If you’re planning a trip to Japan, you’re probably curious about the coronavirus in Japan and how it’s affecting travel.
At Boutique Japan, we’ve been monitoring the ever-evolving situation since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, and put this article together based on having fielded questions from travelers around the world.
Along with keeping close tabs on the news and official developments, we are also in constant contact with our various colleagues and friends throughout Japan and beyond, including guides, local experts, hotel and ryokan staff, and many others.
While few people are traveling internationally at this unique moment in time, many travelers — ourselves included — are excitedly looking forward to future travel plans.
As you think about your own trip plans, we hope you find the details below both clear and helpful.
Originally written in February, this post was updated and republished on June 30, 2020.
With trusted contacts and clients around the world, we’ve encountered a diversity of perspectives. Some are more concerned about the virus itself, while others worry most about the accompanying economic and social effects (of course, many find both disconcerting).
Nobody knows what the future holds, but many countries are in the process of gradually easing travel restrictions, or planning to do so in the near future.
We’ve spoken with many travelers who are eager to hop on flights and travel internationally as soon as humanly possible, and others who are thinking of staying a bit closer to home in the near future.
While few people are currently traveling to Japan or elsewhere, many people are planning future trips for fall, winter, and spring (not to mention the Tokyo Olympics), and in many cases availability for preferred accommodations and top guides is already limited.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
The Coronavirus in Japan
Japan itself has been fortunate to avoid the degree of devastation seen in most other parts of the world.
The Japanese government continues to make efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, and Japan’s Covid-19 mortality rate has been quite low relative to other countries.
This country-by-country data on Covid-19 deaths from Our World in Data shows Japan compared to the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
Similarly, while life has certainly been impacted as it has everywhere on Earth, Japan has been able to avoid the severe lockdowns imposed in so many other countries. Despite the absence of drastic policies, people and businesses in Japan have taken precautions to stem the outbreak, and are now slowly and steadily eyeing a return to daily life.
As part of Japan’s efforts, various measures have been temporarily implemented. For example, in line with the governments of many other nations, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has imposed temporary border restrictions for travelers from various countries.
For updates on this fluid situation, we recommend the following reliable resources:
- Official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
- Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Information
- Japan Guide’s Travel Alerts and Disaster Updates
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed the government’s desire to begin carefully easing travel restrictions, with the goal of allowing tourism to safely resume as soon as possible.
The public health crisis has been accompanied by economic disaster around the world, and the travel industry (along with many other sectors) has been significantly affected.
Throughout the world of travel, companies large and small — not to mention individuals, such as guides and others who work in tourism and hospitality — have struggled to adapt to the new reality.
The scale of the impact is unprecedented, and has affected or is threatening the livelihood of many around the world who depend on the travel industry to survive.
At Boutique Japan, we are extremely fortunate to have kind and thoughtful travelers who are well aware of the challenges faced by small, independent businesses, and the wonderful service providers with whom we work.
Because of how many individual lives are touched by every single trip — including guides, local experts, hotels, ryokans, transport providers, and our amazing staff — we feel particularly lucky that virtually all of our recent travelers have chosen to postpone their trips, rather than canceling.
To make this possible, we have worked exhaustively with our gracious colleagues throughout Japan to provide exceptional flexibility in these times of uncertainty. From what our clients have told us, they’re just as excited as we are to finally experience their long-awaited travel plans.
Coronavirus: Helping Those in Need
Daydreaming about future travels is a wonderful diversion, but sadly these are very difficult times for a lot of people. With so much happening at once, it can be hard to know where to begin if you want to help.
Fortunately, plenty of people and organizations are doing great work, and we’ve compiled a short list of ways to help those in need, including ideas large and small:
- Support healthcare workers. Healthcare workers need all the support they can get. Even in the most affluent countries, equipment is in shockingly short supply. Ways to support healthcare workers range from donating supplies or money to hospitals, to devoting time to helping workers in even small ways at a time when doctors, nurses, and others are under extreme stress.
- WHO Covid-19 Fund. Donate to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
- United Way Community Fund. This US-based non-profit helps vulnerable individuals and families who need help now through their Covid-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund.
- Order from your favorite local restaurants. In many parts of the world, restaurants (along with other small businesses) have had to scramble to adjust to the new reality. Many have done so brilliantly, transitioning to adjusted menus and convenient pick-up and delivery services. If you can, support them by ordering from them. At least in the US, many restaurants may not survive this downturn, given its severity.
- Donate to your local food bank. If you are fortunate enough to have food to spare, contact your local food bank to find out how to best support them.
- Give blood. While coronavirus is our most prominent medical challenge, patients worldwide continue to need blood. Contact your local blood donation center to learn how to give safely.
- Support your staff and coworkers. If you have a business, do all you can to support your staff during this extraordinary time. People are dealing with all sorts of new challenges. Similarly, if you work with others — whether in person, or virtually from home — remember that most everyone is dealing with some form of hardship right now.
- Host a virtual event. Many creatives, including musicians and DJs, are going all out to create surprisingly entertaining live events online. Students stuck at home are organizing Power Point parties where they teach each other about subjects of particular interest to them. Families and groups of friends are meeting up for Zoom happy hours. Hosting a get-together is not only a fun diversion, it also helps lift others’ spirits.
Great Japanese Books & Films to Keep You Inspired
For everyone staying closer to home for the moment, or seeking some armchair travel, we’ve included a short list of our favorite Japanese and Japan-themed books and films to keep you inspired.
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).
- Anthony Bourdain: Go back and watch Bourdain’s Japan episodes on his shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown.
We hope you’ve found this post helpful. Whenever you decide to visit Japan, we hope you have a wonderful trip!