Face Masks in Japan: Rules v. Reality (2023)

Japan was behind the world in reopening, and as COVID-19 is now endemic, Japanese continue to wear face masks more commonly than almost any other country. This covers Japan’s face mask rules, laws (or lack thereof), and expectations, as well as other health safety measures and our experiences with masking in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka & beyond. (Updated January 8, 2023.)

Japan’s masking culture has been well-documented elsewhere, and we aren’t pretending to be ‘pioneers’ on this frontier. However, much has not been discussed in the context of travel in 2023. Additionally, we were surprised and frustrated on a number of occasions by other health protocol–or the lack thereof–and the contradictions in Japan’s approaches.

In some cases, this resulted in Googling a question or observation for more details or backstory, only to find few–if any–results since mid-2020. Accordingly, we’ll share some of the under-discussed details about Japan’s approach to the pandemic and its aftermath, how that impacts travel, and other thoughts.

First, we’ll start with a bit of ‘background’ since face masking has been a controversial topic (at least in certain places), so you can assess our level of bias, baseline tolerance, etc. Over the course of the last couple years, we’ve resided in the United States, splitting time between Florida and California. If you’re not an American, those two states have had essentially diametrically opposed approaches to masking.

For our part, we masked up consistent with CDC guidelines, more or less, using KN95 masks when community spread was at its worst in year one. I was personally “over” masking once vaccinated. The last time I wore a mask with any degree of consistency was prior to California’s mask mandate expiring last February. Aside from when complying with rules of private businesses (or statewide mandates), I have not masked by choice in almost two years.

My personal basis for being “over” masking after vaccines were available was essentially if not now, when? Meaning that if a population is no longer immunologically-naive, and long-lasting protection against severe disease exists due to durable immune memory of B and T cells, why continue masking? What other basis is there for rolling back health safety measures given the now-endemic nature of COVID?

At that point, I had enough risk tolerance and am sufficiently low-risk that my personal assessment was that continued burden of masking outweighed its value. To whatever extent it works, one-way masking is a viable alternative and high-quality masks are widely available, so the onus is on the individual to take their health and safety into their own hands.

With that said, my view on masking is: to each their own. In the early days (through about fall of 2020), I was admittedly apprehensive being around unmasked strangers. Since then, I have not really cared either way. What other people do is their business, and does not impact me. If others want to mask indefinitely, that is their prerogative.

While we no longer mask, we do take certain mitigation measures when convenient and if community spread is higher. For example, we dine outdoors much more frequently than before, especially during times of year when spread is surging (and the weather is pleasant in Southern California). I realize much of this is a very ‘westerner’ way of thinking, but…that’s what I am! This is merely my perspective to offer greater context about my perception of masking in Japan. I am not looking to relitigate any masking debates.

With that out of the way, let’s turn to the current face mask “rules” in Japan. Those are air quotes around rules because, in fact, Japan does not have legally-enforceable mask mask mandates or rules. Like so much of the culture, masking is part of Japanese etiquette or the social contract. Masking remains nearly universal in Japan when other individuals are in view.

With that said, here is the government’s official guidance via the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare:

  • Outdoors: You do not need to wear a mask outdoors when you are approximately 2 meters apart from others or when you are not talking at a distance of less than 2 meters.
  • Indoors: You do not need to wear a mask indoors when you are approximately 2 meters apart from others and when you are not talking.
  • For Children: Children don’t need to wear masks at a distance of approximately 2 meters from others. All preschool children are not required to wear a mask.

Here’s a nice graphic from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare illustrating current government mask guidance:

Upon landing at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (and breezing past a colossal line at a health checkpoint thanks to pre-registering for the Fast Track, which is off-topic but we’d nevertheless highly recommend!), we were greeted by signs and handouts that essentially reiterated the above guidance.

In actuality, none of this is presented as guidance to foreign visitors. The term “required” is used repeatedly on official government information, and between that and observable behavior, the impression is that masks must be (legally) mandated.

As it turned out, the airports in Tokyo and Osaka were the places where we saw the fewest masks the entire trip. That includes outdoor locations, even while hiking in mountain temples and other rural areas where few others were around.

Setting aside the aforementioned airports, masking is virtually universal in Japan as of early 2023. Some might shrug this off, noting that masking has always been commonplace in Japan. That’s partially true–masks have been a thing, especially since the SARS and MEARS outbreaks. However, I cannot recall ever seeing more than 10-15% of the population masked. It was never like this before.

To be sure, masking in Japan is not quite 100%, but it’s very close. I’d estimate that outside it was around 95% among Japanese adults, and close to 99% indoors. To the extent that people are not wearing masks, they are mostly foreign tourists.

However, there are a few caveats to this. First, those highly-scientific statistics are (obviously) only my observations; masking is something of which I was acutely aware and paid attention in order to cover here. Second, those numbers include anyone wearing a mask in any way.

To that point, there are a good number of people–especially younger and older men–who wear face masks as chin straps. In addition to those individuals, many people only mask their mouths, leaving their noses exposed.

Perhaps most interestingly, the number of people I observed wearing properly-fitting, high-quality masks was exceedingly low. KN95s or above are very rare; more people are wearing surgical or cloth masks.

Given all of that, it should thus be relatively unsurprising that Japan is largely going through the motions when it comes to other health safety measures. The approach epitomizes hygiene theater, with the visible signals of supposed-safety mattering more than actual mitigation.

This was reinforced throughout Japan, but nowhere more than on public transportation.

More than anywhere else, masking was universal aboard trains. Over the course of a month, I saw 3 Japanese people without masks on trains. As with anywhere else, I did spot plenty of noses.

Notably, trains were packed during busy times and there was no discernible difference between now and this exact same time pre-pandemic. These densely-packed trains were unsurprising, as remote work never really ‘caught on’ in Japan to the extent that it did elsewhere.

On top of that, we routinely saw windows with labels indicating that they were left open for ventilation. A wise idea to reduce the likelihood of transmission…had it been true. Many of these windows were closed (presumably by riders as the weather turned colder?) and some trains had no open windows whatsoever.

Worse yet, it was incredibly common to hear non-stop coughing and sneezing. I lost count of how many times we move seats on a train because someone near us was visibly sick. (But don’t worry, they were wearing a cloth mask!) In fact, it was an incredibly common sight to see people remove their masks to cough or sneeze.

Beyond the universal masking, hand sanitizing stations and temperature check stations that no one was checking were both common. Still uncommon was soap in restrooms, at least outside of Tokyo.

Speaking of restrooms, virtually all hand dryers were out of service “for safety.” This is one of the things I had to research, as this was a new-to-me phenomenon. Supposedly, the government reversed this decision last April at the behest of the Japanese Business Federation. Apparently the operator of virtually every restroom in Japan didn’t get the memo.

It’s always been the case that you should travel with a towel to dry your hands in Japan; now that’s the only option.

At restaurants throughout Japan, plexiglass dividers are still ubiquitous.

This is particularly amusing in ramen shops and other older, intimate settings. They are packed with people and have zero ventilation, but don’t worry, there’s a piece of plastic that barely rises to nose-level!

To be clear, the lack of ventilation and ‘improper’ mask-wearing does not bother me from a health safety perspective. Rather, it’s the hypocrisy of it all. It’s difficult to take the health measures seriously when they are half-hearted and largely symbolic. It comes across as performative rather than a sincere caution or desire to reduce risk. I can’t be sure why masking is nearly universal, but it doesn’t seem to be entirely due to concern about COVID at this point.

If masking is truly important culturally, so be it–but at least cover noses or wear high-quality masks with greater efficacy. If reducing transmission in crowded spaces is critical, discard the plexiglass and crack a window or door. The list goes on and on. It should not be the case that visible measures are always favored over invisible ones, even those that are demonstrably more effective at mitigation.

For my part, I mostly followed the face mask guidance from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Actually, I went “above and beyond” (although it definitely did not feel like it). I wore a cloth face mask at all times indoors and on public transportation.

Outdoors, I typically did not mask. (At least, not properly; lots of chin-masking and nose-out masking in these scenarios.) There were exceptions to this, such as private places of business with rules requiring masks. For example, Universal Studios Japan requires masks “at all times” in the park and I followed that in full. For the comfort of others, I also wore a mask properly in densely-crowded outdoor areas, such as nighttime illuminations in Kyoto, which were busier than I had ever seen.

There were certain situations where I used my own discretion and did not mask. Both Fushimi Inari and Kuramadera in Kyoto had (weathered) signs up encouraging or requesting face masks. I’m not sure whether these policies are actually still in effect, but we visited the former after 10 pm when no one was around and the latter on another uncrowded day.

Not once was I confronted about not wearing a mask outdoors, and I didn’t notice any side-eye or judgmental stares. Japan is always a mixed bag when it comes to treatment of cultural outsiders, and this is often so subtle as to be unnoticeable. We didn’t perceive any better or worse treatment than normal, and the Japanese in general were as welcoming as ever. Masks, or lack thereof, seemed to be a complete non-factor in how we were perceived and received.

As indicated above, I’m sharing our experience because this has been a common query. Many of you have indicated that you’re waiting until 2023 to visit Japan when “things are back to normal.” From my perspective, that seemed like a sensible position.

Or it did before we took this trip. This is for two reasons. First, because of our reception and just how shockingly normal everything already is, minus the masks and assorted hygiene theater. Given that alone and its minimal intrusiveness, there’s really no reason to wait.

Second, because there’s no telling when Japan might be “fully” normal. Our experience might be the new normal for the foreseeable future. Again, it’s a matter of if not now, when? Vaccinations plus boosters have not been enough. Nor has government guidance. Same goes for eight waves and a lengthy stretch during which Japan had the most recorded cases in the entire world.

None of this changed the equation, so what will? Optimistically, I’d like to think that opening up to the world and seeing foreign tourists without masks might give those who have mask fatigue “cover” to likewise remove their masks.

However, it’s just as likely that such behavior will be used to feign superiority or as the purported cause of future waves. Already, precisely this is happening, with Japanese media drawing a tenuous connection between reopening and the eighth wave. Japanese social media feigns righteous indignation at images of maskless foreigners.

More likely, it will take better messaging from Japan’s government. In one survey, 72.7% of respondents indicated that they are in favor of dropping the practice of masking, but 58.4% were unaware that the government had already dropped its guidance for masking outdoors.

This was consistent with our (admittedly limited) experience talking to friends while visiting Japan. When we inquired about masking and other safety measures, the consensus was that the practices were done so because the government requires it. (In these and other past conversations, we’ve learned that questioning the “why” of rules or recommendations is a western thing.)

Past surveys have suggested that peer pressure is also a powerful factor, with people modifying their behaviors based on how others act. While a majority no longer wanted to mask, over 90% felt compelled to do so because everyone else was. Another older survey indicated that some favor masking for reasons having nothing to do with COVID–anonymity, insecurity, etc.

Kazuya Nakayachi, a psychology professor at Kyoto’s Doshisha University specializing in trust and risk perception, recently reiterated this, telling Kyodo News that although people think masks offer some protection against the virus, much of the motivation in donning them comes from wanting to fit in with the crowd with “appropriate behavior.”

“Various surveys indicate that along with a strong pressure to conform, there is an informational influence at work in which people seek cues in their surroundings for deciding what is the right course of action. I think people continue to wear masks because they are attuned to each other and behave accordingly,” Nakayachi said.

Nakayachi added, “much in the same way mask-wearing has partly been a result of social conformity, so too will mask removals.” His belief is corroborated by the Japanese individuals interviewed by Kyodo, many of whom indicated they’d unmask as soon as others stopped masking. Other experts predicted that this will occur by Summer 2023, with face masks flying off en masse, due to a mixture of decreasing cases, declassifying COVID-19, and grueling weather.

Ultimately, it’ll be interesting to see the degree to which Japan’s masking practices, social expectations, and rules/recommendations change by mid-2023. While we question what could conceivably happen to trigger different behavior, it’s worth a reminder that this was the same perspective many had about the border closure itself.

As with so many things, change happens gradually, then suddenly. It may be difficult to envision the status quo shifting after three years, but it’s even more difficult to imagine this continuing for decades to come.

As for recommendations regarding masking in Japan, we’ll simply reiterate prior advice: you are a guest in another country, so it is appropriate to act accordingly. In our view, that is done by following the letter of official public health guidance and any rules that private businesses might have in place.

Irrespective of your beliefs, that’s what you agree to when entering the country and patronizing those establishments, respectively. Whether you want to go ‘above and beyond’ for the sake of social conformity or being culturally respectful is your prerogative. We did in many settings, but not always in uncrowded settings. Of course, your mileage and views may vary. We’re simply here to share what we experienced and observed.

If you do opt against wearing a mask, it’s highly unlikely anyone will say anything. The only times we ever saw this occur were at a Hilton breakfast buffet in Tokyo (masks were required when getting up to get food) and at Universal Studios Japan. Everywhere else, people were left to their own devices. This is hardly surprising. The Japanese are typically non-confrontational, opting instead for passive-aggressive slights to which foreign visitors are mostly oblivious.

If you’re planning a trip to the Japan, check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other things to do! We also recommend consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto and Ultimate Guide to Tokyo to plan.

Your Thoughts

If you’ve visited Japan since the border reopened for travel, what was your experience with masking? Will you travel to Japan in 2023, or are you still waiting for more restrictions to be lifted or for things to fully return to normal? Thoughts about any of the health safety measures or hygiene theater discussed here? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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88 replies
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  1. Casey
    Casey says:

    I feel exactly the same way as you do! You’ve highlighted some interesting points. I like the part where you refer the mask to a “chin strap”. I thought of it the same way too, sometimes it seems more like a chin bib to me. It’s rather unhygienic as I’ve seen some people even eat with the chin strap on. I wondered if food and saliva gets stuck on the mask making it worse than not wearing one at all. But to each his own. I think we should wear a mask properly if we chose to wear it, or nothing at all.

    Reply
  2. Peter
    Peter says:

    I’m hoping to return to Japan for the first time since 2019 within a few months so it’s helpful reading your experiences as someone who is over masks. Interestingly in the last 24 hours articles have come up that JP government is considering removing the indoor recommendation soon so that’s something. It’s ironic that hand sanitiser is everywhere now, back in 2019 I was looking to buy some as I’ve for a long time used it before eating when out and it was very hard to find.

    Reply
  3. JapanVisitor
    JapanVisitor says:

    Do you think it’s realistic to travel to Japan in May 2023 while refusing to put on a mask unless verbally asked to do so? That’s basically how I lived my life in the US since April 2021 when I got vaccinated – ignore any mask signs but put on a mask if someone *verbally* asks me to do so.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Yes.

      It’s unlikely you’d even be confronted about it much, if at all. The only place we really saw this happening was in western chained-brand hotels (e.g. Hilton and Marriott) and theme parks (Universal and Disney). Japanese people will judge you, but the overwhelming majority (99.9%+) will not confront you–especially since these are social norms and not real rules.

  4. cdilla
    cdilla says:

    Just back from three weeks in Tokyo. So good to be able to visit again. Somewhat less busy, but only noticeable in the traditional really busy places. Aside from when eating or engaged in sporting activities almost no-one was maskless, as expected. All staff whether at the hotel, airport, shops or the small eateries and izakayas we went to wore masks. Can’t say I see the fuss about it. It is no effort to wear a mask. They do protect (though arguable about how much) keep your face warm and I’m pretty sure helped counteract the dryness of the cabin air during 29 hours spent in flight. Hardly worth crying about your civil liberties over while you are a guest in the country.
    I did see a very small demonstration of young Japanese in Shibuya one time calling for no masks.
    Anyway – had a fantastic time (our 6th stay) and have booked another in April, and the trip was definitely less complex and stressful due the good infromation picked up here an the articles and comments.

    Reply
    • Kerry
      Kerry says:

      When was this article written? What are the dates you were in Japan?

      I don’t understand the publishing of articles/information without pertinent dates included. 🙁

  5. Alison
    Alison says:

    Hi I have a question about the Visit Japan web fast track process. I intend to set it up for a first visit to Japan in March. We will also be getting JR rail passes and I understand that we need to ensure we go through the ‘manual’ immigration channels to make sure we get the visa stamp that will allow us to convert our vouchers into rail passes. Is the fast-track process offered Visit Japan web just for quarantine purposes? Is it compatible with getting the visa stamps we will need for the rail passes? Thank you for any guidance you can provide.

    Reply
    • strider2k
      strider2k says:

      I have made two trips since the re-opening in October, both times I used the Visit Japan Web to fast track for covid, immigration and customs. Used a JR rail pass with a pre purchased voucher on both trips. No issues. They still look at and stamp your passport, just less paperwork to fill out when you get there.

  6. William
    William says:

    I returned to Japan immediately upon the opening to business travelers in May ’22 and have spent about 75% of my time there, over three very long trips, since May 1st. Your comments on masking in Japan are spot on and reflect my thoughts exactly. It’s a cultural issue to a great extent, and highly performative. While the Japanese wore masks SOME previous to Covid, this universal masking phenomenon of healthy people is completely new. Because of the dense nature of Japan’s big cities, and in my business, I often find myself in small rooms (the size of a western hotel room) packed with 30 – 35 people but the implication is because people are wearing cloth masks we are being cautious and are safe from Covid.

    I referred to the same government guidance you site above and can confirm that most Japanese are unaware of the current Ministry of Health recommendations. When I brought this up to a friend walking around in a fabric mask on the street in Kyoto (mouth covered only) he said it was too complicated to follow the latest government guidance and didn’t really care much to know.

    The plexiglass panels would be comical if it wasn’t depressing. Viewing your dinner companion through a useless piece of 18″ square plexiglass in a crowded restaurant as though that has anything to do with virus mitigation is silly at best.

    The assistant to a business colleague suffered heat stroke in July and was taken by ambulance to the hospital after walking in a mask in the brutal Kyoto heat. Heatstroke happened all over the country last summer. This is a real world consequence, and cost, of this societal phenomenon. Nevertheless, the following week he was on the street in Kyoto, in the heat, in a mask.

    I also chose to mask only as recommended by the government in the hopes that people will start to shed the masks in Japan. Perhaps, as you note, seeing foreigners unmasked might spur others to make a change.

    I think the clearer government guidance is unlikely. The Japanese government moves at a glacial pace and is not good at communicating change. Combining that fact with the extreme societal pressure for conformity in Japan will make it a slow process before we see exposed faces again in Japan.

    I leave for Tokyo a week from today and expect it to be much the same as when I left in November unfortunately.

    Reply
  7. Alvin
    Alvin says:

    Thank you for the thorough update on Japan. Korea is even more masked if that’s possible.

    I would like to counter two of your points. The N95 or KN95 (cheap knockoff of N95) is also mostly useless against aerosol particles whose sizes are in the 0.1 micron range, while the N95 can only filter down to 0.3 microns at 95% efficiency and that’s assuming perfect fit, single use, etc., which is never the case. Even the label says its ineffective against SARS-CoV-2 virus. Plus they are brutal and can not be worn for long periods of time. Besides, we never wore masks before 2020 during flu season or otherwise, so that should tell us something right there.

    Your other point is the “to each their own” attitude about masking. While admirable and preferable than mandates or screaming at the maskless, of course, I do not think masking among a non-negligible percentage of the population is harmless, as if akin to the clothes you wear, your hair style, or preference of ice cream flavor. My main concern here is to the children. Children are growing up in a culture of fear and without seeing smiles, reading lips, interpreting facial expressions, and it’s also impacting their speech and social skills, as well as their educations. They are growing up with extra stress and anxiety, which have long-term impacts on their development. The generation born during “Covid” have experienced a 20 point drop in IQs (would you like a citation or two?). The mask is not “just a mask”. It is unhealthy and harmful in many ways. It’s not normal.

    I remember what it was like being one of the only maskless customers inside a store during 2020 and 2021, living in one of the most locked down and masked places in the western world. My days were filled with confrontations, others yelling at me, and several encounters with the police. Now that Covid is essentially over, we should be putting the maskers on the spot and asking why they are sill masking. I would go so far as to boycott stores and restaurants where the workers are wearing masks.

    Reply
  8. Brian
    Brian says:

    I live in Japan for 2 years now. As we speak, I am beyond frustrated with Japan’s mask “mandate”. Being a man of science for my work (researcher at a uni) , it has been increasingly hard for me to participate in this social theater that this country has put up. Rules are nonsense and those enforcing them are (objectively or subjectively) irrational. This article touched upon so many true points. I am truly feeling at a loss on how to deal with this. I just returned from a one-week trip abroad. It was truly remarkable and cleansing to witness how other countries and continents are doing these days. Besides forcing myself to drop the mask whenever possible (at a considerable personal loss given that I live in a small town), I don’t know what else I can do.

    Reply
  9. Concerned
    Concerned says:

    Because we’ve turned to broader political topics in the comments and I don’t know if you read the comments on old articles, Tom I’ll raise another question. Do you or do you, reader know good Airbnb alternatives for homestays? After reading a score of articles best summarized by this one whose title I’ll post (but not link for fear of being flagged as spam) I’m convinced Airbnb are the baddies. Are there any decent alternatives for homestays?

    The article:
    “Is Airbnb using an algorithm to ban users from the platform?”
    The name of the publication is “Choice”.

    Reply
  10. John
    John says:

    It has to be said that expats living and working in Japan, who have an active social media presence, especially on Youtube, are obviously averse in speaking up against the pointless Japanese masking ‘culture’. This is to be expected, as these expats do not care to have their career prospects adversely affected, one way or another, by the local Japanese who can influence this very crucial and fundamental aspect of living in Japan. Simply put, these expats are putting their own financial and social self-interests ahead of being truthful and honest on the masking issue.

    It has to be said that as Covid is hyper infectious, the virus can easily pass through and around masks, especially if the mask is not worn properly. Moreover, much of Covid transmission occurs within the home between household members who obviously do not mask in their own homes. Whether the local Japanese care to admit it or not, all Japanese have contracted Covid and transmitted the virus multiple times in the same calendar year. Masking is really just pathetic and lame Japanese social theatre. Nothing more.

    Foreign tourists are under no legal nor moral responsibility to wear a mask as many local Japanese do. A tourist is under no obligation to engage in the futile Japanese game of Covid charades whatsoever. Mask wearing is *not* a function of Japanese culture. It is merely a protracted reaction to the Covid pandemic which has now passed. Moreover, it is absurd to expect that tourists are obliged to mimic and follow the daily practices of the local Japanese in all respects.

    Foreign tourists are injecting much needed revenue into the Japanese economy which has essentially tanked since the Japanese bubble economy burst in 1992. The boorish and unsophisticated segment of the local Japanese society need to bear this in mind before making judgments on the conduct of foreign tourists.

    Reply
  11. Tiako
    Tiako says:

    As a foreigner living in Japan, I’d like to give my perspective. It’s nearly impossible to have 2 m distance in Japan, and so as a result 95% of people are masked outdoors, and as you said 99% indoors. There are occasionally people who do stupid things like lower their mask when they sneeze — and there are people who lower their mask when they are outdoors and then forget to put it back over their nose when they are in crowded areas, but for the most part people mask up as a courtesy to others. Please keep in mind that Japan has a large population of elderly people and we are very fortunate to not have had the death rates that we witnessed in other countries. The borders just opened up and I’m happy for the revenue, but quite frankly it’s uncomfortable to see unmasked foreigners walking around. This culture is non-verbal. The non-verbal message unmasked foreigners send is simply disrespectful.

    Reply
    • John
      John says:

      Tiako, you are totally kidding yourself if you think that masks render any virological protection for the wearer against Covid. It does not. Everybody has contracted and transmitted Covid multiple times this year. Masks, or no masks, this simple public health reality does not change.

    • William
      William says:

      I walk all over central Tokyo easily maintaining 2 meters from others. It’s mostly arbitrary and silly, frankly. But, it is easy to do.

  12. Andy
    Andy says:

    My SOS app is now redundant and replaced an app called Visit Japan Web, this is highly recommended as it allows you to pre register for all entry procedures and the fast track at the airport. I entered through Tokyo Haneda 3 days ago with fast track in place, within 30 minutes of the plane doors opening I was out of the airport.

    Reply
    • John
      John says:

      The MySOS app became obsolete on 1 Nov. Visit Japan Web is *not* a smartphone app, as it is simply an ordinary webpage based online service.

  13. Mikhail
    Mikhail says:

    I’m currently in Tokyo (having arrived a week ago) and thought I would share my observations.
    While masking continues to be ubiquitous indoors, I have noticed a significant minority of people (perhaps 25%) not masking outdoors, even in relatively crowded areas and even (occasionally) female. This has reinforced my own decision that I will not mask outside, not just for my own comfort but also as a small encouragement to the minority of people who are sick of this theatre. I have even seen a few maskless train passengers but I didn’t quite manage to summon the courage to join them. I also completely refuse to mask either of my children (5 and 3) in any circumstances.
    It is interesting how the pandemic has pathologised normal human behaviours in particular countries. In Japan, in addition to the hand dryer thing, I have noticed the weird focus on talking as a risk factor. I suppose it makes sense from an aerosol perspective, but it is rather odd to have to adjust your behaviour (i.e., mask or not mask and judge isolation distances) depending on whether you intend to utter a few syllables.
    It was not until one week ago that the Japanese education ministry gave students ‘permission’ to talk to one another at lunch time! https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20221130/p2a/00m/0na/007000c

    Reply
  14. zazza
    zazza says:

    Regarding reclassification:

    https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/12/03/national/politics-diplomacy/japan-parliament-pandemic-legislation/

    (terrible source, but easier to read for non-Japanese speaking users).

    in particular, this passage is important:

    “The legislation includes a supplementary provision calling on the government to swiftly reconsider the classification of COVID-19 under the infectious disease law.

    The law classifies infectious diseases in a five-tier category based on their severity and infectiousness. COVID-19 is currently in the second highest tier, Category II, and the health ministry is considering lowering the status.”

    The process, contrary to what this article says, already started.

    Reply
  15. Cassandra Bond
    Cassandra Bond says:

    It seems like the Japanese are innocent for not wearing the N95 masks as this new study shows they aren’t any more efficacious than the surgical masks: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M22-1966?cmp=1
    Also there a Substack you might be interested in about Japan and the ongoing illness and lack of new births in the last few years. I have just been to Japan and love the Japanese and it’s sad what is happening to them: https://supersally.substack.com/p/japanese-emeritus-professor-at-kyoto?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I hadn’t read that particular randomized trial, but I’m not surprised. Without reading, I wonder if it has anything to do with fit-testing. Most higher-quality masks are not properly secure and have large gaps at the chin.

      It’s not just a lack of births. It’s youth and teenage socialization, suicide rates, development, education–on and on. This all has been widely covered in Japanese news over the last year, which is part of what makes some of the responses here all the more befuddling. There are real reasons why Japan’s own government is encouraging people to reduce mask-wearing. The negative, unintended consequences are well-documented and hardly controversial at this point.

    • Anthony
      Anthony says:

      Facemasks, hand sanitiser and the even more pointless Perspex ‘shields’ at restaurants are all just social theatre. Nothing more. Covid is everywhere and anywhere as the virus is hyper infectious. Everybody has caught Covid multiple times this 2022 calendar year alone. In Australia, one in 5 PCR Covid tests are returning a positive result. With Covid being utterly prolific in society, there is *nothing* an individual can do to materially reduce their risk of transmitting or contracting the virus. Trying to stop Covid is like trying to stop the wind.

      So, where does this lead the foreign traveller when in Japan? Do not wear any masks at all, at any time. There is no Japanese legal mandate to wear a mask. It is as simple as that.

    • Anthony
      Anthony says:

      Facemasks have never been truly effective in limiting the spread of Covid. Everybody has contracted Covid multiple times this calendar year, with nearly all cases neither detected nor diagnosed. Moreover, much of Covid transmission occurs within the workplace and at home where mask wearing is not practised, especially for the latter.

      As for Mr Bricker’s claim of “negative, unintended consequences” from the easing mask wearing recommendations, this is truly puzzling as this is wholly unsubstantiated. As, if anything, with most of the general Japanese population wearing masks over the past 3 long years, this can only have negative environmental effects with the billions of discarded masks being eventually incinerated. Or, worse still, with the old mass ending up in the ocean.

      The declining Japanese birth rate is nothing new to demographers and social scientists. The Japanese population peaked way back in 2008. Over recent years, neighbouring South Korea and China have experienced stagnant and slightly declining population numbers as well.

  16. Jeanne
    Jeanne says:

    I recently returned from a two week stay In Funabashi. What I experienced,as this is not a tourist area, is that wearing a mask 😷 indoors is expected. Almost everybody I encountered was masked. There were hand sanitizer at every business entrance. Almost every person I observed used the sanitizer. My son & his family live there and masks are required for all school children as well. Also they were required to wash their hands before entering the school to collect the children.

    Reply
  17. Bernadette
    Bernadette says:

    Hi I am going to Japan in March 2023 and now they changed from fast track to visit Japan web, does anyone know we’re to get it. I can’t find an app for it. I am not what to do

    Reply
    • Anthony
      Anthony says:

      Visit Japan Web is a webpage based service only. There is no associated smartphone app. MySOS became obsolete on Tue 1 Nov. It is highly recommended that you do not proceed with the MySOS process at all. All future travellers should only use Visit Japan Web to register their upcoming visit to Japan.

      In any case, considering that your Japanese holiday is not for another 3 months for March 2023, it is way too early to be concerned with these mundane border entry procedures. As, by the time Feb 2023, the border policies and rules may change. If nothing else, Japan will certainly withdraw its lingering vaccination and PCR test requirements.

    • Andy
      Andy says:

      My SOS app is now redundant and replaced an app called Visit Japan Web, this is highly recommended as it allows you to pre register for all entry procedures and the fast track at the airport. I entered through Tokyo Haneda 3 days ago with fast track in place, within 30 minutes of the plane doors opening I was out of the airport.

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