Living in Japan has given me the ability to have all sorts of adventures in countries I never realized I could go to. When you live in Japan, places like China, South Korea, and Thailand suddenly become affordable short trips. If you stay in Japan for an extended period of time or even become a permanent resident as I did, you end up with a lot of unnecessary stamps filling up your passport.
Every time I came home from traveling, I’d get two stamps for leaving and coming back to Japan and two stamps for visiting and leaving another country, more depending on my trip. A holiday in Hong Kong with a stop to see Macau and a layover in China takes several pages of visas. Getting passports is rarely cheap or easy. Most countries charge quite a bit of money for a booklet with limited pages. The US recently changed their system, no longer offering extra pages. If you are an expat living in Japan, you may want to find a way to avoid all the unnecessary stamps from this country you now call home. Luckily, there is a way.
The jidoka gates, or automated gates, are an ideal way to avoid the stamp fiesta and the waste of passport space. By simply registering at your local immigration office or certain airports, you will be exempt from entry and exit stamps from that point until your visa or passport expires. When you apply for the gate, make sure you have a full page of visas left, as the jidoka gate permit takes up the entire page. If you are planning on taking more than 2 trips while living in Japan, that full page is worth the space it claims. Other than the visa space in your passport, the permit costs you nothing.
Working out the Bugs
In theory, the process of scanning your passport, pressing a few buttons, and getting your picture taken should be quick and easy. However, in practice, there are still a few bugs.
First of all, the jidoka gates at Kansai International Airport and Chubu International Airport are rarely used. I have never had to wait long to use the gate. The down side is that when you start the process, usually there are no immigration officers at the jidoka gate checkpoint. This means that if you have a problem, there is nobody to help you. Most of the time you end up having to hunt someone down, which sometimes takes longer than just waiting in the usual immigration line. I have had to actually wait in the normal immigration line just to get someone to page another immigration officer to assist me at the jidoka gate. This weekend marks the 4th time I’ve had to do this.
Now, not everyone has trouble with the jidoka gate. If you have a fresh new variety of passport with the sturdy cover that includes an IC chip, you will breeze through the jidoka gate quite easily. However, my passport is the older variety with a soft and worn cover. It’s not wrinkled or damaged aside from the edges being frayed. The style of passport is not completely obsolete and there are several countries that still use the older style of passport, Japan included. When I came back from a trip last year, the Japanese fellow ahead of me had the same problem with the gate, so it is certainly not limited to foreign passports.
There have been a few times when I had no problems at all, so your mileage may vary. Even if you have the softer type of passport, you may end up having no problems at all.
Soft and worn edges make scanning the passport quite difficult. This is exactly what the poor immigration officer said to me this weekend. He tried and failed about 5 times to scan my passport, sheepishly explaining that we need to figure out the right amount of pressure and where to apply the pressure for my passport to scan evenly. Finally, with the right amount of pressure on the one edge, he got it to scan and we both sighed in relief.
In the last 4 years, were two times when the gate scanner didn’t work and I had to have an immigration officer stamp my passport manually, but that was when the system was still new in 2012. Since then, I’ve avoided using up the remaining 6 visa spaces in my passport, when I certainly would’ve used them up by now if I didn’t have the jidoka gate permit.
If you are interested in applying for the jidoka gate, you can get more information on the government website.