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

The nationwide state of emergency has been lifted, but we're not back to normalcy just yet.

By 5 min read

Update May 25: The state of emergency has been lifted nationwide. Facilities will be given guidelines on how to reopen.
Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe officially declared a nationwide state of emergency on April 7. The declaration put restrictions on the public concerning “non-essential” activities. While it was originally only to be imposed until May 6, it was extended until May 31

On May 15, the government lifted the state of emergency on 39 prefectures after a sharp decline in infection rates. However, the order will remain in place where new cases are still emerging. On May 21, the state of emergency was eased on Osaka, Hyogo, and Kyoto. Only five prefectures remain under state of emergency: Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, and Hokkaido.

On May 25, Abe announced that emergency measures have been lifted from Tokyo and the remaining four prefectures. From May 26, facilities will be given guidelines on how to reopen. Every three weeks, the government will ease restrictions depending on the situation. Abe warned that the state of emergency could be reimposed if the rate of infections rises.

To help foreign residents in Japan, 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?

School closures

What facilities have been asked to close?

What will still be open? 

Will the trains run normally?

Are flights affected?

What if I need to renew my visa?

What does the state of emergency mean?

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.

The government is counting on peer pressure and public shaming to enforce this.

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.

The most control Abe’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.

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.

Again, there is no penalty for schools that do not follow the request, but many announced they would remain closed until the Golden Week holiday ends on May 6. However, some schools are choosing to remain closed until the end of May despite the government asking them to reopen.

Abe says he wants students to return to school even if that means returning “in stages.”

What facilities have been asked to close?

Update: Facilities have been given guidelines to reopen. However, some facilities may choose to remain closed until then end of May.
The following have been asked to close.

  • 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

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

Daycare centers, nursing schools, and centers for the elderly may be requested closed.

What will still be open?

The following facilities and services are considered essential and will still be open. However, they are asked to take control measures, which may include limiting hours at night and on the weekend.

  • 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, rental car services
  • Home delivery services
  • Banks, post offices, utilities, and administration offices (remote work requested)
  • Restaurants (excluding izakayas)
  • Public baths

Will the trains run normally?

Public transportation will not stop due to the declaration, but the government may make “comprehensive arrangements” with designated public organizations such as railway operators. Changes to train schedules and reduced services are a possibility.

Are flights affected?

Airline companies have made large-scale flight reductions due to coronavirus. Officials have said that if the number of passengers decreases further due to the state of emergency, airlines are expected to suspend flights.

What if I need to renew my visa?

The Immigration Services Agency of Japan will extend the deadline for foreigners to renew their period of stay for three months, including short-term visa holders such as tourists. The measure is to relieve pressure from visa holders whose current status will expire between March and June.

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.



Reflections of Tokyo During the COVID-19 Pandemic, a Photo Essay

Have you ever seen Asakusa this empty?

By 1 min read


Mount Fuji Closed for 2020 Climbing Season

You’ll have to take the climb off your bucket list this year, but don’t worry, you can be better prepared for next year.

By 2 min read


How You Can Support Local Businesses in Japan During COVID-19

Do your part to help Japan's local economy all from your computer.

By 6 min read