The Day Japan Reopened – A Video Essay of my Tokyo Visit
On October 11th, 2022, Japan once again allowed visa-free travel for tourism purpose from foreigners of eligible countries. While this is not a complete roll-back to pre-pandemic policies (for example, you need 3 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in order to avoid quarantine, and you still need to fill out a health questionnaire), it is nonetheless considered the day Japan fully reopened to tourists, ending one of the strictest border-control measures in the world during the COVID-19 era.
And as it so happened, I was transiting through Tokyo Haneda on that very day, so I decided to enter Japan (the first time ever!) if even for only a few short hours. Here is a video essay of my experience in Tokyo. But first, I will quickly document my arrival and immigration encounter to those who are curious what it was like to enter Japan in the post-COVID era.
Arrival Experience and Clearing Immigration in Japan
On an ANA flight from Singapore, immigration and customs declaration forms were passed out, which I filled, but the surprise came with 10 minutes before landing when an announcement was made about preparing blue screen… I had no idea what it was for, and asked a flight attendant about it. Later on I would find out it is for a fast track registration with MySOS app. This was my mistake as I did not fully do my research on all the aspects of protocols for entering Japan.
My flight landed at around 6am, or exactly 6 hours since Japan reopened! Once the plane was at the gate, there were a few minutes delay while the crew awaited instructions from a quarantine officer, whom directed people intending on entering Japan to deplane first.
As soon as I deplaned, I noticed multiple staff carrying signs directing people entering Japan to go left, and those transiting to go right. This is when I took the opportunity to ask one of the staff about the blue screen. The staff actually thought I would not be able to enter Japan, and I had to inform her Japan changed entry policies as of midnight. She quickly pulled out her iPad to access an internal portal and confirmed that I would indeed be allowed to enter Japan.
She then directed me to download the MySOS app, which I installed (airport Wifi was sufficiently fast in this case) and began to fill out, but it failed at the point where I submitted a photograph of my passport. At that point she told me to move on to the next area where I could get additional help.
Once I got to the next area, another lady with a sign with a QR code told me to scan it and fill out the questionnaire instead of using the MySOS app. So I did that, but was soon waved to move forward to the next station about 20 yards ahead despite not having filled out the form completely. At that point I felt I was being hastily herded through areas like cattle, and I was actually stressed that I would end up getting quarantined.
I should mention that while the staff are very nice and most did speak English on some level, many only spoke Japanese and will just smile and nod at you to get you to move along.
As I entered the area where a staff assisted you in completing the questionnaire, and it turned out to be a lot simpler than the MySOS app, and it was actually fillable on the mobile app without issues. It is a basic passport / residency information collection with a health declaration. One problem I ran into was the form asked for my address while in Japan – which I did not have as I only intended to spend a few hours in Tokyo before heading back to the airport. The lady asked another staff, who gave me a special address to enter (Best I can tell, it is NOT the address of the airport).
Finally, I got my QR code, but it was not color-coded, so all I could do at this point was move yet again to the next area, where there are staff scanning the QR code that I got, and asked for my proof of vaccination. It was only verified visually – they did not scan the QR code on my proof of vaccination.
After that – I was given a green piece of paper which I would take with me to the immigration area. This is where I spent the next 30 to 45 minutes in line to be processed by an immigration official. The line was long – I estimated about 250 to 300 people in a snake-formation line in front of me. And by the time I got to the front of the line, I could no longer see the end of it.
I cleared immigration and customs in a matter of minutes, and it went mostly uneventful. The only thing was I did not put down an address for my stay in Tokyo as I was going to be in town for a few hours, and it was apparent that it has been a while since any the immigration and customs officials had encountered anyone who only wanted to enter Japan for a few short hours!
The video essay begins here, with me exiting the baggage claim area.
Arriving at Haneda Airport
Navigating the Train System in Tokyo
After a nice staff at the airport helped me exchange some money for coins so I could store my carryon bag at one of the lockers at Haneda airport, it was time to head into Tokyo! I decided to see the famous Shibuya Crossing, which meant I need to navigate the train system to Shibuya Station. As someone who had never visited Tokyo before, it was at least a little stressful trying to figure out which trains to take from which platforms. The fact that Google Maps were inaccurate at times, plus no one really spoke any English, did not help.
It was around 9am when I got there, and there weren’t too many pedestrians on the road. So I did the crossing myself a couple times, and then walked a bit around the area, before finally settling into the 2nd floor of Starbucks, and took a few timelapse videos.
From the Shibuya Crossing, it was probably a good 20 minute walk to the famous Takeshita Street. It was a very enjoyable walk.
20 minutes later, I was there!
After checking out Takeshita Street, I walked a couple minutes over to Menji Shrine (Meiji Jingu). It is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. It is essentially a large forest next to Yoyogi Park.
Heading Back to Haneda Airport
And that concluded my first tour of Tokyo. It was time to head back to Haneda Airport, and the Harajuku JR Station was right next to the Meiji Shrine. It was a little easier to navigate the train system and transfers the second time around.
Once back at Haneda, I headed up to the Observation Deck, where there were quite a few plane spotters gathered around that day, before clearing immigration and security.
The trip into the city was short but awesome. And after a quick visit to the ANA lounge, I flew out of Haneda, thus concluding a very exciting 9-hour layover in Tokyo!