Trip to Japan (Part I)
Dreams and Childhood
Japan has always intrigued me in a unique way. During the Soviet era in the 80s, when I turned 15 and received a cassette tape recorder from my parents (produced somewhere in the Soviet Union), I needed blank audio cassettes. Such items were scarce in stores and expensive, but occasionally there were imports from abroad, so I had to persuade my parents to buy me some cassettes produced in Japan. I remember brands like TDK, Sony, Maxell, JVC. They were much higher quality than locally produced audio cassettes, and their appearance fascinated me. Transparent cassettes were really cool. During that period, I had a hobby of collecting music by recording it from the radio.
Of course, I was also fascinated by all kinds of Japanese electronics. Whether it was cassette players, video players, walkmans, or large stereo systems. Towards the end of the 80s, I finally got the long-desired Japanese boombox from Panasonic.
Reality in the present day
But enough about history. Let’s fast forward to the present day. Back then, when I was a fan of technology, I never would have thought that in the spring of 2023, I would be traveling to Japan with my wife and our 4-year-old son.
This kind of crazy idea had been brewing in our minds for a long time. Since my wife Mari has a sister living in Japan, our plan was to visit her. Besides, Mari had lived and studied in Japan herself.
For me, it was my first trip beyond the borders of Europe, if we don’t count Turkey and Georgia. It was also a trip where only my family participated. This means that Mari had to handle assisting me, managing our son Lucas Nikolas, and moving our suitcases and bags. Looking back, it was a brave move for us, but we managed it.
The attitude of a major airline
I decided to purchase our flight tickets directly from Finnair. We had a layover in Helsinki on the way from Tallinn to Osaka. When I informed the airline about my wheelchair, they informed me that the flight between Tallinn and Helsinki was operated by a small aircraft that couldn’t accommodate my electric wheelchair in its cargo hold. Well, I had to start communicating with the customer service representative. I explained the situation and proposed removing the flights between Tallinn and Helsinki from our package since we could also travel by ferry to Helsinki. The response I received was far from pleasant. They suggested making a new booking and forgetting about the payment for the previous one. I told my good friend about this, and he got furious and tried to communicate with them himself. Fortunately, he managed to escalate the issue to a higher level, and the next day I received a favorable decision that the flights between Tallinn and Helsinki would be removed from our package without any additional charges.
The beginning of the journey
So, our journey began on April 14, 2023. We had two large suitcases, a smaller suitcase, a backpack, and Lucas’s folding stroller. We fit into a Forus taxi and headed to the D-Terminal of the Tallinn harbor to board the Tallink ferry “MegaStar.”
When we arrived in Helsinki, there was a lift-equipped bus organized by my friend, which took us to Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.
Check-in went smoothly, but we were charged over a hundred euros for excess baggage. But the main thing was that we were able to fly. The flight was supposed to last about 13 hours. The large Airbus “shook” a lot, as if there were a lot of stones in the sky. In any case, I couldn’t sleep much on the narrow seat. We flew over European and Asian countries, avoiding terrorist Russia.
I can’t say whether it was turbulence or something else, but an hour before reaching our destination, it was announced that the plane would make a layover in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. The reason was a fuel system malfunction. Well, what can you do. The layover lasted a few more hours, but eventually the plane touched down at Kansai International Airport, located on an artificial island in Osaka Bay.
First surprises and reunions
Contrary to the male assistants working in European airports, two beautiful Japanese women in uniform came to help me off the plane. Smiling and bowing at everything, the disembarkation was pleasant.
Upon entering the country, we had to provide our fingerprints and facial image. It seems that they were not able to capture my fingerprints properly, and the facial image didn’t turn out very flattering either. When leaving the country, I encountered a problem because the officer couldn’t find my photo. Instead of my face, there was a gray avatar on the computer screen. I jokingly told Mari that I would stay in Japan. Fortunately, they still decided to let me leave the country.
Finally, we got our luggage and the wheelchair “intact” and started looking for Lucas’ aunt at the airport. She was wandering somewhere amidst the maze of terminals, but we eventually managed to meet up. The joy of reunion was, of course, great.
Since I had physical needs after the flight, I had to find an accessible toilet. Well, what can I say—it was a singing toilet with a heated seat, and after the operation, it even had a total butt wash.
And so, we had arrived in Japan. It all seemed quite unbelievable to me. Me, in Japan? But in the end, I guess I started to believe it.
Subways and Trains
From the airport, we had to reach downtown Osaka. For that, we used the express train line. In Osaka, there are no problems at all with wheelchair accessibility. The subways and trains are organized in a way that you just inform the station attendant that you’re using a wheelchair. You also inform them where you’re going. A uniformed officer with a moving ramp comes to assist and helps you into the train car. The train stops with a 10 cm precision at the destination, and an officer with a ramp is already waiting at the door.
Once we arrived in Namba, downtown Osaka, we started to navigate towards the reserved Airbnb apartment, which would be our accommodation for five nights. It was known that there was one fairly high step inside the building, but we didn’t know what other “steps” awaited us. At least it was known that the building had an elevator where my wheelchair should fit.
So, we embarked on our adventure with Aunt Anna, following Google Maps. Luckily, we had a helping pair of hands, which made things a bit easier. Navigating and squeezing through the crowd, we eventually managed to find the correct building. Yes, there was indeed a step. But since my wheelchair has a “leg” in the middle of the front, designed for overcoming steps, it wasn’t a big problem—we had strong girls pushing from behind, and the “first” step was conquered. I barely fit in the elevator, but I made it. I went up to the sixth floor, and there were new surprises waiting for us there. Firstly, there was a step inside the apartment, similar in height to the one downstairs, and the next step was about a meter from the entrance in the hallway. There was no other choice but to first bring in the suitcases and bags, and then finally me, because I couldn’t leave the wheelchair outside. It needed to be charged. So, my wheelchair ended up right in front of the apartment door, with its front wheels on the second step in the hallway. Luckily, the girls managed to get in and out through the door.
But there were more steps. There was a step to the toilet, and the room with two narrow and two wide beds, located below, had a step. These steps posed difficulties for me and of course for Mari, who was helping me, because my legs weren’t used to such obstacles and didn’t always stabilize correctly. Over time, my legs got used to the new situation.
The first thing we did upon reaching the apartment was to sleep because the flight had been very exhausting for all of us. Except for our excellent host, who was fresh and tireless.
In the following days, big surprises and impressions awaited us, but those will be covered in the next blog articles.