Booked: A long overdue trip to Japan

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Japan lifts its remaining tourism restrictions on 11 October, which means open season on flights and hotels. Here's my plan.

Yesterday came the long-awaited news that after more than 30 months of isolation, Japan would finally be reopening to tourists from 11 October 2022.

Pedants will argue that tourists could already visit Japan in June, but I’m talking about a proper reopening- none of this mandatory visa and supervised tour group nonsense. I want things the way they were before the pandemic, when one could freely wander the streets without having to give a full accounting of their whereabouts, or cough in public without facing the Spanish Inquisition- which, for the record, no one expects. 

While COVID-19 has been a visceral reminder that the affection foreigners have for Japan is mostly a one-way street, my teenage years have made me nothing if not comfortable with the concept of unrequited love (take that, Debbie from drama club!). 

And so, within minutes of the news breaking, I pulled the trigger on an October trip to Japan.

Planning a post-pandemic Japan trip

Shibuya Crossing

Technically speaking, I’ve actually visited Japan during the pandemic. When I flew to Los Angeles in March en route to the Indian Wells Masters, SQ11 had a layover in Tokyo-Narita Airport. 

It was of course a ghost town, with entire sections of the terminal dimmed, restaurants closed, and only a skeleton crew keeping things running. I spent most of the time at the ANA Suite Lounge, which was my first taste of genuine Japanese food in two years (or at least as genuine as lounge food can get).

Review: ANA Suite Lounge Tokyo Narita Airport

The layover in Japan was only 90 minutes, but this time round I hope to spend a little longer. I’ve booked a 4D3N trip arriving on 23rd October- while it would have been fun to be among the inaugural wave on the 11th, I’ll be away in New York until the 22nd.

As for which part of Japan, I figured Tokyo would be a good starting point to get reacquainted. There’s just so many places I want to visit again, like Manten Sushi, Sushi Tsubaki, Ukai-tei, Matsurokuya, and Ichiran (cry all you want, ramen hipsters, but that’s good enough for me). Frankly, I have no idea how many of them still exist, but I’d even be happy with a good old fashioned 7-Eleven onigiri or a visit to Yoshinoya (try one in Japan, and you’ll never eat at the overseas locations again).

I’ll be sure to do a proper trip planning post next month, but here’s a broad outline of how I’m tackling the pre-departure logistics, as well as flights and hotels.

Pre-departure logistics

Visas

Japan will restore its pre-COVID visa waiver arrangements from 11 October, which means that Singaporeans no longer need to apply for one. 

A full list of visa-exempt countries can be found here.

Testing

Japan does not require pre-departure or on-arrival testing for fully vaccinated Singaporeans

Japan has already scrapped the requirement for a pre-departure COVID-19 test for all fully vaccinated travellers. As a reminder, Japan defines “fully vaccinated” as individuals who have received at least three doses of the following vaccines:

  • AstraZeneca
  • Bharat Biotech
  • Janssen (only two doses required)
  • Moderna
  • Novavax
  • Pfizer-BioNTech

Any combination of the above is acceptable as well. 

Do note that Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccinations are not recognised. Travellers who have received such vaccinations are still required to produce a negative pre-departure PCR test result, taken within 72 hours of departure. The cost of a PCR test in Singapore starts from S$50.

Unvaccinated children under the age of 18 who travel with vaccinated parents/guardians will be treated as fully vaccinated (refer to the bottom of page 17 for the source). 

On-arrival testing depends on an individual’s travel history. Singapore is currently classified as a Blue List country, which does not require on-arrival testing or quarantine, regardless of vaccination status.

Visitors from Yellow or Red List countries may be required to take on-arrival tests or quarantine, depending on their vaccination status. However, since the Red List is currently empty, a fully-vaccinated traveller is basically free from all pre-departure and on-arrival tests.

CategoryVax?Test?*Quarantine
BlueYesPDT: N/A
OAT: N/A
N/A
NoPDT: PCR
OAT: N/A
N/A
YellowYesPDT: N/A
OAT: N/A
N/A
NoPDT: PCR
OAT: PCR
3 days (home)
RedYesPDT: N/A
OAT:
PCR
3 days (home)
NoPDT: PCR
OAT: PCR
3 days (facility)
*PDT= Pre-departure test, OAT= On-arrival test

If your 14-day travel history cuts across various categories, the restrictions of the strictest one will apply. You can view the full list of countries by category here.

Flights

To Japan

Want to redeem miles to Japan? Well, so does everyone else. 

If you’re hoping to travel in 2022, it’s almost impossible to find Business or First Class award space on Singapore Airlines. Even if you expand your horizons beyond Tokyo, the best I could find was Business Advantage waitlists to Osaka and Nagoya. 

If it’s any consolation, I’m seeing decent Economy Saver space to Narita and Haneda for the rest of the year, even during the December peak period. I know the conventional wisdom says it’s a bad idea to redeem miles for Economy Class, but with revenue fares set to skyrocket, this may prove the exception to the rule. 

However, Economy Saver space is only available to PPS/Solitaire PPS Club members. I ran another search with The MileLioness’ account (regular KrisFlyer member), and all I see are Economy Advantage awards. 

But not all is lost. If you have miles with Alaska Mileage Plan, Asia Miles, British Airways or any other oneworld programme, it’s still possible to book Japan Airlines Business Class awards from Singapore to various cities in Japan for the rest of 2022.

For example, I can find many dates in November 2022 with at least two Business Class awards to Osaka.

Even in December, there’s still some hope for visiting the ski slopes of Hokkaido!

Do note that if you search for flights between Singapore and Tokyo Haneda or Narita, you won’t find anything. That’s because Japan Airlines is practicing married segment logic, whereby an itinerary like SIN-HND-ITM would be possible, but not SIN-HND. 

If you wish to visit Tokyo, it is possible to skip the last leg of your trip (even if you check a bag, the SOP for international arrivals is to claim your bag on landing, clear customs, then recheck it at the domestic terminal, so there’s no risk of it going to the final destination without you). Before you do so, I’d encourage you to read about some of the potential pitfalls of so-called “throwaway ticketing”, and decide if you’re OK with the risks. 

Sadly, I wasn’t able to find any Japan Airlines Business Class award space for October, so I’ve gone ahead and booked an Economy Class award on Singapore Airlines for 27,000 miles + S$52.30. 

Here’s a reminder of how much award flights between Singapore and Japan will cost with KrisFlyer, Alaska Mileage Plan and Asia Miles.

One-Way PricesSaver (SQ)Advantage (SQ)
Economy27,00045,000
Premium Economy37,500N/A
Business52,00070,000
First77,000120,000
One-Way Prices(JL)(JL)
Economy15,00027,000
Business25,00061,000

From Japan

ZIPAIR is unlike any low cost carrier you’ve seen | Photo: ZIPAIR

For the flight back from Tokyo, I managed to snag a very good value fare with ZIPAIR, the only airline that will sell you menstrual panties as an add-on (I’m not even kidding). A one-way Zip Full Flat ticket cost 78,660 JPY (S$786), and as the name suggests, comes with a full flat bed. 

The reverse herringbone configuration is cosmetically similar to many full service airlines, so much so that if I showed you the photo below, most people would struggle to tell that it came from a budget carrier. 

ZIPAIR B787-8 Business Class | Photo: ZIPAIR
ZIPAIR B787-8 Business Class | Photo: ZIPAIR

While ZIPAIR does not have personal inflight entertainment screens, passengers receive complimentary streaming and Wi-Fi (in all cabins). 

The main drawback is that ZIPAIR’s flights aren’t daily at the moment. Here’s the current schedule for October; ZIPAIR has yet to publish schedules from November onwards. 

FlightsDays
ZG54
SMTWTFS
SIN 2300

NRT 0710 (+1)
    
ZG53
SMTWTFS
NRT 1510

SIN 2130
    

Hotels

Mandarin Oriental Tokyo

I’m no expert on Tokyo hotels, but something tells me it might be wiser to book sooner rather than later. 

In case you were wondering, hotels in Japan aren’t offering fire sale prices at the moment- despite the lack of foreign visitors, the domestic tourism industry has been doing a roaring trade.

I did a search for October with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy, and found that prices are in that annoying range where they’re not high enough to justify burning points, yet not low enough that you don’t feel the pinch while paying cash. 

Conrad Tokyo

In the end, I figured it might be better to book a luxury agent rate via HoteLux, since quite a few hotels are offering Stay 3 Pay 2 rates. On the shortlist are:

  • Conrad Tokyo
  • Four Seasons Hotel Marunouchi 
  • The Peninsula Tokyo
  • The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho
  • The Tokyo EDITION, Toranomon 

All bookings will enjoy standard HoteLux benefits such as a room upgrade, daily breakfast, a US$100 hotel credit and early check-in/late check-out. 

I’m leaning towards the Tokyo EDITION, since it’s a brand new property that opened in October 2020 and therefore has higher review potential than the visited-to-death Conrad or Peninsula Tokyo.

If you have any feedback on these hotels, do let me know!

Conclusion

Japan will scrap its remaining tourism restrictions on 11 October, which returns travel to pre-COVID conditions provided you’re fully vaccinated with a recognised vaccine. 

I’ll be heading over towards the end of October to check the situation out. Expect a fully fleshed-out trip planning post in the next few weeks, and good luck with the award hunt!

How’s your Japan planning coming along?

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Jimmy

Looking forward to your post sharing your first hand experience for the trip especially on the immigration flow.

Edm

Just wondering, do you do most trips alone or with the wife?

Anon

Please focus on the on arrival procedures! That is the important one. Japan was fast enough pre-covid. So I want to see if this is the same haha

Anon

Since there will be 3 jabs required, I think that one is the important one. like how, when, where, etc will the checks be done.

Wee Lin

Nobody checked anything at Changi. Do however get the pre-clearance/fast track done in the MySOS app which includes uploading the notarise pdf. Else you’ll be queuing to do it at the NRT.

Last edited 14 days ago by Wee Lin
Anon

When I flew scoot to JKT recently, they did check at Changi.

James

Would be really interesting to hear what the mask situation is like as well once things open up. Due to the culture Japan is probably the only country I would not feel comfortable going around unmasked, even though legal, unless at least a reasonable number of locals were as well. So I am personally holding off until I see some first hand reports that going unmasked is socially acceptable again.

Phister

Why would you be affected by what you think the Japanese think about you James. Odds are they would just bottle it in with their shoganai mentality!

Actually Living in Japan

Gross. Stay the f out if you’re not going to mind your manners because Japanese tatemae. Foreign residents respect masking. So should you.

Phister

Haha. All the more reason for me to go over there and punch your hikikomori face in.

Josh

Lmao typical sinkie keyboard warrior. Probably bullied in school

Actually Living in Japan

If you don’t want to wear a mask, don’t come to Japan. A mask won’t hurt you, but if you don’t wear one, you can infect the population here and no one wants that (except for tourists, apparently!)

Weigh whether living “free” and unmasked is more important to you than a trip to Japan. I sure hope it is because if you’re not intending to wear the mask, we don’t want you here.

Wee Lin

Same observations in regards to economy saver availability on my flight last week. I booked it and it disappeared right after.

Actual cabin utilization: 15%

Not sure what’s the policy at the moment but it doesn’t seem very customer friendly.

Charizard

Hi there, do you think its safe enough to book non refundable flights already now (as I found really great prices), without waiting for the news to be absolutely official (on their own governmental websites and such)? It’s on every news outlet so feels quite secure but still a bit scary to pay so much money for something that is not 100% confirmed yet. But would love to hear some opinions 🙂 Thanks!

Charizard

Thanks Aaron! Do you also feel a bit stressed about it or are you pretty confident that it will be confirmed as stated in the article? Just gaging the feelings of others, as not sure how to feel about this myself yet :p

Daniel

The announcement was made by the PM.

Charizard

Indeed, so eventhough it is not on their official websites and such it is as good as fully confirmed in your view? 🙂 Would have been nice to see it written somewhere officially but I guess that will take a week or so at least…

Phister

Walan eh. So scared then stay in Singapore lah.

Vanessa

Haha my thoughts too when I was reading this comment thread.

mokhc

i did a search using BA Avios and while i can find business availability, the avios quoted for the JAL flight was priced at 74k rather than 25k one way. Did I do something wrongly?

Straits

25k is Alaska mileage plan not avios

Last edited 14 days ago by Straits
Novi

Booked for April 2023! Cant wait to read your trip reports!

melissa

I tried to look for business class flights to Japan on the krisflyer website and it seems to be waitlisted all the way till september 2023. Does this mean there’s almost no chance of getting a business class flight till after september? I’m quite new to this so just wondering.

Anon

I found some non waitlisted on Business Advantage at a bad time. there still are. whether you want it or not is not their problem

Kew

Hi Aaron, how did you only needed to pay $50+? My ticket redemption required $300+ of taxes and fuel surcharges per way…

Kew

Yes with ANA, at lower miles required. oh SIA no such charges? Oh wells….

Kew

Yeap you are right… I redeemed ANA.

CH Lim

Kimochi!

Jeff

Hey all!!
Been able to go to Japan during all this madness (appx 3mo total) and I HIGHLY recommend staying in Yokohama. More central Japan. Near Tokyo, Fuji & closer to the southern half. Stay at the Sheraton Bay Hotel (very nice). All the train lines are here and there is PLENTY to experience & see. 69th floor Landmark Tower, Red Brick is reopening, Osanbashi Pier, etc….I have TONS of info & POCs.

Jeff

Forgot to mention…load and use the MySOS App & other than walking 14 miles (joking but long) through Henada Airport (my choice) everything was very smooth and organized.

JDsss

While checking the Alaskan Miles ticket availability, I realised that the return leg from CTS has a full day layover at HND. Anyone knows whether we need to re-check our luggages when it’s a domestic to international transfer? Wondering if it’s possible to exit the airport with the check-in luggages or only possible with our carry ons…

Alian

Hi Aaron do advise if we still need to use the MySOS app. Your other article on HK/TW/JP mentioned this and it seems like this is where you input your vaccination details before taking your flight. Not sure if you tried it

I just tried it an the form is soooo technical not user friendly but most jap interfaces aren’t either. Very compartmented input fields.

Last edited 12 days ago by Alian
Alian

FYI. I did my registration last night and in the morning was approved. MySOS app puts me on blue status. So this is definitely ThaiPass Not 🙂

For your info n data point on approval

Actually Living in Japan

Eww. “Cough in public?!”
Please stay out of Japan if your intention is to be pre-pandemic. Foreign residents here have it hard enough without tourists who care for no one but themselves.

Do us a favour and stay out. We don’t need more weeaboos!

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