Lost passports, missing luggage and unexpected illness are the stuff of nightmares and often keep a traveler awake at night—but fear not, we have all the answers!
You can plan most elements of your travels down to a tee, from tickets to hotels to activities, but there are some things you just cannot prep for. Whether you’re organizing a year in advance or more of a last-minute kind of person, you probably have the usual things covered: travel insurance, somewhere to sleep and a rough idea of what to do—but travel isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Lost luggage, a mislaid passport and typhoons are just some of the things that can happen during your trip, and figuring out how to solve them in Japan can be a real nightmare. We’ve come up with some of the most common travel nightmares that we hope never happen to you, but if they do, this is how to minimize the damage and enjoy the rest of your trip!
1. Losing your wallet
You can leave it behind after a hurried re-packing of bags, have it pinched from your pocket at a club or find it missing after a black-out night on the town. No matter how many times you pat down your pockets and rifle through that rucksack, your wallet is gone, and your heart will sink to your stomach. Your cash, your cards, your ID… your life is in there and it’s now in a hedge or the hands of a thieving scoundrel, so what can you do?
What to do
The first thing to do is call your home banks (Skype is good for this—to top up, you can use Paypal so you don’t require card details) and cancel any cards.
Next, head to the nearest koban (police box) and report your item as either lost or stolen. If lost, simply say “Saifu o otoshite shimaimashita.” If it has been stolen, say “Saifu o nusumare mashita”. From experience, even if your item has been stolen, unless you can give a full description of the person who stole it (unlikely with pickpockets, etc.), the police may be reluctant to register it as theft (ever wondered why Japan has such low crime figures?). They will likely explain that if you report it lost, you’ll get a crime number in about 10 minutes, if you report it stolen this process will take “many hours.” It is worth checking your travel insurance to check if this distinction makes a difference to any claiming rights you have, and make the decision that’s best for you. Ensure they have a way to contact you or leave a message with your hostel/hotel and keep your fingers crossed that it comes back soon (it usually does thanks to Japan’s honesty system!)
If you left your wallet on the metro, head to the lost and found office at Iidabashi Station where it is held for 3-4 days. If you have no access to cash, call Visa on their toll-free number for Japan: 00531-11-1555 for advice on accessing your money using emergency withdrawals.
2. Extreme weather conditions
Typhoons are common in Japan during typhoon season (who saw that coming) and can reduce your days of wandering to days of dashing between museums and galleries—and that’s on a good day. Between August and October, pouring rain, flood warnings and dangerous winds can make sightseeing a no-go and flights home a no-show. If you’re not sure what to do in the face of an oncoming storm there’s a few things you can keep in mind to ride it out and minimize the effect on your vacation.
What to do
Most typhoons are just largely inconvenient, and provided you don’t go hanging around on river banks or under scaffolding, you should be fine. There are freak accidents of course, but mostly locals persevere with umbrellas and the knowledge that work stops for no storm.
Keep an eye on social media and the news for updates, especially on the accounts of places you work or were planning to visit to see if they will be closing. There may be emergency broadcasts made from street speakerphones, and these are made in English in a few locations. Unless you see flocks of residents evacuating, you’re likely being told to stay indoors. However, if you are in central Tokyo most of these warnings are less likely, as there is a lower risk of landslides than in more rural areas, and more flood defenses.
Public transport is less reliable in a typhoon though, so keep this in mind and don’t travel far enough that you couldn’t walk back, in case things worsen. If you have plans to fly, keep a keen eye on airport and airline Twitter accounts and websites and be prepared to book additional accommodation in case of cancelation or delay. We have a full article on what to do in typhoons as well as a guide for rainy day activities.
Our favorite (read: cheapest) maid cafes in Akihabara. These types of cafes are one of Japan’s pop culture icons.
3. Cards being rejected
Despite the numerous Visa logos and MasterCard signs displayed on the ATM, your card keeps being spat back out at you without your much-needed cash. This is a common problem in Japan as many international cards aren’t accepted at a majority of cash points even though they are advertised as being so. Ideally, you should check with your home bank before you leave to find out if they have any affiliations or branches abroad and to put the international travel tag on your card so it doesn’t get flagged for fraud while you’re away. If it does get rejected however, there are some things you can do.
What to do
The first places to try are 7/11 ATMs and the Japan Post Office banks as these accept the majority of foreign cards without any issues. Another ATM worth trying are the bright pink standalone E.net ones which are often found in supermarkets and some convenience stores. Post Office ATMs can be found in almost all branches and are bilingual, but do close at either 8pm or 9pm so be prepared and try them early.
If you’re still having no luck, find your nearest branch of Prestia, a bank service for foreigners in Japan which is lesser known than the previous options mentioned. They are often located near major train stations and some airports and often save the day when all else has failed.
We strongly recommend however, that you bring some cash with you from home to ensure that even if you have any problems, you can still travel to other locations or your accommodation. We have more details on the useful banks here.
If you have no access to cash, call Visa on their toll-free number for Japan: 00531-11-1555 for advice on accessing your money using emergency withdrawals
4. Double-booked hostels
It’s not common, but very occasionally systems go wrong and people make mistakes meaning there’s no room at the inn when you arrive at the desk. While most companies (like Booking.com, etc.) have a process for this and are great at making sure you get placed elsewhere, independent hostels often have little to offer and you could be left to fend for yourself. This could also be the case if your hostel is not quite as advertised, i.e., loud neighbors, cockroaches or broken showers could mean you’re looking for somewhere new pretty sharpish.
What to do
If it’s still relatively early on in the day and you have access to the internet, hop onto a hotel site of your choice and have a look for last minute spots; Tokyo is certainly big enough to have plenty to choose from.
Alternatively, if it’s late you can search out the nearest capsule hotel. One issue with these is that many are male-only, so women may not be as lucky as men in finding one, although there are an increasing number of women-friendly ones popping up. These are usually open to walk-ins and pretty cheap, plus you get an unusual experience too.
For couples, you may want to try a love hotel as these are designed for walk-ins and can be rented on a shorter ‘rest’ or overnight ‘stay’ basis. These are only short-term fixes however, so if you need more than a night’s rest try booking sites or have a look at our cheapo-approved accommodation listings.
5. Missing luggage
You stand, waiting impatiently at the luggage carousel as suitcase after suitcase rolls past, none of which look at all familiar. You start to imagine the worst, but think surely not…it can’t be… but yes. Your suitcase is in Dubai, and you are not. Despite apologies and airline placations, you have no clothes, and that few days until it arrives is stretching out far into your holiday distance, especially if you had plans to leave Tokyo before its promised return.
What to do
If your airline is in the process of tracking down your suitcase, you can provide them with your upcoming hotel addresses for them to forward it to when it returns. This should be done free of charge and hopefully pretty quickly thanks to efficient delivery systems in Japan, and your hostel/hotel will be able to call on your behalf to find out more from the airline if needed.
While you’re stuck without clothes and the necessities, however, life if a little less fun. Some airlines will provide vouchers or a form to claim reimbursement at a later date but you should also check your travel insurance as this is usually covered too. Unless you’re a shopaholic you probably don’t want to be buying whole new outfits and breaking the bank, but Tokyo has plenty of places where you can stock up for minimum yen. If it’s late at night, the local convenience store sells everything you could ever need—from T-shirts to underwear to toothbrush sets—you’re covered. It’s at least enough to get you through the first night and into the next day (as many a salaryman will know).
The dreamland of Daiso is a great place to replace chargers, adapters, toiletries and pretty much everything, and all for ¥100 a piece! If it’s going to be a few days without clothes, you can take advantage of being in the land of Uniqlo or try GU for cheap everyday items, as well as H&M and Forever 21 for larger sizes and Western styles. We have guides to shopping in Tokyo, a vintage and secondhand guide as well as a whole one dedicated to shoes—so you’ll know where to go!
6. Late-night arrivals
Be it a delayed flight or just the cheapest option available, arriving in Tokyo after midnight can be pretty problematic as it’s a city that certainly sleeps. With no night trains running, it can be tricky to travel from airports or even around the city past 1am (trains don’t start up again until 5am). The last thing you want after a long-haul flight is to spend your night on a bench in an unforgiving and brightly lit airport, but nearby hotels can be booked up fast and at very high prices.
What to do
Depending on which airport you’re flying in to, most options for transport into the city stop pre-midnight, and trains are usually the first to go. From Narita Terminal 1, the final train leaves at 11pm and gets you to Tokyo Station by half-midnight, so you may still have a chance to catch the last trains of the night but will likely need a cab. There are some buses but they also end at 11pm. If these look unlikely, your best bet is to pre-book a shared shuttle or taxi service which is more affordable and means you can relax on the flight, knowing your transport is all taken care of. Read our full article on late arrivals to Narita here.
From Haneda, choices are a little better since it is much closer to the centre of Tokyo. The last monorail leaves at 12:10am and can get you into central Tokyo in under 30 minutes, but you’ll most likely need a taxi from there. Alternatively, you can catch one of the buses that run until 2:20am with multiple central destinations. If you’ve nowhere to stay that night you might consider hopping on the 1:25am bus to Oedo Onsen Monogatari which has overnight access with rest areas and plenty of onsen to choose from, meaning you can soak off the airport grime and start your day in Tokyo feeling fresh. The overnight hotels at Haneda can be affordable, especially First Cabin which is like a capsule hotel. Read our full article on late night arrivals to Haneda here.
7. Losing your passport
Pretty much the number one nightmare for travelers: a missing passport is the worst case scenario with flashes of days spent in embassies, missed flights and costly replacements. Whether you’ve had it lost or stolen, your priorities will depend on when you’re planning to leave the country, and whether or not you’re heading straight home or have a long list of countries booked in.
What to do
This time, head straight to your nearest koban (police box) and report your passport as lost or stolen using the phrases “Passporto o otoshite shimaimashita” or “Passporto o nusumare mashita” respectively. As we mentioned with wallets, the police will likely be reluctant to report it stolen unless you can identify the thief, so check your insurance coverage requirements and decide which option suits you best (lost is far, far quicker, so if you’re in a hurry it may be best). You’ll receive a crime number on a slip of paper which you must keep with you at all times, especially if your passport is your only form of ID.
If you left your passport or bag on the metro, head to the lost and found office at Iidabashi Station where it is held for 3-4 days.
Depending on how soon you need to travel, you should consider heading to your embassy to get replacement documents. You can find a full list of embassies and their addresses on this government website. You can apply for a new passport but this can take weeks, so emergency travel documents are often your best option. These are specific papers that will list your travel plans and often require either evidence of flight bookings or very detailed schedules. Once issued you cannot deviate from these plans, and if you do so, you will need to apply again. Needless to say these documents can be pricey, but you may be able to claim them back on your travel insurance.
8. Getting sick/injured
Food poisoning, broken limbs and fevers are not what you want on the trip of a lifetime and can be even scarier when you’re in a foreign country and don’t speak the language. Luckily, Japan has a pretty accessible healthcare system in that anyone can walk into a hospital or doctor’s office and receive treatment—you just have to pay the bill at the end (and claim it back on insurance later).
What to do
If you need to visit a hospital, there are some more geared towards foreign visitors than others, and if you don’t speak Japanese this is pretty important. Another factor to consider is that medical practices in Japan often specialize in a certain area, so you need to make sure you head to the correct one or find a general hospital. The NTT Medical Center in Shinagawa, Tokyo Medical University Hospital in Shinjuku, Tokyo Takanawa Hospital in Shinagawa and St. Lukes International Hospital in Ginza are all English-speaking general hospitals that accept credit card payment.
If you don’t need a hospital, there are plenty of clinics that can help you including Primary Care in Shimokitazawa for general medical advice and prescriptions, Tameike Eye Clinic in Akasaka and K Ladies Clinic in Shinjuku for more specific needs.
Quick note: Be aware that in Japan people often use the word ‘hospital’ to refer to any medical clinic, so don’t panic if someone recommends you go to the hospital when you say you’ve got hay fever.
Finally, it is not exactly unknown for doctors here to dismiss your pain (especially if you’re a woman) without actually testing you or doing anything at all. If you’re not convinced, get a second opinion; you know yourself better than anyone, so don’t be put off.
For an ambulance call 119 or press the red emergency button if using a public phone and say “Kyuu-kyuu desu” to inform them you want an ambulance (not a fire truck). Give the location and speak as slowly and clearly as you can, using landmarks if needed. Call 110 for the police and do the same, or head to your nearest koban (police box).
If you need to go, check out this handy language guide for visiting a doctor.
9. Canceled Flights
That flashing red word that is every traveler’s worst nightmare, right there next to your flight and possibly plenty of others. It’s not what you want to see, but there isn’t much you can do about it, and shouting at airline staff certainly won’t help. Be it down to weather, staff shortages or unknown circumstance, a canceled flight can cause all kinds of problems: hotel expenses, missed connections, missed engagements or worse.
What to do
Firstly, confirm with your airline when your scheduled to fly, and ensure that if you leave the airport (for a bonus night in Tokyo) you will be able to get back in time. Ensure you get a ticket or printed itinerary confirming your new times in case this needs to be proven in the future.
Most airlines will provide hotel or transport vouchers or will explain the claims procedure and reimbursement budget allowed. It is also worth checking your travel insurance rules to see what your excess is and the total amount you are covered for in these circumstances (as well as what evidence you need to make a claim).
If you have accommodation booked at your destination call and inform them, especially since you may be in time to avoid paying the full cost of the room. You should be able to use vouchers at any of the hotels linked to the airport or there will be a shuttle service provided if specified for one nearby—otherwise you won’t be short of people to share a taxi with at least.
Escape Tokyo for the day, see mountains, hot springs, the modern, the traditional, the old and the ancient!