I grew up with a lot of things from Japan even though I was born in the UK because my relatives would always send VHS tapes full of dubbed Japanese TV programmes and other goodies. For that reason I've always had this amazing image of Japan - a beautiful country where the old and new live in harmony, technology and lots of weird and wonderful things.
So, by the time in high school I started to learn the language because there was a lot of free time for final year students. Now that I've been working full time for some time, I finally decided to make the trip to see Japan for myself.
I spent months researching the places I would go to, what to watch out for and how to get to them. Was excited and a little nervous at the same time because even though I was fairly literate I wasn't too confident with the talking skills.
So, over the course of this month you'll be seeing a lot of posts about my first trip to Japan ^^
It was quite a erratic day for the flight. One moment it was dry...
And the next it was a thunder storm.
It was going to be a 14 hour journey for us, split into two 7 hour flights from the UK so not too bad.
Didn't come across any hyperactive passengers luckily. There's been a few times where I usually end up with couples or kids kicking the back of my seat for fun so, very glad that didn't happen this time.
Plane was empty when I was picking seats online but, it was packed when we went on. My backpack was small enough to fit under the seat so, that saved me fighting for space in the overhead lockers.
We literally had a taste of Japan during the second half of the journey with soba noodles for lunch.
Then a salmon steak, rice with a sprinkle of plum cherry shavings on top.
Then for breakfast it was some baked fish with a sweet paste on top.
Actually finished the plane meals because they tasted good which is rare ^^;
Aaand we were finally in Japan!
Narita airport was nicely lit along the walkway but, we wanted to make the next Narita Express (N'EX) so we didn't stop to take many photos.
UK residents didn't need a VISA but there were still forms to fill in - 2 in fact. One to declare what your purpose was for staying in Japan and the other was to declare any dangerous items. The flight attendant thought we were Japanese because we had an Asian background and almost didn't give us any forms, lol.
Then it was a queue through immigration which involved a digital finger printing process I think and your photo taken. The queuing wasn't too bad.
After that was all done we spotted some green pay phones on our way out. I'm sure Anime fans amongst you will remember seeing these a lot in shows. They had one at a lower height for children or disabled people - thoughtful.
We were looking for vending machine that sold data only SIM cards so that we had mobile internet for using Google Maps to navigate around with. Regular mobile SIMs usually require registration to use but these ones you didn't. You plug them in, enter the internet settings and you're away.
We settled with U-Mobile which offered an HSPA connection, 200MB/day before your speed is capped. I use less than 500MB/month back in the UK so this seemed fine. If you wanted something faster like 4G or more allowance you'd have to go to a chain store like Bic Camera to buy one.
Then we had to find the travel centre to exchange our JR Pass. It was quite a long queue and there were more forms to fill in. There were quite a few travellers who weren't waiting in the queue and just waiting outside so, be careful you don't end up waiting behind them!
Staff spoke English and I bought a Suica IC card as backup for places that you couldn't use the rail pass or, when going on private rail lines was much quicker. It's basically like a pay-as-you-go debit card or an Oyster Card you can top up and pay for transport along with other things.
Don't have to carry around as much change! Scotland really needs something like this!
Anyway, they told us the platform where the N'EX train stopped wasn't that far away so we decided to go with the next train but, it turned out to be quite a rush trying to figure out how to get through the ticket gates and then finding the platform. We had to go pass the ticket gates just opposite the travel centre using our ticket then head downstairs.
After that, we looked for the carriage we had our seats in. They were all clearly marked on the platforms.
The N'EX train was impressive to look at when it arrived. Very clean and sleek. There are other trains that stop at this platform so be sure to go on the correct one.
Didn't have much time to shoot pictures because it was leaving quite promptly. We were more concerned about settling down first anyway, lol. It was about a 90 minute journey to Shibuya for us.
There is quite a lot of debate about whether Green Seats (First Class) is really worth the extra money - most arguing you're just getting a bit of extra leg room. Green Seats are always reserved and because of the extra cost, there are fewer passengers too so for us, it was more about getting some peace.
And indeed there were hardly anyone in the Green Car carriage we had been assigned to while the regular seats had fairly long queues.
Seats were very comfortable. You could spin them round if you had groups of friend with you. Then there were monitors to show how the journey was going to progress.
With all that spare time, we went about inserting the new SIM cards. It wasn't quite as simple as just plugging in the SIM. You had to enter some APN settings too but there are step by step instructions how to do it in English.
This is what the JR pass looks like and for reserved seats, you'll still have to go to a ticket office for tickets instead of using automated machines. You also have to go to manned gates instead of the regular gates but all you have to do is flash them quickly to get through.
When it's really busy (and I mean really) you can just walk through guilt-free even if the gate attendant is busy with someone else =P
It was late evening by the time we arrived (that's why I'm calling it day 0). It was a stormy night with thunder and lightning, rain pouring down as we dragged our luggage along trying to find the hotel in foreign land.
Like a typical scene out of a movie. Not very welcoming weather.
We must have brought the stormy weather from Scotland with us, lol. But who cares, I was in Japan and even with the bad weather I was already taking in the local surroundings as we walked along.
It turns out we had got out at the wrong exit at the train station so we had to make our way back round.
Tokyu Stay Shibuya
We were so glad when we finally reached the hotel! Even better when we saw it was so clean and new looking.
Lobby looked very new too.
I don't think anyone travels without a smartphone or tablet these days but... if you really didn't and needed internet access, there was a PC there along with a printer.
I didn't opt for the breakfast buffet because I read in reviews it wasn't very good but, this was probably the buffet area.
It was card access to the rooms and next to the lifts were on-demand video ticket machines...
I chose to stay at Tokyu Stay Shibuya because they're part of a chain hotel business that offered rooms similar to having your own mini apartment.
Not all rooms were like this though so you had to be specific and choose one with its own washing machine.
Here's a tour of the room I had which was the same as my friend's.
So if you do manage to nab one of the limited "aparthotel" rooms you had your own kitchenette that had a microwave, fridge and cooker.
And your own washing machine combo dryer too. Only thing about the washing is you had to purchase the detergent from the reception for 100 Yen/packet.
Some wardrobe space with a safe.
Menus about hotel rules, breakfast menu and other services such as a massage.
You were supposed to take out your own trash if you stayed longer than a couple of days...
Found this power socket hidden away which had a funny sliding cover.
Modern room heating/air conditioning controls.
Bathroom had an elastic line you could pull out to hang your laundry.
And ah yes, the electric toilets everyone who has been to Japan talks about! There were already toilets with electrical powered seats at the airport but, the hotel had them too. These had a few more features.
So instead of just a seat warmer and water spray, it automatically neutralises odour and warms the water spray that cleans the behind too =P
And some extra living space, lol.
My room had a balcony too but... Not much of a view from the back of the hotel ^^;
It was late and we were tired but just had to go out for a short walk before hitting the sack. Explored the lobby a little more and found the hotel had its own vending machines.
Back on the streets, more fabled vending machines of Japan that sells a whole variety of things. Cold and hot drinks mainly. Tobacco machine needs a special pass to use.
Airplane food didn't fill the tummy very well but since it was late, we decided to make our first visit to a nearby convenience store (AKA "conbini") and I bought some onigiris to eat. The nearest place was a Lawsons store. I was expecting a 7 Eleven since I saw them more in Japanese shows.
The other thing was you actually had to wrap the onigiris in the provided seaweed yourself. Managed the roll but not the triangular one ^^;
Well, tomorrow will be the very first day of our adventures in Japan =)