Negotiations are still continuing with a number of countries to allow entry into Japan. The Japanese government is currently considering allowing American and European businessmen into Japan. But they will not be allowed to stay long, and cannot travel in large groups. The details have not been announced.
The Sumo tournament and Japanese baseball games with audiences are continuing without any interruptions or anyone testing positive for COVID-19. The Japanese Soccer league is not allowing audiences as well. The Kabuki-za theater in Tokyo reopened for the first time in five months.
The Bon Holiday season will be starting soon. Because many Japanese normally travel to their families grave during this time, this is a big travel time in Japan. The Japanese government is concerned about this, but has not issued any warnings or requests regarding travel during this time.
Japan is currently going through a second wave as is happening in many other countries at this time including Australia, Hong Kong and Spain. The numbers of new cases in the second wave is actually larger than the first wave.
But the Japanese government says that they have been able to trace most of the new cases. And because of that, they are not overly concerned at this point.
As of August 4
Last week was a 4 day weekend in Japan with national holidays on Thursday and Friday. Many people around Japan were taking advantage of the “Go To” campaign. This program, initiated by the Japanese government will pay up to 50% of domestic travel to help the travel industry in Japan. Because of the recent spike of cases in Tokyo, the Governor of Tokyo requested that people in Tokyo not travel outside of Tokyo. However, many of them did end up traveling, but traveled short distances to the nearby prefectures.
Negotiations are still continuing with a number of countries to allow entry into Japan. The Japanese government is currently considering allowing American and European businessmen into Japan. But they will not allowed to stay long, and cannot travel in large groups. The details have not been announced.
The Sumo tournament and Japanese baseball games with audiences are continuing without any interruptions or anyone testing positive for COVID-19. The Japanese Soccer league is not allowing audiences as well.
Japan is currently going through a second wave as is happening in many other countries at this time including Australia, Hong Kong and Spain. The numbers of new cases in the second wave is actually larger than the first wave.
But the Japanese government says that they have been able to trace most of the new cases. And because of that, they are overly concerned at this point.
The July Sumo tournament in Nagoya started this week. It is the first tournament in 6 months where fans were allowed to watch the tournament. The March tournament in Osaka was held with no one in attendance. And the May tournament in Tokyo was cancelled. The number of fans was limited of course.
The “Go To” campaign has started this week. This is a program where the Japanese government will pay for up to 50% of the cost of a domestic trip within Japan. It is hoped this program will help to bring back tourism around Japan. However, because of the large number of COVID-19 cases in Tokyo recently, travel to and from Tokyo was removed from the program at the last minute. The Japanese government will pay for the cancellation fees.
Negotiations are continuing with a number of countries to allow entry into Japan. High-level businessmen from America and Europe are currently being allowed to enter Japan. But they can only travel to and from Japan in a private jet, and they have submit an itinerary before they arrive. The Japanese government is currently considering allowing American and European businessmen into Japan. But they will not allowed to stay long, and cannot travel in large groups. The details have not been announced.
The increase in the number of new cases has continued. The Kanto area (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures) account for more than one-half of the new cases. The other larger cities such as Osaka, Kyoto and Sapporo are also experiencing more new cases, but not as many relative to the number of new cases in Tokyo.
The Japanese government says that they have been able to trace most of the new cases. And because of that, they are overly concerned at this point. Most of the new cases have been traced to the Shinjuku nightlife area. The Tokyo governor has asked everyone living in Tokyo to stay home over the upcoming long weekend.
The Japanese government has released their tracking app. But up until now, the number of downloads has been disappointing. The government is requesting everyone with a smart phone to download the app in order to make it easier to trace new cases.
Discussions with Australia and New Zealand to reciprocally reduce entry bans is continuing. According to the Japanese government, they are starting discussions with Taiwan, Korea and China and other countries that have kept the virus under control. The Japanese government has also announced they are considering allowing American and European business executives to enter Japan.
Last week, fans were once again allowed to attend pro sports games including baseball and soccer. At this time, the number of fans are being limited to 5,000 people. If everything goes OK with this step, they will next allow enough people to fill the stands to 50% capacity. The Sumo Association announced last week they will allow fans to attend the July tournament in Nagoya. No further details were given.
Domestic travel within Japan is building. The “GO TO” campaign where the government will subsidize domestic travel by up to 50%, was originally scheduled to begin August 1. But that date has been moved up to July 22. However, it has been reported that many of the remote rural areas are now concerned about people from the larger metropolitan areas such as Tokyo and Osaka visiting their areas. They are concerned they will spread the virus. A recent survey in Japan showed that more people in Japan are concerned about the virus than they are the economy.
During the last two weeks, there has been a larger than normal spike in the number of new cases (see the graph below). Most of the new cases have been in the Kanto area (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba Prefectures). But there have also been a large number of cases in the Kansai area (Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto Prefectures) and Sapporo. As you might expect, the majority of the new cases were younger people. And many of the new cases also came from the bar/nightlife districts.
The Tokyo Metropolitan government is discussing possibly re-initiating some business restrictions. However, no details were announced. The Japanese government also announced they are building many virus testing stations at all fo the international airports. The plan is to test all incoming visitors, including Japanese citizens. At first, they are saying the tests will take 1 to 2 days. But eventually, they say the test will be only a few hours.
Schools are back in session all over Japan. Domestic travel is rebuilding. Baseball and Soccer has started (without fans of course). And on Friday, the 10th, Japan will allow crowds up to 5,000 people to gather at pro sports games, concerts, etc.
But the big news in Japan is the rain. Areas of the southern island of Kyushu have received large amounts of rain, and there has been widespread flooding. At last count, there were more than 50 people dead or missing. But that number will probably increase over the next few days since the rain is not forecasted to stop for several days.
This natural disaster has raised an issue that few other countries have had to deal with. As you would expect, the evacuation centers setup by the Japanese government are typically large open areas such as school gymnasiums, etc. How do you operate a center like this with large groups of people during a pandemic?
Marking out spaces to keep households two meters apart means each center can accommodate fewer evacuees. Officials are trying to identify additional shelter sites, from government facilities to hotels and inns, with mixed success.
The government is also asking individuals to understand the risks and shoulder more of the responsibility for their own safety, according to Masako Yoneda of the Japan Academic Network for Disaster Reduction, which issued an emergency message on the topic last month.
“The best way is to make sure that people who are unwell don’t cross paths with others,” said Yuichi Ishida. Each center will be taking temperatures and inquiring about possible symptoms before allowing families to enter each center.
During the last week, there has been a larger than normal spike in the number of new cases (see the graph below). Most of the new cases have been in the Kanto area (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba Prefectures). But there have also been a large number of cases in the Kansai area (Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto Prefectures) and Sapporo. As you might expect, the majority of the new cases were younger people. And many of the new cases also came from the bar/nightlife districts.
There has been another recent development that could only happen in Japan. It has been reported that two Maiko (geisha in training) in Kyoto’s Gion entertainment district have been infected with COVID-19. It is also reported that the virus is more active in the Gion than in Shinjuku’s nightlife districts. To make matters even worse, it has also been reported that the Gion entertainment district kept this secret.
Domestic travel within Japan has been increasing since June 19th when inter-prefecture travel was allowed again. Many restrictions have been removed with the exception of larger groups such as concerts, exhibitions and sports events. A new Shinkansen model will be rolled out on July 1. It is quieter and has a better ride.
Japan and Vietnam have begun reciprocal easing of entry restrictions. Japanese businessmen have flown to Vietnam, and Vietnamese businessmen have flown to Japan. Negotiations with other countries, specifically Thailand, Australia and New Zealand have been ongoing, but no announcements have been made. All four countries are being very cautious in their easing of entry restrictions. The EU wants to allow Japanese tourists into Europe, but it is said the Japanese government is not willing to reciprocate with European tourists.
There has been a spike in the number of new cases in the last week. Just like in America, most of the new cases are younger people. The Japanese government has made testing mandatory for everyone working in bars. People working in bars are required to have periodical virus tests.
On June 19, all travel restrictions within Japan were removed. So many Japanese traveled domestically that weekend. Many of the destinations everywhere in Japan reported an increase in the number of reservations and visitors.
On Thursday and Friday, flights between Japan and Vietnam will begin to operate again. The two governments have negotiated travel between the two countries without any restrictions. At first, it will be only businessmen. About 450 Japanese businessmen will be going to Vietnam later this week. Any Vietnamese businessmen will have to file an itinerary with the Japanese government.
Air New Zealand announced they will be restarting flights between New Zealand and Japan. But no announcements have been made by either government about a travel agreement between the two countries.
Pro baseball is starting this week, but without anyone watching in person. People will be allowed entrance to the games in mid-July.
There has been a small spike in the number of cases, particularly in Tokyo. It has been reported that most of the new cases in Tokyo are from a temporary employment agency, and from bar workers in the Kabukicho district of Tokyo. The government has implemented mandatory testing for all bar workers in that area.
All restrictions on businesses everywhere in Japan have been lifted, even in Tokyo. There are still bans on groups of people over 100. However, the plan is to start easing those restrictions on June 19. At that time, such events as concerts and exhibitions will be allowed up to 1,000 people, or 50% capacity. On July 10, the plan is to start allowing fans to attend pro sports games. At that time all large groups will be limited to 5,000 people or 50%.
More and more people are traveling domestically. On June 13, the Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen (Osaka to Kagoshima) announced they were returning to pre-virus schedules. JR Shikoku announced they will start operating their sightseeing trains soon.
While the crowds here in Kyoto are still below pre-virus levels, there are more and more people everywhere. The Japanese government announced they will start to accept businessmen from Vietnam as long as they provide proof of a negative virus test. This will start before the end of the month. New Zealand will restart flights from New Zealand to Japan before the end of the month.
Lately, there has been another spike in new cases, particularly in Tokyo. Some people are contributing the spike to more testing, and the Tokyo government does not seem to be terribly concerned about the spike. At least, they have said they are not thinking of raising the alert level, and especially not any lockdowns. Here in Kyoto, there have only been two new reported cases more than a month.
Abe-no-Mask (Mask of Abe)
Prime Minister Abe made a big announcement back in March that the Japanese government would provide two cloth masks to everyone in Japan. Back then, masks were hard to find. But now, they are available everywhere.
However, the masks were very small, and were not received very well by the Japanese public. And then, even after two months it was estimated that only about 20% of Japan had received the masks. They became know as “Abe-no-mask”, or mask of Abe everywhere in Japan. This was a takeoff on other programs initiated by Prime Minister Abe such as Abenomics.
Lately, I have seen a number of businesses offering discounts to people who would trade in their Abe-no-mask, and the then business would donate the masks to needy people. Well, I just received mine in the mail the other day.
Things here in Japan are starting to return to normal. Almost all shops and restaurants have reopened. And all the shops and restaurants are beginning to get busier now. The common, public areas are busier with more people. Public transportation is also busier now as well. And most of the schools have reopened.
This weekend, I have traveled to Arima Onsen for a little R & R. Yesterday was a Saturday, and the onsen was very busy since it is located so close to Osaka and Kobe. But today, on Sunday, it is much quieter as one would expect.
There have been no changes made to the onsen baths, both here at the ryokan I am staying at and at the public bathhouse I went to this afternoon. However, the ryokan I am staying at normally has a breakfast buffet. A major Japanese university with NHK did a video study of how a disease like COVID-19 can spread quickly at a buffet. They They have replaced that with a set meal for breakfast. You can choose between western style or Japanese style breakfast of course. The tables are set a little further apart. But otherwise, I have not noticed any major differences anywhere here at the onsen other than the typical virus prevention protection found everywhere else in Japan.
Here in Kyoto, after 23 straight days with no new cases, there was one reported new case yesterday. The spike in new cases in the city of Kitakyushu has improved. They are reporting 5 to 6 new cases per day now, compared to 15 to 25 a week ago. There has been a spike of new cases in Tokyo, and the Japanese government is now concerned about the situation there. For the last week, they have been reporting around 25 new cases per day. Considering Tokyo prefecture has a population of about 14 million people, that number is not terrible. However, it exceeds the strict per capita standards set for all prefectures by the Japanese government. To announce and illustrate the concern with the number of new cases, the Tokyo government has been lighting Rainbow Bridge over Tokyo Harbor in red at nights to remind people to be diligent with the proper virus prevention techniques.
State of Emergency
The State of Emergency has been removed across the entire country. The Japanese and prefectural governments have defined and documented the next steps beyond the state of emergency. These steps include when different types of businesses will be able to open. They will be allowed to reopen in stages, according to the risk of that business type, with the riskiest businesses allowed to open last. The steps also define when events and pro sports games will be allowed to resume.
Travel in Japan
Up until May 31, the Shinkansen were operating at 60% of the normal schedule due to a lack of passengers. Beginning on June 1, JR announced it started operating at 80% of the normal schedule. Beginning in June, ANA and Skymark will begin to re-add domestic flights that had previously been cancelled. It is reported they plan to add back about 30% of their schedule. JAL will continue the same reduced schedule in June as in May. But JAL is restarting three flights between Tokyo Narita and San Francisco. All three airlines are currently operating at about 30% of the normal schedule. Many hotels and ryokans are starting to reopen, although most of the hotels and ryokans in rural areas are waiting until July 1 to reopen. Many sights reopened on June 1, including destinations like the Hiroshima Peace Museum, Nikko, Tokyo Sky Tree and Nara’s Todaiji to name just a few.
As of June 1, there is no longer any restrictions on inter-prefecture travel. Although, the Japanese government is asking people not to travel to the Kanto region (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures) and Hokkaido until June 19.
Here in Kyoto, there have been no new cases for 18 straight days. There was a spike of new cases in Tokyo and Kitakyushu (a city on the northeastern coast of the island of Kyushu). At Kitakyushu, there were about 90 new cases reported over the last week. The Japanese government was concerned about this spike, and sent a team there to review the new cases to follow the path of infections. They were able to identify how 50% of the cases were spread. However, the number of reported cases at Tokyo is declining. There were only 5 reported cases in Tokyo on May 31.
State of Emergency
On May 14, the state of emergency was lifted for 39 prefectures, most of which were rural areas. On May 21 the state of emergency was lifted for the Kansai region (Osaka, Hyogo (Kobe) and Kyoto prefectures). On May 25, the state of emergency was lifted for the 5 remaining prefectures (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba and Hokkaido). In spite of the state of emergency being lifted, the Japanese government is asking everyone to still practice social distancing, avoid crowded, tight spaces, avoid close communications and to always wear face masks and use hand sanitizer when appropriate. The government is also asking everyone to avoid inter-prefecture travel until after May 31.
Travel in Japan
The Shinkansen are currently operating at 60% of the normal schedule due to a lack of passengers. However, they recently announced they will increase the number of trains starting on June 1. They have even indicated that they are even thinking of returning to the normal train schedule at that time. Beginning in June, ANA and Skymark will begin to re-add flights that had previously been cancelled. It is reported they plan to add back about 20% of their schedule. JAL will continue the same reduced schedule in June as in May. All three airlines are currently operating at about 30% of the normal schedule. Many hotels and ryokans are starting to reopen, although most of the hotels and ryokans in rural areas are waiting until July 1 to reopen. Many sights have also announced plans to reopen soon.
The state of emergency was in place for about 6 weeks, and was successful in slowing down the number of infections, as well as stopping new infections altogether in many locations in Japan. As of this writing, here in Kyoto, there have been no new cases for 10 straight days. The number of new cases for the last week in Tokyo has been less than 10 per day for the last week, and the number of new cases in Osaka has been less than 5 per day in Osaka. On May 15, Osaka reported zero new cases, the lowest number in two months. And on May 22, Tokyo reported 3 new cases, the lowest number in two months. Many of the rural prefectures around Japan have had no cases for weeks. There is even one prefecture with no cases at all ever. Attached below is a graph of the number of new cases nationwide by day, and the 7 day moving average. The total number of cases nationwide has been less than 40 for the last couple of weeks.
Hello from Kyoto, Japan. There have been some big changes here in Japan. On May 14, 38 of the 47 prefectures were removed from the nationwide state of emergency. And then, on May 21, the prefectures in the Kansai region (Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto) were also removed from the state of emergency., On May 25, the remaining 5 prefectures (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba and Hokkaido) were removed from the state of emergency.
The state of emergency was successful in slowing down the spread of the virus, and even eliminating it in some areas. Many of the rural areas of Japan have not had any new cases for two or three weeks or even more. Here in Kyoto, there have been no new cases for 10 days in a row. There are several “hot spots”, but even those have slowed down significantly. Tokyo, Kanagawa (Yokohama) and Hokkaido (Sapporo) are still reporting new cases. But the number of new cases in Tokyo have been less than 10 per day for the last week for example.
Here in Kyoto, starting around May 15, many shops and restaurants started to reopen. On May 18, the AEON Mall across the street from Kyoto station reopened. I was there just minutes after it opened, and it wasn’t busy at that time. But I went there to get a haircut at a barbershop in the mall. The barbershop was very busy, and I had to wait almost an hour and a half. It had been closed during the state of emergency.
The streets are busier now than during the peak of the state of emergency, but still quieter than before all of this started. Every day more and more shops and restaurants are opening. On May 17th, department stores started to reopen. And on May 18, Starbucks started reopening shops. They had closed all of their shops here in Japan for about a month and a half. I thought it was interesting that many of the “omiyage” (souvenir) shops are reopening since there are no tourists. This may be TMI (too much information), but one of the most interesting social distancing arrangements I found was in a restroom at the AEON Mall. Every other urinal in the men’s room was taped off with a sign saying it was closed for social distancing.
On Sunday afternoon (May 24), I walked around some of the shopping/restaurant areas around Kyoto Station. The areas were much busier, and the restaurants were busy as well. There were people waiting at many of the restaurants. I walked through Yodobashi Camera, and it was the busiest I have seen it for a long time.
There are no formal restrictions here now, but the government does have a number of guidelines they are asking everyone to follow. The governments is asking everyone to continue the same social distancing practices. Even during the state of emergency, restaurants were allowed to accept dine-in customers. Although, most restaurants were closed then. And the ones that were open offered take-out only. Now that they are open again, most of the restaurants are only allowing half-capacity and leaving every other table empty. But some of the more popular restaurants have people waiting for a table.
Personally, the first thing I did after learning that the state of emergency would be lifted here in Kyoto was to make a reservation at a nearby onsen near Lake Biwa at the base of Mt. Hiei. It is only 20 minutes on a local train to get there. The origins of the onsen goes back hundreds of years when women provided “entertainment” to the Buddhist monks from Enryokuji Temple located near the top of Mt Hiei. So the onsen does have somewhat of a negative image to the Japanese. I wanted to go somewhere else further away, but Prime Minister Abe is asking everyone not to travel outside of their own prefecture until May 31. I already have reservations at another onsen after June 1 outside of Kyoto Prefecture.
Hello from Kyoto, Japan. It has been a while since the last update. There have been a number of changes since the last update.
About 2 weeks ago, there was a relatively large spike in the number of cases. (Most of the new cases were occurring in Tokyo.) Shortly after that, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency until May 6, and requested everyone to stay home as much as possible. The government’s goal was to reduce the number of people walking around by 80%. The mobile phone companies have been keeping track of the patterns by anonymously monitoring mobile phones, and in the larger cities (Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, etc.), the number of people has reduced by 70 to 80%. In the smaller cities, such as Sendai, Takamatsu, Hiroshima, and Kagoshima, the number of people is down 60 to 70%. After the state of emergency was declared, the number of new cases dropped by about 30%. But since then, the number of new cases has been decreasing, but at a slower pace than at the beginning of the state of emergency.
The guidelines here during the state of emergency are similar to the guidelines in America, but they are a bit more relaxed. Barbershops and hair stylists are considered essential services and are allowed to stay open. Restaurants can remain open, but their dine-in hours are limited (5:30 AM to 8:00 PM). And if they serve alcohol, they have to stop serving alcohol at 7:00 PM. But the government is suggesting that everyone either order takeout or have it delivered. Solitary outings for exercise is OK as long as minimum distances are observed. The government is asking people to exercise during times when there aren’t as many people out. Luckily, because of the non-existent crime rate, it is safe for people to go out anytime.
We are currently in the middle of Golden Week here in Japan. Golden Week is a period of time with many consecutive holidays, and it is very big travel time in Japan. From a travel point of view, it is bigger than Thanksgiving and Christmas combined in America. The Japanese government has asked everyone not to travel this year. They are concerned that people from large cities will travel to rural areas and spread the virus. Many of the rural prefectures have a much lower infection rate than the large cities. There is even one prefecture in Japan that has not had a single case yet. Normally, during Golden Week, many shops, banks, and government offices will close, so people would be expecting everything to be closed during this time. To this point, travel is down 90 to 95% compared to Golden Week last year.
It does seem like the state of emergency has helped. On April 26, there were 72 new cases in Tokyo. That was the first time in 13 days the number of new cases had been less than 100. Here in Kyoto, before the state of emergency, there were 10 to 15 new cases per day. Since April 22, there have approximately 4 new cases per day. There have never been food shortage issues that have happened in other countries. There was a shortage of masks and hand sanitizer for a while, but that problem is being resolved. ANA and JAL are flying 3 round trips of passenger planes per day to China in addition to the normal cargo flights. In addition to loading the cargo areas of the passenger planes with these products, they are also boxing these products in boxes that fit into the overheads, and manually loading the boxes into the bins. They are also talking about using the seats somehow. During this entire time, almost all shops, restaurants, etc. have hand sanitizer available at the front doors. I have attached photos of the entrances to Yodobashi Camera and my grocery store. You can see the hand sanitizer.
Samurai Tours is using this downtime to streamline our tour schedule in order to provide a better travel experience for when the restrictions are lifted and we can all travel again. We’re getting creative to make your Japan travel experience even better than it was before! We cannot wait for our tour members to return to Japan. We’re all in this together. Stay safe and well.
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Hello from Japan!
The weather here is starting to change from winter to spring. Japan’s Meteorological Agency has declared the start of cherry blossom season in Tokyo. Agency officials confirmed on Saturday afternoon that at least five blossoms had opened on the benchmark tree of the Somei-yoshino variety at Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo. The declaration came 12 days earlier than average. It was the earliest since statistics began to be kept in 1953. A commercial weather-information firm says cherry trees will likely start blooming earlier than usual in many parts of western and eastern Japan through next week.
The spread of the corona virus is still increaseing at a slow and steady pace as it has since late January, and as of yet, there are no signs it has started to slow down. Yesterday, the largest single day increase occurred. There were 61 new cases reported yesterday. I read an interesting article the other day that said due to the extra precautions being done by the Japanese people against the corona virus such as more people wearing face masks, washing hands more often, etc., the rate of the normal flu is drastically lower this year.
The Japanese government has extended the ban of large groups until the end of March. Many of the sights, destinations and museums that had previously announced closures have extended the closures to the end of the month. JR announced it is temporarily cancelling some Nozomi Shinkansen trains. The number of people riding the Shinkansen has decreased just like with all transportaiton around the world. And the Japanese government passed a law last week giving Prime Minister Abe the permission to call a state of emergency if needed. Also, as of Sunday this week, it is illegal to re-sell face masks. Many people were buying out face masks, and re-selling them online at inflated prices.
I visited Fushimi Inari shrine last week, one of the busiest tourist spots in Kyoto to see what is happening at the sights around Kyoto. (Fushimi Inari is the shrine with the tunnel of thousands of vermillion-colored torii gates.) It was certainly much less crowded than during a normal year at this time, but there were actually quite a few people with an active atmosphere. I was also surprised at the large number of western tourists.
There was a run on toilet paper here a week or two ago, but that only lasted a couple of days. It is still hard to find hand sanitizer and face masks though. I walked past a pharmacy the other day that was scheduled to open 15 minutes later. There were already about 20 people lined up at the front door. According to a sign, the store had just received a shipment of face masks, and they would be availble for purchase when the store opened.
Hello from Japan!
I have been back in Japan for several days now, and wanted to send an update of what the situation is here on the ground, rather than hearing it from the media reporting from half-way around the world, that tends to sensationalize the news rather than reporting the facts. I am going to keep all of this short, otherwise it will be very long. I am currently in Kyoto, and am writing from my experiences here.
The situation is very fluid at this time. By the time I write and publish this, it could easily be out of date. When walking around the streets, there are a few differences between now and previous years at this time of the year. There are no Chinese tourists. Typically at this time of the year, Kyoto is packed with Chinese tourists. In 2019, Chinese tourists comprised about 1/3 of the total number of tourists visiting Japan. The number of western tourists is about the same as it has been in the past. More Japanese are currently wearing face masks. I would say about 80 to 90% of the Japanese (and myself) are wearing face masks. Having said that, 1/3 to 1/2 of the Japanese would be wearing face masks now anyway. Many Japanese are allergic to cedar pollen, and now is the start of the season when the pollen is the worst. I saw on the NHK news that the level of pollen at this time is 40% above the normal levels for this time of the year. None of the western tourists are wearing face masks.
It is difficult to find face masks here in Japan, and I also had a very difficult time finding face masks in America. This is only the second time in 14 years of living in Japan that I have worn a face mask. The first time was about 5 or 6 years when I had a very bad cold, so I went to the doctor’s office. As soon as I walked in the door, they handed me a face mask and told me to wear it. It is also difficult to find hand sanitizer at this time in Japan as well. So, we have shipped face masks, hand sanitizer and hand wipes from America to Japan for our tour members to use should they decide they want to.
The number of reported new cases of the virus in Japan continues at a slow and steady pace. There were a higher number of new cases reported over the last several days, but most of those were on the island of Hokkaido. There were between 10 to 15 new cases the last several days on Hokkaido, and 5 to 10 new cases in the rest of the country. The total number of reported cases in Japan (not including the cruise ship) is about 200 now, and Hokkaido accounts for about 1/3 of that number. I know what everyone is thinking. Wow, 200 is a lot. But to put it in perspective, that is 0.00002% of the population of Japan.
The Japanese government has requested a number of strict proactive measures to help prevent the spread of the virus. Prime Minister Abe has stated the next two weeks are critical. Japan has invested a lot of time, energy and money to prepare for the Summer Olympics. The last thing they want to happen is to have to cancel the Olympics so they are doing everything they can think of. They are asking that all schools close for the next two weeks until spring break starts. The schools normally start again around April 8. The government has requested that all large events such as sporting events either be postponed or cancelled. This includes all sporting events such as soccer, basketball and pre-season baseball games. There is even talk about possibly cancelling the Sumo tournament in Osaka that starts March 8, or possibly holding the tournament without spectators. Many Japanese companies are now suggesting their employees telecommute. Japan was one of the first countries outside of China to report an infection, which was more than one month ago. When compared with the 200 cases when compared to what has happened in other countries with more than 1000 cases in one week, I think they have done a good job of reducing the impact as much as possible.
We have just heard today that due to decreased demand, United Airlines has announced it will be scaling back its flight schedule to Japan.
Another item I just heard yesterday is that is is said paper products, specifically facial tissues and toilet paper, are already in short supply. There is no logical reason for this I could find. I did go to my local grocery store. The inventory was less than normal, but there were still product available.
There are some museums, amusement parks and other destinations that are going to be closing due to the virus (and probably due to lower demand). Here is the list that we have received from JNTO (Japan National Tour Organization).
Closed museums, parks City Closed Period
Asahi Beer Factories All locations Feb 22 – End date TBA
Ghibli Museum Tokyo Feb 25 – Mar 17
Metropolitan Gov. Observatories Tokyo Feb 27 – Mar 15
teamLab★Borderless Tokyo Feb 29 – End date TBA
Sanrio Puroland Tokyo Feb 22 – Mar 12
The National Art Center Tokyo Feb 29 – Mar 15
Tokyo National Museum Tokyo Feb 27 – Mar 16
Edo Tokyo Museum Tokyo Feb 29 – Mar 16
Tokyo Disneyland & Sea Chiba Feb 29 – Mar 15
Universal Studio Japan Osaka Feb 29 – Mar 15
Osaka Castle Osaka Feb 29 – Mar 15
21st Century Museum Kanazawa Feb 29 – Mar 15
Peace Memorial Museum Hiroshima Feb 28 – Mar 15
Chichu Art Museum Naoshima Mar 3 – Mar 15
Shiroi Koibito Park Sapporo Feb 29 – Mar 15
Well, after all this bad news, I am sure you are asking yourself why should I go to Japan now? Despite all of the sensationalized news media reports, travel in Japan is safe. The cherry blossom season is beautiful, but normally is very crowded. This year will not be crowded though. After 30 years of travel around Japan, I have come to appreciate the Japanese people and Japanese hospitality (called omotenashi in Japanese). Nothing matches the service of the Japanese. It is part of the culture. And given the circumstances right now, the Japanese people will be even more appreciative that you came to Japan.
Update to the Update
I wrote the above on Saturday the 29th. It is now Sunday morning, March 1st in Japan. NHK just reported the number of new reported cases on Saturday. There were only 4 new cases on Hokkaido yesterday, which is about 1/4 of the number the last few days on Hokkaido. And there were only 4 new cases in the rest of Japan. That is about 1/2 of the average daily new cases over the last week country wide.
Dear 2020 Tour Members,
We wanted to take another opportunity to update you all with information regarding the Coronavirus (now known as COVID-19). First and foremost, we wanted to express that the vast majority of people in japan are continuing to live their lives as normal, alongside ongoing countermeasures. A benefit that you have traveling with Samurai Tours is that we ARE the tour operators- our staff live and work all over Japan- we have boots on the ground that we are able to rely on for updated information outside of the media.
The countermeasures taking place are to ensure that there is as little further spread of the virus as possible. At this time, travel restrictions are in place as well as other countermeasures. Many people in Japan are wearing masks on public transportation (planes, trains, etc). This is actually a very common thing to see for this time of year as most Japanese citizens wear masks during cold, flu, and hayfever seasons. It is being reported that more people than usual are wearing masks as a countermeasure. As well, Japanese Citizens are taking additional measures such as frequent hand-washing and utilizing hand sanitizer. While there has been a growth in the number of cases, due to the restrictions and efforts implemented, it has been a slow and consistent growth rather than a large spike. There was a larger than normal increase of new cases nation wide on Saturday. But 3/4 of the new cases were on the island of Hokkaido on Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the country has been stabilizing for the most part over the last few days.
There are 4 levels of travel advisories issued by the US Department of State
1. Exercise normal precautions
2. Exercise increased precaution
3. Reconsider Travel
4. Do not travel
Japan is currently at level 2. This means that people should exercise increased caution when visiting Japan. And older adults and those people with chronic health conditions should reconsider non-essential travel. If the travel advisory reaches a level 3, we will be cancelling tours. At a level 3, all people should reconsider non-essential travel. However, we remain optimistic that this will not happen. To give you an idea, China is currently at level 4.
We have many departures happening soon, and we will be sending a separate email to those tour members informing them of the proper precautions that they can take.
As we have mentioned, our tour members’ safety is our top priority. We are continuing to keep a very close eye on this situation. Thank you for your time and trust. We will continue to keep you updated should there be any changes to the travel advisories.
Dear 2020 Tour Members,
We wanted to give you an update on the situation with the coronavirus. We are constantly monitoring the situation and still believe it is not a threat to our tour members or will cause a cancellation of our tours. Of the confirmed cases in Japan, only 2 are Japanese citizens who had not traveled to Wuhan. The Japanese Government is taking just as many precautions as western countries, such as America, to stop the spread of the virus with travel restrictions which have been very effective. We are aware the story of the cruise ship docked in Japan with infected passengers is a very popular subject in the media but unlike America, there is no other place for the Japanese government to dock the ship and allow the passengers off without risking a mass spread of the infection. We believe they are doing the best they can with the circumstances they have been given.
Our tour members’ safety is always our top priority, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely and keep you informed.
Dear 2020 Tour Members,
We wanted to take some time to address the ongoing situation with the coronavirus. We have received a few phone calls and questions regarding whether this will cause any disruption to our tours. While we are constantly monitoring the situation, we believe it is not a threat to our tour members or will cause a cancellation of our tours. There is only a small number of people in Japan who have confirmed cases of the virus, and the Wuhan city authorities have imposed travel restrictions to prevent further spread of the virus. As of today, the Chinese government is not allowing any tour groups to travel to Japan, and Japan has stepped up quarantine checks at airports and other entry points. Furthermore, while the coronavirus is a very popular subject in the media, news and social media, there is, at this time, less of a concern than the common flu. Our tour members’ safety is always our priority, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Don’t hesitate to contact us. We are an expert team and we are happy to talk to you.