Japan’s COVID-19 State of Emergency: What You Need to Know

Tokyo and ten other prefectures have been put under a second state of emergency to cope with a surge in coronavirus cases.

By 6 min read

The state of emergency was lifted on Mar. 21, 2021.
Due to the rising cases of the coronavirus, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga officially declared a second state of emergency for Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures on Jan. 7. On Jan. 13, he expanded the state of emergency to include Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi, Fukuoka, Tochigi and Gifu prefectures.

The state of emergency puts restrictions on the public concerning “non-essential” activities.

To help foreign residents in the affected prefectures, we have compiled a list of answers to questions you may have about living under the state of emergency.

You can use the links below to jump to a specific section.

What does the state of emergency mean?

This is the second state of emergency declared since the pandemic. In 2020, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a nationwide state of emergency in April which wasn’t lifted until June. The current state of emergency is expected to be lifted on Feb. 7 but it may be extended.

The declaration permits prefectural governors in the affected areas to “request” residents stay at home except for leaving to perform essential tasks. “Essential tasks” include anything deemed necessary to maintaining life, such as going to the hospital, buying food and commuting to work.

Governors are also permitted to ask businesses deemed non-essential to “thoroughly implement infection control measures,” which typically means staying closed. While that was the case last year, currently, the government is only asking businesses to close early.

The government has penned an amendment that would make businesses liable up to ¥500,000 for not following the mandate.

The government does not have the legal authority to impose a lockdown or fine residents who ignore the request, as seen in other countries. While that may appear lenient compared to the rest of the world currently battling the virus, officials are confident that most people will follow the request. The government is counting on peer pressure and public shaming to enforce this.

Governors may also “publish” the names of businesses that refuse to obey the request. Currently, the most control that Suga’s state of emergency grants is during the event of an influx of patients. If that occurs, governors may legally and forcefully requisition land or buildings for medical purposes.

Essentially, this means that kowtowing to the state of emergency is entirely voluntary, and there are little to no repercussions for those who don’t. However, the government has penned an amendment that would make businesses liable up to ¥500,000 for not following the mandate.

Entry ban

Due to the state of emergency, “Japan will suspend the entry of all nonresident foreign nationals into the country.”

Resident foreign nationals and Japanese nationals must test for the virus at least 72 hours before their departure to Japan and submit documentation that they tested negative for the virus. Additionally, they are asked to self-isolate at home or at a hotel for two weeks upon arrival.

Japanese and resident foreigners who are allowed to enter must sign a pledge upon arrival to stay in quarantine for 14 days. Failure to do so will result in penalties, such as disclosing the names of violators.

Foreign residents who break their 14-day quarantine may also have their resident status revoked and be subject to deportation.

School closures

Prefectural high schools fall under the jurisdiction of the governor and may be closed at their discretion. As for private schools and municipal elementary and junior high schools, governors may only request school closure and “instruct” schools that do not respond. However, there is no penalty for those who do not follow the request.

Currently, the government is not requesting all schools to close. University entrance exams will also start on January 16 as expected.

What facilities may close or have limited operation?

The following may have closures, shorter hours or limited capacity:

  • Educational facilities such as universities, Japanese language schools and driving schools
  • Exercise facilities such as gyms, swimming pools and sports centers
  • Facilities related to gatherings and exhibitions such as public halls, cinemas, venues, theaters, museums and libraries
  • Recreation facilities such as nightclubs, bars, internet cafes, karaoke, pachinko parlors and arcades
  • Daycare centers, nursing schools, and centers for the elderly may also be affected.

Large facilities such as department stores are asked to close every floor except those that sell essential items such as food and medicine. Additionally, smaller stores with a floor area of ​​100 square meters or less are asked to take measures to prevent infection.

What facilities will stay open?

The second state of emergency is more lax compared to the April 2020 mandate. However, in the event of further restrictions, the facilities and services below are considered essential and would remain open. They could also be asked to take control measures, such as limiting operation hours as is the case with train schedules.

  • Medical facilities such as hospitals and pharmacies
  • Grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores and wholesale markets
  • Housing and accommodation facilities such as hotels
  • Transportation such as trains, buses, taxis and rental car services
  • Home delivery services
  • Banks, post offices, utilities and administration offices (remote work requested)
  • Restaurants (until 8 p.m. but must stop selling alcohol at 7 p.m.)
  • Public baths

Will the trains run normally?

Tokyo train operators have stated they intend to follow the declaration and are expected to move up the last train departure time.

JR East will move up its last departure time by up to 32 minutes, depending on the line. This new measure covers the Yamanote, Chuo, Keiyo and Keihin Tohoku lines, among others.

Bus operators, such as Seibu Bus, announced they would stop all night buses from Jan. 18. Buses might also not travel from Tokyo to other prefectures. Central Japan Railway Co will also cut shinkansen services from Tokyo from Jan. 18 to Feb. 28.

Further limitations may occur depending on the spread of the virus.

Will domestic flights be affected?

All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines and ANA have announced they will limit domestic travel from Jan. 13 to Jan. 31.

What if I need to renew my visa?

Immigration centers are open, but capacity is limited. If you were to visit the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, you would receive a slip of paper with your designated group name and the allocated time you are allowed to enter the building.

Check the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare website for updates as the situation gradually changes. The Ministry has also provided a list of hospitals in Japan that are able to provide testing and treatment for the virus. Unfortunately, the list is in Japanese only.

We will continue to update this page as the story in Japan develops.

Please call the JNTO Multilingual Hotline at 050-3816-2787 in English, Japanese or Korean in the event of emergencies related to the coronavirus.



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