Home Travel What It’s Really Like To Go To Japan Right Now

What It’s Really Like To Go To Japan Right Now

by SharonKurheg

Joe and I have been fans of Japan for years. My first visit was in 1995; Joe’s in 2005. And ever since, we’ve tried to go back every 5 to 10 years.

We were planning a visit in late 2020 but, of course, Covid put the kibosh on that. Same for 2021. Seeing the writing on the wall, we didn’t even try to make plans for 2022. Instead, we’ve put Japan on the middle burner (as opposed to the back one), in favor of some other choice travels.

A couple of days ago, Japan finally ended what was viewed as some of the world’s strictest border controls to slow the spread of the virus, and reopened to the world. You have to show proof of full vaccinations and at least 1 booster (not an issue for us), or proof of a negative test taken within 72 hours of departure, but you also no longer have to be part of a tour group, quarantine upon entry, etc. The country even removed the visa requirements they’ve had since the pandemic.

But even with all that, to be honest, we’re glad we’re not going just yet. It really appears that, as isolate as Japan made itself during the recovery from the virus, they’re having just as many problems as the rest of the world in terms of tourism.

As it turns out, tourism jobs in Japan don’t offer high-paying salaries, and, just like in the U.S., many hospitality workers found better working conditions and wages in other fields over the past two years:

  • Reuters reports that roughly half of the 260 shops and restaurants inside Narita Airport remain closed
  • The news agency also says that, as of August, nearly 73% of hotels and inns across Japan report they’re short of workers (only 27% said as much a year ago)
  • Multiple towns and companies that rely on tourism are also having a hard time getting enough workers. This has resulted in places closing early, or closing up shop entirely

To be honest, we wouldn’t mind the fact that we’d have to go back to wearing masks virtually everywhere. I mean, those are currently still the rules in Japan right now, so you follow them. But with only being able to visit the country every few years, we’re not in love with the thought of having to settle for longer queues and extended waits because there are fewer workers/places in the industry, on top of places being less available because they’re closing earlier. We’d rather wait another year (or two or three) until things settle down – places reopen (or new places open) and have more normal hours, lodging places are more fully staffed, etc.

If Japan was a place we visited annually, we’d be happy to put up with whatever shortcomings we might encounter. “It’s because of the aftermath of Covid; things’ll be better next time.” But “next time” for us might not be until 2030 or beyond. So we’d rather wait until things are more “right.”

And if, in a year or two, we see this is actually Japan’s “new normal” and not just post-Covid growing pains, we’ll take what we can get and visit, regardless. 🙂

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9 comments

MICHAEL WOOLERY October 13, 2022 - 3:07 pm

In a year or two Japan might be back to being expensive (dollar yen exchange rate is great if coming from the USA now ) The hordes of foreign tourists will also be back by then. I think I would rather go now than later. I also have no issue wearing masks.

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GBSanDiego October 13, 2022 - 8:05 pm

Too funny and I agree.

Also awkward to write about if you are waiting until 2030. Should just wait until then or closer to your date.

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derek October 13, 2022 - 3:26 pm

I recently ran across a mini-series streaming online called “Hirugao”. It’s about the life of a woman who has affairs and convinces her friend to do the same. Eventually, the friend’s life is ruined and the first woman is caught cheating. The moral of the story is to not have extramarital affairs. In any case, the scenes in the mini-series might be places to visit. The series was shot mostly in Yokohama, which has alerted me to consider this as a tourist destination. The hotel which the first woman had her affairs was the Yokosuka Mercure hotel in Yokosuka, a city near Tokyo with a big US naval base, and also the Okura Chiba hotel in Chiba, near Tokyo.

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SharonKurheg October 13, 2022 - 5:33 pm

I went to Yokohama during my very first visit to Japan, back in the mid-90s; at the time, I had a friend who lived there. It was a very nice city!

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Tom October 13, 2022 - 4:04 pm

I am in Tokyo, right now. It’s an unexpected layover, because my arriving flight came in too late for me to make my connection. Bottom line: what could have been an ordeal has been relaxed and easy.

Service-sector people — from airline representatives, to “low-level” airport workers, to government officials, to hotel employees — are in plentiful supply. And every single one has been efficient and kind.

All of the 4- and 5-star hotels near Narita were booked last night (things are that busy) so I am staying at the 3-star Narita Tobu Hotel.

The shuttle bus ran exactly on schedule. On arrival at the hotel, there were three people unloading luggage and five employees behind the reception desk. They handled a bus load of guests so quickly, that I was checked-in and walking toward the elevator before I had time to look at my phone.

The onsite convenience store was manned by three people, who made grab-and-go faster than any 7-Eleven in the States.

The room, while it has a lumpy mattress and pillows, is bright, clean, and warm (it’s frigid and raining outside) with a welcome, deep tub and fast wifi.

The only disappointment was room service. Delivery was timely, but the food was atrocious. I measure my expectations to the situation, and knew this was a 3-star moment. Still, I’m not sure what kind of meat was in the hamburger, and the “bolognese” on the pasta tasted more like barbecue sauce.

Beyond that, there is nothing in my experience over the last 12 hours to suggest that the service sector here is understaffed, undertrained, or uncommitted. In fact, it has been a pleasure.

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SharonKurheg October 13, 2022 - 5:31 pm

Thanks for letting us know that, Tom; I’m REALLY glad to hear it!

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jakebrown11 October 13, 2022 - 7:05 pm

Thanks for the timely update Tom. I will be going there in December.

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SgFm October 14, 2022 - 1:26 am

Enroute now in JL “F” to HND. LAX was painless, flight has been great so far and I am excited to be arriving on the third day of opening up! It’s been four years since I was last in Japan, way to long for me! So glad they have finally opened back up. I have been very judicious in my travels the last 2.5 years in where and when and how I’ve traveled, both domestically and internationally, and so far, so good. I truly expect a hiccup or two in the next couple of weeks. But, given how exceptional the service culture has been historically in Japan, I am not worried in the least!

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JohnB October 14, 2022 - 5:31 pm

We are doing cherry blossoms again in March-April. Finding FF award seats has been like pulling teeth. ANA and JAL have been releasing very few seats. One seat first, 2 in business, and possibly 4 economy per flight. Airfares themselves have been extremely high as well. But I didn’t realize until I finally found an ANA economy award that fuel surcharges and taxes are sky high going to Japan. Fuel surcharges by Japanese airlines are regulated by the government. So they are mandated on ANA and JAL awards with the exceptions of United, Alaska, AA, Avianca’s LifeMiles do not pass along those surcharges and taxes. ANA’s surcharges and taxes on any ticket, award or revenue is $967.78. Which is why most economy fares to Japan are over $1600.

We luckily found some economy seats with Alaska miles to Japan and returning using United miles on ANA. Both airlines do bid ups for upgrades. But I will keep searching for something better. Also all of hotels are award stays. We only have to pay for food and sightseeing.

As far as, things not being staffed or closing earlier, we don’t really care about it. Japan’s tourist sites can be very crowded so a slower ramp up means less people. Since the Chinese are not allowed to travel yet, we envision a much easier trip. Many travel sites and bloggers are saying this might be the nicest time to see Japan in 20 years.

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