Our flight from Korea to Japan started off quite lovely. The check-in at Seoul went without a hitch, and before long we were above the ground in a tiny plane, gliding over the Sea of Japan.
The stewardesses were nice, and I got a Kirin beer (learning, in the process, that a Kirin is monster of some sort. See below.)
The view was blue sky and clouds the whole way; very Simpsons-esque. We had cleverly changed some won to yen, so we loaded up on Japanese snacks–rice balls, seaweed chips, edamame things. For savory snacks, I think Japan is the best country I’ve been to.
We had a 5 hour layover, so we ate, read (1Q84 for me, naturally), slept, stretched and chilled out. With about 45 minutes left, they called our names. We went to check-in to learn that they wouldn’t let us on the next plane. Yikes!
Rachel is a NZ citizen but her passport expired a month or two ago. She had entered Korea on her US passport anyway, and was only staying in NZ for 3 months, same as me, so she was flying to NZ as a Yank as well. The problem is that the Japanese Air New Zealand staff decided we needed to have onward tickets. Then they decided that Rachel didn’t, even though legally we were the same. First they told me I had to buy a ticket back to Korea. Then they said to the US. Then they said, no back to Korea. In short, they had no idea what they were talking about.
Time was running out. Our plane was already boarding. We ran over to some ridiculously slow free computers to try and book me a ticket. The computers were too slow, and they continually froze up. The staff was nice but very firm. I had to have a ticket to … somewhere.
The thing is: we had checked New Zealand immigration rules. One of their stipulations is that you need to have proof of onward flight OR proof of sufficient funds. We showed this to the guy who was helping us (his name was Hiro) but he didn’t seem to understand the concept of “or.” He even called NZ immigration, but the guy there chastised Rachel for “just waltzing up after a few years gone.” Eventually, he too said she could catch the flight but he hung up when she asked him about me.
The flight was gone. The next flight wasn’t until 2 days later. Even though we had a ton of money, we had just transferred it all to her account the day before–we couldn’t access any of it. We pictured sleeping in the airport for a few days. Rachel’s family had all taken time off to come meet us, and now they couldn’t. It was, in short, a bummer.
In order to clear customs, we had to write our hotel down. This was impossible, for obvious reasons. A staff member offered to call a nearby one–after she talked to him, she told us they had rooms. The only problem–the rooms were 13,000 yen! (175 USD). I think I laughed, a bit too loudly. We had about 500 yen on us and weren’t sure if we could any more out. We both wrote “airport” on our immigration cards where it asked for the hotel name, and we somehow got through.
It was late, now, after 10, and while Rachel was phoning Air New Zealand about getting us booked on the next flight, I hopped online (3 dollars for 10 minutes!) and emailed our families about what had happened. I also googled for cheap hostels and found one. It took some perseverance and some luck, but we got money out–somehow. Chuffed, we got on one of the last trains and headed into Osaka.
The hostel was rad. It took some work, but I got an onward flight and my visa (to Melbourne, which is one my favorite places in the world). We didn’t have access to much money, but we walked the rainy, neon-lit city for hours and hours and hours and lived off convenience store rice balls. When we asked the locals what there was to do in Osaka, they said “Go to Kyoto.” I still want to visit Kyoto, but Osaka was great. Every time I go to Japan, I realize it’s just like a way better Korea.
As always, I’ll let some of our pictures do the talking.