December 13th, 2005

OK, so I’m getting ready to go home for the holidays. I’ve got everything taken care of, especially in light of my broken foot. I’m going to takkyubin my luggage to the airport (“takkyubin” is kind of like Fed-Ex, but a broader service in Japan; one service they provide is hauling your luggage for you from point A to point B). I’ve got Green Car reservations on the Narita Express, wheelchair reservations for the airport, a bulkhead seat (first row of Economy class, where there are no seats in front of you) on the airplane… everything taken care of.

So last night, at about 2 a.m., I look at my luggage. And I realize that I haven’t made arrangements to takkyubin the suitcase. Well, I shouldn’t worry, I think–they’ll pick it up tomorrow and have it at the airport in time, right? Except when I go to Yamato Takkyubin’s web site to check, they say that you should have it picked up two to three days before your flight. Oh, great! Come the morning, my flight would be the next day. Have you ever tried to carry a big suitcase while on crutches? I haven’t, and I don’t want to try.

So there I am in a panic, figuring that I’ve completely blown it. Yamato doesn’t open till 8:00 am, and they require 2-3 days anyway. But I find another express company, called Sagawa, who seem to take calls all night. So I call them up. No problem, the guy says. We can have your bag at the airport the next day. I make the reservation for the pickup guy to come between 12 and 2 in the afternoon the next day, and relax. It’s taken care of. Close one! So I go to sleep.

This morning, I get woken up by a phone call. Some guy at Sagawa, calling me about my arrangement. The problem is, he doesn’t speak English, and I can’t understand what he’s saying. Something about “uketori” (pickup?) at the airport, and somehow maybe I can’t get my bag “chokusetsu” (directly). I quiz him, explain that I can’t understand, please speak simply, the whole nine yards. I try to get him to explain bit by bit. But no luck–he remains maddeningly vague. He tells me to call the “skyporter” at Narita, and I do so. He also does not speak English, and he is even less helpful and clear than the Sagawa guy. He can’t explain, and says I should call Sagawa. I call the Sagawa guy back up, he’s no help either. I ask him directly if they can deliver my bag to Narita as promised, and he won’t give me a direct answer.

Here’s a big cultural tip about Japan: when someone refuses to give a direct answer, and instead switches to high-level language, the answer is “no.”

So I begin to panic again. My Japanese coworker at school kindly agrees to call Sagawa for me to cut through the language problem, and confirms my fears: Sagawa doesn’t deliver to Narita. (So why did the guy I called last night tell me “no problem”?) Sagawa has just wasted my time when I’m already way late. At least they told me (kind of) that they couldn’t deliver my bag before they actually picked it up. But that doesn’t help me much.

Hoping against hope that Yamato will do the job despite the late hour, I call them up. Again, no one speaks English. I’m able to communicate my request to the dispatcher, who assures me that they can do this for me, they can get the suitcase there in time for my flight. That would be a relief again, except for the fact that that is exactly what the Sagawa guy said eight hours earlier. But I take a leap of faith and go for it. Trying to make sure I’ve got things covered, I call the downtown number for Yamato and get an English speaker, who assures me that they can get my bag to Narita by the next day before my flight, no problem. Oh yeah, they also inform me that on the shipping invoice, in the “to” area, I have to put “Narita Airport,” my airline, flight number and departure time. Useful info, good thing I called the second time.

Anyway, just as I was writing this, the Yamato guy showed up at my door, again assured me that it would get there on time, and took it away with the $16 fee. I’m still nervous, but at least a bit more hopeful now. At worst, I’ll have to buy luggage and clothes when I get to the U.S. Could be worse.

Too late, a friend made a suggestion which would have worked much better: I should have taken a taxi to Seiseki Sakuragaoka, a 5-minute taxi ride, from where I could have taken the Limousine Bus (why is it called a “limousine” bus?) to the airport, no transfers or anything. But it’s a bit too late to switch, so I’ll stay with what I’ve got. But it’s good information to know for the future.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2005, Travel Tags: by
  1. Brad
    December 13th, 2005 at 15:37 | #1

    That’s a surprise. After all this time reading your blog I’d assumed that you were a fluent Japanese speaker, since you’ve spent so much time over there, you’re living there permanently, etcetera. Do you teach in English? I’d assumed it would have been very difficult to live as a proper resident in Japan without being able to speak the language.

    Actually, if you have a blog entry that says “My name is Luis and this is what I do”, can you point me at it?

  2. Luis
    December 13th, 2005 at 16:06 | #2

    Well, there is fluent and there is fluent. I’m fluent in what you might call “everyday conversation” (nichijo kaiwa), which is required to basically get around. It’s a common plateau for language learners to reach–where you can do everything you usually need to do, and situations that call for more language are rare. I’m one of those who has become somewhat complacent at that level. It’s only once in a while that a situation requires the knowledge of language that goes beyond my ability. And yes, I teach in English, which means my opportunities for speaking Japanese are limited to what I seek out.

    Usually even business calls are within my range of ability. However, when a Japanese businessperson can’t do something for you, especially something they promised, they begin to use stylized speech, with higher and more formalized vocabulary, different sentence forms, and so on. It’s as if we were speaking regular Engglish, and then suddenly you switched to Shakespearean language.

    None of this would actually be covered in an intro, but probably I should make one. Some time.

  3. December 14th, 2005 at 01:21 | #3

    “I could have taken the Limousine Bus (why is it called a “limousine” bus?) to the airport, no transfers or anything.”

    Luis, it’s just one of those mysteries in life. No one understands it, no one ever will, you just move along. *laugh* I was a bit surprised you were taking the Narita Express OUT to Narita, but everyone has their own way of getting there. I usually take the Express in to the city and the Limousine Bus out. Not sure why, but that system seems to work the best.

  4. ykw
    December 14th, 2005 at 03:06 | #4

    $16 for a door to door courier service seems like a very reasonable price. How much would it cost to take a taxi from your apt to the airport? How far is it?

  5. Luis
    December 14th, 2005 at 07:51 | #5

    Takkyubin is cheap. Taxis are expensive. I don’t know the fare from my place to the airport, but I would assume that it’s somewhere in the area of $200, maybe more. But then, it’s a long way to the airport from where I am. I’m way on the west side of Tokyo. To get from my place to where the express train begins, I’m sure would cost $60 or maybe more. From there, it’s a 1-1/2 hour express train ride, to the middle of the next prefecture to the east.

    Even though Narita is called the “New Tokyo International Airport,” it’s not even close to being in Tokyo.

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