Whether you’re planning a trip, or just daydreaming for the moment, we’ve compiled essential information about traveling to Japan in the time of Covid.
While some travelers aren’t ready to begin making plans for the future, many are already plotting adventures for this year and next.
If you’re ready to plan your Japan itinerary, we want to make it as delightful as possible. Even if you’re not just yet, we hope this gives you inspiration for the future!
Table of Contents
- Flexible Planning
- Can You Visit Japan Now?
- Covid in Japan and What to Expect
- Japanese Books and Films to Keep You Inspired
This post was last updated on January 19, 2021.
We offer built-in flexibility to make it easier for you to plan for the future, with peace of mind.
Simply give us thirty days notice or more from your trip’s original start date, and you’ll be able to reschedule for this year or next with no change fees (you will not lose any deposits).
This is the perfect chance to get ahead of pent-up demand, and plan your Japan itinerary before the age of mass tourism returns.
Can You Visit Japan Now?
While many people already have trips planned for later this year and next, foreign travelers are not currently permitted to enter Japan.
Since the early days of Covid, Japan has had its borders closed to tourists while it focuses on protecting its citizens and working on a safe reopening plan.
When will travelers be allowed to enter Japan?
The exact timing remains uncertain, but based on reports we’ve seen and intel we’ve heard, it’s widely agreed that the Japanese government intends to begin the reopening process in April.
We expect reopening to occur in stages. For example, it’s quite likely that travelers from countries with relatively low infection rates may be allowed to enter before those from higher-risk places. To a certain degree, the reopening timeline is believed to be oriented around helping Japan prepare to hold a successful Tokyo Olympics this summer.
At this stage, it’s too soon to say how reopening will progress. In light of recent vaccine developments, some spring travelers are holding out hope that Japan will perhaps reopen more quickly than anticipated. On the other hand, most of our travelers are planning ahead for trips this fall and next spring. (If your dates are very flexible, see our guide to the seasons, weather, and when to visit Japan.)
Regardless of when reopening happens, the first travelers to enter will have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience Japan with far fewer tourists than usual.
We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely and update this page with major developments, and for additional resources we also recommend:
Covid in Japan and What to Expect
What’s it like in Japan now, in the time of Covid?
Daily life in Japan has been impacted by the pandemic as it has everywhere on Earth. However, despite the challenges, Japan has been somewhat fortunate to avoid the degree of devastation seen in places like the Americas and Europe.
Japan’s deep-rooted culture of respect (an integral part of Japanese etiquette) certainly helps, as do the country’s outstandingly high levels of hygiene and cleanliness — not to mention the fact that Japanese people have been accustomed to wearing masks for years.
As with other countries in the northern hemisphere, Japan is currently experiencing a winter surge. Because of this — and also due to the threat of new variants — some parts of Japan are currently under state of emergency.
When considering Japan’s Covid-19 statistics, it is worth bearing in mind that the country has suffered strikingly low rates of mortality — especially given its large population of 126 million people.
Japan has also managed to avoid lockdowns as severe as those in many other parts of the world, and during most of the pandemic restaurants, cafes, and shops have been able to operate with a relatively high degree of normalcy. This being said, under the current state of emergency, businesses such as bars and restaurants are being asked to reduce their hours or temporarily close (with financial support from the government) to help curb the spread.
Health and safety are taken very seriously in Japan (there’s a reason visitors are typically awestruck by the levels of organization and cleanliness), and travel service providers — from hotels and ryokans, to bullet trains and airlines — have also spent the past year revamping health and sanitation procedures to enhance the safety of both travelers and staff.
As far as common-sense precautions go, wherever you go in Japan it’s safe to expect widespread adherence to best practices for hygiene and sanitation (i.e., near-universal mask usage, ubiquitous hand sanitizer, polite social distancing, etc.).
Expected Entry Requirements
At this stage, Japan has not specified what the entry requirements for tourists will be when reopening begins.
Based on the current requirements for citizens and residents entering Japan from abroad, it seems safe to assume that a negative Covid test will be required before boarding your flight. Testing may also be done on arrival.
Measures beyond this are not yet clear, but it’s also expected that visitors may be required to install a Covid-monitoring app, though details around this possible policy have not yet been specified. As for whether proof of vaccination will be required, this also has yet to be determined.
For all of our travelers, Covid or not, we always recommend purchasing comprehensive travel insurance. Unlike in the early days of the pandemic, many if not most travel insurance companies now provide medical coverage when it comes to Covid (it may go without saying, but for precise details make sure to discuss with your insurance company directly).
Japanese Books & Films to Keep You Inspired
We hope you will have the chance to visit Japan as soon as possible. In the meantime, to help keep you inspired here’s a short list of our favorite Japanese and Japan-themed books and films.
Japan Reading List
- Essays in Idleness: This book is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are interested in history, Buddhism, and philosophy, make sure to read the brilliant Donald Keene translation.
- Rice, Noodle, Fish: A fun and fascinating culinary coffee table book.
- Tokyo Vice: Written by one of the foremost English-speaking experts on Japan’s underworld.
- The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon: Another Japanese classic for fans of ancient literature.
- Snow Country: A modern classic by the Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata.
- Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II: Essential reading for history buffs, a Pulitzer Prize-winning tome.
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Arguably still the best of Haruki Murakami’s novels.
- The Housekeeper and the Professor: Author Yoko Ogawa is widely considered one of Japan’s best contemporary writers.
- The Sound of Waves: A classic by the legendary author Yukio Mishima.
- WA: The Essence of Japanese Design: Gorgeous and illuminating coffee table book.
For more reading inspiration, see our full Japan reading list.
Recommended Japanese Films
Below you’ll find several of our favorite Japanese filmmakers and a selection of the best Japanese films, along with a couple of shows:
- Akira Kurosawa: Perhaps the most renowned Japanese director of all time, with too many remarkable films to list.
- Hayao Miyazaki: The one-and-only Studio Ghibli is behind some of the world’s most beautiful animated films including Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Totoro, and countless others.
- Hirokazu Kore-eda: Brilliant contemporary director, with notable films including Shoplifters and Nobody Knows.
- Yasujiro Ozu: Another legendary Japanese director, with classic films such as Tokyo Story and Late Spring.
- Seijun Suzuki: Fans of Quentin Tarantino should not overlook Suzuki’s action-packed films including Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter.
- Jiro Dreams of Sushi: This highly recommended modern documentary is about much more than just sushi.
- Terrace House: Definitely not for everybody, but those who love it swear by this famously slow-paced yet surprisingly intriguing “reality show” (start with the season Boys & Girls in the City).
- Tokyo Olympiad: Beautiful account of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games by director Kon Ichikawa.
- Anthony Bourdain: Go back and watch Bourdain’s Japan episodes on his shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown.
Planning a Future Visit to Japan
We hope the above information helps you as you consider your Japan travel plans.