Photo/IllutrationFacial recognition departure gates became available for non-Japanese short stayers on Aug. 27 at the No. 1 passenger terminal of Narita Airport. (Yoshifumi Fukuda)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Simplified entry and departure procedures are in place for foreign visitors at Narita Airport under a government policy of making Japan a more attractive tourist destination.

The airport, located about 60 kilometers east of the capital in neighboring Chiba Prefecture, is the main hub for the greater Tokyo area.

Previously, only Japanese citizens could use the facial recognition gates and electronic customs declaration service to leave and enter the country. The eased procedures were extended to overseas visitors on Aug. 27 to reduce stress after long haul flights.

Passengers using the facial recognition system need passports with electronic chips, which are scanned by dedicated devices at the gates to automatically match the photo in the travel document with one taken of the holder at the gate.

The mechanism was introduced in June last year at Narita Airport to smooth entry procedures for Japanese. The program was expanded to cover Japanese passengers leaving the country in October that year as well.

The service was recently further improved to enable foreign visitors staying in Japan for up to 90 days for sightseeing and other purposes to easily depart from the country.

According to the Narita Airport District Immigration Office of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, 21,000 overseas short-stay visitors left Japan daily through Narita Airport last year, bringing the annual total to 7.71 million.

The new system is aimed at reducing waiting times for arriving non-Japanese passengers by shifting human resources to entry procedures.

“We are doing our best to make Japan a major tourist destination by streamlining departure processes and realizing smooth and strict entry screening,” said Yoichi Ishii, head of the immigration office.

The electronic customs declaration gate was introduced at the airport's No. 3 passenger terminal for the first time in Japan in April.

The system allows passengers to finish customs declaration procedures on a smartphone app even before picking up their luggage. If tax payments or customs examinations are unnecessary, one can pass customs, using the facial recognition service based on electronic-chip passports.

The simplified customs check will become available at Narita Airport’s No. 1 and No. 2 passenger terminals and other airports from spring next year.

“I hope passengers will pass through customs with as less stress as possible after long hauls,” said Takaaki Kanrei, head of the Tokyo Customs’ Narita Branch Customs.