The day has come. I finally made it to Japan. Was it love at first sight as I thought it’s going to be? Well, almost. First I had to get better (damn you motion sickness), put something in my stomach, adjust to cold weather and get used to the fact that almost everything & everywhere is going to sing/talk to me. And that’s what the first day was for – adjusting and discovering.
This post is part of a series:
Tokyo Day 1 – first steps in Japan & discovering Shinjuku
Tokyo Day 2 – the day we walked a lot
Tokyo Day 3 – Tokyo Skytree, kimonos and knives
Tokyo Day 4 – the one with an early start
Tokyo Day 5 – the one when we ran away
Red-eye JetStar flight from Melbourne Tullamarine Airport to Tokyo Narita (JQ23) was quite pleasant. Dinner was served promptly (we added meal option to our tickets, the basic one doesn’t offer anything more than tea/coffee and water, but you can buy small snacks during the flight) and – for an airplane, economy class food – was enjoyable.
No more than 2 hours into the flight the lights were dimmed, I used some sleep drops, put on an eye mask and had a bit of a decent snooze. Out of 10 hours I think I slept about 5 in total. It would be more, but we hit turbulence and my recently developed motion sickness decided to make my trip less smooth. So when breakfast was served 2 hours before landing I didn’t even want to look at food and passed my meal to people behind me. At least someone enjoyed it.
There was no option of watching movies, unless you rent an iPad for $10, so it wasn’t easy to make time pass more quickly.
Once we landed and I was able to stand on the ground and wash my face with cold water, sickness passed. Hello Japan, I’m in you!
After passing passport control (which was a mess: people didn’t stand in line, there was no one to tell them they should and there was not enough officers to get rid of the crowd quicker) and getting our bags my mission was to eat something. Before the trip I read that food in convenience stores is good in Japan, so didn’t hesitate to buy a big box of onigiri for JPY248 ($2.60). And it was a hit.
We were also planning on buying a Wi-Fi SIM card and withdrawing money from ATM. Sounds like a basic thing to do, but the cards were sold out and ATM ran out of money. Instead of wasting more time at the airport, we decided to finally head to Tokyo.
There are several options of getting to Tokyo from the Narita Airport. Although N’EX train seems to be the most popular, we went with so called Limousine Bus. Don’t be fooled by the “limousine” part, it’s just a regular looking bus.
They had a promotion for return tickets (Narita-Shinjuku) for JPY4500 ($48) per person, while train was about 20% more expensive. What’s interesting, the promotion was not advertised on any posters, I saw it only on Facebook, and I had to ask for “discounted round trip voucher” while buying our tickets.
If you’re going to Shinjuku, you have an option to be dropped at one of the bigger hotels or West Exit of Shinjuku Station. First half of the way took us through industrial, not too glamorous area, then next to Disneyland through the city to finally, after just over 1 hour, West Exit of Shinjuku Station. Now, let’s test my home-printed maps and usually good orientation – the hotel is no more than 15-minute walk away.
Finding our hotel
Once again people of the Internet were wrong. In many reviews of the Best Western Shinjuku Astina Hotel (update April 2015: now called Citadines Central Shinjuku Tokyo), they were saying how hard it is to find it. While in real life (with a simple, printed map in hand) it was very easy. Good orientation point is Mister Donut just down the street from the hotel. If you found it, you’re nearly there.
Arriving at 10am gave us no other option, but to leave our bags and go and explore. We would have to wait to see our room. Check-in time is 2pm.
As it turned out, their semi-double room, with 140cm-wide bed was enough for us and we didn’t feel claustrophobic or too squeezed in bed at all. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to get a decent sleep in such a small bed, but it was enough.
8 nights, including complimentary breakfasts, cost us JPY129630 ($1390).
Aaaah Shinjuku. You either love it or hate it. We really enjoyed our time there, so I would recommend it for Japan first-timers. It is great as a base for discovering Tokyo and beyond, as you have the Shinjuku Station there. It allows you shop till you drop, with departments stores aplenty (Isetan, Takashimaya, Odakyu just to name a few) plus the famous DonQuixote (I still have the Donki song in my head), quite big UNIQLO and many other shops, you can go for days and still not visit every single one. It gives you a nice choice of restaurants and eateries (some of which are open 24/7), convenience stores on every corner, Golden Gai for tiny bars and the infamous Kabukicho district.
From the second day onwards, I felt like I knew the area quite well and not only remembered where some points of our interest were, but was also able to guide us around without using any maps.
Our first lunch ordered in a Japanese-language-only-machine, first conversations via google translate, first realisation that our coffee addiction means we have to drink Starbucks coffee, first store bought sushi and beer for dinner. It was definitely a day full of “firsts”. And with 12 hours of sleep we planned to get on that first night, our second day looked very promising.
For more photos from our Day 1 go to my Facebook page.