According to market research firm YouGov, about 49% of Singaporeans say they are considering Japan for their next holiday abroad.
Interest in young citizens may be even greater. 68% of Singaporeans aged 16 to 24 indicated they were considering Japan for their “next holiday”, compared with 37% of those aged 55 and over, according to research published in May.
Japan was the top choice among survey respondents by a good margin, with the second choice, Taiwan, garnering interest from 39% of those surveyed. Some 26% expressed interest in vacationing in Malaysia, according to the results, but this may have been influenced by the survey question, which specifically asked about travel plans “from Hawaii”.
Still, Wanping O, CEO of Tokyo-based travel agency Tokudaw, said her company has seen a huge increase in business since Japan reopened its borders in June — 50% of inquiries and bookings come from Singapore, she said.
Why do Singaporeans love Japan?
Japan has always been a popular destination for Singaporeans, especially those looking for a change of scenery.
Spring and winter are the two “peak seasons” for Singaporean travelers, she said: “They like cherry blossoms and snow a lot.”
Alex Ng, a Singaporean businessman, said he plans to visit Japan this autumn.
Wanping O in Shinjuku Gyoen, a popular park in Tokyo. O, who is Singaporean, has lived in Japan for 13 years.
Source: Wanping Aw
A self-described “Japanophile,” Ng said the country strikes a “sweet spot” between the familiar and the unknown.
He said Japan’s safety, cleanliness and professionalism are similar to Singapore’s, and it has a culture of following social rules for the collective good.
“Trains don’t go on strike when you’re coming back from a day trip,” he said. “We feel comfortable working in that structure. We know how we live here, which is probably why many Singaporeans like Switzerland.”
The food is also familiar — based on rice with ingredients like fish, pork and tofu — but it “branches off in many fascinating directions from there.”
Alex Ng said most Singaporeans enjoy the complexity of Japanese culture. “It’s cathartic and inspiring to experience.”
Source: Alex Ng
He also said that he appreciates the religious differences between the two countries.
“We are lucky to have different religions here in Singapore,” he said. But “Shintoism, which informs so much of Japanese life and culture — especially their architecture, aesthetics, cultivation and care for natural spaces — is quite different from what we grew up around.”
And cherry blossoms? “Hundreds of years were spent cultivating thousands of cherry blossom trees … for a few weeks of lively festivities each year.”
“I’m tired of the spectacle,” he said.
There is confusion
Singapore is one of more than 100 countries and territories marked “blue” in Japan’s color-coded entry classification system.
Travelers arriving from those places are not required to undergo a COVID-19 test or quarantine on arrival or be vaccinated for entry. According to the website of the Japanese Embassy in Singapore, a visa and pre-flight Covid-19 PCR test are required.
But requirements beyond that have confused many travelers, Aw said.
This is especially true regarding the rule that allows tourists to enter “when another travel agency that organizes the trip acts as a receiving entity for the entrants,” Japan’s foreign ministry said.
Such websites use “language that talks in a loop,” Aw said.
“And this misunderstanding is compounded by the fact that Japanese embassies are using the term package tour,” she said. It conjures up images of “30 to 40 strangers on a big bus, going along a fixed route with a pre-determined itinerary”.
But that’s not right, she said.
A person can book a “package tour,” she said, adding that she has arranged three solo travel bookings — including one from Singapore — since Japan’s borders opened in June.
The term “pre-arranged itinerary” is confusing even potential travelers.
“Everyone seems to be under the impression that they have to schedule their itineraries to the hour or the minute … that it’s hard to come by,” she said. “But it’s not as hard as it looks.”
Another problem – “everyone is confused and stressed about the visa application process,” she said.
To apply for a tourist visa, travelers need to plan a trip and book their flight and accommodation before their “ERFS certificates” can be processed, she said, referring to the approval documents required before visitors can apply for their visas.
Only Japanese companies can apply for the certificate, although travelers can work in their home country through tour agencies, which work with their local partners in Japan, she said.
Once the ERFS certificate is received, travelers can apply for their visa, Aw said.
In addition to working with an agency, international travelers must also “always” travel with a chaperone, Aw said.
Guests must pay for a concierge, who is an employee of a travel agency, Aw said. But on the flip side, chaperones can help with things like restaurant reservations and train schedules to make trips run smoothly, she said.
A patron trip isn’t a deal breaker for Ng, nor are the rest of Japan’s travel regulations, he said. However, he said he would visit Japan more often if the rules were less burdensome.
For now, Ng said he remains optimistic.
“There is a good chance that Japan will loosen the restrictions soon, as the election is now over,” he said.
Ng said he had secured his flights and hotels — but not his visa — on the assumption that, come autumn, the rules might be different.
Aw said many other Singaporeans are doing the same thing. They are making plans, but pushing the process of applying for their visas “as long as they can,” she said.