German media Tagesschau on what it’s like to be Covid-quarantined in Japan (basically a prison run by sweaty-headed bureaucrats)


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Hi Blog. Here’s is a German TV show reporting on what life is like in Japanese Covid quarantine. At first, it seems like an April Fool’s article, but it rings all too familiar when one deals with Japanese bureaucracy, especially when it gets paranoid about contact with the outside world and contagion. (I remember once on an NHK news broadcast during the Avian Flu scare in 2003, where bureaucrats were filmed positioning chairs 2 meters apart in an international airport quarantine zone, measuring down to the millimeter (yes, with a measuring tape) the distance between them. Phew! That one millimeter makes all the difference.)

Anyway, read what the German media has to say about current life in quarantine in Japan (which TV news show Tagesschau compares to a prison, but with very Japanese-bureaucracy touches), and how Olympic participants will be bypassing it all. “Measuring-tape Science” at work again. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.


From: Maximilian Doe
Subject: Great and nauseating article by “Tagesschau” (Review of the Day), Germany’s apex TV news, on the latest quarantine rules for overseas travelers returning to Japan
Date: April 1, 2021
To: Debito Arudou <>

Hi Debito,

Maximilian Doe here. I wanted to draw you attention to a great and nauseating article by the “Tagesschau”, Germany’s apex TV news broadcasting (Germany’s equivalent to Britain’s BBC News). It deals with the current quarantine rules for incoming travelers and how they are enforced.

Here is the link:

And here is my translation. Comment from me follows:


Corona-Entry to Japan
Jail-like quarantine
Tagesschau April 1, 2021, 12:17 p.m., translation courtesy of MD

The government of Japan gets seemingly nervous a couple of months to the Olympic Games: Many travelers from abroad have to go to a quarantine hotel – and that is a ripsnorter: No fresh air, roll call in the morning, cold food.

By Kathrin Erdmann, ARD Studio Tokyo

Lively singing of birds – that sounds nice at first glance, but the truth is that it is a sudden insolation forced upon the guests in a Covid quarantine hotel in Tokyo. And it is cynical, because all incoming travelers are sealed off from the outside world starting with boarding the plane for Japan. The windows of the hotel cannot be opened, the air-conditioning does not work. Those you want to exchange air by opening the door of the room just a crack wide will cause a crisscross of voices. The telephone will ring. Japan is watching you – and is scolding you as if you are a school child.

Roll call in the morning with spit test

There are roll calls at 6:30 in the morning. All who are captive the third or the sixth day have to do a Covid spit test. It will be collected one hour later, but that way you have plenty of time to collect your spit. And it wakes up everyone else, too.

Japan has decided two important things just a couple of weeks ago. First: Those who enter the country have to undergo three days of publicly financed mandatory quarantine and have to self-isolate afterwards for eleven days. Everything is rigidly double-checked with Apps, Skype, and written inquiries twice daily.

Second: The internationally accepted PCR-test is not enough for Japan’s bureaucracy any more. Now Japan demands swabs from the nose and throat. Those who do not agree to these swabs by signing and stamping must spend six days of quarantine without fresh air. Many travelers were affected by this during the last days, because these new rules were only mentioned in small print, a practice that also enraged multiple European embassies according to our information.

Food supply under surveillance

Three times a day a young Japanese voice wordily informs, that food will now be hanged at the doorknob and that it is prohibited to open the door in any case. Another announcement comes after the delivery has ended. Then you can take the food in, provided you are wearing a mask, and it is watched by a guard at the floor, who is standing there the entire day wearing a mask and face shield.

At the first time people curiously look into the bag with the food, but the joy dissipates already with the dinner at 6 p.m.: The food is always cold, it is always a pile of dry rice, always three snippets of white cabbage, often thin slices of pork with a rim of fat, and half a liter of water to gobble it down.

Alcohol is prohibited unless you coincidentally have some in your luggage. It is said that those who are hungry can – after extensive checks, of course – call friends to bring them dry food to the hotel.

Complicated way home

When the last gong rings after three or six days and multiple Corona tests the people affected are not allowed to take a taxi home. To not bother the neighborhood everybody has to go back to the airport first – probably with a colored rubber band at the arm again – and then they can go home.

Many Japanese are so embarrassed by this treatment of the bureaucracy towards incoming travelers that they apologize.

Participants in the Olympic Games are exempt from this

Participants in the Olympic Games and their teams are reportedly exempt from all of this next summer. According to current planning they can enter without any quarantine – and if they cannot bring the correct corona test Japan will probably welcome them anyway. After all, Japan wants to showcase itself as a tomodachi, a friend.

Comment from MD: I first hoped that it’s a very bad April Fools, but it wasn’t, since the article is still up today. It ranked #2 in the ranking of the most read articles at the time of translating, so people are curious about it, and rightly so.

This policy apparently applies to all returnees regardless of nationality, so the treatment is not necessarily racial discrimination. But it’s nonetheless a very problematic arrangement, basically punishing returnees with jail-like confinement. Also the part about food supply is dire. (sarcasm warning) I suppose Jewish and Muslim returnees will be extremely delighted by a bag of cold pork. Best regards, MD

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11 comments on “German media Tagesschau on what it’s like to be Covid-quarantined in Japan (basically a prison run by sweaty-headed bureaucrats)

  • Sounds like normal (Japanese) institutional life. I’m in hospital now, and while the food sounds better here and we have some human contact (with nurses and doctors, no visitors allowed), the routines are similar (woken early, etc.) and there are lots of rules.

    Wasn’t Taiwan also in the news for fining someone 100,000 yen for mistakenly opening the door and stepping outside during quarantine?

    Personally I want Japan to have a strict but fair quarantine system. This is progress from the early days when they weren’t letting in foreign residents, but Japanese citizens could just mosey on through immigration and go straight home.

    — I hope you’re feeling better soon.

    • Jaocnanoni says:

      Get well soon!

      Yes, it’s an improvement compared to last year, and the best part of it is that a Japanese passport doesn’t grant you a free pass (pun not intended).

      The problem is the enforcement, which definitely needs more human decency. But this 3 to 6 days period it financed by taxpayer money, so I have no doubt that the people in charge are very likely like “shut up and comply”.

      But since the facility of stay is a hotel and not an actual prison the possibility to purchase additional foods out of the own pocket would be a huge improvement. And not being allowed to use air conditioning is also a riddle to me. Wasn’t frequent air exchange declared to be essential in the fight against Covid?

  • The forced quarantine of three days at a hotel is not for all arrivals, but only from some countries affected by the new COVID variants. Other returnees free to spend the whole mandated 14 days quarantine at home if they can reach there without public transport.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    In related news, Japan variant finally has a name that doesn’t include the word ‘Japan’!
    And it wasn’t imported…
    ‘none of them having recently travelled abroad or reporting contact with people who has.’

    ‘Around 70% of coronavirus patients tested at a Tokyo hospital last month carried a mutation known for reducing vaccine protection’.
    Perhaps that’s why Japan’s vaccination program hasn’t really started- the ‘erai hito’ think it’s not worth it? If they’d got their act together sooner, they could have got people vaccinated quicker before this ‘Eek’ (!) mutation had developed?
    Typical Japanese style decision making in action- put off making a difficult decision in the hope that the situation will change enough to make the decision irrelevant. Except this time, like Fukushima, not making a decision has given them a worse situation to deal with.

  • My experience returning to Japan (permanent resident) from the USA was actually pretty good.

    I had my covid test result from a clinic in LA, flew with Asiana Airlines via Seoul, no trouble at all. Upon arrival in Japan, we were shepherded into a room to fill out a health check and also a QR code. Also had to sign up to the Ministry of Health Line app. Then a PCR test (saliva style thank God) and wait for the results. Took about 45 minutes for the test result and that was all. Get bags, get car, drive home.

    For two weeks I had to do a very brief 2 question survey every morning from the Ministry of Health. No other checking was done.

    The experience of the people in the story does not sound at all the same, wonder what was different?

    • Jaocnanoni says:

      When did you return to Japan? The article fails to mention that this jail-like conditions are only applied to returnees who return from an area designated on the list I posted above, after the area was designated, and after this arrangement with mandatory quarantine hotels was introduced. So the time of your return is crucial for your experience.

  • David Neil Markle says:

    Hotel Will House Olympic Athletes With COVID-19. Report Said

    “Athletes at the Tokyo Olympics who come down with minor symptoms of COVID-19 could be isolated in a hotel lined up by local organizers of the games.” 

    Notice the difference between the headline, and the first line of the article. One mentions “Olympic Athletes,” giving the impression again that ALL athletes are going to be treated equally, implying all athletes who test positive for Covid. The first line though belies the true intent; (the editors must have missed this)That all athletes are in fact NOT going to be treated equally. In fact only those FOREIGN athletes WHO SHOW ANY SYMPTOMS WHATSOEVER even minor, are going to go to the Covid gulag never to be seen in competition again. The Japanese athletes will then be given a thumbs up from officials who cooperate in this deception. Now is your chance, people of the sun god!

    This is so rife for corruption and is so in your face. Worst of all the world gives a nod and shoganai to all of this malarkey.


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