24/11/2012

Day 0: Flight and Tokyo

Monday, 22 October 2012

Continues from JT2: Background and Preparation


The day had finally arrived and we were both super excited! 

Most of the first day was spent flying so there shouldn't be too much to say- or so I wrote at the beginning of this post. Looks like there was a lot to say after all. Not a lot of photos though.

The biggest disadvantage to our flights was that although they were direct the airport is over 100km from our house. Luckily we had a lift. 

We woke up at 6:00am and left at 6:30am for the one hour long car drive down to the Gold Coast. We left with plenty of time as our flight didn’t leave until 11am- but it’s better to be safe than sorry with international flights. We did not want to miss it under any circumstances. 
 
The Gold Coast Airport is quite small and handles both international and domestic traffic out of the one terminal. Once we arrived we went straight to get our luggage checked in which took only about 10 minutes. Since it was still only around 8am we decided to leave the airport and went to a pharmacy and I got a snack at a bakery. It was some kind of delicious scone. After this we returned to the airport in order to wait at the boarding gate. 

Since we were flying Jetstar and food was not provided we had opted to bring our own. I had some tuna and mayonnaise with crackers, peanut butter sandwiches and pistachio nuts.

We also both had 1.5 litre bottles of water which we dutifully emptied before passing through security. To our surprise we were not asked about water and it appeared to be unrestricted. We were quite upset that we had already emptied our bottles. While considering where to buy more water (It sucks being on a plane with no easy way to autonomously hydrate yourself) we noticed that there was another security gate to pass through to get to the international section!  Lucky! 

While passing through the second security gate I noticed I had lost my big warm goose down jumper! After a quick backtrack I found in the lost property pile at the first security gate.

Finally we had arrived at the boarding location and after I managed to find a space power point to charge my phone (in an old computer terminal cubicle) we settled in to wait. 

Kate tracked down some water although it was very expensive at $4.50 for 600ml. Interestingly the only other shop in the place (about 3m away) had the same water for $5.00! This is proof that it pays to shop around- even in such a restricted environment. 

I did not buy any more as I remembered that I didn't even like plain water anyway.
 
The flight itself was relatively uneventful (I listened to The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and studied Japanese with Ankidroid) and we landed on time at 7pm at Narita Airport Terminal 2. We took the short trip to the main terminal building on the driverless train, collected our bags and passed through customs and immigration.  

With all that done it was time to head to the train station to book the Narita Express and exchange our rail pass voucher for the actual pass. On the way there we encountered a 7-11 ATM where I thought I’d try my Citibank plus card to make a withdrawal. It worked! I got 10,000 each out. Kate could not use hers this first night as she was waiting for money to be transferred from another account.

It was extremely hot for some reason in the JR East Travel Service Center and there was a small group of maybe 8 people inside who were also exchanging their passes. The system had changed from what it was when we were last here as had the design on the rail pass itself. It had the same general design though. It's like one sheet of cardboard that's been folded like a book, front has a picture, when you open it up there's the terms and conditions in Japanese and English and the back is the side you show with all the important stuff on it.

I think it would be much better if it was more like the Suica card- that way it could be easily kept in a wallet and would be much more indestructible. It seems way too fragile for something worth over $500.

Anyway. We were assigned a number and given a blank rail pass to fill in (Name, Nationality, Passport Number, Activation date etc.). When it was our turn they confirmed what dates we wanted and printed out what looked to be a normal rail ticket. This had further details of our rail pass and was attached to the back. There a space for it to be stamped when it's first used as well as a space for the stamps they do each time you make a reservation.
 
All I have is an after shot and you can see that it is a bit worse for wear. It actually looks worse than this in real life but as you can see it did survive. Luckily.

Photo of the new Japan rail pass (Front)Photo of the new Japan rail pass (Back)


Although we now had the rail pass we still had to get to Tokyo from Narita. Since the Keisei Skyliner only took us as far as Ueno from which we’d have to make two connections to get to our hotel in Hatchobori we decided to get the N’EX (JR Narita Express). 

There’s a good deal available to foreign tourists which lets you buy a N’EX ticket along with Suica card. The Suica card is JR’s IC ticket card which is valid on almost all transportation (Private and JR) in and around Tokyo. It’s like Brisbane’s Go Card except much better as you can also use it to make purchases in the region at places like vending machines, convenience stores, restaurants, bookshops and souvenir shops- to name a few. 

Suica and N'EX "Japan. Endless Disvoery" themed Suica Card We got the Suica & N’EX package with a one-way NE’X ticket which came to 3,500 and included 2,000 of value in Suica (500 of which is a deposit). 

You also get a themed Suica Card. 

I ended up keeping my Suica card for use on our next japan trip although I only have about 50 yen left on it.

You can see that it is in much better condition than my rail pass. It is also valid for 10 years from the last time it was used. 


Finally we also booked our train for the next day from Tokyo to Sendai. We wanted an relatively early start, whilst considering the transit time from Hatchobori to Tokyo so we got the 6:56 Hayate.  By the time we’d done all this it was almost 8pm and the next Narita Express left at 8:47pm. So we went down to the platform and waited until it arrived. 

About an hour’s train ride later we finally arrived in Tokyo! Now just one more train ride until we can collapse at the hotel!

There's a bit of a catch with that however! Although Hatchobori is only one stop from Tokyo station, the line you need to take is the Keiyō Line which is located some distance from the main section of the station and is quite a hike from the Narita Express platforms. It takes about 15 minutes to make the transfer if you walk fast and use the travelators. A bit longer if you have luggage.

Since this line is used to access Tokyo Disney land it’s fun to watch everyone walk past in the afternoons and evenings with Disney paraphernalia. We even spotted a few cosplayers in elaborate costumes.

Towards the end of that journey we found the bakery that last year had these delicious “potato” type balls of goodness that we couldn’t find anywhere else. Unfortunately they didn’t seem to have them this time.

Although all trains stop at Hatchobori there are four platforms at Tokyo station for the Keiyō line so we needed to work out where the next train left from- we consulted the electronic sign board.

We arrived at Hatchobori a few minutes later and used the Narita Express ticket to exit the train station and headed for the exit. As is often the case in the bigger cities there are a multitude of exits so you have to be a bit careful about which one you head towards or you might risk getting lost.We were familiar with this station though so we didn’t have any problems.

The area around Hatchōbori is what we like for somewhere to stay.

It’s clean, quite close to major transport and relatively uncrowded- without being dead.

There are also a number of conbini (convenience stores), a few places to eat, a post office and a small 24 hour supermarket nearby.

We quickly made our way to the utilitarianly named APA Hotel Hatchobori-eki-Minami*.

We checked in and payed for the first night and I asked in Japanese if we had any packages. We were expecting the eConnect SIM.

There was! Success! It had arrived!

Although strictly speaking it was more of a letter than a package; I wasn't 100% sure how to ask about mail in general and I wasn't sure what we were expecting.

It was quite late at this point and after showering we went to bed but I could not sleep for some reason.  Although the time difference was only one hour and it was actually earlier in japan that what it was ‘my time’ so I should not have much trouble. I do have issues though with sleep and I was very excited about the finally arriving and the coming days.

I ended up spending half the night trying to get the eConnect SIM to work. I followed the instructions carefully but I could not get it to work for ages. In the end the problem was solved with trial and error- there was some unmentioned setting that I had to change.

I eventually fell asleep.

*The name essentially means Always Pleasant Amenity Hotel South of Hatchobori Station. Hatchobori “means” skilful moat, or maybe something like the 8th ditch ward.

Continue reading - Day 1: Sendai and Matsushima

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