Our Japanese-language reporter writes on the peculiarities of traveling from a high-risk country during a pandemic.

Our Japanese-language reporter Ikuna Kamezawa had a flight booked for Spain on August 15, and she took every necessary precaution. Of course, she got vaccinated, and even applied for a vaccine passport to ensure things would go as smoothly as possible.

This is still a global pandemic, though, and “smoothly as possible” doesn’t mean “devoid of turbulence”. While residents of Japan can travel internationally, there are many sanctions, and as a result, most countries fit into one of three kinds:

  1. Travelers from Japan must quarantine for a set time after entering the country
  2. A PCR test showing a negative result from just before departure is required for entry
  3. Neither are required for entry

Typically the first group requires a quarantine of 14 days, but some countries offer a way to reduce that time by presenting a vaccine passport or producing a negative PCR test after quarantining for a few days.

The second condition, a recent PCR test, is complicated in that the results need to be printed in English. Japan only offers this service in a limited capacity, and when Ikuna contacted a center in Tokyo that offered English-language results she was told that the sample must be collected two days before you leave the country, leading to a very tight window that doesn’t allow for schedule changes or emergencies. The test can also cost anywhere from 10,000 yen (US$91.07) to 30,000 yen (US$273.21).

And naturally, the third category isn’t one to depend on either. Countries may revoke permission for Japanese travelers at a moment’s notice, which already happened in the EU during January of this very year (the ban has since been lifted.)

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Free-roaming deer continue to baffle visitors and experts with their unusual behaviour.

For the past two years, our Japanese-language reporter K. Masami has been monitoring the free-roaming deer in Nara Park in summer, witnessing a special summer-only gathering phenomenon known as “shikadamari“.

Loosely translating to “deer gathering spot”, shikadamari has been baffling even experts at the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation, who can’t explain why the deer gather on a particular patch of grass at the same hour, and for the same amount of time each day.

The animals congregate on the grass opposite the Nara National Museum inside the park at around 6:30 p.m. and leave shortly after 7:00 p.m. every day during the summer months.

▼ This was the situation in 2019.

▼ And this was taken at the same spot in 2020.

Shikadamari occurs in July and August each year, with the season previously ending on 12 August in 2019 and 17 August in 2020. So what are the deer in Nara Park doing this year?

▼ Our reporter K. Masami went to find out.

Masami decided to visit the park on 12 August, heading out to the grassy mound near the museum at around 6:00 p.m. to see if this year’s shikadamari season was still in progress. She’d already visited the park in July, and was able to see the deer congregating at the gathering spot like they do every year, so she figured this year would have a similar timeline to previous years.

▼ This photo was taken on 23 July.

Our reporter shares some important things to know if you’ll be applying for a vaccine passport within Japan.

Residents of Japan became eligible to apply for COVID-19 vaccine passports (ワクチンパスポート), also called vaccination certificates, on July 26. At the start, many municipalities required that you apply for one in person at a city hall, but mailed-in applications are becoming more and more common now.

Our Japanese-language correspondent Ikuna Kamezawa previously shared her experience of getting vaccinated at a large-scale vaccination center in Tokyo. This time, she’d like to share a bit about the process of applying for a vaccine passport, beginning with some common misconceptions that she’s encountered.

Many folks seem to misunderstand the meaning of the passport, thinking that they can’t go abroad without one or, conversely, that they can go if they have one. To make it clear, the possession of a vaccine passport from Japan does not have any influence on your ability or inability to enter a particular country.

At this time, many countries around the world are not accepting any foreign visitors. On the other hand, there are also many countries that are. Within that group, there are some that may ease their entry restrictions if you display a vaccine passport upon arrival. It’s good to note, however, that even travelers who don’t have a vaccine passport can still enter many countries if they undergo standard procedures such as a fixed quarantine period. On a side note, in order to enter Japan right now from abroad (regardless of possession of a vaccine passport or whether you’re a Japanese citizen), anyone entering the country must present results of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before departure and subsequently …continue reading