Watch a lemon and no high-five: Flying to Tokyo for the Olympics


SINGAPORE: The instruction was to salivate.

And to help me with this important task, there was a picture of a lemon and another of what looked like sour plums nailed to the wall.

Led by a smiling employee to a cabin somewhere in the bowels of Tokyo Narita Airport, I was handed a plastic funnel and a vial.

This would be my first COVID-19 test in Japan. And a very important spit vial.

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Before landing in Tokyo, the process of obtaining the necessary official approval to enter the country to report on the Olympics was not an easy task.

The most stressful process has been the submission of an activity plan – a document that lists the sites journalists intend to visit while in the Olympic “bubble”. Without the approval of this plan by the necessary stakeholders, entry into the country could possibly be a problem.

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Like others, my plan was finally approved – 24 hours before I left Singapore.

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It was a huge relief, given how I had heard on Twitter of arrivals being sent home or forced into a 14-day quarantine if found without proper documentation.

To be allowed to enter Japan, we also had to have two test certificates proving we were COVID-19 free. One test was to be performed within 96 hours of departure and the other within 72 hours. These tests were to be performed at medical facilities on an approved list.

Olympic accreditation holders wait at Narita Airport. (Photo: Matthieu Mohan)

So with those boxes checked and my mountain of printed materials, I found myself teary-eyed but at the same time wide awake at Narita International Airport at 8 a.m. on Wednesday July 21.

Olympic accreditation pass holders were first led to a seating area of ​​folding chairs, where volunteers helped make sure our documentation was in order.

They also made sure that we downloaded a health reporting and monitoring smartphone application. This app would be essential as we go through various checkpoints.

Considering my time of arrival and the lack of flights to Tokyo early that morning, I was able to get through this first step fairly quickly.

Then we were shown to another socially remote seating area where we were greeted by a rather interesting sign saying ‘High five forbidden’. Our documentation was then checked here by the staff behind plexiglass shields, before moving on to the spindle test.


It turned out that I didn’t really need the lemon’s help, and on handing my spit vial to another staff member, I was led down a long hallway to the area where the ‘we are awaiting the results of the COVID-19 test.

I had heard that the process of waiting for the result could take hours. So I came prepared, armed with my Netflix playlist and a few snacks.

But I was pleasantly surprised – it took about an hour for my number to be called and for my negative result to be confirmed. I was quickly given a pink slip, proving that I was free from COVID-19.

COVID-19 negative slip

A slip certifying that journalist Matthew Mohan was free from COVID-19. (Photo: Matthieu Mohan)

After passing another round of checks as well as customs and immigration, I finally emerged victorious from the terminal.

In total, the various checks and procedures lasted about three hours, a much shorter time than I had initially expected. Given the COVID-19 situation in Japan and the sheer number of people entering the country, it is understandable that such measures are put in place at ports of entry.

What was most commendable were the staff and volunteers of Tokyo 2020, who treated the newcomers with grace and poise. There were instructions on what to do at each step and you could see how everyone was going out of their way to help.

Dealing with tired, frustrated and disoriented travelers is never easy, and these staff and volunteers have shown immeasurable patience.

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Friday’s opening ceremony will kick off an Olympic Games unlike any other. The stands will be empty, tests will be carried out and the athletes will be left behind.

But at the same time, there is a feeling of familiarity with these unfamiliar Games.

The best in the world will compete and medals will be won. There are things the pandemic cannot change.

After all, as those who have the privilege of attending or competing at the Games will understand, when Tokyo 2020 gives you lemons, you get the most out of them.

As Singapore’s Olympic network, Mediacorp will provide you with the widest coverage of Tokyo 2020. Visit for more details.



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