So almost everyone I know is longing to return to Japan, the land of fascinating culture, delicious foods and gorgeous scenery.
As of 1st August 2022, only guided tours are allowed into the country as part of Japan’s calibrated opening. Personally, I was reluctant to travel on a guided tour as I didn’t want to follow a set itinerary. However, there was no other way to re-visit one of my favourite countries. I also wanted to be one of the first groups of Singaporeans to visit Japan, so I could review the experience for others.
As such, I booked an 8D6N package tour to Hokkaido with Sino-American (SA) tours in July. This was the agency’s second Japan tour since the pandemic.
I’ve been asked quite a number of questions about travelling to Japan on tour, so I’ll answer some FAQs below and share about my experience.
Read on for what it’s like visiting Japan now.
Q: How did you book your tour?
A: I contact numerous local agencies offering guided tours, including SA Tours, Chan Brothers, JTB, New Shan Travel and Nam Ho Travel. This Singsaver article summarizing tour departures actually did all the groundwork for me.
I booked my tour pretty late (1st week of July), so several tours were already fully booked. Ultimately, I decided to go with SA Tours as they were the only agency which still had a July departure. I also found their Hokkaido itinerary appealing.
Q: How much did your tour cost?
A: As I booked late and opted for a single room ($700 extra) , my tour cost $5000 in total .The airfare itself on ANA was around $2000.
I’d advise booking early ( a few months in advance) to enjoy better rates. My fellow tour-goer who booked in June paid around $4200 in total for a single room. Others who booked even earlier paid much less - an estimated $3600 in total for a double room.
Q: What is the pre-departure process like ?
A: Not too complicated, thankfully. The great thing about going on tour is that your agency will walk you through all the details, and even help you apply for a visa. As I applied for my tour late, the agency had already done a group visa application, so I had to head down to the embassy physically to apply for my own.
In a nutshell, here are the pre-departure steps to take:
Book your tour
Apply for a visa (the tour agency will guide you through the process)
Obtain a negative PCR 72 hours before departure
Download Japan’s MySOS app, and submit travel details, vaccine certificate and negative PCR result
Q: How long does the visa application take ?
A: If your visa is submitted by your travel agency, the process should take a few weeks or less. You submit your visa application and passport to the agency, they take it to the embassy on your behalf, and you go down to the tour agency to collect your visa.
As I applied for the visa on my own, I had to go to the Japanese embassy myself, submit it, and collect it 5 working days later. Waiting time for application and collection was around 45 minutes each visit.
A visa application costs $38.
Q: What’s the on-arrival process like?
A: For fully-vaccinated visitors from Singapore, extremely smooth. Travellers from countries in the Group Blue including Singapore are not required to take an on-arrival test or undergo quarantine.
When I touched down at Haneda Airport en-route to Hakodate, I had fast-track entry into Japan, having submitted all my details to the MySOS app and gotten everything approved. Once all your details are approved, your app will show a blue "Review completed" screen, which you then show to immigration officers.
Q: What are Covid restrictions like in Japan?
A: As of August 2022, similar to Singapore. Gone are the days of social distancing, limits on social gatherings and checking into venues via an app. Masks are optional, but most locals still wear them indoors and outdoors. You can unmask for photos, and no one polices you if you take down your mask outside.
However, I would say that Japan has slightly stricter rules for tourist attractions and hotels. For example, some attractions still have temperature scanners and hand sanitisers. All our hotels had temperature scanners. Buffets at hotels or restaurants require gloves for food handling, and some restaurants still had plastic shields between tables.
As part of our tour, our guide also took our temperature every morning and evening. If someone gets a fever (37.5 degrees and above), they are required to take a PCR. The tour can proceed if they are negative. If positive, however, the entire group must serve a mandatory three- day quarantine.
Q: What’s it like traveling on tour? Do I have to follow the guide everywhere or do I have free time?
A: Being on a guided itinerary wasn’t restrictive like I imagined. In fact, I really enjoyed my holiday with SA Tours!
Yes- you do have to follow your guide to each destination and walk with the group, as your guide explains the significance of each site. You’ll also eat meals with your tour group. But this is what you would do when travelling on a guided tour anyway.
You definitely get time to roam around freely at each attraction - there’s no “tourist police” to catch you if you aren't chaperoned by your guide 24/7. In Hokkaido, we could wander the flower fields in Biei and Furano, and explore the streets of Otaru and Hakodate unsupervised.
During free-and-easy shopping stops, you can also visit the stores, malls and streets on your own. We could even go out at night after checking into our hotels. Our guide would take us out and show us the surrounding area, then let us walk about freely.
Just be sure to respect the tour group’s time and circle back to the meeting point by the agreed time, which is proper etiquette when on a tour anyway.
I’m also planning to write a full travelogue about my tour experience, so stay tuned for that!
Q: I’m a solo traveller. What will a tour be like?
A: I travelled on the guided tour alone, and had a great time. Surprisingly, there were a few other solo female travellers as well. I also ate meals and explored around at night with a fellow solo tour-goer.
The other people on tour were very friendly too and would look out for each other. A few even texted me when I came back to the bus a little late after a shopping stop. It was easy to chat with all of them too. If you aren't confident venturing around at night on our own, don't be afraid to ask to accompany other tour members. Ask to be added to the tour WhatsApp group as well, so you can ask for help.
Q: When will Japan travel open to individual travellers?
A: Unfortunately, no one knows the answer to this yet. I’m predicting sometime in September, but it’s anyone’s guess. If you are really wanting to visit Japan, do consider a tour. You’ll likely have a great experience like I did if you choose a good agency!
If you have any other questions about visiting Japan, do shoutout in the comments below.