I am sorry for the dramatic title of this post, but you will see why by the end of this post.
It was on Monday night, the 23rd of March, when Miss B. sent me a message on Facebook. She was stuck at Haneda Airport. Her Emirates Flight to Dubai had just been cancelled. Dubai was no longer accepting flights because of, well, coronavirus.
Miss B. was on her way from Ishikawa Prefecture to Nairobi, Kenya, flying via Haneda Airport in Tokyo and Dubai. Why was she flying in these coronavirus times, you ask? Well, this wasn’t a luxury trip. She was going back home. She had completed her master’s degree and graduated. She had gotten her certificate – there was no graduation ceremony, cleared her apartment, closed her bank accounts, cancelled her phone contracts, and said sayonara. Her scholarship was done. Her student visa was up. She had no choice but to leave for Kenya before borders got closed. She was aware that once she landed in Kenya, she would undergo a two week quarantine at her own cost and she was ready for this.
On that Monday, Kenya had announced the country would close borders on Wednesday 25th at midnight. So Miss B. had thought that she was lucky she was flying from Tokyo on the 23rd and arriving on 24th. Then her flight got cancelled at 11pm that night and she was stuck at Haneda. There were no trains running at that time, so she had to spend the night there. I gave her directions to my place so we could figure out the next steps and she took the first bus in the morning (Tuesday 24th) to my station. She sent her luggage to my address using Kuroneko, the transportation company.
Once she had rested a bit, showered and had breakfast, she emailed her school to let them know she was stranded. They advised her to get another flight to Kenya if possible and that they would refund her. Luckily, Qatar Airways had a flight to Nairobi that 24th night, departing at 22:20 from Narita Airport. We quickly booked the flight. This was the last flight that would get her to Kenya by the 25th. We breathed a sigh of relief when the payment went through.
It was now around 14:00. Her flight was at 22:20. It takes roughly 2.5 hours from my place to Narita Airport. If we needed to be at the airport 3 hours before departure, we should leave my place by around 4pm.
But we had one problem, her luggage had not arrived from Haneda. She only had her handbag and laptop bag with her.
I called Kuroneko. They said they would give me a call once the luggage arrived at the distribution center for Mitaka, which, luckily, is literally 5 minutes away from my house.
At 2pm, there was nothing to do but wait. I was working from home so I went back to my work laptop and for her, I put a movie to watch. She couldn’t relax enough to take a nap, even though she hadn’t slept for two days: on Sunday night she had been packing up and clearing her apartment, and on Monday night when her flight had been cancelled, she had spent the night on airport benches. Taxis cost so much in Japan. A taxi from Haneda to my house could have easily cost ¥30,000. So she had had to wait until Tuesday morning to take the bus, which costs ¥1,000.
At 4pm, when we should have been leaving for the airport, we decided to take a walk to the Kuroneko Mitaka center and check whether the luggage had arrived and they had forgotten to call us. They told us the earliest it would arrive would be 5:30pm.
5:30pm would be cutting it close, but not too bad. We would arrive at the airport at 8pm, which might be still have been okay because she would have 1.5 hours before check-in closed.
Promptly at 5:30pm, we got a call from the Kuroneko distribution center. We rushed there, ladies and gentlemen. We got the bags: all four of them! In addition to the two bags she had at home. She had a total of 6 bags.
“Miss B., are you serious?” I asked her, as we each dragged two bags across the tarmac to my house. “How are you having this much luggage? Isn’t it overweight?”
“It’s my books you know,” answered Miss B. as we waited for the light to turn green at the pedestrian crossing. “I can’t be divorced from my books.”
“Did you weigh the luggage?”
“Yes, I have a budget for paying the extra weight,” she added. But the Qatar flight we had purchased only had an allowance of 30Kgs. We agreed that she had to leave some luggage behind and that I would ship it to her later.
When we got to my house, it was almost 5:45pm. There was no way we could catch a bus from Kichijoji Station in time for the flight, so we decided to go to Tokyo Station and catch the Narita Express departing 7pm. This would get us to Narita at 8pm, risky but might still be okay. Remember, this was the very last flight to Kenya. If we missed this flight, there was no flight we could catch the next day. She would get stranded in Japan with no visa, no scholarship. Of course she could stay with me, but she also really wanted to leave Japan. She had not had the best of times.
So it is 5:45pm and Miss B. is rearranging her luggage and I am calling a taxi to take us to the train station so we can catch Chuo Line to Tokyo Station. It takes about 40-50 minutes from my house to Tokyo Station, so if we left at 6pm we could catch the 7pm Narita Express.
At 6pm, the taxi pulled up in front of my apartment. We had 2 pieces of luggage to be checked in: one suitcase with clothes, and another with bags,shoes and books. And two pieces of hand luggage: a backpack and a laptop bag.
The taxi driver, a lovely old lady, told us that Kichijoji Station is usually crowded and Mitaka Station might be better (I live in between these two stations). She would drop us off near the elevator, she said.
At 6:15pm, we were getting into the elevator at Mitaka Station. Unfortunately, we had missed the Special Rapid train so we took the Rapid one. This would still get us to Tokyo Station before 7pm. The stops for the Rapid train are Mitaka -> Kichijoji -> Nishi Ogikubo -> Ogikubo -> Koenji -> Nakano -> Shinjuku -> Yotsuya -> Ochanomizu -> Kanda -> Tokyo. Alright then.
At 6:22, we get into a Rapid train at Mitaka. Next stop, Kichijoji.
Two minutes later, as we pull into the platform at Kichijoji, the driver applies emergency breaks. He then makes a chilling announcement.
“The emergency breaks have been applied. It seems we may have a body injury related accident.”
What is the worst thing that could happen when you are rushing to catch the last flight out?
A suicide, by someone jumping on the tracks of the train that you are on. And that’s exactly what happened.
On top of the stress of coronavirus!
When someone jumps in front of a train in Tokyo, which happens nearly every day (and this is not an exaggeration – there is a dark side to this country), the complicated schedules of the trains are messed up and delays of up to an hour or more are experienced across several lines.
On a normal weekday at rush hour, there is a Chuo train every 3-4 minutes. And each car in each train is fully packed at 110% of the capacity. If there is even a 5 minute delay, the number of people on the platform piles up very quickly. A suicide, characterized by a 人身事故 announcement, inconveniences hundreds of thousands of travelers and it is not unheard of for train companies to demand compensation from families of the suicide victim. (By the way, can you say a suicide victim, or that’s an oxymoron?)
“We have had an accident. Please remain on board. We apologize for the inconvenience.” The announcement continued.
“The doors will remain closed. There is one train car that’s not aligned on the platform. Please remain on board. We deeply apologize for the inconvenience.”
It was now past 6:30pm. I thought of calling Qatar Airlines to inform them that we would be late. When I found the contact number of Qatar in Japan, a recorded voice told me that the hours of operation are between 9am to 5pm and would I call them back the following day? Jesus!
We remained on board. The police arrived. They set up a perimeter in front of the train.
I told Miss B. to check in online, first of all.
It was approaching 6:40pm. If the worst came to worst, we would need to be at the check-in desk at Narita Airport before 9:20pm, when the check-in counter closes.
At 6:45pm, they finally opened only the door of the first car of the train, so we all had to walk to the first car to get off. As we walked, we could feel the train cars near the front shaking a bit, I think one may have been a bit derailed.
As we got out of the first car, I could see the yellow tape around the front of the car. There was a stretcher, but there were no medical supplies. When you jump in front of a train, ladies and gentlemen, that’s it.
Two police officers (I assume) were preparing a tarp to bring up the remains. Onlookers on the platform were taking photos. Someone from down there on the tracks (I couldn’t see the tracks, mercifully) was warning them not to take photos. 写真撮らないでください。
I spared a thought for the departed. That life was was so unbearable, that a violent death, being dragged by tons of metal across the tracks (because it will not stop immediately), was more preferable to living. To breathing.
To be honest, I didn’t spare any thoughts at the time, that was much later. At the time, I was thinking OMG ARE WE GONNA MAKE IT TO NARITA?
The Last Narita Express was leaving Tokyo Station at 8:03pm and getting to Narita Airport Station at 9:11. With any luck, any luck at all, we might make it.
The Chuo Line had stopped all operations. Nothing was moving.
I heard on the announcement that the Sobu Local Line from Kichijoji to Shinjuku was still moving. The other option would have been the Inokashira Line to Shibuya then Yamanote Line to Shinjuku.
We transferred to the Sobu Local Line, and we managed to get to Koenji. At Koenji, we stopped for almost 15 minutes because there were no free platforms at the next stop, Nakano. Our blood pressure was at an all time high. Taking a taxi was out of question, it would take so long because of traffic and we would be late for sure.
When we finally got to Nakano, it was way past 7pm. I was not sure of the exact time. Suddenly, the driver announced that that particular train was going into the “garage” 車庫 and that we should get off and take the next one.
Nothing we could do, I don’t know who makes these decisions or why. We got off and waited 5 minutes for the next train on the Line that was going to Chiba via Shinjuku. It started moving.
We arrived at Shinjuku past 7:30pm. When we got down from the platform into the station, I saw the red line on the floor directing us to the Narita Express (NEX).
We ran with the luggage, following the red line. Those NEX tracks are so far!
At 7:38, we were at the escalator, heading to the platform.
The Last Narita Express was leaving at 7:39.
Once off the escalator, we ran! We had made it. With seconds to spare. We made it on the Last Narita Express, that left Shinjuku at 7:39, stopped briefly at Tokyo Station at 8:03, and got to Narita Airport 9:11pm.
I told Miss B. that when we arrived at Narita, we should dash to the check-in counter.
Unfortunately, since we hadn’t purchased train tickets all the way to Narita beforehand, we had to pay at the exit. Miss B. paid and rushed to the the check-in counter at the 3rd floor of Terminal 2, I thought.
I didn’t have cash on me so I was a bit delayed, having to pay with a card. I took the elevator to the 3rd floor.
It was 9:17pm. I saw the Qatar Airways counter. I was in front of the check-in by 9:19.
“Miss, your passport please.” Said the Japanese lady, pleasantly.
I looked around, fuck.
Miss B. was nowhere to be found. Where the hell had she gone?
“Miss B! I started shouting at the very empty airport, looking around. She came running from the escalators.
“I was looking for you,” she said. What? But anyway, she hadn’t slept for 2 days, on top of all the stress.
There we finally were, standing in front of the Qatar counter at 9:21pm. One minute after check-in.
Luckily, the Qatar supervisor was there. He said, you are so lucky I am here. I will let you check in this time. But next time, please, you should arrive with enough time to spare.
“But there was a suicide on our line!” we said in unison.
And also we had been waiting for the luggage to arrive, because the previous flight had been cancelled, because of coronavirus.
Finally, she checked in but they told her to hurry, the flight was beginning to board. But her luggage was overweight, and would cost an additional ¥70,000 for the extra weight. There was no time to sort it out. She had to leave behind her suitcase with shoes and books. I will figure out how to ship it to her.
She had made it.
Last I saw of her, she was disappearing behind the security counter.
I dragged her suitcase with me, and wasn’t even phased when the Japanese guy at the information desk asked me if I was looking for the cheap bus. Yes please, I said. It’s leaving in 4 minutes, he said. I said I would risk it and rushed out and I made it. I got to my house at midnight.
Miss B. arrived safely in Kenya. She is now in quarantine.
There are now 3 bags full of interesting books in my house.