I returned from my month long stay in Japan almost two months ago. I promised to blog while I was in Japan but with the exception of the brief thoughts I shared during my first day there, I didn’t blog at all. I do feel a little regret because I really wanted to write down each day’s experiences, but I also feel I made up for it by taking so many photos.
Instead of daily blog posts, I have decided the next best thing would be summaries of my stay, breaking it down by each week. It has taken me almost two months to write this down because, as sappy and ridiculous this may sound, I really miss being in Japan and I feel a bit sad and nostalgic when I reminisce. However, I really want to share with my family and friends what I did in Japan and what I experienced while there. So please enjoy this first entry!
The Plane Ride
Let’s start at the very beginning, indeed. This trip was the first time I left the country, so it was my first experience flying internationally. It was also the longest plane ride I’d ever taken. To match the theme of firsts, the plane we flew on was the largest plane I’d ever seen.
The Malaysia Airlines plane was an older plane, meaning it had no wi-fi. It did at least have a little in-seat console that had an entertainment center that allowed you to listen to music, watch movies, and track the plane’s location, but the UI was horrible so it was a bit frustrating to use. That said, the flight was 11 hours long, so I ended up watching 3 films: In Time, Caught in the Web, and The Duchess. I couldn’t really sleep at all during the long flight, but I did doze off during the Duchess (sorry Keira Knightley) and slept for about 2 hours. In Time was not the best movie, but Caught in the Web was very interesting! I recommend it!
The rest of the time I was watching movies and listening to J-pop and K-pop on the in-flight console. I was also excited to have my first international in-flight meal! Malaysia Airlines food was decent—I’ve had worse food in actual restaurants in San Francisco! My only real complaint about Malaysia Airline from the flight to Tokyo were that you couldn’t easily use your own headphones for the console (you needed to use their horrid headphones with two jacks for left and right audio).
Arrival in Tokyo
My flight arrived late at night and a day later than when I arrive. Perhaps it was the adrenaline, but I still felt very awake and energetic. I followed along with my fellow passengers as we made our way to immigrations and customs. I’m a bit of a worrier, so I had looked up Japan’s customs/immigration procedures online for weeks before my arrival. I also checked reviews to see how long it usually takes to get through Narita and get into Japan. I read online that it takes about 30 minutes to an hour, but a full hour was rare. I must have been unlucky, because it took an hour for me to get through the line. I also did a lot of worrying about getting through security for no reason, because the immigration and customs staff were very friendly and efficient. I got my passport stamped and was allowed entry without any issues.
Although I made it through immigration easily, because of the long wait, most of the shops and counters in Narita were closing. I was quite shocked how early things closed in Narita. Before the flight, I had researched where I could rent a Japanese cell phone ahead of time and ended up renting a phone in LA because the Japanese rental shops in Narita all closed around 10:00pm. What I didn’t anticipate was the Japan Rail (JR) office being closed. That meant I couldn’t pick up my JR pass—a JR pass is a special pass that lets foreigners ride most JR trains on the same pass without needing to purchase separate fare. It’s a great deal if you’ll be traveling outside of the Tokyo metro, so I really wanted to pick it up. I headed to the basement level where the office was, but the pass office closed 10 minutes before I got there.
Living the High Life: Riding the Airport Limousine Bus
Feeling a bit frantic, I headed back upstairs and located the Airport Limousine bus ticket counter. The Airport Limousine Bus has a funny name but it’s basically a shuttle bus that takes you to or from the airport for about 3,000 yen ($30). I went to purchase a ticket, and felt a bit of panic rising as I waited in line. There were only 3 shuttles left—one leaving in 5 minutes at 10:30, then two more shuttles leaving at 11:00 and 11:30. I didn’t think I would make the 10:30, so I planned on asking for a ticket for 11:00pm. The ticket agent helping me either didn’t feel like speaking English or assumed my greeting of こんばんは (konbonwa, “good evening”) meant I wanted to speak in Japanese. The latter makes sense now of course, but at the time, I was a bit flustered and stammered out in broken Japanese that I had a reservation ticket voucher, forgetting to specify which time I wanted. The lady working gave me a ticket for the next bus and told me to go to pickup area number 13. I thanked her and looked at the ticket’s departure time—22:30. That was 10:30pm in 12-hr time format, which was 1 minute away. I took off in a panic out the nearest exit, lugging my enormous suit case and carry-on, thinking that area 13 for shuttle pick-up would be far away. It was not too far, but because I was scared to be late, I ran there as best as I could with all of my luggage. Looking quite flustered, I ran up to the super cheerful group of men standing outside the bright orange shuttle bus. They took my luggage and loaded it onto the bus for me. They gave me a voucher ticket for my luggage and directed me on to the train.
I wrote way too much, so I will break this entry up into more manageable posts. Look for the next one tomorrow!