Sunday, August 10, 2014

Feeling Stranded in Osaka

Well it's been ages and I've done many things in the mean time.  I want to re-purpose this blog to be more about some of the stories of my life, so I don't forget and my kids will remember.  And since re-purposing is all the rage these days, I figured it would be a great way to go.

When I was sent to Tokyo for a work assignment at the end of 2011, I was sent for two weeks.  The people I associated with in Japan were very friendly at work, but I was totally on my own for the weekend (unlike being in Brazil).

The Shinkansen
I planned a trip for Saturday to take the Shinkansen bullet train to Osaka.  The plan was that I would be in Osaka for the morning and then take another bullet train back towards Tokyo, stopping off in Kyoto.  Then take a night bus (not like the knight bus in Harry Potter) back to Tokyo.  The night bus was much cheaper, and although my per diem in Japan was over $240 daily, I didn't want to spend all my money on another bullet train back to Tokyo for $180 per ticket.

The plan started off just fine.  I thought about getting cash out in Tokyo before I left, because most ATMs and vendors don't accept US credit cards.  After a short internal debate, I decided to forgo going out of my way to use the ATM I knew would work, and instead find one in Osaka.

I went to the train station and bought my ticket to Osaka.  Three hours later after travelling an average of 150 miles per hour, we reached Osaka and I got off.

I generally don't do maps when I travel.  I spend hours figuring out where I want to go and then commit the map to memory.  The only problem with this is that sometimes when getting out of a subway stop or train station, there isn't much I can do until I get my bearings.

So in Osaka, I started off going the wrong direction.  After about fifteen minutes of walking, I realized this, but do I back track?  No way.  I turn left and just keep walking.  Another fifteen minutes later, I pop into the park where the Osaka Castle replica is located.  I made it.  Not only did I make it, but my odd detour sent me right to one of the main gates.

Osaka Castle
The view from Osaka Castle

One of the castle walls and moats
The Osaka Castle was fascinating.  I walked around for a couple hours and really enjoyed the views of the castle and from the castle grounds.  The foundations of the castle have been around for hundreds of years, even if the castle was only rebuilt after WWII.

After spending my last Yen on admission to the castle itself, I realized that I would need to find an ATM soon.  I figured I had plenty of time on my long walk back to the train station, going a much more direct route this time.  However, each ATM I tried wouldn't take my card.  I couldn't find a single ATM that would accept a US debit card.

After searching for about twenty minutes, I begin to panic.  I start asking locals, who just stare at me because they don't speak any English.   I found one very nice man with his wife walking around, who could speak English.  He helped me translate the screen prompts on two different ATMs, but to no avail.

Japanese ATM
I'm now really freaking out.  "Why didn't I just get cash in Tokyo where I knew I could?"  "How am I going to contact my office to let them know I won't be at work on Monday, because I've become a bum in Osaka?"  "Will a search party go out for me?"  "Why do US cards have to be difficult to work with?"

This is unfamiliar territory for me.  I've traveled around the world, from Turkey, Guam, England, and Spain.  I've been "lost" before in unknown places, but I've never felt stranded.  I always knew I could find something familiar and get my bearings.  The difference this time, was that I had my bearings.  I knew exactly where I was, but I had no idea how to get back to where I was supposed to be.

Just when I was beginning to really stress that I might be stranded in Osaka, I found a Seven Eleven, where the ATMs are known to work with US cards.  At last!  I'm saved from being stranded.

I put my card in and followed the on screen prompts (in English this time) and it failed...

I sank.  I tried again, and it failed again.  The one ATM that was supposed to work, didn't.  Now it's really hopeless.

Just I start to sink back into despair again, I notice the phone attached to the ATM.  Yes a Phone.  Figuring it can't hurt to try, I pick it up.

Immediately it starts to ring and then a girl answers in Japanese.  I ask (in English) if she speaks English and sure enough she does.  She switches over to English without the slightest hesitation.  I tell her that I'm having a hard time getting the ATM machine to work.  She simply says, "Turn your card over."

Annoyed that it can't possibly be that simple, I tell her that I followed the diagram that shows me which way to put my card.  She says again, "Turn your card over and try it."

I flip my card over, contrary to the diagram's instructions, and proceed to get Yen out of the machine without any further glitches.  I thank her profusely, hang up and go get lunch.

After eating some fantastic takoyaki for lunch I head to the train station to buy my ticket to go to Kyoto.  On a whim, I try to use my credit card to buy my ticket.  It works maybe 20% of the time in Japan, and this time was one of the few places that worked.  So, to my embarrassment, I was never stranded at all.  At any point I could have just walked up and purchased a ticket back to Tokyo without ever finding an ATM.

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