Obon is traditionally a time when people in Japan return to their hometowns to visit relatives, with transport and accommodation prices spiking in response to soaring domestic travel demand. However, the rising number of COVID-19 infections across the country is casting an anxious shadow over what is ordinarily a relaxing break.
While the national government is not discouraging all people from visiting their families over Obon, which officially runs from August 13-16 but in reality extends from this coming weekend to the next, not all prefectural governments are onboard with mass travel into and out of their areas.
August 7 2020 update: The governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, on August 6 asked residents to refrain from visiting other prefectures during the summer holidays. Calling it a “special summer”, Koike also called on residents not to dine out (in groups) at night, and to avoid traveling long distances (even within Tokyo). She said that another state of emergency declaration may be necessary for Tokyo if the prefecture’s COVID-19 numbers continue to increase.
The governor of Yamanashi Prefecture, Kotaro Nagasaki, has asked people to consider the risks carefully and consult with their families “one more time” before finalizing decisions to visit. He emphasized that this is especially important where there are elderly relatives, or people with chronic conditions.
Where people do elect to visit their families in Yamanashi, Governor Nagasaki has urged them to take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, including not eating out in large groups with people at high risk—and only dining out at restaurants taking measures against COVID-19. See COVID-19 infection information for Yamanashi.
Similarly, the governor of Akita Prefecture, Norihisa Satake, has asked people to refrain from visiting his region to see friends and family, where possible. Akita is one of the few prefectures that hasn’t seen climbing numbers of infections in recent days, and presumably they’d like to keep it that way.
Aichi Prefecture, home to the populous city of Nagoya, has declared a state of emergency from August 6-24, and residents have been asked to avoid non-essential outings during the period—particularly over Obon.
It is worth keeping in mind that prefectural governments (like the national government) lack the legal authority to actually prevent people from traveling within Japan—the most they can do is ask people to do, or not do, things in the battle against coronavirus.
The national government’s subcommittee on the novel coronavirus, headed by Shigeru Omi, recommended that travelers take the following already well-known precautions:
- Wear a mask
- Wash hands
- Ventilate rooms well
In addition, people have been encouraged to avoid dining in large groups, which could put older people at risk.
Omi suggested meeting relatives online as an alternative to traveling to see them.
In a bid to help revive the tourism sector, the national government recently launched the controversial Go To Travel campaign, offering discounts on domestic trips. However, it has urged people to be careful when taking trips, and keep the elderly population in mind.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Last updated August 7, 2020.