Navigating Tokyo Post Coronavirus Emergency

ByJason Gatewood
May 27, 2020

Navigating Tokyo Post Coronavirus Emergency

For seven weeks, Greater Tokyo has been under a government-mandated state of emergency that saw most businesses close, reduce services and hours, and/or employees working from home. Most parks, gyms, museums, theaters, and other attractions were closed as well as many restaurants and the like. Now that the emergency mandate has been lifted for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures, how and when will life in the Metropolis go back to normal?

…It isn’t over!

The most significant point is the fact that we are nowhere near done with Coronavirus yet. The formal state of emergency that granted expanded powers to certain governmental bodies may have expired, but that was designed to keep the infection rates in check while bolstering hospitals and get a handle on what the virus is, how it works and how to fight the long fight. In other words, this is just the end of the beginning; we likely have a long future dealing with this ahead of us.

Travel bans expanded

Japan has barred entry for people who have stayed in a whole host of countries already:

Asia: Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Korea, Taiwan, China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Maldives

・ Oceania: Australia, New Zealand

・ North America: Canada, United States

・ Latin America: Antigua and Barbuda, Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Chile, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Panama, Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Honduras, Mexico

・ Europe: Iceland, Ireland, Azerbaijan, Albania, Armenia, Andorra, Italy, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Estonia, Austria, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Northern Macedonia, Cyprus, Greece, Croatia, Kosovo, San Marino, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Vatican, Hungary, Finland, France, Bulgaria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland, Portugal, Malta, Monaco, Moldova, Montenegro, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Romania, Luxembourg, Russia

・ Middle East: United Arab Emirates, Israel, Iran, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain

・ Africa: Egypt, Cabo Verde, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritius, Morocco

That number has been extended to Afghanistan, Argentina, India, El Salvador, Ghana, Guinea, Kyrgyz, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and South Africa starting May 27, 2020. People who have traveled to or through any of these countries will be denied entry into Japan unless they are Japanese citizens or Special Permanent Residents (a status usually given to generational Korean and Chinese nationals residing here.)

  • Even if you were just transiting through one of the above nations on this list, you would be denied.
  • Even if you are the spouse of a Japanese national or a Permanent Resident, you would be denied.
  • If you are any of the above and are already in Japan but leave, you would be denied re-entry.

These measures will remain in effect until at least the end of June.

Towards a “New Normal”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeatedly used this term, “New Normal,”

while issuing guidelines for how the various governmental and business bodies will conduct business from now on during his May 25th speech, outlining how current restrictions in place will gradually subside if goals are met.

  • Continue to avoid the 3 “Cs” — Closed spaces, Crowded places, and Close contact.
  • “No Mask, No Service.” Many public spaces, such as grocery stores, shopping malls, and public parks are posting signs reminding people to wear a face mask. A not so scientific survey of my part of Tokyo shows that the vast majority of people are wearing them… But then again, many Japanese wore masks during cold, flu, and hay fever season to begin with and carry no stigma, to begin with.
  • While venues may reopen, their capacities will be severely limited. Expect to see queues and reservation taking systems for most restaurants go into operation. Also, partitioning and time-limits may go into effect as well, depending on the establishment.
  • Cashless payment lanes at markets and malls are being encouraged by their respective industry groups to speed the flow of customers and reduce their contact with employees.
  • Stores may dedicate certain hours to the elderly and special needs customers.
  • Trains and buses will keep their windows open during operation, even while the aircon is on to promote ventilation; mask-wearing is all but mandatory.
  • Schools in the Kanto region will reopen in the coming weeks, but each district has its plan to deal with making sure kids stay safe such as staggering class times and days by grade, partial online study, canceling high-contact activities and so on.

Suspension of Certain Customs

Some Japanese customs and traditions are also being re-evaluated in the wake of the Novel Coronavirus:

  • The onsen and sento trade associations recommend capping the number of bathers using facilities. Towel and gown rental may also be suspended in some cases.
  • Large nomikai drinking parties are not encouraged, nor will the traditional worker’s enkai parties held at specific points of the year.
  • Karaoke parlors and Pachinko shops will limit customers and enforce sanitary rules.

The tech to protect

PM Abe also reiterated that technology would be one of the driving factors employed to keep COVID-19 from experiencing a sharp resurgence in Japan:

  • Companies are encouraged to continue their teleworking and flex-time strategies.
  • Contact tracing smartphone apps  will anonymously inform those registered of contact with an infected person and advise the next steps to take.
  • The public health officials will widen and lower the standard to get a COVID-19 test to investigate the asymptomatic spread of the virus.

Stay Tuned

As the situation evolves, make sure to check local news outlets and, of course, keep in contact with your country’s embassy or consulate office.


All images by Jason L Gatewood

About the author

Jason Gatewood subscriber

Our Tokyo based collaborator is a tech nerd, Japanophile, train nut, and a veritable fountain of information on Japan. His current goal is to watch Evangelion and actually "get it", sing every permutation of "Hotel California" at any karaoke gathering, ride every bullet train line, and sample all varieties of ramen throughout Japan. Catch more of his musings at ·