Osaka
Amidst Osaka's kaleidoscope of colours, the hotel we've booked is undergoing a design renovation (Photo: top10bestplace.com)

Trying to book a holiday in Japan when you don’t speak the language can be frustrating, or a breeze (like working with Kumano Travel for our pilgrimage hike) or laugh-out-loud funny. Today, we’re focusing on the latter.

For our stay in Osaka, I found a little boutique hotel “…a sort of ongoing art project…with interiors based on Balinese resorts, avant-garde ryokans and other styles,” a rarity in a city where most hotels cater to the smoking salaryman on business. The hotel’s website had good photos of its individually designed rooms. In English, too! But trying to make a reservation was impossible.

Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 3:44 AM
To: The hotel in Osaka
Subject: Reservation

I cannot get your online reservation to submit.
Here is our request:
Room 813 for 2 nights, checking in Thursday, October 27 (around 17:00) and checking out Saturday, October 29 with your special online price.

If room 813 is not available, our second and third room choices would be 211 and 711.

Thank you in advance.

From: The hotel in Osaka
Sent: Monday, January 18, 2016 2:22 PM
Subject: Reservation
To: Spice

Thank you for communication.
The reservation of October has not yet come, and it does not come.
I’m sorry.

From: Spice
Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 07:54 AM
To: The hotel in Osaka
Subject: Re: Reservation

Your reservation system is not working.
Would you please reserve for me via email?

From: The hotel in Osaka
Sent: January 19, 2016 4:28 PM
To: Spice
Subject: Re: Reservation

I have not been yet ready for the reservation.
The reservation within three months is possible.
In the case of no vacancies, it is impossible.

So I waited until July. Whoa—what was happening? The site was in flux. No more English. No more room photos. Not much of anything really. I called the hotel. “No English,” said the pleasant-sounding woman at the other end of the world before she abruptly hung up. When I went to booking sites like hotels.com or agoda.com to try my luck, I got this sad message, “Sorry those dates are unavailable.” Convincing myself to be patient, I waited until September.

Surprise! The hotel has changed hands and is undergoing a complete renovation. It has a new name! The website is back up—in English! And they ‘ve got a 51% off special because only three rooms are open and construction is ongoing from 09:00 to 18:00. But hold on, everything in the reservation section is still in Japanese! Even with Google Translate, I can’t understand it. Am I booking for four people or four nights?

TripAdvisor must have nerds working all over the world on search algorithms. Because the next morning I got an email from them about the hotel in Osaka that I’ve been trying to book. Great! But the price was double what was indicated on the hotel’s website.

I called the hotel directly, again. The response was the same as months before: “No English.”

“Could I talk to someone who can give me your email address?” I asked.

“Moment,” said a young woman. I waited. And waited. After about three minutes of listening to the Beatles “Let it Be” played on what sounded like a xylophone, a woman’s voice said, “Email?” Then she spelled it out: “I-N-F-O-at…

From: Spice
Sent: September 12, 2016 4:06 PM
Subject: October 27-29
To: The hotel in Osaka

I just telephoned you. I’m sorry I do not speak Japanese and cannot book on your website.
We would like to reserve 2 rooms (212 and 213) for 2 nights (October 27 and October 28 checking out on October 29) for your special rates during construction. There will be 4 adults.

No response. But the next morning, there was TripAdvisor in my inbox again directing me to hotels.com. However, this time the price was identical to that on the hotel’s website—the construction special of 51% off. I booked it.

The next morning I received this message:

From: The hotel in Osaka
Sent: September 13, 2016 4:46 PM
To: Spice
Subject: Re: Reservation

I made a reservation of Room 212 Room 213.
I wait for you to come.

Oh no, I thought, now we’ve got a double booking! How will I sort that out?

From: Spice
Sent: Wednesday, September 14 9:02 AM
To: The hotel in Osaka
Subject: Re: Reservation

We have made a reservation with hotels.com and paid in full for the 2 nights at your hotel.

I received this final response later that day.

From: The hotel in Osaka
Sent: Tuesday, September 13, 2016 6:06 PM
To: Spice
Subject: Re: Reservation

It is right.
In two rooms .2 night, the payment is all over.

8 replies
  1. Barry MacLeod
    Barry MacLeod says:

    It’s interesting that we continue to believe we are living in the electronic age and anything can be accomplished online.
    Trying to communicate across borders is the same as trying to deal with Canadian companies online, “Good Luck” ??

    Reply
    • Spice
      Spice says:

      Actually I’ve had pretty good luck. Last night for dinner for example, Lynn and Ward didn’t have raw fish and I finished the meal with no raw eggs or organ meats.

      Reply
  2. Judy
    Judy says:

    I LOVED this. we went to Japan in 2008 for a month and I made many of the reservations online or via email. I thought I’d done a great job till I got th eVisa bills that had us paying for two different hotels on the same nights in two cases! Visa was very good about refunding.. I didn’t even try to sort it out with the hotels that we actually never did go to 🙂

    Reply

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