Japan is one of the most unique travel destinations in the world and well worth the time and effort required to get there. 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 Seattle Tacoma (SeaTac) International Airport
From SeaTac, you will fly on the Patriot Express, which is a charter plane used to transport active duty families to locations in the Pacific. The Patriot Express flies directly to Japan from Seattle.
If you start at Travis, you might get a flight directly to Japan, or you may have to hop to Hawaii and/or Guam along the way.
2. When flying Space-A to Japan from the U.S., your first arrival point will most likely be Yokota Air Base (90 minutes west of Tokyo) or Kadena Air Base (on Okinawa).
From those terminals, you can hop to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni (near Hiroshima) or Misawa Air Base (in Northern Japan). 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 by Japanese Immigration within 24 hours of entering and leaving Japan.
When arriving from a base outside of Japan, a Military Customs Official will transport you to the Japanese Customs & Immigration Office to have your passport stamped. At Yokota, the office is just outside the base, only a block from the terminal. At Kadena, the office is about 15 minutes away. If you arrive late at night and the Customs & Immigration Office is closed, you are responsible for going there yourself the next morning.
The departure procedures at Yokota and Kadena are different. At Yokota, you must get your departure stamp before you can mark yourself present for an international flight. 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 have to repeat the process the next time you want to compete for a flight.
At Kadena, 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 Japanese Customs & Immigration office so you can be back at the terminal in time for boarding.
4. Yokota has one lodging facility, The Kanto Lodge. Kadena has two on-base lodging options: The Shogun Inn and the Navy Gateway Inns & Suites (NGIS).
The Kanto Lodge is about a 10-min walk from the Yokota passenger terminal. 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.
5. You can use all facilities at both Yokota and Kadena, including the mess hall.
Space-A travelers, including retirees, who are not stationed in Japan can use the commissary, Exchange, and other services on U.S. military bases. At both Yokota and Kadena, my husband and I ate in the dining facilities.
6. Yokota has a base shuttle and shuttles to both Tokyo airports. Kadena does not operate any shuttles.
Kadena 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 Fuji Rent-a-Car.
Yokota has a base shuttle that stops at the passenger terminal, the Kanto Lodge, and other destinations around the base. The Tokyo airport shuttles are as follows:
- The Narita shuttle runs 3x per day and takes 4 hours. The fare is $40 for passengers 13 or older and $30 for passengers 12 and under.
- There is one Haneda shuttle per day. It stops at the New Sanno, a military hotel in downtown Tokyo. Total time to Haneda is 3 hours. Fare is $20 for SOFA ID-holder and $25 for others.
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. Take the earliest flight you can get that will move you forward. 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 to Japan from 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 or Guam along the way. Keep in mind that you will be paying 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.
If you’re traveling between mainland Japan and Okinawa, one of the Japanese low-cost carriers may be 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 have 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. Vanilla Airways is another low-cost carrier.
Flying Space-A to Japan can be a great way to make the long trip more affordable, especially when traveling as a family. Knowing what to expect and strategizing your travel will greatly increase your chances of having a smooth Space-A journey.
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