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Are Masks Required in Japan? Manners & Travel Etiquette for Foreign Visitors to Keep in Mind

Are Masks Required in Japan? Manners & Travel Etiquette for Foreign Visitors to Keep in Mind

Date published: 23 June 2020
Last updated: 19 October 2022

On October 11, 2022, Japan reopened its borders to independent travelers, bringing the country one step closer to tourism as usual. With this change, many are eager to travel to Japan. But what to expect, and what are Japan's mask rules?

This article will introduce New Travel Etiquette for Visitors, a set of guidelines developed by the Japan Tourism Agency. This information will help you know what to expect and how you can enjoy your trip with peace of mind.

main image: PIXTA

What is the situation in Japan for foreign tourists?

(Image: PIXTA)
(Image: PIXTA)

The number of new Covid-19 cases in Japan, which had been on a downward trend until around June of this year, surged from late July to August, reaching a record high in what has been deemed Japan's seventh wave.

This wave currently seems to be diminishing. Since September, the number of cases has seen a steady decline.

Given this situation, Japan's border measures and many related restrictions have considerably eased since midnight on October 11.

The main changes related to foreign visitors are as follows:
・Removal of the daily entry cap on foreign visitors.
・New entry for short-term and long-term stays for sightseeing is allowed.
・Removal of the ban on the entry of independent travelers. The measure limiting entry to package tours has been lifted as well.
・Lifting of the ban on visa-free travel for short-term stays.
・No Covid testing is required upon entry. However, either a certificate of vaccination (3 doses) with a vaccine on the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Use List or a negative test certificate from a Covid test taken within 72 hours before departure to Japan is required.

What is necessary for a sightseeing trip in Japan?

With the acceptance of foreign tourists, in June 2022, the "Guidelines for Accepting Overseas Tourists" were established for travel agencies. These sought to ensure that measures were taken to prevent infection. As individual infection prevention measures, the leaflets and posters below were used to alert the public.

Leaflet on individual infection prevention measures (Japan Tourism Agency)
Leaflet on individual infection prevention measures (Japan Tourism Agency)

Meanwhile, the Japan Tourism Agency and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare have issued a New Travel Etiquette for Visitors and COVID-19 Mask Use in Community Settings for visitors to keep in mind when traveling safely in Japan from a traveler's perspective.

What does "New Travel Etiquette for Visitors" actually entail?

The "New Travel Etiquette for Visitors" is a guide for travelers to travel safely while avoiding the risk of contracting Covid. It focuses on specific precautions outlined for each aspect of traveling (movement, meals, accommodations, tourist facilities, shopping).

The first edition was published in September 2020, followed by a revised edition in December 2021, with more concise rules for each travel scene and facility.

With Japan's travel ban lifted, it is important for visitors to observe these new points of travel etiquette while sightseeing.

* Here are some excerpts from the "New Travel Etiquette for Visitors"
* Explanatory text for each item has been added by the LIVE JAPAN editorial staff

Etiquette for Various Occasions and Facilities
1. General Version

New Travel Etiquette for Visitors (Japan Tourism Agency)
New Travel Etiquette for Visitors (Japan Tourism Agency)

Though most shops in Japan have Covid-19 countermeasures in place, it’s important to choose facilities that ask their customers to engage in health and hygiene measures as well. Even if you’re vaccinated, it’s requested that masks are worn, and hands are washed/sanitized. Travelers must also monitor their physical health daily and maintain physical distancing.

LIVE JAPAN Tips
・While hand dryers are now available in bathrooms in some facilities, there are still many places where they are not. Be sure to bring a handkerchief or towel.
・In addition, most facilities have hand sanitizer and a thermal camera at entrances and exits, so be sure to use them.
・Hand sanitizer (sheets, sprays, etc.) is also readily available at convenience stores and pharmacies.

2. Accommodation

New Travel Etiquette for Visitors (Japan Tourism Agency)
New Travel Etiquette for Visitors (Japan Tourism Agency)

When checking in, don’t forget to check your body temperature and sanitize your hands. Also, it’s advised to limit conversation in your accommodation’s common areas and minimize time spent in shared dining spaces. If you’ve booked a stay as a group, it's advised to wear a mask even in the guest rooms.

Also, since masks tend not to be allowed in hot springs baths, when partaking of this Japanese custom, it's recommended to enjoy "silent bathing."

LIVE JAPAN Tips
・Recently, there has been a rise in accommodations offering automated check-ins.
・Meal times at many facilities is staggered to avoid congestion. Particularly when checking in at a ryokan inn, the staff may ask you when you would like your dinner/breakfast.
・Some facilities also offer an in-room meal option.
・It is an unspoken rule to wear a mask when moving to the dining room or restaurant, and to eat while talking as little as possible during meals.
・Each facility may have its own rules, such as using disposable gloves (provided) when choosing items from a buffet. Be sure to ask staff if you have any questions.

3. Transportation

New Travel Etiquette for Visitors (Japan Tourism Agency)
New Travel Etiquette for Visitors (Japan Tourism Agency)

Special care should be taken when using public transportation such as trains, buses, airplanes, and cabs. It is recommended that you wear a mask when using public transportation. It is also advisable to avoid talking with friends and family members in the car or on the plane, and to use an empty car or seat if you have a choice.

LIVE JAPAN Tips
・In Japan today, the wearing of masks on public transportation is not "mandatory" but rather "requested" or "recommended."
・To avoid unnecessary trouble, you may wish to wear a mask on public transit and speak sparingly (and in a quieter voice when you do).
・Also, alcohol sanitizer is often not available on public transit (especially trains), so it is a good idea to have your own.

4. Sightseeing and Shopping

New Travel Etiquette for Visitors (Japan Tourism Agency)
New Travel Etiquette for Visitors (Japan Tourism Agency)

Peak times should be avoided as much as possible when sightseeing or shopping. Although it’s easy to get swept up in the fun of visiting tourist attractions, it’s asked that they are enjoyed quietly. Even when lining up outside, there should be some physical distance maintained. When it comes to souvenirs out in the open for anyone to touch, hands should be sanitized before and after.

LIVE JAPAN Tips
・Recently, many convenience stores and supermarkets have introduced self-checkout systems, many of which accept credit cards as well as cash.
・Transportation IC cards such as Suica and PASMO can be used not only for transportation but also for shopping.
・Prior to Covid, Japan was a very cash-oriented society. Now, there are many places that only accept cashless payment. Having some cash on hand (e.g. 10,000 yen) is still recommended, you may be able to get by much easier with your credit card or a PASMO/Suica card.
・Many facilities and stores have sanitizer at their entrances for your peace of mind.
・To ease congestion, many spots have introduced reservation systems. You may need to register ahead of time for a specific time slot - particularly for popular cafes, restaurants, and attractions. If there is a spot you want to visit, please check the official website for the latest information before your visit.

5. Drinking/Dining

New Travel Etiquette for Visitors (Japan Tourism Agency)
New Travel Etiquette for Visitors (Japan Tourism Agency)

At cafes, bars, or restaurants, it’s important to sanitize your hands before entering facilities, as well as portioning out servings in advance when sharing food. Also, as food and drink can spray very easily, practicing “silent eating” is recommended even if you are dining with other people.

When having drinks, it can be easy to get distracted and forget to take various precautions, but Covid etiquette should also be observed before clinking glasses.

LIVE JAPAN Tips
・Recently, restaurants are returning to their pre-Covid bustle.
・More and more restaurants are introducing contactless services such as mobile ordering, payment, and serving robots, which are becoming safer and more convenient to use.
・However, basic infection control measures such as sanitizing hands and temperature checks are being taken more thoroughly than anywhere else, so it is a good idea to wear a mask at all times except when you are eating.

Are masks required in Japan?

COVID-19 Mask Use in Community Settings (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)
COVID-19 Mask Use in Community Settings (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)

As mask-wearing is a crucial basic prevention measure, Japan has released a COVID-19 Mask Use in Community Settings leaflet explaining indoor and outdoor mask use. Summer is a time when you can easily get heatstroke, so it’s not required to wear one at all times. Please refer to the information below to see when removing your mask is appropriate.

Outdoors

COVID-19 Mask Use in Community Settings (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)
COVID-19 Mask Use in Community Settings (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)

If you are outdoors and at a sufficient distance from the other person, masks are not necessary, even when enjoying a conversation. Masks are unnecessary when movement, such as walking or running, is involved. If there’s no talking, this applies whether or not you’re near others.

Indoors

COVID-19 Mask Use in Community Settings (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)
COVID-19 Mask Use in Community Settings (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)

Indoors, if there is enough distance between people and no conversation is taking place, it is not necessary to wear a mask. However, if there is conversation, regardless of distance, wearing a mask is recommended.

In crowded areas, such as on public transportation or inside a mall, masks are recommended.

As of October 2022, many restaurants and attractions are effectively asking people to wear masks, and in some places, entry is denied to people who do not wear a mask.

Since a high percentage of people in Japan voluntarily wear masks on an individual level, it is safer to be aware of the fact that many people wear masks indoors.

COVID-19 Mask Use for Children (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)
COVID-19 Mask Use for Children (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)

Separately, there are also guidelines for children. In general, it’s recommended that children under two do not wear a mask. Children ages two to six also do not have to wear a mask if there’s ample distancing from others.

When it comes to ages six to 18, the same rules as adults apply. Masks can be removed outdoors if there’s enough distance between others or if there’s no conversing between people even if they’re close. In an indoor setting, masks are unnecessary if there’s no talking and sufficient space between others.

Where can I buy a mask while traveling?

(Image: PIXTA)
(Image: PIXTA)

In Japan, it is relatively easy to purchase masks anywhere. Disposable masks are sold at airport and train station kiosks, most convenience stores, pharmacies, and supermarkets. Many also carry hand sanitizer. Cloth masks that can be washed and used repeatedly can also be purchased at apparel and general merchandise stores.

Follow health & safety measures and enjoy an unforgettable trip through Japan!

(Image: PIXTA)
(Image: PIXTA)

These guidelines for infection control measures set by the government are not mandatory rules that you will be punished if you do not follow. However, many people in Japan tend to voluntarily take infection control measures, including wearing masks, and you may feel obligated to do so in some situations.

Obeying the rules according to the new travel style, even if a little cramped, is an important part of having a safe and enjoyable trip in Japan. It is not only to protect ourselves, but also to protect the tourist attractions and tourist businesses.

Additional information from the government can be found below to help make your trip to Japan the most memorable experience possible.

Written by:

Miyuki Yajima

Miyuki Yajima

After working in planning, editing, and business development/sales at a continuing education business, she is currently working as a writer, yoga instructor, and traveler in pursuit of a multi-career lifestyle that combines hobbies and work. She also likes fashion, Japanese culture, and music.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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