Japan then

Please note: contrary to my book, which has been translated by native English professionals, this post is translated in part by Google Translate and might not be perfect.

This post is also available in Nederlands

I like to be well prepared. And well informed. For months I’ve been following the Facebook group “Seeking entry in Japan” closely, because I can tell you, sometimes the best info has actually been on Facebook. When the Nikkei newspaper ran a headline in mid-February that a border opening was being considered, I started emailing. The Japanese embassy in Korea didn’t know anything yet, as did the travel agency they referred me to for my visa application. (Sounds crazy, but because of corona, the embassy in Korea does not receive any visitors. Instead, all those people have to visit a travel agent, and then he goes… Yes, no, I don’t quite understand the logic either.) Well, maybe they didn’t know anything by now, 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 sign-up process. Do you remember last time when I was about to go? And that the registration procedure would then take a month and a half? And that Japan was already closed by then? Well, they would make it easier and shorter this time. Ok sure, but I had no chill. Zero. There was also something like a limit of 5,000 entries per day, although it was never made clear where and by whom that was counted. I suspect they are restricting airline landing clearance so Ms. No Chill bought tickets straight away. Two. Two refundable tickets ICN – NRT, on 6 and 9 March.

Entrants, Returnees Follow-up System (or ERFS)

Through Facebook I learned that the application platform was not open 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 details. I read on Facebook that the login details from last time were still valid, and friend Kei, who works at a modeling agency, also texted me after my “it’s open!” that they had already inserted several models into the system. “Uhm, according to my friend you can use the same login details…?” I stalked cautiously. I think there’s a little “oops, shit, lalala!” happened on the other side, because the next email said I was already signed up. In the meantime I was eating myself up. Precious time was lost here! (It didn’t matter in the end, but I didn’t know that then.)

On the 25th I also visited Soho Travel, my travel agency of choice. Manager Jongho spoke fluent English, a relief. I handed in my passport and CoE (best idea EVER to take that thing to Korea, even though they initially said that I would not be able to get a Japanese visa as a tourist in Korea – it turned out to be possible, long live the OECD), so that Jongho could be on their doorstep when the embassy opened. Anyway, first the ERFS certificate, which should roll out of the registration system. Normal turnaround time: two hours. Given the rush that day a little longer.

And while I read on Facebook how one group member after another got their certificate, it was already Friday evening, and my heart was starting to sink in. And then suddenly: *ploink* “Your ERFS certificate was issued!”

A considerable amount of time

I immediately emailed the certificate to Jongho, who would take it to the embassy on Monday. It was February 28, but they were going to accept the paperwork so that they could get started on March 2 (because March 1 is a holiday in Korea, aarrrghh, timing!). So Jongho submitted the application, and told me it would take about 5 days. I looked at my flight on Sunday March 6th and thought: we’re going to make it. Or well. We’re going to try that.

Now you might say that I am unnecessarily hard on 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 succeeded, at the brink of omicron. How? By making it Very Very Urgent. I had No Chill, was definitely going to have No Chill, and I didn’t care how much headache and stress it would cause me. This. Would. Not. Fail.

But it was now one day before my scheduled PCR test, and the embassy still hadn’t completed my visa. I decided to stalk them, er, email them. “Hello, I have my flight Sunday, my PCR Friday, so I’d like to know if we’re going to make it, k?” But politely, of course.

I had No Chill but the embassy had Zero Fucks. “Yes, sorry, it’s busy, it could 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 in total panic. 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 a Japanese translation of The Five Reasons That Toeps Really Really Must Go to Japan, and sent it in, but didn’t hear anything about 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. As a last desperate attempt I emailed Jongho. “Do you know how far they are?”

Oops, we forgot!

It was a Friday evening again. I postponed the PCR test I had scheduled for Friday afternoon to Saturday. (A vain hope, I thought, but we have to keep hope!) I stared at my screen, wondering if I should rebook my ticket yet. “No,” said my hopeful voice, “you will 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’m going to pick it up at the embassy tomorrow!”

Saturday morning I visited Jongho’s office. He gave me back my passport, with the visa in it. “Look,” he said. “The date on your visa is March 2. That means they had it ready all along, but they didn’t tell us.”

I…

I caught the train to the airport, where I was way too early for my scheduled PCR. I convinced the girl to test me so I could get the results that day, not the morning of my flight. The result was negative and the next morning my alarm was set at 5:00. On to the airport. Off to Japan.

I've been in Japan for almost a week now, and there is so much more to tell, but when I started writing this story came out first. More on the rest later: the flight, my house, and 1-2-3, bureaucracy!

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