Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Yeller: Japanese Taxi Driver
Place: Narita International Airport, Tokyo
Time: August 2016
Kayak.com is the ultimate travel website for overconfident millennials.
It’s perfect! All you have to do is type in where you’re going and when, and it instantly puts the cheapest ticket option on the planet at the top of the screen. You don’t even have to look at the details, you just click, go, and figure out the rest later!
Which is exactly how I unknowingly wound up with a 14 hour layover in Tokyo, Japan. I was flying from Hong Kong to Philadelphia with layovers in Tokyo and Chicago, which didn’t seem terrible. I was actually pretty excited! I’d never been to Tokyo but always wanted to, and now I would have just enough time in the city to do a few cool things, experience Japan, see the pokemon store, and fly back to America.
Only caveat, the layover was from 11pm-1pm the next day. When I got off the plane and checked the time, I figured I had time to do one cool night-lifey thing in Japan, then I’d come back to the airport where they have these super cool escape pod-looking hotel beds. It’s like a hallway with dozens of MRI machines in the walls, and you just hop in one and you can sleep all night!
I decided I wanted to find a bar nearby and try some authentic Japanese green tea. Simple enough. I found a nearby coffee bar on yelp named, “Coffee & Jazz”. This was perfect! I like coffee, I like jazz, they probably speak English because they have an English name, and they definitely have green tea!
I hop in a cab outside the airport and try to show the taxi driver the yelp page for the bar. He starts driving and after 100 feet he just pulls over and we sat there in silence for about a minute, not knowing he was waiting for me to say something. I handed him my phone again and this time he takes out a magnifying glass to read the address on my phone.
Now before I got in the taxi I transferred all the cash I had into Japanese yen and it came out to about 9,000 yen. I used a small vending machine like those coin machines you see at Chuck E. Cheese, so I knew I was getting a good deal.
We drive for about 40 minutes and when we get there the dashboard reads 5,000 yen. I reluctantly forked over the cash and got out, my mind instantly going down the spiral of what this means: I don’t have enough cash to get back, and I’m going to be walking on the highway to the airport in the middle of the night, and I’m gonna get kidnapped by some guys with a van, and my family is gonna fly to Tokyo to find me, and they’re gonna get kidnapped by some guys in a van, and it’s a vicious cycle from there.
I walk up to the bar and from what little I can understand, I know this much: They do not have coffee, they don’t play jazz music, no one there speaks English, and they don’t even have green tea!!! This is nuts!! I sat there with my glass of tap water downloading every taxi app I could find, English and Japanese. I figured if I used an app I could use my credit card, but there’s nothing. At this point it’s 2am on a Tuesday night in a suburb of Tokyo. There’s no one on the radar. The bartender could now see my visible frustration and tries to talk to me, but all I could think to do was point at my phone and say the word, “Taxi”. So the bartender looks at me as if to say “Have I got the solution for you!", picks up his phone, and calls me a taxi.
Now there’s no other way. I have to barter with this taxi to get back, or I’m stuck walking. The taxi arrives outside, and it’s the same guy. I get in the back of his car and start waving my 4,000 yen at him saying the word for airport at him over and over. “Kuko, kuko, kuko” He must've taken extreme offense to whatever I thought I said to him because all of a sudden he starts screaming at me! Like, really laying into me, with eye contact and everything. Like full front-seat to back-seat turn around eye contact scolding. I was petrified.
His screaming was so loud that the bartender heard it and came outside to defend me! I’m sitting in the back seat while the bartender and the taxi driver are duking it out. I’m about to storm out of there when I catch out of the corner of my eye a very small card reader in the front cupholder, and I whip out my credit card to the driver, who immediately calms down, gives me a thumbs up and takes off!
We get to the airport 20 minutes later, I pay with my credit card, and I don’t notice that the only lights that are on are the streetlights until after I’ve gotten out of the taxi. And as he peels out of there, I realize what I’ve done.
He dropped me off at the wrong airport.
Tokyo happens to have two airports, and what's worse is he knew which one I wanted to go to beCAUSE HE PICKED ME UP FROM THE OTHER AIRPORT!
I’m sitting there on the sidewalk for about 45 minutes, accepting my defeat and right about to fall over asleep when a police car pulls up right in front of me. A large Japanese policeman steps out and towers over me as he looks at me sitting there. He looks me straight in the eye and bows to me! Just then I remembered that I’d taken a pamphlet from the other airport and put it in my back pocket! I pulled it out and showed it to him and he waves for me to get in the front seat.
He drives me all the way to the other airport, parks the car, and escorts me through the airport all the way to the sleeping pod hotel. What a man! Exhausted and full of emotion I had the best night sleep I’ve had in a long time, woke up, went to the Pokémon store, and got on my flight to go home.
I’m sure Japan is an incredible country to visit and I would absolutely love to visit Tokyo again one day and say hello to my new bartending, policeman, and taxi-driving friends, but I will absolutely hire a translator to accompany me, as long as it is the cheapest one they have.
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