Arriving in Japan – how it works

When you arrive in any country, there’s a bit more to do than just get off the plane. While every country requires some sort of entry formalities, the specifics differ. If this is your first trip to Japan, or maybe even your first international trip anywhere, here’s a guide to the arrival process, with useful links to authoritative information.

Before disembarking the plane

The cabin crew will probably have distributed the arrival documents that you need to complete. These are an arrival card for each passenger and a customs declaration which can cover a family travelling together. On some flights, a quarantine form may also be distributed.

Fill these documents out on the plane. They do ask for your address in Japan, so enter the details of the first hotel, hostel or AirBnB you’re staying at.

Once you get off the plane, there are three basic steps to go through – quarantine, immigration, and customs.

Quarantine

If you have a quarantine form, hand this in here. People experiencing diarrhoea, fever, or feeling unwell are expected to notify a quarantine officer. There’s also a digital thermometer that measures body temperature as people pass by. Most visitors will not need to stop at this counter.

Immigration

At immigration, your passport and arrival card will be checked, and you will be asked to provide finger prints by placing your index fingers on electronic fingerprint readers. Your photo is also taken.

Visitors from a visa waiver country will get a stamp in their passport for 90 day entry. Visitors from other countries will need to have organised their visa before arrival. Here’s a summary of visa requirements, with links to Japanese government websites to check for the latest information.

In between immigration and the next step, customs, you should collect checked baggage from the baggage claim area.

Customs

At the customs inspection area, customs officers will inspect the customs declaration and may ask questions. Do check what you are and aren’t permitted to bring into Japan, so that you don’t face any difficulties at this point. The customs declaration has a list of prohibited and restricted items.

Japan is an island nation and has restrictions on plant, animal and food products, and a number of other items. If you are bringing in plant and animal items that are restricted, you’ll need to go to the plant and animal quarantine desk before going to customs.

If you need medication, be aware that you may need to apply for a document known as a yakkan shoumei to enable its import. Customs may ask to see this document, so have it ready for inspection. The following links explain restrictions on bringing medication into Japan and provide the necessary forms you will need to complete.

Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare medicines information

Bringing medicine into Japan

Finding your way through the airport

It’s useful to look at the airport website before you leave home, so that you know what floor you arrive on, and how to get from there to the train or bus. You might also need to get money from an ATM or collect a pocket wifi.

While signage in Japanese airports is excellent and in multiple languages, you do need to know the exit number you are looking for, or which train station you should go to.

Haneda Airport (Tokyo)

Narita Airport (Tokyo)

Kansai Airport (Osaka)

Chubu Centrair Airport (Nagoya)

Although this may look like a lot of formalities, arrival processing is generally very efficient and you should be through in under an hour. I once got through in 15 minutes from the plane door to the door exiting customs into the arrival hall at Narita Terminal 2. Have the required documents ready, and ensure they are fully completed and correct, and it should be a straightforward process.

Do you have any questions about travelling around Japan? Please feel free to contact me.

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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.