Part-time traveller, Full-Time Brummie

Japan Update: The Coronavirus Edition

Japan Update: The Coronavirus Edition

In the last couple of weeks people have started getting a bit twitchy when we’ve mentioned we’re off to Japan at the end of March.

“But… What about coronavirus?”

“Aren’t you worried?”

“What if they don’t let you out of the country?”

“What if they don’t let you back into this country?”

At first, we dismissed the concerns. Despite the geography failings of some of my family (hello Pa Lee), Japan and China are not next door to each other. They are about the same distance as the UK and the Ukraine apart. And if someone sneezes in the Ukraine, I don’t tend to reach for the face mask and hand sanitizer.

But there’s no doubt that as the virus spreads across the globe, I’m getting a little concerned. Although no more concerned than if I were travelling to Italy, whose cases exceed those recorded in Japan (excluding the cruise ship passengers). Or even Tenerife.

Geographic distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of 26 February 2020

Geographic distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of 26 February 2020: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Coronavirus in Japan: The stats today

There have been around 170 recorded cases of coronavirus in Japan so far, and three deaths (again, excluding those on the Diamond Princess cruise ship). In a country with a population of 126.8 million, that’s a pretty low number. Most cases have been in the northern provinces, around Hokkaido, although there have been a small number around the Tokyo area.

Unless these numbers significantly increase in the next couple of weeks, or the airlines and government websites advise otherwise, we are still planning to travel. Of course, we will be hyper vigilant about hygiene. Hand sanitizer and tissues will be our best friends. And we will try and avoid large crowds as much as possible – easier said than done in cherry blossom season. And I’m stocking up on Netflix shows and podcasts in case of quarantine on my return.

Of course, one of the things we are keeping our eye on is the country’s efforts to contain the virus. At the time of writing, a number of big sport and cultural events have been cancelled over the next two weeks. National museums are closed. As with any big trip, we have a number of tourist attractions on the itinerary. Our Robot Restaurant tickets are booked. So again, we’ll be keeping a close eye on closures and restrictions. We’re planning on travelling by train across the country, from Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka. At the moment there are no public transport restrictions, although Japanese commuter trains are notoriously busy, and workers are being asked to reduce their journeys where possible.

So whilst the threat of the virus is concerning, our greatest worry is restrictions to what we can do when we are there. Japan has so many beautiful sights to see, but we may be forced to drop certain attractions from the agenda. And it’s a lot of money to spend if we’re not able to see the best that this wonderful country can offer. It’s not like we can pop back again next year.

Coronavirus – To travel or not to travel?

All but one of our hotels are cancellable. Typically, the only one that isn’t is Tokyo, the place that we’re spending the longest and therefore costs the most. Our rail pass is refundable (minus a handling fee) and the portable wifi is fully cancellable. Unless our airline cancels the flight, we will lose that money. Travel insurance will only pay out if the FCO advises not to travel to our specific destination. So there’s a lot to consider before we make our final decision. We wouldn’t put our health in jeopardy unnecessarily. But on the flip-side, if we cancel now, and the situation does improve, we’re going to be about £2k out of pocket. That’s a lot of yen to lose.

At this point in time, the trip is still very much on. I’m still scouring Pinterest and blog posts for itinerary ideas. I’m still planning visits to temples, to parks, to skytowers and robot restaurants. And I’m still having mild anxiety attacks at the thought of navigating the Tokyo subway system. And hopefully, by mid-March we will be able to make a clear decision one way or the other if coronavirus is still prevalent.

Has coronavirus scuppered your travel plans for 2020? Does this make you more anxious about travelling? Or are you – a bit like me – more of a que sera sera type of person? 




2 responses to “Japan Update: The Coronavirus Edition”

  1. Emily Keenan says:


    This is a really interesting read. We’re in a very similar boat- in fact maybe a little more tricky in that we travel from Worcester on March 11th for 3 weeks. Some of the scheduled closures of museums etc are already overlapping our trip. Interesting to read your post and on balance we’re thinking the same thing- we plan to travel and take precautions unless new information makes that unfeasible.

    I’d be upset to lose the money- like you probably just flights and £200 of hotels, but also the opportunity to travel- because we won’t be able to change our leave I imagine we’d have to book for the same time next year which seem like a long time to wait.

    Best of luck with it all, Emily

    • emfletche says:

      Oh Emily, I really hope everything works out for you! Keeping all fingers crossed that the situation becomes clearer sooner rather than later x

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