Returning to Japan at last

The first step towards a new travelling adventure is always the hardest – my heart skips a beat as I begin putting long held travel plans on track. It involves trawling through copious travel notes I’ve made whenever I’ve heard or seen anything of interest that I might include on a trip.

With Japan, I now have three years of such notes and memos to myself, gathered since my last trip there in 2019! And I’m finally journeying back!

Australians are now amongst the independent travellers being allowed back into Japan since October 11, with visa and many other covid restrictions lifted. The door is ajar, so away we go – a hastily organised trip in the lead up to Christmas. No time to waste. At my age, you can’t afford to linger!

As a teenager I briefly considered becoming a travel agent – I even went for an interview with Australia’s TAA airline- merged with Qantas in 1992 – yes, it was THAT long ago!

I’m glad I pursued Journalism instead, after enduring intensive computer time in this past week, working out a late year, last minute itinerary for hubby MJ and myself – researching and securing accommodation, rail passes, insurance and flights. And grappling with everything that’s new in travel since that monster Covid entered our world.

Everything is almost set now – I’m at the starting line. Champing at the bit – raring to go. By Christmas, I hope to have a whole new heap of travel stories and photographs to share. My friends, instagram and facebook followers no doubt will be relieved to be free of my regularly trotted out and repeated Japan photos and experiences of past years. Yes, you probably have seen the photos in this story before!

There’s a lot different now in embarking on an overseas trip since Covid hit. For a start, I’ll be going into self imposed hibernation a fortnight before take-off because if I caught Covid at the last minute and I couldn’t get on that plane, my heart would break.

I almost stumbled at the first block! I thought my Australian vaccination certificate on my Medicare app was sufficient to show to Japanese border authorities. NO. I misunderstood. There is an International vaccination certificate I must have, and luckily I found out about it when I was internet trawling to see if I needed to get a fifth covid vaccine dose. The certificate is easy to access from Australia’s Medicare, but this wasn’t initially clear to me and I might easily have turned up in Japan without the right certificate.

I also have now ascertained that I can indeed receive a fifth vaccination ahead of the trip, as my last one was six months ago – not exactly up to date. So, off I trotted to the doctor this week for the needle again! It’s a little throwback to my first international travel in the ‘70’s when you needed vaccinations for smallpox and a few other nasties – and that needle back then tended to leave a lumpy scar on your arm.

A big difference for my upcoming trip is that I’m over 50 years older than I was on that first flight out of Australia, 20 years older than I was on my first trip to JAPAN, and nearly four years older than my last trip there. MJ and I promised ourselves that, in retirement, we would take at least one interesting journey a year before walking frames, nursing homes and soft mushy food entered our lives. Well, Covid put paid to that plan!

20 years ago on my first trip to Japan (Takayama)

The knees are deteriorating, and the old bod sometimes feels like the tin man from Wizard of OZ when he seized up! CREAK CREAK. So pre trip visits to my physio and podiatrist are steaming ahead. A quality knee support has been bought for all the walking I’m hoping to do, lugging my camera gear. And a lot more effort on the exercise bike!

I also have become a grandmother since Covid hit. Perhaps I should rename my blog ‘travelling grannie’? My Japan shopping will now include souvenirs for a one year old!

For this upcoming trip, we will carry a a Mount Fuji size mountain of good quality Aussie made masks – they’ve never been in our luggage before! There also will be a few other unusual things in the luggage – RAT tests, bacterial wipes, pocket sized hand sanitisers, a thermometer and one of those pulse oximeter gadgets. Neat little devices to measure your blood oxygen saturation and pulse rate – handy if I get caught mid trip by that inconsiderate brute – Covid.

I also have had to familiarise with Japanese government, airline and airport Covid rules for travellers. They are still pretty strict. I must have that international vaccination certificate on hand to show to border officials. I have downloaded a special app My SOS onto my phone, under instruction from the Japanese Government. Apparently, that will make entry into Japan at the airport a lot more smooth. Although we haven’t hit calm waters yet in figuring out the app. It’s going to turn blue when we’ve inputed everything needed properly. So far .. no blue. The problem may be that some of the app is still with pre OCTOBER 11 rules, and we also were trying to sort it a month ahead of our departure. Apparently, we should be doing it in the last fortnight. It had better work then, or frustration levels in our household will be more than a bit blue!

Japan expects travellers to be super mask friendly. I’ve noticed in media photos, some western travellers arriving in JAPAN are without masks. Don’t worry Japan – this traveller is happy to mask up, if only to try to ensure my trip isn’t ruined by catching Covid en route. The last thing I want is to end up holed up in a Japanese hotel room for seven days, as my planned trip goes down the toilet.

The airport experience on this trip will be totally different since I was last in one more than three years ago. Apprehension of delays, cancelled flights, lost luggage, and long queues – I’m hearing a lot of reports of these problems as travel ramps up again. I’m contemplating packing half my stuff into MJ’s bag, and vice versa. Surely both bags won’t go missing?

Then there are new technologies aimed at more touch less processes. I’m hoping these include face recognition rather than fingerprint identification, as my thumbs give me heaps when travelling internationally. At least one of my thumb prints, if not both, have been damaged somewhere in my long lifeline. This is something I became aware of at airports when those fingerprint machines began to reject me and I’d be escorted away by stern faced guards from the travellers’ line for further investigation. Frightened the life out of me when this first happened in Singapore, but now I expect it. I get a lot of suspicious looks until I get checked out further on a computer. I don’t know what they are looking for there – are they checking the terrorist or international criminal list for thumbprint missing old ladies? Or simply a list of clumsy cooks who burn their hands. I can only assume my thumbprints have been damaged in the kitchen – those times when I’ve grabbed a hot handle, forgetting it hasn’t cooled down!

Face recognition technology could be a problem. Even I have difficulty recognising my aging self as grey hairs, wrinkles, saggy skin and an expanding waistline take over. Did I say waistline? Ok, that slim little thing disappeared a long ago.

For the first time in my life I will be masked up on a flight, and will ponder whether it’s worth the risk of removing it to tackle airline food. Common sense tells me to keep mine on. I’ll probably worry about whether I really need to go into the tiny enclosed germ risk toilet on the aircraft, or can I hang on for another seven hours! Qantas apparently will provide me with a little Covid pack as I go on board – they call it their Fly Well pack with a mask and wipes. I’m not sure if the Japanese airline I’ll also be using will give me a Covid pack. But apparently services such as magazines are gone because of Covid – not a concern as I can freely download the latest range of magazines onto my ipad from my local library. Passengers with the Japanese airline are instructed to avoid chatting to other passengers in a loud voice! Do they mean me?

The Japanese traditionally have been mask wearers – I’m told that’s not because they fear catching colds, etc, but it’s a courtesy to others that they themselves don’t pass on any little sniffles. Covid has been a game changer – more masks everywhere. Their government has eased outdoor mask rules, but the general community is still wearing them big time. That’s ok by me. Another trip safeguard.

The up side of masking up for most of the trip is that between a late autumn beanie, a good covering mask, and a warm scarf hugging my throat and chin, there won’t be much of a reveal of my face and neck wrinkles!

At hotels in Japan, covid regulations remain tight. We can expect to have our temperature checked when we book in. In fact, there’s going too be a lot of temperature assessments throughout our journey. Is there a Guinness world record I can enter for?

At most hotels, there won’t be daily housekeeping. Part of Covid precautions include towel changing, etc, every couple of days, rather than daily. Room service is off for the time being at many places. There’ll be lots of bacterial sprays and wipes available for guests. Fine by me. I know how to make my own bed and stock my tiny hotel fridge with yummy goodies for midnight snacks. Staff too will be masked up, gloved up and temperature checked every day on arrival at work.

Some hotels have abandoned buffets in their restaurants. That’s ok by me too as my budget doesn’t usually allow for them. I prefer to hunt down interesting cafes with good coffee and scrumptious local food.

Many restaurants and cafes, I’m told, have special covid protection measures in place, such as clear Perspex screens on tables between customers. I’m expecting some unusual sights. Enjoying ramen and peering at my beloved through a separation screen!

There’s a lot more cleaning going on now in Japan. It’s hard to know why that’s necessary as Japan is the cleanest place I’ve ever visited. I’m don’t know how they could improve. But pristine will be even more .. well .. pristine and hygienic.

This trip will involve a lot more caution, with intensive handwashing, masking, health checks and crowd avoiding along the way! It is going to be quite different from any other trip I’ve done.

The good news is I’ll be amongst the first international independent travellers arriving back in Japan this year, ahead of the big tourist hordes that, in the past, have packed popular places such as Gion in Kyoto. There will be covid precautions and concerns, but I’m looking forward to my journey with a lot fewer fellow tourists about.

Oh – one more worry for this trip. KYMY and his missile play! Oh, come on KYMY – give me a break. Back in 2017 when I was about to go on my second trip to Japan, Kim Jong-un started firing missiles towards JAPAN, giving us pause to consider whether we should go ahead with our trip. We hastily had to familiarise ourselves with dodging the missile procedures in Japan. Well, the emergency sirens have gone off again throughout Japan as Kymy has started doing it again. I reckon he has heard about our forthcoming trip, and being a party pooper, he has ramped up the missile scare tactics. Well, Kymy – ease up – loosen up – plan a little international tripping yourself, and realise the benefits of being a nice bloke. Strangely, Kymy, you held yourself back for our 2019 Japan trip. I reckon that’s because we had seasoned warriors travelling with us, including your name sake KIM who simply wouldn’t have stood for it! And my formidable sister in law. You knew better than to cross swords with her! So, KYMY, enough of the threatening fireworks. Mask up, chill out and go on a holiday. I already have enough concerns in my baggage, grappling with covid travelling procedures and precautions, thank you very much.☺️


  1. Omg you make me laugh so much, I luv your blogs and look forward with bated breath to your forth coming adventures in your beloved Japan 👏👏👍🙏


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