Being stranded in a foreign country is one of those things that you joke about while planning your trip, but never really expect to happen while you're traveling in a foreign country. However, a few weeks back during my trip to Japan, I got to experience being "homeless" first hand. Let's just add that to the bucket list. ha.
It all started the Friday before Lunar New Year, when my boss gave everyone in the R&D office a nice little "new years" bonus. I wasn't expecting the monetary gift and therefore decided to put it to use the best way I could. Two hours later and 400 dollars poorer, I was booked on a flight to Japan for the next morning. I usually am a planner and plan out the major things I want to do during my stay in a country. I always use trip advisor to find the best hotel that I can for my money, and I always print a map or some type of directions to get around.
This time I convinced my friend Jenn to accompanying me, we packed our backpacks, and met to hop on the airport bus at 5:30 am. It was snowing when we boarded the bus here in Seoul, but we were pumped to get to Japan. Once we got to the airport, had some breakfast, and were all checked in, we both looked at each other and said, "what the heck are we going to do when we land!?" We decided since we were close to Mt. Fuji that we were going to take the train there first and try to see this huge mountain that Japan is known for.
We landed, hopped on a bus, took a train, transferred to another train, and sometime about 3 hours later we were at the base of Mt. Fuji. We got off the bus, cameras in tow, and looked around. Everything was awesome, except something was missing. We couldn't find Mt. Fuji! You would think that a mountain as large as Fuji would be easy to find, but unfortunately due to heavy cloud cover we couldn't see it. Instead, we decided to take another bus that brought us to the natural water falls from Mt. Fuji. We saw them, snapped some photos, and decided what to do next. Jenn pulled out the map that we got at the airport, and we kinda decided to travel north to Nagano, Japan in lieu of the Vancouver Olympics starting the same day we arrived in Japan. We thought maybe we'd get to do some winter sports, such as sledding or skiing, too.
5 trains, 6 hours, a nights sleep at a hotel, and a quick breakfast later we were finally in Nagano. Along the way we stopped in a town called Matsumoto where we saw the Northern Japanese Alps (which we were beautiful) and the oldest Japanese castle in it's original form (which was also beautiful.) There was a mote around the castle that aided in taking some awesome reflection shots of the castle in the water. We also crashed in a pretty nice hotel that provided a hot shower and a cozy bed after a long day of trains and sightseeing.
In Nagano we ate a delicious lunch of fried dumplings and fried rice.We found our way to the Olympic venues from the 1998 winter Olympics, and we snapped some fun photos along the way. When we realized that we weren't going to be able to do any winter sports like anticipated, we sorted out a plan b. Plan B included finding this crepes place that we saw on the map, and eating one of two things: terriyaki or tempura (the only two Japanese food words that either of us really knew.) The night before we had a terrible eating experience that involved Yaki Saba noodles. Let me tell you, the "yaki" was definitely "yucky!" What we thought was going to taste like the Japanese version of Lo Mien, ended up being what you'd anticipate fish food flakes to taste like. We quickly swallowed as much yaki saba as we could and found the nearest 7-11 to cleanse our pallets before our bus ride. We did agree though that we wouldn't eat at a restaurant unless it had a picture menu and that anything with the word "yaki" in front of it was probably not meant for us.
It quickly became dark and we didn't have a plan for the next day. Since we couldn't go skiing we decided we'd try our luck at Mt. Fuji one more time. Our plan was to take the train back south as far as we could that night, so that we could wake up early and get to Mt. Fuji just after sunrise (when we thought the sky would be clear and blue and Fuji would be visible.) We purchased our tickets to Fujinamaya, but were not entirely sure we were going to get a train to take us all the way back. After a while we decided that if worse came to worse, wherever the train stopped we'd get out and find a hotel to crash at for the night. We shared stories about missed flights, being stranded, left in airports, etc. Neither of us anticipated that the same night we'd be nearly homeless in the dead of winter in Japan.
Around 12:20 am our train came to a screeching halt and we figured that meant that we had no choice but to get out. We left the station and were surprised by the pitch black streets that met our eye. Where were we again? This definitely couldn't be Japan, right? Oh, quite the opposite, we were definitely still in Japan, just unfortunately literally in the middle of nowhere. We walked over to the train conductor and tried to use our hand gestures to explain that were tired and wanted to find a hotel. He quickly crossed his arms and said, "no!" I looked at Jenn and said, "There's the f'ing hotels for us to go to!" Let me reiterate that it was February, we were close to mountains, and it was COLD. We decided to brave the dark streets in search of a hotel or a taxi. We were able to flag down a taxi, but he told us it would cost us 150 dollars to get where we wanted to go. When we showed him our visa card, he shook his head no and drew the yen sign on paper for us. I better write to Visa and tell them that their commercials are lies, "for everything else there's visa." Too bad in emergency situations my visa did me no damn good!
Again, not speaking a lick of Japanese we tried to ask this taxi driver about a hotel. We wrote 80 dollars on a piece of paper and handed it to us. We were sure that this meant that it would cost 80 dollars to get to the hotel or if the hotel was 80 dollars a night. Let me remind you that we were leaving to head back to Seoul the next morning and between the two of us we didn't even have 80 dollars. Feeling shit out of luck, we walked back to the small train station. In the end we decided to crash at the train station for the night, because we had a plan to take the 5:30 am train back to Mt. Fuji. You would think that we'd easily be able to handle 5 hours in the cold before our train. Unfortunately the train station was not heated, and half of it was exposed to the outside. There was a tiny bench that we tried to sleep on, and hot coffee in a can that we bought once from a machine to keep our hands warm. 5 long hours later, we were on a warm train the hell out of Minabu, thank god!
Thankfully Jenn had packed some rain ponchos in her backpack that served well as insulation and also assisted in tying my extra sweaters around my legs. Even though we spent the whole night in a freezing train station, we were still pumped to see Mt. Fuji. A few hours later and 2 trains later, we were back where we started. One thing didn't change though, we still couldn't see Mt. Fuji. We gave up on our chance to see the mountain and headed to the airport early to refuel, wash, and stay warm before our quick flight back to Seoul.
Overall, it was a fun and fast paced trip even though we were homeless, cold, and a little bit disappointed. One of these days I'm going to see Mt. Fuji since I've ye
t to see it on 3 separate occasions to Japan!