Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Japan Trip 2021 - Part 1 | 2021年日本旅 − その1

So as I write this blog, I am in Tokyo, Japan. My daughter's place near the Yoyogi-Uehara station. Sadly we are here for my father-in-law's funeral. We are only in our third day and we'll be here for close to a total of 30 days. For me it has been 5 or 6 years since I've been here, less for Arisa as she and Ken went two years ago. The interesting thing about this trip is that it is in the middle of the covid pandemic. So it has been quite the experience.

This post will relate some of our experience for others that are perhaps coming to Japan.

Well as you all know you need to get an COVID test 72 hours prior to departure to travel overseas, or Japan at least. While in the United States covid-19 tests are fairly common; you can get them at drug stores like CVS, Discount Drug Mart, Walgreens, etc., none of these places guarantees results within the 72 hours. It does seem like in most cases you do get it back somewhere in the 24 hour to 48 hour time frame, there is not guarantee. If you are trying to make a flight you want a little bit more guarantee. Doing a google search found a couple of places that specialized in testing for travel, probably the most convenient one for us was the on at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

The service at Hopkins is operated by Tackl Health and is run out of a former airlines check in counter. In order to travel internationally we need the PCR Covid test which comes with the 72 hour disclaimer. The Tackl website advertised a "Rapid PCR" test which provides results in 30 minutes. So we made an appointment for that since we didn't want to risk not making our flight. Well when we got there we were told that the Rapid tests didn't actually start until the following week, and that we needed to get the regular PCR test. The women at the counter told us not to worry about it as she pretty much guaranteed the 24-48 hour range. She said that if we didn't get the results in time, she would be there the morning of our flight and could print them out for us. I didn't mind saving the $115 either! I specifically asked what the difference was and was told that the difference was they provided results in 30 minutes and we paid another 115 bucks to get it in that 30 minutes.

Sure enough we got our results in that 24 - 48 hour range, though I don't remember exactly when.

Entering Japan

So the larger pre-departure effort was getting the documentation we would need get passed American Airlines to start, and then Japanese Immigration. Currently Japan is closed to tourists and the normal 90 day no-visa for American's is not in place. Since we are here for a funeral, we needed to show that 1) we were married - finding our marriage certificate; 2) Arisa's koseki tohon (family register), her father's death certificate and Elly's juuminhyou, or resident record. These were the documents that Luckily we were able to get all of these with very little drama. So we armed with that documentaion we were able to get on hour flights, and after the what 17 hours of travel including a stop at the Dallas Fort-Worth (DFW) International Airport, we arrived at Narita.

Narita - Covid Quarantine Check

Once you arrive at Narita they allow all passengers that have connecting flights to disembark first, then everyone else. Since the plane was mostly empty getting out of your seat, grabbing your baggage from the overhead bin etc were all really easy. Once we got of the plane we went through a rew checks, the first was making sure we had negative covid test results,one making sure we had a copy of the QR code required, and another was to get a covid test via a saliva test. So far really efficient even with a lot of people they had chairs etc to sit on while waiting for those in front of them.

The next station was to check the necessary apps for use during the 14 day quarantine everyone has to go through. The apps, which they tell you about beforehand, are Skype, Ossma, and Cocoa. Everyone should know skype, Ossma is a check in app that confirms your location, and cocoa is an app that notifies you if you have come within a certain distance of someone who has the app on their phone, with the inference being that person has covid. This will also help contact tracing.

I had zero problems and would have gone through quite quickly. However we found that one of the apps we thought Arisa had installed had not been in fact installed. As we worked through it with the staff, we discovered that her iPhone 6 can only be upgraed to ios12 while the app required ios14. It was clear that other entrants to Japan had had this problem because they had another app ready to go in its place. Well, almost. The problem with that app was that it required you have an apple id in Japan, not a US apple id. Therefore we couldn't download and install it. But they did check that notifications were turned on and location tracking was turned on for google maps.

So we were passed through to the next station that checked email associated with skype. Here they make sure that you have skype installed, and could log in, and we discovered Arisa had installed Skype but had not created an account. So we had to create and account and be able to show them the email account associated with the skype account. At the next section they actually skype you to insure that they could call you and get connected. At the end of this we moved to a waiting area until our numbers were called to get our covid test results. Both were negative which was not a surprise because we had a test 72 hour prior.

We were finally cleared to head toward immigration after 60+ minutes.

Narita - Immigration

Remember , the normal no-visa tourist entry is currently denied due to covid. Also we are here for a funeral and there would not have been enough time to actually get a visa in the first place. However, as I mentioned above we had spoken with the Detroit Consulate and had all the necessary documentation. So we went up to the normal immigration counter and Arisa was all checked. Then the say "you don't have a visa?" and we said up. The immigration officer stands up and speaks loudly to her colleagues (I couldn't catch what she actually said though), and they very politely asked us into a separate room where further checks could be made. We presented all the documents the consulate told us to prepare and we simply waited. They came back once to get my signature on someting, then went back to waiting. I'm guessing no more than 30 minutes. The Immigration Officer came back with my passport, newly stamped with a 90 Day visa! We were then escorted out (politely) to where we could pick up our baggage. Our baggage was waiting right there and we were able to exit the building where Elly and her beau, Kai, picked us up to drive us to Elly's apartment in Tokyo.

Efficient but Unnecessary?

Overall the process seemed efficient. But perhaps overkill? So the idea is that during your 14 day quarantine you will use email, skype and the app to check in with any health updates and location to make sure you are staying put. I'll get into how that works, etc., in my next post. We arrived on Saturday and Monday morning we got an email with a link to the app that we couldn't install. I am guessing that if that had been ready things for us would have gone a lot quicker. As it was it took 2 hours to get through the covid quarantine check and immigration. We were just one plane that was mostly empty. I am guessing that when multiple planes arrive and passengers disembark in close succession it will take much longer than 2 hours.

In the end it seems like an overkill process for questionable results. We'll talk next post about all the loopholes in this system. I'm also curious as to the actuall efficacy of the effort. I'm really curious of all the people that tested negative prior to embarking and again on disembarking in Japan, how many people ended up positive during the 14 day quarantine. I'm guessing the number is close to zero. I simply cannot imagine how this much effort for so small of an outcome is worth it, or nobody else sees the problem with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment