Arriving in Japan

by Anthony on March 18, 2010

Once on the ground, we left the plan via the raised walkways.  We actually had to pile aboard a small train to get from the plane to the airport itself.  This was around 7pm local time, and the airport was very quiet.

Getting through customs was easy.  I stood in line for a couple of minutes, then went up to a counter.  The official took my passport and asked a couple of basic questions.  He had my place my index fingers on a scanner to collect my fingerprints, and used what looked like a webcam to take my photograph.  He then stamped my passport with my tourist visa, and waved me through.

From here, I was very disorientated.  I was planning to spend my first night in Tokyo, then continue on to Nozawa Onsen the following day.  Narita Airport is about an hour away from Tokyo by train, but there are multiple trains you can take.

I found my way to the train platform without taking any wrong turns, which isn’t like me.  Before getting on a train though, I had to collect my rail pass, and purchase a train ticket.

The rail pass was available from the Japan Rail office.  I went in, showed the lady my receipt, and she provided me with the pass.  I confirmed with her that I could use it on 4 non-consequtive days.  The pass is easy to use – just get it stamped at the ticket office, and you can take the train as much as you like for the rest of the day.  I opted to buy a single ticket to Tokyo that night though, as I didn’t want to waste a full day’s use on a single ride.

I found the train to be very impressive.  It had proper baggage racks for bags, so everything could be neatly stored out of the way.  I was even more impressed when I discovered the train had vending machines on it.  Vending machines on the train?  Genious!

I had to get off the train at Ueno station, then change over to the subway in order to get to my hotel for the night.  This involved a short walk.  The subway  line runs very frequently, with a subway coming by every couple of minutes.  I let a few go through before getting on though – they were absolutely packed, and I didn’t want to flatten anybody with my bags.

When I got off the subway at my stop, I had to find my hotel.  I found the street signs a little confusing, and ended up going on quite the hike before I found my hotel.  I checked in at about 9.30, and dropped my bags in my room.  By this point,  I was pretty hungry.  I asked the girl at reception where I could get a feed, and she directed me back towards the subway to find a Ramen place.

This was a very strange experience for me.  The restaurant was very small, with – basically a single room, seperated by counter.  The cook worked on one side of the counter, and there were a couple of tables on the other side.  I sat at the table, and looked around for anything written in english – but found nothing!

There was one other customer there, and it didn’t take long to figure out that neither he nor the chef spoke any english.  Turned out okay though, because the menu had pictures on it.  I just pointed to what I wanted, and he set to work.  I ended up having a spicey pork dish and a couple of beers.

By the way – when you order in beer in Japan, you don’t get a regular glass – you get the larger bottled variety.  Worth knowing!  I was also surprised when the guy next to me started smoking at the counter.  It turns out this is very common in Japan – quite a change from  Australia.

The ramen itself was basically a big bowl of water, with noodles, a single slice of pork, and some vegetables I couldn’t identify.  Very tasty though, and filling.  It was cold outside, and toasty warm inside the ramen shop, so I stayed for a couple more beers before walking back to my hotel.

My room was very small.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone with claustrophobia, but it was big enough to unfold the bedding and stretch out.  The bedding was very comfortable.  There was a thick mattress, and a quilted blanket.  I thought this is what a futon was, but later learned differently.  Anyway, slept very well that first night!

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