Japan is a strong candidate to be one of the most reluctant countries in the world to open its borders after covid. Now, after more than two years, they have finally opened the door, but how has travel within Japan changed, and more importantly, how will it affect your trip?
Mask used outside
If you’ve visited Japan before, you know what the frequent masks are like. Most people carry them, mostly indoors and on public transport, and that’s before the pandemic. Since then, the public perspective on wearing masks has become even stronger. The last time I was in Japan, in Tokyo, around 50% wore masks and the other half didn’t. Go out in most cities now and you’ll find almost everyone wearing a mask on their face. It’s become the public norm, and something you should expect to do if you come here, too.
Although not a law, when it comes to wearing a mask indoors or on public transport, as I said, you are expected to follow suit. Don’t be surprised if you get some uncomfortable looks if you’re the only one without a face covering on public transport. Thing is, wearing a mask in the winter isn’t a big deal, I find it keeps me warmer anyway. Restrictions vary from season to season, but you should be fine not to wear it while skiing. That being said, most Japanese people will most likely wear a mask or cover their face when waiting in line for the ski lift due to its close proximity. When it comes to wearing a mask outdoors, the choice is yours, but it’s clear how Japanese society has changed since the pandemic.
Use of masks in hotels
A bit more important than personal preference, the Japanese government has made it legal for hotels and inns to turn guests away if they don’t have a valid reason not to wear a mask while inside. The main goal of this bill is to create a safe and comfortable environment for all guests. After all, wearing a mask in common areas isn’t too much of a hassle since you probably won’t be in them that long anyway.
So how will this affect your trip? First, you may be asked to wear a face mask or have your body temperature checked. Nothing to worry about, just be aware that it can happen. Next, if you have a fever or any current symptoms, you may be asked if you’ve seen a doctor or if you’ve recently had any illnesses. If you refuse to cooperate with anything they ask of you during your stay, you may be excluded.
Finally, you will be asked to share your phone number and/or contact information as a way to track potential infection routes. It might all seem like a bit of a stretch, especially if the country you’re traveling from has already discontinued these types of measures, but the simple fact is that if your hotel decides to do it, you’ll have to. oblige, or you’ll run the risk of being asked to leave.
Shinkansen baggage rules
Carrying your luggage from A to B always requires thinking when you go on holiday. With a destination like Japan, probably quite far away, that problem amplifies. Couple this with Japan’s new Shinkansen baggage rules and ski transport, and you’re in for a potential logistical nightmare. Don’t worry, but let me explain when and where you can find these rules and whether or not they will affect you.
For certain destinations, especially those closer to Tokyo, getting to the resort after your flight may include using a bullet train (Shinkansen). They are super fast, incredibly efficient and roomy enough to handle all your luggage. Until now, it wasn’t too much of a problem to carry your big suitcases and ski bags, but that’s another change you’ll have to deal with when you travel to your destination. If your bag is too big, you will need to make a reservation for one of the oversized seats. There are between 22 and 42, depending on the type of train, but if you miss it you will have to wait for another train or pay a fine.
The good news for skiers is that this rule only affects your standard luggage, so make sure you don’t pack too many overalls. For sports equipment, which includes boards and skis, you are exempt from having to reserve specific seats. In any case, just make sure it doesn’t get in anyone’s way.
Arrival at the airport
I’ve been to Japan several times, and going through customs has always been a bit more complicated than in other countries. Now, the usual fingerprint scan, boarding card and photo are complemented by a number of other measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID. When I arrived recently (October 10, 2022), there were a series of checkpoints to get from the plane to the other side of customs. One to check your vaccine status, one to check your MySOS app, one more to check your paperwork (Japan seems to love paperwork) and then the usual immigration steps.
These may start, depending on your airline, with the mandatory use of a mask on the plane. Not ideal, especially with the dry air but not the end of the world. Once you arrive in Japan, you will be taken through a specific route at the airport and asked to prepare your MySOS application. Note that this may tend to change in the future, but for now you’ll need two vaccinations and a booster to enter Japan, otherwise you’ll need to get tested before you leave.
If you have to test beforehand, you won’t be able to use the app, which means things may take longer. You can expect questions about where you’re going, how long you’ll be there and your current state of health.
If you are vaccinated, remember to bring the official proof. Check your country’s Japanese embassy website for the most up-to-date requirements for your trip. None of this is anything to worry about, but if anything, make sure you give yourself enough time to catch transfers on the other side. The government previously suggested booking hotels near the airport due to long wait times if your flight was to arrive in the evening, but whether you do so is entirely up to you.
Whether you’re grabbing your food from a konbini or picking up that shiny new pair of skis you saw, there’s a good chance you’re going to have your temperature checked. At the front of most stores, you’ll find hand sanitizer usually accompanied by a device that takes your temperature. You will see your face appear in the video along with your reading floating above your head. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything, and from what I’ve seen there’s no one to check whether you can get in or not (although it’s allowed by law), but just use your best judgment based on your form. you are feeling
In many cases, you can often swipe sideways on most devices if you want to. In many of the smaller stores, you’ll likely find a bottle of hand sanitizer that you should use, especially if you plan to touch anything. Another note to add to things like this, you’ll probably find a lot of hand dryers in public bathrooms taped up (because of covid, for some reason). So plan accordingly if you need to and bring your own tissues or wipes. In Japan, people often use personal mini-towels, but it’s up to you whether you want to or not.
Contactless payment is a bit more common
Japan may be very late to the party, but contactless and plastic money are making inroads into everyday society. This boost is partly due to the pandemic and increased hygiene standards, sticking to cash alone would not be the practical thing to do during a pandemic. But to Japan’s credit, they have been moving in this direction for a few years now, albeit rather slowly.
If you’re going to a big ski resort like Niseko or Hakuba or passing through any of the big cities, you shouldn’t have any problem using contactless in some places. At the very least, there will be places where you can use your credit or debit card if you want to. If you go somewhere completely off the beaten track, Seki Onsen for example, you’re out of luck. In most places outside the city, Japan is still a cash-based society. Make sure you carry a few thousand yen in your backpack while you’re on the slopes just in case, it’s better to be prepared and not need it!
All in all, your trip to Japan won’t be that different than it was before the pandemic, but there are a few more rules to follow and certainly some things to keep in mind before you go. There’s nothing quite like skiing deep Japow, wondering if there really is too much snow, and wondering what ramen you’re going to eat for dinner. What big problems to have! If it were me, I’d wear a full-body hazmat suit if it meant I could ski in Japan, so these changes are nothing.
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