I visited Japan late last year for the first time in a while. Here are some of my thoughts from an afternoon transiting through Tokyo.
Travel from Narita airport to the Shinjuku bus station was relatively easy (when making transit plans, do remember that there is more than one international airport in Tokyo). I opted for the cheapest option at ¥1300 (c. $14aud / £7) each which was taking the train (Narita line) followed by the tube around to Shinjuku station. The cost of cheapness is time – the whole trip took around 2 hours (77 minutes on the train followed by around 20 minutes on the tube plus walking / travel time).
The ticket lady at the train office in the airport spoke sufficient English and was helpful and even provided a handy and very complicated map of the underground, which it transpires had none of the stations listed from the airport so I had absolutely no idea where we were. Thankfully the train notifications were in Japanese, but occasionally English and Chinese which meant we could hear “narixxxxx” and were able to jump off at the right point.
The ticket machines are fun too. We were issued with a little pink stub (I wish I’d photographed it) which looked more like a raffle ticket than a train ticket. And this little pink paper stub goes into the barriers which suck it in and spit it out a meter further forward before you have time to blink. Oh and the barriers open too which is handy.
It was a long walk to the bus station from Shinjuku tube, which was partially because there are also two bus stations. For the bus to Hakuba you need to exit from the West exit (through the shopping mall and underground) or South exit and around the corner to the right on the same block. But the additional walk to the wrong bus terminal was refreshing in the crisp 7 degree air and sunshine and it provided experience of the real Tokyo, including the Christmas carols being piped from speakers outside an elevated restaurant area.
Bus tickets could be purchased from the bus station on the day of depature. With tickets in our paws (¥4700 each, aud$50, £25 ish for the five hour journey west) we bundled our bags into an outdoor locker for ¥500 and went in search of lunch / coffee / snacks / culture / warm clothing / something to do for three hours.
Lunch… Well, lunch. When the first lunch option was poo pooed for the existence of a raw egg poured into a bowl of thick white noodles in soup, I decided to take a secondary role in choosing a suitable Japanese lunch venue. Incidentally, we were in the CBD so there were lots of suits and people queuing out of tiny little restaurants to get their snack, so plenty of choice. The option chosen was a very respectable looking sushi restaurant.
It was a proper Japanese lunch with heaps of raw stuff. Quite nice, though we’re not sure what endangered or protected delight we were having. The texture was interesting, just kind of slimy slithering down your throat. I was green behind the gills for a while while trying to eat some of it. But it was a definite experience and once the wasabi, slithery textures and taste of raw fish are put to one side, it was rather filling and tasty. Beautifully fresh and actually incredibly good value for fill-ness at £5 for the plate. The soup which was also provided did however taste and smell like a friend’s farm, or a whisky distillery where the malt is being fermented. Neither of which, while they both produce great things, are smells that I am particularly things that I’m fond of.
It was good just sitting and watching the world go by, and sitting outside in the not cold until you’ve been there for 45 minutes was refreshing and enabled a closer view of normal life on the streets. Observations were:
Fashion – adults dress like children in ill fitting clothes and big chunky shoes, and school girls dress like women in (too) short pleated skirts.
There were a surprisingly amount of older ladies with humped backs and men with walking difficulties.
We were definitely conspicuous being non-Japanese, although everyone was incredibly friendly, helpful and polite.
Everything was clean, well laid out and tidy.
Prices are western prices
It felt really modern but very foreign.
Interesting there were little red triangles pointing down on many windows around the place, which I later learnt was for firefighters to know which windows to break into (the glass is made of thinner material and fire routes should be kept clear inside the building too).