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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.
Subject: My Investigation Story – W (posts on Debito blog)
Date: October 17, 2020 (revised version)
To: Debito Arudou <email@example.com>
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):
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:
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
PCR test (lucky they opened just recently a lab close to me)
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.
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.)
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.
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