A powerful earthquake hit Japan on New Year’s Day, triggering the country’s first major tsunami warning since the 2011 Fukushima disaster. As the country reels, we look at what this means for tourists planning to visit.
The country is a perennial favourite for holidaymakers, welcoming around 20 million visitors in the first 10 months of 2023, not far off pre-pandemic figures. Indeed, it has grown so much in popularity that officials have recently started urging tourists to visit lesser-known regions.
But is Japan safe to visit after the earthquake? Below we outline what travellers need to know, including Foreign Office advice and information on the ongoing risk of natural disasters, plus your rights if you do decide to cancel your holiday.
Is Japan safe to travel to?
Tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes after the magnitude 7.6 earthquake shook parts of Honshu, Japan’s main island. Tsunami warnings, now downgraded, were issued in coastal areas, and more than 140 aftershocks have been felt since. More than 40 people are reported to have died and hundreds of buildings have collapsed.
The affected areas mostly border the Sea of Japan. These include Hokkaido, Ishikawa, Yamagata, Toyama, Niigata, Fukui, Hyogo, Aomori, Akita, Kyoto, Tottori and Shimane prefectures, plus the Iki and Tsushima Islands.
The country has not discouraged tourists from visiting, although officials have warned that more aftershocks are expected. There is a heightened risk of further earthquakes in the coming days.
Those with package holidays planned should check their tour operator’s website. A statement on Intrepid’s website reads: “Our upcoming Japan: Land of the Rising Sun, Essential Japan and Premium Japan trips do not visit the affected areas and are scheduled to depart as planned.”
What does the Foreign Office say?
The Foreign Office (FCDO) does not advise against travel, but notes that “further aftershocks remain a possibility and transport links are disrupted”.
For tourists already in Japan, the FCDO says that instructions from local authorities should be followed, and suggests reading the NHK website, the Japan Meteorological Agency website and the Japan National Tourism Agency website for more information.
The Foreign Office advice is regularly updated: if you have a trip upcoming, continue to monitor its website.
Are flights to Japan still operating?
International flights are continuing to operate in most parts of Japan after the earthquake, although domestic flights to the region were cancelled by All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines.
Ishikawa’s Noto Airport has closed to traffic, with reports of up to 500 people stranded at the site. Additionally, the East Japan Railway Company has suspended its Hokuriku and Joetsu Shinkansen services.
In an incident unrelated to the earthquake, a Japan Airlines passenger jet was engulfed in flames on the runway at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, after reportedly being involved in a collision with another aircraft. All 379 passengers and crew were safely evacuated, although the five crew members on the smaller aircraft were killed. Disruption at the airport is to be expected as the situation develops.
What if I want to cancel my holiday?
If you have booked a package holiday and want to cancel your trip for any reason, contact your tour operator. It might offer flexibility, such as alternative dates.
But bear in mind that, because the Foreign Office has not issued blanket advice against travel to Japan, there is no guarantee you will receive a refund, nor will you be able to claim money back with your travel insurance company should you choose to cancel.
If you have booked flights and accommodation independently, and wish to cancel your holiday, contact your travel providers as soon as possible to see if you can rearrange your plans. Note, however, that given the circumstances, it is unlikely you will receive a full refund.