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Mask-wearing and other virus-related rules have never been legally enforced in Japan, and vaccination certificates are not being widely used. Instead, the government has released guidelines on how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which are widely followed.

Because the guidelines may be different from those in other countries, travelers in Japan should be knowledgeable about the local standards to avoid causing troubles. Many people in Japan are particularly worried about foreign visitors failing to wear masks, which partially explains Japan's reluctance with reopening its borders to international tourism.

Face masks

For decades before COVID-19, face masks have been a common sight in Japan, both as a protection against colds and hay fever and to avoid passing sickness on to others.

Expert opinions about mask wearing

Government experts recommend that people wear a mask in the following situations:

  • Indoors and outdoors when having conversations within two meters from each other.
  • Indoors when not being able to maintain social distancing, e.g. on public transportation.

The experts say that masks are not needed in the following situations:

  • Outdoors when you can keep social distance or pass others without much talking.
  • Indoors when you can keep social distance and little conversation is being made.

The actual situation regarding mask wearing

In practice, a vast majority of people in Japan wear masks in all indoor situations, on public transportation and in the city streets. Even in less crowded outdoor situations, many people go beyond the experts' recommendations and will wear masks.

A large number of indoor and outdoor sightseeing spots ask visitors to wear masks.

Masks should be taken off when bathing in public baths.

Mask types

Various types of masks are used in Japan, but surgical masks made of non-woven fabric are the most common and recommended.

Other precautions

In restaurants, on public transportation and in other closed spaces, people avoid talking in a loud voice, especially when not wearing a mask, e.g. during meals.

Many shops, restaurants and other places will ask visitors to use hand sanitizer when entering. Most establishments have hand sanitizer available at their entrances.

Many sightseeing spots and other establishments will also take your body temperature at the entrance (by scanning the forehead or wrist) and ask people with a temperature above 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit) to refrain from entering.

When traveling, don't go out if you feel unwell.

Since the coronavirus crisis, an increased number of sightseeing attractions have introduced optional or mandatory advance reservation systems. Check the official websites before visiting. Other locations may limit the number of visitors allowed inside at one time.

The "three Cs"

At the heart of the government's public health approach to controlling the spread of the virus have been the "three Cs", identifying conditions under which the virus spreads most easily:

  • closed spaces with poor ventilation
  • crowded places with many people nearby
  • close-contact situations such as up-close conversations

Settings in which two or all "three Cs" are present pose a particular risk. Badly ventilated indoor places that serve alcoholic drinks and come with maskless, up-close, loud conversations, for example, provide the perfect conditions for the spread of the virus. Trains and planes are generally considered less problematic because they tend to be well ventilated.