A Last-Minute Trip to Japan
That I still can't believe I pulled off (barely).


The Mexico City Airport was a little empty, a little quiet. But airports are never truly still, are they?

I dragged my taped-shut suitcase up to the United counter, a counter that last saw my presence 9 years ago. It hadn’t changed at all. But if my 18-year-old self could see me now, how proud she would be.

After being unceremoniously searched at the gate (which for some reason has happened every single time I’ve flown ever since I flew from Warsaw to Paris that one time; curse you Secondary Security Screening Selection), I boarded my flight only to be stuck taxiing for about two hours due to the fog. My connections were pretty tight, and had I missed any of them, I wouldn’t have made it to the UNWTO forum I was headed to. In my mind I was already on Plan B: a detour to Tokyo Disney Resort. 

Rush, rush, rush went my mind. Rushed like this last-minute trip to Japan that cost me 4 times what it would have had I decided a month earlier, but nothing too out of the ordinary for my itinerary.

And let’s be clear: I wanted to go on this trip. I dreamt about it since Nara was announced as the host city back when Liz and I were in Bruges. But between waiting on people who wouldn’t make up their mind and trying to find a way to justify the cost (not to mention the rush of emotions associated with traveling alone to the literal other side of the world), I kept putting it off.

That is, until I got an email inviting us to register for a chance to go on a fam trip courtesy of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. I filled in the application, thinking the odds of nabbing one of the 5 spots available were not great considering the other 700+ participants who had also gotten the email.

How wrong I was.

I hadn’t eaten anything substantial in about 10 hours, but the short flight to Houston had no meals included. The Takeoff box may not look like much, but definitely does the job.

A few short hours later and with enough time for my connection, I was wandering through Houston International, which was looking like it might be going through some rough times. Boarding took forever, but I had filled in all the COVID-related entry stuff beforehand and proudly trotted over to the gate agent to show her my QR codes. Kudos to the Japanese for making it that much easier to visit.

Lunch was served promptly, and as far as in-flight meals go, I was not disappointed. Green tea, shrimp tempura and veggies over rice, smoked salmon and a pasta salad, edamame and a wakame salad, udon noodles with a packet of noodle sauce, a corn salad with dressing, and an individual serving of Häagen-Dazs vanilla bean ice cream. The only thing I didn’t love was the corn salad, everything else was pretty solid.

From the looks of it, we were about halfway to our destination. I missed flying over Alaska since I’d been asleep for the most part, and it was getting dark out and I was in the aisle seat, so attempting to see anything out the window would have been pointless. 

I’m guessing my neighbors have huge bladders because I wasn’t woken up again until breakfast came around, about 3 hours before landing. Pulled pork with barbecue sauce, rice with veggies, a mixed bean salad with a slice of ham (?), and a cranberry muffin. Not my favorite meal but still better than 90% of things I’d eaten on United.

The mental gymnastics I went through to try and convince myself I had slept longer and had simply woken up later in the day in an attempt to avoid jet lag were mildly successful. We landed in Tokyo a little after 3:00 pm, with what I would have thought was enough time to make it to my connection to Osaka.

Once inside the airport, we were directed towards what basically meant “Connection” and “No Connection”. I still had a flight to Osaka, so my dumb ass went straight to “Connection”. That was for people who weren’t entering the country, something I only realized when all the connecting flights were to China, Canada, and the U.S. 

So, there I go running back to the hallway where they split us up only to see the gate agents starting to close the door. I guess I was supposed to go down towards “No Connection”? Whatever, I wasn’t about to fight anyone on that logic.

When I finally made it to Immigration, I realized I must have not been the only one who got lost, because at least 15 other people who I recognized from my flight showed up in line a few minutes after me. Having filled in all the forms beforehand, I went up to the kiosk, scanned my QR code, and went through the gates only to get a big, red, X.

What now?

What irritates me the most about these searches that no longer feel random is that I’ll never know exactly what triggered them. Was it my haphazardly-taped-together suitcase that looked suspicious? Or was it the sweaty, red face and slightly disheveled hair?

I was lead, very politely, to a separate room where a very apologetic female agent thoroughly patted me down, while another dude opened up every. Single. Zipper. on both my suitcases and my backpack. I was questioned extensively on the nature of my visit to the country, to which I answered I was there for a business event. They must not have believed me, because they kept asking for proof of the event, which I had handy in case something like this happened. It didn’t seem to be enough for them. It’s a fucking UNWTO event, how do you not know or believe me about this??

At this point, I was starting to get pissed. They checked and wiped my bags for drugs multiple times. It didn’t help when they found my Mexican passport. (Fun story, this blog was almost named Two Passports and a Fork. Should I have stuck to that?)

What is this?! Why do you have this here?! 

Because I’m Mexican??

But you entered with an American passport! Why do you have another one?

Because I have dual citizenship and always travel with both! 

Turns out dual citizenship is a foreign (heh) concept to Japanese. 

I finally managed to get out of the interrogation room by mentioning I had about 30 minutes to make it to my connection and that they would have to respond if I missed it. I guess they value punctuality just enough to let me go.

Gathering my belongings, I ran towards my next gate only to find I had to go through security again. I was beyond fed up by then, and on the verge of tears.

But with five minutes to spare, I made it to the end of the line getting ready to board.

I got a window seat this time.


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Based mainly in Colorado. Loves cheese, rain, and starry nights. Can usually be spotted in the wild wearing a Spirit Jersey and balancing two cameras. Often laughs and cries at the same time. Barely survived one Master's program, but wants to do another.

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