Finally! It happened! I made it to Japan!
Ever since I was a small kid I was fascinated with Japan. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Japan’s influence — especially its pop culture — was quite strong on me. Be it Macross/Robotech being the very first anime/cartoon I remember watching, to the ‘Made in Japan’ products we so revered in those days. Heck, even a pencil box I had with the bullet trains on the cover is still etched in my memory to this very day. And to think, nearly three decades later, I would actually ride the shinkansen this time!
I planned my journey around the sakura season, which in itself was a challenge. It’s hard to predict when the cherry blossoms would fully bloom. I went by this sakura calendar, and decided to travel late March. At the same time, I couldn’t afford to stay in Japan for too long. For the simple reason being… Japan is expensive! Yes, because of the value of yen right now, it’s cheaper, but it’s still a pretty damn expensive country compared to its neighbours.
None the less, this being my first time in Japan, I obviously wanted to spend more time in Tokyo. Outside of Japan’s capital, my initial plan was to go to Hiroshima, but everyone recommended Kyoto over it. So it was going to be Tokyo -> Kyoto -> Himeji -> Tokyo. I just hoped the sakura would bloom in full by the time I got back to Tokyo.
But I had to get to Tokyo first!
Date: March 21, 2015
My flight to Haneda airport was via Bangkok, which meant I was going to be flying Thai Airways.
I was okay with flying to Haneda because my return journey was going to be from Narita. This way, I would get to see both airports that service Tokyo. In a way I was happy I got Haneda for this flight due to the late arrival at Tokyo. Haneda Airport is located in Tokyo itself, unlike Narita which is quite far out.
I didn’t spend too much time taking photos from inside Haneda airport as all I saw was halls and halls of travelators. Being the second largest airport serving Tokyo, Haneda is still pretty huge! Immigration had a queue but it moved fairly quickly, and they had English-speaking staff on hand to assist visitors.
I was amazed to see that even at 11PM, many office goers were still on their way back home. Another thing I read about beforehand was now confirmed — the long work hours in Tokyo.
When I got off at Ueno, I couldn’t really figure out my way to the capsule hotel I would be staying at. I didn’t have internet on my phone yet so I couldn’t use Google Maps. It was nearing midnight and I was worried that the hotel might close. Out of desperation, I asked an employee of a restaurant who was taking out the trash if he knew where Kinuya Honkoan was. He looked at the address but didn’t know how he could describe it to me. So he just asked me to follow him. A few minutes later, we reached the capsule hotel! I thanked him in Japanese and he just smiled, nodded and said goodbye. How nice of him!
Using a communal bath for the first time in Japan
Now, the bathroom… that’s upstairs and it’s a common bathroom. One floor for women and one above that for men. I was kind of nervous about using a communal bath, but I thought– “When in Japan…” and just went for it. You get inside a common bath area which has plastic stools in front of shower hoses. Next to the showers is a large tub filled with hot water (like a sento or onsen) and the deal is, you first shower and soap yourself at the stools and once clean, only then enter the tub to sit and relax for a while. When I entered the bath area, fortunately there was no one else but me. So I thought I’d make the most of it and bath at ease. But two other Japanese men then entered, butt naked and proceeded to shower beside me. One then entered the tub and other left. It was awkward to say the least but it only made me want to finish my bath as quickly as possible. No eye contact was made, and I tried to stay ‘focused’. Also helps in conserving water you see.
I didn’t really want to rush because it was cold and I loved the feeling of hot water — but I could only look at my feet for so long. I finished, dried up and then dressed up.
This would be one of many new experiences for me in Japan. I would go to a proper onsen, a natural spring, towards the end of stay in country but that’s quite a few blog posts away.
Back in my capsule, I planned for tomorrow’s sightseeing and went to bed. I was excited, and a bit nervous, being in a new country and all, but I was happy knowing that I was finally in Japan!
Next post is about where I went first — Akihabara!
Next post(s) in this series: