Leaving Japan

Helene departed a day before I left for my next destination. My flight to Taiwan was at 6am. I booked a hostel close to the airport so that I could maximise sleep time and minimise travel time. Even with that I still had to wake at 3am.

I arrived at the Tokyo hostel early. It was shut but I knocked, and the owner was kind enough to let me in. He was a big manga fan. The hostel was filled with over a thousand manga books.

Before exploring the area, I wanted to make sure I could get transport to the airport at 4am. The hostel owner said he couldn’t order a taxi for reasons that are still unclear to me now. I couldn’t use the apps because I didn’t have a Japanese mobile number. The metro didn’t start early, and the first bus was about 4.30am. This would be cutting it fine.

After offloading my rucksack, I got some suggestions from the owner of places I could visit in the afternoon near Tokyo Bay.

As I walked, I saw a nearby large hotel and went to reception. I explained my predicament and asked if they could order a taxi for me the following morning. This was a bit cheeky since I wasn’t staying at the hotel! There was much discussion mediated by Google Translate. At one point, the receptionist called a taxi firm and handed me the phone to speak to someone who couldn’t speak English. Since I couldn’t speak Japanese, the conversation went nowhere. By this time, there were three people in reception. After some internal discussion, they made a note and said that a taxi would be outside the hotel at 4am! My guess is that they obviously have a way of ordering taxis for hotel guests but not people who casually drop in! Somehow, they worked it out.

Much of our time in Tokyo had been spent near the centre. We were puzzled where the ordinary shops were. In central Tokyo, you see plenty of 7-11 and Family Mart convenient stores. These cater, someone told us, for the “salary men” — traditionally those men who work long office hours. The convenience stores provide them with a variety of ready meals. We wondered where normal people went shopping for their fruit and veg, and other staples. I finally found the answer walking around the area near the hostel. Plenty of grocers and supermarkets existed outside the city centre.

At 4am, I went to the hotel for my taxi. As I walked, I wondered why I hadn’t just decided to go to the main road the hotel was on. There were plenty of taxis going to and coming from the airport. Some were empty and I could easily have hailed one. Anyway, the taxi turned up at the scheduled time.

At check-in in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, the airline staff said I needed proof of an outward flight before entering Taiwan. They wouldn’t let me board the plane without an outward ticket!

I sat down and thought about my plans. Normally, I don’t look so many weeks ahead when travelling, preferring to go where the wind sends me. My destination after Taiwan was Hong Kong. I was going to meet a friend from London who would be visiting her parents there. I didn’t know how long I would spend in Taiwan, but I did know when my friend would be in Hong Kong. Allowing her time to settle in and catch up with friends, I opted for three and a half weeks in Taiwan. I found a flight and bought the ticket.

Later, I learnt from a seasoned traveller at my Taipei hostel that there are websites that sell temporary flight tickets for a fraction of the price. I think they buy a ticket then cancel within the cooling off period.

I wondered if the requirement for an outward flight when entering some countries was a formality that had persisted for no good reason. For example, even if you have an outward flight, it doesn’t mean you’re going to take it. The country could follow up with the airline and check that you were on the flight but by that time you’re in the country and possibly difficult to find. Someone else I met in Taiwan said he just took an old PDF file and changed the date and flight. No one had ever questioned him! Another person said she, like me, was once asked to book an outward flight but took so long doing it that they let her on the plane!

After the taxi hassle, the last-minute flight booking to Hong Kong, I was finally on the plane to Taipei. To compensate, whilst flying, I happened to look out of the window and caught sight of this stunning mountain, which I assumed to be Mount Fuji.

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