UPDATE October 2022

[Original report here] [May 2020 update here] [December 2020 update here] [October 2021 update here] [February 2022 update here] [May 2022 update here] [September 2022 update here]

We’re only a few days away from the day we’ve been waiting for: on October 11, the last restrictions on entry to Japan will be lifted, meaning that cyclists will FINALLY be able to come back to cycle Japan. Here’s a brief rundown:

- The entry cap on the maximum number of persons allowed in each day will be scrapped.

- Most importantly for our purposes, the ban on solo travelers, meaning those coming on individually guided trips and not affiliated with a travel organization or on a group tour, will be lifted.

  1. -The visa requirement will also be eliminated. (This was apparently a very painful one for many people, because in some cases they had to travel to apply for the visa in person and wait for a long time for it to be processed.)

  2. -And, by the way, the yen is REALLY low right now as compared to other major currencies, making this a particularly good time to visit Japan.

The only requirement remaining, as reported by the Japan Times, is COVID-related:

Tourists will need to be vaccinated three times or submit a negative COVID-19 test result ahead of their trip.

Also, a national travel subsidy campaign for residents (similar to the Go To Travel campaign from last year) will be instituted on the same day that restrictions are lifted. Which means that popular destinations might be crowded this autumn, so take that into account in your travel planning.


It’s been a long two and a half years, and it’s wonderful that cyclists will finally be allowed back into the country.

Nevertheless, a word of caution is in order regarding the pandemic: it’s not over. A brief rundown:

  1. -Europe and the U. S. are already seeing a new autumn and winter wave of infections, and the same thing will happen in Japan before long.

  2. -Neither prior vaccinations nor prior infections seem to provide adequate protection against new variants which continue to appear.

  3. -Even vaccinated and boosted people can get “Long COVID,” which can linger for months, years or possibly even as a life-long condition, causing everything from physical weakness and exhaustion to crippling “brain fog” to even organ damage.

So preventive precautions are still needed.

And that’s why we’re going to forego the advice section that we’ve provided in every update since we began posting our COVID-19 Special Report, and instead just give one important piece of advice:

Wear Masks in Crowded and Indoor Settings

As we have said from the outset: you should wear a mask both for protection and to reassure those around you.

WEAR A MASK whenever you are near other people. This will accomplish two things: it will help to keep both you and others safe, and more importantly it will show people in rural communities that you understand the current situation and are taking the disease seriously. We can’t think of anything that will do more to ensure that your presence is accepted and welcomed in Japan.

We should emphasize that by “mask” we mean not just a simple cloth face covering (ineffective against the new variants, and something that will not reassure those around you) but rather a high quality mask (N95 are hard to find here, so most people wear the PM 2.5 non-woven fabric ones), which covers both mouth and nose securely with no leakage.

It must be noted that there is a dual approach evident in the attitude toward the wearing of masks, with one set of practices for eating and drinking establishments and another for all other settings. Most Japanese people in surveys say they will continue to wear masks for the foreseeable future, until the pandemic is much closer to being completely resolved than it is today. (As we’ve said before, this is cultural: Japanese people don’t mind wearing masks when necessary — such as on the train when you think you might have a cold — and consider it a minor inconvenience but something that you do to be a good neighbor and a responsible citizen.)

And observed reality reflects this commitment: virtually everyone, and we mean 99.9% of the people we see, are masked indoors with properly fitted high-quality masks, and most still wear masks outdoors as well.

This is true in all but one setting: restaurants and pubs. These are fairly crowded, and of course people are unmasked when eating and drinking.

The difference may be that the people in restaurants and pubs are overwhelmingly young (and they account for the majority of infections as well). Older people seem to be avoiding the eat- and drink-out scene, at least much more than they did before. When older people do eat out, they often use a system called masku-kaishoku or “masked eating together,” in which people pull down the mask only to literally put food and drink in their mouth and then pull it up to chew and talk with others. (It’s surprisingly easy to get used to doing this.)

Should cyclists risk going to restaurants and pubs? It’s a judgment call, but we’ve chosen to continue to be careful: to eat and drink outdoors (at least until it gets too cold to do so) and, when indoors is unavoidable, to choose the restaurant and seating carefully in terms of ventilation and crowding, and when necessary to use the masku-kaishoku approach.

Nevertheless, the most important point to remember is that, apart from food and drink venues, masking is still a matter of VERY great concern in Japan. Previously we’ve noted that people in rural areas have told us of their concerns regarding an influx of foreigners who will go unmasked and spread new virus variants in their communities. Lest you think that this is not a widely shared sentiment, Reuters recently reported (based on information broadcast on Fuji News Network) that the Japanese government “is considering allowing hotels to refuse entry to guests who do not wear masks and follow other measures to control infection during an outbreak.”

And Jiji Press just reported (on October 7) that, in fact, the government just adopted a bill to that effect:

Japan to Allow Hotels to Refuse Guests without Masks

The Japanese government on Friday adopted a bill to allow hotels and "ryokan" Japanese-style inns to refuse guests who do not follow instructions for infection control, such as wearing face masks, without a good reason during epidemics.

So both the general public and the Japanese government are very serious about masking, and cyclists should be prepared to take it seriously as well. When cycling apart from people, of course you should remove the mask (for your own health!). But when near people, and particularly in poorly ventilated indoor settings where the risk of infection is greatest, please be considerate (and safe!) and mask up. To repeat the advice we’ve given all along:

Above all, Japanese are very conscious of their responsibilities to others and the society as a whole and will do whatever it takes to keep the virus in check. If you show people that you have the same level of commitment (by, for example, WEARING A MASK), people will undoubtedly be glad to welcome you into their community.

On that note: Welcome back, and have a truly epic ride!

COVID-19 and Cycling in Japan (Update)

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