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Dealing with Mandatory Hotel Quarantine for Foreign Residents Returning to Japan

Anxious about your stretch in quarantine when coming back to Japan? Here’s what to expect and one writer's reflection on the self-isolation experience.

By 5 min read

The Japanese government has recently reduced the stringent quarantine period for overseas returnees from 14 days to 10, effective Jan. 15, 2022.

The revision comes following research that the highly infectious omicron variant of COVID-19 has a shorter incubation period than other variants. The first phase of self-isolation is still spent at a government-designated hotel for three, six or ten days, depending on where you departed. For those that need to complete the rest of the isolation period elsewhere, the remainder can be completed on a trust basis, either at home or in alternative self-funded accommodation. The date of arrival is day zero.

Below is a quick rundown of what you can expect from a foreign resident who recently experienced returning to Japan.

Before departure to Japan

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Returness must download various tracking apps.

Returnees are expected to take a COVID-19 PCR test 72 hours before departure. This is crucial as proof of a negative result is required to board the plane. It’s advisable to present your negative test result in the valid format Japanese officials prefer.

Installation of the following necessary apps is also required:

Returnees must complete a written pledge, promising to report their location and health condition via the MySOS tracking app and refrain from physical contact with others during the isolation period. 

Any violation of this pledge without a valid reason may lead to the transgressor publicly disclosing their name. In addition, foreign nationals may be subject to revocation of their residence status and deportation under the Immigration Control Act.

Arrival in Japan

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Masks are required both onboard and on arrival.

On arrival, you’ll take a PCR saliva test, which is no easy task after a severely dehydrated 12-hour flight. Drink plenty of water when on board, but keep in mind that you shouldn’t eat or drink 30 minutes before the test.

You’ll also complete and submit a lot of paperwork after landing. You’re required to present the following:

All of this seems quite overwhelming, but there’s no need to worry. On landing at the airport, you’ll receive paperwork and staff support. My airline, ANA, also provided a document checklist before departure.

Personal quarantine experience

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Time to settle in.

As a British national, I was required to do a stretch of six days in a government-designated quarantine hotel, as the U.K. is categorized as high-risk for the omicron variant. Spending so much time in isolation is a daunting prospect for many, so as some who has experienced it personally, here are five tips on how to make the most of it.

Disclaimer: I traveled alone, without children. I am sure that quarantining as a family is a very different experience. Also, I have a very flexible work schedule which may not be the case for others. All information is correct at the time of publication.

1. Pack smart

Cold bento meals were served three times a day, always accompanied by green tea for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was filling and mostly nutritious stuff, but there was little variety, so snacks are an absolute must. My quarantine hotel also allowed prepaid takeout. 

Friends and family could also drop off some extra items at the hotel, excluding cash, refrigerated/frozen food, raw food, alcohol or anything considered a fire hazard. Online shopping was also permitted. Just be sure to check what’s allowed and communicate with the staff to know what to expect. Smoking and drinking alcohol were also prohibited at my quarantine hotel.

2. Remember to test and report

Check-in video calls and notifications on the MySOS app can come at any time during the day. I reported my daily temperature and health on a different app unique to my specific quarantine hotel. Information about this app was provided to me on arrival.

Day three, six and 10 PCR saliva tests are also conducted early in the morning before you’ve had anything to eat or drink. An announcement was made at 6:30 a.m. The test kit was delivered to my door around 20 minutes later, and the saliva sample was handed back at 7:30 a.m.

3. Stick to a routine

The best way to keep the isolation blues away is to make and maintain a daily routine. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day—segment time to work and relax. 

Bathe, exercise or watch Netflix on a schedule. For example, I’m an early bird, so I would get up at 6:30 a.m., take a shower, get dressed and put on some make-up. This helped me start the day with a fresh, positive mindset. Remember, once you’re shown to your room and given a final ganbatte kudasai (please do your best) as the door closes, you can’t go out, not even for a walk. So try to get some exercise. Be it yoga, simple stretches or calisthenics—whatever it takes to get your heart rate up a little to boost your physical and mental wellbeing.

4. Stay connected

Err on the side of caution and plan fewer online meetings while in quarantine, or consider boosting your phone’s data allowance or using pocket Wi-Fi. I generally called loved ones in the evening because I wanted something to look forward to at the end of each day. But early on, I noticed that voice calls were choppy and had poor connectivity.

I reported this to the quarantine call center by dialing “front” on my room phone, and they said it was because of overuse. After that, they brought me an ethernet LAN cable which improved things. Unfortunately, I had a particularly disastrous online work meeting due to internet speed or something else. Just remember Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

5. Appreciate some alone time

Because the Japanese government has strengthened quarantine procedures, staying in a quarantined hotel is a harsh reality for foreign residents returning to Japan. The thought of so much time in isolation may even be intimidating.

However, solitude is something that some of us crave in our busy and over-connected lives. With careful planning, awareness of what to expect and some smart strategies, it’s possible to make the most of this unusual alone time.

Have you had to quarantine in Japan? What was your experience like? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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