Day 1–The Upper Field

So! Headed off to Japan today!

Japan, Land of the Rising Sun (being a literal translation of “nihon”, the Japanese name of the country). It’s the tenth most populous country in the world, but only sixty-first largest in area, or a bit less than half the size of New South Wales. It’s one of the most ethnically homogeneous nations in the world, with 98.5% of the population being ethnically Japanese. The Emperor of Japan is, according to Wikipedia, the world’s only remaining head of state whose English title is “emperor” – actually the Japanese title is closer to “heavenly sovereign”.

It wound up being an unreasonably early start, and it’s currently already getting unreasonably late even in Japanese time, so I’m going to attempt to blog quickly, even though that never works. Actually, it’s rapidly approaching the point where I’ve been up for twenty-four hours.

I decided to book a daytime flight for the trip to Japan – basically because I sleep so poorly on planes that if I tried an overnight flight, I’d be completely out of it the next day, so I’d lose a whole day either way. (Mind you, I was perfectly ok after an overnight flight to London a few years ago – I might have to do more experimentation on this subject). I flew Qantas, because it’s cheaper than Jetstar for some reason, but the only Qantas daytime flights go via Melbourne. Melbourne!

It also leaves from Sydney at 6am, which meant, to play it safe, a 4am check-in, which in turn meant I got about three hours’ sleep last night, after finishing all my last few bits of packing. You know how when you’re awake at 3am, you sometimes have the most horrible sort of thoughts that you’d never have any other time? I woke up with the alarm, so nervous about the trip that for a moment I honestly wondered whether I actually wanted to go back to Japan again. Fortunately, I got over that. =)

I booked my first ever Uber to come pick me up, and we’d just gotten on Southern Cross Drive when I suddenly remembered I’d forgotten my carry-on jumper. Since it’s my warmest, bulkiest jumper (which is why I was going to carry it rather than pack it), I didn’t really have any option of just managing without it, so we had to drive all the way to Wentworth Avenue so we could do a u-turn and come all the way back. Rather annoying.

Still managed to arrive at the airport before 4am, fortunately. Unfortunately, they don’t open the doors until 4am anyway, and they don’t even start opening the check-in counters until closer to 5. There was a whole hour between my flight and the next one at the same terminal. Fortunately, we boarded without a hitch. They served us breakfast – a plastic bowl of Just Right, which I somehow managed to spill all over my table. Sadly, no seat-back screens – they did have the app streaming service thing, but I’d left my iPad in the overhead locker before I realised I’d need it. Oh well, it was only a short flight.

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I transferred to the International terminal at Melbourne – my luggage had been checked all the way through from Sydney, fortunately, so I didn’t have to worry about collecting it. I’m certain I heard my name over the PA as I was passing through Duty Free, but the guy at the gate had no knowledge of it. Boarded when boarding time came, settled into the seat, and started watching movies.

It’s a ten-hour flight from Melbourne to Narita, so I had plenty of time to catch up on movies. I saw the animated Batman and Harley Quinn, then Baby Driver, then Boss Baby, then a pair of Chinese films – Kung Fu Yoga, basically a kung fu Indiana Jones starring Jackie Chan as a renowned archaeologist named… Jack Chan, and The Monkey King, another retelling of parts of the Chinese literary classic Journey to the West (which we know in the West as Monkey, or Monkey Magic). Dunno if I was just getting too tired, but I didn’t find myself engaging with the last one all that much.

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They fed us pretty much constantly. Shortly after takeoff (which was at 9), they served us a sort of… brunch. Or elevenses. Either way, I had four-cheese ravioli, though the beef dish looked quite nice too. Then there was a Weiss raspberry and ice cream bar, then hot chocolate (or tea and coffee), then pear and raspberry bread, then shortly before landing, some udon noodles.

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Landed in Narita just before 6pm, or some time after sunset. Sadly, they’ve removed the people-mover that used to connect the gates with the main concourse, replacing it with an extended moving walkway. Ah well, at least I get to ride the moving walkways instead. Got through customs just fine, got some cash from a convenient ATM, and headed downstairs to get my JR Pass – as covered during our last trip, the JR Pass gives us free travel on all JR trains across Japan with the exception of the very fastest shinkansen.

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The exchange office is much bigger than I remember. Fortunately, there was no queue, so it was pretty much just straight in and straight out for me. Decided to start the pass today, even though that means it’ll run out two days before I leave – it’s only a fourteen-day pass and I’m here for sixteen. My flight out leaves from Haneda, and the express from Narita to Tokyo costs a whole lot more than the monorail from Tokyo to Haneda, so it made more sense to ensure the more expensive trip was covered by the pass.

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I was given a seat on the next Narita Express to leave, so no long wait this time. Once at Tokyo Station, I transferred to the Yamanote loop line to Okachimachi, my old nemesis from the last trip. All in all, though, a far smoother journey than our first night last time.

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I’d intended to stay in the Toyoko Inn chain of business hotels for most nights on this trip – they’re cheap, clean, easily accessible, and they’re everywhere. Trouble is, when it came time to book, I discovered that not a single Toyoko Inn near central Tokyo has availability on this specific night. So instead I found one with availability for the rest of my time in Tokyo, and decided to find another type of hotel I’ve been meaning to try, mostly so that I can say I’ve done it: a capsule hotel.

So, I’m staying in the Capsule Net Omotenashi no Oyado in Ueno. It’s… different. You take your shoes off when you come in the front door, and leave them in lockers nearby. Then they give you a wrist bracelet with a locker key and a bed number, and a bag with a towel and some pyjamas, and you walk through the whole building shoeless (except there’s slippers in the toilets). Sadly, my suitcase is too big to fit in the locker, so it’s going to be spending the night under guard in the lobby. Here’s my capsule – the one with the light on.

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There’s a pretty extensive bunch of facilities here, from a public bath in the basement to a cafe-slash-reading-room with a ginormous collection of manga to read. In Japanese only, though.

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After I checked in, I decided to head out for a bit of a late dinner. One advantage of this hotel’s location is that it’s right near Ameya Yokocho, which I’ve been wanting to visit for a while. Ameya Yokocho is a shopping street running from Ueno Station to Okachimachi Station, with shops built under the elevated Yamanote line tracks the entire way along. It was originally a black market following World War II.

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There’s all sorts of little eateries all the way along it, though I actually wound up eating at a place a little way away, at an udon restaurant called Hinamaru. I had a special “seasonal recommendation” called Shouga Tamago Ankake, or starchy egg-and-ginger udon. That really hit the spot – it’s cold here. Oh, I knew what the temperature was going to be before coming, but I somehow never semm to remember what that actually feels like. There was also various tempura available as sides, but the ones I got were a bit cold.

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I also popped into a bookshop to see if I could buy a stamp book. Japan has special souvenir rubber stamps pretty much everywhere – train stations, castles, other land marks – which you can use to stamp on things (i.e. they don’t give you the stamp itself) so I thought I’d buy one of the special books they sell so that you can collect them. I got two stamps today, Ueno Station and Okachimachi Station. I had to ask the attendant where the books were, and in doing so had my first interaction completely in Japanese. He understood me – yay! – but… didn’t know the answer, so he had to go look it up.

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I was also hoping to buy a goshuinsho, a similar sort of book, but more fancy, intended for the special stamps called “goshuin” you can get at many temples and even some shrines, but they didn’t have any, so I’ll have to try somewhere else tomorrow.

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Anyway, been a long day. Time for bed.

Today’s photo count: Three hundred and four.

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