Eventing (and Touristing) in Japan as a Trusted Traveler

Posted on January 24, 2018

Illustration from THE iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls: Starlight Stage Cards

I am not going to completely rehash information about the Japanese Ministry of Justice’s Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) available on their official site. I will however go over questions and concerns I had as I went through the process that the site failed to address.

Okay, I read about the program, so why would eventers like me be interested?

The TTP’s main purpose is to enable foreigners, among other folks, visiting Japan access to use the automated gates rather than interfacing with an immigration inspector at the immigration booth upon entering and exiting Japan, allowing you faster access through immigration by bypassing lines of people who queue for an immigration inspector because they are not in the program. This means….

1. Eventing right after landing is more possible

If you’re insane enough to schedule an event right after you land at the airport, you will now have an even greater chance to be able to make it to that event where you otherwise could not before. I actually had to do this once not that long ago as I had an event at 17:30 that was about 75 minutes away by the fastest train out of Narita Airport and about 10 minutes of walking. Considering how the size of the lines were at the immigration booths right around Christmas (which needless to say was the worse I’ve ever seen it to be in terms of size), I probably would not have gotten out of the airport until 16:30 which would then make me late for the event. In sharp contrast, there was absolutely no one else at the automated gates! Now, this might not always be the case as I did have to share the gate with one other person once who at that time was behind me but that was it. Further, there’s only one gate dedicated to the TTP the program as the rest were for Japanese citizens. Regardless, I was out of the immigration faster than the time I spent to walk to it when I stepped out of the plane.

2. Doubles as an ID for a lot of things such as events that require it, especially the ones that require a Japanese-issued ID.

During my December trip, I actually had to use the TTP card twice to identify myself in two separate events. The first one was at a Märchen Mädchen event (the same event I had to rush from the airport mentioned earlier) where a U.S. passport would have probably sufficed, but why would you want to do that and end up sticking out? In the end, I got in without having to use a passport just fine.

The other time was at a Million Live CD release event where I would say had mixed results, but only because the TTP does not print any form of address that this particular event needed to verify. Like the other event, I too got in but YMMV.

3. You don’t need to have your passport stamped whenever you enter and exit Japan; your TTP card gets stamped instead.

If you come to Japan to event for several times, pretty soon, you’ll run out of space in your passport.

The above is true with several caveats. Upon successful enrollment to the TTP, your passport will get a stamp saying that your passport will be exempted from entry and departure stamps (talk about ironic) for 3 years, which is the period of validity of the TTP card. This is because instead of actual physical stamps on your passport, you would instead get printed entries on the back of the TTP card like a passbook, saving you space on your actual passport for at least 10-15 entries. The number of entries the card can take before it fills up is, as well as what to do when it fills up, is something I have yet to figure out.

Application Caveats

If the above sound appealing to you then you might want to check the program out. As mentioned earlier, I’m not going to rehash the process, especially because your requirements vary by which country you’re from. Nevertheless, there are a couple things worth noting.

The Secondary (in-person) Inspection must be completed within three months of completing the Preliminary Inspection.

Since you have to be in Japan for the Secondary Inspection, you need to make sure you plan your trips accordingly. I personally do not know what will happen if the Secondary Inspection is not completed by the time limit but I can safely assume your application will fail if you don’t.

For the sake of data-points and figuring out when to start the application process since they don’t really tell you how long each step takes, here’s a timeline of events that I had to go through.

  • Application Submission on November 13, 2016.
  • Preliminary Inspection Completion / Request for Secondary Inspection on January 24, 2017
  • Secondary Inspection Completion on March 10, 2017 @ Haneda International Airport.

Here’s the content of the email I received for completing the preliminary inspection

The preliminary inspection has been completed for the following Application ID.
To continue with the registration procedure, go to the Immigration Bureau with the original copies of your application documents within three months of receiving this e-mail.
You can check your application status by selecting “application status check” on the Trusted Traveler Program information system.

Where/What on earth are Declaration Form No. 12 and Form No.13?

According to the TTP site on the section about “Information Guide for Enrollment in the Trusted Traveler Program” (which links to a PDF form called “info.pdf”) there are forms that have to be completed. For the longest time, I have searched for these forms, only to find out that they were linked in “info.pdf” along that were only clearly visible if it was opened in Adobe PDF Reader. At the time of this writing, that is no longer the case as they are more obvious than they were before regardless of what program the file is opened with.

The completion of these forms is actually not for submission online for preliminary inspection; they are instead for printing and physical submission of during the secondary inspection.

The place where the secondary inspection takes place can be land side.

At least in Haneda International Airport anyway, which was located next to Check-In Counter A on the 3rd Floor Departure Hall (shown above). There are several places you can do this with with other airports apparently as well as non-airport places (see official list of registration counters). The one I went to in Haneda is land side which I went to right after I exited immigration and customs. The interesting point is that because it’s land side, I could have done this right before I was exiting Japan. There’s also an implication to this. Consider this specific eligibility requirement.

Persons who have received landing permission* at a Japanese airport or seaport at least two
(2) times within the 12-month period prior to the day when they came to the designated
registration counter to apply directly for user registration, or to undergo the secondary
inspection following the online submission of an application.

Normally, I would have assumed that I would need to take a trip to Japan three times in a span of 12 months; twice to satisfy the requirement and once to actually complete the secondary inspection. However, since the inspection takes place land side, you could do this in two trips; twice to satisfy the entry requirement. The important point is that, while you can’t hold your inspection the same day you receive your second landing permission, you can do so at any other day during the duration of your second trip, maybe right before you leave Japan.

You can buy revenue stamps at an airport konbini.

The application fee that needs to be paid is interestingly only payable by buying revenue stamps (shunyu inshi 収入印紙). I bought mine at a nearby Lawson at the airport which was located land side.

Whatever documents you need to submit (even the ones online), make sure to bring a colored physical copy to the secondary inspection.

This will save you a lot of trouble, or at least minimize it in case the poor clerk whom you are assigned to has no idea what to do before he/she gets to read a big binder of manuals instructing what to do in case someone appears in front of them to complete the TTP application process. In my case, I brought colored copies of the relevant pages my passport, my Global Entry card, the letter saying I was approved to Global Entry, Declaration Forms No. 12 and No.13. Needless to say, check the requirements in the “Information Guide for Enrollment in the Trusted Traveler Program” specific to your nationality.

In the likely case you forget, you apparently can print them out at the konbini, though I have not personally explored this option yet.

Expect to have the secondary inspection to take an hour or so for extra peace of mind

I personally believe that the inspection can be done in less than 15 minutes, if the clerk processing your application knew what they were doing, which was not the case for me (see previous musings above). As long as you’re not doing this right before when your departing flight is about to leave, you should be fine.

Operation Caveats

If you made it through all that hurdle, give yourself a pat on the back and consider the following.

You still have to fill in the Customs Form by hand

At least the lines at the customs are minimal or non-existent, as opposed to the immigration line

TTP card is a Japanese government-issued ID you can use for…

  • ID’ing for events: See above
  • ID’ing in place of your passport: So you can leave your passport in your luggage at your hotel/residence, if you choose to.
  • Tax exemption: This particular point I have not personally tried yet

TTP works better if you pre-fill your immigration form online but apparently no more than 12 hours before the time you approach the automated gates

If you have not read up on the information about TTP on the website, the program works by allowing the ones in the program to be able to fill in information about their visit to Japan online, rather than in a paper immigration form (officially called Disembarkation Card for Foreigner) that you usually get from flight attendants right before your plane lands, which they would then give to the immigration inspector.

The caveat is, if you do this online, your information is only good for 12 hours. If you’re like me who flies from an airport that is 13 hours away, coupled with the occasional lack of internet service in flight, then the online submission of the form is no good. There are however a couple of things I found out.

  • You can still fill the online form as you walk out of the plane on your way to immigration. Just hop on the airport WiFi.
  • You can fill your info at the automated gate itself.

Last but not the least which I find odd….

  • Your previous information which you entered on a previous disembarkation to Japan will still be saved.

I was in Japan on Novermber 2017 for about six days. I returned about a month later on December 2017 to find out the information I entered the previous month was still there.

TTP Card with an indication of your stay as a temporary visitor can be used to trade a JR exchange order for a rail pass.

When you trade in a JR exchange order for a rail pass, you have to show them the page on your passport bearing the temporary visitor stamp. The problem is that using the automatic gates does not give you that stamp as discussed earlier. Thankfully, showing the TTP card’s reverse side that pretty much signifies the same thing appears to be acceptable.

In my case, I was actually purchasing the rail pass right on the spot without exchange orders at the Tokyo Station JR ticketing office. All I had to do was show them my TTP card and the page on my passport indicating I was exempt from such stamps.

An incomplete guide

There are other points I have yet to address as mentioned earlier (such as what to do if you’re TTP card is completely full). Until then, I will keep updating this guide of sorts as I encounter those relevant situations, whatever they may be.