In early November 2017, four friends and I took a long-anticipated, and clearly under-researched, trip to Japan.
The first mishap occurred when we landed at Osaka International Airport on a chilly autumn morning of 14 degrees Celsius. Being warm-bodied South Asians, we had packed winter wear, but in our checked-in suitcases instead of our hand luggage. Needless to say, we got a shock upon learning that all our checked-in bags had been misplaced on the transit flight, and would only reach us the next morning.
Clad in jeans and long-sleeved T-shirts, we decided to brave the cold and head to the city of Nara to see the 'sacred' deer that freely roamed the parks. Besides getting bitten by the overly affectionate fawns, it was a sweet start to our trip. But as dusk fell, autumn rains descended and the temperature dropped to a 'freezing' 10 degrees Celsius. We bid silent goodbyes to our gloveless fingers and sockless toes.
When we finally made it back to Osaka city, the hunt for our Airbnb apartment commenced. Japan is well known for its complicated system of addresses: the streets are nameless, and the building numbers don't go in any order or are not written outside. We spent an hour marching up and down strange alleys looking for the right plot, and another hour puzzling over how to work the entrance security system, before we gave up and called the irritated landlord to drive over and let us in.
The rain continued to pour over the next few days so we had no choice but to cancel half of our plans and instead, huddle in coffee shops and eateries to enjoy the delectable Japanese food.
The fact that the five of us had different dietary preferences didn't help the situation. One ate halal only, another was strictly vegetarian, two preferred chicken or fish but no red meat, and the fifth ate everything under the sun. Finding cafes that accommodated our diverse taste-buds became a thrice-daily challenge.
When the rain temporarily came to a halt, we headed to Kyoto, eager to rent bikes and explore the city. At the bicycle kiosk near the train station, we spent a good part of the morning dumping coins into and kicking the vending machine, struggling to understand what it said in Japanese. We asked passersby to help and tried to wrangle the bikes out of their secure locks, before we realised that this was not a rental kiosk but a parking spot for cycles.
Over the nine-day trip, we missed more trains and buses than we could count. The epitome of our untimeliness was missing the last bus back from Mount Fuji to Tokyo, and sprinting after any shuttle that passed by to plead for a ride back to civilisation.
We lost our way about six times daily, mastered sign language trying to get locals to understand and help us, had hourly disagreements on where to go and what (not) to eat, and faced multiple mini-disasters that created now-hilarious memories.
Did I mention the airline misplaced our luggage on the flight back home too?