Surprisingly, NRT was the least impressive Asian airport I encountered on this trip. If I had to rank them, I’d say HKG > SIN > KUL > NRT, although that’s a bit unfair to SIN, since I didn’t spend that much time in it and it was midnight. And let’s not talk about North American airports.
I thought travelling around Asia made me pretty good at navigating train stations. Unfortunately, I was not prepared for the massive labyrinths that are JR stations. Compounding the horror that is Shinjuku station was the fact that this was essentially my entry point to Tokyo. After the harrowing experience of trying to escape it for the first time, it still took me a good 10-20 minutes navigating my way through the station every trip for the first few days.
For example, on the first night, I had to get to Shibuya from Shinjuku. Instead of doing what a person who knows what they’re doing and taking one of the JR trains, I decided to take the metro there from Shinjuku 3-chome. For some reason, I’d assumed that Shibuya was on the Marunouchi line, which it isn’t. Whoops, and once I’d passed through the gates, there was no way for me to go back out and get on the proper line. So I travelled one station, got out, and went back. Actually, I had to do this twice, because the first time, I forgot to actually exit the gates. And after getting back from Shibuya that night, I discovered that if I had walked a bit further down the platform, I’d actually walk right onto the platform for the line I’d originally needed to get on.
My smartphone was insanely helpful, since the Japanese addressing system is entirely unhelpful to foreigners. Streets aren’t named. Instead, things are divided into districts and blocks and numbered as such. This kind of makes sense for finding a place, but it doesn’t seem very good for finding out where you yourself are.
I think it was here where the concept of train electrification clicked for me. When I think back, I did very little travelling on the metro here. Most of it was on JR trains, which you can kind of think of as analogous to the GO trains. So it’s essentially what we have as regional commuter rail, but they can run it with subway frequencies. Also, their trains are very punctual.
I stayed at a capsule hotel because there was a deal going on when I booked and it ended up being mad cheap (about as much as it cost per night as my stay in KL and KL is mad cheap). It was a neat experience and the location was very convenient. I’m not sure if I’d do it again, just because it’s a hassle having to stash your luggage in a public area and especially the lack of access during the day (capsule hotels are usually closed for cleaning).
I decided to get a travel lock for my luggage, since it was being stored in a relatively publicly accessible area. I went to the nearby Muji to see if they had any since I noticed they had them on the website. The store only had the combination-style locks but not the key locks so I asked a lady who worked there if they had any and showed her what I wanted on my phone. She tried finding it on the shelves and came back and apologized and went on the computer to look and couldn’t find it and apologized and got another person to help and went to the back to look and this took a number of minutes before she came back and apologized because they didn’t seem to carry it. I felt bad because she seemed really disappointed.
One night, I got back to Shinjuku on the last train after nomihoudai. It was really weird because the area that I walk through to get to my hotel is usually bustling with izakayas and restaurants but it was completely dead. My hotel was in Kabukicho, which apparently is a pretty sketchy place at night and especially after most reputable establishments close. When I was about a minute away from my hotel, I started to get followed by a really sketchy looking dude trying to push something. I held up my hand and sped up, but he kept following uncomfortably until I just went ‘LOOK SORRY I don’t speak Japanese’.
I think my biggest regret was going to fast food places. I thought Lotteria or Mos Burger would be decent. They’re not. The electricity they provide in the seating areas is much more delicious.
Cicadas there are hella loud and never shut up. When I was in Ikebukuro, after a bit of exploring, I sat down at a park. All I could hear was these bugs.
Japan is really hot and humid during that time of year. I can’t begin to count how many yen I threw at 7-11 and FamilyMart for bottles of tea because of the heat. After wandering around Ginza and checking out the flagship Uniqlo there, I thought I’d check out the Imperial Palace. I walked to a corner and felt dread because it was way bigger than I expected and really hot. I walked across the moat and sat down under a tree. Then I walked back across the moat and down to a metro station because I did not have the energy or willpower to walk the entire way around the gardens in that heat.
Going around Shibuya was really cool because The World Ends With You did a great job adapting the physical layout and capturing the feel of the area. When I was there, I remembered there was the big Tower Records there and I went to check it out and to listen to the new Soutaiseiriron album for the first time, which had come out while I was in Hong Kong. Listening to CDs in a record store, how quaint.
Another train confusion story! I decided to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market one day and it has a stop on the Oedo line. Taking the Oedo line from Shinjuku is super confusing because the Oedo line is a giant backwards lowercase sigma ($\sigma$). Inside Shinjuku station, there are two Shinjuku stops: Shinjuku and Shinjuku-Nishiguchi, but they’re separated by the intersection of the loop and tail part of the $\sigma$. Since Shinjuku-Nishiguchi was closer to where I was standing, I took the train from there. To get to Tsukijishijo from there, you had to take the train to Tochomae and then get off to transfer to another train going towards Shinjuku.
They use every digit in the prices over there, so you’ll have things that cost, say 103 JPY. Why? Who knows, but this means that they will hand over piles of change if you pay with an unoptimal set of currency and have no choice but to weep silently as you accept 97 JPY in coins.
Nintendo 3DS StreetPass is one of those features that makes a million times more sense once you use it in Japan. Every time I stopped walking was a good time to clear StreetPasses. I don’t think I would’ve been a tenth of the way as far as I am in some StreetPass games as I am now.
So I mentioned the Ginza Uniqlo. I was prepared to be blown away and drop a ton of cash on excellent Uniqlo stuff, but I wasn’t and didn’t. Part of the reason was that I’d gotten most of what I wanted in HK and part of it was that in some ways, the selection was actually worse than normal stores. I’d read that this might be because that Uniqlo is a huge tourist draw, which means stuff runs out faster. I found the Uniqlos in Shinjuku had more stuff I was looking for so that theory seems to hold up.