6 Hawaii residents travel to Japan as part of pilot program to bring back tourists

One traveler said the process consisted of completing a lot of paperwork and enduring long lines and hours-long waits at the airport.
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 10:28 PM HST|Updated: May. 25, 2022 at 10:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As part of a new pilot program, six people from Hawaii became the first in a group of travelers to Japan to see how ready the country is to reopen to tourists.

The group included only seven travelers from the United States — including one person from Los Angeles.

Japan stopped allowing new arrivals in 2020.

Edward Sugimoto, a Mililani resident, went on a five-day business visa to Tokyo and just got back.

He said the process of traveling to Japan consisted of completing a lot of paperwork and enduring long lines and hours-long waits at the airport.

“The hardest part was submitting for visa,” he said. “You also have to get a negative COVID test within 72 hours. It’s a spit test. And then then you have to wait, we waited about maybe 40 to 45 minutes to get the results back.”

Sugimoto said from landing to getting their luggage, it was about two hours — which is shorter than the three to five hour process he was expecting.

As the owner of Aloha Revolution, Sugimoto said he traveled to network at events promoting Hawaii.

“The entire time I was there, I probably saw maybe five people without masks. Everyone else was masked, keeping social distancing,” he said.

“It’s a lot emptier than it normally is, the trains are not as crowded. The touristy spots are not as crowded. A lot of shuttered businesses, there’s a lot of them that are not even open.”

To head back home, Sugimoto had to take another PCR test. If he tested positive, he’d have to stay in Japan and quarantine.

Thankfully that wasn’t the case — and he had a quiet flight back with half the plane empty.

“I felt for them because on the Hawaii-side, we are not seeing visitors as well and we are feeling the impact of that,” Sugimoto said.

After a recent meeting with Japan travel officials, Gov. David Ige said he’s hopeful Japan could reopen this summer.

Japanese media reports it could be as soon as June that travelers from countries with low transmission rates will no longer have to quarantine regardless of their vaccination status.

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