As Kyodo News and other news outlets noted this afternoon, Japan has launched its “vaccine passport” program for travel from and back to Japan (apparently modeled on the similar EU program). The signup sites became operational as of midnight last night (when the date switched over to July 26 JST).


For the most part, tourists including cycle-tourists are still not allowed to enter the country. So this may not be of direct relevance to KANcycling’s foreign-based readers. However, since Japan-based readers might be interested, and since at this point there is no detailed information in English about the specifics of the program, we decided to provide an overview, using Kobe’s version of the program as an example.


GENERAL INFORMATION


The Japan Times has an explainer here with general information about the process. However, note that some of this information may not be applicable in all cases. For example, the article states that applications can be submitted in person, but this is not the case in Kobe.


Five things should be made clear right at the start:


(1) As noted above, these vaccine passports will be exclusively for travel FROM and BACK TO Japan, not for people trying to come to Japan and return to their countries. Perhaps for that reason, there is no English option for the registration process; it must be done entirely in Japanese.


(2) This is being handled on the individual municipality level, so each local government will decide the process and requirements, and the rules and procedures will differ depending on the municipality.


(3) Initially the passports will be exclusively PAPER (hard copies). Electronic vaccine passports might become available later.


(4) At this writing, seven countries have announced that they will honor Japanese vaccine passports: Italy, Austria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Poland, South Korea and Estonia.


(5) It’s not clear what advantages the vaccine passport will provide to returning Japan-based travelers. Presumably they would not need to get a PCR test before returning to Japan. However (and this is important), travelers will STILL be expected to stay close to home for two weeks after returning (in practice, that apparently means going out only to buy food and medicine). Presumably this would also include the ban on taking public transport during that period. And, if that’s true, you need to keep that in mind when buying airline tickets. For example, you wouldn’t be able to take a flight from an overseas country back to Osaka that has a stopover or plane change in Tokyo, since you’d be banned from changing to a domestic Tokyo => Osaka flight until you’d spent two weeks in Tokyo (!).


Also, the Delta variant has complicated things; apparently the official policy is that returnees from some countries or regions will be required to spend three or in some cases 10 days in a government-designated facility before being released (and they would still need to stay close to home for two weeks after that). JAL told us that this is apparently not a requirement for returning from, say, Hawaii, and the document noted below** would seem to confirm that. However, the situation appears to be fluid at this point, so be sure to check carefully before finalizing your travel arrangements.


** Here’s a notice dated June 28 from the Japanese Consulate-General in Honolulu. It may be a bit confusing, but for example in the case of the United States, it appears to indicate that travelers coming from the specific U. S. states listed in the two Sections 4 of the annex are subject to a three-day mandatory isolation as noted in  1.-(3) and 2., but Hawaii is not included among these states. A later update that has not yet been translated into English adds a few more U. S. states, but again not Hawaii.



SPECIFIC INFORMATION (using Kobe’s system as an example)


(1) As noted above, some local governments are apparently offering the option to apply in person, but in Kobe registration can only be done online. The startup page provided a QR code, apparently with the idea that most people would apply using their smartphones. This is because applicants will need to provide images that show proof of identity and evidence of vaccination, and the assumption is probably that this can be done most easily using a cell phone camera. However, since there is also an option to attach image files, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why you couldn’t take the photos on a camera or cell phone, load them into your computer and attach them as image files. That would allow you to go through the rest of the process on a PC, which might be less cumbersome that using a cell phone all the way through. We’ve provided both links below for Kobe. Once again, the entire process must be done in Japanese.


(2) Once the application has been submitted, the information will be checked and the completed vaccine passports will be prepared within 10 days and then MAILED (by postal mail) to the applicant. In Kobe it will apparently NOT be possible to pick them up in person. The person at the information hotline also couldn’t confirm whether they will be sent by ordinary postal mail or registered mail, although we suspect the former. [UPDATE: We were later able to confirm that these will be sent by POSTAL mail and not by registered mail.]


(3) Very helpfully, Kobe has created a pdf manual with lots of pictures, explaining exactly how the application process will work. Here’s the URL (Japanese only):


https://www.city.kobe.lg.jp/documents/44068/20210729manyuaru.pdf


We conducted the process early this morning and it was exactly as the manual indicated.


(4) The application process in Kobe required us to first create an account with email address and password, which involved entering name, address and other personal information. (This automatically creates an individualized “My Page” that enables you to check the status of the application.) Subsequently we were required to submit three images: two of these were images of the completed vaccination form (the same one we took to the doctor’s office to get our two mRNA vaccinations). The third image was a passport ID page.


Here is the URL for Kobe's start page if you want to try accessing it on your computer:


https://lgpos.task-asp.net/cu/281000/ea/residents/procedures/apply/393ad2c1-5e98-4540-9511-b15c99de65e0/start


If you want to use your smartphone, access it using the QR code at the bottom of this page: https://www.city.kobe.lg.jp/a73576/kenko/health/infection/protection/covid-19_vaccine_soudan.html


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As regards how this program will work out, only time will tell. The paper-only nature of Japan’s vaccine passport has already drawn criticism. Here’s a Nikkei article (paywalled, but you may be able to open it in an Incognito or Private browsing window). The two quotes in this article that jumped out at us were these (emphasis ours):


ANA expects it will take at least a year to put the necessary frameworks [for digital certificates] in place.


[...]


Recently the Japanese government launched a cross-agency organization tasked with issuing digital certificates by the end of the year. But the transport ministry, which oversees the airline industry, is not part of that effort.


(That last does seem problematic.)


As always, we hope this is helpful. Whether your travel plans are foreign or exclusively domestic, please stay safe and cycle that way too!



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Japan Vaccine Passports

C Y C L I N G  •  S P E C I A L   R E P O R T

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