The man behind me in the queue was trying to be helpful: “It’s true, though, right? They are used as weapons in Asia. I go there a lot and I’ve seen them do it—they’re lethal.” He made a sudden gesture, like Spiderman throwing a web.
I was torn between asking this stranger to unpack his astonishing assertion and trying to prevent the airport security guard from unpacking my luggage. I resolved the impasse by laughing nervously, which had precisely the wrong effect. The security guard studied me suspiciously. “You’ll have to come with me, sir.”
Sadly, something like this had happened to me before. On my last trip to Tokyo I’d visited a legendary little store in Akihabara called Spingear, which is run by Takahiko “Taka” Hasegawa, the winner of multiple national and world championships. It’s probably the most comprehensive high street yo-yo shop in the world. I’d bought a clutch of Japanese yo-yos (I’ve decided that “clutch” is the appropriate collective noun), which I’d packed into a custom-made padded case. When this package went through the x-ray machine at Narita airport, all hell broke loose: If six evenly spaced metal cylinders encased in a locked aluminum container weren’t improvised explosives, they were probably chemical weapons of some kind. In the end, I had to unpack and demonstrate each of the yo-yos in turn, much to the amusement (and eventual applause) of the security team.