Japanese government will not make such demands.
Within the government, however, some are suggesting that the cutoff age be lowered to under 60.
Seeing wealthy tourists from abroad as an economic stimulus factor, the government reckons their extended stays in Japan will likely take them beyond the tourist meccas of Tokyo and Kyoto to hitherto overlooked regional cities. The government contends that this will give a boost to local economies.
Foreign tourists eager for a long stay are already flocking to popular resort towns, including Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, and Hokkaido's Niseko, where such infrastructure as vacation homes, hotels and other lodging facilities have been upgraded.