On March 13th, COVID-19 guidelines on mask wearing in Japan will be drastically eased. In a press conference held last Friday, President Fumio Kishida and his COVID-19 task force announced the new policies, created in response to the drop in COVID-19 cases of the past months and the consequent downgrade of the disease to a less threatening category.

The use of masks will be left up to individuals in most situations“, stressed the government, explaining that under the new guidelines, students will no longer be required to wear masks in schools from April 1st, but mask-wearing will continue to be recommended at medical institutions, elderly care facilities, and on public transportation during the rush hours.

A similar announcement was made in May last year, and repeated last October by PM Kishida, in a clear struggle to get the message through. Differently from other countries, Japanese people seem to be very resilient in abandoning their mask-wearing habit. Peer pressure plays a key component, as most people tend to make decisions based on the behaviour of people around them.

With Japan never really having had a mask mandate, and the use of masks having generally been left up to individuals since the very beginning of the pandemic, the question is if the new guidelines of 13th March, based exactly on this idea, will actually have an impact on the citizens’ habits. Hajime Yamaguchi, a professor of health psychology at J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo, believes that not much will change, and that we might have to wait until Golden Week (the holiday period in May) to start seeing people maskless.