How traveling in Japan has changed

At the end of this month, after two and a half years, the border with Japan will finally fully reopen. Japan has been cautious with its border during the pandemic: It wasn’t until June 2022 that travelers with authorized tour groups were able to enter the country; in September, the rule was changed to allow visitors who worked with a Japan-based travel agent.

On October 11, any independent tourist will finally be able to travel to (and around) the country as they wish, as long as they comply with some of the remaining COVID protocols. Visitors are expected to be fully vaccinated with a booster shot or have a negative COVID PCR test result within 72 hours prior to departure. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) maintains a list of countries that are color coded for entry requirements, and the entry requirements change by color. (All visitors from a “red” country must take a PCR test upon arrival and quarantine for three days.) The current inbound limit of 50,000 arrivals in Japan per day will be lifted and All Nippon Airways, one of Japan’s top two carriers, has pledged to increase international flights and staff to meet demand.

COVID-19 cases and deaths are remarkably low in Japan compared to other countries: Japan has 21.5 million recorded infections since the start of the pandemic, with 45,286 deaths, a case fatality rate of 0.2 percent (compared to with 1.1 percent in the United States), according to Johns Hopkins University. The country quickly recognized that COVID-19 spread through aerosols and adopted strict masking practices and improved ventilation systems across the country.

After a record 31.9 million visitors in 2019, Japan welcomed just 246,000 travelers in 2021. Not only is there huge pent-up demand after two and a half years, but the weak yen, the lowest in 24 years , also makes Japan a bargain for most international travelers. Expensive sushi, wagyu beef dinners, and high-end hotels are more affordable now.

But that is not all that has changed. Although the country is opening up, there are still many pandemic-era rules that Japan adopted that are still in place. Here’s what travelers can expect on their next trip to Japan.

arriving in japan

To expedite your arrival in Japan, make sure you have your physical vaccination certificate handy. There is a Fast Track system online established by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW). Download the MySOS app and upload the required documents; your screen will turn blue or green when all information has been submitted, and you will receive a QR code to show to customs and immigration authorities.


The Japanese government continues to strongly recommend the use of masks, and their use is ubiquitous and expected, especially indoors when the parties are speaking. Despite an initial government suggestion requiring tourists to wear masks in hotels and restaurants when not eating, hoteliers refused saying it would be difficult to enforce, so masks are technically not required in hotels and restaurants. Masks are also not required outdoors, but are recommended if you are unable to maintain social distancing.

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In Japan, where consideration for others is a big part of the modus operandi, masks are worn to protect yourself, but also as a courtesy and a sign of respect for those around you. Most businesses have signs at the front of the store asking visitors to wear masks. If you’re not ready to wear a mask to respect local customs, consider waiting to visit Japan.

Ventilation and disinfection

Japan quickly understood that ventilation was key to preventing the spread of COVID-19, which is why many trains and restaurants still keep their windows open; if they are open, it is better to leave them that way. Across the country, hand dryers in restrooms have been turned off to prevent the spread of germs. You may want to do as the locals do and bring a small hand towel to dry your hands; You can buy them at department stores or 100 yen stores, discount sets that have everything from clothes to coffee.

Most stores have hand sanitizing stations at their entrance and exit. It is common practice to disinfect before entering a public space.

temperature tests

Temperature screening remains popular across the country, and many stores have installed sensor monitors to automatically take guests’ temperatures as they enter. Smaller restaurants will also take diners’ temperatures before allowing them to sit down.

Social distancing

Social distancing continues to be practiced across the country, with signs encouraging people to keep six feet apart. The common approach is to keep some distance from the person in front of you if you are in a queue, and if you are speaking in public, keep your voice down. While fans can attend sporting events, loud cheering is discouraged (clapping is fine).

Operating hours

Many shops, restaurants and bars have closed during the pandemic, including several at Tsukiji Market that relied on tourists. With more people working from home and not going out after work hours, some restaurants now have shorter opening hours, so it’s best to call ahead. Another good reason to call ahead: Japan has strict rules around COVID exposure, and if a person tests positive for COVID, colleagues are considered close contacts and asked to self-quarantine, which means they may the restaurant is unstaffed.

To maintain social distancing, many restaurants now have fewer seating options, so make restaurant reservations when possible.

Cash versus credit

During the pandemic, more stores began accepting credit cards to reduce contact between customers and staff, but keep in mind that many stores are still cash-only. It is best to always have some Japanese yen. In major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, it’s possible to get Japanese yen at ATMs, but many don’t accept foreign cards; it only gets harder as you move to the suburbs and the countryside. On land in Japan without yen? Don’t worry: More than 26,000 ATMs at 7-Eleven convenience stores nationwide, including Narita International and Tokyo International (Haneda), accept foreign-issued cards. Another resource is Japanese post offices, which have ATMs that accept foreign cards. To locate a post office, look for an orange T with a horizontal line across it.

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Wearing a mask on public transport and in taxis is still common practice.

To make transportation easier, travelers may want to purchase a reloadable prepaid Suica card to use on trains, subways, and buses in Tokyo; it is also accepted as a form of payment in many convenience stores. Simply tap in and out when using public transportation to save yourself the time of buying a ticket for each ride. If you plan to be in the country for an extended period, Welcome Suica is a special prepaid card that works for 28 days. It is sold in Narita, Haneda and the main train stations in Tokyo. Welcome Suica does not require a deposit, usually required for prepaid cards.

As of May 2020, travelers traveling on the Shinkansen— or bullet trains — need to reserve a special seat if they have “oversized” luggage: anything between 63 and 98 inches (160 and 250 cm, essentially any bag larger than a carry-on).


Since the start of the pandemic, stores are now charging for plastic bags. Consider packing your own reusable bag or picking one up after you arrive. disposable wooden chopsticks, or waribashi—they are used in many restaurants, but traveling with your own pair of chopsticks in a bike rack reduces waste. You can buy them at 100 yen stores or chopstick specialty stores.

The atmosphere

Much of bustling Tokyo has been quiet since the border closed, notably Tsukiji Market and the dazzling Ginza shopping district, and many in hospitality look forward to welcoming tourists. The biggest changes visitors will find is that almost everyone is wearing masks and because some people are working from home, the trains are not as crowded during rush hour.

And while some places have closed, there are plenty of new things to get excited about: In Tokyo, Koffee Mameya Kakeru serves coffee and coffee cocktails, and Shibuya’s Tokyu Department Store depachika The basement food floor was renovated. There are also new hotels that have opened for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, including the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo in Otemachi, Tokyo Edition Toranomon, and Aloft Tokyo Ginza. The gardens are as manicured as ever and the temples remain quiet retreats. In Kyoto, the parts of the city that were bustling with travellers, including Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kinkaku-ji, and Nijo Castle, are quiet. All in all? It’s a great time to visit Japan, but please wear a mask.

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