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Japan! published on

I’m back in Japan. My flights left on time and arrived early. Both of them.

This is totally insane.

Stuff did go wrong, but only at the very beginning and very end of the process. You’re supposed to show up three hours early for international flights – in my case, FIVE AM – but Northwest’s desk in Cincinnati didn’t open until 6:00 AM. So I got Mom and thegeekgene and Uncle Tall out of bed at 4:30 AM for no reason.

After I got checked in and got through security at Cincinnati, I looked at the monitors and only saw Delta flights on there. I asked a security guard nearby where the Northwest flights would be. She stared at me incredulously for ten seconds and then said, “Ter… minal… two.” (I was at terminal three.) I asked another employee the same thing, and she, again, stared disgustedly at me and said, “Terminal two.”

I ran to terminal two, slighly panicking, and began to Really Panic when I got there and saw that the security line there was already ridiculously long. I got in line and waited for about ten minutes. When I got to the desk where the guy checks your ticket and passport, I said, “This is where I’m supposed to be for Northwest flights, isn’t it?”

Long, incredulous pause. “No… That’s… terminal… threeeee.” He pointed to a plastic sign nearby, which had an arrow pointing back towards terminal three, and listed the airlines that used it, one of them being Northwest. The sign for terminal two did not list Northwest.

Since clearly the human beings in the airport are too busy pausing and knitting their eyebrows in consternation to answer questions, I put my trust in the large piece of blue plastic and went back to terminal three. I asked yet another employee where I went for Northwest flights. The conversation:

TSA Person 1: “…no, we only got Delta here -”

TSA Person 2, interrupting: “What? No! Northwest and [other airline] take off from this terminal! What are you saying to her?!”

Me, very suspicious: “…but they haven’t given me a gate number, and it’s not on the monitors… the monitors here are all Delta -”

TSA Person 3: *takes my boarding pass, studies it with great passion and intensity, then looks off into space bravely* “All right. You’re going to be o-kay. What you’re going to do is, you’re going to go on that train there, get off at the first stop, look that way -” *points* “- and go up the escalators. That’s where your flight’ll be.”

So I went through security again. (“Back again! So you had so much fun the first time you decided to give it another go?” “Indeed, sir!”)

Person #3 was exactly right, and I found my gate with half an hour to spare. I suspect that he and Person #2 were freak survivors of the TSA’s dizzying employment turnover rate, and the other people I talked to hadn’t worked there long enough to figure out that, despite the “Delta” signs everywhere, not everyone going through there was on a Delta flight. (Though why they had never been briefed on that, when people are obviously going to be asking them for directions…)

After that, things went ominously smoothly until I got to Nagoya and had to go through Immigration. I knew that I wasn’t technically supposed to be signed up for six month’s worth of classes stretched across two 90-day tourist visas, and so was prepared to say that I, you know, was just planning to hang out and stuff, and wasn’t sure where I was going to stay yet, maybe I’ll crash at Don’s place, you know?

This sort of answer, it turns out, is not acceptable.

The woman who was glancing over people’s forms before they got into the line told me, “Well, you’d better decide on a place fast! Think of a cheap hotel.” Except that they needed an actual mailing address. And I had no addresses for cheap hotels. The only Japanese mailing addresses I had on me to write down were the school’s, and that of an Indian restaurant, at which I have never dined, for which I nonetheless inexplicably possessed a business card.

Finally, I just put down the school’s address and got in line. The guy looked at the address, looked at my previous tourist-visa stamp and scoldingly told me, “This is only a temporary visa. For the second time you’re taking classes, you must have a student visa!” “…yes… I know, I’ve already applied for -” “All right. Remember, you promise you’ll have it next time! Remember your promise!”

So, he let me into the country because I promised I’d have the right visa next time. I love Japan. (Though this is possibly not something I’d get away with if I weren’t a tiny white American girl.)

(Also, after giving it much thought, I decided the only thing I actually needed to declare for customs was “<1.0 oz. perfume.” I am the most harmless gaijin you ever did see.)

And then I got my bag and got on the bus. I made it back to the room at exactly 8:20 PM Japan time, 6:20 AM US time. So, if we’d gone to the airport an hour later, the whole process would have taken almost exactly twenty-four hours. This is unprecedented.

And now I have eaten Mystery Fried Meat from the konbini, (seen a photo from More-English-san’s holiday trip to a maid cafe, decorated with colorful stickers,) unpacked, bathed, and put on the ridiculous pajamas, and I am going to bed.