Kinuya Honkan capsule hotel Ueno Tokyo

Japan: Landing in Tokyo… and using a communal bath for the first time

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.

Thai Airways chicken meal
I have taken enough photos of flights from Bangalore to Bangkok and at Suvarnabhumi Airport so don’t expect anymore photos from this route. But here’s what I ate on my flight to Bangkok.
Thai Airways pork meal Haneda flight
And on the flight from Bangkok to Haneda

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.

Haneda Airport night landing Japan
I landed in Tokyo past 9PM

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.

Japanese toilet Haneda airport
Before exiting the airport, I went to the toilet… and my “Japan experience” had officially begun. The famous hi-tech Japanese toilets! 🙂 Probably the only country I’d be writing about toilets!
Pasmo card Tokyo Japan
Just as you exit the gates of Haneda’s arrival lounge, they have Pasmo vending machines. The Pasmo IC card is what you’d use to get around Tokyo using public transportation. It’s accepted on the trains, buses and taxis. It’s also used as a payment gateway at convenience stores and at many other businesses.
Escalator to train station Haneda
I went down to the subway platform
Haneda airport train station
I was worried when I read online that the trains at Haneda only ran until 10PM, but it seemed like trains run well past into midnight
Haneda train at night
I took the train going to Shinagawa station. From there I would have to transfer to take another train to Ueno.

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.

Shinagawa station at night Japan
Ueno was just 3 stops away

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!

Kinuya Honkan capsule hotel Ueno Tokyo
I was only going to be spending two nights in Tokyo at first, so I figured I would use this opportunity to experience a capsule hotel. I chose the pod-like capsules over the slot-like capsule hotels because the latter felt extremely claustrophobic.
Kinuya Honkan capsule bed Ueno Tokyo
The amenities inside the capsule are sparse
Kinuya Honkan capsule amenities Ueno Tokyo
There’s a TV inside, but you have to pay extra to get access to the channels.
Kinuya Honkan toilet Ueno Tokyo
They have toilets on each floor

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:

Japan 2015: Going to Akihabara, and spending way too much time in Yodobashi Akiba

Japan 2015: Walking around Akihabara and Ginza

Japan 2015: Riding a bullet train for the first time, Tokyo to Kyoto

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Nishi & Higashi Honganji, Shijo street, and Gion

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Nishiki market and Teramachi

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Fushimi Inari-taisha, and climbing to the mountain top

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu Dera temple

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Gion Corner Cultural Show

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama

Japan 2015: Kyoto – Monkey Park in Arashiyama

Japan 2015: Kyoto Station, and arriving at Himeji by shinkansen

Japan 2015: Himeji Castle, and the unexpected air show

Japan 2015: Nadagiku Shuzo Sake Brewery, leaving Himeji for Tokyo — and my last bullet train ride

Japan 2015: Nakamise street, Senso-ji temple, and Ueno Park sakura at half-bloom

Japan 2015: Ueno Zoo – pandas, a lonely polar bear, and more

Japan 2015: Shibuya – the busiest crossing in the world, and home to a loyal dog

Japan 2015: Nishi-Shinjuku — views from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building sky deck

Japan 2015: Shopping in Shinjuku, and exploring Kabukicho

Japan 2015: Denboin garden, near Sensoji Temple

Japan 2015: Cherry blossom celebrations by Sumida River

Japan 2015: Boat ride to Odaiba; giant Gundam statue at DiverCity Mall

Japan 2015: Cherry blossoms at Tokyo Imperial Palace east garden

Japan 2015: Cherry blossom sightings at Shinjuku Gyoen

Japan 2015: Harajuku on a Sunday – Meiji shrine and Yoyogi Park

Japan 2015: Harajuku at night — Takeshita Street

Japan 2015 – Visiting Akihabara a second time, because why not?

Japan 2015: Cherry blossoms in full bloom at Ueno Park

Japan 2015: Rikugien garden’s weeping cherry blossom tree

Japan 2015: Getting to Hakone; Lake Ashi sightseeing cruise

Japan 2015: Hakone ropeway; onsen at Hotel Green Plaza

Japan 2015: Ōwakudani sulphur springs, views of Mt. Fuji — and last night in Tokyo

Japan 2015: Getting to Narita Airport — and flying an Airbus A380 for the first time

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