Day 0-1–Raumen

Come one, come all, for our third visit to Japan! Or possibly in James’ case, second-and-a-halfth – he had a stopover here one time.

For a change, we flew overnight instead of overday – our flight took off from Sydney at 8:50pm. Like I mentioned in my blog last trip, I thought I’d try an overnight flight and just tough it out through the jetlag. As an added bonus, I managed to score exit row seats for this leg. The flight actually wasn’t too bad – the time pretty much flew by… uh, no pun intended. I watched Home first over dinner – I’d pre-ordered dinner for both of us (barramundi with garlic and miso sauce with rice) but for some reason they didn’t seem to have registered that, so we just had to ask for it off the trolley like normal.

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Then I tried to sleep for a while, but slept about as poorly as I usually do on planes. Watched Ferdinand in bouts between naps. James tried to watch Greatest Showman, but his headphones were working so badly that he just gave up and read for a while, then slept – he seemed to be doing a better job of it than me, actually, though I didn’t wake him up to ask how it was going.

As is typical, I finally fell into a proper snooze right before they brought up the lights for breakfast – a bowl of Just Right with milk, plus a piece of coconut and banana bread. I decided to eschew my usual stick of gum on landing to test whether my last ear-pain-free landing without gum last time was a fluke, and again it was free of pain – wonder if it’s the gum-chewing that  caused the pain. Also watched the first episode of The New Adventures of Monkey. We landed in Haneda a bit early, at 5am Tokyo time.

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We blearily stumbled off the plane, and headed through customs fairly smoothly, though there was a long line, and James wound up stuck behind a guy with lots of issues, so I had plenty of time to stroll to the baggage claim and retrieve both of our suitcases (after almost grabbing two other suitcases that were identical to mine). Then we headed out to get our Japan Rail Passes.

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As per previous standard practice, the JR Pass gives free travel on all JR trains save for the very fastest shinkansen trains, but it’s only available to foreigners, and you need to order it before you arrive in Japan. Unfortunately, the exchange office in Haneda doesn’t open until 6:45, and we were through customs by about 6am, so we joined the queue, which was already quite long, and waited.

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(Our other option was to exchange the pass at Yokohama Station, but the office there doesn’t open until 9:30am, so we’d have had to wait around even longer.)

In any case, we eventually managed to feed through the queue and got our passes. The exchange office helpfully had a chart of cherry blossom sites in Tokyo, and every single one had already ended. Sad face. Then I went to get some cash out at the Seven Bank ATM, and I discovered I’d clean forgotten my PIN, and when I went to use the app to display my PIN for me, I discovered I’d forgotten exactly how I worded the answer to my security question, so I had to call the help line – three times, because first we got disconnected, then my Skype credit ran out in mid-call. Not a fuss I expected to come across.

So eventually, with money in hand and our Suica smart travel cards topped up, we headed downstairs for the private-like Keikyu Airport Express to Yokohama. For this part of the trip we’re staying at a Toyoko Inn in Chigasaki, which is a part of Kanagawa Prefecture (reminder, that’s a prefecture just outside of Tokyo proper, but a part of the Greater Tokyo Area). Since it was still barely 9am, we couldn’t check in to our hotel yet, we decided we’d make the half-hour train trip to the hotel to deposit our luggage rather than pay for a coin locker.

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So at Yokohama, we changed to the JR Tokaido line for Chigasaki, and wound up standing, which after all the standing in line we’d already done was getting to be a bit much… and then the train just stopped, in between two stations. My JR East train status app said “signal inspection”. This is starting to become a pattern for me. Eventually, we arrived in Chigasaki Station, when suddenly the emergency brakes were applied, throwing a few people off their feet – including one elderly woman, who (fortunately for her) landed on me.

But we soon arrived at the hotel without further issue. I’d already practiced the walk to this hotel – and our others – on Google maps, and for this one it’s actually quite simple – follow the overpass from the station until it runs out, then take the underpass under the major intersection, then turn left. Managed to check in without too much trouble – that I had a Toyoko Inn membership card and James didn’t seemed to confuse the woman to no end, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that James’ name doesn’t appear on the booking anywhere (it never asks for the names of other people in the room, just the person booking).

Check-in done, we decided to head out at about 10:45 for an early lunch, considering our breakfast had been at about 4am. We found a family restaurant named Saizeriya literally right next to my hotel – and I was quite surprised to find it actually exists, having thought it was a fictional chain for some reason – but it wouldn’t open until 11. We decided to wander for a bit to pass the time, but in the process came across another restaurant, named “Surprised Donkey”, which specialises in hamburg steaks, and which (perhaps more importantly) was already open.

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Loved the internal decor of this place. And the menu was seriously huge – as in, physically, in the sense that the main part was a fold-out board probably two feet high that stood upright on the table, which came with a pile of A3-sized menus with sets, specials, and breakfast- or lunch-only items. I decided to have a “fondue-style cheese hamburg” (which basically was covered with cheese), while James had a hamburg-and-diced-steak combo set with sides of salad and rice. I did the ordering in Japanese, and it went off almost completely flawlessly – save when she asked me about one of the options for James’ meal, and I simply couldn’t figure out what word she was saying. Eventually, I had her type it into my Japanese dictionary.

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Lunch done, we headed back to the station so we could return to Yokohama for some actual sightseeing. We managed to get seats for this trip, fortunately, though that may have been a mistake – both of us immediately started dozing off. I was able to force myself to stay awake, but had to nudge James awake more than once when it looked like he was about to settle onto his seat neighbour. Yokohama Station caused us such woes on our first trip here, when we failed to realised that not all Yokohama-line trains stop at Yokohama station (despite the name), but today we passed through it multiple times without a hitch, despite our other issues with trains.

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We’d always planned to take it easy today so we wouldn’t over-strain our tired selves. First stop: visit the Kinokinuya at Yokohama Station for a new station stamp book. After a quick browse around the place, we headed off on the train to see Yokohama Chinatown. First, I got off the train a stop early, to visit the Yokohama City Offices.

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Why? What was to be found there? Surprise bonus collectible for this trip: manhole cards.

The manhole covers in Japan are frequently quite artistic and decorative, and considering how much Japan likes its collectibles (gotta catch ‘em all!) they decided to release a set of free cards showcasing some of the nicest covers. They turned out to be a roaring success, quickly distributing over a million cards – leading the head of the sewage board to comment that this is the first time anything given out by the sewage industry topped a million takers. And a huge expansion of the number of different cards available

The list of where cards can be acquired is available online, so I researched which ones I could pass nearby without having to alter travel plans by anything more than getting off the train a stop early, for example. Turns out there’s a list of about seven that I could probably reach quite easily, and another five that would be fairly simple if plans managed to take us that way. Don’t know that I’ll be visiting all of the seven, but today I got Yokohama’s. The back of the card has a bit of the history of it.

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Card acquired, we then walked around the perimeter of Yokohama Stadium, and it turns out that even though we’d missed the cherry blossoms, there were still plenty of flowers blooming, as the gardens around the concourse were filled with blooming flowers. Also some kind of handicrafts fair, where we saw people selling a whole range of hand-crafed goods. Even some alpine horns.

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Soon, we reached Yokohama Chinatown. Opened in 1859, today it’s the largest Chinatown in all Japan. We wandered the streets for a bit admiring the buildings and decorations, and being sorely tempted by all the people selling steamed buns and other dumplings, but soon it was time to move on.

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Next stop, a scenic area of Yokohama’s shoreline – specifically, some of the bits that used to be a working shipping port, but today are known as Minato Mirai 21 (short for “Harbour of the Future in the 21st Century”). The old red brick warehouses are still there, but today the area is dominated by the Yokohama Landmark Tower, which, up until the Tokyo Skytree was finished a few years ago, was the tallest building in Japan. It’s also now the home of the Tokyo Cruise Terminal, and we happened to see the Diamond Princess in port today.

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After wandering around there for a while – including taking part in a Pokemon Go legenary raid and browsing through the Yokohama Pokemon Centre (basically just a shop selling Pokemon merchandise). With that done, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel, finish checking in, then head out to dinner. Only juuust managed to avoid coming back smack in the middle of rush hour, but we were certainly sharing our train with large numbers of school students.

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We found a place near our hotel selling “raumen”, though I still haven’t worked out exactly how ramen differs from raumen. It was quite tasty all the same though. Seemed to be more heavily based on its original Chinese roots than other ramen I’ve had. Sadly, I clean forgot to bring my camera with me for dinner, so I had to make do with a few photos taken from my phone.

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Time for bed, though. When I started this, it was about ten to eight, and I was astonished at how early it was – I felt like I’d been up for ages which, to be honest, is pretty much true, and it’s getting near impossible to keep my eyes open any longer. Time for an early night…

Today’s photo count: Two hundred and seventy-three, including the ones I took on my phone (includes photos I took on Thursday)

Today’s pedometer count: 16,634 steps, or 11.7 km (doesn’t include steps I took on Thursday)

Today’s goshuin count: None, but then, I wasn’t planning to visit any temples.

Today’s stamp count: Four – Yokohama Station, Kannai Station, Sakuragicho Station and Chigasaki Station. Actually, James also managed to spot the stamp at Haneda Airport, which I’d forgotten to look for last time, but sadly at the time I had neither a stamp book nor anything else I could apply the stamp to.

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