Just to let everyone know, this is another new series, sorted under the category, ‘Tales From the Orient’. Generally, these posts will be odd stories of things that probably wouldn’t happen in the UK. I hope you all enjoy them!
A few weeks ago, when I booked my hotel, I deliberately chose one that was close to the station. After all, I knew I’d have a lot to carry. Sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly how far things are on Google Maps, but Expedia told me that this hotel was 6 minutes from the station. This sounded perfect as my transfer bus from Kansai International was going to drop me off at the station. So far, so good. After landing, I realised I’d forgotten to note down directions to hotel, so after several minutes of joining and being immediately booted from the free airport Wi-Fi, I finally managed to check my booking in the Expedia app. (A quick note for anyone who also likes travelling: I can highly recommend booking your hotels through Expedia. In my experience, they’ve been excellent on the whole, with frequent flash-sales, up-to-24-hours-before cancellations and good itinerary sharing.) I clicked the in-app link, which usually takes you to Google Maps and shows you the route. You guys know the drill. However, this is where Google dropped the baton. No matter how much information I put in, Google just couldn’t find this place at all. (I’ve had this experience with Japanese hotels and Google Maps before. Sometimes the place name is written in Japanese, sometimes in English, sometimes in some weird kind of mixture that’s meant to be easy to find.) I finally found what I thought was a winning combination, and typed in just the name and the postcode. Google finds it. Perfect. I took a screenshot, left the app open and created the best mental image I could.
On reaching the main train station in Osaka, I tracked down the Tourist Information office for a map of the area, and with a combination of the screenshot, my memory and the still-open Maps app, I was content that I knew where I was going. A final hurdle still stood in my way. Was it walkable? Big roads in Japan often have flyovers and there was no way I was getting ~50kg of luggage up over more than a couple of those. I asked at the desk, and they frowned and hmm’d and frowned again. They’d never heard of the place, and didn’t know where it was. Google wasn’t returning any results for them either. I showed them where I thought it was and they produced a walkable route for me, with some look of concern about my well-being. The manager was standing behind the two women helping me with the directions and interjected every so often with ‘densha de… densha… mm-mmm’. I guess he really wanted me to take the train (densha).
15 minutes of walking later, I reached the hotel. The directions were perfect. In my relieved state, I didn’t pause to consider the fact that it was meant to take only 6 minutes. I was early and apologised to the woman behind the counter. When I asked if I could check in, she looked rather puzzled. This was when my heart began to sink. She shuffled through her files and shook her head. Worst-case scenarios of the booking not working properly flashed through my head and I was a little nervous for the first time since landing. On closer inspection of the hotel I was meant to be at, it turns out that I’d gone to the wrong branch of the chain of hotels. Thanks, Google.
She immediately asked if I wanted a taxi, claiming it took 30 minutes to walk to, but at this point I was fully dedicated to getting to my hotel all on my own two legs. My shoulders were aching, back cramped, eyes bloodshot and tired. In hindsight, I must’ve looked like a very odd customer. She printed me off a new map, and gave me new directions, which were mainly good, except for the last turning. I must’ve been in a sorry-looking state, because a man rushed over to me within seconds of me setting down my luggage and staring at the map again. We started chatting and it turned out that he was 70-something years old. He excitedly took my maps from me and started looking around. He seemed like a local and so I had no reason to question his directions. At worst, he’d just be unable to help me, or so I thought.
In his eagerness, he seemed to have decided that he was going to walk me to the hotel, despite not knowing where he was, let alone the hotel. We set off at a lively pace back the way I’d come. When I say lively, I mean he was practically jogging. I’d like to remind you all at this point of my 50-SOMETHING KILOS OF LUGGAGE THAT I’D BEEN CARRYING FOR 45 MINUTES. Still, this man’s enthusiasm knew no bounds. We walked 5 minutes back in the direction that I’d come before turning 180º and walking a few minutes in that direction again. He asked a few people nearby if they knew where the hotel was and we got some mixed replies. People seemed to have radically opposing views of what the map was showing. After being dragged around for a further 10 minutes at warp-speed by my new-found friend and voluntary tour guide, we ended up about 5 minutes away from where we started, with no better idea of where to go.
It was at this point that it started to get really quite awkward. He accosted another man on the street, who was otherwise minding his own business, and again asked if he knew the hotel. No bueno. My voluntary tour guide handed me off onto this new man, demanding that he help me too. He seemed a bit uncomfortable, but obviously didn’t want to say no. I tried to say it was fine and that I could ask around myself, but this new man was already an unmoveable part of the now three-man search party. He rang two friends for help, neither of whom picked up, before trying to search it for himself on Google Maps. At this point, the old man said he was going to have a look for himself before sprinting off into the distance. I’m not using flowery blog synonyms here – the 70-something year old man really did sprint.
Finally, my younger guide decided that we were going to make a move, and started walking me back the way I’d come for the third or fourth time now. Out of seemingly nowhere, my older guide appeared, mildly out of breath, but nothing major. He had no new information. A few more minutes of painful search ensued before I spotted the front of the hotel, down a tiny side-street. I was relieved to see it, but the fact that was only about 2 minutes from where I’d met my first guide offset the joy quite a bit. The fact that I had to profusely thank and apologise to my two guides also crossed my mind at this point. I thought back to the hours of Japanese language I’d studied, but could really only produce a few varying sentences that were appropriate. Hopefully my facial expressions and body language did the rest to convince the men of my gratitude (and total embarrassment).
This was a pretty long one too, so here’s my TL;DR: Don’t enter any races with 70-year-old Japanese men, and certainly don’t let them direct you if they don’t understand the map, and you have polite enough language to discourage them without offending them.
Top photo: Busy road in Osaka