Social Navigation

Masks remain in place in Japan even if 3-year request to wear them ends


Japan on Monday dropped its request for people to wear masks after three years, but almost nothing has changed in the country which has had a very high regard for their effectiveness in virus protection.

Most commuters leaving Tokyo’s main station in the morning wore masks as they made their way to work. It was the same for the people on the street. At a televised meeting of the budget committee in parliament, some lawmakers still wore masks, although Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was not wearing one when he arrived at his office on Monday.

Baseball fans who gathered outside the Tokyo Dome hours before Monday’s matches between Australia and the Czech Republic and China and South Korea also wore masks. They will also be able to cheer without their masks on as this ban has also been lifted.

Dropping mask-wearing requirements is one of the latest moves by the Japanese government to ease Covid-19 rules in public places as it tries to expand business and other businesses.

“From today, the wearing of the mask is left to individual discretion. We are not forcing anyone to wear it or take it off,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters upon arriving at his office. “I think there will be more occasions where I take my mask off.”

The Japanese government relaxed its guidelines on masks on March 13, recommending them only on crowded trains and in hospitals or nursing homes, but there were few signs that residents wanted to unmask.
In Tokyo on Monday, there were few signs that locals wanted to unmask. Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP-Getty Images

Kishida, however, asked people to use masks around vulnerable people to protect them from infection risks.

In a country where pressure for compliance is extremely high, many people were expected to continue wearing them for now. The request for masks was dropped for outdoors last summer, but many continued to wear them.

Restaurants, stores and airlines have removed signs asking customers to wear masks. But many of their employees keep their masks on to show consideration for customers and others who need protection.

Popular chain Ramen Jiro tweeted on Monday that wearing masks is up to customers, but employees will continue to wear them for now. He also asked customers to cooperate with hygiene measures, such as not speaking loudly.

Spectators at baseball and football games will no longer be asked to wear masks and will be allowed to cheer without a mask. The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks have announced that visitors and employees at their stadium can use their own judgment on masks starting Monday.

Last fall, Japan stopped requiring Covid-19 tests for attendees who had at least three vaccines – part of the country’s cautious easing of measures after virtually closing its borders to foreign tourists for around two years.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.