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 May 1, 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. Accordingly, we’ll share under-discussed details about Japan’s approach to the pandemic and its aftermath, how that impacts travel, and other thoughts.

May 1, 2023 Update: Back in March, Japan’s government drastically eased face mask guidelines. Under the new guidance, people are only recommended to wear face masks on public transportation during rush hour or when there’s congestion. Students are no longer requested to use masks during school activities. In effect, masking recommendations officially ended two months ago.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that this was done to relax health restrictions for economic and social activities. It came ahead of the government’s legal downgrading of COVID-19 to the same category as common infectious diseases like seasonal flu on May 8, 2023.

There has never been a legal mask mandate in Japan, but mask-wearing has become a daily custom among citizens for around three years. Kishida said the decision to put on a mask, indoors or outdoors, will be left to individuals.

About two months later, and Japan is slowly but surely…but slowly…unmasking. A variety of surveys last month revealed that about 40% of Japanese respondents always wear masks when leaving the house and another 50% wear them situationally. On average, around 85% to 90% report wearing masks at least sometimes in public.

For those still masking, surveys have shown that a little over 40% do so out of habit. Another almost 40% of respondents said they wear masks because many other people do so. Finally, 35% said they wear masks because their workplaces recommended it.

These survey numbers are almost completely consistent with artificial intelligence surveillance data. This kinda creepy, kinda cool AI analysis revealed that 85% of the people passing by were wearing masks as of April. That’s actually down about 5% from AI data a month earlier, which also reflects slowly shifting public sentiment.

It is worth presenting this with an asterisk, as these numbers are outside Tokyo Station. Not only is congested public transit one scenario where Japan’s government still encourages mask use, but many companies–including employers in that area–are still requiring that employees wear masks. Many of these employers actually do report an intention to change their rules or recommendations once the legal downgrade of COVID-19 occurs on May 8, 2023.

In short, the AI surveillance from the middle of last month at Tokyo Station likely reflects a nationwide high for masking in Japan. In our experiences, masking is at its highest around train stations during rush hour. If you’re visiting a less crowded location or a destination that skews more towards tourists or younger demos, the percentage of people you see masked up could be far lower–but probably still a majority.

Looking forward, it’s probably safe to expect a drop in mask usage of about 5-10% per month. The legal downgrade of COVID-19 will be another big milestone, as that will allow more people to drop masks in the workplace, and further normalize going mask-free. June through August 2023 will also see hotter weather, incentivizing more people to go mask-free.

Conversely, it’s likely that Japan will experience its “ninth wave” of cases in late summer, and unless case collection and data reporting ceases, that could result in an increase in mask usage. Even in such a scenario, masking is once again likely to drop in tandem with cases following the late summer months. All things considered, we’d expect mask usage to be at or below 50% on average by Spring 2024. (So one year from now.)

With that update out of the way, let’s turn to the current face mask “rules” in Japan as of May 1, 2023. 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.

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare recommends wearing a mask in certain settings, in order to prevent the elderly, immunocompromised, pregnant women, and those who at high risk of severe illness from being infected:

  • When in medical institutions.
  • When visiting medical institutions and nursing homes where people at high risk of more severe disease lives.
  • When riding a crowded train or bus during commuter rush hours and other times of congestion, excluding transportation that allows seating for all passengers (Shinkansen, commuter liners, highway buses, chartered buses, etc.)
  • When people at high risk of severe illness during the spread of infection go to crowded places.

If you are feeling sick, have tested positive, or are currently traveling with others who have tested positive, do not go out in public even if the symptoms are mild.

Wearing mask is recommended for those who work in settings such as healthcare facilities and nursing homes, in proximity to those who have a high risk of severe illness, including the elderly and immunocompromised.

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare offers these other “points to consider” with regard to masking:

  • When considering mask usage, it is important not to hinder the healthy growth and development of children.
  • Stronger infection control measures may be required, such as calling on people to wear appropriate masks temporarily according to the situation. Even in such cases, there are concerns about the impact on the health of children wearing masks, so we ask parents and adults around them to continue to pay close attention to the physical condition of each child.
  • Wearing a mask is left to the discretion of the individual, but it is permissible for businesses to require customers or employees to wear masks for infection control or business reasons. However, if it is difficult to wear a mask, due to disability, etc., please consider the individual circumstances and give sufficient consideration to prevent discrimination.
  • Please be careful not to force a person to put on or take off a face mask against their will.

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

When it comes to commentary, we’ll start with a bit of ‘background’ since face masking has been a controversial topic, so you can assess our level of risk baseline tolerance, etc. Since masking became commonplace in the United States, we’ve resided in 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. 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 at all, one-way masking is a viable alternative and high-quality masks are widely available. 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. 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.

As it turns out, Japan’s approach to masking is very much the opposite of “to each their own.” Despite the aforementioned guidance, the vast majority of Japanese mask almost everywhere. That includes outdoor locations, even while hiking in mountain temples and other rural areas where few others were around. The airports in Tokyo and Osaka were the places where we saw the fewest masks the entire trip.

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 no longer 100%, but it’s still a strong majority of people. I’d estimate that outside it’s now around 80% among Japanese adults, and close to 95% 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 almost two years ago 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 fairly commonplace, but are also (finally) starting to decrease in usage.

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 last year, 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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141 replies
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  1. Corin
    Corin says:

    Tom, a big thank you for all your helpful information on both Disney and Japan, two things we love dearly, you’re our first port of call for new updates.
    We’ve just returned from our first post pandemic trip to Japan in mid April 2023, after visiting multiple times pre pandemic, and I thought I’d share our perception of the mask wearing situation we experienced. We visited Osaka, Kanazawa, Matsumoto, and Tokyo and found the mask wearing to be between 30-90% depending on where we were.
    In Osaka, and dare I say it and show my age, more hip areas the mask wearing rates were quite low. While more rural Matsumoto, and more crowded places like peak hour trains were higher.
    Universal Studios I’d guess was about 30%, although a chunk of that number is made up by the fact that all employees, while at work interacting with the public anywhere, wore masks.
    Disney I’d guess was slightly more, maybe 40%.
    Tokyo as a whole I’d say was about 50%.
    We arrived with a giant box of face masks and duly donned them every day for the first 2 days but after that we felt comfortable enough to stop wearing them except in very crowded environments. We were never the only people not wearing them, even on peak hour trains there was at least a handful of locals not wearing masks and no one gave you a second glance for being maskless.
    As for the parks, DisneySea holds a special place in my family’s heart, we love it dearly, and we had a wonderful time. However, I did think that the quality, variety, and availability of merchandise, food, and entertainment was not up to pre pandemic levels. It was still fantastic, but we did leave with heavier wallets and lighter suitcases than we have in previous visits.
    Universal on the other hand was as good or better than our last visit. The addition of the Super Nintendo World takes the park to a whole new level for us, even if you’re not a Nintendo fan, it still delivers. The two rides are fun but the real winner of the new land is the interactive game elements that bring the whole amazingly themed area alive.

  2. Christopher Pineau
    Christopher Pineau says:

    For myself, the only reason I’m not booking another flight to Japan is purely finances at this time. If I had my way, I’d book a flight this year, get tested as per requirements, and as per what I found to be a very reasonable and tactfully written article, I’d do as the Romans do in the name of respect to the local and their culture. I’m not here to make political statements, half baked or not, I’m here to learn more about this situation and make up my own mind based on what I see from someone who knows of what he speaks. And out of respect for the Japanese, I’ll do as they do out of respect for them as opposed to being an “ugly American.” (Seems we’ve got a few of those in this comments section on the regular.)

    • Jane
      Jane says:

      Christopher, as a Japanese-American, I can tell you that masking is not part of the “culture” of Japan. Being respectful to the culture of a place means learning a few words of the local language, learning about the history before you visit, etc. and not indulging in bizarre and harmful behaviors that are no one else in the world adheres to.

      Wearing a mask when you go to Japan only serves to enable and normalize the massively harmful behaviors the Japanese have been propagating for the past 3 years. It’s a collective societal fault to continue wearing masks – not part of the “culture” at all.

      Also, articles like this don’t quite capture the nuance of masks in Japan. Even in urban touristy areas like Tokyo and Kyoto, you will find locals who think for themselves and don’t wear masks, although it is rare. But in smaller rural towns where tourists don’t go, masks have been a thing of the past for a while – so once again, they’re not part of the “culture” of Japan at all.

  3. Carmen
    Carmen says:

    Thanks so much for this blog! I was planning a 2 week trip to Japan from Hawaii in April 2023. I’m as anti-mask as it gets and have been the entire pandemic. I enjoy exercise and eat healthy. Wearing a mask over my face for hours on end when I’m 100% healthy is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of! After reading your blog, I decided to hold off on visiting Japan until societal mass masking has ended.
    All of the cases of myocarditis and people dropping dead with “sudden adult death syndrome”has made me disagree with Japan’s definition of “fully vaccinated” as having two shots and a “booster” nor do I want to test for COVID 72 hours before my departure. Testing three days before I leave does nothing since I could come in contact with COVID an hour before my flight. None of Japans covid protocols make sense. It is very clear it’s for theatre.

    However, I do want to respect the country and culture, and since I don’t agree with Japan’s continued Covid “societal” protocols, I won’t be visiting anytime soon. I know that I will be bothered seeing a country and its people following social rules that make no logical sense. I will be traveling with my son and I teach him to think creatively and critically. I am VERY triggered by the plastic partitions when I see them. I Cannot imagine eating Udon / ramen with a partition between my spouse and me. How absurd! Coming from Hawaii I see the group think, non confrontation, and don’t ask nuances of the Japanese culture in my every day occurrences. Since I live around Japanese covid culture already, the idea of being able to escape it sounds more like a vacation to me. So I’m holding off on visiting Japan for awhile. But I do ooo forward to normalcy. Again, Thank YOU for this honest blog. It was very helpful in making my travel plans!

    I read a reply that criticized your writing as being political. I didn’t get that at all. The person who wrote that clearly has mask views that are politically driven rather than scientifically made. I found your writing to be free of political bias. I appreciate your truth.

  4. Rob
    Rob says:

    One thing you guys have to keep in mind is that Japan is a very “group think” kind of society. People just do what everyone else does because they want to fit in and not have others think differently of them. It’s kind of like a double-edge sword because you want to fit in and to enjoy the same things like everyone else does, but it comes with the cost that there isn’t as much freedom of expression and fear of being judged.

    Yes, Japan is a VERY judgmental country as well. People don’t say things as it’s part of their society not to speak up, but they will definitely give you a look if they don’t like something. Granted, every person is different and it’s nice to see younger people trying to think for themselves. Honestly in all of this situation over the last few years, I feel mostly bad for the children as they’ve literally been brainwashed into thinking masks will just protect them from the elements and it’s done nothing more than psychological problems than anything.

    I’m hoping people will start to relax on the masks and stop trying to force their belief on others. People still have this mentality of “oh how dare you not wear a mask. Do you want to kill old people?” Which is an absurd claim and to assume that people not wearing a mask means they’re going to “infect you” somehow.

    I do honestly believe Japan will take a while to slowly get used to not wearing masks again, though seeing how society is, it’s all about the “social pressure” and just giving up your own happiness just to try to “fit in”. (Keep in mind, this is going off of first-hand experience having lived and worked in Japan before the whole covid thing happened and a little but during it before returning overseas.)

    • Rob
      Rob says:

      I forgot to add one more thing. If you think that wearing these masks is no big deal, just keep one thing in mind. The whole corona thing has been just a huge political scheme to control people. The word corona if you look at it means crown. There are 6 letters in the word corona. If you look up each letter corresponding with the number in the alphabet and add each number up, it comes up to 66. Huh, that’s odd. 3 6’s in a row. Hmmmmm…

      Also, the 2 variants of corona that came out was delta and then omicron. If you do a an anagram of the words delta/omicron you get the words “media control”. Hmmmm…

      Also, there are 3 islands in antarctica called the “coronation islands” “Omicron isalnds” and “delta islands” Hmm… Must just be another one of those conspiracies though, huh?

      Always good to do research and think for yourself instead of needlessly complying with whatever you’re told.

  5. Joe Bloogs
    Joe Bloogs says:

    A weak, limp man you are. Wearing masks is akin to flying Nazi flags in 1930s Germany. I’m just doing it because everyone else is doing it. Sad.

  6. Douglas Roth
    Douglas Roth says:

    I’ve lived in and out of Japan for 40 years. I speak Japanese. But I don’t agree with the “when in Rome” approach. International citizens should mostly live by international norms. And Japan is WAY outside international norms here.

    In my experience, living in Japan dishes up an infinite number of similar challenges. And I recommend picking your battles. I’m not sure that the mask thing is the best place to make a stand. There are plenty of other areas where Japan could use a gentle push.

    But I know this: Japan’s mask problem is no longer a Covid problem – it’s a MENTAL HEALTH problem. Japanese children, in particular, will face some lifelong negative effects of excessive masking. But really, everyone suffers. Everyone who wants to have a friend. Everyone who wants to smile.

    • JohnB
      JohnB says:

      What a laughable comment! The Japanese have been masking during the winter for decades! Literally 20+ years!!! It started with SARS in 2003. If you really lived in Japan, you would know that!!! Now after masking for 20+ years, the Japanese are having mental issues because of masking? That is a total crock! The world in general has been having mental issues because of Covid! Losing loved ones! Losing jobs! But not masks!!!!!

    • jamarmiller
      jamarmiller says:

      pretty much hit it on the head. JohnB is a total idiot. He obviously has little experience with the Japanese. The Japanese started wearing mask when the Spanish Flu hit over a hundred years ago not with SARS LOL and it has caused so many mental problems that it is so obvious to anyone that has lived here in any meaningful way ( not as a tourist ) that is not originally from here. It is scientific fact ( something that JohnB is severely lacking ) that mask have no effect at all when it comes to covid and similar diseases and it does cause severe mental issues in EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD including Japan. I could go on and on , on how stupid JohnB’s comments are but wont. I dont think he has lived here for very long and as he obviously has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to History, science, facts and Japanese people/culture.

    • Ali
      Ali says:

      These are hilarious responses, and the original commenter is correct.

      Saying “the Japanese have always masked” is simply not true and some bizarre narrative the West has latched onto.

      Prior to 2020, you’d see maybe 10-15% of people masked in Tokyo when it was cold/flu season. Only outside or on public transit.

      Never children. Never in school. Never at work. Never in restaurants. Never indoors and outdoors 12+ hours a day.

      Masks are absolutely proven to cause irreparable damage to cognitive development in children. It absolutely is a mental illness issue.

      Japan is one of the ONLY countries in the world still clinging to masks. It was never like this before and it’s just a delusional Western thing to say it was.

  7. Stephanie H
    Stephanie H says:

    Tom, firstly, I just wanted to say I found your post on continued masking in Japan to be very measured, thoughtful and completely tactful. I think it’s worth noting this!
    I also wholeheartedly agree it is important to be respectful and considerate of the Japanese people’s sensitivities and wishes, since we are, as you noted, guests in their home.
    I personally do earnestly wish the Japanese will gradually start removing their masks, as I do not believe it is dangerous to do so, and it is just so much nicer to see people’s faces, their smiles! I think it is always more fruitful to take the “you can get more with honey than vinegar”-approach; If you’re in a position to do so living in Japan, ever so gently and with kindness, encourage your Japanese friends to take the first step. For, ultimately, it is their Land and it’s going to be up to them to move forward, and live. Thank you for your contribution to a very meaningful coversation.

  8. Marlene
    Marlene says:

    I visited my son and his family in Hokkaido last Sept after not seeing them for 3 years. I masked all the time except for when no one was around because I didn’t want to be ‘that’ foreigner. Seemed it was mostly older Japanese men that didn’t mask. We visited Universal Studios Japan and the only unmasked people were a few foreigners. I’ve always believed to try and respect a country’s regulations wherever I go whether I agree or not. I quit wearing a mask in Oregon where I live as soon as the mandate was over.
    I’ve visited Japan over 10 times and I haven’t noticed a change in their behavior. I’ve always been treated politely and when I seemed to need help someone always came to my rescue.

  9. Mark M
    Mark M says:

    My wife and I visited Japan (Tokyo – Osaka – Nagoya – Kyoto) for 3 1/2 weeks in November. A wonderful trip. We masked inside always and for the most part did not out doors. Wearing masks while visiting was a small price to pay. As always we were treated great wherever we went. We can not wait to go back!

  10. HB
    HB says:

    I’ve loved your posts during Covid, but this one is too political and frankly derisive of a culture you purport to love. I spent 3 weeks in Japan in January. I wore a mask in every setting where people were wearing a mask (even if I thought it was a little odd). I certainly gave the “side-eye” to Westerners who thought they were above having to wear them. Many things about Japanese culture are strange to Westerners…but that’s what makes it an amazing travel destination.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I can fully understand disagreeing with some of the editorializing here, but what about this post strikes you as political? (And if you’re drawing inferences from this post, my guess is that you’ve reached an incorrect conclusion about my politics–but that’s really neither here nor there.)

      I do agree with you that many things about Japanese culture that are strange/exotic/etc. to Westerners are what makes it an amazing travel destination. That was my perspective throughout the border closure (and still to this day). It’s definitely a double-edged sword and I realize that means taking the (perceived) bad with the good!

    • ExPat
      ExPat says:

      Actually, I found this post quite measured. Of course, I just came off of a YT video about masking in Japan where lots of foreigners (mainly Westerners) were asserting their superiority about masking (many clearly political) and criticizing the Japanese. I’ve lived in Japan more than half of my life and the Japanese will change when they want. I expect that they will shed the masks to a great degree from around Golden Week (beginning of May) when the weather is warmer and people will be getting out more. While most people are tired of masking, people prefer to be cautious and do things gradually.

    • Karin
      Karin says:

      I’d really like to know what Tom thinks we can expect at Disney (and Universal) too – when masking will not be requested there. Perhaps by that May 8 date?

    • JohnB
      JohnB says:

      In March 2019, we visited DisneySea. A few days later, we had colds that lasted 3 weeks. Amusement parks, are definitely a setting where wearing a good mask and constant hand sanitizing are best practices. The constant contact with surfaces that thousands of others have touched in the last hour are an easy way to catch a virus.

  11. Galo
    Galo says:

    Me and a friend spent 3 weeks in Japan last December until Jan 2nd.

    Wore masks most of the time, except for outdors, while eating/drinking and whenever we could get away with it, which by the end of the trip I was really sick of.

    I never really masked back at home, so this trip was the first time during the whole pandemic that I had to mask for most of the a day, starting since the ANA flight to Narita. It was sickening.

    I’ll be back to Japan in May, just a couple of days after the May 8 deadline for downgrading covid to a seasonal disease, so I’m eager to again enjoy Japan fully unmasked as I did back in 2019.

    • Joe Bloogs
      Joe Bloogs says:

      There was never a mask law in Japan. Shame on you for not standing up for your truth. Meanwhile a whole generation of kids will never recover from this awful brainwashing. Shame, Shame, Shame!

  12. Maya
    Maya says:

    Wondering how long Japan will be requiring a negative PCR test or being fully vaxxed to enter the country as well. I’m not holding out hope for it to be anytime soon but it would definitely be nice as a PCR test is incredibly expensive and not everyone is going to get fully vaxxed.

  13. Mara
    Mara says:

    I visited Japan for two weeks in November. I wore my mask most of the time as did my Japanese friends. I still wear my mask most of the time in New York City. I don’t have a problem with it at all. I have had three inoculations and I also had Covid back in January 2022 – only had the first two then.
    I flew from JFK on ANA and masks were required. After meals the steward people went around reminding people to put them back on.
    I am going to Japan again the end of March and will keep my mask on if that’s what everyone else is doing.

    • ExPat
      ExPat says:

      Relieved to read comments like yours. So very tired of all the whining over masking and the reasons they give! Downright hilarious and quite pathetic.

  14. Serge
    Serge says:

    I lived in Japan for 6 years until 2012, and I’ve been there a few times on holiday to visit relatives since then. I only visited Japan once since Covid started, and I must say that it made me feel very sad. The country I had once loved seemed to have gone black and white, and lost most of its savor. I could definitely feel that I wasn’t welcome any more, communication was scarce, and I obviously couldn’t see any smiles. Since the Japanese are mostly introverted, non verbal cues are essential in Japan. However, those cues are gone until they go maskless again. To make a long story short, I have no intention to go there again before I can confirm that most Japanese have dropped that da** mask.

  15. Ender
    Ender says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I lived in Japan extensively long before the pandemic, and it breaks my heart to see the effect this has had on Japanese culture. I worry that Japan may never be the same again. I have both family and friends in Japan, and while I would love to go back for a visit, the covid-fear culture is utterly repugnant to me. I have personal religious practices that preclude me from wearing a mask, so I’m afraid it will be many years before I might be able to visit Japan again. When I lived in Japan in the past, I fully integrated into the community and culture. But the masking in a new part of the culture, and I could not abide participating in that. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to be in opposition to polite society. This means I must stay away from the country until such time as it returns to at least an approximation of pre-covid cultural norms, if that ever happens. It’s a shame, since there are many unique aspects of Japanese culture that I love. But the covid fearful practices are a massive deal-breaker for me; it has killed the goose that lays the golden eggs. It’s such a shame, because apart from that, Japan has so much to offer the world.

    • JohnB
      JohnB says:

      I have only Japan twice prior to Covid. One time in March/April and the other in May. Both times prior to Covid the Japanese were all masked on public transportation. The sakura trip in 2019, we caught colds, we think from Tokyo DisneySea. There were hardly anyone wearing masks in the amusement park.

      Your concept on masking is political opinion. This is why: the winters of 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 had the lowest cases of flu and other respiratory diseases. Why? Because masking was generally required in most of the USA. When I started wearing masks in March 2020, I caught no colds and had no allergy symptoms. This past November, my spouse brought home Covid. They had a healthcare benefits presentation with over 100 people in a room size of 70X70 feet. Many, but not a majority were wearing masks. After meeting, everyone went back to their departments/breakroom and removed their masks. Two days later over half the company had Covid. I was, of course, furious! I had managed to avoid contracting for almost 3 years. We were travelling in less than 3 weeks. We were able to take Paxlovid. But I had congestion for 2 months.

      If you had left out your opinions, this would be a better post.

    • ExPat
      ExPat says:

      @JohnB Good post. Have had pretty much the same experience as yours (no colds and flu, because most people have been masking in Japan). Quite tired of the drama of the anti-maskers. Thanks to the vaccines, we are finally able to go maskless (the masks bought us time for the vaccines to be developed). People who say masks are sabotaging Japanese culture are really over the top. If that’s how you feel, you never really appreciated the country, its people, or the culture. Japanese people approach change cautiously and that is to be respected.

  16. Brian
    Brian says:

    What about on the flight to/from? I’m going this summer, and certainly don’t plan to wear a mask. I could care less if it’s “recommended” or if everyone else is. What’s going on there now sounds like stupidity at it’s finest.

    • Joe Bloogs
      Joe Bloogs says:

      Good man Brian. I’m going to Japan next week and I won’t be wearing a mask ANYWHERE. I couldn’t give a toss if they ‘side eye’ me. These people are brainwashed. God love them. Meanwhile a complete generation of young people are being completely ruined by this. Don’t get me started about the jabs and the excess deaths since the rollout started!

  17. Mike Ryan
    Mike Ryan says:

    This is one of the best descriptions about the situation regarding masks in Japan I have seen. And I read Japanese and have lived here for 30 years. Excellent writing.

    • C. Hashimoto
      C. Hashimoto says:

      I agree. Great read and obviously a lot of thought went into the piece. As a resident of Japan, and a foreigner, I’m a little annoyed that I still won’t get to officially meet many of the women whom I meet in daily dog walks in he park as they have all admitted to keeping the masks on as it’s easier than wearing makeup!!! Insert sigh. COVID, or the mask mandate, was so perfect for the Japanese and their concerns about appearance as they now have an excuse to cover up!! Very hard for me as my Japanese isn’t great and find it hard to hear or read lips and do prefer facial communication. I don’t think it will end in a hurry buy it will be interesting to see what happens once summer strikes.

  18. 420
    420 says:

    My kids want to go again this summer. I have been somewhat reluctant because I don’t want to mask. For the record I’m not anti-masking, but haven’t wore one since the mandate was lifted over a year ago (west coast Canada). And at no time did I ever wear one outdoors. I have not caught Covid nor has anyone in my household, but I’m also not concerned about catching it anymore.

    Seeing that there’s somewhat of a consensus that by summer 2023 there’ll be less conformity to mask I think we will visit Japan again after all. Thanks for the insight.

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