Flying Space-A to Japan: 9 Things You Need to Know

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A red shrine in Japan surrounded by trees

Japan is one of the most unique travel destinations in the world and well worth the time and effort to get there. Military travelers are very fortunate, because we have the privilege of taking Space-A flights (aka “MAC” flights) to Japan, allowing us to save hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars on airfare.

Flying Space-A to Japan is an incredible opportunity that makes the possibility of visiting this beautiful country very realistic. Here’s what you need to know to plan your trip.

If you are new to Space-A flying, read this Quickstart Guide to Space-A Flights first to get a basic understanding of how the process works.

1. The CONUS passenger terminals with the most Space-A flights to Japan are Travis Air Force Base and the Seattle Tacoma Airport Air Mobility Command (AMC) terminal.

From the SeaTac AMC terminal, you will fly on the Patriot Express (PE), which is a charter plane used to transport active duty families PCSing to locations in the Pacific. Also known as the “rotator,” the PE to Japan makes stops at multiple bases before returning to Seattle.

The PE generally has more Space-A seats in the second half of the month.

| Click here to see the PE routes and flight schedules to Japan

If you start at Travis, you might get a flight directly to Japan, or you may need to hop to Hawaii and/or Guam along the way.

Hopping to Japan via JB Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska is another option and a good way to avoid the crowds in Hawaii. Travis and JB Lewis-McChord have regular flights to Elmendorf.

2. When flying Space-A to Japan from the U.S., your first arrival point will be Yokota Air Base, Misawa Air Base, or Kadena Air Base.

Yokota is 90 minutes from Tokyo. Misawa is in northern Japan. Kadena is on Okinawa.

From those terminals, you can hop to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, which is about an hour from Hiroshima.

You may see flights to Atsugi Naval Air Base on the schedule, but you are not authorized to take those flights unless you have a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) stamp in your passport.

3. You must have your passport stamped within 24 hours of entering and leaving Japan.

If you do not get your passport stamped within the required timeframe, you are in Japan illegally.

Active duty members not stationed in Japan and their accompanying dependents will receive a temporary Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) stamp at the terminal from U.S. Air Force Customs.

For all other Space-A passengers not covered under SOFA (retired military personnel, Japanese passport holders, diplomatic passport holders, DOD civilians not stationed in Japan, and dependents not stationed in Japan traveling without their sponsor), the process for getting your passport stamped differs at each location.

Yokota and Kadena

At Yokota and Kadena, you must go to the Government of Japan (GOJ) Customs & Immigration Office located off base.

At Yokota, the office is just outside the base, only a block from the terminal. The office is open from 0500 – 2200. Yokota’s page on the AMC website has a map that shows the location of the office.

When you land at Yokota, a representative from Japanese Customs or a Military Customs Official will transport Space-A passengers to the GOJ office.

If you arrive late at night and the office is closed, you are responsible for going there yourself the next morning.

At Kadena, the office is about 15 minutes away by car. A member of the passenger terminal staff will transport passengers to the office and bring them back to the base.

The departure procedures at the Yokota and Kadena AMC terminals differ.

At Yokota, you must get your departure stamp before you can mark yourself present for an international flight. The departure stamp is good for 24 hours.

If you don’t get a seat or the flight is canceled, you must return to the immigration office and get a “Not Departed” stamp. You must repeat the process the next time you want to compete for a flight.

At the Kadena terminal, you can’t get the passport stamp until you already have your boarding pass. As soon as you are manifested on a flight, you must go straight to the immigration office so you can get back to the terminal in time for boarding.

Passenger terminal staff do not transport passengers to get the departure stamp, so you must get there on your own. You can take a taxi or, if you rented a car from a location on base, you can drive there yourself.

The second option requires you to get permission from the rental car company to leave your vehicle in the passenger terminal parking lot, because you probably will not have time to return it to them before catching your flight. (This is what we did the first time we were in Okinawa).


If you travel to or from another country via Misawa, it’s most likely on a Patriot Express mission from Seattle or Osan Air Base in Korea. On those days (Mondays and Tuesdays), an official from Japanese Immigration is in the terminal to stamp passports.

If you arrive at Misawa Wednesday – Sunday, they will hold your passport and you will be restricted to the base until a Japanese Immigration official arrives on Monday. 

4. Yokota has one lodging facility. Kadena and Misawa both have two.

Yokota Lodging

Yokota’s Kanto Lodge is about a 15-min walk from the Yokota passenger terminal. They offer a courtesy shuttle to/from the terminal for guests checking in or out. There is also a base shuttle (discussed below) that stops at both locations.

If the Kanto Lodge is full, your only option is staying off base. The local town is called Fussa, and it has a few hotels.

The Toyoko Inn is a good choice, because it is across from the train station and a mall that has several restaurants and a grocery store.

Airbnb also has some inexpensive local listings near Yokota (this article has tips on using Airbnb in Japan).

Kadena Lodging

Kadena has a Navy Gateway Inns & Suites and the Shogun Inn. Between the two, it’s generally not difficult to get a room on base. If both of those lodges are full, there are several other U.S. military bases nearby.

If you prefer to stay off base near Kadena, you can find many hotels, often at a lower price than base lodging. However, keep in mind that Japanese hotel rooms are usually very small. Click here to search hotels near Kadena.

Misawa Lodging

Misawa’s lodging facilities are the Misawa Inn and Navy Gateway Inns & Suites. They are located approximately one block apart.

If base lodging at Misawa is full, check rates and availability for lodging in town.

5. You can use most facilities on bases in Japan.

Space-A travelers, including retirees, who are not stationed in Japan can use the commissary, Exchange, MWR, and other services on U.S. military bases in Japan.

| Related Reading: 5 Japan Destinations You Can Visit and Stay on a U.S. Military Base

Retirees are authorized to eat in the dining facilities at Yokota and Misawa but can eat at the Kadena dining facility only on holidays.

6. Yokota has a base shuttle and shuttles to both Tokyo airports. The other bases may require a rental car.


Yokota’s base shuttle stops at the passenger terminal, the Kanto Lodge, and other destinations around the base. It also has shuttles to both Tokyo airports and the New Sanno Hotel (a U.S. military hotel in downtown Tokyo).

Following are the Tokyo airport and New Sanno shuttle routes. View the online schedules for departure times and costs.

  • The Narita Airport and Haneda Airports shuttles depart from the Long Term Parking Lot and the Kanto Lodge.
  • The New Sanno Hotel shuttle departs from the Kanto Lodge only.


Kadena does not have a base shuttle, but it is large and very spread out. If you plan to spend any significant time there, you will need to rent a car. The on-base option is Times Car Rental. They have two locations: one is by the gas station close to the passenger terminal, and the other is in building 328 of the Shogun Inn.

If you need to go to Naha airport, contact Navy MWR Okinawa Transportation Services. They offer airport charter service accommodating up to 10 passengers and luggage. Note that if you are traveling from Kadena AB, the Area 2 rate shown on the website applies ($60 as of June 2024)

A local taxi service called Panda Taxi also has access to Kadena AB.


Misawa also does not have a base shuttle. Times Car Rental is located in the Exchange, and there is a base taxi service called Kichi Taxi.

| Related Reading: What You Need to Know About Renting a Car in Japan

7. When trying to fly Space-A from Japan to CONUS, take the first thing smokin’.

In other words, don’t get stuck waiting for the perfect flight. This is an important Space-A strategy. Take the earliest flight you can get in the direction of your destination.

For example, if the schedule shows a flight to Fairchild Air Force Base today and a flight to Travis tomorrow, take the one to Fairchild, even if Spokane, WA is less convenient to your final destination. It’s better to get across the pond than to risk getting stuck in Japan.

8. Price commercial options for travel to and within Japan. Depending on the number of travelers and the time of year, Space-A might not be worth it.

Traveling Space-A between Japan and CONUS can easily take a full week or more, even if everything goes relatively smoothly.

For example, you might spend a day or two getting to Travis and a few days at Travis waiting for a flight. If you don’t get a direct flight to Japan, you may stop in Hawaii and/or Guam along the way.

Keep in mind that you will pay for lodging and meals at each stopover. Compare that time and cost with the price of a flight that takes you straight to Japan and allows you to plan the rest of your trip based on a confirmed arrival date.

| Related Reading: Lessons Learned from Flying Space-A from Japan to Europe

If you’re traveling between mainland Japan and Okinawa, one of the Japanese low-cost carriers is often the most cost-effective way to travel. In fact, Space-A likely isn’t the best option if you’re starting from or traveling to a location that is not convenient to a base.

For example, if you are in Kyoto, it will take you about 3.5 hours and well over $100 per person to travel to Yokota by train. From there, you will need to pay for lodging until you can get a flight.

Alternatively, you could take the train from Kyoto to Osaka (about an hour/$10) and fly Peach Aviation to Naha, Okinawa. Peach often has fares between Osaka and Naha for under $50 each way.

9. When flying commercial to Japan, you may need proof of onward travel.

Officially, tourists entering Japan must have proof of onward travel in the form of a round trip plane ticket or some other transportation out of Japan. Military travelers arriving via Space-A won’t have a problem, but if you plan to fly commercial to Japan and fly Space-A home, for example, beware.

You are most likely to encounter enforcement of this law when checking in for your flight in the U.S. or wherever you are originating travel. Airline staff may request to see proof of onward travel, and if you don’t have it, you likely won’t be allowed to board.

Immigration staff in Japan could also ask to see proof that you don’t plan to stay indefinitely.

There are several ways to address this situation:

  1. Buy a refundable one-way ticket back to the U.S. and cancel it as soon as you get to Japan.
  2. Buy the cheapest plane ticket you can find from any city in Japan to any other country in the world. It doesn’t matter where or when, as long as it’s within 90 days of your arrival in Japan. I like Skyscanner, because you can perform that exact search (From “Japan (JP)” to “Everywhere”). You may find refundable tickets, but if not, losing $36 won’t break the bank.
  3. Price round-trip tickets. One-way fares to Japan often are not significantly cheaper than round-trip fares. If you are planning to fly commercial to Japan anyway, unless you don’t know your return date (or you want the adventure of flying Space-A), the extra cost of a confirmed flight home might be worthwhile.

Ready to Hop to Japan?

Flying Space-A on military flights to Japan is often a great way to make the long trip more affordable, especially when traveling as a family. Now that you know what to expect, use the information above to develop a strategy for your travel so that you can increase your chances of having a smooth Space-A journey!

Join the Facebook group U.S. Military Travelers in Japan to exchange tips and advice with others in our community!

Related Reading

The Best Japan Travel Guide Books

Staying as The New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo

Visiting Hiroshima and Miyajima Island

Climbing Mt. Fuji (Military Style)

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25 thoughts on “Flying Space-A to Japan: 9 Things You Need to Know”

    • I hope you decide to do it! May is a great time to come to Japan. Let me know if you’re coming down to Kyushu.

  1. Thanks for the info. I was in Japoan in 2016. We came commercially but stayed in the New Sanno. Very nice and really nice staff. We had reservations for the first three days before we set off to see the country. Later we were able to get a room at the last minute. Only place in Japan I was able to get Diet Coke. We also had bought a rail pass. That was a great deal for us and so easy to use. No hassle in trying to buy tickets from machines and agents we didn’t understand. The Japanese would stop and help if you looked the least bit bewildered. And the cherry blossoms were at their peak while we were there! Wonderful experience!

    • Glad you had such a good experience! The New Sanno was a nice taste of home when I hadn’t been back to the U.S. for a while. We live on the economy and aren’t near a base, so there are certain things I miss. But as you said, overall, Japan is wonderful! Hope you make it back here soon.

  2. What a great site, we are wanting to go to Japan this spring, flying into Iwakuni AB. We are retired and will be coming from the Midwest, trying to find who flies where .
    Once we flew out of Scott to Travis and enjoyed a great time driving Highway 1, I’m not sure if this is still possible?
    One question is, how much trouble is the language to navigate around the country of Japan, and where is the best place to do the monitary exchange?

    • Hi Michael – Flights from Scott to Travis are rare. I recommend flying commercial to Seatac and trying for a Patriot Express, which is also the best way to get to Iwakuni. For Japanese Yen, use an ATM – you get the best rate that way. We bank with USAA, and the only two ATMs we can use in Japan are the post office bank and 7-Eleven. Fortunately, both of those places have many locations around Japan. I am not sure if ATM cards from other U.S. banks only work in certain places. As for the language, we haven’t found it to be a problem when getting around. In major cities and on trains/buses, many signs are in English (or at least in “Romaji,” which means the Japanese words are written in the Roman alphabet, so you can figure out where you’re going). We also make extensive use of Google Maps, which tells us what train or bus to take, where to transfer, how much it will cost, etc. without having to use any Japanese maps or schedules. Restaurants can be a bit challenging if they don’t have an English menu. Depending on how adventurous you are, you can just pick something or point to someone else’s dish and say you’ll have the same. Some restaurants also have synthetic replicas of all of their dishes displayed in the window. Those are very helpful! Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many Japanese will tell you they don’t speak English or only speak a little bit, but in our experience, they are just being modest. They can usually communicate well enough to help you figure out where you’re going, and we have had people accompany us to our destination to ensure we got there. Good luck, and don’t hesitate to contact me with more questions!

    • You definitely have to plan a cushion of at least several days! You could get lucky and get a flight straight to Japan the first day you arrive at Travis or Seatac, but in many cases it won’t be that simple.

  3. Thank you for pointing out the commercial options. Great to know when you foresee your Space A luck running out. Lived in Japan for a while and found it important to budget more money than needed. Living & traveling in Japan gets expensive QUICKLY!

    • Thanks John! I agree, Japan can get pricey. The trains are also a great option, but they are often more expensive than flying.

  4. My wife needs an electric scooter to be able to move around. What kind of problems will I need to overcome flying space A?
    We are both retired military.

    • The maximum weight for mobility assistance equipment is 100 lbs. Depending on the mission and type of aircraft, they may not be able to accommodate the scooter. Also, there have been times when we had to board or exit an aircraft using the internal staircase (for example, on a C-5), and those situations could be difficult. I think it would be a good idea to target Patriot Express flights, because those aircraft could best accommodate your situation.

  5. I’m retired and thinking of flying space a to Japan. Are space a travelers eligible for the JR rail pass? I read your neef to be marked as tourist and have a return ticket purchased. If seems other space a travelers have bought them, but maybe I’m wrong. Thanks for the information. I love reading articles like this and learn even more in the comments section.

    • Yes, you should be able to purchase a JR pass. When you land in Japan and go to the Immigration office, your passport will have the same stamp as any other American tourist. I haven’t seen anything on the JR website indicating that you need to show proof of return ticket. Here is some information about how you can purchase a JR pass within Japan (previously, you could only purchase them outside the country):

      • we have used JR rail pass last 2 years in a row. purchased before leaving U.S., never a problem converting voucher to rail pass at J.R. office once in Japan. Biggest issue I ever had was my name on voucher did not *EXACTLY* match my name as spelled on my passport.

  6. Great article. How can I get from Misawa to Iwakuni if space A is not an option.Thanks in advance.

    • There is a civilian airport in Misawa, and the closest civilian airport to Iwakuni is Hiroshima. It doesn’t look like there are any direct flights between those two airports, so you would have to connect via Haneda airport in Tokyo. Another possibility if you visit Japan on a tourist visa and plan to buy a train pass is to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) all or part of the way. Individual Shinkansen tickets are expensive, but the train pass is a great deal and could be cheaper than flying.

  7. If I take a commercial flight into Japan and plan on using space A coming home will I have issues getting a tourist visa at immigration since I won’t have a return flight out?

    • We’ve flown commercial into Japan without return tickets on several occasions without a problem. Once you’re in Japan, they are simply stamping your passport, which gives you the 90-day “tourist visa.” They will likely ask questions about the purpose of your visit and how long you plan to stay, but no one asked us to see return tickets. I can’t guarantee that you will have the same experience, but I have yet to hear of anyone having that problem.

  8. This information is so helpful. Thank you! We are a family of 6 in Korea and thinking of trying Space-A to Okinawa just after Labor Day. With only a week of leave, I think we might be better off flying commercial. Thanks again!

    • A week of leave is pretty tight! I think you’re right that commercial would be best for that trip. I recommend looking at Peach Aviation. They are a low cost carrier in Japan, and they fly between Seoul and Naha. Sign up for their e-mail list, and they send you notice of their sales. We’ve flown round trip between Fukuoka, Japan and Naha for less than $50 per ticket.

  9. This is a very helpful article, thanks so much!
    If we are coming from Indiana, what base (within 10ish hours driving distance) would give us the best chance of catching a flight to Travis during the summer?
    It seems looking online that Andrews and Mcquire seem popular. Do you know which of those is better or if there is anything closer?
    Thank you so much!!

    • Hi Grace,
      McGuire is probably your best bet. They go to Travis pretty frequently, and it’s a very active base for Space-A. You could also try Wright-Patterson, but they do not have as many flights. You have to call their flight recording to hear their schedule (937-257-6235), because they do not have a Facebook page. Traveling within CONUS during the summer should be no problem, but if you’re planning to hop from Travis to Japan, I recommend waiting until mid-September to have a better shot at getting a seat. Good luck!

  10. Very helpful article. My husband (retired army) is thinking about meeting our daughter in Japan after mid December. How feasible would it be during that time frame in terms of time during the holidays. We live in Texas.

    • Hi Colleen – It’s feasible if he has a lot of flexibility in his travel dates. Traveling to Japan before the holidays, he will be going in the opposite direction of the families stationed in Japan. That being said, there are fewer missions overall and a lot of competition for Space-A seats whenever there is a holiday break, so if he absolutely needs to be anywhere by a certain date, I recommend flying commercial.

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