Further to a comment in my post on the latest BAJS Podcast episode, I am doing a post about what appear to be the latest developments for those of us trying to get Japan. Naturally, as I am based in the UK, the focus will be primarily on the situation for those of us trying to get to Japan from there.
First, due to the reprehensible war on Ukraine by Russia, getting between UK and Japan has become much more difficult. British Airways was banned from Russian airspace a few days ago. Today, JAL and ANA have suspended their flights between Japan and Europe over Russia. Essentially, it looks as though we are heading back to the situation in the Cold War days when the two primary ways between the UK and Japan are either the Southern Route (which is what I did in 1989 on my first trip to Japan… and it took about 26 hours – see my post “Reflecting on China Airlines’ 747 Passenger Plane Retirement“) or going the polar route. My understanding is that some airlines are looking at bringing back the polar route – possibly as early as this Saturday – but, unlike in the 1980s, they will do it as a non-stop flight (no stop at Anchorage, Alaska) taking about 16 and a half hours. This compares to the 11 hours or so when going over Russia (it used to be quicker in the days of the 747, but 777s are slower). I’d quite like to try this route – although I fear I may struggle with crossing the International Date Line and getting my head around what day I’ll be on once arrive in Japan after such a long flight (a topic which came up in my book Osutaka). I assume that the fares will reflect the additional fuel costs (which themselves are likely to be pushed up by the war and its impact on the price of oil).
Second, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida has announced that students will be given preferential treatment for going to Japan. This is something that many of us have been pushing for for weeks, if not months – and I wrote a letter to the Japanese Ambassador in London about this in January. At this point, it’s hard to get the precise details of what the “留学生円滑入国スキーム” will really mean, but it seems as though, if planes have capacity (i.e. seats not filled up by business people or Japanese nationals returning to Japan), then students will be able to fly and their entry to Japan will not be subject to the current 5,000 per day limit or new limit of 7,000 per day from 14 March. This is certainly a step in the right direction if this is what is happening. But, when we compare what is going on to pre-Covid when the average number of people entering Japan was about 110,000 per day, it is clear that there is still a long way to go. At that level, the backlog of students could be cleared in just TWO DAYS.
Whether plane companies will even look to raise their capacity that much, is also hard to know.
My fear is that the new policy will primarily aid students going to Japan from Asia, and that those going from UK and other countries in Europe may not find it as easy to enjoy its benefits due to the various other logistical challenges at the moment.
I understand why Japan had taken a cautious approach, but it had become overly cautious. At least the step ups from 3,500 to 5,000 and now 7,000 have come relatively quickly. Let us hope that soon that all the limits will be lifted completely and that plane companies will find a way to supply sufficient flights, at a reasonable cost, for those wanting to get to Japan – especially for business and studies (it is still not clear how post-graduate students or academics, such as myself, will fit into the new plans).
The modern version of Sakoku (the time in the Tokugawa Period when Japan largely shut itself from the outside world) may be coming to an end, but it’s not gone yet.
UPDATE [4 March 2022].
I really wish that the media would stop saying that the Japanese government is giving priority students. It’s not. The priority is business people. The press release is clear. Students can go and are not part of the usual daily limit IF there is spare capacity on the plane. The thought is that this will be on Mondays to Thursdays when business people fly less apparently. Priority to students would be telling the business people (and Japanese nationals) to sit back and wait for the next THREE WEEKS while only students are allowed to Japan. Stop the misreporting. The situation has improved, but don’t make it out to be what it’s not.
Here’s the information from the Ministry of Education (MEXT) website that makes it clear:
And if you want to know how this system works, the PDF mentioned in the image above, provides a flow chart to explain it…
Why create a simple system when a more complicated version is possible? Why, if priority is being given to students, have any system like this at all rather than telling the business people to wait?
In another update, a post by Flightradar24 on Facebook nicely explains and shows the difference in flight path for the JAL flight between Tokyo and London
UPDATE [9 March 2022]: The Japanese government is looking to get all students to Japan by the end of May. The Japanese government is still moving too slow. The latest news today on this clarifies how students are not a priority, despite the rhetoric when the plan was first announced. The end of May is nearly three months away and only gives many students two months in Japan.
UPDATE [1 April 2022]: The Japanese government is increasing the daily limit of entries into Japan to 10,000 people from 10 April. While this is good news, it is still about 100,000 below pre-COVID levels and it will still take many days, if not weeks, to deal with the backlog of students waiting to get into the country.