Garage Sale at the Airport (or How I Spent My Last Day in Japan)

A lot has happened in the two weeks since I left Japan. For starters, I flew to Singapore and Hong Kong. I also was an extra in a Bollywood film, got robbed, ate a bird’s nest, got food poisoning, lost my camera and learned a valuable lesson about karma.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning…The day I left Japan, which was also the I day that I tossed the majority of my worldly possessions into an airport trash can.

The day started with a phone call to my friend Yuki. It was Saturday morning and I was scheduled to fly out of Japan that evening.

“Oh my God. Dude…I’m going to get arrested for tax evasion,” I said as soon as she picked up the phone.

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I didn’t pay my taxes! And people have gotten detained at the airport for that.” That is at least, according to the reliable sources at gaijinpot.com.

“Why didn’t you pay?”

I could have said that it was because I couldn’t read the bills which were written in Japanese. Or I could have claimed that it was because I’d moved and my mail hadn’t been forwarded to my new addresses. But the truth is that I was just too lazy to do anything about it and kept putting it off until ‘tomorrow’. And then before I knew it, it was Saturday and the government offices were closed and I was supposed to be at the airport in five hours.

“What am I doing?” I wailed, in a panic. “Even if they let me leave Japan…I have no idea where I’m going. I mean, who just books a plane ticket to a country they know nothing about? I don’t even know if they speak English there.”

What I did know about Singapore could be summed up in two words: Tropical island. I’d been in such a state of denial about leaving Japan, I hadn’t done any research or even reserved a hotel room. I vaguely recalled reading that it was a conservative country and something about it being illegal to wear shorts. It had just dawned on me that I might have to spend my vacation sunbathing on the beach…in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt.

But all of that wouldn’t matter if I ended up in jail. I imagined Japanese jail would involve being tortured with Japanese cooking show reruns and 80’s J-pop songs played on repeat. I’d probably be force-fed Natto. That wasn’t something I was prepared to deal with.

As it turned out, that should have been the least of my worries. When I showed up at the airport, I realized that in my total lack of planning, I’d neglected to check the weight limit for luggage. Apparently, when flying within Asia, the weight limit for all checked luggage is 20 kilos. And that’s combined, not per suitcase (which is the limit when flying to and from the US). I was 30 kilos overweight and they wanted to charge me 750 US dollars.

I’d had a feeling something like this would happen. Which was why I’d tried to arrange to have a box of clothing shipped to the US the day before. In Japan, you can have your packages picked up from your residence so that you don’t have to haul them to the post office. It’s supposed to be convenient. It’s supposed to be quick and easy. And maybe if you can speak Japanese fluently, it is. But I ended up waiting for 45 minutes outside of my friend’s apartment building for a mailman that never showed up.

Oh sure, they called me. Repeatedly. And I did my best to explain that I was standing in front of the building. Only I mixed up the word biru (building) with with word bi. pause. ru. One tiny, half a second break between the two syllables and I ended up repeatedly insisting over multiple telephone conversations that I was ‘in front of the beer’. Either the postman assumed that I was drunk or crazy but he never came to pick up my package.

It was like the time in Germany when I went to the ER with a stomachache and told the doctor that I had ‘gekokst’ instead of ‘gekotzt’. I meant to tell him that I had thrown up but what I actually said was that I had taken cocaine.

So it was because of this little misunderstanding that I ended up throwing 20 kilos worth of clothing from UniQlo into the airport trash cans.

Even though most of my clothing had been purchased at the Target of Japan (read: cheap) I still felt bad about throwing them away so I tried to give them away. But the people in the check-in line did not appreciate my offers of a nearly-new pair of jeans, a wooden jewelry box or a Japanese dictionary. The garbage collector looked at my aghast, as I tried to squeeze my college hoodies into the tiny slot in the garbage marked “Burnables”.

“Would you like a shirt? It’s free. A present.” I shrugged and tried to get him to take my pink, flower-printed V-neck from H&M. He just shook his head and refused to look at me. Like he hadn’t seen countless other former ESL teachers tossing a year’s accumulation of clothing in the garbage before. I mean, it must happen like…all the time.

By the time I made it to immigration, I had only 15 minutes until my flight left and with all the stress and anxiety at the check-in counter, I’d nearly forgotten about my potential appending detainment.

As I approached the immigration officer, I smiled and rehearsed the speech I’d prepared in my head. Something to the effect of: “Taxes? What taxes? I have no idea what you’re talking about, officer.”

He took my passport and glanced at the visa stamped inside.

“Are you returning to Japan?” he asked in Japanese.

“No,” I answered, cautiously. He took my alien registration card, handed my passport back and then I was free to go.

Yep, that was it.

I hope that this doesn’t end up coming back to haunt me. I can just imagine trying to enter Japan for a vacation with my future husband and kids. My passport will come up flagged on some Japan’s Most Wanted List. I’ll get handcuffed and dragged away and have to explain to my shocked and horrified husband:

“Uh, well…Honey, see, there was this one time, when I owed the Japanese government money and then I fled the country…”

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5 thoughts on “Garage Sale at the Airport (or How I Spent My Last Day in Japan)

  1. oh, customs.
    I know your dread well..

    Thanks for the heads up on the “combined total weight” schtick. I had no idea. Thankfully, I should be traveling light within Asia.

    But I’m already scared about the weight rule heading back to the US.
    …see, I have a thing for books. . .

    oh… and you have some more blog writing to do, girl! Get to it. Those are some stories!

    Welcome back.

  2. Ha what an excellent travel story! How on earth did you accidently pack 50kgs worth of gear! Thats an insane amount of stuff to be swinging off ya shoulder… Umm… do you work out? :]

    Hope you enjoy the break.

  3. So funny… but I would have cried if I had to leave all those clothes behind – I love uniqlo. I just bought a few of their t-shirts in London and they are fantastic.

    You really need to write a book. I can’t wait to read the other stories.

  4. Hi Chase,

    I actually had a choice between throwing out my books or my clothes…and even though the books weighed more, I ended up throwing out my clothes! Which was how I ended up in 90 degree weather in Singapore with a nothing but fancy ‘teacher clothes’ and ski jackets. It prob wasn’t the smartest move…

    No matter what you do…I suggest you ship as much as you can home before you go back. I don’t know about Taiwan but it was only 50 bucks to ship a huge box of stuff via sea mail. It takes three months…but it’s pretty cheap.

    Juice, I had a YEAR’s worth of stuff to bring with me. I think I did pretty good all things considered, wouldn’t you say?

    @Emily – I don’t know if UniQlo in London is the same as the one in Japan…I went to the one in Soho (in New York city) and it was really nice. The clothes were better quality. UniQlo in Japan is kinda Walmart-ish. Cheap prices but cheaper quality…they practically unravel as you leave the store. But I still shopped there…because they had really good deals. It’s always hard to throw clothes away though.

    I want to write a book! I’m trying…I always start novels but never finish them. I’m such an ADD writer, a blog post every once in a while is about all I can handle.

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