It’s 5:09 AM and I have been up for 3 hours in a tiny business hotel (APA) next to the Sumo Exhibition Hall (Ryogoku Kokugikan) in Tokyo. Here is a quick timeline on how I got here.
A 30-minute check-in after a 45-minute bus ride from Haneda, after 4 hours of paperwork, spit tests, waiting, immigration, and baggage. All were observed carefully by at least 200 employees, mostly young women, and through about 20 stops, or stations to cover six steps for the entry process. Because I was visiting Colorado, I won a 3-day paid holiday at this hotel with a daily spit test, and 3 box lunches a day.
All this was preceded by a 10-hour Delta flight (ironic, the name) with about 20 people on board. Before that, a 3-hour layover in Seattle with a little northwest clam chowder. My 3-hour flight to Seattle from Denver started with an hour Uber ride from my brother’s house at 4 AM. So all that totals to close to a full 24-hour sojourn. All masked, and continually enforced, especially in the airplane, even though all the passengers had negative covid tests.
I just ordered some snacks from Amazon because my stomach is not on the box lunch schedule. They should arrive later today, and will be checked before being delivered to me. No alcohol, no tobacco, no pizza, or fried chicken lest I have some fun or set the room on fire (how do you do that with pizza? The grease?)
The blizzard of paperwork started before my trip (July 23) after I had finished my vaccination here in Japan. Regardless, the US required a Covid test, which meant $250 and two trips to a clinic. Arrival in the US was pretty much the same as pre-covid (again with only about 20 people in the flight on the first day of the Olympics), with a cursory glance at the test at immigration.
Preparing for the return, I found a nice family clinic with travel covid tests. It seems these tests are free for most people, but I had to get the official test results on a paper form from some Ministry here in Japan, so it cost me $50. I made a new friend, the doctor, a Russian Japanophile, who went the extra mile to do all the checkmarks and signatures and stamps the document required. She may visit when Japan opens up. She may reconsider after reading this post.
Timing is very important on these tests. The results have to be within 72 hours of your flight. Beware of weekends, if you have to return. Some send you pdfs by email to hasten the process, and generic reports are OK for US entrance, and I think Japan would accept a generic test. I had time, so did the fill Ministry-approved form, which was checked carefully by at least 3 of the stations at Haneda.
Boarding in Seattle, I was given a 10-page handout with instructions, but no link to an electronic version. I filled out 4 forms there, and prepared to deplane. This became a bureaucrat’s wet dream. Every form had to be re-entered electronically, at different stations. At one point I got another 20-page handout that the bored staff tried to get me though, even though half the time there was no time to actually read the stuff. About halfway through, I got a green card to put on my wrist when they learned I had been in Colorado. Some states are like that. A woman I had recommended the clam chowder to was from Japan and she suffered the same 3-day incarceration, as did another woman from Kansas. The list of locations seems to be getting longer as I had not noted Kansas, but did note that neither Alabama or Florida were on it when I checked about 10 days ago.
I did a spit test and waited for the results, called to the podium by announcement. I wondered whether they chose the staff by because her numbers, in both Japanese and English, were practically unintelligible. As we proceeded through the process, the trend was away from bilingual announcements to Japanese only. I guess they figured were all either natives or long-term transplants here.
I was instructed to download 2 apps to my phone. You must have a phone and it has to be in working order. The apps check your location when they call at random times during the day (and night?). The other app allows them to see your face to make sure it is you. The guy wanted to download and set up the apps for me, but when he reached for my phone, I resisted. He walked me through the process with an eagle eye and jabbing fingers. Reading the terms and conditions was out of the question. The next lady checked to see if everything was working with test messages.
This will last 14 days.
After my 3 days at the hotel, I will return to Haneda, where my daughter will pick me up in our car. Some people rent cars or get very expensive limousine services. No public transport allowed, not even taxies. Then 11 more days at home with the electronic ball and chain.
Your vaccination status is never considered or brought up. It is irrelevant. I’ve read about some kind of vaccine passport, but nobody had one in our group.