Should You Visit Japan Now?

No, you shouldn’t.

See how easy that was? No endless scrolling or clicking through ten pages of images. So maybe you’re on the fence, wondering “Should I visit Japan?” Well, Ken Seeroi’s here to tell you, Yeah no, don’t, not just yet. So helpful, that guy.

But you’re like, “The yen’s super cheap and plus I really, really just want to visit Japan.” I feel that, but hold off a bit. Here’s why:

Why You Shouldn’t Visit Japan Now (Autumn 2022)

1. Winter’s coming. Okay, if you can get here in the next couple weeks, you might be able to enjoy the tail end of clear fall weather and marvel at what trees haven’t lost their leaves or had their limbs sawed off by the old geezers from the civic center. But once mid-December hits, all bets are off. Seriously, winter in Japan is freaking cold; just wait till April or May. The yen’s unlikely to recover soon, and the weather, along with everything else, is bound to pick up by then.

2. The restaurant death spiral. Between COVID and the rising cost of essential ingredients, restaurants have been forced to raise prices. Japanese folks, many already living on a shoestring, have responded by just saying no. What America is to drugs, Japan is to izakaya. Then with fewer customers, restaurants have had to cut back on service and raise prices even more, resulting in subsequently less customers.

It’s also worth noting that an ever-increasing number of restaurants in Japan are employing immigrants, who are at least temporarily willing to tolerate less pay and worsening conditions. Similarly, those diners at the table next to you, whom you might assume to be Japanese, are actually Korean, Taiwanese, and Singaporean. Visitors from other Asian nations are thrilled at finally being able to bum-rush Japan’s borders after a long hiatus. Now, nothing wrong with that, of course, but if you were hoping to interact with honest-to-God Japanese folks, you’d be better off with a trip to Los Angeles. On the plus side, foreigners are probably friendlier, so there’s that.

3. Japan’s in the middle of a massive pandemic. I hear Americans talk about “back when we had the pandemic,” like COVID-19 is over. Yeah, Nippon never got that memo. “Corona” is still very much on everyone’s mind. 90 percent of the people on the street are wearing masks, and in trains and stores, the number’s closer to 99 percent. The prevention theater of alcohol sanitizer, temperature checks, and plastic dividers is still wildly popular. About the only place you’ll see people freely engaging without masks are Irish bars. Welcome to Japan; now eat your fish ‘n’ chips, drink your pint of Guinness, and get the fuck out. Turns out the punters willing to flood their bodies with alcohol and nicotine aren’t too concerned with viruses either.

4. The mood’s all effed up. Japanese people have had their minds exploded by a Hiroshima of rising costs, lost jobs, the lowest birthrate ever, an ever-increasing retirement age, the recent influx of foreigners, rising cases of COVID, and being unable to see anyone below their eyes for going on three years. Don’t be fooled by low unemployment figures. Waving a traffic wand, helping school kids cross the street, or endlessly rearranging parked bicycles—are those even jobs? I guess. The bottom line is that people have a lot to fret about, and if there’s one thing Japanese folks excel at, it’s worrying.

5. A bit of the polish has worn off the knob. Things that were once relatively uncommon in Japan—graffiti, litter, tattoos, people wearing Crocs—have seen a tremendous uptick. In a nation already struggling with overwork and social isolation, the pandemic and a global economic meltdown have really done a number on the national psyche.

When You Should Visit Japan

Now, I’m not trying to bag on Japan, just trying to give an honest assessment. It’s the country I’ve chosen to live in, after all. It may have lost a step, but it hasn’t gone completely to hell. I mean, it’s not the U.S. As a tourist, you’ll probably still find Japan to be clean and orderly, and the food and service pretty good. Them Nepalese sure can cook a mean fish taco. All I’m saying is, give Japan some time to recover.

Spring will be good. Of course, don’t wait till summer, ’cause then it’s too hot. Choose your porridge wisely, Goldilocks. April’s about right. The weather will be warmer, the mood lighter, and the sakura blooming. Hey, you like flowery trees, remember? Yeah, there you go.

37 Replies to “Should You Visit Japan Now?”

  1. I go drinking in Ishibashi in north Osaka a lot and it’s a vibrant student hangout, close to Osaka university. Well, it used to be, it’s a ghost town now. Maybe that’s because I go there a lot and the folks there are avoiding me although I like to think it’s due to corona.

    And as you said, masks everywhere. Even in places where you don’t need one. I saw a guy in the pool with some clear plastic thing around his face. I’m not sure if he was a big fan of ‘ the man from Atlantis’ , if anyone remembers that although I like to think it was due to corona ( anyone else see a pattern emerging? )

    I live in Japan and I don’t want to go anywhere except the pool and Ishibashi and so I thoroughly endorse ken’s view that now is not the time to visit Japan and very importantly, get a job at at Amazon, or twitter blah blah blah

  2. Always nice to hear from you, Ken!

    I spent most of November in Kyushu and Shikoku and had a great time. Pleasant weather too, lots of sun and around 20 C.

    I’ll be back for a couple of weeks in mid-December. The weather will be worse, sure, but everything is relative. Compared to the weather back home it’ll be just fine.

    1. Thanks for reading, Johan. Wow, 20 C and sunny—man, that’s hard to beat. Hopefully that trend will continue into mid-December, but if not you can always pick up a cheap down coat at Uniqlo. Sounds like you’re staying fairly well south, so that should help a bit.

  3. “On the plus side, foreigners are probably friendlier, so there’s that.”

    Ouch! Savage, but true.

    I adore your blog. Could write about handicap accommodations (lack of) outside, say Tokyo or Osaka?

    My friend just dragged his two mid 60, out of shape American parents all over the Japanese country side for a month.

    Asked the parents how they enjoyed the visit. “Stairs, so many stairs and no elevators .”

    I’ve seen an 80 year old Japenese man mule 60 lbs of camera gear up a 50 degree incline trail for a mile. Nothing is getting in the way of grandpa’s shot. Lol Don’t need no stinking stairs or hand rails.

    1. That’s a good idea. I’ll try to work something into a future piece.

      There was a Japanese movie years ago about a gal in a wheelchair and how hard it was for her to get around Tokyo. I wish I could remember the title, because it was spot-on. Japan seems pretty well set up for people with visual impairments, but for folks who have trouble walking, it’s got to be a massive challenge.

  4. I visited a few weeks before official reopening, and while I had a great time, things were definitely still getting on their feet. A number of restaurants I had loved before were no longer around or had diminished significantly. Thankfully, I binged Ken’s blog on the way to prepare myself. Actually I’m not sure why I said thankfully… he really knows how to take the magic away. In a charming, winsome way. Listen, I’m still reading, geez Ken, stop being so sensitive and start writing more blogs so I can laugh more. Please?

    1. Thanks much. Yeah, I gotta write more, I know. My lack of motivation is one percent sensitivity and ninety-nine percent butt-laziness. I either gotta drink more coffee or more beer. Not sure which. Probably a lot more of both.

  5. Great article again, Ken. Great to see an update.

    I visited Tokyo and Nagoya in June and July of this year (2022) after leaving in 2020 (having lived there for 22 years). I have to say, it’s all relative. Indeed it had lost a bit of its former luster, but after having lived in the US for over 2 years, it was wonderful, and I’m seriously considering moving back. Whatever has gone bad in Japan, it’s gone 10X bad in the US. Not sure about other countries. And annoying though mask wearing and temperature checks were, I was so happy to be back that I wasn’t bothered at all. Now, I was there before it opened up to tourism, which was great. The people actually seemed friendlier than they were before I left. Either that was because of the lack of foreigners annoying them there or the fact that I had been back in the US for so long. Don’t know. Anyway, great to see another story!

    1. Heh, nothing will make you appreciate Japan like a trip to the U.S.

      As far as friendliness towards “foreigners,” I gotta say, I receive a lot less gaijin treatment nowadays, and thank God. No English menu, no “Wow, you can use chopsticks” or “Can you eat natto?” My demeanor probably has something to do with it, since I’m not staring wide-eyed at the kanji menu on the wall any more. But I also think once the borders shut and tourists disappeared, it was clear that anybody who looked non-Japanese was actually living here and not just some random dude with a backpack and a copy of Lonely Planet. People are much more interested in striking up a conversation with somebody from an exotic location, like Kentucky, rather than the guy who lives down the block.

      And you’re right about the U.S. I was back in August, and the food and service were atrocious. And then the prices, holy smokes. So yeah, it’s all relative. How much you like Japan depends on how much of a shithole country you’re coming from.

      1. Interesting. I noticed that my “special gaijin treatment” actually went up. That was in central Tokyo. Gaijin have always been treated with a sort of cold indifference in Nagoya, from my experience. Come to think of it, maybe Nagoya is the place for you, Ken. It’s a decent sized city and quite affordable compared to Tokyo. I spent 4 years there and I can tell you, the people of Nagoya give no special treatment to any gaijin, good or bad. I have no idea of why this is.

        1. Yeah, it’s weird. Sometimes I go to a big city and I’m treated like a space alien. Other times, it happens in the countryside. I don’t know if it’s me—the way I look and general demeanor—or if it’s the folks I happen to encounter. Overall, I’ve experienced a steady decline of gaijin treatment, but I’ve yet to discover much of a pattern.

          1. It’s part of the struggle of living abroad in a country like Japan. I had a lot of struggles when I lived in Japan, but I traded those for new struggles when I moved back to the US.

            Living there a long time, you will see all the warts of the country. But for visitors, it’s still a magical place. As I’ve always said, Japan is always great fun…until your washing machine breaks. Then what?

  6. Appreciate your new article and I love the honesty!

    Is the expectation in society to wear masks outside even in non-crowded places? I totally understand the role of mask-wearing in Japan and that it precedes the whole Covid situation. I would not have an issue to wear a mask inside or even in crowded places/public transport.

    But I wouldn’t enjoy my planned stay in 2023, if I would receive hostile looks and behavior from locals and/or expats if I wore no mask outside in non-crowded places. And I think I also wouldn’t enjoy my stay if I had the feeling I’m wearing a mask the whole time for no reason.

    1. I hear where you’re coming from.

      And yet it’s important to understand something fundamental about Japanese people: They’re constantly terrified. Of everything. We can get into why that is at another time, but suffice to say the society simply does not tolerate risk.

      Anybody who’s watched YouTube has probably seen daredevils jumping snowmobiles or riding bulls or setting themselves on fire. There’s no end of stupid shit folks are willing to try. And hey, I grew up in America, I know; I did it too. Good times. But you can’t help but be struck by the obvious—99 percent of those people are white. You don’t see a lot of Japanese folks BASE jumping from Tokyo Tower.

      If you want to visit, or better yet, live in Japan, it’d be a good idea to understand the thinking of people here. If there’s a one-percent chance wearing a mask could help, we’re gonna do it. Would you wear one if there was even the slightest possibility it could keep your mother or father from dying? Look, I’m not trying to get all heavy, but that’s literally what we’re talking about. Japanese people frequently ask me how folks in the U.S. are dealing with Covid, and I don’t know what to say. Over a million Americans have died and everybody’s like Yeah, pandemic’s over, resume the beer pong.

      Sorry, I know you just threw out a casual comment, and I’m not trying to harsh on you personally. Rather, I’m speaking to tourists in general. If you want to visit a country, then abide by local rules and customs or stay the fuck home. Most of us here wear masks 12 hours a day and it’s no big deal. If that’s anyone’s idea of an inconvenience, it’d be wise to reconsider what they think they know about Japanese culture, and why they want to visit.

      1. “We can get into why that is at another time, but suffice to say the society simply does not tolerate risk.”

        I think a big part of the answer is natural disasters, especially earthquakes and typhoons.
        If these things happen regularly over thousands of years people are bound to be cautious.

        But you’re right of course, this topic can and should be discussed more in depth.

  7. I recently moved to Thailand after being in Japan for close to 20 years. It wasn’t a planned move, but due to the coronavirus I was forced to change my line of work and unfortunately couldn’t get a position in Japan that would pay me what I wanted.

    The school I am at in Bangkok has decreed that Coronavirus is finished and all of the teachers have removed their masks. I still mask up at school, as do my children and I would estimate 70% of the students. Outside of the school everybody is masked all of the time much like Japan – it often amuses me that people wear masks whilst on scooters rather than helmets (although that may be due to pollution/bugs too).

    I have just caught Corona for the first time and am off sick for the next few days (and was pleasantly surprised there was a new blog for me to read). The school’s ethos seems to be that everybody is going to get it eventually so we may as well just get on with it. I’m personally not happy as I managed to work in many schools in Japan over the last couple of years and not get sick despite huge outbreaks.

    The masks really do help and I’m quite unhappy that my school has deemed them not necessary. There are several teachers (and plenty of students) off each week due to Corona since taking off the masks, but the school is steadfastly sticking to it’s policy of optional masks.

    Maybe Japan is doing something right 🙂

    1. I’ve started to look at Thailand myself. How do you find the work culture there, as compared to Japan? And how do you like living there, again as compared to Japan?

      1. Well I certainly can’t talk for everybody, but I’m not enjoying it much and am already looking for ways back to Japan. My school situation is terrible with a shocking amount of overwork/understaffing issue. It was similar to the school I worked at in Japan, but at least I’m getting paid double the amount and I get a full expat deal (places for kids, flights home for us for summer, housing allowance etc).

        I personally don’t like living here at all due to the pollution, the food (I’m allergic to seafood and they put that in everything), where we live, the cost of everything involved with our school (and as a newcomer everything is linked to the school) etc etc etc. However I went to a conference last week and the hours at our school seemed bizarre to everyone else (get to school at 6.45am and leave at 5).

        I’m very much looking forward to this being a memory when we get back to Japan as soon as possible. However if I was young and single (or at least single) I’d probably be having a much different experience so take everything I way with a grain of salt or two 🙂

        1. Thanks much for that write-up. I’ve visited Thailand twice and had a great time, but you confirmed my worst fears about living there. 6:45 to 5? That’s mental. I was also concerned about the pollution. Bangkok seemed marginally horrible, but I wasn’t really there long enough to determine if I could stand living there or not. Now I’ll assume not. Sounds like I should content myself with life in Japan, and just visit Thailand for a holiday.

          1. Yeah – I would concur with that. I’ve visited on holidays and had a great time (even with family in tow). However living here a lot of things really begin to grind on you.

            I remember taking a long time to get used to Japanese time, but at least you know when something will be done – whether you are ready or not it will be done if it has been said it will. In Thailand everything is a sorta vague promise that is 100% never on time. Usually weeks can go by before promised things actually happen.

            On holidays this is a minor annoyance. When you are living here it’s a severe pain in the bum.

            How is the inflation thing going in Japan? Everything here has really shot up in price in the few months we have been here.

            1. As a resident of Japan (as opposed to a tourist with US dollars), inflation has made life a whole lot less fun. A couple years ago, you could have drinks and dinner at a mid-level izakaya and the bill would be about 2,500 yen per person, including tax. Now it’s more like 3,500. That’s a huge jump. And of course salaries have stayed the same. Hoping for a raise in Japan is like waiting for the second coming of Christ.

              So I’m not going out nearly as much as I once did, and everyone around me seems to be doing the same. I’m shopping at grocery stores more, but the prices have either gone up or the volume of product has been sneakily reduced. The bento I used to buy for 450 is still the same price, but the previous fillet of mackerel has been replaced by a teeny piece of fish that wouldn’t satisfy a cat.

              Oh, and the bicycle I was dreaming of buying went from 140,000 to 160,000 yen overnight. Guess I’ll stick it out on the mamachari a little longer.

              1. That certainly seemed the direction it was heading in so I guess there is a silver lining to leaving. I miss it like crazy, but at least I will be a semi-tourist there when I head back over the summer so I’ll have a currency other than yen to exchange, so the prices won’t seem so bad.

                I used to play piano at hotels until the Rona hit and was making great money, but all of my friends who were only doing that are still struggling. They were squeezing the musicians before Corona (my regular gig was dropped by 3,000 yen a night after the 2011 earthquake – but would probably be back by summer:)) and then by a further 5,000 a night after returning from a 2 year Corona break this year (and only 3 nights a week instead of 6 split between 2 pianists). This was after 2 years of basically no gigs due to the Coronavirus!!!

                I was lucky that I could transition to teaching at International schools but it’s certainly been hard on my family (3 different schools, international moves and losing the family house) but hopefully one day I’ll be back and annoyed to be playing “As time Goes By” for the 50th time that evening for drunken non-listening customers 🙂

  8. Your post makes me feel happy that I left Japan after almost 20 years. But Life is calling me back for an unavoidable visit in 2023. Wish airfare wasn’t so damn high from the States these days.

    1. I’d say Japan’s been on a gradual downward slide for about, mmm, 20 years, so you’re timing was good. That being said, Japan’s still a fine place, particularly when compared with a lot of other nations. Lookin’ at you, America. But if I had to write a report card for Japan, I’d give it a B-minus for not living up to its potential.

  9. “And yet it’s important to understand something fundamental about Japanese people: They’re constantly terrified. Of everything.”

    Glad to find someone who shares that same observation. Anytime a Japanese (or gaijin) would gush about how “safe” Japan is compared to other places I’d think “What good is safety if you go about your life terrified all the time?”

    1. Indeed. It’s exactly that terror that’s made this a relatively safe society. With steel shutters, bars on the windows, barbed wire atop walls, and security cameras everywhere, yup, you’re going to have a lot less crime.

  10. I got to enjoy the tail end of the party having arrived before the Bubble popped and enjoyed myself at ジュリアナ東京 with the bodycon ladies. I pity those gaijin who missed out on the pre-Internet days in Japan.

    1. Forget Japan, I’m just glad I grew up in a pre-internet world.

      Of course, none of us can choose when, or where, we’re born. All we can do is make choices going forward. Think I’ll start with breakfast.

  11. Nope, I visited on the 18th-28th and enjoyed every second of my trip after being away for 3 years.

    You make a valid point or two though.

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