So, my plan was to take a somewhat extended three-week holiday from work and fly back to the UK for some much-needed R&R and a long-overdue Sunday roast. Unfortunately, the virus that shall not be named had other plans and my flight was cancelled. This ensured that my holiday consisted of eating ramen in my undies and watching Big Bang Theory and it occurred to me, I’m one of the lucky ones.
It could be worse, I could be here on holiday unable to get home. Stuck in one of the most expensive places to live on earth according to GQ and forced to pay for accommodation and food way outside my initial budget. So I thought I’d jot down some things that you should do if you find yourself in this situation.
First of all, you need to call your airline to find out what the situation is in regards to rescheduled flights and refunds. If you have booked through a travel agent you will need to call them first. However, prior to calling your travel agent, read up on the updated policies of the airline you are booked with. Lufthansa and several other airlines have added flexibility to their terms should your flight be affected by the pandemic. Make sure you know your rights when it comes to refunds, and don’t let the broker dick you about.
Because you are not sure how long you could be stuck here, it would be a good idea to jump on the phone to your creditors and sort out any recurring bills. Check if they will allow you to postpone or pause your bills for the time being. Many companies are more than happy to help you if you have fallen on financial hardship (unless the company in question is EE, in which case, be prepared to get in touch with a horrid woman named Tracy who will talk over you, disingenuously give you incorrect information, and tell you they are unprepared to do anything to help).
For the most up to date information about Japan that I can find, I use corona.go.jp. It is an extremely useful resource that gives you up to date information, the government’s guidelines, emergency contact info, and live foot-fall figures to let you know how busy your area is. If hanging out in crowds during a pandemic isn’t your thing (understandable) just jump on the website to find out how busy an area is and avoid it if it’s looking a bit “moshpitty”. Another great website for up to date info is The Mainichi. The Mainichi is sort of like The Telegraph in the UK. Every Friday on the Tokyo YouTube channel, Governor Koike of Tokyo addresses the prefecture with new information in English. It is worth paying attention to this as the situation is constantly changing.
If you are in Japan and suspect that you may have symptoms, need help finding a doctor, don’t understand Japanese, or have concerns about your wellbeing, you can contact this English speaking (and other languages) AMDA Medical hotline: 03-6233-9266. Monday to Friday: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. They are able to find medical institutions for you and provide vital “information on healthcare and welfare systems in Japan”.
Although it is recommended to contact your embassy, in my experience, the British embassy in Japan have not been particularly helpful. A quick look at the UK’s embassy website reveals that (at this point in time) all they will do is give you advice and maybe tell you that you should have bought insurance. Embassies are typically helpful if you find yourself a prisoner in a war-torn/undeveloped country. Japan, however, is a very developed country and typically if you find yourself incarcerated or in trouble with the law here, chances are it’s your own fault. This is true for the UK. If dealing with the Russian, German or American embassy though, be prepared to be Fulton extracted immediately if you run into any trouble. Apparently, these countries have been amazing in helping people with travel issues.
In terms of accommodation, I recommend Airbnb. Due to the current tourism fall in Japan, a lot of prices have been somewhat reduced. This means that smaller apartments equipped with kitchen facilities (not a share house environment) have become slightly more affordable. Although Japan has a wealth of incredible restaurants, during this time, it is safer (and cheaper) to buy the basics in a local supermarket and cook at home.
If your tourist Sim card has run out of data, I highly recommend Mobal. They are on the pricier side but they can deliver a new Sim card to your temporary residence. Some of the plans they offer include minutes and text messages meaning that you are able to call Japan-based hotlines should you need to.
A lot of these tips are not necessarily Corona specific and can be useful in many situations. There is always one piece of advice that I will always give and that is to get travel insurance before you embark! For me, traveling without some kind of insurance is like hitting the motorway on a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R without clothes on. It may sound expensive, but it can save your life in more ways than one. I have relied on it countless times from flight cancelations to lost luggage (thanks a lot Air France). If you think paying that extra £50 isn’t necessary, imagine two weeks without your suitcase and a broken leg in a country with no NHS. Seriously it doesn’t bear thinking about.