3 ways international students are over Japan’s travel ban

Japan's travel ban
It’s most likely that Japan’s travel ban will not lift till next year (even then, who knows when). Source: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP

Emotional turmoil, financial turbulence, and extreme desperation — international students banned from entering Japan have felt them all. For the past 20 months, Japan’s travel ban has left couples, students, academic researchers and workers in limbo.

After tentatively opening this month to business travellers and students, it shut its borders again over concerns of the Omicron variant. This is despite it recording a 99% plunge in coronavirus caseloads since August and the highest vaccination rate among the world’s large wealthy nations.

International students have shared their feelings on social media platforms such as Twitter, using hashtags like #educationisnottourism and #japantravelban. As 2022 approaches with no clear timeline from the Japanese government of their possible return, many students are frustrated, feeling helpless and just plain over it.  

“Spending months isolated and not being able to meet my friends is very hard. My entire life is currently online,” says Eva Guido, a French student enrolled at the Akamonkai Japanese Language School. “To overcome the pain, I started taking medicines against stress and pressure,” she continued.

Below, we get to know international students’ side of the story and how they’ve been dealing with what’s been a difficult two years”

Japan's travel ban

Sergei Ovcharenko from Russia, a first-year student at the MANABI Japanese Language Institute. Source: Sergei Ovcharenko

Hopeful: ‘Stay strong’ 

“I was fascinated by the Japanese culture and mentality which drove my interest to go live there. In Russia, they basically take a year of your life from you as joining the army is obligatory — so that made me want to go abroad even more. Japan’s travel ban should be lifted as students are very ready to go through quarantine measures, PCR tests and even pay for it with their own money. All I can say now is stay strong and hope for the best.” Sergei Ovcharenko, MANABI Japanese Language Institute

Japan's travel ban

Eva Guido from France, a first-year student at the Akamonkai Japanese Language School. Source: Eva Guido

In limbo: ‘I am so lost’

“My goal was to study economics at a Japanese university so I decided to take a high-intensity language course to pass the entry exam requirement. I have difficulties learning the language because I’m not assimilated into the Japanese environment. Also because there’s no clear timeline with Japan’s travel ban, I can’t even plan to work or go on vacation. We (stranded students) need more communication as we feel ignored — it’s unfair that Japanese citizens are allowed in and out for tourism purposes. Even the WHO announced immigration restriction measures are counterproductive. I am so lost and waiting desperately to get into the country. I would advise students to be aware of potential discrimination they will face as foreigners.” Eva Guido, Akamonkai Japanese Language School

Japan's travel ban

Iku (internet name by request) from Belgium, a first-year student at the Tokyo Galaxy Language School. Source: Iku

Akamonkai Japanese Language School

Stuck: ‘Living out of a suitcase’

“After visiting twice, I fell in love with Japan. I’ve now been waiting for almost two years for Japan’s travel ban to lift and I feel like I have been strung along by the Japanese government. After living in an empty flat in Brussels for a year, I moved to my mother’s house for six months taking 6:00 a.m. online classes.  I’m currently living out of a suitcase for months on end on standby which has left me emotionally and financially drained. I think it’s come to a point where we (stranded students) have to boycott the country’s ‘solution’ for online learning and unanimously turn our backs on the country. There’s no way of planning for the future and now I’m having to start my life all over again.” Iku, Tokyo Galaxy Language School.