I will be flying at the start of 2018 to Japan and I'm, for various privacy reasons, not comfortable with officials taking a retina scan. Fingerprints ought to be enough!

Therefore: Which airports in Japan do not take retina scans? (I know that all of them take fingerprints of all 10 fingers.)

I'd be especially interested in personal experiences going through the airports in Tokyo and/or Osaka.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 11:50
  • I travelled to Japan earlier this year. I don't recall any such data being exctracted from me!
    – Strawberry
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 13:02
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    This got lost in the chat, but I think it's worth adding to the question--retina scan vs iris scan--very different, one is much faster with a much simpler camera, there are commercial iris scan cameras that could be mistaken for nice pocket cameras and the process could be mistaken for a normal photo. Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 13:43
  • I also mentioned this in a comment below, and agree with @user3067860 - pretty much all security devices that scan your eyes are iris scanners, the phrase 'retina scanner' is usually used by laypeople to describe iris scanners. A retina scan is usually only done at an opticians, for health reasons. This is because in general the iris doesn't change and can therefore be used as a biometric identifier, whereas the retina changes appearance with age and health.
    – grkvlt
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 19:59

3 Answers 3


As far as I'm aware, and this is from personal experience since I visit Japan several times a year, these are no airports in Japan that do retina scans. You will be fingerprinted (index fingers only, not 10 digits) and photographed, but the camera used for the latter is akin to a consumer webcam (see photo here) and not sufficient to extract retinal information. Retinal scans also require aligning your eyes with the scanner at close range, which is not done at Japanese airports.

Also, the facial recognition gates are currently for Japanese citizens only, compare your face against the biometric image in your passport, and do indeed work with a single shot (although they may allow a second attempt if they can't match the first time around).

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    @woza I can confirm that there were no retinal scans in Narita when I traveled through there recently. Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 21:49
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    @woza I fly into both Haneda and Narita regularly. Don't think I've been back to Kansai since they instituted the fingerprint scans. Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 3:54
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    @jpatokal Having arrived in Kansai only weeks ago, I can confirm that your description is accurate there too. In Kansai, they actually take your photo/index finger prints twice for some reason: once at very small semi-automated stands occupied by a helper who can serve two at once and once with the actual immigration officers. Since I never entered through Haneda or Narita, I don’t know if they do that there, too.
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 12:52
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    This sounds accurate. I've visited Japan from America 3 times in the past 3 years, always through Narita. I can't remember whether they just did my index fingers or all 10, but I clearly remember the webcam-looking camera they took my photograph with. I did have to remove my glasses for the photo, but there was no way they were scanning my retinas with that thing.
    – Keiki
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 18:27
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    @Kimball When you go into the immigration hall first you go straight ahead to the opposite side to the small stall thingys, that’s where I recall the first fingerprint. Then you line up and are dispatched to the actual officers (on the right when viewed from the side you enter from) who I recall you getting fingerprinted again. Both occasions also include a photo.
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 11:58

The chaos that would ensue if any airport tried to retina scan everyone would be absolutely incredible. See, I had a retina scan made or attempted to when I applied for my NEXUS card. It is not fast and in my case for example, it failed and so they attempted it multiple times before just giving up. It is telling that the NEXUS centre at YVR schedules these scans (just the scans, not interviews) at 30 minute intervals!! Crazy shit, I know. It is not that these scans take so long but they can.

IMO the only place where retina scans are everyday are for NEXUS cardholders entering Canada via air -- and even there, only those who are not Canadian citizens or residents because they have automated machines which do not require such hassle so it's absolutely marginal, a small fraction of a small fraction of passengers.

  • this is interesting information. good to know, thanks (+1)
    – woza
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 21:44
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    Interesting that you mention that in the last paragraph. My impression was that they also do regular retina scans in Dubai at the airport (but for some weird religious reason only to women) and also if you apply for a visa for the US, at any US embassy.
    – woza
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 21:53
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    Canadian citizens with NEXUS do use the retinal scan machines. Everyone with NEXUS does when entering Canada by air. Once you learn the tricks (which they teach you when they do the initial scan at the interview), it only takes about 15-30 seconds for the scan to work. Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 22:03
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    @woza I didn't know that. They came up with some truly scifi shit to expedite it though thenational.ae/uae/transport/…
    – user4188
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 22:25
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    This answer sounds scarily like it if were taken straight from the scripts of the next Blade Runner movie... Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 6:42

I've come in internationally through Narita, Haneda, and Kansai International Airport, and have never had a retina scan or fingerprinted more than my index finger. They do take a picture of your face at each location, however.

As for flying domestically within the country, they don't do any of this, or even check id.

  • Good to have this confirmed. +1 for the information about domestic flights. Do you know if the picture is really with a small webcam, as jpatokal said in his answer? Is it a normal picture or an iris scan (which is different from a retina scan) ?
    – woza
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 10:38
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    @Woza Iris and retina scans require you to look directly into a special camera very close-up (face almost pressed against camera) and special lighting. There is no way with present day technology (or even technology in the foreseeable future, think 5-10 years) that makes this possible at less than 10 centimeters distance between eye and camera. The pictures used for facial recognition and matching against biometric data in the passport are pretty low-res and can be from quite a distance. A full-HD cam can do this from 10-20 meters away. This is already standard tech for modern CCTV cameras.
    – Tonny
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 11:28

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