Previously on “There But Not Back Again: Terror in Tokyo“… After missing her flight, forgetting her baggage ticket, receiving a baggage claim printout, presenting her old passport to Japanese customs officials, learning that her phone wasn’t connecting properly, and discovering that her two checked bags were missing, Daisy finally made it to her hotel in Tokyo, contacted her supervisor, and went to sleep at 1 AM.
I awoke the next morning around 7:00. Too worried to eat even a rice ball, I went to the front counter, checked out, and asked how I could get from the hotel to the embassy. They directed me as best as they could, and the trip involved a subway ride and a bus.
Navigating transportation systems is stressful enough for me, but I’d had practice with it when I studied abroad a few years before. With more Japanese under my belt, more English around me because Tokyo, and the wonderful patience and helpfulness of the people I talked to, I managed my way from subway to bus.
That’s when things became difficult.
I recalled that streets don’t really have names in Japan. Even if they did, heck if I could read half of them or place them on the simple map that I had. Lugging my backpack and rolling my carry-on suitcase with me, I walked up and down hill after hill through a crowd of people in Roppongi, a district in Tokyo. I stopped at two Seven-Elevens to ask directions and to purchase water, rice balls, and an umbrella because of course it started raining.
Around noon or noon-thirty I finally, finally arrived at the embassy. I left my food, drink, and umbrella outside in a bin, and I ran my bags through security. Once I found the correct office, I explained my situation and waited for them to work their magic. As it was nearly lunch time, I worried that I would have to wait for an extra hour, but, luckily, I had arrived just in time. They processed whatever all they had to process and got me my passport by about 1 PM. I left with a warning ringing in my ears about being careful with this one because the government didn’t look favorably upon losing passports often.
When I exit the embassy, I realize my clear, 500-yen (~$5 USD) umbrella was gone. Someone must have confused it with theirs, but I didn’t want to take another clear umbrella from someone else, so I walked in the rain. A kind man saw me and walked me to a shop where I could buy an umbrella for myself.
By this point, I’m feeling weak and shaky because I haven’t eaten all day. Realizing that I had forgotten my food and water at the embassy, I have to make another convenience store run.
As I’m walking away from the store, I drop a coin I was putting away. Wouldn’t you know it, but when I reach down for it, my phone slips out of my pocket and cracks in the corner.
If I didn’t cry them, I certainly felt the frustrated tears lurking behind my eyelids.
I can barely force myself up the hills to the bus stop I came from, but eventually make it onto the bus, where I lean my head against a window and slowly eat my riceball. It doesn’t help much, but at least something is in my stomach.
At long last, I make it back to the airport. The official from the previous night had instructed me to contact immigration or some other such office once I got my new passport. Phone calls freak me out to this day, so I waited until I got to the airport. I felt too ill to bother with the call on the bus anyway.
I walked by the check-in desks to the entryway just before security. Explaining as best as I could my situation, the official there went to consult with someone else. I then explained to that person, but they couldn’t help me. Scared because I had gone through all of this only to be told “Sorry, we don’t know how to help here”, I tried again at a different departure area. I received the same answer.
I finally found some payphones, and I worked up the nerve to call the number. Now it’s about 2:30 or 3:00 PM. I’m so close to home yet I feel worlds away.
A man answers, and I ask for someone who speaks English. I can’t work up enough brain power to manage yet again in Japanese, though by this point it should be so ingrained in me that I could explain myself in Japanese in my sleep. I hear that the office is closed or is about to close–something like that. On a Wednesday. Around 3 PM. In an international airport. In Tokyo! I’m flabbergasted, but at the same time, it’s par for the course now.
Eventually, we work out a plan. I’ll get a flight back to my town with the promise that I’ll go the next day to the local immigration office and deal with the matter there. I assure him that I will, and he gives me the OK to go book the flight.
Feeling hope on the horizon but not wanting to give in yet, I rush to the counter to get my old flight refunded and a new flight booked. Then I leave Narita airport (where the international flights are) and take a bus for about an hour to Haneda airport (where local flights are).
My flight is as 7:30 PM, and it takes about an hour or an hour and a half to get there. I have my car waiting in the parking lot, and I pay for the ten or so days I left it there. Now it’s a two-hour drive out of the prefecture’s capital city and back to my small mountain town. I’ve made the trip before, but always with GPS. I’ve glanced through my phone’s settings to see if something got switched off by mistake, but I’m not very tech savvy, so I don’t mess with anything. As that means that my phone still isn’t connecting, I trust myself to my memory.
It doesn’t fail me.
I get into town around 11 PM and stop at a convenience store for a microwaveable pasta dinner. It’s another 30 minutes to my part of town, and when I get there, I eat my pasta. The rest is a blur. I probably cried. I might have showered. I definitely messaged my supervisor and let her know the plan.
The plan was that she would drive me the next day into the nearby city (an hour away) and help me at the immigration office. Luckily that’s the day I only teach in the morning and I have the afternoon free, so around 1 PM we head out of town. She handles pretty much everything at the immigration office, and we are back in town around 4:30 or so.
As we’re driving, I get a phone call from Tokyo. The airport! They say they’ve found my two bags and have shipped them. They should arrive that evening around 6 or 7! (Ultimately, they got there between 8 and 9, but who even cares at this point?)
My last bit of business is to make sure my first and second passports are clearly null and void and in the same location. I later add my emergency passport to that collection once I receive my newest and still current one. When I go to work at the high school the next Wednesday, I apologize profusely and (I believe) offer gifts of food from the States. Everyone was very understanding, and I can’t thank them, my supervisor, and everyone else who helped me enough!
Most especially the Lord. I don’t know how I would have managed without Him.
So, that’s my worst flight story. Nothing that bad has happened since. Looking back, while I’m not glad that it was so stressful, I’m glad that I got a lot of my travel fears out of the way at once. It taught me that I can handle whatever gets thrown at me. I’m still a squirming bundle of nerves when it comes to transportation, navigating airports, and communicating in limited (or no) English. But if I managed once before, I can manage again, and I’m sure you all can, too.