TOKYO: On Monday, the three-year COVID-19 pandemic that has characterized Japan may be less visible as the amusement park Tokyo Disneyland and the rest of the country loosen face mask norms.


In response to new government regulations announced last month, major businesses such as Disney theme park operator Oriental Land Co, railway company East Japan Railway Co., and movie theater chain Toho Co. will begin allowing customers to remove their masks beginning Monday.

A long tradition of mask use in Japan and a massive influx of pollen have combined to make this the worst spring in years for people with hay fever.
“Mask-wearing was part of our culture even before COVID-19,” said Hitoshi Oshitani, a professor at Tohoku University and a key figure in planning Japan’s response to the virus. Even if the regulations are loosened, I anticipate that many people will continue to do so.

Coverings are nearly ubiquitous in Japan despite the lack of strict regulations and penalties governing their use, and Japan is one of the last major economies to relax official guidance on the issue.

During a stroll through Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district, 60-year-old Yutaka Izawa voiced his opinion that masks should be worn on public transportation to prevent the spread of disease.

In January, South Korea relaxed its masking regulations and Singapore lifted its ban on exposed faces on public transportation. Early last year, most mandatory mask use was suspended in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The 35-year-old Hanako Kuno claims that traveling for work has conditioned her to forego wearing a face mask.
“Personally, I think it’s fine to leave them off, and especially when I’m outside, I don’t see the point in wearing them,” said Kuno, who runs a human resources firm.

Mask restrictions have already been relaxed in Japan, with no masks being required for parliamentary speeches or graduation ceremonies this month.

It was announced last week by government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno that beginning on Monday, masks would no longer be required at Cabinet meetings and that the decision on coverings would be left up to individual workspaces.

On Monday, Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, told reporters that the decision to wear a mask is now up to the individual. But hay fever is pretty bad this time of year, so I guess it comes down to the fact that there are a variety of situations in which you might want to wear them.
After an eighth wave of infections peaked in early January, the vaccination rate in Japan reached over 80%, and cases have since decreased.

The relatively low death toll in Japan from COVID-19 has been attributed by health experts to widespread mask use, as well as an embrace of hygiene and social distancing.
One of the more conservative voices among Japan’s pandemic response experts, Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, said that voluntary masking on public transport and other spaces could have a continuing benefit in protecting against infection.

They could have made that a regular practice,” he said. “That intent was ruined by the government’s decision at the present time.”