Not the kind of travel story you might expect. Japan was everything I hoped it would be, but unfortunately as traveling and miscommunication goes - we ran into some problems with my allergy. I feel like Japan did not understand food allergies, which left me in a panic for most of the experience. The more i've traveled, the more this becomes more true and the more I wonder how I even survived in a country like Japan!
We traveled from the outrageously chaotic city of Tokyo to the calm and peaceful town of Kyoto and then traveled again by high speed train before making it to Hiroshima. It wasn't a place I enjoyed being, it felt unsafe to me. I was incredibly shocked at how it seemed like no one understand any of what I tried to explain them, especially with my allergy. I'm not the type of person to expect people to speak english in a foreign country either. When it came to my allergy though, I became very upset. I had the concierge at the hotel in Tokyo write about my allergies on a a piece of paper so I would feel safe eating at all of the restaurants, which obviously did not work.
It seemed like at almost every place we went to we were encountering nuts or people who couldn't guarantee there was no contamination. It was a nightmare for me. Our days were usually spent exploring and climbing mountains, but when it came to eating I was nervous and filled with anxiety.
They roasted chestnuts on the street, there were places that made sweets only with specific nut products ( for the life of me I can't remember the food or what kind of nut), but in general I just felt very unsafe. It was nearly Christmas and everything in the city had closed down for the emperors birthday (go figure). We searched for ages to try and find a place to eat at. We finally stumbled upon what looked like an Indian/Nepali restaurant. I was with my boyfriend at the time and he had lived in Nepal so obviously he was excited. I showed the waitress my allergy card and she seemed confused. I showed it to her again after she came back from the kitchen and she took the allergy card back with her to the kitchen for a second time. This time she came back and said it was okay. I ordered what I wanted and no sooner that I stuck a piece of naan in my mouth, I felt it.
Something was wrong. My throat immediately tightened and my heart started to race. I started to stress and I felt like no one was doing anything. My throat was starting to close. We quickly got up to leave and told them that I was having an allergic reaction, but the service staff didn't do anything. We went back to the apartment and I proceeded to vomit in the toilet. My allergy was a slow reaction, and it usually is. Which is nice because it buys me time to get to an emergency room but not nice when people think it's not severe. I vomited and I knew. I tried to take benadryl but I continued to throw it up in the toilet. I did not want to use my epi-pen because i didn't know how long it would take to get us to the hospital.
I ran around outside trying to search for a taxi. We didn't know the emergency number to call, and couldn't speak japanese (I couldn't speak well enough to call myself an ambulence...especially not while my throat was closing. My face was starting to swell and my throat was closing faster and I ran across the street to see a man outside and I told him in my poor japanese to please call me an ambulence. I only realized months later that the word for ambulance and hair salon in Japanese is very similar...
He was kind of laughing and it made be extremely upset, but he soon called the ambulance and it arrived. The EMTs did not know what to do. I told them all of my symptoms by pointing to pictures on a chart. They didn't want to give me the adrenaline because they said I was too small. No one spoke english. The doctor didn't even know what to give me and couldn't communicate with any of us. I was left sitting there while my face was swelling and my throat was closing. We luckily were able to get in contact with my boyfriend's mom's colleague who happened to be awake at midnight. He rushed over, fluent in japanese, chinese, and english. They told me they wanted to give me the adrenaline and everything else. I was left feeling so confused. Why were they asking me? Why did I feel like no one knew what they were doing or what was going on? It was a very odd and very scary situation.
Eventually the swelling went down. It cost us a lot of money, and i'll never forget how scared I felt. This kept me from wanting to travel. For a long time I felt like I was never going to be able to see all the places I dreamed of. Of course, that was completely untrue....I may never make it to India for fear of the same thing happening in even worse conditions, but I've traveled all throughout Europe without problems. Over the years, I've compiled a decent list of allergy cards in different languages. If you are reading this with a severe food allergy and are about to go on a trip. Contact me! I want to be able to help everyone so they don't have to go through what I went through in Japan. Overall I thought Japan was beautiful with a very different culture that I feel lucky to have experienced.