I have just returned from our two week first trip to Japan. I love reading trip reports, and get such useful information from them that I felt I should return the favour with my own report.
Travelers: DH and I, newbies to Japan
Duration: Two weeks - trying to eek as many experiences of Japan out of our time as possible!
Transport: Flying Jetstar from the Gold Coast of Australia, into Tokyo and out of Kyoto.
7 day rail pass
Preparation: Hours and hours of internet-based research and booking (which I LOVE) - organising, checking, double checking, printing out and compiling of a central Mission Control folder!
Flight from the Gold Coast to Tokyo.
After a very uneventful flight, we landed at Narita airport at just before 7pm. From my research, I was hoping to get the N'Ex/Suica card combination (3500 yen), but the next train was going to leave at 7.49 with the next one a lot later. We hustled our way through immigration and baggage and raced to the first JR place we could find. No, wrong one, have to go downstairs. Next counter - no, have to buy from the travel office.
At the travel office, loads of people seemed to be milling around, and when the lady in front of us, at 7.35pm, dumped about 20 passports down on the counter to exchange rail passes I thought we were stumped.
Luckily, I had printed out a piece of paper that said, in big letters, N'Ex/Suica, and one of the staff took pity on us and rapidly booked our seats and handed over the Suica card. We raced to the platform and made the train - high-fives all round!
The Suica card is loaded with 2000yen and just needed to be swiped over the turnstiles at the subway stops. We used it for two days travelling around Tokyo, and then got our 500 yen deposit back for returning the card, so all in all great value!
We were staying at the Best Western Astina Shinjuku Hotel. I had detailed instructions and several maps so was confident we would find it. DH has inbuilt navigational skills somehow too. I knew we needed the East Exit, and was confident we were following the path, until we emerged onto a busy street with no idea where we were. Luckily, with the help of the maps, a nice local pointed us in the right direction and we were off without another hitch.
The hotel was just fine - good location close to JR Shinjuku station and subway stops, small but functional room and staff with enough English to get us by. DH dived straight into the bathroom looking for the famous Japanese toilets - and was not disappointed!
The hotel is on the edge of the "red light" area in Tokyo and there certainly seemed to be plenty going on that we didn't really understand, but we were never bothered or threatened in any way. We soaked up the busy atmosphere, with the neon and the people, enjoying our first taste of Japanese cuisine at a small store nearby - I don't know what the proper name for them is, but we called them the octopus leg balls!
Today was the only day of rain we had on our holiday. It was a chilly 4 degrees celcius, but undeterred we wrapped up in our down jackets and hit the streets.
Our first destination was the famous Tsujiki Fish markets. We weren't that fussed on getting up early, so left the hotel around 8.30am. First stop was breakfast in a local cafe - a "morning set" of a ham/egg/spinach roll and coffee was less than 1000yen for both of us. Good start.
We then had to conquer the Tokyo Subway system. It is very daunting when you first look at it, and it is a steep learning curve but with the help of the subway system map, knowing which station we were at and which one we wanted to go to, we were able to get the necessary details from a nice man at the turnstile and before long we were there. If you have done the Paris subway, it really works much the same way, but with the added bonus of numbering system.
The fish markets were full of whizzing carts and forklifts, boxes and crates and tanks of fish and seacreatures - alive, dead and dying! We only saw one other Western tourist the whole time we were there - not tourist season I guess. I did feel a little "in the way" so tried to be as inconspicuous as possible (not very possible!).
We found a friendly sushi restaurant and took that initial plunge into Japanese cuisine. I have to say I haven't eaten much Japanese food and am not a huge seafood fan, but we went ahead and ordered the "Ladies Set" for 2100 yen, which consisted of 8 pieces of sushi, miso soup, green tea and some other things (?). The severe looking chefs prepared our feast and laid it out on a banana leaf which was all very visually appealing and quite tasty. DH described his "roe roll" as a taste sensation - attacking all the senses with the initial rolling of the balls around your mouth, followed by popping sensations which then flooded the mouth with a fishy taste! Interesting to watch him digest this!
I had an app on my iPhone with Japanese language on it and hit the word for delicious - "oishii" sung from my phone, achieving the hint of a smile from the severe sushi chefs!
The next part of the plan was to wonder towards the Sony Building. A pit stop on the way was needed so we found a McDonalds where we were given a token to use the local toilet. DH had an audience - a little old lady who was servicing the toilets. Bit off-putting apparently!
The Sony Building was quite interesting - with a great 3D movie on a 200cm screen being the highlight.
We then wondered towards the Imperial Gardens in the now quite heavy rain - only to find them closed unfortunately. We made our way back to the hotel to retrieve the hoods from our jackets and ended up having a snooze for an hour - it felt like sacrilege to waste precious holiday time, but we really needed it and it kept us going for the rest of the day.
After our snooze we jumped on the subway to the Shibuya crossing. We were there from around 5pm, with the sun setting and people heading home from work. With the rain, it was a sea of umbrellas, and there was a symphony of light and music coming from the surrounding buildings - awesome! We took the obligatory video footage, and some time-lapse type photos with streams of light which look really cool.
Dinner was noodles and dumplings (we think it was a Chinese restaurant but we weren't really sure). Total bill with drinks was 3000 yen.
We had two further destinations planned - the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building observation deck and then the New York Bar for a real treat and ONE drink only (we ended up having two of course)! The views from up these buildings were great, if a little misty with the rain, and it was a real spoil in the New York Bar - mellow jazz music playing, impeccable service and cocktails that were just too yummy. "This is the life" ran through our heads for the few hours that we nursed our two drinks! Worth the expense, and eating noodles for another few nights to compensate!
We got lost between the two buildings and had the experience of a lovely local turning themselves around to come and help us, then walk us 500m in the opposite direction to show us where to go. So friendly!
Pooped, we crashed into our beds at around 11pm.
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Dipping my toe into the pond of Japanese culture...