Remember That Time in Hiroshima When It All Went Wrong? Traveling in Japan Isn't All Matcha and Sacred Deer.
After going to Hiroshima only twice I will say that this story probably wouldn't have happened to those living here and more familiar with their banking systems. During both of my trips to Hiroshima, I found it to be a peaceful and even quiet city. It has lots of meaningful museums and memorials all aiming towards peace.
Hiroshima could even be termed idyllic with the smooth waters between it and Miyajima. The sacred deer roaming as they please throughout the island. Along the canal, many people are strolling as they would along the Thames in Paris. Most of the tourists aren't running from temple to restaurant. They are sitting quietly in a park people watching or reading a book in a french restaurant along the canal.
My experiences both started out just as peaceful as you are probably imagining. I had just come from Kyoto and was looking forward to a few days of downtime walking around the peaceful scenery.
On a peaceful Monday afternoon, I was walking towards the Peace Park. There were a couple plans I had in mind, new restaurants I could try, special spots in the city I'd like to see. A couple college students came up to me asking basic questions like where I was from and what I was doing in Hiroshima. Knowing that I had plenty of time and no set schedule I started chatting with them. They were international college students from a couple different countries for an architecture class in Hiroshima.
We began chatting about the architecture in the city and why they chose Hiroshima. Soon they were joining me for dinner at the special Omura, an okonomiyaki warehouse holding a plethora of okonomiyaki restaurants all tightly knitted together inside. It was fun having others to chat with at dinner time. As we were heading back from the restaurant they invited me with them to meet their friends. At this point, though I was getting low on my yen and knew I needed to stop at the ATM before having enough to get to the Shimanami Kaido. Biking that famous cycling route was on my schedule for tomorrow and I didn't want to worry about preparing the money before leaving in the morning. Knowing the route was in a very rural area of Japan there wouldn't be any accepted credit cards and possibly even no ATMs. I knew this going into it.
I chose to say goodnight to them and walked towards a 7-11 convenience store, which actually houses many great resources in Japan like copiers, cafes, and even ATMs. Now I hadn't gone to an ATM in Japan yet since I brought my cash from America. But I knew how to follow directions and it seemed like a simple enough procedure. First of all, everything on the ATM screen was in Japanese. I know a little bit but not enough kanji, so I found the English button. At this point, I put in my card and received an error in Japanese. I asked the clerk about it who apparently knew no English either. She looked at it but just shook her head and told me this ATM wouldn't work for me. With limited language that was as far as we got that night.
That was the tip of my Hiroshima saga
I went back to my Airbnb room and located a few banks nearby on Google maps to go to the following morning. Ater a good night of rest and getting up super early I packed up my things and set off for the bank. I arrived at the first bank very quickly, however, I had woken up so early that the bank wasn't open yet. It was raining, as is common here, and so I found a nearby business awning and waited. After 30 minutes of waiting, wishing I had used that time to sleep in, they opened. I walked in as they unlocked the doors and was immediately on the receiving end of about 30 bank staff bowing to me. Awkward, moving on now. I found the ATMs and tried again. This time they had everything in English which was great, except the error message that came up again, in Japanese. I asked the staff who advised me to try a different bank since several ATMs are known to not accept international cards.
The scribbled the address on a slip of paper and gave me some directions, actually taking me a few blocks in the right direction.
Once I arrived there, I was feeling rather frazzled and very late. I quickly found the ATMs, inserted my card, and it seemed to be going through. Oops, spoke too soon, because after asking about how much money I planned to receive a different Japanese error popped up. I was so embarrassed and feeling like I was about to cry just left the bank and hopped on the bus.
I knew that there was no one nearby that I knew. My Pasmo train card was low and there'd be no way to pay for the shinkansen ticket since they didn't accept credit cards here yet. My plans looked rather sketchy that I'd even make it to the cycling route, let alone be able to go anywhere else. As I was on the bus I tried to look back at the list I made of banks in the area and see which ones I was closest to. I marked off a couple that were far away from this bus and got off at a nearby stop.
The bank in front of me was an entirely different chain and I remember seeing it in Tokyo, so it must be a bigger bank. That's a good sign.
I walked in and for the fourth time found the ATMs, slid my card, requested my money and...again the error. I went to the front desk and plucked a ticket to wait in line. Once my number was called I looked at the staff woman and burst into tears as I told her my epic saga of my ATM failures. She looked concerned and got her manager. They came with me to try the ATM again and she had a couple troubleshooting phrases written in English on a laminated card. Things like "have you tried requesting a lower amount?" Helpful but no matter what I amount I tried or what I did, nothing worked. I was stuck.
They were very busy so they set me back in a chair and told me to wait. Oh yeah, they also set a box of kleenexes and a cold water bottle in front of me. I must have looked quite a mess. After about 20 more minutes, the manager came over to me with a phone and asked if I had a number for my bank.
I scrounged through all of my cards and checkbooks and found what looked like an international number.
I gave it to the manager who dialed. After a few minutes and him redialing a few times, he handed me the phone. It was my Chase bank people in America! They were ready to help this poor bank manager's customer so other customers wouldn't be scared away by the sobbing lady in the corner.
Once on the phone, I started to feel much more hopeful. She explained to me that I had actually never used an ATM before (shocker right) so that option had been turned off in my account. She was very happy to turn it back on and increase the cash amount for me. I told her I never want to go through this again, so I'm getting a lot of money this time and not doing it again. She fixed it, told me to check, and went through the ATM process for the last time and yes, it worked! I profusely thanked the bank staff and manager and left as quickly as possible.
I was very late for my trip to Shimanami Kaido but I was determined and I didn't have another day I could do it.
So I figure part of the day is better than not doing it at all. I used my cash for my transportation costs. (because yep, they didn't accept credit cards) And then slowly navigated my way to the rural town of Onomichi. This also included realizing the shinkansen only goes to a nearby city and you have to figure out how to get to a different train station by bus in order to get the local train to get to the harbor. But I made it to the harbor, found a rental cycle shop on the first floor of the parking garage, and started the trek. Who knew that the first stop on my bike would be a ferry?
I paid a dollar fee for a ferry to take me to the first island where I began the journey. Do you remember me saying back at the first bank this morning that it started raining in Hiroshima? Well even though I was now in a different area of the country and cycling a gorgeous route on several islands, yes, it is still raining. Now don't get me wrong, I really like the rain. I love how it makes everything green and how peaceful it is. But not today! Not when I only had 4 hours to see this famously spectacular sight while cycling many miles and no car anywhere. But, alas, I saw foggy views and shield my eyes from raindrops many times. My determination kept me going until my time ran out. I made it halfway and realized I needed to turn around my rental cycle shop would be closed by the time I returned.
I turned my bike around and then realized I was actually much more tired than I thought.
Finding a beach, I hopped onto the ferry that would take me back to the rental cycle shop. It worked out very smoothly despite the $20 fee for my bike to be onboard. The route back to my Hiroshima hotel was much easier since I recognized all the stops this time. Once back to my hotel, I totally crashed. I couldn't tell if the salt on my face was tears, or ocean mist, or dried rain mixed with sweat. But a nice hot ofuro/bath was calling my name. And as I enjoyed the hot water I thanked God for his protection and a remembrance of my humility despite any planning. He is totally in awesome control. The ending to this long day couldn't have been sweeter.