National

Time-honored passport stamp vanishing in name of digital convenience

Kyodo

As electronic entry procedures usher arriving passengers more quickly through immigration control at airports around the world, one of the casualties of progress is the time-honored passport stamp.

While many travelers welcome the improved efficiency, those who regard passport stamps as souvenirs of their travels are going to miss the memories that an immigration stamp can trigger of the far-off destinations they have visited.

“There is a trend to eliminate the passport stamp to shorten processing times, especially in advanced countries,” a Japanese airport official said.

With air travel growing, airports are looking for ways to prevent congestion, and ditching the tradition is one of the solutions.

In Japan, this has seen the use of biometric identification, including facial recognition, emerge as a way to replace passport stamping to track people entering and leaving the country.

To speed up the immigration process, Hong Kong abolished passport stamps in 2013 and began issuing computer-generated landing slips instead. The slips bear the visitor’s name, arrival date and permitted period of stay.

Eligible passengers arriving at Australia’s major airports have the option of guiding themselves through passport control via a SmartGate that uses the data in “e-passports” and facial recognition technology to perform security checks.

Tokyo businessman Teruo Kawakita of Chuo Ward takes overseas trips every two months. For him, the digitally streamlined border checks are a development to be praised.

“I always arrange my schedule taking into account (the time needed) for immigration control. There is nothing better than a shortened wait,” Kawakita, 35, said.

In 2007, Japan started using automated gates in which both Japanese and foreign people with valid visa qualifications can register their fingerprints and passport details, even on the day of their flight, to pass through arrival and departure procedures more smoothly.

In October, Japan began testing facial recognition gates on residents, with an eye to installing about 140 of them at Narita, Haneda, Chubu, Kansai and Fukuoka airports by the end of March 2019.

Japan is also considering using the system on foreign visitors in the future.

But for travelers who place a nostalgic value on passport stamps, automated gates are no substitute for a visual reminder of a far-off destination visited. And stamps do just that, with the designs varying from country to country.

Those using the automated gates can ask to have their passports stamped by an official after they clear the gate, and many of them do.

Sachiko Noro, 51, a company employee from Tsugaru in Aomori Prefecture who returned from a trip to the United States earlier this month, said nothing beats the human touch.

“When I look back over the stamps, I am filled with the feeling that I actually traveled to those countries,” he said. “It may be a trend of the times, but I am sad to see them go.”