As of right now, it’s early 2022. Pretty soon, we’ll be coming up on the two year mark since Japan closed its borders to outside visitors. While the reprieve from overtourism has been a much needed breath of fresh air for places like Kyoto, many of the rural areas of Japan are struggling due to a lack of travelers. On both the international and domestic sides of the tourism industry, the pandemic has had a profound and lasting impact on the regional economy and many local vendors were not able to weather the storm.
Since inbound travel is currently off of the menu, I’ve been trying to shift my focus towards bringing Japan to the rest of the world. Both through stopgap endeavors like virtual tours as well as the e-commerce shop that I launched, I’ve been striving to share what little of Japan I can with everyone trapped outside. At the same time though, I also try to be hopeful that this seemingly everlasting hell will at one day come to a close. Hopefully in the not so distant future, Japan will again open its borders to international travelers looking to experience this amazing country.
Alas, I also realize that there’s going to be some considerable hesitation in regards to the risk of international travel once the pandemic starts to subside. After all, many experts are now speculating that the coronavirus and its endless number of variants are going to be with us for a long time to come. Luckily for those itching to visit Japan though, the country will be one of the safest destinations out there once leisure travel really starts to pick up again. So, on that note, here are five reasons why Japan ought to be your number one post-pandemic choice.
#1 Everyone Follows Coronavirus Protocols
One of the top reasons why Japan has done such a great job in regards to the coronavirus pandemic is that the country by and large follows the guidelines put in place to prevent infections. Even two years into this debacle, you’ll rarely see anyone not wearing a mask. Moreover, you’ll conveniently find alcohol disinfectant gels and sprays at the entrances to shops and restaurants all across the country. In fact, some vendors even take it a step further and require temperature checks before entering.
In addition to all of the protocols in place, Japan has also achieved a rather high vaccination rate despite many accusing it of having a late start. Now, I don’t want to get into a debate about the merits and risks of the vaccine. Instead, the point I want to make here is that Japan’s population is deadly serious about ensuring that the spread of the coronavirus is curtailed (at least to the extent that such a feat is possible). There’s a reason why Japan has had so few deaths due to Covid-19 in comparison to the west.
Unlike elsewhere in the world, we just don’t have many arrogant assholes here in Japan who think that their “freedom” is more important than the safety of the overall group. Regardless as to whether mask wearing is an efficacious method of preventing contagion or not, the fact is that the people of Japan are doing all that they can to avoid infecting others with the coronavirus. At least in my book, that is reason enough to believe that Japan is a safe country to visit.
#2 Workers are Dedicated to Disinfecting
All things said, the extent that the Japanese workforce will go to follow their internal protocols for preventing infection really is remarkable. While there have been instances of annoying expats mocking Japanese staff for sticking to the rules (e.g. enforcing the use of a plastic divider despite the pair of diners living together), such sentiments miss the point. As with the public’s adamant adherence to mask wearing and what not, Japan’s workers put an equal amount of care into ensuring that the virus doesn’t linger.
All throughout these past two years, I’ve been riding at least one bullet train per week. Never once on any of my adventures did I feel that proper measures were not being taken to ensure that the vehicle was disinfected. If anything, I felt the complete opposite and was awed by the dedication to detail that the crew put into ensuring that each and every surface was thoroughly wiped before the next passenger came. Miraculously, none of these measures ever increased the wait time. Japan just found a way to get it done.
We truly don’t deserve this incredible place…
#3 Japan’s Top Attractions are ALL Outdoors
When you think of Japan, what kinds of attractions come to mind? If you’re like most, you’re picturing something like Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha or the picturesque Chureito Pagoda seen above. Though it’s easy to miss, one commonality among all of these allures is that they are located outside. Unlike in the cramped confines of indoor shopping malls, these spaces allow for one to easily socially distance themselves from any other travelers (and, as you’ll see in reason #4, this is even more the case with the type of hidden gems that I tend to cover).
Of course, this isn’t the only reason why Japan’s attractions being outdoors matters but diving deeper does require a bit of explaining. You see, while we originally all thought it was best to stay home to “flatten the curve,” recent research is now showing that the virus doesn’t last long when exposed to sunlight and outdoor air. Because of this, you’re actually far safer visiting many of the important historic landmarks in Japan than you would be at a more urban locale like the ever-iconic Shibuya Crossing.
Early on in the pandemic, Japan asked its residents to avoid what it called the dangerous “three Cs.” These are as follows…
- Closed Indoor Spaces
- Crowded Places
- Close-contact Settings
As explained, most of Japan’s cultural attractions are (at least outside of peak hours) the exact opposite of the dreaded “three Cs.” At the end of the day, there just isn’t a lot of coronavirus on top of a place like Mt. Koya despite it still being a popular place for tourists to experience staying overnight at a Buddhist temple.
#4 The Countryside is Socially Distanced by Default
While the urban environments of Tokyo and Osaka are packed full of people, it’s easy to practice social distancing once you get out of the inner city. Though the countryside is littered with a countless array of attractions to enjoy, you’ll often find that you have plenty of personal space. While I’ve always been a fan of tourists getting off of the beaten path, I even more highly recommend it now, especially for those who are weary of the coronavirus. You’ll find plenty of recommendations on this blog.
Even within major metropolitan centers like Kyoto though, you’ll often find pockets that are completely free of the crowding you might find elsewhere in Japan. While this might just be due to there no longer being the legions of travelers from mainland Asia that used to flock to Japan, it’s been nice to have locales like the ancient capital all to ourselves. Note that the present lack of tour groups is yet another reason to plan a trip to Japan as soon as it’s again feasible to do so.
#5 The Japanese Lifestyle is Quite Healthy
To end this series of reasons why Japan ought to be your destination of choice after the pandemic, I want to get a bit controversial. Unfortunately, while much of the discourse in the West has centered around allopathic approaches to the coronavirus, one area that has sadly been neglected is lifestyle interventions. Simply put, metabolic wellbeing is one of the most important factors when it comes to being immunologically robust. This is true both for the current bug as well as for all diseases across the board.
While I am merely speculating here based on what I have learned, one of the reasons that I believe that Japan has had comparatively few deaths is the overall health of the population. In a stark contrast to my home country of America, obesity rates here are extremely low. Moreover, the traditional Japanese diet incorporates few polyunsaturated fatty acids. Though I’ll spare you the rather complex biochemistry, recent research is starting to show that it’s these bad fats and not an excess of carbohydrates that are the cause of the West’s ever-worsening health.
Now, I realize that a short stint in Japan is not enough to reverse years of metabolic damage caused by the standard Western diet. That said, given the alternative of eating cotton candy and fried churros at Disneyland, a few weeks spent dining on fresh sushi and wagyu at the very least isn’t going to cause further systemic disorder. Especially in a world where the specter of the coronavirus seems like it’s going to linger for a lot longer, the last thing you want to do on your vacation is binge on nonsense.
Finally, in addition to the widespread availability of healthy foods, Japan is also a country that requires its visitors to be active. Even if you opt to use a rental car to explore the rural areas, you’re going to end up doing substantially more walking than you would back home. It’s become a bit of a running meme now but there are often days where I’ll clock as many as 30 kilometers when sourcing content for my area guides. When combined with a solid diet, this time being mobile is a primary reason why so many Japanese remain lean.
Until next time travelers…