The Coronavirus in Japan (as of December 2020)

As has been the case in many countries all over the world as of late, daily infection numbers are on the rise in Japan. After averaging around 500 to 700 new infections every day for most of September and October, since mid-November numbers have started multiplying rapidly. Today (10th of December 2020) a new record number was reached with over 2900 reported infections. The new average seems to be somewhere around the high 2000nds. It is hard to predict how the situation will develop going forward, but one cannot help but look at similar situations in Europe or America, where a similar pattern of a sudden increase in infections numbers soon spiralled out of control.

A graph, showing trends in daily infections. Source: Google

Interestingly, the government has done fairly little to actively combat the virus. While there have been calls to refrain from going out and meeting in public, these have been parroted by politicians here since the start of the pandemic, they have – so far – failed to reach the public with new and motivating slogans. There is a noticeable “Corona-fatigue”, with many people ignoring the requested self-regulations past the most basic ones. Granted, almost everyone is wearing masks, washing their hands regularly and making use of the disinfectant that is available everywhere you go. But for the most part, that’s it. People are commuting to work like normal, travelling (albeit only inland) like normal, meeting friends for dinner like normal. The only new development seems to be, that the traditional “Bounenkai (忘年会)”, parties held by companies at the end of the year for their employees, will not be held by many companies this year. But these are a left-over of a business-culture from a bygone era, with many young people despising these gatherings. So rather than self-regulation to prevent the spread of Corona, maybe this one is more down to companies seizing a chance to do away with an unloved custom. On the streets and in the offices of Tokyo, talk about the Coronavirus seems to have changed, with some people calling the virus “just another form of the common cold”.

At least everybody is still wearing masks

Other than that, efforts by the government seem to mostly focus around keeping the economy intact, as well as to ensure that the Olympics can finally go-ahead next year. Japan has put an order in to buy enough vaccines to vaccinate all residents of Japan and hopes to be able to start vaccinating people from early next year, starting of course with those that are most vulnerable, e.g. elderly people and people suffering from existing conditions. There is also talk around allowing tourists back into the country around spring next year, the first waves of tourists would be heavily monitored, and then, starting with the Olympics, a complete opening of the country is also not off the table.

In summary, cases are rising, and hospital beds are becoming scarce, yet nothing seems to have changed in our daily lives. Government is banking hard on the vaccine being available early next year, so they can go ahead with their plans to hold the Olympics and open up the country to tourists again. It remains to be seen, as to whether this will prove to have been the right or the wrong call.

If you are interested, here is some further reading on the Coronavirus in Japan, here is a small collection of articles from this week.

The Coronavirus in Japan (so far)

I am going to try and post regular updates on the Coronavirus in Japan going forward, hopefully monthly. If you have any questions about the situation, feel free to get in touch.

Almost everyone is wearing masks. Not wearing a mask will get you stared at!

Japan, compared to other countries, has seen relatively low figures of  Coronavirus infections. Even though there has been somewhat of a resurgence of cases in August, the official number of infections (as of the 1st of October 2020) stands at only 83.010 cases, with 1564 deaths. As testing is still not widely available to anyone (only people with severe symptoms can get tested in most cases), the number of total infections and deaths is most likely not accurate. Still, judging by the fact that the situation is relatively calm, medical facilities are not overrun and people are not dying in droves, it seems like Japan as a whole has a fairly good grasp on the whole Coronavirus issue.

But why is that? It certainly is not the governments doing who have not really done anything apart from handing out masks that fall apart if you look at them wrong and prattling on about the economy. Japan is not doing anything different when compared to other countries, but still, somehow the situation appears to be more contained than elsewhere. It might be the general tendency of the populace to adhere to rules, or maybe it’s because of the mandatory tuberculosis vaccine that everyone here gets as a child (greetings from the 1950s). Throughout the pandemic, many wild theories have emerged as to why Japan seems to be dealing rather well to the outbreak, ranging from the government’s strategy of tracing clusters of infections to a general immunity to the virus because of eating natto (fermented soybeans). The truth at the moment seems to be that nobody knows, and no one might ever truly know. Somehow Japan has managed to escape the attentions of the virus. There might be individual elements throughout Japanese policies and society that may have contributed to this, but even if you add them all up it is hard to figure out exactly why the infection is not spreading in the jam-packed trains of the rush-hour in Tokyo or Osaka. 

Entering Japan during the Pandemic (as of the 29th of September 2020)

Instead of my usual “guide-like” blogposts, I thought I would post some recent information that is also relevant to working in Japan at the moment. Due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, travellers from almost all countries around the globe have been refused entry into Japan until recently. Starting in August, the government introduced a new scheme called “Residence Track”, which allows people from certain regions (at that time only from south-east Asia) to enter Japan, provided they pledge to uphold guidelines given to them to prevent a possible spread of the Coronavirus and quarantine for 14 days upon arrival into Japan.

Recently a new prime minister took office and one of the first measures he decided to enact was to extend this scheme to travellers from countries all over the world, starting October 1st  2020. However, this does not mean that everyone can suddenly enter the country. Rather, Japan will hold talks with individual countries and if an agreement for mutual entry into the respective countries can be reached, the Residence Track scheme will take effect. Of note, the Residence Track system only applies for mid to long term stays, generally speaking stays that are longer than 3 months. If you are planning to come to Japan with a tourist visa you will not be able to enter the country for the time being.

While this most likely will mean that most people will not be able to enter Japan starting from the 1st of October, it means that there is movement towards opening the country back up for people that want to work, want to come on business etc. If you have been waiting to be able to enter Japan for work or a similar purpose, you might not have to wait much longer.

Information is somewhat scarce at the moment, on what you have to do to enter the country. Based on the information from countries that were allowed to use the scheme from August (Thailand, Vietnam etc.), you will most likely need the following.

1.           “Residence Track” document outlining the conditions that you have to adhere to while you are in Japan, with a pledge to follow the guidelines signed by you and the company that is going to employ you
2.           A negative PCR test (not older than 3 days at the time of visa application)
3.           Most likely you will also have to fill out various questionnaires, asking about your recent travel history and whether you were in contact with an infected person etc.

Please inquire with a Japanese embassy near you about what documents you specifically are going to need if you want to enter Japan. Depending on the country you are in, the required documents may change. Once you submitted the above documents at a Japanese embassy, you will then be able to apply for a visa for Japan. Once you arrive in Japan, you will most likely have to take a PCR test again, fill out more forms and questionnaires and most likely you will be questioned by quarantine and immigration agents. It sounds like quite the ordeal, but from what I have been hearing people are taking only around two or three hours to pass through quarantine, immigration and customs, which is not significantly longer than it took to get through immigration in non-corona times. 

Once you made it through immigration, you are prohibited from using any public transportation (trains, busses, taxis etc.), which means it might be quite troublesome to get from the airport to wherever you want to go. Your only real options are renting a car or getting someone to pick you up, so I advise that you ask the company that is going to hire you to send someone to pick you up at the airport. Once you managed to leave the airport and arrived at your living arrangements, you now have to self-quarantine for 14 days. Going by hearsay, the quarantine is not very strict, no police will show up and check on whether you are actually quarantining or not. You are probably good to go to a local supermarket, but I would still advise that you avoid using public transport, just in case. Once the 14 days have passed you are now free to go about your business as you please and can begin exploring Japan to your heart’s content in your free time.

I have not personally experienced this process, as I have stayed in Japan during the whole corona period so far, so I hope you will excuse my relying heavily on information from third parties and hearsay. Nonetheless, I hope that this was useful to someone out there. Take care.