Some basic advice for Japan travel during the coronavirus.
This article is for people who are traveling in and around Japan now. Of course, the general advice around the world is to practice social distancing, self-quarantine and some areas are in total lock-down to combat the latest coronavirus, COVID19.
But currently in Japan at the end of March 2020, only major events are canceled and schoolkids are home (for the time being), but products, businesses, services, and attractions are still open for business as usual.
So, if you are currently in Japan, or your travel plans in Japan during this crisis can’t be avoided, here are some helpful tips for safety and wellbeing.
For residents and visitors alike, anyone who feels even mildly unwell- especially if they have a fever, cough, or chills – should self-quarantine and not be out in public. We now know that people who have no symptoms are also positive for the virus.
If you are planning to travel to Japan, it is important to keep in mind that this is a very stressful time here as it is around the world. There is also currently no easily accessed testing services available for locals or visitors who believe they may be carrying the virus.
If travelers do need medical care, doctors and medical facilities are also much busier and understaffed during this coronavirus pandemic. Things are changing quickly, but there is no sign that things will improve in the next 6 months, or some estimate this pandemic will last years.
Because there is so much still unknown, even if you feel healthy it is a great idea to be overcautious to be on the safe side for yourself, your loved ones and the people around you.
Bicycles, Backstreets and Off-the-Beaten Path
It’s best to avoid crowds, so a great chance to change your schedule and choose options in the countryside, outdoors and along backstreets. If you see a crowded area, try to avoid it by going along less busy parallel streets. If a train car is particularly crowded, try to choose the next one. Choose a bicycle ride outdoors or a walk over a crowded bus, train or busy path.
Hire a Car
If you want to go farther than a bicycle can take you, hiring rental cars are also another good option. A car will allow you to get out and explore the crowd-free countrysides. Drivers must have international driver’s permits (from their home country) and be at least 18 years old to rent a car in Japan. Good advice about renting a car in Japan here on JapanGuide.
If you have a bit more budget to spend on private transportation, hiring a car with an English speaking driver is also an option.
GPS navigation on your phone is often easier than the GPS in the car in Japanese and roadsigns are mostly in Roman alphabet English which makes navigation easier. Before driving out to the countryside, make sure you stock up on food and drink before you set out as services in the rural areas are spotty at best. This being Japan, however, there are usually convenience stores and supermarkets not too far from any town. The highway rest-stops are also great resources for long drives where you can get tasty hot noodles or at least a few snacks along the way.
Avoid Crowds of 10 or more and Keep your Distance
There are plenty of wonderful outdoor options in Japan outside of the city centers which are worth exploring. If you need some personalized advice where you are in Japan, feel free to get in touch for recommendations. I’m happy to find a way to help that fits your budget.
Follow basic sustainable travel rules to avoid overtourism, if you really have to see the top sights, aim to avoid the busiest 11am-2pm peak times at any attraction. I recommend heading to top sights as soon as they open. You should also prepare for finding yourself in crowds. Wear a mask and gloves if you cannot avoid being in crowds and make sure to change your gloves and mask regularly as well as wash your hands as often as possible.
When eating out, it’s a good time of year to get Bentos or take-out and eat outside in good weather. If you have to dine-in, choose the least busy options and sit away from other customers whenever possible. Having wet-wipes in your bag to wipe down any table before eating is a good habit. Reputable Japanese eateries have wet cloths available to wipe tables down with, but it’s unclear how often they are changed. If there is an alcohol spray going into a shop or eatery, it’s a good habit to use it on the way in and out. If you suffer from dry skin, it’s also a good idea to have moisturizing lotion to put on after each alcohol spray.
Wear a Mask
Although hard to find, a single-use paper mask or a reusable (washable) cotton mask is a great thing to have on hand traveling around Japan. Don’t worry about looking strange, Japan has a mask-wearing culture and you will fit right in the crowd. Even outside of coronavirus outbreaks, you will see most people in Japan wearing masks in crowds for a variety of reasons from keeping germs in, to avoiding breathing in germs, to hide a zit, hide a lack of makeup or the fact that you didn’t have time to shave, or even to travel incognito. Amazon Japan still has a variety of reusable masks for sale as of writing, and I’m noticing more handicraft shops selling unique handmade versions too.
Carry your own soap and handtowel
Although Japan is a usually clean and hygenic-focused destination, there is a lack of soap in public bathrooms and many soap dispensers and hand dryers have been disabled due to fear of spreading germs.
If you have a small reusable container to hold your soap in such as those sold by LUSH for shampoo bars, it is possible to wash your hands more consistently. You should also carry your own hand towel to dry your hands after washing. The use of small handtowels or handkerchiefs is a part of Japanese etiquette and is commonly found in Japan at a variety of shops.
Cough, sneeze or blow your nose into a tissue, discard + wash hands
The key factor is washing hands whenever and wherever possible. If you have to cough, sneeze or wipe a runny nose, it is also advised to use a tissue, throw it away and wash your hands again before doing anything else.
Refilling Your Own Drink Bottles
Great idea to use only your own drink bottles when out and about to avoid cross-contamination while reducing unnecessary waste and strain on labor (manufacturing, delivery, refilling, garbage collecting, garbage disposal..). Keep your container clean and fill up before you head out for the day. When you find a water source, make sure the rinse your container again and refill without touching the spout. More advice about using your own containers during the Coronavirus outbreak here.
During the COVID19 coronavirus crisis, however, many places disallow filling your own containers due to hygene concerns. If you are not allowed to use your own cup, you can take the paper cup without a lid to at least reduce the plastic lid waste.
Robin Lewis and his team have worked hard to set up a reliable online network of water fountains called MYMIZU. Thanks to their hard work, it’s a lot easier to fill up on water around Japan if you download the MyMizu app available on both Android and Iphones to help you find places around Japan where you can refill on clean drinking water for free.
Use of reusable cotton gloves when traveling can help reduce the risk of infection. It’s a good idea to buy multiple pairs that can be exchanged with fresh ones when you change location, or change at regular intervals throughout the day. It’s still a good idea to try not to touch your face, but using gloves in addition to washing hands is more effective as many of us touch our face as an unconscious habit.
Using gloves should then be washed daily can help travelers reduce the chances of picking up germs from surfaces which can last up to 3 days according to NPR.
What to do if you feel sick while traveling in Japan
For residents and visitors alike, anyone who feels unwell, especially if they have a fever, should self-quarantine and not be out in public.
It is a stressful time in Japan now as there are currently no testing services for locals or visitors, as well as doctors and medical facilities being busier and understaffed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Japan Travel Hotline
Hopefully, taking time to rest and recover will get you back to health, but if your condition doesn’t improve, contact the Japan Travel Hotline, or refer to the Japan Nation Tourism Organisation multilingual website and hotline to ask for help about where to go for treatment, testing (hopefully available soon), or medicine.