- Immigration and quarantine after my return to Japan
The information I got online about reentry and quarantine was complicated, and the way things were being handled was changing day by day.
It was terribly unsettling for me not knowing what was really going on in the days leading up to my return.
In this article, I hope to share a bit of what I learned for those who may be thinking of returning home to Japan as well.
(Please note that this information is limited to what I personally experienced, so please take it for what it’s worth. This is also a text-only post, since photography was prohibited during my travels.)
Before heading back, I did everything I could to study information being put out by the government and online articles from people who had already gone home to Japan.
I also asked someone I knew who had already gone back to tell me about their experiences.
Still, my experience was completely different, leading me to conclude that what actually happens when you try to reenter the country varies greatly depending on the airport you arrive at and even the flight you come in on.
In my case, I went through immigration inspection at Narita Airport, having passed through Detroit and Chicago. My house is in the Kansai area, but I was told that I couldn’t take a domestic flight until I quarantined for two weeks.
There was strict social distancing between passengers on the plane, and I was allowed to take three seats’ worth of space for myself—which I was grateful for.
Not surprisingly, it seemed like there were very few people on the plane.
The crew all wore masks and wore gloves when providing onboard services.
They handed out several documents including declarations and questionnaires, which had to be filled out before we arrived. We had to indicate where we would quarantine for two weeks, how we would get there, and even sign a kind of written oath.
The flight to Japan took about thirteen hours, but we still couldn’t deplane for some time after arriving. I’m guessing it was because there were post-flight inspections and all kinds of preparations for dealing with the disembarking passengers.
Apparently there were people earlier who had to wait for hours on the plane, but in my case it was luckily only about thirty minutes.
Once we deboarded, our crew gathered us together and gave us the following information.
They once again gave us strict orders: we were not allowed to use public transportation, we had to quarantine for two weeks, and so on.
We then lined up to have the quarantine officers check our documents, starting with those traveling with children and those who had their own means of returning home.
They went through everything with a fine-toothed comb: the address and phone number of our destination, how we would get to the place where we would be quarantined, and so on.
Then it was time for the PCR inspection.
We had to provide a saliva sample (anonymously), which apparently was for research purposes.
They said it was voluntary, but there was no way to get past them, so almost everybody complied. We had to provide quite a bit of saliva, which was really unpleasant.
We then lined up again, staying socially distant all the while.
At this point it had already been two hours since we arrived, which was really tough on me physically after the long flight.
I felt especially sorry for the people who had small children with them, though there was really no way around it.
Next, they checked our documents again.
At this point, they only allowed those who would quarantine in their own home and were able to travel without using public transportation to move on to immigration inspection.
Those of us who were staying in hotels couldn’t go anywhere until our inspection results came through. I was relieved to hear that they would take us to a government-designated hotel to stay the night if the results wouldn’t be available until the next day, but I was told to wait on a bench in the airport.
It was after six in the evening when they told me this, and I was so exhausted that I could barely stand up.
When I asked the quarantine officer how long I’d have to wait, he said it would be the following morning at the earliest. Some people had set up a place to stay for the day we arrived, and many of those around me had to cancel their reservations.
It was awful having to wait on a bench after the long flight, and though I had steeled myself for the ordeal, truth be told it was still terribly hard on me.
The place we were had only restrooms and vending machines, so they handed out bento boxes and tea around seven.
Based on my experiences, I strongly recommend you bring the following two with you:
Although it’s overpriced in the airport, I strongly encourage you to buy more water than you think you’ll need before getting on the plane. Even after you deboard, it will be a while before you are able to buy any again.
Also, the vending machines luckily took credit cards, but if you can, it would be better to have some Japanese yen with you as well.
Blanket and neck pillow
Bring these in your carryon luggage, as you may have to spend the night on a bench and there aren’t enough blankets for everyone on the plane.
I wasn’t able to borrow one, so I froze trying to sleep in the air-conditioned space.
I lay down on the bench, hoping to at least close my eyes for a moment, but there was no way I could sleep. In the meantime, an announcement came on around ten-thirty that night.
The inspection results were in. I was surprised at how quickly they came. My results were negative.
Sometime after eleven, we were finally able to go through immigration inspection, after which I picked up my checked luggage and headed towards the exit.
It was one in the morning by the time I reached my hastily-reserved accommodations.
The day after I arrived, I began my fourteen days of quarantine. I had rented an apartment near the airport.
People keep asking me whether I had to pay for the accommodations during quarantine, and the answer is yes—all of it.
During the two weeks I was quarantined, there were many things I felt grateful for, including kindness of friends and the warmth of other people. I was amazed at how many people were out there who were kind to others.
The first week, I couldn’t seem to get enough rest—maybe because of the jet lag. Quarantining in an unfamiliar place was lonelier than I expected. The people who reached out to me during that time really saved me.
By the second week I had managed to regain my positivity, taking online courses, try Uber Eats, and start enjoying my own company. I strongly recommend that you come up with an extensive plan for how to spend your time during these precious two weeks.
It seems like a long time, but it ended up going by in a flash.
It’s unlikely I’ll ever get an opportunity like that again. Looking back again now, I realize how truly precious an experience it was.
I’m also incredibly grateful to the crewmembers who treated us with such kindness, the quarantine officers, and the staff working late into the night at the airports—all of them risking infection themselves. I also regret having burdened them with my decision to return to home to Japan.
Everyone has their own attitude towards traveling back under these conditions, and I heard plenty opinions myself.
I really struggled with my decision as I thought it through from every angle.
Everybody has their own unique situation, and their decisions are ultimately a personal choice, and their own responsibility.
I imagine that the immigration restrictions and quarantines will continue from some time, and I hope that everyone who decides to come home has a safe journey and stays healthy.
I pray that these difficult circumstances lift soon and days come when people begin smiling again.