I like to be well prepared. And well informed. For months I followed the Facebook group “Seeking entry in Japan” closely, because I can tell you, sometimes the best info is actually on Facebook. When the Nikkei newspaper headlined in mid-February that a border opening was being considered, I started emailing. The Japanese embassy in Korea didn’t know anything yet, nor did the travel agency they referred me to for my visa application. (Sounds crazy, but because of corona, the embassy in Korea doesn’t receive visitors. Instead, all those people have to go to a travel agent, and he then goes… Yeah no, I don’t quite get the logic either). Well, maybe they didn’t know anything yet, but at least they knew I existed.
At the end of February it was announced that the borders would indeed open on March 1. Or well, not so much the borders…. The application process. Do you remember, last time, when I was about to go? When the application process would take a month and a half? And that Japan was already closed again by then? Well, they were going to make it easier and shorter this time. Or so they said, but I had no chill. Zero. There was talk about a limit of 5,000 entries per day, though it was never quite made clear where and by whom that was counted. I suspect they were limiting airline landing approvals, so Mrs. No Chill immediately bought tickets. Two. Two cancelable tickets ICN – NRT, on March 6 and 9.
Entrants, Returnees Follow-up System (aka ERFS)
Via Facebook, I learned that the application platform had not opened at the announced time of February 25, 10:00, but a few hours earlier. I emailed Naomi, my contact person and responsible for the application: “The site is live already! So you can try earlier than 10:00. Good luck!” She emailed me back that she was waiting for the login information. I read on Facebook that the login credentials from last time were still valid, and also friend Kei, who works at a modeling agency, messaged me after my “it’s open!” that they had already entered several models into the system. “Uhm, according to my friend, you can use the same login credentials…?”, I stalked cautiously. I think a little “oops, shit, lalala!” took place on the other end, because the next email said I was already signed up. By now, I was freaking out. Precious time was being wasted here! (In the end, it didn’t matter, but I didn’t know that at the time.)
On the twenty-fifth, I also visited Soho Travel, my travel agent of choice. Manager Jongho spoke fluent English, a relief. I handed in my passport and CoE (the best idea I ever had to take that with me to Korea, even though they initially told me I wouldn’t be able to get a Japanese visa as a tourist in Korea – which turned out to be actually possible, long live the OECD), so that Jongho could be there when the embassy opened. But first things first: the ERFS certificate, which should roll out of the application system. Normal processing time: two hours. Given the rush that day, a little longer.
And while I was reading on Facebook how one group member after the other got their certificate, it was already Friday evening, and my courage started to sink in. And then suddenly: *pling* “Your ERFS certificate was issued!”
A considerable amount of time
I immediately mailed the certificate to Jongho, who would take it to the embassy on Monday. It was February 28, but they would take the papers in advance, so that March 2 (because March 1 is a holiday in Korea, aarrrghh, timing!) they could get started right away. So Jongho submitted the application, and told me it was going to take about 5 days. I looked at my flight on Sunday, March 6, and thought: we’re going to make that. Or well. We’re going to try.
Now you may say that I am making it unnecessarily difficult for myself with this tight schedule, but you should know that in November, while I was still waiting for my certificate, a German girl from the Facebook group flew from Korea to Japan. One of the few who had managed it, before omicron messed it all up again. How? URGENCY. I had No Chill, was going to have absolutely No Chill, and I didn’t care how many headaches and stresses I would have from it. This. Would. Not. Fail.
But it was now one day before my scheduled PCR test, and the embassy still hadn’t finished my visa. I decided to stalk, er, email them. “Hello, I have my flight on Sunday, my PCR on Friday, so I’d like to know if we’re going to make this, k?” But politely, of course.
I had No Chill but the embassy had Zero Fucks. “Yes sorry, it is busy, it may take a considerable amount of time. If you have an urgent reason to go to Japan, can you email it? In Japanese please.” I was totally panicked. A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF TIME?! What is a considerable amount of time? Two weeks? One month? Three months! Meanwhile, I heard from a friend in the Netherlands that her visa was ready within 24 hours. My head couldn’t stop pounding, “You made a mistake, Toeps. A big, stupid mistake. You should have come back to Holland.” I quickly arranged for a Japanese translation of The Five Reasons That Toeps Really Should Go to Japan, sent it in, but then heard nothing on it for a whole day. I tried to call, but the English menu kept looping back to the main menu, and the Japanese menu just hung up on me. As a last-ditch effort, I emailed Jongho. “Do you perhaps know how far along they are?”
Oopsie, we forgot!
By now we were back on Friday night. The PCR test I had scheduled for Friday afternoon I had pushed through to Saturday. (In vain, I thought, but hope we shall keep! I stared at my screen, wondering if I should permanently rebook my ticket. “No,” spoke my hopeful little voice, “you do that tomorrow. When it’s the weekend.” And that bitch was right, because that evening an email came from Jongho: “Your visa is ready! I’ll pick it up at the embassy tomorrow!”
Saturday morning I visited Jongho’s office. He handed me back my passport, which contained the visa. “Look,” he said. “The date on your visa is March 2. That means they had it ready all along, but didn’t communicate that to us.”
I caught the train to the airport, where I was way too early for my scheduled PCR. I convinced the girl to test me ahead of time so that I would have the result that day, rather than the morning of my flight. The result was negative and the next morning my alarm clock was on at 5:00. Off to the airport. Off to Japan.