Wearing a mask, for the most part, isn’t ideal on your holiday. It’s a time you’ll want to forget about the day-to-day concerns of your life, and put all your effort and thought into choosing which slope to ski down in the morning, or what bowl of ramen to eat for lunch.

Much to the dismay of a lot of you reading this, you will have to wear a mask on your trip to Japan this winter. But, fear not! I’m going to explain exactly when you’ll be expected to wear a mask, and why things may not be as bad as they seem.

Compulsory mask-wearing at hotels

One place where you might not have the choice about whether you do or don’t wear a mask is in your hotel or other private areas. The right-to-refuse mandate has recently been passed, meaning it’s up to the owners to decide whether or not to let you in.

Hotels and traditional inns (ryokans) originally couldn’t refuse guests unless it was clear that they had an infectious disease. That’s now been completely changed, and establishments are able to refuse any guests that don’t comply with a set of rules, including refusing to wear a mask.

Mask check-in

Hotels and ryokans are able to refuse any guests that don’t comply with a set of rules, including refusing to wear a mask

Luckily for you, those rules aren’t too stringent. The first of which is that hotels will be allowed to request that guests wear a mask. Of course, some hotels might not do this, but it’s essential you realise they do have the power to ask you during your stay. Next up, they are allowed to check your body temperature. Typically this will be done by a machine near the entrance, and if requested, you should comply. It only takes a few seconds and isn’t a big deal.

If after both of those requests the establishment still isn’t happy, they may ask whether you’ve seen a doctor or recently contracted an infectious disease. If you chose not to answer or don’t give satisfactory answers, they have the right to ask you to leave.

None of this needs to worry you, though. If a hotel does ask that you wear a mask, it will likely only be in the communal areas like the lobby and on the way to your room. Also, remember they may request extra information or temperature taking alongside these measures. And don’t be surprised if you have to fill in a few pieces of paper at the same time, this is Japan after all.

Mask-wearing response

As we’ll discuss in a bit, mask-wearing is something people in Japan did far before any mention of the word “pandemic” ever came up. On your trip to the country, you’ll likely see almost all Japanese people wearing masks, so you’d be forgiven for thinking (like many people) that Japanese people actually enjoy wearing masks.

A slightly more correct statement might be that for those who do live in Japan, mask-wearing just isn’t a big deal. As such, it’s likely true that Japan would expect visitors to abide by the same mask-wearing rules its citizens do. However, other than the mandate we spoke about earlier, there are technically no laws that will force you to walk around with a mask on, both outside or on public transport.

However, if you don’t wear your mask in crowded places or on public transport, you can absolutely expect a few strange looks and a general avoidance from a lot of people. If you’re coming to a country where 99% of people don’t see mask-wearing as a big deal, but rather as something that can (and is proven to) stop infectious diseases, you should do as the Romans do and put a mask on. Respect the local consensus, even if it isn’t the law.

Tourists that have recently made their way to Japan have many different opinions about Japan’s continued use of masks. The vast majority don’t see it as a big deal and know they’re being worn for the correct reasons.

Unfortunately, some people don’t seem to think that way. Sights of everyone (including children) wearing a mask is a surprise to a few. As we’ll discuss in a minute, there’s a very good reason why kids aren’t worried about wearing one. And of course, there are some people who have strong views against mask-wearing despite their significance here in Japan.

The culture of mask wearing in Japan

As you probably know by now, wearing masks isn’t something new for people in Japan. The idea of wearing masks was introduced to Japan by the U.K. in the late 1800s, and since then it’s become commonplace across the entire country. Back then they were used to protect the wearer from dirt and dust in the mines, but now they serve a different purpose.

Mask wearing in Japan

“Now that I live here, 99% of people wear them pretty much all the time”

As I stated before, it’s not the case that the majority of people enjoy wearing masks, but they appreciate the reasons for using them. Every single person in Japan is brought up in a culture that doesn’t present mask-wearing as some sort of political ideology, but instead helps prevent the spread of infectious disease and shows respect to others. In some cases, masks in Japan are also used to prevent the effects of pollen from cypress and cedar trees.

However, it is true to suggest that mask-wearing has increased since the global pandemic. On several of the trips I took prior to that event, many people wore masks, but it was most frequently noticeable on public transport and indoors. Now that I live here, 99% of people wear them pretty much all the time. For instance, if you find yourself anywhere in Tokyo, you’d stand out if you aren’t wearing a mask. That goes for public parks, outside on the street, or even somewhere where no one is around.

This uptake isn’t necessarily out of fear, it’s out of the understanding that wearing masks has worked once before, so lets continue to do it and keep each other safe. Japan has a deep-rooted culture of respect and awareness among its citizens which means being considerate to other people often comes before one’s own comfort. So, the act of wearing a mask, even if it’s hot and stuffy outside or on a train, is never considered an issue.

What does this all mean for me?

Quite simply, on your trip to Japan in the winter, you will almost certainly have to wear a mask at one point or another. Whether that’s on your flight over, during the airport, in your hotel, or on the slopes depends on a few factors but it’s you’ll have to wear one at least once.

As I’ve discussed above, the choice is largely down to you, but take it from me, wearing a mask in Japan during the winter is a far more pleasant experience than it is during the summer. Something as simple as a neck warmer pulled over your mouth and nose will be more than adequate when it comes to visiting an indoor lunch spot while you’re on the mountain. It’s no effort at all, and extremely respectful to those around you. Anyway, don’t let the idea of wearing a mask bother you in the slightest, just get excited planning your ski trip of a lifetime!


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