Japan? But aren’t you in Korea? Yes, we were, and yes, we are – but in between we got our first impression of Japan…
South Korea gave us a 3-month visa on arrival. That should have been long enough, however, due to the heatwave we took a break from hiking the Baedu Daegan Trail after Jirisan National Park. With the temperatures going down we’ll pick it up somewhere next week but in order to have enough time to hike the remaining 600 kilometers we would need more time than our visa allowed.
Read More: Hiking in Jirisan National Park
The Kobee hydrofoil was practically empty so we took the front seats having a fabulous view of tremendously high waves. Too high for coffee to be served.
A Visa-run to Tsushima Island, Japan
Extending our visa at an immigration office was not possible (only in emergency situations), we needed to do a visa run to Tsushima Island, Japan. On a daily basis, ferries ply between South Korea’s southern city of Busan and the island of Tsushima, which belongs to Japan. A one-day return trip would ensure us of a new 3-month visa for Korea. That sounded easy enough.
Challenge 1 and 2: Car Park and Visa Stamp
While only a visa run, nothing was easy about it. It started with not being able to park the Land Cruiser in the terminal’s parking lot. It was unmanned and the gate barrier opened only after a scanner had registered the vehicle’s registration plate. While it opened for Korean registration plates, it didn’t for our Dutch vehicle. We had seen that many employees had parked their car on the pavement along the 4-lane highway so we parked ours there too. Korea is a super safe country so no worries.
On arrival on Tsushima island, the immigration officer couldn’t figure out what the Japanese word was for Nederland / the Netherlands / Holland. It took him half an hour to get Coen’s passport details in the system. By then the terminal was empty and we were the last ones to leave.
Challenge 3: Getting Money
Next challenge: to get some money changed. No ATM at the ferry terminal but there was one at the post office, 10 minutes down the road. Although all the stickers with “Visa”, “MasterCard” and what have you, were plastered on the machine, it didn’t accept money from cards that had been issued overseas. No problem, we had brought enough Won and could change currency at the counter (at a terrible exchange rate though).
Ah, finally that cup of coffee! And off to lunch, our first Bento lunch – Japan’s version of a lunch box (more about Japanese food here).
We went for a stroll around the port and down the village. It was all very quiet, neat, and clean.
Challenge 4: Stuck on the Island
Meanwhile a typhoon roared across the ocean. On our return at the terminal we learned our return trip had been canceled. We carried nothing but the clothes we were wearing. Since we were the last ones to hear about this we didn’t even bother finding a hotel, which was going to cost a fortune and would be all booked anyway.
I asked if we could sleep on the couch in the terminal but that was a no. Then we figured that if that huge boat was in the harbor, empty, we could perfectly sleep on the carpeted floor, however the ferry company didn’t agree with us. Meanwhile we had gathered a bit of a crowd around us, all willing to help. One of them suggested to rent a car and sleep in that. Why not. That’s what we do on a daily basis anyway.
Read More: Transportation in South Korea
Challenge 5: Renting a Car
By then I had leafed through a brochure and learned that this was a beautiful island with lots of interesting sites (in hindsight we should have gone for 2 or 3 days…). We also realized we carried our credit card so renting a car became an option. Overlanding 24 hours in Japan sounded like a plan. Ergo we were set on turning a setback into an opportunity kind of thing.
More discussions went back and forth and somebody managed to track down the last vehicle available. All went well until it became clear we didn’t carry a driver’s license on us – why would we while on a one-day return trip by ferry?
Coen did have a colored, laminated copy as well as a digital copy of his international driver’s license but that wasn’t good enough. If caught by the police, Coen would go to jail, they said. We would take that change, having faith that A) we wouldn’t be stopped that quickly and B) explaining the situation they wouldn’t send Coen to jail for this.
Meeting the Angel
But nope, they didn’t want to take the change and so all paperwork was canceled. Now what? We figured we’d be sleeping in the street. We had already seen that bus stops are shelters that come with a sliding door! Surely we’d be able to spend a night there.
However, when in need, there is always an angel somewhere around you. This time it manifested itself in Jinha, a Korean man who worked at another rent-a-car agency. He couldn’t rent us a car but offered us a bed for the night at his home.
What a nice gesture! He made a phone call, ‘Getting permission from my wife,’ he joked and thus we met Mizuki that evening, Jinha’s Japanese wife and their super cute, one-year old son June. They are the kindest people and we spent a lovely time together with us cooking dinner and Mizuki preparing a Japanese-style breakfast.
The next morning, the wind continued howling and the waves continued to be high. We had no expectations for our return trip. There was way too much wind to explore on a rented bicycle and so we walked once more. This time beyond the village, along the coast, towards a cliff that offered views of the rough ocean on one side and the village on the other.
Read More: Travel Information on South Korea
From that top we watched a ferry arriving and another one leaving! Yes, we would return to Korea. When after 2 hours of waiting in the terminal we walked across the road to say goodbye to our friends, somebody had waved a wand, transforming the overcast sky into a blue one!
It was an easy ride back, high on the waves. With our immigration papers in order we could now focus on extending our Temporary Import Document for the Land Cruiser. But that’s a story for another day.
Thank you to those who have bought us a couple of liters of diesel to support our journey and/or website.
Would you like to do the same?
Yes, I do!