W on Japan’s Kafkaesque and faulty re-entry procedures (even after October revisions to “open borders to Re-entry Visa foreign residents”): More elaborate racist barriers now.

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Hi Blog.  What follows below is an eyewitness account (redacted to remove personal identifiers) of a Permanent Resident of Japan, married to a Japanese for decades, who as a European went through re-entry procedures that apply to foreigners only (regardless of visa status) and not Japanese.  The Japanese Government claims they have made things easier for Non-Japanese re-entrants since October 1, but Debito.org Reader W would beg to differ below.

This Kafkaesque account will no doubt resonate with those who are used to Japanese bureaucracy, and doubly so when they see how racism (the belief that having a Japanese passport somehow makes you less contagious) is as usual part of the mix.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

////////////////////////////////

From: W
Subject: My Investigation Story – W (posts on Debito blog)
Date: October 17, 2020 (revised version)
To: Debito Arudou <debito@debito.org>

Dear Debito,

Thank you for follow up on re-entry ban issue. It is very important that someone is trying to do something with this discriminatory measures. Here is my personal investigation. I have had enough with lack of clarification and just assumptions by posters around various news venues.

I spoke with one of the Japanese Embassies in Europe to ask about the procedure. They were very kind and helpful. I would advise everyone to contact them in the country you are staying, not to read the “assumptions” in other media.  I also asked about my Japanese spouse who is always with me in the same country where we spent the last half year. Let me start from her, because her case is short.

Well, my spouse doesn’t need anything even though we would re-enter together from the same country where we lived together. Japanese don’t need to prove negative Covid exposure (through a PCR test) prior to return to Japan. However, I as a foreigner need a) a PCR test, administered in the foreign country 72 hours before departure, and b) a “Confirmation Letter” with “Certificate of Testing for COVID-19” signed and sealed by the lab by the foreign country that conducted this PCR test. ( I sent you screenshot proof).  In spite of the kindness over the phone, I realized that their attitude is that only we foreigners carry viruses after all.

One of my questions was about PCR lab because officially without minor symptoms one cannot be tested in my foreign country.  The Embassy told me the whereabouts of some labs that do test without symptoms, and I was given the names. I was reminded that unlike regular PCR tests, these is not free and I will have to pay for it.

I continued to ask further questions about how it works, because it would be rather impossible to set up everything within 72 hours, including a getting that Confirmation Letter and “PCR Certificate” from the Embassy which takes a couple of days to receive.  That looks like this (PDF):

PCR Certificate for Japan

Also see example from the Japanese Consulate, Boston, USA. https://www.boston.us.emb-japan.go.jp/files/100098498.pdf

I also asked why do I need such letter at all when I already have a re-entry seal? The answer I received was:

The Confirmation Letter is necessary to control inflow of foreign re-entrants, so they can follow up with testing capacity at the airport. If too many of them ask to re-enter then the Government may ask to temporary stop issuing those letters. (This sounds like the option for a re-entry ban again).

Anyway, I continued with questions about timing. And this is where it shows totally different story from what people “assume” on various posts.

Test result time varies by countries. I want to point that I`m against of PCR test if it doesn’t involve everyone regardless of their nationality.

Interestingly, we don’t have to show to Embassy our PCR result in order to receive Confirmation Letter. I was advised to begin process with the letter, which takes couple of days to receive it and then do the test after that. If it comes up negative then I can purchase a ticket. (72 hours before takeoff the ticket price would probably be tripled.)

Anyway, I wanted to be sure, so I asked questions again:

Me Q: Does this mean I don`t have to bring PCR to show you in order to apply and receive Confirmation Letter?

Emb A: No, because you won`t be allowed in without PCR result with only the letter itself. This is why you can apply as soon as you want to.

Me Q: Do I have to come to the Embassy? It takes about an hour drive one way.

Emb A: Yes, we need your Passport and ID. (ONE MUST HAVE VALID RE-ENTRY)

Me Q: Fair enough. Do I have to pick up in person too?

Emb A: Yes, you have to come again to pick it up. (Note: another 2 hours lost from the 72-hour window)

Me Q: What happens when I arrive in Tokyo? I know there is another test and then…?

Emb. A: We don`t have such information, I will give you phone number so you can call to ask in Japan
Me: OK,Thank you.

I received the number, and my spouse called that number next day. I can say that the staff was extremely helpful and explained to us everything. We also called Japanese Immigration too. They also were very helpful.  A lot of hassle, but at least we had very kind people on the other side of the line.

Initially I gave up on returning to Japan for time being. My spouse was crying, because going back alone was not what we always do. We live and travel together. In our long marriage we are never separated. We are a happy couple. I cannot blame my spouse for what the Japanese Government does to separate international families.

Whenever we enter Europe, my spouse always goes with me to almost empty immigration line for EU Citizens, because residency permit holders can do it.  However in Japan at the entry point we are separated.  I`m fingerprinted and photographed as a suspicious resident — and now this extra set of hoops to jump through, because I may be a threat to Japan’s National Security. (The Covid re-entry ban is based on such an assumption.)  I admire Japan and people and always follow the rules, never had any problems and I don’t see myself having any wherever I go. National Security would some kind of real accusation IMO.

Now, back to testing abroad, which differs from the requirements for Japanese people:

I didn’t want to be separated from my spouse, so I decided to go ahead and go through all the hassle.

The PCR test certificate must be filled in on a specific document prepared by MOFA.  You can’t download it.  You have to go to the Embassy and get it.  On their paper. It’s the best if the PCR testing lab fills it in and stamps it. Foreign-issued certificates are not accepted, because they do not specify the exact method that the test has been done. They show COVID-19 Test – NEGATIVE or POSITIVE – and whether the sample was from nose or throat. That’s it.

The European labs I spoke with told me that they send test results within 24 hours, with the certificate either by email, or one must login to the lab portal and download it. I sent them the Japanese template sample and asked if they would fill in the form for me, as this is specific for Japan. They told me NO, because we send all certificates by email. Our certificate has been approved and accepted in many other countries that require all arrivals to bring negative PCR test result (not just foreigners). If I want, I can find another lab.

According to MOFA, the requirements must be specifically followed or one will not be allowed in. Besides, I checked drive-through testing that one can see on the edge of many European cities. I looked from the distance and found that all tests are done from throat swab. But these tests are for people who have Covid symptoms and are referred there by health authorities (free test).  But, again, they won’t test me unless I’m symptomatic.  I’m not.

Japanese PCR test rules from Japan Times (Aug 31, 2020):
====
Only negative results for molecular diagnostic tests conducted via nasopharyngeal swab or saliva samples using the real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction method (RT-PCR), loop-mediated isothermal amplification method (LAMP) or an antigen test using the chemiluminescence enzyme immunoassay (CLEIA) method will be recognized as valid. Such tests need to be conducted within 72 hours prior to departure and documents confirming the procedure need to be filled out entirely in English and need to be signed by a doctor from the medical institution where the test was conducted or have the institution’s stamp. The officials suggest using the certification form for COVID-19 tests, which can be found on the justice ministry’s website.
====

I found a lab which was new in my area and they would help me. After retrieving the Confirmation Letter from the Embassy, I scheduled PCR test 2 weeks later. Meanwhile, I took the risk to lose money by purchasing a plane ticket at the same time as the PCR test without the option to cancel it regardless of the situation. My Travel Insurance confirmed that they would not reimburse me either due to positive PCR test. I took the risk of a negative outcome because if I bought it after a negative PCR test, it would probably cost me triple within that 72-hour window. My spouse was incredibly happy that we will go together. I said to her: Darling, hold on, we need test result first. The same day late evening it arrived. NEGATIVE! Baby, we go together as planned.

It was not the end of story yet.

I received foreign certificate pdf which was signed and stamped by a doctor with blue pen. It was not enough though. Not enough for Japanese requirements. I was lucky that the lab was kind enough and told me to come back next day to give me a printed “negative “certificate they issued, my passport and Japanese printed form. They will do for me what I need.  It just cost me well over 100 Euros.

I went there the next day with pre-filled form with my details only to ask for REAL stamp and doctor’s REAL signature. Now I had everything that I needed to re-enter Japan.

My lab was close enough, but imagine if someone live far away or if they didn’t open new lab closer to me, then I would have to drive 1-2h to do the test in another city and then next day to waste the same time to get “REAL” certificate signed. I can tell you that immigration in Japan did not accept foreign issued document. I pulled it up first to see what happens. Well, I had to give them the form required by MOFA. They took away from me both. What if I didn’t have the Japanese version? Would I be sent back?

At the airport in Japan

Here, everyone of course goes through a lot of paperwork, stamps, signs etc. It should be more digitized to allow more arrivals. Anyway, after they take your foreign PCR test, Japanese Immigration then tests you again via PCR from saliva. One needs to spit 1mm into given small container. (it’s not always as easy as it seems). Then, next step is to go through another round of paperwork and then to a special room where you have an assigned chair with your number received earlier. The PCR result comes within about 30 minutes to 1 hour. Once the result arrives, there is another small round paperwork, with all the documents such as PCR Certificates from abroad, PCR result from airport, 2 documents that everyone had to fill in in the plane plus passport being presented to the Immigration.

Japanese Citizens are free to go after showing a passport and taking a PCR test administered by Japanese Immigration, while foreign residents are stopped for a little bit longer than usual.  I spent about 10 minutes longer because of checking all document, having my photo and fingerprints taken.  Then one must go to another booth where another officer re-confirms again if all these docs are in order, then stamps it, signs it and at the end you are free to enter.

I don’t mind doing this procedure as long as everyone is treated equal regardless of their nationality.  Including Japanese. However, most of the European countries do the Covid test upon arrival. In Germany, for example, if you show negative test from your country you let through without additional tests at the border. (I’m not sure if this is the same for all countries). I do wish that Japan would change their stance towards residents such as at least Spouses of Japanese (first of all when traveling together to/from the same place) and PRs.

The biggest obstacles for some of you might be to return to the lab again to have the Japanese form filled in. Good Luck!

In the end, let me summarize what I went through:

Step 1:
Japanese Embassy – Apply for Confirmation Letter. 1h drive one way (probably not required anymore since Suga became PM).

3 Days later
Japanese Embassy – Pick up confirmation letter. 1h drive one way

Step 2:
PCR test (lucky they opened just recently a lab close to me)

Step 3:
Next day go back to the lab to stamp and sign the Japanese document by a doctor. This is only when test comes back negative.

Step 4 (when all above is done):
Airlines require to fill in (or rather tick boxes) on their own document. This must be done prior to boarding.

Step 5:
Japan now requires another form to be filled in once inside the plane to “catch” early those at high risk who may be infected and may need hospitalization. (This is not a failsafe; anyone can lie on any forms, including these given by airlines.)

Step 6:
Another PCR in Japan at the airport upon arrival. (Other countries, such as Germany, respect certificates issued elsewhere when showed at the border, and next PCR is not necessary then.)

Anyway, I hope this is quite clear what`s happening. I do hope you still fight for changing things. I don’t mind PCR testing in principle, but then test everyone the same, including Japanese, or at least accept foreign certificate sent by email as other countries do.

Sincerely, W

======================
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8 comments on “W on Japan’s Kafkaesque and faulty re-entry procedures (even after October revisions to “open borders to Re-entry Visa foreign residents”): More elaborate racist barriers now.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    I had to stop reading after getting about a quarter of the way through. What a total sh1tshow of a ‘system’.
    It doesn’t surprise me that ‘super advanced future society’ Japan requires everything to be done on paper in person (despite the ability to do everything digitally in other countries) in the midst of a contagious pandemic.

    The people who have made these rules are Japan’s so-called ‘elites’ who are almost all old men who have spent a lifetime in their tiny myopic social and professional bubbles and have no understanding of how the outside world operates nor it’s level of tech-savvy.

    Japan in able to proudly proclaim ‘we are open again for international travel’ without any international outrage at the gap between that statement and reality because there simply isn’t ‘a voice’ for the disenfranchised NJ citizens affected by it.

    Without doubt, the makers of this policy don’t care about its actual impacts on NJ since, well, NJ, who cares? After all, they can still bend all the rules for UK IOC members flying in for photo opportunities…

    In the tiny world of Japan’s ‘elite’ policy makers and bureaucrats I doubt there is any awareness of the contradictions and impracticality of the process they have prescribed, and if it were pointed out to them, they wouldn’t care anyway.

    This is what happens when racism is institutionalized, NJ are disempowered, people opt out of rigged election systems, and a society is a cult that believes in its own superiority to all things foreign that it can’t be made to understand it is still functioning like it is the 1970’s in terms of getting things done.

    TL;DR?
    Same ‘old’ Japan.

    • Having written scripts and speeches for “erai hito”: in English, they just want something that sounds good. It doesnt have to be reality. Spin before New Labour.
      Dovetailing with this, if Japan makes the right “sounds”, other countries will believe them and reciprocate. But Japan never follows through on these international agreements or promises, like Hague Convention etc.,,

      That is why Japanese overseas have it easier than NJs in Japan.

  • realitycheck says:

    And there’s no end in sight.

    The over 65 yrs old population of Japan is now around 28 percent, the younger generations are the most ignorant in Japan’s post WW2 history, Japan is still being run by many with connections to the families that made Japan a fascist state happy to ally with Nazi Germany – a fact missed by just about every under 50 yr old I’ve talked to in Japan apart from my Japanese partner and their family – in the 21st century Japan is not ‘becoming internationalised’ but rather showing a resurgence of the closed country mentality, etc.

    Can it get worse? It sure can. Wait til the Jiminto govt/politicians find a semi-legal way to change the constitution. It won’t be worth it here in any way. As the opposition are just about non-existent apart from the communist and socialist parties which have no influence in practical governmance, there will be no resistance.

    The society that continually refers to how terrible Trump and the USA are at the moment says this without irony. I’m just so relieved that many Japanese everywhere including the media and those I meet in daily life are so aware of the USA. It makes me feel secure for I and my family’s future in Japan that they are so vocal about human rights and racism elsewhere while openly and unashamedly accepting systemic racism and other kinds of discrimination here as some kind of Japanese prerogative.

    My family has a getaway plan with a date. My Japanese in-laws can’t come with us but hopefully in the future they will be able to get retirement visas. They are good people and knowledgeable, deserving much better from this society.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. What a convoluted mess purposely meant to deceive and keep foreigners out. This pandemic is a convenient excuse to enable and empower the LDP Gestapo even further. Immigration policies are nonsense and scattered about multiple GOJ sites not centrally located on one site. It’s like a scavenger hunt finding the right documentation.

    What Reality Check has posted above is spot on and something I have known for quite sometime, but is quickly dismissed or you are told to “Go Home Foreigner” whenever talked about amongst other Japanese or even foreigners that live in Japan for the sake of keeping their employment, their YouTube Channel etc. I know my father-in-law embraces this rhetoric and draconian policies and definitely a topic that he knows about but won’t utter the words but he, like many other Japanese people are quick to point the finger at other nations for racism or discrimination issues. Perhaps they should look in the mirror.

    I live far from a Japanese Consulate in the US so I cannot just conveniently make a trip there, and I definitely would for my family but my wife and I both agree these policies lack any consistency and cannot be trusted so we are waiting patiently and hoping these irrational policies are brought to the attention of many and are changed, although we may not have a choice. We don’t deserve this and my heart goes out to anyone experiencing what we are experiencing.

    For the sake of some anonymity I will not share which Japanese consulate I received this information from in the US, but I can assure it is factual info I have received. All the while my family and I are torn apart due to sweeping incompetency and lack of clear instructions and it is heart wrenching and keeps me up at night as I miss my wife and daughters very much but refuse to succumb to this privacy violation and give hard copies of my passport, copy of my state license and other private documentation to some consulate that I do not trust to save my life especially with the massive inconsistencies on policies and hypocrisy relating to this pandemic and how to treat foreigners, seemingly making rules up as they go along.

    I have said it time and time again that these people cannot be trusted. I’m not glad that this pandemic arrived but I sure am glad that it shed light on the wrongdoings of the Japanese government and hopefully shows the world that their BS politeness and even kindness is extremely superficial and is just a show for tourists and the rest of the world. Hopefully the Olympics do not happen. This country does not deserve the attention or to be a host of the Olympics. Massive plagiarism of Logos, architecture, and the pandemic is definitely signs that this country doesn’t deserve to host the Olympics. I dislike the Olympics anyway because the IOC is corrupt and common citizens never benefit much from hosting the Olympics.

    My wife personally went to an immigration office in the Tokyo Metro area to confirm the immigration procedures for re-entry which were much different instructions than what I received from the Japanese consulate in the US. She had to wait over 4 hours at the immigration bureau office just to receive any kind of response to her inquiries. They also told her that it is best that my Residence Card expires. LOL

    Here is what the Japanese Consulate in the US sent me via email on 10/8/2020:

    Below, please find the instructions to apply for a re-entry certificate to Japan. Please note that you must have
    departed Japan prior to August 31, 2020 to qualify for re-entry at this time.
    https://www.mofa.go.jp/ca/fna/page25e_000334.html
    Please mail the following:
    1) Passport (original and photocopy of first page with name and photo). If you are not a US citizen, proof of
    Immigration status (i.e. original and copy of Green card or work visa)
    2) Residence Card (original and copy of front and back)
    3) Departure Stamp (original and copy)
    4) Disembarkation Card (original and copy of front and back)
    5) Re-entry permit, if applicable (original and copy)
    6) Proof of residence (i.e. copy of driver license or utility bill)
    7) Application form (In link above. Please sign in PEN, no digital signatures)
    8) Release of Liability form
    9) Return envelope (We will ONLY accept USPS envelopes. Please make sure to write your address with postage
    PAID)
    You will be required a PCR test within 72 hours of your departure. Please make sure you know when and where
    you will get the test and when you will get the results. You are not required to send a flight itinerary, however, you
    will need to write your flight information on the application form. If you change your flight, you are required to
    contact us immediately and you may need to re-apply for a certificate so please apply once your travel plans are
    confirmed.

    Processing Time will be 4-8 business days.
    Please mail all the above documents to:

    • @Chris,
      I’m shocked with the requirements you were asked to submit. I have no words. My mouth opened so wide as never before while reading it. It wasn’t so bad on my side. The difference is that I went to the Embassy in person. A Japanese lady there was friendly and only confirmed with me my re-entry seal and we both looked at my passport to find last stamp when I left Japan. Then, she asked me to wait a moment while she went somewhere with my passport and resident card. Upon return she brought good news saying that everything is fine and I’m eligible for re-entry.
      After that I passed to her an application which I downloaded, printed out and filled in at home.

      I feel sorry for you and sadness that such situation divided your family for such long time. Keep strong Chris.
      I do believe that you will meet them soon.
      By the way, cannot they come to you? Japanese citizens are free to go wherever they wish, unless US have some requirements too.

      Cheers

      • @W Thank you for your sincere reply and sorry that it took some time for me to respond.

        The first time I called the consulate I was able to get through to what I assume was the visa section of the consulate, the man on the phone spoke fluent English and answered my questions clearly and sent an email to me immediately with what I wrote above on how to get a Letter of Confirmation.

        Then I called again on later dates for clarification purposes on the instructions that was sent to me via email because a lot of the documentation required was unnecessary in my opinion. The receptionist would transfer my call to the visa section apparently, but would rudely never announce where she was transferring me to and had typical zero personality or professionalism over the phone. Again, receptionist would never tell me who I was being transferred to, but nobody would pickup the phone in the supposed visa section of the consulate.

        After calling several times over the course of a few days I became more assertive and finally was put through to someone. Mind you, I shouldn’t need a visa since I have a valid spouse residence card. The person I finally was able to get a hold of spoke very broken English and I could hardly understand the woman over the phone and was told that I would need to make a reservation on some external site in order to make an appointment in person because it could not be done via the consulate site but only on some external suspicious site. By the way I have malware software that flags potential suspicious sites and all the Japan consulates in the US are flagged as potential security issues.

        I am glad you have had a better experience than I have, but still seems like you had a lot of obstacles in your way. Thank god you had your spouse with you. I am sure that was comforting I really do appreciate your kind words and I will definitely keep my head up. I will hold out for a while, but it may mean that I may not return to Japan and that I am supposed to stay here in the US. Only time will tell. I don’t want to give up hope. To answer your question, my wife is unable to leave Japan as she is a career woman and doesn’t just want to leave her family and secure job nor can she take a vacation at this time.

        In the meantime, I’ll heed to your encouraging words and the support I get on Debito’s site. Debito is truly an amazing person with very informative info on discrimination and social issues within Japan. This site along with the many years I have lived in Japan opened my eyes to the discrimination foreigners face daily. It justified what I feeling about the discrimination I had felt for a long time living in Japan, but was quickly being dismissed by foreigner Japan apologists and so called Japanese friends.

        My hope is that Japanese become more aware and educated on the issues of discrimination towards all foreigners in Japan not just what is going on in mainstream media. I wish other Asian foreigners and foreigners in general residing in Japan would come together in Japan. I mention Asian foreigners since the make up the vast majority of the foreigner population in Japan. Often I see Asian foreigners and other foreigners be discriminative towards each other instead of working together. I don’t want to be that constant foreigner complainer but I don’t think it is too much to ask not to be stared at like I am a freak show out whenever I am out in public (I live in a major metro area not the countryside) with my family and to seek improvement and reform on other very important social justice issues.

        • Thank you for such detailed update. Yes, I had more positive help on Japanese side. I think it depends on the country. Sometimes people working in Embassies, not just Japanese any Embassy feel superior to other. Even local staff can be rude and unhelpful as they feel the same superior way. I was lucky about it.
          Let’s have some hope that things will change for better, at least something. The point is we don’t know when. I would like to add that even if there was lock-down in Europe, my spouse would still be able to enter without any problems.
          Keep strong Chris. At the end you will meet your loving family. Believe me.

    • -“their YouTube Channel”. It is really pathetic and puerile now what meagre benefits there are, if any, for the NJ in Japan. really scraping the barrel. But I think its been like that for a while; Japan isnt for you to make real money, its for you to put money into, in return for some nice sushi, onsen, J-experience etc before you go home to Gaikoku.

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