Traveling Inside Japan During COVID-19
Last updated: September 23, 2020
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on travel to and from Japan and is likely to have an ongoing affect on life here for some time yet. The following page is intended to provide accurate and relevant information for people planning to visit Japan from aboard, along with those already here and planning to travel between prefectures for tourism purposes.
The information provided this page is intended for international travelers and foreign nationals entering Japan for tourism purposes. This page includes the following information:
1 / Information for foreign residents of Japan
2 / The regions of Japan
3 / Traveling around Japan: domestic travel restrictions
4 / Traveling on the Shinkansen in the time of COVID-19
5 / Accommodation in the time of COVID-19
6 / Traveling in Nagano & Central Japan
7 / Recommended outdoor destinations in Central Japan
8 / Snow Monkey Resorts: Nagano’s No.1 tour and charter operator
The situation remains fluid and the information provided is accurate as of time of publication. We will endeavour to update the information to reflect any change as quickly as possible.
Information for foreign residents of Japan
If you are a resident of Japan – i.e. a foreigner living/working in Japan on a permanent or temporary visa, you may well be eligible for big savings and discounts of travel within Japan under the national ‘Go To Travel’ campaign.
Offers under Go To Travel are only available to Japanese citizens and foreign residents of Japan, and when claiming travel discounts, you will be required to provide proof of your status. With great deals on offer, it’s a fantastic time to travel! Simply click the banner above to learn more, book and save!
The regions of Japan
The outbreak of COVID-19 in Japan has impacted different regions in different ways, and is likely to continue do to so. With that in mind, it’s worth having a basic understanding of Japan’s administrative regions and how that impact on the government’s response including its declaration of a ‘state of emergency’ in specific areas.
Japan is divided into 47 prefectures. Some names will be familiar – such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Nagano – but many, if not most, will not be known to many international visitors. When planning your visit and once in Japan, make sure to check if any area – especially those you are planning to visit – are under a state of emergency or subject to any restrictions, closures, etc.
It is hoped that future restrictions and closures of businesses, etc. will be limited to localities and not applied to the whole country, allowing people to continue their travel to all non-affected areas.
Our ‘COVID-19 Update’ page provides information about the current situation in Japan including information relating to the 47 prefectures
Traveling around Japan: domestic travel restrictions
Japan has one of the world’s best public transport networks, making it an ideal destination for international travelers who can use that system to travel around the country quickly and comfortably.
Public transport in Japan remains largely unaffected by COVID-19, with major services continuing to operate. Some train and bus lines are operating reduced services however this is only a temporary measure and people can still move been major cities and destinations as required.
For many international visitors, the Japan Rail (JR) Pass represents great value, allowing unlimited travel – with only a couple of exceptions – on its services for 7, 14 or 21-day periods. While Japan Rail’s services continue to operate, to-date, it has been refunding travelers holding JR Passes they can no longer use as a result of COVID-19 i.e. they can no longer travel to Japan. Refunds are being granted as long as the claim is made within 12 months of the date of purchase.
Issuance and refund of travel passes is subject to the policy of Japan Rail and while we assume this policy will continue into the future, we encourage you to refer directly to their website for confirmation. Links to the official website can be found through our pages for:
While onboard any other public transport, all passengers are encouraged to wear face masks, use hand sanitizer, avoid touching objects and surfaces unnecessarily, and maintain social distancing as much as possible.
All major roads in Japan remain open. Japan maintains an excellent network of roads and renting vehicles is easy. With the ongoing impact of COVID-19, international visitors have the option of renting and driving themselves around the country.
Traveling on the shinkansen in the time of COVID-19
Japan’s shinkansen network – often referred to the as the ‘Bullet Train’ – is often used by visitors to move around the country. While some services have been affected over recent months, and intentionally reduced to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, most services are returning to normal.
Onboard the trains, service of food, drinks and snacks by cabin attendants remains suspended for the time being. Operated by JR East, most people traveling to and from Nagano do so using the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line. Running from Tokyo to Kanazawa, Nagano Station is located around the mid-point of this line. Services are operating as normal.
For up-to-date regarding shinkansen services including the Hokuriku Line, please refer directly to the official JR East website.
While onboard the shinkansen or any other public transport, all passengers are encouraged to wear face masks, use hand sanitizer, avoid touching objects and surfaces unnecessarily, and maintain social distancing as much as possible.
Accommodation in the time of COVID-19
As a rule, Japanese culture already promotes hygienic practices including regular cleaning in both homes and businesses. This applies to hotels and other accommodation which are typically clean and well-maintained. Even cheaper accommodation in Japan is likely to be clean; basic but clean.
In that regard, Japan is a great option for people wanting to travel but worried about hygiene. Nevertheless, always research your intended accommodation to check reviews, ratings and again, the cancellation policy should your travel no longer be possible.
For further information, please refer to our ‘Choosing Your Accommodation’ page.
Traveling in Nagano & Central Japan
When planning your visit to Japan, we recommend priortising Nagano and Central Japan. Readily accessible from Tokyo using the Hokuriku Shinkasen – which in turn connects Nagano to the entire country – Nagano is your gateway to Japan’s mountainous heartland.
Home to many of Japan’s tallest mountains, the region is known for its dramatic landscapes, heavy snowfall, lush forests, and abundant farms producing some of the best food in the country.
As host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games and home to around 80 ski resorts, Nagano’s winter credentials are well-known. Outside of the winter, the mountains are just as big but covered in the lush forests and criss-crossed by some of Japan’s best hiking trails.
A visit to Nagano and surrounding regions that make-up Central Japan means an escape from the congestion of the cities and a return to nature. This is a place of open spaces best enjoyed on-foot. Blessed with pristine nature, each season is different and offers its own unique reasons to visit.
From the deep snow of winter, to the blossoms of spring, followed by the festivals and food of summer and finally the harvest and stunning colours of autumn, Central Japan has never been more attractive – we hope to see you here again soon!
Recommended outdoor destinations in Central Japan
When visiting Central Japan, visitors will discover a region of pristine nature, open spaces and small cities. As the largest city in the prefecture, Nagano City has a population of around 370,000 – only a fraction of that of cities including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
In reality, the city is even smaller as much of that population is spread-out and Nagano enjoys one of the lowest population densities in Japan.
It is, along with nearby and even smaller Matsumoto City, highly livable and a convenient base from which to explore the region. Here are some of our recommendations of outdoor destinations in Central Japan:
The Jigokudani Monkey Park / all year round
Home to the famous hot spring-bathing monkeys of Japan, the Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of Central Japan’s most unique experiences.
Open all year round, each season at the park offers its own reason to visit.
Nagano Ski Resorts / winter
Host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano boasts around 80 ski resorts spread throughout the prefecture.
Enjoy onsen / all year round
Known as ‘onsen’ in Japanese, the natural hot springs of Nagano offer refuge and relaxation throughout the year.
With many historic hot spring towns dotted through the region, many are famous for the medicinal properties and beautiful natural settings.
Togakushi / best: spring to autumn (limited access in winter)
Lying just outside Nagano City, the forests of Togakushi are home to some of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan, the Togakure School of Ninja, great ‘soba’ (buckwheat noodles), bamboo craft and enjoyable hiking trails.
Readily accessible from Nagano Station, Togakushi should not be overlooked.
Kamikochi / spring to autumn (closed in winter)
Considered the jewel of the Chubu Sangaku National Park, Kamikochi is a pristine alpine valley sitting around 1600 metres above sea level.
With the North Japan Alps rising to over 3000 metres above, Kamikochi offers some of Japan’s best walking trails and serious mountaineering.
The Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route / spring to autumn (closed in winter)
Most famous for its massive Snow Walls of spring, the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route is open from mid-April until late-November.
Often called ‘The Roof of Japan’, ascending the Alpine Route opens-up one of Japan’s most iconic and dramatic landscapes with outstanding hiking in summer and autumn.
The Nakasendo Trail / spring to autumn (limited access in winter)
The former Edo Period highway connecting Tokyo (then called Edo) and Kyoto, can still be experienced on-foot by walking the Nakasendo Trail through the beautiful Kiso Valley.
Having preserved several of the historic post towns which once serviced and monitored traffic on the Nakasendo, walking the old route is one of the region’s most enjoyable experiences.
Hiking trails in Central Japan / spring to autumn (limited access in winter)
A region of high mountains and lush forests, needless to say Central Japan offers some of Japan’s best hiking including Shiga Kogen.
Most famous for its winter, Shiga Kogen is nestled in the Joshinestu Kogen National Park and registered as a UNESCO Biopshere Reserve due to the importance of its alpine flora and fauna.
Fruit-picking in Nagano / summer to autumn
One of the great joys of visiting Central Japan, is trying the delicious fruit that it’s known for. Nagano in particular is famous for its sumptuous apples, grapes and peaches.
From summer to autumn each year, many farms are open to the public for fruit-picking straight from their orchards.
Takayama / all year round
This small but enjoyable town is known for the excellent preservation of its historic town centre – known as the ‘Sannomachi’ – along with its indulgent food scene including Hida beef and Takayama ramen.
Takayama is a great destination in its own right or in combination with a visit to Kamikochi (as described above) and Shirakawa-go and Gokayama (as described below).
Shirakawa-go & Gokayama / all year round
Only an hour from Takayama, the World Heritage-listed villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are accessible all year round but most enjoyable from spring to autumn.
To avoid crowds, considered visiting the smaller villages of Suganuma or Ainokura.
The autumn colours of Nagano
Speaking of autumn, when visiting the region in October and November, make sure to allow time to enjoy the stunning colours of the changing leaves.
A time of harvest, autumn is also the ideal season to enjoy Nagano’s abundant food sourced straight from local farms.
Snow Monkey Resorts: Nagano’s No.1 tour and charter operator
When planning and booking your trip to Central Japan, it’s important that you can do so with confidence that your intended destinations will be both enjoyable and safe. As Nagano’s No.1-rated tour and charter operator, we offer a range of services including group tours, private tours and private charters to help you get the most out of your time in the region.
We can arrange transport to and from any destination in the region, with a customised itinerary to suit your travel needs. Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified – allowing us to transport you to and from any destination – and precautions including a protective screen separating the driver from passenger and luggage area, is installed in every vehicle. Our drivers wear protective masks and will maintain social distancing during the time of COVID-19, allowing you to move between your destinations in comfort and safety.
We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of that experience and help you discover even more!
Why choose us?
Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano.
Got a question about visiting Central Japan? Feel free to contact us at email@example.com and let’s get planning together!