I have wanted to go to Japan FOREVER and intentionally scheduled myself (slightly ridiculous) longer layovers so that I could leave the airport and do some exploring... needless to say, things did not go according to plan.
A bit of backstory, I studied Japanese in high school for two years and was president of the Japanese Club my senior year...I took two more semesters of Japanese in college and was a member of the Japanese Student Association (even though I'm not Japanese ha). I WAS SO EXCITED TO BE IN JAPAN, it was a little silly in hindsight. Right away the bathrooms off the airplanes got me. I was super amused that the toilets play music and are so fancy! More than anything though, I was excited to be able to read some things in Japanese. Lets just say I was sleep deprived and a little overstimulated. For some reason, when I travel alone I can never sleep while traveling. I think it is because I am paranoid that I'll sleep through my connection or something, who knows...
I had pre-planned which train I was going to take to connect me from Haneda to Narita, but due to the overstimulation (thats my excuse and I'm sticking to it) I managed to walk out of customs WITHOUT MY CHECKED BAG. How I did this, I'm not entirely sure...but it was one of those areas where once you leave you are not permitted re-entry. After a momentary panic when I realized what I had done, I contacted the airline and they helped me sort it out. By this time, I had missed the train I was originally going to take that was a direct connection. The information lady I spoke to was very helpful and gave me directions on which train to take but this one had a transfer, which I figured I could manage... I took lots of trains in Europe, so that makes me an expert right??
I bought my train ticket and was on my way~ so I get to the transfer station and give the cashier my card to purchase the connecting ticket, only to find out they don't take cards. Like what?! Do I have any Japanese currency on me? Of course not. So I tried going to an ATM, it doesn't work. At this point I am trying not to panic as I am stuck in the middle of Tokyo somewhere with a giant backpack, no cash, and a second grader understanding of the language. I made my way to an information booth and they informed me that I had to use an international ATM, and where I could find one, OUTSIDE of the train station. So I set off to find the international ATM and of course although his directions seemed straightforward, I was unable to find it. Luckily some people managed to help me in very broken English and I am so grateful for them. But that's not the end- I get to the international ATM and guess what? IT DOESN'T WORK EITHER.
At this point I'm in full panic mode and I've already lost over an hour wandering this area. So I go back to the train station and find a currency exchange counter. I had almost no cash on me, I literally had $20 and I exchanged that for yen. Desperately I go back to the ticket counter and hope that I have enough to get to the airport~ which I did, thank goodness. But of course I go to get on my train and realize I have no idea which one I am supposed to take, and everything was in Kanji. I had a very broken conversation in Japanese with a nice women and luckily my limited vocabulary was enough to understand I was supposed to take the train after the next (tsugi no tsugi!) So I make it to the airport with like 7 hours to spare...
I was so stressed out and exhausted that I ended up just hanging in the airport. I was concerned I wouldn't be able to get any money and I didn't have any more cash to exchange so I figured it was safer to stay put. Plus I didn't want to risk missing my flight since I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. Luckily it wasn't a total waste of time as my friend Mana came to the airport to say hello. We were both exchange students in Germany together and it was very nice to see her :)
In summary, the lesson I learned was to always carry a certain amount of cash when traveling because you never know when technology might fail! To this day I'm not sure why I couldn't get the ATMs to work for me in Tokyo, because it was just fine once I got to Thailand. Also, even with the best plan laid out, random things can happen and you have to be flexible and go with the flow!
This definitely doesn't count as a trip to Japan and it is still very much on my list! I want to do ALL the things there, it is only a matter of time :3
Stay curious friends!