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Trip to Japan from the US, August 2022 - Thoughts and impressions


In this post I plan to go over some of the requirements for travel and also my thoughts and impressions of them.


I was traveling with my family to visit my wife's mother. Normally US citizens can take advantage of the Visa Waiver agreement between the US and Japan for visiting family or for tourist activities however this has been suspended, hopefully only temporarily, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting the Visa is "simple on paper" but can be complex in reality. I had to have a copy of my wife's family Koseki from the town hall in her small rural home town. The copy could not be older than three months. As we all live in the US this turned into a bit of a problem as it has to be collected in person by my wife (or the Japanese spouse who's koseki it is). We did some calling to the local Japanese consulate and found out that they would accept a printed picture of it as long as it was all present and legible and the image showed the date of the copy clearly as well (the date of production is listed on the copy when the town hall provides it). We asked if the town hall could send us a picture or a fax but they could, or would, not. We asked if they could send it to the consulate where I was applying for the visa, again they could, or would, not. In the end we got "special permission" for my wife's sister to collect it for us. She did so and then took a picture with her phone and sent it to my wife over Line chat. We printed that and provided it along with the visa application and my passport to the local Japanese consulate. I was told that if there were any questions, I would get a call with in the first three business days after submission and if I didn't hear anything it would be ready to pick up in one week. I didn't hear anything and was able to pick it up on the date I was told it would be ready.

Note: I did not have to submit the required pre-paid self-addressed mailing envelope or submit the mailing waiver as I work close to the consulate in question and was able to drop off and pickup in person.

Other than the hoops we had to jump through to get the koseki the visa application process was quick and easy.


> Pre-travel COVID-19 test (PCR):

The test was easy to find; however, it's a bit of a catch-22 if you follow the general guidelines on when the results will be available. All of the testing sites state that you will get the results three to five days after the test was administered. However, in order to travel, the test can not be older than 72 hours from the time that you board your flight. For those who don't see the issue, let me convert that 72 hours to days, which results in three days. So, according to the general guidelines for expecting your test results it's not likely you can get them in time. I looked around, and there were places guaranteeing results in time for flights, but they ran between $600 and $900 per test. There are five of us, so that is a significant amount. Instead, we called around and found out that most of the testing sites were actually getting results back much quicker than the general guidelines would suggest and even found that the "Immediate Care" office around the corner actually had the analysis machine onsite and would have resulted in 10 - 15 minutes for the PCR test. We had our tests, making sure the appointment was late enough to ensure that we had a few hours of buffer between the results "expiring" and the time the flight was going to board. Once we had our results, we filled out, by hand, the Japanese form for the COVID-19 test results. We brought both with us and also uploaded them to MySOS.

Note: Check with your insurance, ours still covered getting tested for travel, but I found indications on some of the testing location websites that not all insurances still cover the cost when the reason is for travel. The cost without insurance ranged from $128 to $250 for the required PCR test.

Note 2: The test results have to have specific wording on them for the Japanese government to accept them.

> MySOS and "Visit Japan Web":

"MySOS" is for quarantine-related documentation and questionnaires
"Visit Japan Web" is for customs and immigration-related documentation and questionnaires

You are required to have the "MySOS" app installed on a smartphone in order to enter. This is part of the quarantine process for the Japanese side. The "MySOS" app and the "Visit Japan Web" website are both part of the "Fast Track" system for entry into Japan. The app actually takes you to a website where you fill out the required forms online and upload supporting documents. An adult must have their own "MySOS" app profile, but as a parent, you can add your minor under 18 years old, or children under yours. I added all three of my kids under mine. It was pretty straightforward for the most part, with only a few items I had to Google for clarification of what they wanted. Mostly the Google results provided the page of the Ministry website with the FAQs list that clarified what they were looking for with each question.

Documentation that you need included the COVID-19 pre-travel test results, the Japanese result form, identity information (from your passport), and answering questions about where you have traveled in the last 14 days. We used my kid's Japanese passports, and the COVID-19 test forms had their Japanese names. The actual test results had their US names, but this didn't cause any issues, and their Japanese passports have their US last name in parenthesis after their Japanese last name, so that probably helped.

The "Visit Japan Web" is only required for non-Japanese citizens and only once per family, this is the customs and immigration forms that you would normally fill out on the plane before landing in Japan. MySOS let you export some of the required information directly to the Visit Japan Web website, which would then walk you through creating an account and filling out the rest of the forms and questionnaires. It worked rather well, and after everything was accepted, it provides you with two QR codes, one for customs and one for immigration. You provide these and answer a couple of standard questions, and off you go. All in all, it worked well and saved time.

Note: Visit Japan Web is a website, not an app. The MySOS app takes you to a website within the app when you register, and after you complete all of that provides a button/weblink that exports the required info to the Visit Japan Web website. From then on you login to that website from a normal web browser by going to https://www.visitjapan.digital.go.jp/Web/Login and logging in with the account credentials you setup during export from MySOS.

> The flight:

We flew with United this time as options were slim, and our normal go-to airlines didn't have any flights that would work for us, and in one case, EVA, no flights to Japan at all. The flight was very expensive, twice what we had been paying in the past, and we wouldn't have gone except that my wife's mother has had a few major medical issues over the last year, and it's been three years since the kids have seen her. While she is currently well, the recent medical events made us want to ensure the kids got to see her while they still can.

United has a "Travel Ready" digital document upload/approval system. IT IS HORRIBLE! What a pain in the a$$. It wants most of the same docs as MySOS and Visit Japan Web but doesn't work nearly as well. It also very much did not like that the names on the kids' tests did not exactly match the names on their Japanese passports. There were some things, like passports, we had to upload multiple times before they got accepted (I mean, we had to upload the same exact file multiple times, no changes at all, just re-upload). It seemed to want other "supporting" documents but didn't say what or provide any obvious way to upload them. In the end, we got help during check-in at the airport, and the person was able to just manually check our documents, which we brought with us, and approve them in the system.

Airport security was about how it always is. It harasses people without really providing any added security benefit, in my opinion. If one wants proof of this, you need to look no further than the fact that if you pay for Trusted Traveler, Global Entry, Nexus, etc, you can just skip right through without stripping naked and unpacking all of your belongings before going through a porno scanner and having the internal workings of your laptop scrutinized. I exaggerate, but only slightly. It's stupid and pointless, and the only thing that was ever done post 9-11 to improve security was the replacement and locking of the cockpit doors. OK, sorry for digressing to that rant. It just pisses me off to no end. :(

The airline food was very sub-par to what we were used to as well. Really, if you can fly on an Asian airline like ANA (Japan) or EVA (Taiwan), do it. It really is worth the $100-150 extra per ticket as the service is far better and the food is far more tolerable. I mean, seriously, the food on the United flights makes Mcdonald's look like a four-star restaurant.

Not much else to say about the flight, it was long, but it always is.

> Quarantine, Customs, and Immigration:

The MySOS app is required, as are the QR codes from the Visit Japan Web website. However, if you don't have cell or WiFi service in Japan, it could be a problem. I actually did have cell service but it was a bit flaky in the airport sections we were in, however, I had foreseen this issue and took screenshots of the MySOS quarantine profiles QR codes for myself and my kids along with the Customs and Immigration QR codes from the Visit Japan Web website. These were perfectly acceptable for each of these stations as they just need to scan the QR code to pull up your info. I highly recommend that you take screenshots of each of these QR codes before even boarding the plane to Japan.

Because I was coming from a "blue" country, I was not required to quarantine or limit my travel. I also was not "checked up on" via the MySOS app to make sure I was staying put and healthy.

In Japan:

As we were really in Japan to visit with my wife's mom, siblings, and their kids, we didn't travel too much. We basically stuck around the area. We went to the Osaka Aquarium, the Kyoto Railroad Museum, Nara Park, and a few temples and shrines in both Kyoto and Nara. We also visited the local public pool a few times.

Traveling around was easy, mostly by train with some limited bus travel. We didn't encounter any issues with people because of "being foreign during COVID" though we did get a couple of looks from people. That could have just been because of the low foreign tourist count and just not being used to seeing many non-Japanese around lately.

We did run across some people who were not wearing masks or were wearing them improperly (usually under the nose) when in busier public spaces. We saw a fair amount of Japanese that either were not wearing or were wearing improperly but by no means most. We did run across a tour group, though, from somewhere in Europe, I think, but I didn't recognize the language. Almost none of these people were wearing masks, even improperly. It was kind of a "What the heck?" encounter. I would pull mine down or take it off only if we were outside and well away from any other people. I did so as the heat and humidity were miserable, but the moment we started getting close to someone or them to us I would put it back on properly.

The one exception was the public pool, no one was wearing a mask, and we didn't either. All of my family are vaccinated, and my wife and I both have the booster as well (booster is not yet approved for our kids' ages), and I didn't feel there was a great risk in not doing so.

Leaving Japan:

Leaving worked the same way it always has in the past. The US does not require a COVID-19 negative test result in order to return back, so that was nice; it was dropped as a requirement about a month before our trip. US Customs and Border Patrol (Immigration) was just as disorganized as always, and while we had a decent Immigration officer this time, you still get the undeniable feeling that you are a felon at a parole hearing trying to justify why you dared to leave the US in the first place.

I'll upload a few more pictures to the Japan Pictures 2022 thread over the coming week, but I wanted to get this up while it was still fresh in my mind as I promised someone here I would!

By the way, here is a nice "Side Buddha" picture for you all to enjoy! ;D

- Petaris

Edit: Fixed some typos and auto moderated bits.
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