My 3 kids and I had just said goodbye to my husband and I was trying to keep it together and keep the kids excited as we rocked up to Passport Control. I greeted the immigration staff member with a smile that I expected would last the day, until she asked me for my middle child’s alien registration card. I got that instant sinking feeling of foreboding.
My 2-year-old is the only one of my children that has an Irish passport. My daughter was only 6 weeks old when the great Kanto earthquake both literally and figuratively shook us up. We had not yet secured a passport for her when the news of the accident of Fukushima broke, but we wanted to flee. An emergency passport through the Irish embassy only took one day to apply and receive, it would have taken a week through the Japanese system. We left on that emergency passport and re-entered with no problems. I had rung the Irish embassy before this past trip to check out some other details and mentioned that 2-year-old didn’t hold a Japanese passport. The lady there told me that it should be no problem that she has an Irish passport as she was born in Japan and has dual Irish/Japanese citizenship. In fairness, she did suggest I ring immigration to confirm, but I chose not to.
As it turned out, without proof of her Japanese citizenship, she was considered a foreigner. A foreigner without a visa can only enter Japan for 3 months and anything beyond that on one trip is considered an over extended stay, punishable by law. We were sent to the passport control office for questioning. I explained everything and was naively optimistic that the verbal explanation would be good enough and off we go. It wasn’t. The head there told us that more than likely we would not be able to fly out today. Panic ensued, but being responsible for 3 eager young children kept me in check.
Meanwhile, a KLM representative arrived. When we were checking in, the attendant there explained to me that she needed to make a few phone calls to ensure that we could leave without any problems. I really didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation, but waited patiently while it took her half an hour to come back to say “its okay now”. Evidently, it wasn’t. The KLM representative at the passport office was only there to relay information to the airplane, which at that point was due to take off half an hour later. I pleaded with the head of passport control and he offered the solution that he would ring our local town office and if they could fax through a copy of our family register within the time frame we could board the plane.
THREE MINUTES before the plane was due to take off we got the green light. At this point there were 4 KLM staff on standby to help us board the plane. We ran all the way to the plane with one year old on my back, 2 year old in the buggy, four year old uncharacteristically co-operative and far too much hand luggage flailing all over the place. We strapped into our chairs as attendants shoved our hand luggage and coats into wherever they would fit and quite literally the plane took off just as I was catching my breath. My efforts to regain composure were aided by the Chief Purser, who brought me a glass of champagne just as the plane evened out, saying I deserved it for travelling solo with 3 young children and especially as we “almost didn’t get to go”.