March update: Japan and the Coronavirus

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The headlines around COVID-19 continue, and the situation has grown from an Asia-centric issue to a worldwide problem. In our own beloved Japan, although the government have taken strict preventative measures to contain any sort of spread of the virus, life goes on as normal – with a few minor changes. Our team on the ground in Japan have given us a little snapshot into what daily life is like at the moment.


Abby Owers: Travel Consultant based in Bristol, recently back from skiing in Japan

Abby cutting Niseko Powder

“Niseko ski resort is still operating as normal; all the four resorts in Niseko are all open, as are the bars and restaurants. The snow was decent with fresh snowfalls a couple of nights and sunshine in the day. When we went out for dinner each place was busy with tourists still enjoying their ramen or soup curry! There is hand sanitiser everywhere and the staff in restaurants/shops/hotels are making sure everyone uses it – that was the main thing I saw in reference to the virus.

“The nearby town of Kutchan has shut the gym, library, ski hill (of one lift) and cross-country skiing centre. Atmosphere in Niseko was fairly standard in the resort but I think it was a little quieter than normal for the rest of winter. I also went down to Hakuba, and again, everything ski related is open as usual – just the gym and climbing wall shut from what I saw. Snow in Hakuba was great one morning, very light and fluffy, turning into spring slush once the sun had warmed up.”


Andrew Sinclair: Customer Support, Nagoya

Kumano views

“Last weekend, we hopped on the express train from Nagoya down to Wakayama. We were planning to walk along part of the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail from the shrine at Hongu, across the mountains, to the shrine at Nachi. Out and about in rural Japan, the coronavirus didn’t seem to be affecting daily life at all.”

Corona prevention at Hongu Shrine.

“The most obvious thing that we noticed was that the shrine at Hongu had closed its water basins to prevent any spread of potential virus. In the three traditional ryokan that we stayed at, hand sanitiser and freshly-printed signs encouraging people to wash their hands were quite prominent. There didn’t seem to be a drop in visitor numbers – one accommodation was fully booked out, even in February! Apart from the rain, our hike in the Kumano area was a great success and didn’t feel disrupted in any way.”


Tyler Palma: Tokyo Office Manager

“Here in Tokyo, my family is certainly dealing with the school closures and a few of my personal plans have been curtailed because of closures but the sunny weather on March 1st made it feel very much as though spring has arrived. Ironically, the places that are normally crowded (Ginza, Omotesando etc.) are empty and the places that are normally full of space (like outdoor parks and playgrounds) were positively mobbed.

“Like everywhere, many people are very nervous about COVID-19 and are unsure of how to go about their daily lives – but of course, they do. Grocery stores are out of toilet paper, tissues, masks and hand sanitiser but everything is else is stocked as normal. Masks are nearly impossible to buy but somehow everyone is wearing one. Restaurants and businesses are open, but museums and theme parks are closed. Having dinner with my family at a yakiniku restaurant tonight, the queue was at the door; life has not stopped in Tokyo.”

Tyler banging the drum for Japan.


Robert Kodama: Tour leader based in Osaka

‘Nothing to see here’ – Spiderman in Namba, Osaka

“It is a lot quieter than usual – mostly down to the lack of tourists from China – but the Namba district of Osaka is still a busy, bustling area where everyone is out for some shopping or drinking this evening. I even spotted Spiderman hanging out… People are wearing masks but that’s generally a common sight. I did notice one difference and that was a  がんばれ武漢 (You can do it Wuhan!) sign in both Japanese and Chinese. It’s nice to see some solidarity between two countries that historically are known for having tension.”


Richard Farmer: Tour leader based in Kyoto, on Japan Unmasked

Japan Unmasked tour group & Mika Toba

“Our Japan Unmasked tour went ahead as planned, and in fact was even better than usual. We had a chance encounter with Toba Mika, the artist who painted the vibrant fusuma sliding screens at Kennin-ji in Kyoto. I must have seen those screens over a hundred times, so it was great to meet her. She was there to scout out the location for some new screens she’ll be producing for the temple in addition to the ones that have already been there for about 5 years. She spent time chatting with our group about her works and the meaning and inspiration behind them – a bonus moment on the tour.”

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