You know I found it a little odd speaking the last word of Korean before getting on the plane. Okay I only know about 5 words in Korean but I was heading back to a country where it turns out I actually know quite a bit of the language. Arriving in Japan was squiffy the flight was quite turbulent on the way back into Kansai airport and I had to use a breathing technique to calm my brain but we landed safely and when I got out the plane a big smile crossed my face. I made my way to luggage pickup and was re-united with my bag and with the smile still on my face I headed to customs. The customs officials had a look in my small carry on rucksack, of course I have nothing to hide so I was okay with this, I’m not stupid enough to try and bring drugs or odd things into Japan and knew he would find nothing. He then looked at the big bag and told me he is going to need to have a look through it, so we went off into a room to go through my life. Now this has never happened to me before and after being in all the countries I have been through this was my first shakedown.
In the room he asked me if I understood Japanese to which I reply as usual ‘a little’, I open the bag for him and take a seat, this is going to take a while. They show me a folder containing lots of things like drugs, pornography, knives etc etc. I’m not carrying any of this stuff on me, I tell them I don’t smoke, I don’t take drugs and I certainly don’t carry girly magazines in my bag. I turn out my pockets in full and get a full clothed body search including shoes, all the time I am smiling and being polite and explaining the journey I have been on. I list the countries I have been through, the places I have been and tell them my story in as good Japanese as I could. I was nervous, I had no reason to be nervous but I was. Methodically the three offices (one lady, two men) go through my entire bag, checking all my pockets of my trousers, short and bags. The lady officer finds a lighter in my small bag and she asks me what it’s used for if I don’t smoke and I go blank. I actually have only used this lighter once in the outback to light a fire but I think it’s one of those things I choose to carry just incase. I try to tell her I just bring it just in case I need it and I think I become super nervous which might of raised their suspicions.
I try to set them at ease (not sure if it helped) by showing them my ticket home on my computer. They ask me why did I go back to Thailand before coming to Japan, focusing on the word Cannabis. My brain does something stupid and blurts out that in Thailand I saw lots of Cannabis but never consume, thanks brain I am sure that was helpful somehow. All the time they still methodically remove things from my bag and go through in great detail. I carry painkillers (Ibuprofen) with me too and again the pills cause a little language blip for me. All I can think of is ‘Futsukayoi’ which is Japanese for hangover, great now they must think I am an alcoholic. Luckily the officers find this amusing and I also try to correct myself ‘Atame no itai desu’, literally ‘head pain’ and probably not the right words for it but they understood. They find the condoms I have been carrying and I laugh a little at the officers reaction to them. All in all they are impressed by my limited understanding of Japanese, it turns out I know some stuff, cool huh!
If you have never had this experience before I would not advise it. It’s incredibly invasive no matter if you have nothing to hide or not. They even went so far to test my toothpaste, like I say incredibly thorough but all done with the greatest interest and politeness. They take my name card and no doubt might look me up on the internet. You might think this is not very welcoming of the Japanese but these people are just doing their job and maybe something about me (or my journey) sparked them to give me a full shakedown. My first one ever, and I am surprised how my body and brain reacted to it even if I had nothing to hide. I cannot imagine what it would be like if I was trying to hide something.