Japan may have opened its borders, but there are still some requirements that might trip you up when visiting.

On 11 October, Japan finally reopened its borders to tourists, allowing them free rein to explore the country as they used to before the pandemic, without any tour guide or travel package requirements.

Our South Korea-based reporter Soon Pyon’s has been itching to visit Japan and meet up with our team in our Shinjuku office, so as soon as Japan opened its borders, Soon Pyon’s was one of the first to arrive in the country.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though, as international arrivals still have to navigate some hurdles before entering Japan, and Soon Pyon’s not-so-affectionately dubbed these the “Three Small Hells“.

So if you’re thinking of travelling to Japan in the near future, or know someone who is, Soon Pyon’s has all the tips and advice you’ll need to make it through these three small hells.

▼ The first step is not quite a hell, but more like a baptism of fire, in the form of the MySOS app.

Completing the questionnaire on MySOS is a requirement for everyone entering Japan, regardless of whether they’re Japanese or not, and most people complete this part of the process before entering the country.

When you first open the app, a bright red screen appears, with fields for you to answer questions regarding your destination, vaccination or test status, and your country of residence. You’ll also be required to register your passport, and submit your vaccination certificate or COVID test certificate for a test taken less than 72 hours before your flight departure.

It’s a bit of a procedure, and it appears to only be available in English, but when Soon Pyon’s manually changed the language settings on his phone to Korean, he was able to work his way through the steps on the app.

It would’ve been nice if there were some other language options inside the app, as it would make the process easier for those who can’t speak or read English fluently.

Once you’ve made your way through the “pre-registration for quarantine procedures” on the app, the screen will stay red if there’s been an error, requiring you to try again, otherwise it will turn yellow if you’ve declined to submit a vaccination test certificate, and blue if you do submit one.

▼ Soon Pyon’s has the required certification to prove he’s had three vaccinations, so after inputting his details, the screen turned blue.

With his pre-arrival preparations now complete, Soon Pyon’s set off to Incheon Airport to board his flight to Japan.

It had been a long time since he saw the sky from a plane window like this, and Soon Pyon’s felt butterflies of excitement dancing around in his belly at the realisation that he was finally travelling to Japan.

On the plane, Soon Pyon’s began imagining all the fantastic ramen adventures he would soon be having, but little did he know that he would first have to make his way though three hells after stepping off the plane and into the airport in Japan.

While the small hells at the airport might not be as traumatic as the larger hells people encounter in the afterlife according to the Buddhist religion, they were still painful to go through. The first hell Soon Pyon’s encountered was the language barrier that presents itself as you go through the airport, as all the large signs explaining the entry requirements were written in English.

In addition to that, the guides on hand to help new arrivals were all foreigners who, despite being able to communicate in both English and Japanese, were not fluent in Japanese. This caused a problem with some of the new arrivals, who weren’t able to speak fluent English, so in this little hell, foreigners could be seen gesticulating and stressing out in their attempt to understand where they were supposed to go and what they were supposed to do.

Yet again, it seemed that immigration had placed an emphasis on helping English speakers without giving due consideration to people from other countries who would also be arriving in Japan. It would’ve been nice to see a wider range of support on hand to help travellers from diverse backgrounds, who were all struggling to understand the already confusing entry requirements after their flight.

▼ If you can’t read or speak English or Japanese, you might get stuck in the weeds.

After showing the blue screen on his MySOS app to staff, Soon Pyon’s was given a blue slip to show the immigration officer. Those with yellow screens may have to wait a little longer to pass through immigration as their documents require more thorough checks.

While he waited in line to be processed, Soon Pyon’s discovered he had now entered a second hell, because he wasn’t able to use the restrooms until all the coronavirus-related entry checks and procedures were completed.

It took less than three hours for Soon Pyon’s to fly from Seoul to Tokyo, so he didn’t think to use the toilet on the plane. In hindsight, he wished he did, and he advises anyone else coming to Japan to do the same, because nobody can use the toilets at the airport in Japan until their coronavirus risk status has been thoroughly assessed.

As he held back his urge to urinate, Soon Pyon’s eventually completed all the coronavirus-related entry checks, only to find himself in a third hell. He was now at the point where arrivals separate into three groups: Japanese, foreigners, and re-entering foreigners, but this was where he noticed there were much fewer immigration officers on hand to process all the arrivals.

When Soon Pyon’s began queuing for immigration, there were already more than 30 people in line, but only three immigration officers dealing with them. There might not be as many people entering Japan in the first few days since its re-opening, so the wait may not be as long as it normally might be, but Soon Pyon’s couldn’t help but wonder if there’ll be enough staff to handle the many tourists arriving in Japan in future.

The reservation rate of tickets from South Korea to Japan jumped 1,000 percent last month, and congestion at the airport is expected to continue for some time to come. The number of people entering Japan from all sorts of countries is only going to increase in the near future, so here’s hoping these three hells will have disappeared by then.

As a foreigner who loves Japan, Soon Pyon’s is over the moon to have finally made it over for a visit, but hopefully next time he won’t have to jump over so many hurdles to make it through immigration.

Reference: Information on MySOS from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare
Photos © SoraNews24
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