01/07/2013

Day 1: Flight & Tōkyō


After much planning and anticipation the day had (almost) arrived!

It was a few hours before dawn and in just over a quarter of days time our plane will be departing for Japan!

Let me explain the timing a little...

Since our plane left at 10:50am we had to wake up during some obscene hour of the previous night (around 4:45am). This might seem ridiculous but it's because our plane leaves from the Gold Coast Airport which is located partly in the next state and is over 100km away. To get there using public transportation takes around two hours and if you add this to the three hours early you're supposed to arrive you can see what happened. I complained a lot about the time back then however if  the plane left later it would've meant we’d have trouble getting from Narita to Tokyo and if it left earlier we probably would not be able to get there in time. So though horrible it's also somehow ideal.

We’d packed everything the night before and after spending half an hour having showers, eating breakfast, turning off appliances and locking up it was time to go!

As there’s no train station nearby to our house a relative very kindly offered to drive us to the nearest one at 5:30am. It was still dark when we arrived at the platform though we were not the only ones waiting the next train. Thankfully this was the only train we’d have to catch this morning as it went directly to the terminal station “near” the airport. It was also an express- which was nice. The train arrived on time and after a fairly uneventful ninety minutes travel we arrived and alighted at Varisty Lakes Station.

We were still about 20km from the airport so we pulled our luggage and ourselves over to the attached bus stop. We wanted route 761 bound for Tweed Heads and stopping at the Gold Coast Airport. Since buses going in both directions left from the same spot we were a little confused at first. However, a very strange man at the bus stop assured us that we were waiting at the right place (he seemed very excited about the bus routes but didn't get on any). As expected our bus turned up about five minutes late and after a thirty five minute tour of the area we arrived at the airport. The total fare cost all the way from Brisbane only came to a little over $5 for Kate and completely free for me (I’d already made ten trips that week, making this one free)! Much better than the $50 we had spent last year travelling back to Brisbane after realising we'd forgotten our GoCards upon landing at the Gold Coast.

The first leg of our day of travel was over!

By the time we arrived check-in had opened and we were glad to discover that there was no line. One of the people who'd got on the train checked in to our flight right before us. Anyway, once we'd swapped our luggage for our boarding pass we went through the two layers of security required to reach the holding pen. At the international check Kate got in trouble for trying to smuggle a tin of ‘explosive’(not completely false) backed beans aboard. While I was shaking my head at her I also got in trouble for my tin of tuna. As the tin was under 100ml in capacity I was allowed to keep it though sadly Kate had her beans confiscated as they were over the limit. Apparently she thought they'd be alright as she was allowed them on board last time.

Inside the holding pen I was annoyed to find that the power point I used to top up my phone last time was taken! Back then I had thought it was the only one available but after some extra searching Kate managed to find another near one of the gates. The area was filled with Japanese people on the way home from a holiday in Australia and the shops provided a tiny taste of Japan themselves as most signs were written both in English and Japanese. One of the shops also provided a horrendously overpriced bottle of drinking water for Kate.

Anyway after a bit of a delay it was time to board!

I guess I should mention that it was absolutely pouring with rain outside.

As long as the plane can take off there’s no problem right?

No!

Not at all!

It’s a big problem!

There are no aerobridges at this airport and in order to board the plane you have to walk across the tarmac and up a portable staircase.

So if it's raining, you get wet.

Because of this, everyone outside waiting to get on had gathered at the end of the covered area and were taking it in turns to sprint over to and up into the plane. I nearly froze to death while we waited in line since it was nearly winter, the wind was strong and I thought it would be a good idea to wear shorts and a t-shirt on the plane (my last chance as no one in Japan wears shorts). There was nothing to save us from the wind and rain as our warm clothes and umbrella were safely packed away in our big luggage. We were both very prepared to sprint for it and studied those in front of us to work exactly when would be the best time to bolt.

The heavens had mercy on us though and by the time it was our turn the rain stopped momentarily and we were both able to get on the plane without getting soaked- or even damp.

Once everyone was aboard the pilot apologised over the speakers about the rain and blamed the Gold Coast Airport with a sarcastic comment about the airport managers thinking it's nice for passengers to be able to walk out in the sunshine upon arriving at the sunny Gold Coast.

All that aside, the most interesting thing worth mentioning about the plane is that every seat had its own inflight entertainment console! If that wasn't good enough (yes, because you had to pay for almost everything on it), every seat had a USB charger and every pair had a 240V mains power point below the middle armrest! The mains power point didn't seem to work but the USB port did and I was able to keep my phone charged during the whole trip! Out of all the times I'd flown to Japan or elsewhere with Jetstar I'd never seen anything like this before.

After we took off and got settled in to our flight I brought a Pepsi max from a flight attendant and had most of my packed lunch (tuna & crackers, ginger nuts, muesli bars, peanut butter sandwich).

A daily graph would be way more dramatic than this weekly one
I then spent the next six hours studying Japanese flash cards on my phone using Ankidroid. I usually spend about one and a half hours studying each day but since I wasn't expecting to have that amount of time in Japan I was trying to study ahead as much as I could. For the flight I had selected to review twenty days ahead for the most difficult and annoying "Core 6000 - Writing" deck. Each card in this deck is one of 6000 sentences that is displayed to me in Hiragana and read by a Japanese speaker, to answer the card I have to write the sentence out using the correct Kanji. It was really hard to keep my concentration focused! By the end of the ordeal I'd reviewed about 700 cards and apart from the 80 or so I had failed I had no more in that deck to worry about for the next few weeks!


Apologies if the previous paragraph didn't make much sense to those who don't use Anki or study Japanese.

Kate spent most of the time doing traditional plane activities like reading, watching TV (on her ipod) or sleeping. Once it was nearly time to land we both watched some of the free destination guides in the entertainment unit.

Despite the earlier delay we landed on time and were pleasantly surprised when we stepped out of the plane onto an aerobridge and felt the comfortable outside temperature. Every other time we'd departed a plane anywhere apart from Brisbane/Gold Coast it had either been freezing (Tokyo, London) or boiling (Cairns, Brunei).

Once off we quickly marched over to the shuttle train and rode it to the main building. We'd filled out our immigration card thingy already so were directed over to the processing counter for foreigners. While there were really big lines for Japanese passport holders there was basically no line for foreigners and we were able to go straight through. We did have a little trouble as we'd ticked "Drugs" (meaning medicine) and the guy was a bit suspicious- there were no problems once we explained though and we got stamped as a temporary visitor. Following immigration we went down to the baggage collection area and Kate rushed off and stood with a bunch of people who were collecting luggage off a conveyor belt for an earlier San Francisco flight. I went and stood by the correct one (not moving and sanspeople) and after a decent wait we had our luggage. As usual for foreign countries customs was a breeze and we were able to quickly pass through.

Our next stop was the Narita Terminal 2 train station- along the way we saw some 7-11 bank ATM's and used our Citibank plus visa cards to withdraw ¥70,000 cash each (costing us $699.65). After arriving at the train station we went over to the JR East travel service centre and swapped our exchange orders for rail passes. Unlike last year the office wasn't boiling hot and we (er, Kate) also recognised some of the staff. As we were pretty quick getting off the plane we didn't have anyone from our flight in front and we received our passes shortly after filling in the paper work.

Last year my two week rail pass got absolutely trashed while Kate's became slightly bent. As we’d need them for a whole extra week this time Kate had been keeping an eye out for something suitable that we could put them in for protection. I was stunned when she managed to find an absolutely perfect solution!

It had a strap we could hook around our necks and the clear covering meant that we could easily show it to inspectors. The only time we had to take it out was when we reserved tickets and they wanted to stamp it. The strap also made the pass very easy to find in my bag. To make it even better they were absolutely free (!)- they were being used as part of some stupid promotion a local gym were running.

Anyway, we set it to activate the following day and at the same time also bought a one way Suica & NE'X package. Since we were bound for Shinjuku we saved even more money than we had last time, however as usual we missed the earlier train and had to wait about 40 minutes for the next (20:47) one.

While we waited we went to a nearby Doutor coffee shop (ドトールコーヒー) and got cheese toast and some hot drinks and then went through the ticket gates to wait in the platform waiting room.

When our train arrived we put our luggage in the holding area (though didn't secure it) and to our surprise found someone sitting in our assigned seat! He was using his laptop and looked a little annoyed when I pointed out the situation. We offered to sit in seats across the aisle but he then mentioned something about having to move anyway because of the conductor. Not long later the people whose seats we'd just took turned up and the first guy ended up moving. I'm not sure where he had got on or what his long term plan was.

During the trip I thought I'd watch Nichijou on my phone but it turned out that I was too embarrassed and so instead just listed to The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast.

Kate spent the whole time asleep.

Nothing much eventful happened on the train except some other westerners thought that the stuff on the food trolley was free. They soon realised that you had to pay and there were no issues. The Narita express we were on was one that went direct to Shinjuku and after about eighty minutes we arrived.


For the next two nights we'd booked to stay at the City Hotel Lonestar, which is a hotel located about 800m (10 minutes) east of Shinjuku station. It looked quite wet outside and after I woke Kate up and we’d navigated our way to one of the east exits (central I think) she spent some time digging out an umbrella from her suitcase. It was a little pink one and would be no help to me at all.

Apart from the rain we were also a little unsure about the location of our hotel. My GPS on Google maps was not working (it needs some time to reset after a long trip and I didn't have any data connection yet either). Thankfully I did have a bit of the map data cached and there were instructions in the Japan book. I led us east for a while and once we hit a main street a bit further from the station it was easy enough to orient ourselves and find our lodgings. The heavens smiled on us for the second time that day with the rain stopping for the duration of our walk.

Perhaps to balance out this good fortune we found that the hotel didn't have any ramp leading up to the lobby which meant we had to lug our suitcases up a few stairs. It wasn’t really anything much but was a bit annoying. Especially after hauling them up so many within Shinjuku Station. The hotel looked a little dodgy from the outside but we found it to be perfectly welcoming inside.

This confused us as it wasn't obvious the grill (out of frame) was
  the cover since we couldn't easily see the controls beneath .
The check-in process was quick and after we filled out our name, had our passports scanned and paid for our stay we were given the metal key to our room. The check-in lady also produced a large parcel which was our Pocket WiFi. I'd actually completely forgotten about it so I was glad we didn't have to come down and ask about it later once I remembered.

Our room was located towards the top of the hotel and we were thankfully able to ascend using the single elevator provided. Though it seemed to be a little bit of a death trap (old). Our room was clean and surprisingly large for Tokyo however the decor was pretty old and pretty tired.



The staff were friendly as always in Japan and all the amenities worked well – we did had a little trouble figuring out the air conditioning at first though (you have to take off the grill to turn it on- not as obvious as it looks).

These photo's were taken after we'd finished with the room.
I’d been starved of internet for most the day so I ripped open our Global Advanced parcel as soon as I could.

Inside I found a large zipped wallet.

The wallet contained the pocket WiFi device, a USB cable, a mains charger and an instruction manual. Also in the parcel was a receipt, a reply paid envelope and instructions on what to do at the end of the rental period.

As you might imagine the idea was to put everything in the envelope and then pop it into a post box. The WiFi device didn't work when I first tried to turn it on but I soon realised this was due to a flat battery and before long (after inputting the password) we were back online!

I was so excited!

We were finally in Japan again!!!

It was all real!

We had big plans for tomorrow and the weeks following so I tried as best I could to contain my excitement and after showering to cleanse ourselves of the aeronautical filth contaminating us, we went to bed.

Continue reading Day 2: Nokogiriyama and Chiba

3 comments:

  1. Hello there fellow SGU listener :) We're also planning on going bac kto Japan next year, even though we;ve already gone this year. There's just so much to see and do :)

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    Replies
    1. That's really cool to hear that you listen to the SGU too :D

      Haha I know the feeling!!!

      They're still so much we've yet to see as well! I hope you have fun on you're next trip :)

      Thank you very much for leaving a comment as well!

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  2. We went and discovered Japan as being a fascinating country. We dare to say that Japan changed the way we look at our lives.

    The cultural differences have an impact, especially when you spend a longer period of time like we did.

    Our stay in Japan also changed the way we value the act of traveling.

    Thanks to Car rental in Brisbane

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