See Japan After Covid ・ Planning a Trip to Japan? Here Are 12 Things You Need to Know Before You Go

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After years of covid pandemic lockdown and closed borders, Japan is finally open to visitors. As travelers start trickling back in, this is what Japan looks like “post-covid.”

Ready to Go to Japan Already? First, Keep in Mind…



After firmly closing its borders for almost three years, Japan is open again, and ready to welcome a new wave of excited tourists. But, like so many places around the world, some things have changed, appeared, or disappeared over these tumultuous months. So if you're planning a trip to Japan any time soon, we've gathered together a few tips that you might want to know before you hop on a plane headed for the land of the rising sun!

① Masks Are Still a Must Indoors!



Masks have been more common in Japan than in other parts of the world since long before covid started, so perhaps it's no surprise that mask-wearing is holding on longer here than elsewhere. Indoor spaces like shops and restaurants still have signs up asking customers to stay masked unless they're actively eating or drinking, and you may be denied entry if you try to enter maskless. Similarly, in public spaces like trains, buses, or even taxis, going maskless will earn you plenty of stinging side-eye, and possibly even some harsh words from fellow passengers. Despite government attempts to convince Japanese citizens that masks are unnecessary outdoors, they're still more common than not even out in the open air! If you find yourself in Japan without a mask, you can always head to the nearest drugstore or convenience store to pick up a pack. (Then again, is it okay to enter a convenience store without a mask in order to go buy masks? That's a true dilemma.)

Trains can get awfully crowded in Japan, but even when they're mostly empty, you're still expected to wear a mask!



Even Kyoto's maiko (geisha) have been wearing masks.

② Temperature Checks & Hand Sanitizer Are Still the Standard



Just like much of the world, the covid pandemic inspired most Japanese facilities to install hand-sanitizing stations and thermometers by the entrance, all over the country. With the pandemic calming down, these areas aren't as strictly regulated as they once were, but it's a good idea to keep an eye out for them anyway!



Thermographic cameras are ubiquitous!



Some hotels and guesthouses provide a variety of disinfectant products for guests to use themselves. In Japan, temperatures are generally taken under the armpit, so thermometers can be shared!

③ Plastic Bags Cost Money Now



Despite the country being quite strict about recycling, travelers who have gone shopping in Japanese convenience stores and 100 yen shops will know that Japan has a bit of a plastic packaging problem. With no sign of that changing anytime soon, the government decided back in the summer of 2020 to take a different step in an eco-friendly direction and start charging for plastic bags at most stores. It can be a little inconvenient, especially for sightseers, but charging for bags is now standard practice everywhere from convenience stores to supermarkets. Now, when you go to pay, the cashier will generally ask:

"レジ袋、要りますか?"
(Reji-bukuro irimasu ka?)

Which means:
Do you need a bag?

It's very common to see locals carrying a compact reusable shopping bag around with them, to avoid paying for bags they don't need, and after 2 1/2 years, most complainers have gotten over the annoyance by now. So if you hear a question in Japanese from the cashier, they're probably either asking if you need a bag (袋/fukuro), or if you have a point card (they use the English term in Japanese). Bag prices depend on the size, but they range from about 3 to 12 yen. It's not a big deal to pay for one or two, but they add up, so we recommend bringing a reusable shopping bag, or picking one up from a 100 yen store.

④ Acrylic Barriers Remain Common



In Japan, restaurant tables are still bordered with clear sheets, and restaurants with counters (like this beef bowl shop) have each seat separated by plastic screens. (It makes you wonder, maybe Ichiran saw this coming all along?)

Cashiers are often found on the opposite side of transparent vinyl, which makes sense as a covid prevention measure, but the vinyl can sometimes make it awfully hard to hear soft-spoken restaurant staff.



⑤ Tablets & Order Screens Are Becoming Standard



Ordering food via a tablet on the table isn't entirely a new concept for Japanese restaurants, but the number of establishments using these automated systems sure has exploded since the pandemic encouraged cutting down on face-to-face interactions. Unfortunately, it's still pretty common to find electronic menus only available in Japanese, so in those cases you'll just have to call a waiter to order. They might still have English-language paper menus available! The picture above is one of those Japanese-only ordering tablets, found at the Roppongi location of udon restaurant Tsurutontan.

⑥ Cashless Payment Systems Are All the Rage!



Just a few years ago, travelers visiting Japan were frequently surprised at how often cash was literally the only payment option. Cash is king in Japan, especially coins! But during the pandemic, the general public started to realize just how dirty money can get. (Literally.) Between general reluctance to touch germy cash, and some strong government pushes to encourage the change, the popularity of cashless payment methods has finally spread in Japan. Credit cards are gaining ground, but a lot of people will pay for just about everything with their trusty IC card, generally a transportation card like Suica or Pasmo. Convenience stores, vending machines, gift shops, and lots of other places will now accept payment via IC card, and in many train stations, the majority of the ticket gates only accept IC card payment instead of paper tickets.

The other money trend in Japan is mobile payment systems, which use scannable barcodes and QR codes on your phone to pay at participating restaurants and retailers. For a little while, when these systems first started establishing themselves in Japan, there were quite a few different companies fighting for dominance in the Japanese market, including Line Pay, Rakuten Pay, Merupay, but these days the winner seems to be an app called PayPay. Stores that accept PayPay generally have a visible QR code with red P PayPay logo near the cash register.

With cashless payment options becoming more and more accepted in shops all over Japan, and especially in the big city, you can just charge up your IC card and your payment app and spend a day in Tokyo without ever touching cash! (Some shops are still cash-only, though, so if you're worried you might want to ask the staff before you order anything!)

⑦ Your Taxi Might Just Be a Japan Taxi



Introduced just before the pandemic really took hold, Toyota's "JPN Taxi" has a "universal design" meant to remind passengers of a classic London cab, and was originally created to provide a comfortable ride for the wide range of visitors who were supposed to be arriving shortly for the Tokyo Olympics. The Olympic Games sure didn't go as planned, but the taxis did, and passengers looking for spacious seats and a variety of payment options can now flag one down around Tokyo.

Tokyo taxi fares, previously dubbed "scarier than a horror movie," have also been lowered to make this transportation method a little more accessible. The minimum fare (for the first 1.052 km) is now only 410 yen, almost half as expensive as before! But the meter is likely to go up faster than you might expect, so taxis are still best used for short distances, especially if you're in a hurry or have a lot to carry.



In a JPN Taxi, you can actually pay via the monitor on the back seat. Very convenient!

⑧ Something Is Missing From Shinto Shrines…



Overall, Shinto shrines across Japan haven't changed all that much over the course of the pandemic. Unfortunately for visitors who love ancient traditions, the one thing that seems to have changed shape or disappeared altogether from most shrines is the chozuya (手水舎), or hand-washing fountain. It might seem illogical, right? Shouldn't we all be washing our hands more during the pandemic? The problem is that these hand-washing stations generally use shared ladles, and tradition dictates that you actually pour a little of the water in your mouth and spit it out. This hand-washing fountain is more about spiritual purification than any actual germ-fighting. Some shrines' chozuya are starting to open up again these days, but many of them only let visitors put their hands directly under the stream of water now!

⑨ Everyone Whips off Their Masks for This One Moment



If there's just one moment when you can dare to take your mask off without judgment during your trip to Japan, it's this: picture time. Of course, some people leave their masks on without thinking about it, so it's not unusual to see people saying "cheeeese" right through their masks! But it's widely accepted at this point in the pandemic – you can take off your mask while you take a picture, as long as you put it back on afterward.



Leave it on while taking pictures, then take it off when it's your turn to pose!



We have to admire the dedication of these kids on a school trip to Kyoto, but it does seem a little sad that their group photos will just be a sea of masks.

⑩ Long Time No See, Tax Free!



With tourists banned from entering the country for so long, tax rebate counters in big shops and entire duty-free shops closed down during the pandemic. When we saw a big red TAX-FREE sign for the first time in almost three years, it was such a nice surprise that we had to take a picture!

⑪ Money Exchange Machines Are Making a Comeback



Another disappearance from the days of pandemic lockdowns: currency exchange machines can be found all over the place once again. This particular automatic machine can be found in front of the Don Quijote in Asakusa – perfect for anyone hoping to stock up on snacks and souvenirs inside the shop.



⑫ You Might Encounter “Silent Eating”



It's hard to stop people from chatting while they eat together, but some restaurants certainly tried during the height of the pandemic, especially when it seemed like it was a choice between "silent eating" and closing down the shop. This trend gave birth to a new word, "mokushoku" (黙食/silent eating), and mokushoku quickly spawned some copycats as well: mokuyoku (黙浴) means silent onsen bathing, mokutore (黙トレ) means silent gym training, and mokukara (黙カラ) means silent karaoke… or at least karaoke with a little less screaming the lyrics. If you see these signs anywhere, you'll know that they're asking you to be quiet as an infection prevention measure. Whether or not anyone around you will be following the rule, however, you'll have to see for yourself.

Now that Japan is finally open to tourists again, these twelve updates should help make your next trip go smoothly, even after all this time! So now the real question is this: where should you go first? If you're not sure what part of Japan to visit, we have Japan travel recommendations for every month of the year!

For more info and updates from Japan, check Japankuru for new articles, and don't forget to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

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    • HOKKAIDO

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      Hokkaido (北海道) is the northernmost of the four main islands that make up Japan. The area is famous for Sapporo Beer, plus brewing and distilling in general, along with fantastic snow festivals and breathtaking national parks. Foodies should look for Hokkaido's famous potatoes, cantaloupe, dairy products, soup curry, and miso ramen!

    • Niki, in south-west Hokkaido, is about 30 minutes from Otaru. The small town is rich with natural resources, fresh water, and clean air, making it a thriving center for fruit farms. Cherries, tomatoes, and grapes are all cultivated in the area, and thanks to a growing local wine industry, it's quickly becoming a food and wine hotspot. Together with the neighboring town of Yoichi, it's a noted area for wine tourism.

    • Niseko is about two hours from New Chitose Airport, in the western part of Hokkaido. It's one of Japan's most noted winter resort areas, and a frequent destination for international visitors. That's all because of the super high-quality powder snow, which wins the hearts of beginners and experts alike, bringing them back for repeat visits. That's not all, though, it's also a great place to enjoy Hokkaido's culinary scene and some beautiful onsen (hot springs).

    • Otaru is in western Hokkaido, about 30 minutes from Sapporo Station. The city thrived around its busy harbor in the 19th and 20th centuries thanks to active trade and fishing, and the buildings remaining from that period are still popular attractions, centered around Otaru Canal. With its history as a center of fishing, it's no surprise that the area's fresh sushi is a must-try. Otaru has over 100 sushi shops, quite a few of which are lined up on Sushiya Dori (Sushi Street).

    • SAPPORO

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      Sapporo, in the south-western part of Hokkaido, is the prefecture's political and economic capital. The local New Chitose Airport see arrivals from major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, alongside international flights. Every February, the Sapporo Snow Festival is held in Odori Park―one of the biggest events in Hokkaido. It's also a hotspot for great food, known as a culinary treasure chest, and Sapporo is a destination for ramen, grilled mutton, soup curry, and of course Hokkaido's beloved seafood.

    • Consisting of six prefectures, the Tohoku Region (東北地方) is up in the northeastern part of Japan's main island. It's the source of plenty of the nation's agriculture (which means great food), and packed with beautiful scenery. Explore the region's stunning mountains, lakes, and hot springs!

    • Akita Prefecture is on the Sea of Japan, in the northern reaches of Japan's northern Tohoku region. Akita has more officially registered important intangible culture assets than anywhere else in Japan, and to this day visitors can experience traditional culture throughout the prefecture, from the Oga Peninsula's Namahage (registered with UNESCO as a part of Japan's intangible cultural heritage), to the Tohoku top 3 Kanto Festival. Mysterious little spots like the Oyu Stone Circle Site and Ryu no Atama (Dragon's Head) are also worth a visit!

    • FUKUSHIMA

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      Fukushima Prefecture sits at the southern tip of Japan's northern Tohoku region, and is divided into three parts with their own different charms: the Coastal Area (Hama-dori), the Central Area (Naka-dori), and the Aizu Area. There's Aizu-Wakamatsu with its Edo-era history and medieval castles, Oze National Park, Kitakata ramen, and Bandai Ski Resort (with its famous powder snow). Fukushima is a beautiful place to enjoy the vivid colors and sightseeing of Japan's beloved four seasons.

    • YAMAGATA

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      Yamagata Prefecture is up against the Sea of Japan, in the southern part of the Tohoku region, and it's especially popular in winter, when travelers soak in the onsen (hot springs) and ski down snowy slopes. International skiiers are especially fond of Zao Onsen Ski Resort and Gassan Ski Resort, and in recent years visitors have been drawn to the area to see the mystical sight of local frost-covered trees. Some destinations are popular regardless of the season, like Risshakuji Temple, AKA Yamadera, Ginzan Onsen's nostalgic old-fashioned streets, and Zao's Okama Lake, all great for taking pictures. Yamagata is also the place to try Yonezawa beef, one of the top 3 varieties of wagyu beef.

    • Japan's most densely populated area, the Kanto Region (関東地方) includes 7 prefectures: Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa, which means it also contains the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. In modern-day Japan, Kanto is the cultural, political, and economic heartland of the country, and each prefecture offers something a little different from its neighbors.

    • Gunma Prefecture is easily accessible from Tokyo, and in addition to the area's popular natural attractions like Oze Marshland and Fukiware Falls, Gunma also has a number of popular hot springs (Kusatsu, Ikaho, Minakami, Shima)―it's even called an Onsen Kingdom. The prefecture is popular with history buffs and train lovers, thanks to spots like world heritage site Tomioka Silk Mill, the historic Megane-bashi Bridge, and the Watarase Keikoku Sightseeing Railway.

    • TOCHIGI

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      Tochigi Prefecture's capital is Utsunomiya, known for famous gyoza, and just an hour from Tokyo. The prefecture is full of nature-related sightseeing opportunities year-round, from the blooming of spring flowers to color fall foliage. Tochigi also has plenty of extremely well-known sightseeing destinations, like World Heritage Site Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Lake Chuzenji, and Ashikaga Flower Park―famous for expansive wisteria trellises. In recent years the mountain resort town of Nasu has also become a popular excursion, thanks in part to the local imperial villa. Tochigi is a beautiful place to enjoy the world around you.

    • Tokyo (東京) is Japan's busy capital, and the most populous metropolitan area in the world. While the city as a whole is quite modern, crowded with skyscrapers and bustling crowds, Tokyo also holds onto its traditional side in places like the Imperial Palace and Asakusa neighborhood. It's one of the world's top cities when it comes to culture, the arts, fashion, games, high-tech industries, transportation, and more.

    • The Chubu Region (中部地方) is located right in the center of Japan's main island, and consists of 9 prefectures: Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama, and Yamanashi. It's primarily famous for its mountains, as the region contains both Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps. The ski resorts in Niigata and Nagano also draw visitors from around the world, making it a popular winter destination.

    • Nagano Prefecture's popularity starts with a wealth of historic treasures, like Matsumoto Castle, Zenkoji Temple, and Togakushi Shrine, but the highlight might just be the prefecture's natural vistas surrounded by the "Japanese Alps." Nagano's fruit is famous, and there are plenty of places to pick it fresh, and the area is full of hot springs, including Jigokudani Monkey Park―where monkeys take baths as well! Thanks to the construction of the Hokuriku shinkansen line, Nagano is easily reachable from the Tokyo area, adding it to plenty of travel itineraries. And after the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, ski resorts like Hakuba and Shiga Kogen are known around the world.

    • Aichi Prefecture sits in the center of the Japanese islands, and its capital city, Nagoya, is a center of politics, commerce, and culture. While Aichi is home to major industry, and is even the birthplace of Toyota cars, it's proximity to the sea and the mountains means it's also a place with beautiful natural scenery, like Saku Island, Koijigahama Beach, Mt. Horaiji. Often used a stage for major battles in Japanese history, Sengoku era commanders like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu left their own footprints on Aichi, and historic buildings like Nagoya Castle, Inuyama Castle, and those in Meiji Mura are still around to tell the tale.

    • NIIGATA

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      Niigata is a prefecture on Japan's main island of Honshu, situated right on the coast of the Sea of Japan, and abundant with the gifts of nature. It's known for popular ski resorts such as Echigo-Yuzawa, Japanese national parks, and natural hot spring baths, plus local products like fresh seafood, rice, and sake. Visitors often spend time in the prefectural capital, Niigata City, or venture across the water to Sado Island.

    • SHIZUOKA

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      Shizuoka Prefecture is sandwiched between eastern and western Japan, giving the prefecture easy access to both Tokyo and Osaka. Not only is it known for beautiful natural attractions, with everything from Mount Fuji to Suruga Bay, Lake Hamanako, and Sumata Pass―Shizuoka's Izu Peninsula is known as a go-to spot for hot springs lovers, with famous onsen like Atami, Ito, Shimoda, Shuzenji, and Dogashima. Shizuoka attracts all kinds of travelers thanks to historic connections with the Tokugawa clan, the Oigawa Railway, fresh eel cuisine, Hamamatsu gyoza, and famously high-quality green tea.

    • Kansai (関西) is a region that includes Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Shiga Prefectures. Kansai contained Japan's ancient capital for hundreds of years, and it's making a comeback as one of the most popular parts of Japan. Kyoto's temples and shrines, Osaka Castle, and the deer of Nara are all considered must-sees. Plus, the people of Kansai are especially friendly, making it a fun place to hang out.

    • Kyoto flourished as the capital of Japan between the years 794 and 1100, becoming a center for poilitics and culture, and to this day it's a great place for close encounters with Japanese history. The cobbled streets of Gion, the atmospheric road to Kiyomizudera Temple, Kinkakuji's golden walls and countless historic attractions, even Arashiyama's Togetsukyo Bridge―Kyoto is a place of many attractions. With new charms to experience throughout the seasons, travelers can't stop themselves from returning again and again.

    • Nara Prefecture's important history reaches back to 710, a time now called the Nara era, when it was once capital of Japan. Called "Heijo-kyo" during its time as a capital, it's said that nara was once the end of the silk road, leading it to flourish as a uniquely international region and produce important cultural properties of all kinds. To make the most of each season, travelers head to Nara Park, where the Nara deer who wander freely, or climb Mount Yoshino, a famous cherry blossom spot.

    • Osaka is known for friendly (and funny) people, but its history is nothing to laugh at, playing a major part in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's 16th century unification of Japan. Thanks to long years of economic activity, it's one of Japan's biggest cities, and Osaka's popular food culture earned it the nickname "The Kitchen of the Nation." To this day Osaka is the model of western Japan, and alongside historic structures like Osaka Castle, it also has major shopping malls like Umeda's Grand Front Osaka and Tennoji's Abeno Harukas. Osaka is a place to eat, eat, eat, with local specialties like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushi-katsu, and for extra fun, it's home to Universal Studios Japan.

    • CHUGOKU

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      The Chugoku Region (中国地方) consists of five prefectures: Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, and Yamaguchi. In Chugoku you’ll find the sand dunes of Tottori, and Hiroshima’s atomic bomb site, plus centers of ancient history like Grand Shrine of Izumo.

    • HIROSHIMA

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      Hiroshima Prefecture has everything, from world heritage sites to beautiful nature and delicious local cuisine, and it's either an hour and a half from Tokyo by plane, or four hours by train. Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island and the Atomic Bomb Dome, two Hiroshima UNESCO sites, are famous around the world, but in Japan it's also famous for food. Seafood from the Seto Inland Sea, especially oysters, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, and Setouchi lemons are all popular, and the natural scenery alone is worth seeing.

    • SHIKOKU

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      On the other side of the Seto Inland Sea opposite Japan’s main island, Shikoku (四国) is a region made up of four prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima. The area is famous for its udon (in Kagawa), and the beautiful Dogo Onsen hot springs (in Ehime).

    • Kagawa Prefecture is on the northern part of the island of Shikoku, facing Japan's main island and the Seto Inland Sea. It's known for being the smallest prefecture in Japan, by area, but at the same time Kagawa is called the "Udon Prefecture" thanks to its famous sanuki udon. Aside from Kotohiragu Shrine and Ritsurin Garden, the prefecture's small islands are popular, and Kagawa is full of unique destinations, like Angel Road. They say that if you lay eyes on Zenigata Sunae, a huge Kagawa sand painting, you'll never have money troubles ever again.

    • Located in the most southwestern part of Japan, Kyushu (九州) is an island of 7 prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. The island's unique culture has been influenced by Chinese and Dutch trade, along with missionaries coming in through Nagasaki's port. Modern-day travelers love the lush natural scenery and fresh food, plus the natural hot springs found all throughout the area (thanks to volcanic activity)!

    • FUKUOKA

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      Fukuoka Prefecture has the highest population on the southern island of Kyushu, with two major cities: Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. Thanks to growing transportation networks, Fukuoka is more accessible than ever, and so are the many local attractions. On top of historical spots like Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, travelers shouldn't miss Fukuoka's food scene, with motsu nabe (offal hotpot), mentaiko (spicy cod roe), and famous Hakata ramen―best eaten from a food stall in the Nakasu area of Hakata. Plus, it's full of all sorts of destinations for travelers, like trendy shopping centers, and the beautiful nature of Itoshima and Yanagawa.

    • KAGOSHIMA

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      Kagoshima Prefecture played a major role in Japan's modernization as a backdrop for famous historical figures like samurais Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi, who pushed Japan out of the Edo era and into the Meiji. Because of that, Sengan-en Garden is just one of many historical destinations, and when it comes to attractions Kagoshima has plenty: the active volcano of Sakurajima, popular hot springs Ibusuki Onsen and Kirishima Onsen, World Heritage Site Yakushima Island, even what Japan calls the "island closest to heaven," Amami Oshima. Kagoshima might be found on the very southernmost tip of the southern island of Kyushu, but there's plenty to see.

    • OKINAWA

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      The island chain of Okinawa (沖縄) makes up the southernmost tip of Japan, which is why it's also the most tropical area in the country. Thanks to a history of independence and totally distinct political and cultural events, Okinawa has a unique culture, and remnants of the Ryukyu Kingdom are still visible all over the islands. Food, language, traditional dress, it's all a little different! It's also said to be the birthplace of karate.

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