The Long Awaited Return to Japan

It’s been a long time since my family has been able to travel to Japan. Like most countries around the world, Japan closed its borders to international arrivals and tourists in 2020 in an attempt to “keep coronavirus out”. When they slowly, tentatively started allowing their own citizens to travel, they of course had to face strict quarantine procedures and monitoring upon their return to Japan which made the trip itself almost not worth it.

The mySOS app – mandatory for entering Japan so do it well in advance!

Slowly the rules relaxed and changed, and they announced that family members and spouses married to Japanese nationals could come to Japan – IF they submitted a boatload of documents including a negative test, an invitation letter from a family member in Japan and proof (in Japan) that you were still married, and a negative test. And once in Japan they’d still track you, and you would be limited in where you could go and what you could do which meant no sightseeing or visiting other areas. Immigration would contact you through the app, make you confirm your location, call you and ask you to turn on the camera to see where you were, and prove that you weren’t going around spreading covid to half of Japan.

None of that surveillance sounded like any fun. And so we patiently waited, and hoped, for the day when we’d be able to travel freely ‘like normal’. Finally in October Japan announced that if you had been fully vaccinated and came from a “blue” country – i.e. one like Canada where the vaccination rate was already high and most people had already been exposed to omicron – you would not have to submit a negative test or do any quarantine measures. Finally!

(Side note: Two years seems like a long time to keep your borders closed but here’s a fun historical fact – Japan closed its borders for a whopping 220 years starting from 1663 and went through a period of almost complete seclusion from the outside world. So in comparison, two years of a pandemic isn’t so long.)

Before the trip I had done my research and knew I had to download two different mandatory covid apps, upload lots of documents, and have a lot of things ready on my phone to present at immigration. In the terminal I saw lots of people pulled out of the line for not having their QR codes ready and having to then struggle to get the app done. But if you know what you have to do, and DO IT IN ADVANCE, then entering Japan is no problem.

In fact, it was so quiet in Narita Airport, it was like a ghost town. More than half of the souvenir shops and stores in the terminal are still closed. There were no long lines of people waiting for buses or trains. Felt a bit spooky, really!

Now the biggest bummer of this whole trip – and I’m going to get all my bitching and moaning out right now – was going back to all the covid protocols. Canada removed its mask mandate in March 2022 and pretty much everyone is trying their best to forget that we ever had to wear those disgusting masks.

But from the second we got into Pearson Airport in Toronto, it was mask-on again. For the entire 14 hour flight to Tokyo. And on the shuttle bus to the hotel. And in the lobby. And in the hotel. And at every place we went. The only time people take masks off is to eat. It was absolutely exhausting especially in the heat and humidity of the tailend of summer.

So… do people still wear masks in Japan? A resounding YES.

EVERYONE.

EVERYWHERE.

ALL. THE. TIME.

EVEN ALONE WALKING OUTSIDE.

If you’re planning to visit Japan, be prepared to get back to masks ALL the time! People seem to put on the mask the second they are ready to leave their homes (or hotel rooms), and will wear it all day until they get home again. If you’ve been living normally it is surprisingly hard to get used to again!

Scariest part is…….. everyone in Tokyo that I asked says that they will probably have to wear masks…. FOREVER!!!!!

Another fun fact that you might find hard to believe – there is NO MASK MANDATE in Japan and there never was! Everyone just collectively does it and, from the sounds of it, they are going to do it until the end of time. Shudder.

Okay. I feel a bit better getting that out of the way. Now on to much more fun things! Like actually having fun in Tokyo!

… like wearing a scuba mask at a restaurant?

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