With less than five months until the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Japanese authorities have asked sporting and cultural organizations throughout the country to consider postponing or canceling large gatherings until March 15 in order to curtail any new infections from the coronavirus outbreak (or COVID-19) that began in China late last year and has since infected more than 82,000 people globally.
“We are beginning to see things getting a little tighter,” says Rich Keefe of Windows to Japan, a tour operator based in Japan, referring to major Japanese corporations including the Dentsu Group and Shiseido asking its employees to work from home and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to close Japan’s entire school system—elementary through high schools—until late March.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that 186 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Japan—891 total if you include the 705 cases found on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama near Tokyo. Japan now has the third highest number of confirmed cases behind China and South Korea, which have 78,630 and 1,766 confirmed cases, respectively, according to the WHO. Of the seven deaths in Japan, four were people on the Diamond Princess. Cases have been found in Japan from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) travel notice to Japan is at an “Alert-Level 2,” which calls for travelers to practice enhanced precautions like avoiding contact with sick people and vigilant hand washing. (The CDC has issued “Warning-Level 3” travel notices to China and South Korea advising against all nonessential travel.)
“On a bright note, people will be able to see Japan at its quietest in five years,” Keefe says. “I’m not being facetious or joking. It is quiet here and I’d tell people to jump on the plane and come. Japan is not China and we are still open for business for the most part.”
That being said, if you’re visiting Japan in the next few weeks for a specific event, your plans could be affected by these precautionary measures. Here’s what we know so far about what is canceled or closed in Japan currently.
After Japan’s Emperor Naruhito scrapped plans earlier in February for a gathering of tens of thousands of well-wishers outside the royal palace for his 60th birthday, the likelihood of other festivities has been called into question for later this spring.
If the outbreak progresses, it’s likely that the annual cherry blossom festivals that are typically held throughout the country between March and May will be toned down this year, if not entirely canceled. On February 25, Tokyo’s Nakameguro district announced it was canceling its 34th annual Nakameguro Cherry Blossom Festival, a traveler favorite that regularly appears on Instagram, due to coronavirus. The event was scheduled to take place between March 21 and April 8, 2020. So far, the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival—another of Japan’s most popular cherry blossom events—is still scheduled to take place between April 23 and May 6, 2020. Other spring festivals, like Okinawa’s Azalea Festival in March, have also been canceled.
Museums and Theme Parks
Planning to vist a specific museum or theme park in the upcoming weeks? You’ll want to confirm if it’s open before arriving since many are currently closed throughout the country. On February 26, the Tokyo National Museum announced that it would close from February 27 to March 16, “in compliance with Japan’s national health authorities . . . as a measure against the further spreading of the coronavirus.” The Kyoto National Museum and the Kyushu National Museum will also both be closed indefinitely from February 27 onward.
The Ghibli Museum, which features the work of the acclaimed anime studio behind films like Totoro and Spirited Away, will be closed temporarily from February 25 to March 17, 2020. The museum, which is located in the city of Mitaka just west of Tokyo, is offering full refunds to anyone with February or March reservations. To obtain a refund, follow the museum’s instructions on its website.
Sanrio Entertainment announced that it would temporarily close its two theme parks—Hello Kitty Land Tokyo and Harmonyland in Oita Prefecture in Kyushu—from February 22 until March 12, 2020, as a precautionary measure. If you purchased a ticket through an OTA or other travel agency, you’ll need to contact those businesses directly to obtain a refund. Sanrio advises those who purchased tickets from the theme parks’ websites to contact them directly.
The Tokyo Disney Resort, which consists of the Disneyland and DisneySea theme parks, announced in an online statement that they will be closed from February 29 though March 15, 2020, “as a precautionary measure in line with prevention efforts taking place across Japan and in response to the recommendations of appropriate authorities.”
Concerts in Japan
After the Japanese girl group Perfume performed February 25 at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, it called off its concert the following night. Another J-pop group, Exile, canceled its concert scheduled for Wednesday night at Kyocera Dome in Osaka, the Japanese news agency Kyodo News reports.
Many touring artists, like the Pixies and Mac DeMarco, have also canceled or postponed their Japan concert dates.
“It’s important to keep in mind that many shows are not canceled explicitly or directly due to COVID-19 in Japan, but because of COVID-19 related issues in other countries,” says Alan Omlin, the founder of the events website japanconcerttickets.com.
DeMarco’s publicist confirmed he canceled his Japan concerts in April because the Chinese music festival that served as the anchor to his entire Asia tour was canceled. The band Temples also called off its entire Asia and Australia tour because it was supposed to play in China.
For a full list of events, including concerts, that have been canceled in upcoming months (for coronavirus or other reasons), visit japanconcerttickets.com/ticket-refunds.
The Tokyo Marathon, which is scheduled for March 1, 2020, is being limited to elite runners only over coronavirus safety concerns from the event’s organizers. The Nagoya City Marathon on March 8 has been canceled entirely, while the Nagoya Women’s Marathon on the same day will be limited to elite runners. The Itabashi City Marathon, which was scheduled for March 15, 2020, has also been canceled, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).
While Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league games will be played as scheduled, there will be no spectators in the stands from February 29 through March 15, the JNTO says. The J-League, Japan’s professional soccer league, is postponing all of its matches through March 15, according to the Japan Times.
There has been no notice of cancellation of the upcoming Osaka Grand Sumo Tournament in March or any other sumo events, according to the JNTO.
Will the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games be affected by coronavirus?
So far, Japanese government officials and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are insisting that the Olympic Games will take place as planned in July.
“We intend to continue to work closely with the IOC and Tokyo Metropolitan government to ensure the Olympics will be held in a way that ensures athletes and spectators can participate safely,” Yoshihide Suga, Prime Minister Abe’s chief cabinet secretary, told the Associated Press.
If it is decided that the Olympics can’t go forward as scheduled in Tokyo, “you’re probably looking at a cancellation,” Dick Pound, a senior member of the IOC, told the AP on February 25. “You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons.”
The last time the Olympics were canceled was in 1944 due to World War II.
How effective are these social distancing methods anyway?
In a 2017 report on limiting the spread of pandemic, zoonotic, and seasonal epidemic influenza, the World Health Organization recommended avoiding crowded places and mass gatherings during epidemics and pandemics. However, the WHO notes that the size and setting of such events plays a role in how diseases are transmitted.
There is some evidence that “gatherings facilitate the transmission of influenza if there are more than five people per square metre and if participants stay close together for prolonged periods,” such as at music festivals, religious festivals like the hajj, or conferences held indoors.
“However, major sporting events such as the World Cup and Olympic Games may not have a substantial effect on the spread of influenza infections because of the open-air setting and good between-seat spacing,” the 2017 WHO update says.
Additional reporting from the Associated Press. This article originally appeared online on February 27, 2020; it was updated on February 28, 2020, to include current information.