Kansai smooth; other areas suffer glitches

by Eric Johnston

OSAKA — Travelers and immigration officials reported no major problems at Kansai International Airport on Tuesday, the first day of new immigration procedures requiring most foreigners to have their fingerprints and photos taken.

But other immigration centers at airports in Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture, and Hokkaido reported some problems with the new machines.

“The line was slow, but I got through in about five minutes with no problem. The officials were friendly. But I speak some Japanese so perhaps that’s why it was less of a problem,” said Ann Alene, of Santa Monica, Calif., who arrived at Kansai airport in the afternoon.

“The only slight problem was that the English-language instructions say ‘Press Down.’ But you actually have to also bend your finger on the pad so that the middle part of it pushes down a blue button that scans your fingerprint,” said Jane, a tourist originally from Michigan who asked that her last name not be used.

Lui Wei, a businessman from Shanghai, said he didn’t mind being fingerprinted, although he had to put his finger in twice to be scanned because the machine didn’t work the first time. His wait in line was also longer.

“I guess it took between 10 and 25 minutes to get through the entire process, but the line was long,” he said.

Toshinobu Inatsu, an immigration official at Kansai International, said his office had received no complaints as of the afternoon.

Members of the Kansai foreign community have expressed concern over the new procedures at the airport for two reasons. First, and unlike Narita International Airport, it has no automated gate system that allows people to preregister their finger prints and, in theory, get through immigration quicker by using a machine which electronically scans their passport and checks it with the preregistered data.

At airports other than Narita, their fingerprints will have to be fully scanned and their passport manually checked each time they enter and exit the country, a process expected to take longer than with an automated gate system.

The other concern is what will happen to those who live in Japan and have alien registration cards. There are fingerprinting machines set up at all 19 immigration booths at the airport, and immigration officials say that if the lines designated for Japanese nationals are not busy, foreigners with re-entry permits and alien registration cards may be allowed to go through if the lines for foreign visitors are quite long.

That is basically the same policy Kansai airport had before Tuesday, although in practice airport officials usually let re-entry permit holders through the lines for Japanese citizens regardless of how busy such lines were.

Problems were reported at other immigration centers at Hakata in Kyushu and New Chitose airport near Sapporo. Nearly 30 people arriving by ship in Hakata were forced to wait when the fingerprinting machines malfunctioned. Fukuoka immigration officials said they were investigating the reports.

At New Chitose, there were a number of cases where the machines initially failed, but Masami Tamai, the head of airport immigration, said the problems were solved and that no one was refused entry.

“The problem appears to have been one of timing, where the finger was taken off the machine before scanning could take place. Or, some people’s fingers may have been too wet or too dry for the scanner to register,” Tamai said.