After the government eased border measures for COVID-19, we see many international visitors at famous tourist spots more often again, which looks almost like what we saw before the pandemic. As a Japanese, I am so happy about the situation that energizes Japan supporting its economy.
In the past article, we shared the story about Narita Airport Volunteer Skylets providing supporting and welcoming services for visitors from overseas at Narita and Haneda Airport. This time, we went to Narita Airport and saw how the volunteer staff welcomed travelers from overseas at Terminal 1.
Usually, one pair of staff is assigned to one group (up to 10 people) when they welcome and assist their guests at the airport. However, that day, the Secretary General of Narita Skylets, Mr. Fukuyama, was on the way after pre-checking another area and joined the pair. Then the three welcomed a married couple from the US.
Skylets' Members (left-right): Secretary General Fukuyama, Mr. Tani, Mr. Kawahara
Skylet's Staff told us:
"Volunteer staff standby at the arrival lobby with welcome boards 30 minutes before the expected arrival time. Because there are two exits to the lobby, and we don't know which one our guests will use, so we wait at each exit."
Each staff is waiting at each exit on the side of the arrival lobby.
The guest couple came out of the exit about an hour later the plane landed. It was their first visit to Japan, with a plan to stay for three weeks. They were planning to cruise around Japan and hike 中山道 (nakasen-dō: one of the five routes developed in the Edo era) that amazed them on a YouTube channel. They said they would like to enjoy Japanese culture, the natural environment, and food, hoping to eat their favorite ramen.
They applied to Skylets' service because their friend had used it before and told them about it.
Slylets' Staff said:
"After welcoming this couple, one of us will take them to rent a mobile Wi-Fi they applied for before coming to Japan, and the other will keep their luggage."
"Then, we will go to a place to buy an e-money card, Welcome Suica*, to use while staying in Japan."
*Welcome Suica is a rechargeable prepaid smart card that international visitors can use for transportation without buying tickets for trains and buses. With this integrated circuit card, people can buy things at stores where the e-card can be used almost all over Japan.
"Lastly, we take our service users to a train ticket vending machine for them to go to their hotel. Our job is normally done when we complete our supporting service at the airport, but this time, one of us will go with them part of the way because he is heading in the same direction."
By the way, the volunteer staff members were asked for help by travelers from abroad one after another when we got to the ticket vending machine section, so they helped the visitors for a while.
That was all for that day, and we asked the Skylets' staff some questions about other occasions and support services.
－ Have you ever had any problems meeting and assisting visitors?
Skylets Staff: "One of our problems is that we can't know detailed information about when our guests will come out to the arrival lobby because we can't see what is going on in the immigration area. The status is displayed on the REMARKS of the announcement board, but it is not always in real-time. So, we only see it as a rough indication. Today, we could meet with no problems because we chatted on WhatsApp. However, we sometimes wait more than two hours when we don't have communication tools. That is a problem."
ーHow do you assist your guests in going to their destinations from the airport?
Skylets Staff: "We ask them about their destinations, such as their hotel and the address, via e-mail before their arrival and make a plan for a recommendation. It depends on the staff, but I send an e-mail with approximately two ideas in advance and ask my guests to choose one. If they let me decide, I will tell them my recommendation.
Although destinations of visitors from overseas vary, there are mainly three types of travelers:
People who want to head for 新宿 Shinjuku/品川 Shinagawa/ 横浜駅Yokohama Station by Narita Express;
People who want to head for 日暮里 Nippori/ 上野駅Ueno Station on Keisei Line;
People who want to go to a big station or directly to the hotel by shuttle bus (Shuttle bus services are available for major hotels directly to/from the airport*.)
*Shuttle bus: It is necessary to check if the bus service is open as it was before the pandemic since not every service is back.
We recommend taking a train if there are options for trains because shuttle busses sometimes take longer time due to traffic jams on highways.
By the way, trains come and leave on time in Japan. They announce to apologize for even a couple of minute delay.
For visitors staying for one to three weeks, an unlimited travel ticket, JAPAN RAIL PASS, is provided by JR's six group companies. ( For available trains, cars, and facilities, check https://japanrailpass.net/en/about_jrp.html#anchor05 ) It is possible to apply and get a voucher before coming to Japan. We will guide visitors to the place to receive a pass."
－How do you assist your guests who think it is difficult to go to their destinations from the airport?
Skylets Staff: I make a document with a map and photos and send it via e-mail to such people. If someone strongly wants us to go to the destination together, we ask the guest for transportation fees for our volunteer staff to get to the place and return to the closest station where the staff would go.
We try our best every day according to the purpose of Skylets as a motto: offering a sense of relief to visitors from abroad through activities including welcoming with the hospitality of omotenashi.
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Contacting Skylets would be helpful for group travel, such as when your family members, friends from home, or groups of your co-workers at school or a government office are visiting Japan*.
*Contact at least three weeks in advance of the arrival date. Skylets does not accept subcontracts from travel agencies
Contact for Skylets: https://skylets.jimdo.com/engilish/inquiry/
If you know any volunteer organization like Skylets in your country, let us know from the "Comments" section at the bottom!