Is Japan open to travellers? This is where Singaporeans want to travel

Some 49% of Singaporeans say they are considering Japan for their next overseas holiday, according to market research firm YouGov.

Interest may be even higher among younger citizens. Some 68% of Singaporeans aged 16 to 24 said they were considering Japan for their “next vacation”, compared to 37% of those aged 55 and over, according to a study published in May.

Japan was the top choice among survey respondents by a good margin, with second choice Taiwan attracting the interest of 39% of respondents. According to the results, some 26% indicated interest in a holiday to Malaysia, but this may have been affected by the survey question, which specifically asked about plans to travel “by air”.

Still, Wanping Aw, CEO of Tokyo-based travel agency Tokudaw, said his business had seen a surge in business after its borders reopened in Japan in June – with 50% of inquiries and bookings from Singapore, she said.

Why Singaporeans Love Japan

Japan has always been a popular destination for Singaporeans, Aw said, especially among those looking for a change of season.

Spring and winter are the two “peak seasons” for travelers from Singapore, she said: “They like cherry blossoms and snow a lot.”

Singaporean trader Alex Ng said he is planning a trip to Japan this fall.

Wanping Aw at Shinjuku Gyoen, a popular park in Tokyo. Aw, who is Singaporean, has lived in Japan for 13 years.

Source: Wanping Aw

A self-proclaimed “Japanophile”, Ng said the country was hitting the “sweet spot” between the familiar and the unfamiliar.

He said Japan’s safety, cleanliness and professionalism are like Singapore’s, as is the culture’s adherence to social rules for the collective good.

“Trains don’t go on strike while you’re coming back from a day trip,” he said. “We feel comfortable operating in this structure. It’s familiar with the way we live here, probably why most Singaporeans love Switzerland too.”

The food is also familiar – rice-based with ingredients like fish, pork and tofu – but it “departs from there in myriad fascinating directions”.

Alex Ng said most Singaporeans appreciate the intricacies of Japanese culture. “It’s cathartic and inspiring to experience it.”

Source: Alex Ng

He said he also appreciated the religious differences between the two countries.

“We are fortunate to have a range of religions here in Singapore,” he said. But “Shintoism, which informs much of Japanese life and culture – particularly their architecture, aesthetics, cultivation and maintenance of natural areas – is quite different from what we grew up around.”

And the cherry blossoms? “Hundreds of years have been spent cultivating tens of thousands of cherry blossom trees…for a few weeks of lively festivities each year.”

“I haven’t gotten tired of the show yet,” he said.

Confusion abounds

Singapore is one of more than 100 countries and territories marked “blue” in Japan’s color-coded entry classification system.

Travelers from these locations are not required to take a Covid-19 test or quarantine upon arrival, or be vaccinated to enter. Visas and pre-flight Covid-19 PCR tests are required, however, according to the website of the Japanese Embassy in Singapore.

But requirements beyond that have left many travelers confused, Aw said.

This is especially true of the rule allowing tourists to enter “only when one travel agency among others arranging the trip serves as the host organization for the participants”, as the Japanese foreign ministry said.

Websites like these use “loopy language,” Aw said.

Everyone is confused and stressed about the visa application process.

“And this misunderstanding is compounded by the fact that Japanese embassies use the word – tour package,” she said. It conjures up images of “30 to 40 strangers on a big bus, taking a fixed route with a pre-fixed route”.

But that’s not true, she said.

A person can book a “package tour”, she said, adding that she had arranged three solo travel bookings – including one from Singapore – since Japan’s borders opened in June.

The term “pre-fixed itinerary” also confuses potential travellers.

“Everyone seems to feel like they have to set their route to the hour or the minute…which is hard to imagine,” she said. “But it’s not as hard as it looks.”

Another problem – “everyone is confused and stressed about the visa application process,” she said.

To apply for a tourist visa, travelers must plan an itinerary and book their flights and accommodation before they can process their “ERFS certificates”, she said, referring to an approval document visitors need beforehand. to be able to apply for their visa.

Only Japanese companies can apply for the certificate, but travelers can work through travel agencies in their home country, which in turn work with their local partners in Japan, she said.

Once an ERFS certificate is obtained, travelers can apply for their visa, Aw said.

Finally, the chaperone

In addition to working with an agency, international travelers must also travel with an attendant “at all times,” Aw said.

Guests must pay for the chaperone, who is an employee of the travel company, Aw said. But on the plus side, attendants can help with things like restaurant reservations and train times to make trips smoother, she said.

Accompanied travel is not a deciding factor for Ng, nor are Japan’s other travel rules, he said. However, he said he would likely travel to Japan more often if the rules were less cumbersome.

For now, Ng said he was optimistic.

“There is a good chance that Japan will further ease the restrictions soon, given that the elections are now over,” he said.

Ng said he had secured his flights and hotels – but not his visa – assuming that in the fall the rules might be different.

Aw said many other Singaporeans were doing the same. They are making plans but pushing back the visa application process “as long as they can”, she said.

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