(This is the first of 11 posts on my awesome Japan trip. I’m gonna blog about it from the very beginning all the way to the end!)
Our flight to Tokyo was at 8:30 in the morning! To be in time to check in at 6 or 7ish, we would have to wake up at 5am. That is, like, freakin’ early! So, I came up with the brilliant idea of going to the airport the night before and spending the night there instead!
Of course, I wasn’t about to do this alone! I dragged a friend down with me to help pass my last hours in Singapore. Very coincidentally, I also ran into an old friend of mine at the airport at 3am! What are the odds of that right?
With our laptops, coffee from the Pacific Coffee Company and a half-dozen box of Munchy Donuts (which, by the way, were not very good. I lost the pretty pink one to the ground too), we went through the entire night without sleep! I knew I could always sleep during the 7-hour flight!
The hours flew by and soon it was time for our flight. We bid farewell to Singapore (on her independence day, no less!) and got on our flight.
You know those flight safety videos that play on board the plane right before it takes off? They tend to be boring don’t they? Well, not if you’re flying on a Japanese airline! The Japanese are so good at coming up with cute stuff!
The last time I flew on JAL, the cute flight safety videos that played on the monitors left me with a deep impression. This time round ANA didn’t disappoint either! The animations looked so cute and lively, passengers couldn’t help but watch the whole thing!
Some cirrus clouds we spotted along the way.
We were served sparkling wine in an interesting black bottle. I thought it would put me to sleep. Instead, I spent most of the time on the flight watching Shrek 3 and Pingu!
Pingu is a Japanese cartoon with cute clay penguins. I couldn’t understand a word but watched it anyway. I love penguins! Penguins are cool!
Lunch was creamy seafood penne marinara. And more wine!
Then, we spotted the faint sight of a mountaintop peeking through the clouds. That’s Mount Fuji! It could only mean one thing — we were approaching Tokyo!
There were some very low-lying clouds. Notice how they were so low-lying, they even cast shadows on the sea!
Then, it was fields after fields of lush greenery in different shades. Japan looked beautiful! I’m not quite sure which part of Japan that was. Does anyone know? It certainly looked too green to be the urban Tokyo. Was it Narita?
Finally, the plane touched down at the Tokyo Narita Airport!
During my brief stopover at the same airport on my way to and back from Dallas last November, I remember Japan as a land of vending machines.
There were even cigarette vending machines, which we later realised could be found in ubiquity throughout Tokyo.
We bought our first vending machine items in Japan — ice cream!
Besides vending machines, Tokyo is also a place with hi-tech toilets such as this particular one at the airport. I didn’t know what half the gizmos did in there, but I know there were butt washers built within the toilet bowl, and music that played at the press of a button. Toilet courtesy, anyone?
After purchasing and collecting our various transportation passes from the airport, we were ready to take on Japan!
From the airport, there are trains that run directly to the most popular districts in Tokyo, such as the city area and Shinjuku, where our hotel was located.
This is me on board the train, looking shagged after going an entire night plus a 7-hour flight without sleep! Again, I was on my laptop browsing through my photos. I meant to blog during the trip, like I did previously in my solo trips to Thailand and Hong Kong. But there just wasn’t time!
We had a beautiful view of a Japan sunset from the train. Along the way, the scenery was mainly of greenery and lone houses.
Here’s Xanthe and I looking shagged.
And here’s Shinjuku train station, the busiest train station in the world! It has about a dozen different routes plying through it and serves a couple million of people daily.
Click to enlarge
Remember this subway map? We utilised it to the max for most of the following 11 days.
Bustling Shinjuku at night. We picked a hotel that’s located in this area because it’s extremely accessible to all places, although this place is said to be pretty sleazy at night too.
Check out those tall buildings with their unique tops! That plenitude of colourful neon signboards can hardly be seen in Singapore! I think we have some law against that or something.
By nightfall, we were already exhausted and hungry from lugging all our luggage around. We were walking towards our hotel when we spotted this Japanese fast-food eatery along the road.
Within the glass cabinet display were several plastic replicas of the food. The seller in the eatery didn’t understand a word of English, while we didn’t understand a single word of Japanese. We didn’t know how to go about ordering our food! Eventually, we realised there was a vending machine right outside the eatery that we had to use.
Of course, the vending machine was entirely in Japanese! Every button corresponded to a certain dish but we were totally clueless as to what the Japanese characters read!
(At this point, my friend Beni who’s working and living in Japan called me up. I whined that we couldn’t order our food from the Japanese seller. He laughed and said “Just tell him ‘Chicken! Chicken!’ before putting down the phone.)
In the end, we took the following complicated series of steps to get our food:
1. Capture a photo of the plastic food replica in the display window on my trusty LG Shine.
2. Go back into the eatery and show the photo to the seller.
3. Seller tells me, or rather, writes me the number “16″ on the table counter with his fingers. (that’s when I learned that the dish I wanted was katsu don! Hey, I knew that in Japanese!)
4. Go to the vending machine, slot in coins and press the #16 button. Ka-ching!
5. Retrieve “food coupon”!
6. Give coupon to seller.
7. Seller serves food within 30 seconds.
My katsu don! That’s chicken with rice. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the fact that I was practically starving, but it tasted exceptionally good to me! The don and miso soup were awesome and quite different from the way they taste in Singapore.
Ramen, pronounced “la-men”. You’re supposed to slurp it really loudly to signify how much you’re enjoying the food. After trying for 11 days, my friend informed me that I still wasn’t doing it right. Instead of slurping, I was sucking.
The spoon that came with the ramen had a useful groove, allowing it to rest nicely on the rim of the bowl.
Scene from within the cramped eatery. Why on earth does this guy have black hands?
On our way to the hotel, we passed by a long row of vending machines again. Just then, I was wondering how to greet someone in Japanese. At that exact point in time, a group of Japanese guys walked past and said “Moshi moshi” to us! Ah, moshi moshi!
We stopped by the 24-hour convenience store to stock up on snacks and drinks. Practically all the drinks, juices, tea and coffee were sugarless! Argh! The horror!
Hundreds of magazine titles were carried by convenience stores all over, mostly with scantily clad women on the covers. All those magazines could be browsed freely! You could frequently see men standing there, reading them from cover to cover.
This one is for the guys — hentai and magazines with almost fully naked Japanese girls!
Finally, we made it to the Sunlite Shinjuku Hotel. There was free in-room broadband internet access (yay!) and Japanese robes that we could wear, rather than the usual bathrobes.
We called it a night with all the chocolate, ice cream, drinks and beer we got from the convenience store earlier. A long day awaits tomorrow!