UPDATE May 2022


[Original report here] [May 2020 update here] [December 2020 update here] [October 2021 update here] [February 2022 update here]


There may finally, finally be some light at the end of the tunnel. Kyodo News reported this a couple of days ago:


Japan is looking to resume accepting some foreign tourists in June at the earliest, a government source said Friday, likely reversing a ban on their entry introduced during the coronavirus pandemic.


Great news, right? Not so fast. Here’s the next paragraph:


Ahead of the highly anticipated move that would boost the country's struggling tourism industry, the government may accept a limited number of group tours on a trial basis by the end of May to see the impact on the COVID-19 situation, the source added.


“Limited number” “group tours” and “trial basis” are big caveats here. The article goes on to use the term “in stages” to describe the review process, and further down goes into more detail:


During the trial phase, small groups of foreigners would visit sightseeing spots based on fixed itineraries in order for the government to see whether it can grasp their movements and how to respond if a COVID-19 case is detected, according to the source.


The Japan Times is even more explicit regarding how rigid these initial trials will be:


Those wishing to visit must have undergone three COVID-19 vaccination shots and be part of a package tour with a fixed itinerary, FNN said, citing multiple government officials. The limited resumption of inbound tourism will be treated as an experiment and, if infections do not spread, the program will be expanded, it said.


So even the trial phase will only start around late May or June at the earliest.

Needless to say, this initial stage will not allow cyclists to come in and travel freely throughout the country. And since the trials will only begin in June at the earliest, we may be lucky to see any kind of wide-scale entry to Japan before the August vacation period at the very earliest. And even then, a lot hinges on whether “the program will be expanded” means that solo travelers will be allowed in as well or just a larger number of group tours.


Also, there’s this:


The government will also consider requiring that participants have already had booster vaccine shots before the tours.


Nevertheless, businesses in Japan are anxious for tourism to begin again. And the Japan Times article also mentions one other intriguing factor:


The impact of opening up may be muted by the fact that China, the largest source of tourists before the pandemic, has effectively closed its borders.


The closure of China due to their multiple rigid lockdowns might mean that, when it does open up, Japan will actively seek to encourage tourists to come from other places. And in fact several other regions are looking to encourage travel both to and from Japan. Governor Ige of Hawaii is set to visit Japan this week to promote the return of Japanese tourists to Hawaii. This article says that Japanese visitors have been “nonexistent” in Hawaii since the pandemic began. Pre-pandemic, Japan was Hawaii’s best international source of tourists.


(However, things may be changing: the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports that group tours to Hawaii have resumed as of this Golden Week, and includes this rosy prediction: “The Japan Association of Travel Agents expects visitors from Japan to Hawaii will reach 40% of the strength of 2019 by year’s end and will be equal or better than pre-pandemic times next year.”


So the doors both from and to Japan may be set to swing open again, but it appears that the opening will be very, very slow. But we might finally be at a point when visitors can at least start planning their trips so they can be ready to move when the doors finally open to non-organized-tour tourists.


And on that subject, there’s one other thing to consider in your planning: if you haven’t been vaccinated and boosted, and you want to visit Japan, now may be the time to get your vaccinations up to date in case it turns out that this is a requirement for entry (as it is for international travel to other countries such as the United States).


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For people who are already in the country, we’ve modified the advice we gave in the May 2020 COVID update about cycling in Japan’s “new normal” — de-emphasizing the wiping down of surfaces and re-emphasizing the importance of wearing close-fitting masks of the proper type (and most recently emphasizing that these should be N95 or equivalent due to the increase in more transmissible variants) and the need to still be very careful of poorly-ventilated indoor environments.



(UPDATED February 2022)


If you plan to travel by bicycle in Japan, we recommend the following:


Above all: WEAR A MASK whenever you are near other people (and, because of the higher transmissibility of the recent COVID variants, make sure it’s not just a simple cloth mask but N95 or equivalent). This will accomplish two things: it will help to keep both you and others safe, and more importantly it will show people in rural communities that you understand the current situation and are taking the disease seriously. We can’t think of anything that will do more to ensure that your presence is accepted and welcomed in Japan. (Needless to say, don’t wear the mask when cycling in most cases; that would be painful and possibly hazardous to your health, particularly in the warm months. But when going slow in urban areas, and certainly when you get off the bicycle and are near people, be sure to put on the mask.)


DISINFECT. Wash your hands as often as feasible. You might take along alcohol-based disinfectant and tissues, or sanitary wipes, and wipe the things you need to touch that are touched by many other people. And, again, wash your hands as often as feasible.


In hotels or inns, it’s probably no longer necessary to wipe down every surface, since the overwhelming evidence is that COVID is spread via aerosols rather than surfaces. Still, we’d wipe down doorknobs and light switches. And In youth hostels or other low-cost accommodations, even if you’ve been vaxxed and boosted, you should probably still avoid the dormitory room (even assuming such rooms are still open) and pay extra for a separate room.


  1. Regarding meals: the convenience store bento box lunch, eaten alone, would probably still be the safest option. The problem remains that small and rather poorly ventilated indoor locations are the most dangerous places for infection, and that describes most good places to eat in Japan. However, vaxxed and boosted people are well protected against severe outcomes, so they may feel willing to take relatively small risks. If you decide to eat in some restaurants, it would be best to choose a place with outdoor seating or with a table next to a window that can be opened. If indoors is your only option, try to choose a place with high ceilings, relatively wide spaces between tables, and relatively few patrons (go at off times if possible).


On mass transit, ALWAYS wear a mask (to avoid infection and to make other commuters comfortable), and try to stay away from other people and avoid rush hour times. Previously we recommended traveling by train rather than on buses or planes (which are more confined and have fixed seating), but vaxxed and boosted travelers can probably use any means as long as they remain masked. And of course, if possible wash your hands as soon as you arrive at your destination.


Bottom line: Cycling in Japan is great and will continue to be wonderful as long as you take certain precautions. Remember that Japan offers distinct advantages over many other countries that are facing the need to live with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future. Japanese people are diligent about wearing masks, and for the right (meaning sensible) reasons: to avoid infecting other people as well. The culture itself is less physically demonstrable than many others (people bow rather than hugging, kissing or even shaking hands), and despite what you used to see in train station bathrooms, cleanliness has been considered a social good since the most ancient days of Shinto purity rituals. All of these cultural practices are advantages when it comes to containing the virus, and they go a long way toward ensuring safe travels. Above all, Japanese are very conscious of their responsibilities to others and the society as a whole and will do whatever it takes to keep the virus in check. If you show people that you have the same level of commitment (by, for example, WEARING A MASK), people will undoubtedly be glad to welcome you into their community.

COVID-19 and Cycling in Japan (Update)

C Y C L I N G  •  S P E C I A L   R E P O R T

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