About 49% of Singaporeans say they are considering Japan for their next vacation abroad, according to market research firm YouGov.
Interest may be higher among young citizens. About 68% of Singaporeans aged 16-24 said they were considering Japan for their “next vacation,” compared to 37% of those aged 55 or older, according to research published in May.
Japan ranked first among survey respondents by a good margin, with the second choice, Taiwan, gaining the interest of 39% of those surveyed. 26% of them indicated their interest in vacationing in Malaysia, according to the results, but this may have been influenced by the survey question asked specifically about “by air” travel plans.
However, Wanping Aw, CEO of Tokyo-based travel agency Tokudaw, said her company saw a significant increase in business after Japan reopened its borders in June — with 50% of inquiries and bookings coming in from Singapore, she said.
Why do Singaporeans love Japan
Ou said Japan has always been a popular destination for Singaporeans, especially among those who want a change of seasons.
Spring and winter are “peak season” for travelers from Singapore, she said, “They love the cherry blossoms and snow so much.”
Singaporean trader Alex Ng said he is planning a trip to Japan this fall.
Wanping Aw in Shinjuku Gyoen, a famous park in Tokyo. Oo, who is Singaporean, has been living in Japan for the past 13 years.
Source: Wanping Aw
Describing himself as a “lover of Japan,” Eng, said the country hits the “beautiful spot” between the familiar and the unknown.
He said the safety, cleanliness and professionalism of Japan is similar to that of Singapore, as well as the culture’s adherence to social rules for the collective good.
“The trains won’t hit as they rush back from a day trip,” he said. “We feel comfortable working in this structure. It’s familiar how we live here, and probably why most Singaporeans love Switzerland too.”
The food is also familiar – rice-based with ingredients like fish, pork and tofu – but it “braces from there in a myriad of wonderful directions”.
Alex Ng said that most Singaporeans enjoy the intricacies of Japanese culture. “It’s a purgative and inspiring to try.”
Source: Alex Ng
He said he also appreciates the religious differences between the two countries.
“We are fortunate to have a range of faiths here in Singapore,” he said. But “Shinto, which informs so much about Japanese life and culture—particularly the architecture, aesthetics, cultivation, and maintenance of natural spaces—is very different from what we grew up around.”
And what about cherry blossoms? “I’ve spent hundreds of years planting tens of thousands of cherry blossom trees…for a few weeks of vibrant celebrations each year.”
“I am not yet tired of the scene,” he said.
Singapore is one of more than 100 countries and territories marked “blue” in Japan’s color-coded entry classification system.
Travelers from those places are not required to take a Covid-19 test or quarantine on arrival, or vaccinate to enter. Despite this, visas and pre-flight Covid-19 PCR tests are required, according to the website of the Embassy of Japan in Singapore.
Aw said that the requirements that go beyond that left many travelers confused.
This is especially true of the rule allowing tourists to enter “only when a travel agency among other agencies organizing the trip acts as a receiving organization for arrivals,” as stated by the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
“This misunderstanding has escalated with the fact that Japanese embassies use the word tour programme,” she said. This conjures up images of “30 to 40 strangers in a large bus, walking down a fixed route with a predetermined itinerary.”
But this is not accurate, she said.
One person can book a “package trip,” she said, adding that she has arranged three single travel bookings – including one from Singapore – since the Japan border opened in June.
The term “pre-determined itinerary” confuses potential travelers.
“Everyone seems to have the impression that they have to adjust their itinerary to an hour or a minute … which is hard to reach,” she said. “But it’s not as difficult as it seems.”
Another problem – “Everyone is confused and stressed about the visa application process,” she said.
To apply for a tourist visa, travelers need to plan an itinerary and book their flights and accommodations before they can process “ERFS certificates,” she said, referring to the approval document visitors need before they can apply for their visas.
She said only Japanese companies can apply for the certification, but travelers can work through tour agencies in their home countries, who in turn work with their local partners in Japan.
Once they obtain the ERFS certificate, Ao said, travelers can apply for their visas.
Finally, the accompaniment
In addition to working with an agency, international travelers must also travel with an escort “at all times,” according to O.
Guests have to pay for utilities, Ao said, and he is an employee of the travel agency. But on the plus side, escorts can help with things like restaurant reservations and train schedules to make trips go more smoothly, she said.
He said the escorted trip isn’t a deal breaker for Ng, and neither are the rest of Japan’s travel rules. However, he said he would likely travel to Japan more often if the rules were less complicated.
For now, Ng said he is optimistic.
“There is a good chance that Japan will loosen restrictions more soon, given that the elections are now over,” he said.
Eng said he got his flights and hotels — but not his visa — on the assumption that, in the fall, the rules might be different.
Ou said many other Singaporeans are doing the same. She said they are making plans, but are delaying the application process for their visas “for as long as possible”.