The COVID pandemic hit everyone hard, but most of the world has since gone back to something close to normal. Not so in Japan.
Japan’s visitor restrictions include rules for entering the country and courtesies once you’re there. Locals still expect everyone to wear masks indoors and use hand sanitizer at every store. Catching COVID in Japan means a seven day hotel quarantine, though it’s not as strongly enforced as before.
COVID culture is still alive and well in 2023, but don’t let that stop you from seeing Japan for the first time! The article below will explain all of the rules and hopefully ease your mind.
Japan Quarantine Rules for Foreigners
As of this writing, if you’re a traveler who tests positive for COVID while in Japan, you’ll need to remain in your hotel as much as possible for seven days. That number starts counting the day after you first show symptoms.
Here’s a translation of the the quarantine guidelines provided by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare:
- Those recovering at home or in hotels
- With symptoms
- Without symptoms
- First day with symptoms
- Day of positive COVID
- Refrain from unnecessary outings (for 7 days after first symptoms appeared)
- Refrain from unnecessary outings (for 7 days after first positive test)
- Refrain from unnecessary outings
- Negative home test
- End of recuperation period
- Check yourself voluntarily and thoroughly carry out COVID prevention measures
You may also be asked to use a tracking app on your phone, but that’s unlikely as the Japanese government is slowly phasing it out.
If you show symptoms, the doctor you see may also recommend that you stay in the hospital depending on how serious those symptoms are.
If you think you may have covid-19, the Japan National Tourism Organization has English-language resources that can help you figure out what to do. They’re also careful to mention the importance of having health insurance, as not paying your hospital bills may end with immigration barring you from the country in the future.
There are also city-specific resources as well, like this one from Tokyo.
Mask Etiquette in Japan
Even if you don’t get the ‘vid, you’ll still need to consider other prevention measures, such as wearing masks. Like in many other Asian countries, they’ve been a standard in Japan forever.
People have always worn them when they’re sick or if they’re trying to avoid illness, but they also famously wear masks to up their sex appeal. You’ll even meet people who wear masks in the winter to keep their faces warm.
So when COVID hit, Japan was ready to pop those bad boys on, and they haven’t looked back since.
They wear masks indoors and outdoors. In hot weather and in cold. Whether they’re in a packed elevator or taking a stroll through the park by themselves. For some foreigners, it’s one of the bad things about living in Japan.
But the cracks are starting to show.
Especially in bigger population centers like Tokyo where young people thrive, people are getting sick of mask restrictions. Most in the countryside seem ready to ditch them, too.
However, people are still wearing them for now, and if you’re a visitor to Japan, you should do your best to wear them whenever you’re around people, especially indoors.
Vaccine Passports for Businesses and Events
If mask restrictions are still in place, you would think vaccine passports must be a thing too, right?
Surprisingly, vaccine passports were never really a thing in Japan. For the most part, the country took a hands-off approach and let people make their own decisions.
Some businesses offered benefits to vaxxed travelers, like Universal Studios, but other than that there was nothing forcing people to get the shot.
You can feel safe leaving your vaccine passport at the hotel, because it’s not one of the limitations placed on visitors to Japan.
However, you do need a vaccine certificate to enter the country. Or at the very least, you need proof of a negative test result. You can read more about the travel restrictions in Japan upon entry in a previous article.
It’s tough to call this one a Japanese tourism restriction since there won’t be anyone calling you out on it, but you should prepare yourself to see hand sanitizer at almost every shop entrance in Japan.
People have been carrying the stuff when traveling long before the COVID pandemic, so you could almost consider this a perk to visiting Japan.
With that said, it’s another courtesy thing – like almost everything in this article – so if you don’t have overly sensitive skin, give yourself a little spray, or ‘shoo-shoo’ as they say here, before entering a building.
Avoiding the Three Cs in Japan
Heard of the Three Cs? Education on this topic has been all the rage in Japan for the last three years. They are the following:
- Closed spaces (with poor ventilation)
- Crowded places (with many people nearby)
- Close-contact settings (such as close-range conversations)
You’re bound to see signs reminding you to avoid these three things as soon as you set foot in an international Japanese airport. But in a country as densely populated as Japan, it can be pretty tough to miss them.
Especially for tourists to Japan, limiting your exposure to these situations will be difficult. You’re going to want to eat in crowded places, take closed space transportation from place to place, and possibly even enjoy close-contact settings if you’re lucky (wink-wink?).
My advice is to try to avoid them as much as you can, but don’t sweat it when you inevitably can’t. Most of the locals struggle with the three Cs, too.
Restrictions for Japanese Restaurants, Bars, and Shops
If and when you do end up breaking the rules around the three Cs and enter a crowded place, you’ll probably find old familiar safeguards in place.
There will be plastic barriers at tables, staff wiping down counters with alcohol, and possibly even reminders to keep your mask on when not eating or drinking.
As for tourism restrictions, Japanese restaurants, bars, and shops don’t usually apply anything to foreigners in particular. The closest they’ll get to that is with ticket restrictions to overseas travelers, like Studio Ghibli once did. But those museum tickets are back on the menu now.
The most likely limitation you’ll see is on the number of people let in at once. That’s hardly anything new in bars, but it may affect restaurant and shop entry, too.
Public Transportation Restrictions
If people weren’t able to get on trains in Japan, the country might grind to a halt. And if you’re looking to hit some of the best places in Japan, you’ll need a train, too.
Thankfully, Japan as a whole hasn’t really curbed the use of trains since the beginning of the pandemic. That means you can hop on wherever you want and take any seat.
But while the government hasn’t really limited train schedules, private companies running some of the highway buses have shut things down at times. At this stage, most of them will be back up and running, but you’ll want to double check on schedules through the company web sites before making plans.
No matter what type of public transportation you take, make sure you’re wearing a mask as it’s usually a harder rule than in buildings or outside.
It’s hard to say that there are true Japanese visitor restrictions in place once you get to the country. The rules are more a matter of courtesy unless you catch COVID.
If you’re lucky enough to enjoy a trip to Japan, just do your best to be mindful of local customs. Pop a mask on, give the hands a little shoo-shoo, and enjoy the trip!