Some 49% of Singaporeans say they are considering Japan for their next overseas vacation, according to market research firm YouGov.
Interest may be even higher among young citizens. Some 68% of Singaporeans aged 16 to 24 indicated that they are considering Japan for their “next vacation”, compared to 37% of those over 55, according to research published in May.
Japan was the first choice among respondents by a good margin, with the second choice, Taiwan, attracting the interest of 39% of respondents. Some 26% indicated an interest in vacationing in Malaysia, according to the results, but this may have been affected by the survey question, which specifically asked about “by air” travel plans.
Still, Wanping Aw, CEO of the Tokyo-based travel agency Tokudaw he said his company saw a big uptick in business after Japan reopened its borders in June, with 50% of inquiries and bookings coming from Singapore, he said.
Japan has always been a popular destination for Singaporeans, Aw said, especially those who want a change of seasons.
Spring and winter are the two “peak seasons” for Singapore travelers, he said: “They really like cherry blossoms and snow.”
Singapore trader Alex Ng said he is planning a trip to Japan this fall.
Wanping Aw in Shinjuku Gyoen, a popular park in Tokyo. Aw, who is from Singapore, has lived in Japan for 13 years.
Source: Wanping Aw
Ng, a self-described “Japanophile,” said the country finds the “sweet spot” between the familiar and the unknown.
He said Japan’s safety, cleanliness and professionalism are like Singapore’s, as is the culture’s adherence to social rules for the collective good.
“The trains are not going to strike while you are rushing back from a day trip,” he said. “We feel comfortable operating in that structure. It’s familiar to the way we live here, probably why most Singaporeans also like Switzerland.”
The food is also familiar, based on rice with ingredients such as fish, pork and tofu, but “from there it branches off in a myriad of fascinating directions.”
Alex Ng said that most Singaporeans enjoy the intricacies of Japanese culture. “It’s cathartic and inspiring to experience.”
Source: Alex Ng
He said he also appreciates the religious differences between the two countries.
“We are fortunate to have a variety of religions here in Singapore,” he said. But “Shinto, which informs much of Japanese life and culture, especially its architecture, aesthetics, cultivation and maintenance of natural spaces, is quite different from what we grew up with.”
And the cherry blossoms? “Hundreds of years have been spent cultivating tens of thousands of cherry blossom trees…for a few weeks of vibrant festivities each year.”
“I have yet to tire of the show,” he said.
Singapore is one of more than 100 countries and territories marked “blue” in Japan. color coded input classification system.
Travelers from those locations are not required to take a Covid-19 test or quarantine upon arrival, or be vaccinated to enter. However, pre-flight Covid-19 PCR tests and visas are required, according to the website for the Embassy of Japan in Singapore.
But requirements beyond this have left many travelers confused, Aw said.
This is especially true in the case of the rule that allows the entry of tourists “only when a travel agency, among others, that organizes the trip acts as a receiving organization for the entrants”, as stated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
Websites like these use “language that speaks in loops,” Aw said.
“And this misunderstanding is intensified by the fact that Japanese embassies are using the word package tour,” he said. This evokes images of “30 to 40 strangers in a big bus, following a fixed route with a pre-set itinerary.”
But this is not accurate, he said.
One person can book a “tour package”, he said, adding that he has arranged three solo travel bookings, including one from Singapore, since Japan’s borders opened in June.
The term “pre-arranged itinerary” also confuses potential travelers.
“Everyone seems to be under the impression that you have to pin your itinerary down to the hour or the minute … that it’s hard to find,” he said. “But it’s not as difficult as it seems.”
Another problem: “Everyone is confused and stressed about the visa application process,” he said.
To apply for a tourist visa, travelers must plan an itinerary and book their flights and accommodation before their “ERFS certificates” can be processed, he said, referring to an approval document that visitors need before they can apply for their visas.
Only Japanese companies can apply for the certificate, however, travelers can work through tourism agencies in their home countries, who in turn work with their local partners in Japan, it said.
Once an ERFS certificate is obtained, travelers can apply for their visas, Aw said.
In addition to working with an agency, international travelers must also travel with a companion “at all times,” Aw said.
Guests must pay for the chaperone, who is an employee of the travel agency, Aw said. But on the plus side, chaperones can help with things like restaurant reservations and train schedules to make travel more seamless, he said.
Escorted travel is not a deal breaker for Ng, nor are the rest of Japan’s travel rules, he said. However, he said that he would probably travel to Japan more often if the rules were less cumbersome.
For now, Ng said he is optimistic.
“There’s a good chance Japan will ease restrictions soon, given that the elections are over,” he said.
Ng said he secured his flights and hotels, but not his visa, on the assumption that come fall the rules may be different.
Aw said many other Singaporeans are doing the same thing. They are making plans, but putting off the process to apply for their visas “for as long as they can,” he said.