Return Trip Debacle of 2014

Disclaimer: This is a really long story, so bear with me.

It all begins in late 2013 and early 2014 with my decision to fly back to the States in mid-May for my friends’ college graduation on Mother’s Day and my first younger brother’s high school graduation a week later. Simple, right? Buy the tickets, make arrangements to be picked up and brought to and fro, spend some quality time with friends and family, eat delicious food, and head back to Japan.

Not so simple.

I did buy the tickets and make arrangements, and though there was a slight mix-up in who took me from the airport to my alma mater, everything ended up well. The university graduation I didn’t actually see, since only a few guests are allowed into the chapel (because of space), but I met up with my friends during the lunch picnic and after. None of them knew I was coming in, so they were all pleasantly surprised. A day or so later, I made the trip back home for my brother’s graduation. Everything went smoothly there, too. The ceremony went off without a hitch, and I got to see the first of my siblings graduated.

To fly home, I had to go back to my old university for the night and leave early the next morning for an 8:30 flight out. I had one domestic flight, then a long flight to Tokyo, after which I would transfer to another Tokyo airport and fly to the one in my prefecture. I would conclude my trip with a two-hour drive home. Pretty standard.

Error Number 1 – We didn’t leave quite early enough. I’m not accustomed to the trip from my school to the airport (about an hour and a half), and so I misjudged the time slightly. Though we left around 5 AM, with traffic and getting checked in, it wasn’t happening. I got my bag taken care of, but the security line was massive, which I had not experienced until then because it was my first trip back home since arriving in Japan. By the time I talked my way up to the front and, luckily, got sorted by an iPad into a faster security line, I rushed to the furthest gate – (it’s always the furthest one, isn’t it?) – I was just two minutes late, and the gate had already closed. The woman at the desk put me on standby for a 9-something flight to Chicago and booked me on an 11-something one to be sure. I ended up taking the latter. My bags went on ahead of me and would wait for me in Tokyo.

Error Number 2 – I had the wrong passport. Okay, this part of the story takes some explaining. I first got a passport in 2011 when I studied abroad in Nagoya for the fall semester. I also used this passport the following Christmas for my month-long visit to Nepal. (The flight to Dubai was miserable. That’s another story entirely.) Somewhere between coming home from Nepal and going to Japan for JET, I lost that passport and applied for a new one. That second one is the one I took with me to Japan this time. It had my landing permit and everything.

Now that we’ve established that, time for a fun surprise. While going to get my passport for my first trip home last May, I grabbed it, packed it up, and flew no problem. I got out of Japan and into America A-OK.  My flight into Tokyo arrived at about 8:30 PM. Because I have a foreigner’s card, which says I am a temporary resident, basically, I can go through the customs line quickly. I show it and my passport, do a quick Q&A, and pass on through to get my bags.

When I went through the line, they scanned my passport and asked me to step aside. Being an anxious flyer, I started to panic. They took me to a small room off to the side and explained that my passport didn’t match the one they have on record for my first entrance into Japan for the JET Program. For those following along, that would be the second passport I got – the new one with the landing pass. To my horror, I realized that my original passport (the one for my study abroad in 2011) had magically reappeared, and I never knew. I grabbed it thinking it was the second passport. They asked if I had that second passport on me – and mind you, I’m doing this conversation primarily in Japanese – and I told them no. I was nearly in tears.

That’s when they gave me two options. They would call the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. If the embassy said they could take care of it, I would go to them tomorrow, fix it up, go to the next airport, and fly back to my prefecture. If they said they couldn’t help me, I would have to fly all the way back to the U.S. and take care of it there.

I’m panicking and praying my heart out. I don’t have time for that! I would already miss one day of work for the trip to the embassy in Tokyo. I have no idea how long it would take in America! To top it all off, for some reason my Japanese phone decided not to work properly, so I had great difficultly getting in touch with my supervisor to let her know what had happened.

Two hours pass, and it’s now 10:30 PM. I finally hear from the embassy. They can help me. Such relief flooded through me that I cannot adequately describe it.  The woman at the desk with me gives me a temporary landing pass that only applies to the area of Tokyo I would be in. Then she booked me a hotel and gave me the embassy’s information. I pass on down to the baggage claim area – totally deserted save for myself and about three workers – and look for my bags. My grandma had loaned me a nondescript black bag for extra clothes and such, and, to my great luck, that bag was nowhere to be found. Now I had to deal with sorting all that out in Japanese.

Error Number 3 – I realized back in America, when I missed that first flight, that I had, in my haste and relative inexperience with flying, forgotten to grab my baggage claim ticket from the woman at the counter. So, when I rebooked my flight, the woman there printed up my information. Somehow, that paper confused the Japanese workers despite how many times I explained it. Eventually, we agreed that I would fill out a lost baggage claim, and if they found it, they would send it to my apartment. Fine. Whatever. That left me with my backpack and my small carry-on.

Stressed and ready to be done with it all, I head to a taxi and get to the hotel. At the counter, I ask for more directions, then I go to my room. I manage to get spotty wi-fi connection and tell my supervisor more about the situation. By the time I go to bed, it’s 1 AM.

I get up around 7 or 8, shower, and head directly out. Not wanting any sort of mishap, I keep both my bags with me. Bear in mind that I have only ever visited Tokyo for two reasons: first, simply to transfer airports, and, second, for an orientation when I arrived for this job. I didn’t explore either time. Now I have to find my way to Roppongi (a part of the city, for business and entertainment, essentially.) It involves a subway and a bus.

Japan has a lovely way of not naming or in any way labeling so many of its streets. The map I had barely helped, and I had to stop at two convenience stores and ask for directions again. I also bought a 500-yen (~$5) umbrella since it started raining. I keep going, lugging my heavy backpack and rolling carry-on around with me.

At long last, I get to the embassy. The process there was relatively quick, and I got there just in time to get it taken care of by lunch, around 1 PM. They inform me that this is an emergency passport, and I’ll have to apply for a normal one within about three months. They also warn me that the U.S. doesn’t look favorably upon always losing passports and to be extra careful because they may decide not to give me a fourth new one for a long time.

I leave the embassy, forgetting to grab  my bottles of water I had bought. I’m also umbrella-less because, as a plain umbrella, mine was taken by mistake. A kind Japanese man shared his umbrella with me and showed me a store where I could buy a new one.

By now, I’m beginning to feel awful. I haven’t eaten yet, I’ve been walking and stressing and now have to go up a huge hill or two with all my stuff. I buy some rice balls because I simply cannot stomach anything. For more fun, on the way to the bus, while picking up a coin I dropped, my cell phone fell and cracked. That’s the image for this blog. It still worked, as much as it had been since my return, which was sketchy in terms of connection, so that was a plus.

I end up getting back to the airport I would fly from. Obviously, I missed the flight I originally booked from Tokyo to my prefecture, but I would deal with that afterward. First I had to show my passport and explain my situation to someone. I hadn’t been able to call the number they gave me and told me to call once I got my passport fixed up. So, after stressing and going to two people, I had to call and talk to someone. I almost didn’t get to, though, because, despite being an international airport in the capital city on a Wednesday, the office would close around 4:30PM.


Luckily, however, I got in contact with someone and conversed in English. He told me to take my passport to some sort of office in a town near my home and take care of it tomorrow. I promised I would. Now I was set to buy my final flight ticket and drive home.

The last flight out of Tokyo to my prefecture is at 7:30. I rush downstairs, explain that I missed my flight and needed a new one, and got a refund and a new ticket. I go back and wait for my flight and, after an hour-long trip, I’m back in my prefecture at 9PM.

Of course, with the way my phone was behaving, I had no GPS. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate cities and driving tends to stress me out, at least when city-like traffic is involved. Now it’s 9PM, I’m hungry, ill, stressed, and ready to be home … and I have to navigate without a GPS. Thankfully, I’d driven it before and, really, it’s only about two turns and a pretty straight drive. I’m proud to say I managed it.

My dinner that night, at 11:30PM, was a convenience store pasta. I went to bed with plans to go to the office with my supervisor and finish this passport business.

We went, got it taken care of, then fixed my phone. Apparently, somehow, I needed to turn a setting on that had gotten turned off. (Of course I had considered that as an option when trying to fix it on my own, but I wasn’t brave enough to try it.) I got a new phone, same model, and it’s been fine.

On the way home, I realized I had a missed call. Asking my supervisor what the area code was, she told me it was Tokyo. When I called it back, they told me they had found my black bag and had sent it on ahead. It should arrive around 6PM. (At this point, it’s 4:30.) It got to my house between 7 and 8PM.

Last thing on my plate – reapply for a normal passport. I did that in early August, just before the deadline. I stressed there, too, because I used the post office near my house instead of at the other end of town like I normally did, so I was afraid the small little envelope they used would get lost or stolen. Thankfully, it did not, and I now have my third – and hopefully last – passport. The others are punched through or have “Cancelled” written on them. They stay bundled up and my newest one is kept separate. I’ll bring them all along on my trips just in case, but, in theory, there should be no issues. When I went home for Christmas, I had no trouble.

Basically, the only things that didn’t go wrong on this trip were hijackings or plane crashes. It nearly killed me that all my fears occurred at once, but at least now I know how to handle all of it, and my flights feel a little less stressful now because of it.

Okay, that story wiped me out!  Mata, ne! 


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