UPDATE December 2020  [original report here] [May 2020 update here]

As we near the end of this long and very frustrating year, we find ourselves in a strange situation. There are real signs of light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel. And yet our current situation is basically unchanged, and most people recognize that things will not change substantially for at least several months.

The good news:

  1. Multiple vaccines have been approved and mass vaccination is already underway in some countries. Japan has reportedly signed deals to procure enough vaccine for the entire population and will make it available it to all residents free of charge.

  1. Japan has relaxed the entry restrictions for current foreign residents. You no longer have to fill out a form in advance detailing your travel plans before leaving the country.  And valid residents can leave the country freely and return as long as they can provide a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours prior to departure (which is identical to the requirements for entry that many countries and states such as Hawaii have imposed).

  1. Japan is allowing in visa holders from certain countries and regions (Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam) on business and/or residence tracks.


  1. Tourists are still not permitted entry from any country, and are very unlikely to be allowed in freely anytime soon (see below).

  1. It will be several, or possibly many, months before most people are able to be vaccinated.

  1. Case numbers have been rising steadily, particularly in the Tokyo and Kansai regions, and medical facilities have been put under severe strain.

  1. As a result, the government’s “Go To” travel campaign to promote domestic travel to regional areas had already been suspended in several locations; it has now been suspended nationwide until at least January 11, 2021.

In addition:

  1. The new COVID strain first discovered in the UK and recently found in Japan as well has prompted the government to crack down on issuing new visas to enter the country and ban entry from the UK and South Africa entirely. The government has also reimposed (or at least reemphasized) the need for both Japanese citizens and foreign residents to remain in self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival. (However, the existing travel program for certain countries as noted above will not be affected by these new restrictions.)


So what does this mean for the future? There are myriad uncertainties in the situation with the virus, its mutations and the infection rates in all countries, and this undoubtedly means that things are likely to change almost daily. Yet we can make some educated guesses about the biggest question on the minds of KANcycling’s readers: when might cyclists be allowed into Japan again?

Simple logic would answer: not anytime soon. In fact, probably not until the Olympics and Paralympics are over.

We think it highly, highly unlikely that Japan would risk sabotaging the Olympics simply to let a few tourists in. The nightmare scenario would be: tourists are allowed back into Japan in the spring; infections spike; things get so bad that severe crackdown measures become necessary; and there go the Olympics.

It’s much, MUCH more likely that Japan will hold off on allowing non-Olympics tourists into the country until after the games — and, after all, it may be necessary to limit attendance to those games, too. The Olympics are scheduled to begin July 23, 2021. Everything Japan does will be aimed at not jeopardizing the success of the games (and of the subsequent Paralympics). And since the Paralympics are scheduled to end on September 5, 2021, that pushes any possible tourist re-entry back to fall at the earliest.

There is evidence for this in a trial balloon floated by the government some weeks ago. As numerous news outlets including the Asahi Shimbun reported, Japan has been considering the idea of conducting a “trial run” in the spring for the resumption of tourist re-entry (in preparation for the many visitors expected to attend the games). However, this would be strictly limited and highly regimented. The Asahi reports that it would be limited to a “small number of foreign tourists” from certain countries, on “special tours” that would be separated from other groups:

The government expects to accept the special tours from other parts of Asia such as Taiwan and China, both of where the coronavirus outbreak has been relatively contained.


As part of precautions against the virus, the participants of the small tours are expected to travel on a chartered vehicle, such as a bus, and move separately from other groups of foreign tourists to avoid large crowds at a tourist spot.


Participants will need to present certificates showing that they tested negative for the coronavirus and purchase travel medical insurance before their arrival in Japan, as well as disclose their activity plans for their stay.

In addition, tour participants will be asked to separate themselves from Japanese travelers at a hotel or a tourist destination and use a contract-tracing app to confirm if they were exposed to anyone infected and the LINE app to report their health condition.

So this would essentially be a pilot program and would not involve the widespread entry of tourists into Japan. Note that even the plans for the aforementioned pilot program may be derailed by future developments involving the new COVID strain or some other unforeseen event.

And this quote would seem to indicate that the entry of tourists would only be permitted after the games have ended, and then only gradually:

After accepting visitors to the sports extravaganza, Japan plans to allow tourists to enter the country in stages, according to a government plan.

Presumably that means that they will begin by allowing in visitors from only countries that have gotten the epidemic under control, and only (much) later will they allow entry from countries that still have widespread uncontrolled spread.

By the way, in an aside, the Asahi article quotes a Japanese official who confirms our initial reasoning above:

“We fear that we may not be able to hold the Olympics and Paralympics if the coronavirus spreads in Japan following the arrival of foreign tourists,” a senior government official said.

So, realistically, you should probably not expect to be able to visit Japan for cycling or any reason other than attending the Olympics/Paralympics until fall 2021 at the earliest. If that changes, we’ll let you know.


For people who are already in the country, here is the advice we gave in the May COVID update about cycling in Japan’s “new normal.” It’s still our recommendation:

If you plan to travel by bicycle, we recommend the following:

  1. Above all: 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. (Needless to say, don’t wear the mask when cycling in most cases; that would be painful and possibly hazardous to your health, particularly in the warm months. But when going slow in urban areas, and certainly when you get off the bicycle and are near people, put on the mask.)

  1. DISINFECT. Wash your hands as often as you can. (This is the advice we will all need to observe from now until a vaccine is developed.) Your watchword should be: operating room level sanitary conditions. Take along alcohol-based disinfectant and tissues, or sanitary wipes, and wipe anything you will need to touch. And then wash your hands just in case.

  1. In hotels or inns, WIPE DOWN every surface that you will need to be in contact with as soon as you enter (including door knobs), and do so again if anyone else has been in the room.  In youth hostels or other low-cost accommodations, avoid the dormitory room (even assuming such rooms are still open) and pay extra for a separate room.

  1. Regarding meals: the convenience store bento box lunch, eaten alone, would probably be the safest option, but at this point, particularly in outlying areas, the outbreak appears to be under control enough that you might be able to consider eating restaurant food. However, the problem still remains that small and rather poorly ventilated indoor locations are the most dangerous places for infection, and that describes most good places to eat in Japan. So it would be best to choose a place with outdoor seating or with a table next to a window that can be opened.  (If you can do so without giving offense, you might wipe down areas of the table in front of you where you’ll be sitting that you might have to touch.)

  1. On mass transit, always wear a mask (to make other commuters comfortable as well), and try to stay away from other people and avoid rush hour times. As we noted in our original report, we would recommend traveling by train rather than on buses or planes (which are more confined and have fixed seating). Boarding trains at off times and choosing free rather than reserved seating can give you more options to choose a different location if the one you’re in suddenly gets crowded with people (you can always pay for a reserved seat later, unless the train is full, and in that case you wouldn’t want to be on it anyway). Wear a mask when on the train, and wipe any seat armrests as well as straps or poles that you need to hang onto before you touch them. And of course wash your hands as soon as you arrive at your destination.

Bottom line: Cycling in Japan is great and will continue to be wonderful as long as you take certain precautions. Remember that Japan offers distinct advantages over many other countries that are facing the need to live with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future. Japanese people are diligent about wearing masks, and for the right (meaning sensible) reasons: to avoid infecting other people as well. The culture itself is less physically demonstrable than many others (people bow rather than hugging, kissing or even shaking hands), and despite what you used to see in train station bathrooms, cleanliness has been considered a social good since the most ancient days of Shinto purity rituals. All of these cultural practices are advantages when it comes to containing the virus, and they go a long way toward ensuring safe travels. 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.


COVID-19 and Cycling in Japan (Update)

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