Japan’s Still Unseen “Corona Exit Strategy
In September of this year, I traveled to the West Coast of the United States. It was my first trip abroad in about a year and a half due to the new Corona. Although it is still possible to buy airline tickets to the U.S. mainland as usual, there are many differences from before Corona.
There are various preparations that need to be made for entry and exit, and there is also “quarantine” after returning to Japan. The hurdles to traveling abroad remain high, not only for travel, but also for study and business. In fact, depending on the destination, returning home may be more difficult than leaving the country.
When I actually left Japan and returned to my home country, I realized the reality that “Japan is lagging behind the rest of the world. Although I had a vague feeling that this was true even when I was in Japan for a long time, this feeling turned into a conviction when I experienced it firsthand.
Documents published by the government are difficult to understand even for Japanese people to read in Japanese.
Even before my departure, I thought that the biggest challenge would be when I returned to Japan. This was because I had heard through the media and social networking sites that even Japanese nationals returning to their home countries would be denied entry and deported due to incomplete documentation. The official website of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) clearly states, “As a general rule, we ask that you present a paper copy of the MHLW’s prescribed format for proof of testing.
First of all, this prescribed format is, of course, not universal. It is not easy to find a doctor or hospital overseas that speaks Japanese, and even if you do, the cost is higher than the market price. Also, in the U.S., certificates and bills are routinely sent to one’s email address. The custom of asking people to write down every single item on paper is now obsolete.
The official website of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) also states that “If it is difficult to use the prescribed format, the submission of an arbitrary format is not prohibited, but the ‘contents to be included in the test certificate’ must be satisfied,” and that presenting the data is not a problem. However, this information is not available until you go further down the page. In fact, it should be clearly stated at the beginning of the page. Even if a Japanese person reads it in Japanese, the explanation by country is very difficult to understand.
The old system in which “humans” repeatedly check a lot of “paper
The Japanese government’s insistence on “paper” was keenly felt when I entered Japan.
On the plane, the flight attendants handed out paper copies of the ” Pledge” and “Request for Cooperation to All Passengers Entering Japan. At the same time, the “Declaration of Personal Belongings and Cottage Goods” to be submitted to the customs office was also handed out in paper form as usual.
Then, when we got out of the plane after arrival, we were first given a negative test certificate and other necessary documents, a paper specimen number for the antigen test, a paper explanation of the questionnaire, and a thick paper booklet with rules and regulations during the waiting period called “To those entering and returning to Japan. It was a lot of paper, and I could understand why a friend of mine who had returned to Japan earlier had told me that it would be useful to have a file to sort the paper.
Each check itself didn’t take much time, but it was tiring after a long flight as we had to walk endlessly through the large airport to the next booth. Although there was a priority lane for wheelchair users, people with babies and the elderly had to go through the same line as the general public, which was a pity to see from the side. I wonder if there is any way to take care of these people.
In the end, it took us about three hours from arrival to exit. While I have no objection to strict waterfront measures, the large amount of paper and the individual confirmation process by human beings is not the best way to go about it. In the non-digital realm of international airports, the typical Japanese “bureaucracy” was on display.
Waiting in hotels for immigrants is fully paid for by the government, and even though the 14-day quarantine was shortened, it is still 10 days.
In the case of the U.S., it was announced on September 17 that the three-day waiting period at lodging facilities imposed on people entering Japan from some states will be lifted in all states. I received this information while I was in the U.S., but the waiting period will actually be lifted from midnight on September 20. I returned to Japan on the night of September 19, which meant that I had to wait for three days, only a few hours away. “I saw many people asking at the quarantine booths, “There are only a few hours left,” or “Won’t the quarantine switch to home quarantine while we are waiting at the hotel? In the end, I was placed in voluntary quarantine after three full days of waiting.
Three meals a day are provided, and although there are guards in the corridors 24 hours a day and you can’t step out of your room, some hotels have spacious rooms with a large bathtub, making it quite comfortable. In the beginning, I heard about some experiences of small rooms and poor food, but it seems to have improved a lot. I’ve heard that in some foreign countries, you have to pay for the entire 14-day quarantine, and I still felt uncomfortable that the taxpayers had to pay for all of this.
I was also asked many times by people I met during my stay in the U.S., “Does Japan still have to quarantine people for 14 days? The government has announced that it will soon start to shorten the current voluntary quarantine period of 14 days to 10 days for vaccinated people. However, considering that more and more countries and regions overseas are already exempting themselves from quarantine, the Japanese government is still slow to respond.
PCR testing is free in the U.S., but masks must be worn indoors.
To enter the U.S., you also need a “negative test result certificate from a test conducted within three days of departure” and a “written pledge. However, the format of the certificate is free and can be either paper or data, and the pledge is also data-enabled, and was only confirmed upon departure from Japan. The new coronavirus-related digital certificate application “VeriFLY” is also accepted. And at the immigration checkpoint in the U.S., I was not asked to show a negative certificate, and there were no questions about vaccination or quarantine.
In the U.S., people are required to wear masks indoors. If you are not wearing a mask or if you are wearing a nasal mask, you will be immediately warned by the employees and people around you to wear a mask. Masks are available at the entrances of subways, buses, supermarkets, etc., and anyone is free to use them. At places where we queued, we lined up at two meter intervals, maintaining a good social distance.
The PCR test for new coronas is basically free of charge, and you can take it as many times as you want. Vaccinations can also be found at airports and throughout the city, and are also free. In Los Angeles, fares on the subway and some buses were also free. At the entrance of one store, there was a sign that said “NO MASK, NO ENTRY. I guess the big difference between Japan and Los Angeles is that it’s all black and white.
Japan has not been able to keep up with the moves of developed countries in the fight against new coronas.
Countries and regions around the world are increasingly easing restrictions such as quarantine upon entry into the country on the condition of vaccination. In Japan, there is no doubt that the quarantine period will be further shortened or eliminated in the future, but there are some concerns.
First of all, I wonder if the simplification of the paper check procedure, which took so much time and effort when entering Japan, will be realized soon. It is also very doubtful that we will be able to handle the steadily increasing number of people entering Japan smoothly. If some of the procedures can be digitized, it will speed up the whole process, but in a country where even vaccine passports are still issued only on paper, what can we expect?
In Japan, even the domestic response to the new coronary disease has been lagging behind. The world is moving fast, and if we don’t act flexibly, we will be increasingly left behind.
The information and data in this article are current as of September 27, 2021.
Text and photos (except as noted)： Aki Shikama
Travel journalist and photographer. He is a travel journalist and photographer who covers, writes about, and photographs airplanes and airports. Has visited all prefectures in Japan and about 40 countries and regions overseas. Lecturer at Nikon College. Former reporter for a national newspaper.