After a 10 month absence, I recently returned to Japan. The entry into Japan during the COVID pandemic was much, much different than in the past. The trip actually started in February, two months prior to my travels. Immediately after getting my vaccinations and purchasing my airfare, the next stop was Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare website to research the latest requirements and restrictions for entry into Japan during the COVID pandemic. To complicate things, the requirements and restrictions changed three times before the travel date. The final requirements as of the travel date were as follows.
- Proof of a negative COVID test taken less than 72 hours prior to the departure of the flight.
- A “Written Pledge” stating I understood the requirements after entering Japan. The major points of the pledge were as follows:
- Not allowed to use public transportation for 14 days after re-entry.
- Quarantine at my apartment for 14 days. I was not allowed to leave the apartment, and could not meet with anyone not living at the apartment.
- Report health conditions including temperature and any COVID symptoms every day for 14 days.
- Load either SKYPE or WHATSAPP on my mobile phone so that I could be contacted by video.
- Add a contact tracing app on my phone.
- Load a locater app on my phone.
- I filled out a health questionnaire online, and was provided a QR code to print out and take to Japan.
When I went to check-in online for my flight as I normally do, I was informed I could confirm my seat assignments and the number of checked luggage. But boarding passes would not be issued as is normally done until I checked into the flight at the airport. I was required to show my documentation of a negative COVID test and my resident status in Japan before the boarding passes would be issued.
Screening at Narita Airport
After arriving at Narita airport, international transfers were allowed to exit the plane first, followed by UAL flight crews needed for other flights and then finally residents of Japan. Residents of Japan were asked to wait at our seats until we were told we could exit the plane. It took about 30 minutes before we were allowed to disembark.
The screening at the airport took about 2 1/2 hours. It was very organized, orderly and thorough as you would expect in Japan. The screening stations were located at unused gates. I lost count how many stations there were, but I would guess there were at least 20. But there were many people to help guide everyone to the next station. All of my documents were reviewed for completeness and errors. And the review was checked and re-checked. They verified the apps were installed and working. And, of course a virus test was done. Logon procedures and instructions on how to use the locator app were emailed the next day.
Continuing to Kyoto
As stated previously, I am not allowed to use public transportation for 14 days. So I had to rent a car at the airport and stayed overnight at a hotel next to the airport. Early the next morning to avoid rush hour in Tokyo, I drove the 550 km (about 350 miles) to Kyoto.
Since then, I have been quarantining at my apartment. I am not allowed to leave the apartment whatsoever. Every day I get an email asking if I am exhibiting any symptoms. In addition, I am sent a request to report my current location using the location app. The location requests are sent at random times and there are multiple requests sent each day. The Japan staff graciously volunteered to purchase groceries for me. At this writing, I am on Day 10 of the 14 day quarantine, leaving 4 more days until I can return to the real world.