Tokyo (again!) : plastic fantastic?

From Beppu we meandered our way back to Tokyo, stopping at Kyoto again along the way. By this stage we had found that the easiest way to find a hotel for the night was to call into the tourist information at the train station. We did this at Kyoto, Hiroshima and Kagoshima and Beppu. In all cases, tourist information was friendly and spoke English. They also had great links with local hotels and could phone through for you to check availability and the hotel would hold it for you. This system worked well in every city, so we thought we would try it in Tokyo. We expected to find the tourist information office in the station, like all the other cities…. Guess where we found it? That’s right …  one train stop away from central station, in a building opposite the train station, on the 16th floor. Hmmmmm. I have no idea what the reasoning behind this is. Maybe their strategy is to focus on helping only the most determined tourists?… 😉

After that, we did struggle to find a hotel. I won’t tell you how many hours we spent walking around looking for one with availability that we could afford. I would definitely recommend booking ahead.We celebrated our last night in Tokyo (and our last night in Japan) in style, visiting a sushi bar and trying out kareoke in one of the private Kareoke booths – this was AMAZING! I love kareoke, and the only downside in the UK is that a bar-full of strangers listen to you sing. Here, not so! Each party gets their own private (sound-proof!) room. So I warbled my way through a repertoire of songs and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

However, the holiday was not to finish so smoothly…

We knew that you can’t pay for most things by Debit or Credit Card in Japan. Plastic Fantastic it is not! This surprised me as it’s such a hi-tec nation, however cash is favoured over electronic payment. We also knew that most cashpoints are locked at night (they’re normally located in a small porch). Also, most cashpoints don’t accept foreign cards. We were au-fait with these rules and managed to travel round Japan no problem, including towns away from the tourist trail. However ironically it was in Tokyo that we had problems.

We ran out of money on our last night in Tokyo. I should say that we ran out of cash – we had some money in the bank. However, not being able to pay by card and the cashpoints being locked we were in a bit of a pickle. However luckily it was only a small pickle – a gherkin, if you will – as we had enough to get back the hotel so we could find a cashpoint in the morning.

So on the morning of our flight home to London, we set off bright and early from our hotel, backpack-ed up, with a map marked with the locations of the three nearest cashpoints, the nearest only about 15 minutes on foot from our hotel. That should be the end of this happy tale, but unfortunately the cashpoint stats read like this:-

  1. Cashpoint 1: Bank found; no cashpoint.
  2. Cashpoint 2: Not found
  3. Cashpoint 3: Successfully located; overjoyed that the signs said it would accept foreign cards. It did not accept foreign cards.

So we still did not have enough cash to get the train to the airport. By this time we were starting to worry. The flight was creeping closer and closer, and we had faffed around looking for fantasy cashpoints for too long. When we had discussed this previously, I had resisted the idea of going back into central Tokyo (in the opposite direction from the airport), but we now realised this was the only option. We used the last of our cash to buy train tickets back into the centre of Tokyo merely to visit a cashpoint, take out MORE cash and hop back on the train to the airport.

We re-boarded the train after what was probably the quickest visit to central Tokyo ever , and headed back towards the airport. We were very anxious about missing the flight and knew it would be touch and go. We had to change trains, but unfortunately in my haste I wrongly read a sign to Narita airport, and we ended up in Narita (the town), instead of Narita (the airport). Which obviously made the journey longer!

At the final station change before the airport we hurriedly bought a ticket with the assistance of station staff and ran to get on the train. When we reached the train, the conductor said we could not get on. We pleaded, but the conductor refused, and we didn’t know why because of the language barrier. It was frustrating that we were not allowed on the train given that the station staff had told us which ticket to buy. We continued with our unsuccessful negotiations but we had reached a stale-mate. The train was about to move off so we offered him the rest of our cash (about £5) – maybe it would buy us an upgrade or whatever it was that would allow us to get on the train. Getting on the train is quite a crucial part of any rail journey. Thankfully the money seemed to work and he let us on the train. Halleluja!

When we eventually arrived at the airport we thought that finding the departure lounge would be easy but that was conveniently located on the 5th floor of the airport terminal! Cue running up 5 escalators laden down with our backpacks! By this time I knew we had missed the flight. Anyone who has missed an international flight and is exhausted from sheer frustration and running around in vein for hours will know how I felt! I also knew that having given our cash to that train-man, we now had nothing – so we wouldn’t be able to afford to go back to Tokyo, nor would we be able to buy another (long haul) flight (we didn’t have that much money!)

As it happened, as if by a miracle, our plane was late, so the beautiful British Airways let us check in late (thank goodness we were flying with BA as most budget airlines would not have allowed this – I won’t name names!) So we were allowed to board the flight and made it to London 🙂

I think the moral of the tale is don’t expect to access a cashpoint 24/7, or pay by card. With access to cashpoints 24/7 in England we didn’t even think about it. But, do think! It could help your blood pressure stay low… 😉 Get cash when you can (within daylight hours) and count it regularly to ensure you have enough. Even better, find out what the train fare is to the airport and put that aside. I’m saying this advice for me, as I’m clearly the one who needs it the most!!!

Next blog: Food in Japan 

Previous blog: Beppu, Japan


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