We are currently on holiday on Yoron Island, which is just north of the Pacific Japanese islands of Okinawa. This is a beautiful island, with amazing beaches and great underwater scenes and sea life for scuba diving.
I will, however, be spending most of my time on the beach building sandcastles, snorkeling in 30cm deep water, drinking Yoron blue cocktails and observing the Japanese sunbathers dressed up for the sun. Most Japanese women like suntan as much as Western women like cellulite, and whilst women like me might do lunges to avoid getting any wobbly mountains and valleys on my thighs, when they go on the beach, Japanese ladies wear long sleeved sports tops, capri trousers and 1970-style, extremely unflattering sun hats, that make even a 6-year old look like she needs a zimmer frame.
But somehow, as seems typical with us, getting to the beaches here didn’t go quite as planned.
Even though I am a control freak, for once I left husband in charge of booking the flights. In fact, this time, I abandoned my Monica Geller persona so much so that I didn’t even know what time our flight was until two days before our departure. You see, my husband, who was in England until 24 hours before our flight to Okinawa, rang me to warn me that he had noticed that our connecting flight from Naha (the biggest town on the Okinawa main island) to Yoron was a bit tight: 50 minutes. In Japan, things work even better than in places like Germany, so in theory 50 minutes should be plenty of time to get our connecting flight especially as we thought Naha airport would be pretty small and you don’t have any ‘get there 3 hours before your flight’ type warning that you have at Heathrow. However, even in Japan things can sometimes go more like in Russia/Heathrow than in Germany/Helsinki.
Things started to go wrong already the night before our flight. We were to leave our apartment around 8am but around 9.30pm the previous night my husband rang me from Kansai Airport in Osaka to which he had just landed to tell me that his luggage, including all his Okinawa holiday clothes, were still in Hong Kong, where he had taken his connecting flight from London to Osaka. Luckily, when we got to the airport to fly out to Okinawa the following morning, my husband’s luggage had arrived and so I didn’t need to share my bikini and summer dresses with him during our holiday (despite his protestations). Instead, we just transferred some of his stuff from his Hong Kong luggage to our Yoron luggage in the corner of the terminal and left the Hong Kong luggage with the ground staff to deliver it to our home in Osaka that evening.
The first leg of our flight was with Peach airlines, which is the Japanese version of Easyjet or Ryanair, i.e. non-glam, plain rude, ‘your-luggage-weighs-150-grams-over-the-limit’ -airline. Recall that we finished our packing in the corner of the Kansai Airport terminal (in about one minute with a member of the Cathay Pacific staff standing next to us waiting for us to return my husband’s Hong Kong luggage for home delivery), and so we had no idea what our luggage weighed.
We had to take some of our stuff out of the luggage, and wear it, which is not exactly ideal when it is 30 degrees outside, but anyway, the Peach ground staff were eventually happy with the weight of our luggage. I’m glad they didn’t weigh us as well! I’ve heard that some airlines do weigh their passengers, and to be honest, my post-England cider and pub grub holiday /pre-Okinawa get-in-your-new-green-bikini-holiday diet didn’t go quite as well as planned and if 150 grams is a big deal for them, they wouldn’t have liked what they saw had I jumped on the scales.
Very non-typically for Japan, the non-glam flight took off about 30 minutes behind schedule. Maybe Peach trains their staff in Ireland… although, typically for Japan, Peach did provide free umbrellas for people walking from the terminal to the aircraft in the rain. Michael O’Leary would of course charge a pound or two for that kind of luxury.
When we got to Naha we were amazed to see that our luggage seemed to be the first off the plane – we might just make it! However, we then realized that, like most budget airlines, Peach had its own terminal, a shed/warehouse type thing, next to the actual Naha terminal. We had to make a 10 min bus journey to the main terminal and managed to get to the departure counter 5 minutes after the scheduled take-off time of our connecting Japan Airlines flight. We had the distressed JAL ground staff ringing the departure gate to see whether we could still make it, but no, in punctual Japanese style, the flight was already on its way. That was the last flight of the day. I stayed surprisingly calm. I think it was the fact that my husband had cleverly rang me and warned me that this might happen. But the bottom line was that we were not getting to our paradise island that day, and I wasn’t a happy bunny (or more accurately: an old hare).
What saved the day was the amazing Japanese customer service (for the sake of simplicity, let’s exclude Peach staff from this generalization).
There we were at the JAL counter, had missed our (£400) flights, and were expecting to pay another £400 for our flights for the following day. But when we explained to them that our Peach flight had landed 30 minutes behind the schedule, they went off for 15 minutes making phone calls. I presume they were calling the shed/warehouse-terminal, to verify that our Peach flight had indeed been delayed (the Japanese are not only punctual, they are also precise and never use guesswork).
In the meanwhile, I rang the hotel on Yoron Island to let them know that we would not be arriving there that day after all. The receptionist didn’t speak English. I tried to explain in my pidgin Japanese that we were still in Naha and would not be arriving at the hotel that day: Watashitachi wa Naha ni imasu. Yoron no kuukoo ni imasen. The receptionist didn’t understand what I was on about. She asked me to ring back a couple of hours later when there was someone there who spoke English.
Once the helpful JAL ground staff got a verification of our delayed connecting flight with someone’s hanko (kind of like a signature in a form or a stamp) on a piece of paper, they offered us flights for the following day for free. Hooray!
Now all we had to do was to find a hotel in Naha for one night. We went to the airport’s information counter. No English speakers. I didn’t want to give it another go with my Japanese comparable to a drunken Glaswegian’s English. So we just stood there like lemons until they directed us two floors down to another information counter where someone did speak English.
The English speaker was very helpful. Not only did she book us a hotel in Naha, she also rang our hotel in Yoron to let them know that due to a delayed flight we would not be arriving until the following day. And can you believe it, the hotel offered to refund the night we had to spend in Naha. Hooray!
So, all in all, we actually saved about £100 due to the fact that we had missed our connecting flight (our hotel in Naha was much cheaper than our hotel in Yoron). My husband of course took credit for this and said that this was his plan all along. Maybe he should start writing a ‘money saving’ blog with all his well thought-out thrifty ideas.
In any case, we got to spend a night in Naha where my husband got confused as to why the monorail driver seemed to be missing (see photo below) and we flew out to Yoron the following day.
The end of the line
We are here safe and sound, although typhoon Dujuan is approaching and is likely to hit this area this evening. We’ve stocked up on emergency rations – but I am getting through the chocolate and crisps as we speak while sitting on the sofa and writing this blog. Maybe I should start writing a survival blog…
PS. More Yoron news and photos to follow (unless the typhoon knocks out our chocolate and crisp shop).