UPDATE September 2022

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

As we noted in our “breaking news” post, on September 7, 2022 JST Japan opened its doors a little wider. However, this is still not the full re-opening to tourism that most KANcycling readers have been hoping for.

And the authorities and media seem to recognize that. The title to Kyodo News’ “Focus” article on the subject says it all: “Japan eases COVID-19 border controls but tourist surge doubtful.”

Here’s a brief rundown.

The good news:

- The “guide” part of the “guided package tour” requirement is no longer required for tourists wanting to travel in Japan. That provides additional freedom of movement to travelers during their stay, for instance to decide where they want to go during the day.

- A PCR test will not be required if the traveler has been vaccinated and once-boosted (3 shots in all) with an approved COVID vaccine.

The bad news:

  1. -The “package tour” part of the requirement is still there. As the Japan Times notes in its latest article, the term “self-guided tours” is being used to describe the new requirement. You still have to book flights AND HOTELS in advance. And you have to go through a travel agency. In an earlier article, they explained: “The key is to have a sponsor in Japan, like a travel agency, and that they know the whereabouts of the traveler on a given day,” the official said […] “They will also offer information on Japan’s social distancing rules and be the contact person if travelers get sick.” (More on those rules later.)

Other bad news:

- If you haven’t been vaccinated or have only had one or two shots, you’ll need to show the results of a negative PCR test to enter the country.

- Travelers will still need to get a 90-day visa in advance.

For some reason, the articles don’t mention travel (health) insurance, which was a requirement previously.

Obviously, these won’t be the ideal conditions desired by most cyclists. As both Japan Times articles note:

“With the eased restrictions, the only tourists who won’t be allowed will be those who want to stay in accommodations not offered by travel agencies in their package tour bookings, such as private rentals and smaller inns, as well as backpackers or others who don’t want to book hotels in advance.”

Reaction is already mixed, even from travel agencies. JT reports that some travel agencies plan to not offer unguided tours “because they can lose money if travelers get infected with the coronavirus and need assistance on the ground.”

(JT goes into further detail here:

In unguided tours, travel agencies are required to contact travelers to make sure they understand the protocols. If they develop symptoms of the coronavirus during the trip, they will be required to contact the travel agencies so they can be connected with necessary hospitals and public health centers, or accommodation where they can self-isolate.

This is a huge burden for the travel agencies. As people on the TV news explained, it means having someone on call to handle situations of COVID infection by travelers, including people with foreign language capability at the ready to deal with the situation.

And, as noted earlier, the Kyodo News article says that industry officials are doubtful that the changes will result in a flood of tourists coming, citing the package tour itinerary requirement as a particular turn-off. The article notes that in 2019 only 7% of Japan tourists came on package tours. In July, under the guided packaged tour requirement, fewer than 8,000 tourists entered the country during the entire month.

One final note on “social distancing rules.” The Kyodo News article also mentioned the government’s concern that “...triple-vaccinated tourists may not follow Japan's masking and other anti-virus guidelines without reminders” [and notes that the government has asked the Japan Tourism Agency to get tour operators to “explain” the rules to tourists). This would seem to indicate that the government is still leery of tourists entering the country and declining to wear masks in indoor and/or crowded locations.

It’s still possible that the government will decide to open up further based on declining infection numbers and the results of these new rules. We’ll stay tuned. For the time being: if you want to cycle in Japan and don’t mind mapping your route completely in advance and booking all of your hotels with a travel agency (which may mean staying at only the places that the agency is willing to book for you), you can at last do it.


For people who are already in the country, we’ve modified the advice we gave in the May COVID update about cycling in Japan’s “new normal” — de-emphasizing the wiping down of surfaces and re-emphasizing the importance of wearing close-fitting masks of the proper type and the need to still be very careful of poorly-ventilated indoor environments.

(UPDATED February 2022)

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

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, be sure to put on the mask.)

DISINFECT. Wash your hands as often as feasible. You might take along alcohol-based disinfectant and tissues, or sanitary wipes, and wipe the things you need to touch that are touched by many other people. And, again, wash your hands as often as feasible.

In hotels or inns, it’s probably no longer necessary to wipe down every surface, since the overwhelming evidence is that COVID is spread via aerosols rather than surfaces. Still, we’d wipe down doorknobs and light switches. And In youth hostels or other low-cost accommodations, even if you’ve been vaxxed and boosted, you should probably still avoid the dormitory room (even assuming such rooms are still open) and pay extra for a separate room.

  1. 1•Regarding meals: the convenience store bento box lunch, eaten alone, would probably still be the safest option. The problem 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. However, vaxxed and boosted people are well protected against severe outcomes, so they may feel willing to take relatively small risks. If you decide to eat in some restaurants, it would be best to choose a place with outdoor seating or with a table next to a window that can be opened. If indoors is your only option, try to choose a place with high ceilings, relatively wide spaces between tables, and relatively few patrons (go at off times if possible).

On mass transit, ALWAYS wear a mask (to avoid infection and to make other commuters comfortable), and try to stay away from other people and avoid rush hour times. Previously we recommended traveling by train rather than on buses or planes (which are more confined and have fixed seating), but vaxxed and boosted travelers can probably use any means as long as they remain masked. And of course, if possible 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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