Kami Watch Over Me (Japan Day 0 – Edmonton/Tokyo)

Kami Watch Over Me Series - Table of Contents

EntryNotable Places/EventsStart of DayEnd of Day
Day 0 โ€“ Thursday, Oct 20 2022 to Friday, Oct 21 2022Flight from Edmonton to TokyoEdmontonTokyo
Day 1 โ€“ Saturday, Oct 22 2022Saitama, IkebukuroTokyoTokyo
Day 2 โ€“ Sunday, Oct 23 2022Autumn Reitaisai 9, ShinjukuTokyoTokyo
Day 3 โ€“ Monday, Oct 24 2022AkihabaraTokyoTokyo
Day 4 โ€“ Tuesday, Oct 25 2022HakoneTokyoHakone
Day 5 โ€“ Wednesday, Oct 26 2022Kamakura, Enoshima ShrineHakoneKamakura
Day 6 โ€“ Thursday, Oct 27 2022HannoKamakuraHanno
Day 7 โ€“ Friday, Oct 28 2022ShinkoiwaHannoTokyo
Day 8 โ€“ Saturday, Oct 29 2022Akihabara, Matsudo CityTokyoTokyo
Day 9 โ€“ Sunday, Oct 30 2022M3-50, Moto-YawataTokyoTokyo
Day 10 โ€“ Monday, Oct 31 2022Akasaka, Shimo-Kitazawa, Shibuya HalloweenTokyoTokyo
Day 11 โ€“ Tuesday, Nov 01 2022Shinjuku, Sophia UniversityTokyoTokyo
Day 12 โ€“ Wednesday, Nov 02 2022Sophia University, KabukichoTokyoTokyo
Day 13 โ€“ Thursday, Nov 03 2022Shinjuku LoftTokyoTokyo
Day 14 โ€“ Friday, Nov 04 2022Shinjuku, Hanazono/Asakusa Tori no Ichi, SensojiTokyoTokyo
Day 15 โ€“ Saturday, Nov 05 2022Nagano, ZenkojiTokyoNagano
Day 16 โ€“ Sunday, Nov 06 2022Ueda Sanada Festival, Ueda City, Sanada ShrineNaganoNagano
Day 17 โ€“ Monday, Nov 07 2022Zenkoji, Kyoto, Nakagyo WardNaganoKyoto
Day 18 โ€“ Tuesday, Nov 08 2022Otsu, Omi JinguKyotoKyoto
Day 19 โ€“ Wednesday, Nov 09 2022Fushimi Inari, Kashoji, Tofukuji, ShorinjiKyotoKyoto
Day 20 โ€“ Thursday, Nov 10 2022Ohara, Sanzenin, ArashiyamaKyotoKyoto
Day 21 โ€“ Friday, Nov 11 2022Kiyomizu, Ryozen Kannon, Yasaka ShrineKyotoKyoto
Day 22 โ€“ Saturday, Nov 12 2022Heian Raku Ichi Market, Osaka, JusoKyotoOsaka
Day 23 โ€“ Sunday, Nov 13 2022Sukunahikona Shrine, NambaOsakaOsaka
Day 24 โ€“ Monday, Nov 14 2022Kobe (with Ran)OsakaOsaka
Day 25 โ€“ Tuesday, Nov 15 2022Maibara, Toyosato, NagoyaOsakaNagoya
Day 26 โ€“ Wednesday, Nov 16 2022Osu, Banshoji, NakaNagoyaNagoya
Day 27 โ€“ Thursday, Nov 17 2022Obara Shikizakura Festival, RurikozanyakushiNagoyaNagoya
Day 28 โ€“ Friday, Nov 18 2022Okayama, KurashikiNagoyaKurashiki
Day 29 โ€“ Saturday, Nov 19 2022Kyoto (with Xuanjie), Autumn Okayama Momotaro FestivalKurashikiKurashiki
Day 30 โ€“ Sunday, Nov 20 2022Okayama, Sunrise IzumoKurashikiSunrise Izumo
Day 31 โ€“ Monday, Nov 21 2022Minowa, Enoshima Shrine, Ameyoko MarketSunrise IzumoTokyo
Day 32 โ€“ Tuesday, Nov 22 2022Shibuya, Taito CityTokyoTokyo
Day 33 โ€“ Wednesday, Nov 23 2022AkihabaraTokyoTokyo
Day 34 โ€“ Thursday, Nov 24 2022Shinjuku (with Yaoxiang), HarajukuTokyoTokyo
Day 35 โ€“ Friday, Nov 25 2022Sensoji, Narita Airport, Flight from Tokyo to EdmontonTokyoEdmonton
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts

Thursday, Oct 20 2022 to Friday, Oct 21 2022 (Day 0)

Pre-trip Notes and Stuff (Written Oct 16)

I will be both working remotely as well as editing this blog on the go, if everything goes according to plan, so we shall see if I actually have the ability to balance doing all this at once, or if I will fall way behind like I did on my USA trip. Some days will be work days with a bit of vacation tacked on the side, other days will be vacation days, with me taking the entire day off of work. I’ll largely be working at night or in the mornings though, and taking the afternoons and evenings off to wander the country. In theory..

The title for this blog series, Kami Watch Over Me, comes from a Legend of the Five Rings card, showcased here (local). It’s a card that symbolically lets you retrieve cards that you never got a chance to play, so that you have a second chance at playing them — in this case it acts as a metaphor for me being able to do something that I never was able to do before for various reasons. More broadly, it’s also a prayer for the gods (or spirits, kami are local Shinto spirits) to watch over me on my travels.

I do have a loose list of things I plan to do on this or that day during my trip, but as things are rather fluid right now, I don’t intend to list them as that would lock me into feeling like I have to do certain things or explain why I didn’t. I plan to just wander, and if I end up not going somewhere, or finding other things to do, then that’s fine too. There’s always next trip. That being said, there are festivals and events I plan to visit (although the bulk of the Japanese festivals took place in summer, and are now sadly over), music CDs I hope to find and buy, food-related goals I hope to experience, several places high on the to-visit list that I hope to check off, and so on. I also hope to have some time to just wander — just pick a direction and start walking, or pick a train station to get off at and explore the surrounding area, that sort of thing. I hope to have the time to take some videos, but I might not. They’re kind of a secondary thing since they’re difficult to process and impossible to upload without a dedicated workstation. I also plan to hunt for some nice plushies to add to Tigey‘s army, and eat at least one ice cream parlour that I organically stumble across.

Broadly speaking, if I had one goal with this trip, it is to recce the country (and Tokyo in particular) in preparation for visiting there again next year to study abroad. I’ll be studying for a year at Sophia from Fall 2023 onwards if I have my way, so one of my goals is actually to visit the school and have a look around, and also to immerse myself in the language and culture beforehand so I kind of know the area and how to use the trains and such, and have those memories and experiences to work with once I do come over for my extended stay.

Or I might get the urge to visit Japan out of my system, and never feel like coming here again. Better to do that with this one month trip than be stuck with a one year one if I find that I really hate the place! It’s funny though, at the end of the Singapore trip I said that I had gotten a lot of the nostalgia out of my system and that I had less of an urge to study there or re-visit the place, but that travel weariness has completely evaporated now and I do crave to go there again, except at a much lower intensity since I don’t have 25 years of pent-up emotions anymore. I did find myself wishing I was going to Singapore instead of Japan once or twice during planning, likely because Japan is an unknown beast that speaks a different language, but no. This trip is a desired and necessary event in my life.

Talking about languages, one of the ways I’ve been preparing for the trip is to watch Rambalac’s walking videos and translating/writing down signs that I don’t understand into the diary that I bought last week. That should help immensely, especially since it’s also whetting my appetite for the country. But it’s also so time-consuming, though it’s a lovely activity, because there’s so many videos (not just from him) and articles and things I can read, and so much I can still do from home here to improve the experiences that I will have in the country.

I definitely do expect to feel fatigue from being immersed in a different language, never mind culture, for so long though. But this will hopefully be a good litmus test for me to see if I can stand studying abroad for a year. It will also be the longest solo trip I’ve ever done, clocking in at slightly over a month, and let me briefly experience the digital nomad sort of lifestyle, something I might not be able to do again once I leave my workplace for studying abroad. It did occur to me that I have a pretty good gig currently, and if I give up on studying abroad, I could just continue working here cozily for the rest of my life and enjoy lots of trips abroad…

I will only be bringing along maybe 4 days worth of clothing on the trip tops, and will be doing laundry while over there to supplement that. This means that I can travel just with a backpack and my regular shoulder sling bag and not have to check in any additional luggage on the journey there. I might buy a larger sling bag or small wheeled luggage bag while there if I buy too many souvenirs, though, though it will be annoying lugging that around with me between cities (as well as obviously mark me as a traveller) if it’s too large. Although I am aware that there is a luggage delivery service between cities. Other things that I intend to buy while there, instead of bring along, include an umbrella, a towel, and a small card holder/purse.

One notable thing I am doing on this trip is that I bought several Canada postcards a few days ago from the post office, and will be bringing them along with me as gifts. Not for anyone in particular, but just to give out to random people that I make connections with. Hopefully. I don’t know how well this idea will work, since I’m still more of a (self-confident) introvert than an extrovert, and I might end up just sending my extras to random friends overseas at the end of the trip or something, but I figured it would be a nice memory for the people I meet, or a nice strategic icebreaker. Perhaps. I considered buying as low as three and as high as thirty to give out, but I settled on seven for now, although I might still visit a shop over the next couple days before I leave to pick up some Edmonton-specific ones. The ones I have are scanned below. I picked up 4 of the first one with the country map, and 1 of the rest.

Oct 17 2022 notes

I plan to travel within Tokyo and the immediate Kanto region for the first two weeks that I am there, probably from Oct 21 until about Nov 03/04 or so. After that, I will use a 21-day JR Pass to travel around the rest of the country, and I will be back in Tokyo a couple days before I fly out on Nov 25.

I tried to get that aforementioned JR Pass, or Japan Rail Pass, from the company that had snatched up that very website name, jrpass.com. They’re based in Europe but promised next day shipping to Canada for $19 using Fedex Express Priority. I ordered it on the Sunday before I left (Thursday morning being my flight out) once I learnt that there were no actual authorized JR resellers in Edmonton that I could go buy the JR Pass in person from. What a pathetic city. Despite charging me that $19 though, I received an email on Monday morning saying that instead of using Fedex Express Priority, they had cheapened out and used UPS Express Saver instead, and that it was due to arrive on Thursday afternoon. What cheapskates.

I furiously contacted them and they said they’d ask UPS to discard the package (and to make sure I refuse it if they do attempt delivery anyway) and they’d do a full refund. Unfortunately this means I now have to coordinate with my apartment people to make sure there isn’t a UPS failed delivery notice stuck on the apartment front door for 25 days, broadcasting that I’m out of the country. I do NOT suggest buying from this company if within a week of travel, as they basically tried to cheat their way out of their offered order (my receipt actually says “Fedex Express priority” too and I screenshotted that to them as part of my reply), and added a whole lot of unnecesary stress to my preparation, though to their credit they are at least offering the refund. It’d be hard to contest them if they decide to also cheat on that and keep part of the fee, though, but I’m prepared to do a full chargeback on them if so.

Anyway, while I can buy the pass in the Narita airport as well (it justs cost $60 more), or can even have it delivered to my first place of residence or whatever, I instead called up JTB Canada, and bought a 21 day pass from their online site anyway after confirming that I can pick it up from their Richmond, BC office on Thursday morning itself. That’s one of the nice perks of taking the early plane and having a 6 hour layover — thanks to that, I can actually leave the airport and go pick up the pass during the wait. And the best part of it is that since I was picking it up in person, there were no shipping costs, so I actually saved money over the one from JRPass.

i also bought a new pair of shoes for $160, because my old ones were really tattered and broken down and I figured that it would be a bad idea to actually take that pair along with me on a walking-heavy adventure. I’ve probably had these old black and pink shoes for over 8 years and I love them, but this new pair is white and kind of looks like school shoes, so I like them too. I wish I could replace the laces with my pink ones though but they don’t come off unless I take a pair of scissors to them.

Last night, I reached out to Ran, my Summer Connect buddy, whom (as far as I know) is based in Osaka. She’s apparently working on her graduation thesis now. We tentatively made plans to meet up for lunch sometime, though not sure exactly when yet. When I went out today to get new shoes, I also stopped by Bath & Body Works to pick up a gift for her, although I realized once I got home that the gift wouldn’t actually pass customs because it contains bottles greater than 100 ml in volume. This means I actually probably have to pick up a bag before I leave, and not after. That’s fine though, as I had been eyeing one at Southgate during my past few trips there anyway. I’ll most likely pick it up tomorrow or Wednesday instead of buying one in Tokyo.

My itinerary is all over the place and I still haven’t figured out how many places I plan to visit and how many different things I want to concentrate on. I could concentrate on festivals, on scenery, on music CDs, on anime, on food, on hiking or visiting out of the way attractions, on visiting as many cities or stations as possible, or on specializing in a couple cities, and the options are all quite overwhelming. There should be quite some interesting experiences in store though. I’ve tentatively booked my first place to stay and have about half the trip planned out in terms of what cities I’ll be in on any given date, and that’s it so far. And that’s okay!

Edmonton (Thursday, Oct 20 2022)

I didn’t sleep last night, the plan being that I wanted to get on Japan time as soon as possible, which meant I would try to catch some winks on the outgoing flight from Vancouver to Tokyo instead. My flight schedule looks like this:

Edmonton to Vancouver
AC 233
Takeoff: Oct 20, 6:30 am (MST)
1h 39m โœˆ๏ธ
Land: Oct 20, 7:09 am (PST)
Layover 6h 36m

Vancouver to Tokyo
JL 17
Takeoff: Oct 20, 1:45 pm (PST)
10h 45m โœˆ๏ธ
Land: Oct 21, 4:30 pm (JST)

Which means we’d be taking off from Vancouver at 5:45 am JST, and landing at 4:30 pm. Not great, but airplane sleep tends to be somewhat truncated anyway so that should suffice until the night of Oct 21.

I left my apartment at about 3:30 am, taking an Uber from Southgate LRT to Century Park LRT for $11.36 (and a $2.26 tip), a 7 minute ride in all. Once at Century Park, I settled down by the bus interchange and waited around in the cool morning breeze for the airport bus that would arrive at 4:05 am. There was a Sikh man talking to another Indian security guard about 20 meters away from me, the only other sign of life in the vicinity of the bus interchange that I could see. Suddenly, they broke into a low chanting song and serenaded each other for a couple of minutes. It was weird, cool, and a neat omen for my trip ahead. They stopped long before anyone else showed up, though.

More people showed up as the minute hand climbed toward the zenith of the clock, and by the time the bus arrived at 4:05. there were about eight people or so waiting for the bus. We all clambered on, and I had a mild bit of panic as I searched my bag pockets to try to find my antihistamine pills, unsure whether I had left it behind at home or not. I was pretty sure I hadn’t, but it took me some time before I finally found it tucked away in my little duffel bag that was destined to be checked in. I had purchased that bag from a store in Southgate two days prior, as I mentioned I was going to do above — I expected it to cost somewhere in the vicinity of $100 or so but it actually only cost me $40.

It’s small, which is good, as it acts as an upper bound for what I can carry. I checked that in once I reached the airport, much to the amusement of the Air Canada desk attendant since it was so light, as it basically only contained the Bath & Body Works gift that I had brought along, and a couple extraneous things like those pills, mosquito repellent, and the postcards. I also picked up three more postcards from one of the stores in the airport for slightly over a dollar each, optimistically raising the number of postcards I’m bringing to try to give away on the trip to 10. All my other postcards were Canada ones, so I wanted these three as they were Edmonton specific, displaying our skyline against various shades of blue and purple.

Edmonton to Vancouver plane ride (AC 233)

It was drizzling slightly as we boarded the plane, and for some reason even though we were all buckled in to our seats on time, the plane sat on the tarmac for an additional half an hour before we took off. This, together with needing to pick up my JR Rail card plus what happened below in Vancouver, made me glad I didn’t take the later plane, which would have given me the same second flight but would have been scheduled to land just 1.5 hours before my (same) JAL Narita flight would have taken off. This flight took off at 7:03 am instead of 6:30 am, and landed at 7:26 am instead of 7:09 am.

There was a lot of legroom on this plane. I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure pictures can do it justice, but I feel like nearly every seat was like that.

Just look at that knee room. There was no one in the center seat between me and the guy in the window seat as well, so that was nice.

Since it was a short meal, all they offered was a snack and one drink, and I went with my usual lucky tomato juice for the latter. For the former, it was the same snack as the last time I took this plane, a Biscoff caramelized biscuit.

Vancouver (Thursday, Oct 20 2022)

When I checked in at Edmonton, I was told that because Japan Airlines, my second flight, was not a member of the Star Alliance or whatever that Air Canada was in, so the Air Canada desk couldn’t actually print my boarding pass while they were checking me in. They said I’d have to go speak to the JAL desk at Vancouver to get my second boarding pass. Once we arrived at Vancouver, I asked the Air Canada attendants at our arrival gate where to do this, and was told that I’d have to leave the secure area and go out to the main area, and then check in from the start again. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but there was a little hitch with this that wasn’t apparent to anyone and that I partially avoided by sheer dumb luck.

Firstly, I was okay with going out and then back in again because I had to go collect my JR pass anyway. This entailed finding the airport light rail station and figuring out how to pay for and navigate it. Both of these were easy enough, although it was a little pricey — it was only a couple of stops (and one “fare zone”) away, but it cost $8.10 for a ticket. The ticket lasted 90 minutes though, and I was able to do the entire round trip on the same ticket, so that was something.

I had to travel from the airport to Aberdeen, and this involved a platform change at Bridgeport. For some reason, Google Maps wanted me to go to Marine Drive to do the platform change, but that seemed pointless so I refused and followed the train’s next stop announcements instead.

Despite the plane being delayed a little, the JTB place that I was going to pick up the JR pass for still wasn’t open until 9 am, so I spent about 15-20 minutes walking around. I went into two adjacent malls, Aberdeen Mall (first picture below) and Aberdeen Centre (all the others), and found it weird that all the shops in there were shuttered and not open until 11 am. The slightly cramped/cozy layout of the shops reminded me of Singapore, especially since virtually all the stores were Asian, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was walking through a derelict mall.

Anyway, I eventually made it back to the airport, and found the little quirk with my itinerary. Even though my first plane was supposed to arrive at 7:09 am, Japan Airlines didn’t open its front check-in counter until 3 hours before JL17’s takeoff, which I guess was its first (and possibly only?) flight of the day. So that means that if I had arrived on time and had immediately left the departures/arrivals area and went straight to try to get my boarding pass from the JAL counter, I would have been stuck outside in the extremely boring pre-departures area for 3 and a half hours. Thanks for this really weird ticket, RBC Avion Rewards!

I did have a nice encounter along the way though where a young kid, maybe four years old or so, was chasing his slightly older brother up an escalator while their parents were busy being derelicts. The younger kid fell down in front of me and looked like he was going to burst into tears so I gave him a hand to help him up and then steadied his balance as we reached the end of the escalator so that he wouldn’t fall down again (as he was looking backwards and down the escalator we had just come up, instead of forwards into his bright future). Toddler hands are so nice and small. I should have taken him with me so that I could get a BEDD for Kids meal on my next Narita flight (see the special in-flight meal options link in the Vancouver to Tokyo plane ride section below).

Thankfully with all my minor diversions and general lackadaisical walking speed, it was already about 9:30 am by the time I got to the desk and realized this, so I only had slightly over an hour to wait. There was no queue at that time, so I wandered off somewhere to sit, but when I came back at about 10:15 I saw a line of just over a dozen travelling entities (i.e. my collective term for families, groups, solo travellers, etc) lined up and waiting for the gate to open already, so I joined that queue. And thank goodness I did, for the queue got much longer behind me soon after I joined, especially when a gaggle of girls in neatly-dressed school uniforms, about two dozen in all, joined the line with their facilitators in what must have been the end of either some sort of school trip or exchange program. I did at least witness a nice scene here as well, where at 10:43 am, the five or six JAL desk attendants lined up in front of the line of patiently waiting travelling entities, and bowed to us all in unison after saying something I was too far away to hear. Without further issue, I checked in and went back into the departures area.

I had lunch from a store named Hanami Express in the food court here, Char Siew and Fish Ball in Rice Noodle Soup, to the tune of $15.74. Overpriced airport stuff.

After that, I went to my first ever airport lounge, the SkyTeam Lounge at the Vancouver airport. Access to it was granted by my new Visa Infinite card (6 free airport lounge accesses per year, on a use it or lose it basis) and they apparently use DragonPass as their affiliate system, which this lounge accepted. I found out that there was a complimentary noodle bar up there in the lounge, which means I could have saved money if I just had lunch there instead, oh well. That didn’t stop me from having Second Lunch anyway.

The fried noodles (with vegetarian oyster sauce) were actually kinda terrible, but the breaded Chicken Stuffed Kiev at the top was excellent, and whatever the little tarts next to it were (they were from the Salad and Sides bar too) were excellent as well. The siew mai on the left in the separate bowl were also yummy.

I then hung out in the bar until it was time for boarding, before I went down and joined the peasants waiting in the crowded gate waiting area.

Vancouver to Tokyo plane ride (JL 17)

This flight was supposed to leave at 1:45 PST and land at 4:30 pm JST, but takeoff (I count it as the moment the wheels lift up into the air) was actually at 2:22 pm PST and landing was 4:32 pm JST, although with all the waiting at the arrival gate, because Japan’s Narita Airport is still extremely inefficient, it took another 20 or so minutes at least before I could disembark. The plane ride itself was uneventful, the best kind of plane ride there is, and while I was on the aisle seat of the middle column this time, there was no one between me and the other person on the other end of the middle column of seats too so I lucked out with more space and privacy again.

I had selected a Seafood Meal option on the JAL website during seat selection right after purchase, which was a complimentary page where you could select special in-flight meals (local).

While we were waiting for takeoff, they came up to my seat and made me (and others who had selected meal plans) confirm our name and plan like they were doing some sort of security check, and then placed a green sticker on my seat tray as well as the top of the seat. Our meals were then delivered about 10 minutes or so ahead of other people who had not requested a meal and had to pick something from the general cart. The first meal looked like this:

The potatoes were fantastic. They also came by with green tea afterwards. The second meal looked like this:

And well, this one was weirder (one slice of sashimi with salad underneath?) but it was fine.

Outside of a flight attendant mistaking the Korean child in front of me as my kid at one point, I spent the rest of the time napping, playing Vampire Survivors on the Steam Deck, taking screenshot scans of all the JAL booklets in the seat pocket that I will upload sometime or other, and watching this TV show (ใ‚ฟใ‚ฏใ‚ทใƒผ้‹่ปขๆ‰‹ใ•ใ‚“ไธ€็•ชใ†ใพใ„ๅบ—ใซ้€ฃใ‚Œใฆใฃใฆ๏ผ) on the in-flight entertainment, which was basically a show where the TV Tokyo hosts took turns asking taxi drivers to take them to their favourite local places to eat at and then did a mini review on the shop and the driver’s favourite dish there, before having the four hosts in the studio watch each one and give their reviews (mostly jokes and “ooh that’s too yummy” comments):

I also realized something near the end of this trip, though. I had forgotten to bring along a spare external battery pack, which meant that I would have to be careful each day with my phone charge to ensure it doesn’t run out and leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere without a map app or a way to access my emails or Google. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to pick up an external portable battery charger at some point while here. The one I have at home is really heavy anyway.

Japan (Friday, Oct 21 2022)

Once the plane landed, we got off the plane in groups, the first group being those people heading for plane transfers, then local nationals, then everyone else. As far as I could tell most of the local nationals, especially those towards the back, waited for the last group and got off together anyway. It was weird and inefficient, as was the army of airport staff waiting outside to check the status of my pre-flight vaccination registration app (called MySOS, which I had done about four days prior), as the first one gave me a blue slip of paper signifying that my app showed a pass, and at least four subsequent groups of staff along the one single passage we could walk down also checked for the blue slip of paper as well as occasionally the app bar code itself too. There were also staff standing attentively at every turn in the passage as though they were afraid that people would not figure out how to turn a corner and would walk into a wall or something. And then we had to submit that blue form at the final border immigration counter again anyway. So inefficient.

After immigration was baggage pickup, which passed without issue (I was slightly worried my bag would get misrouted due to the 6 hour wait), and then customs, where I realized that JAL had not given me a customs form to fill in (in my experience, this is usually given out by the flight attendants just before landing). Whatever, there were customs forms right there next to the customs area anyway, so I filled one out and promptly got called over going through customs so an officer could look through my bag anyway. But I passed that without incident too. The customs officer chatted me up once I said I was here for the first time and asked if I knew about local Japanese customs (I said yes). He opened up the notebook I had brought along (to check for illicit stuff? one of the items on the checklist he showed me was unauthorized copies of things, but he didn’t look through electronics or anything like that even though I had a laptop and external hard drive and phone with me) and I showed him the vocab list I was building in that notebook, and he was impressed by that, and then if I knew any Japanese actors (I said no). I asked him to name one that he liked (so I could go look them up) and he couldn’t give me an answer either though!

Once I was past that checkpoint, I was finally fully in Japan. I went to the Terminal 2-3 train station area, where I traded in my JR Pass receipt for an actual pass, giving the counter clerk an activation date of Nov 05 for when I wanted the pass to start. He asked (in English) if I wanted to reserve any tickets too and I said no. He then pointed me to a machine next to the counter where I could buy a Suica pass card, basically a transit cash card, from, and I did so. Although even though that thing had English options, the machine menu selection process was awkward and I had to get a bit of help from an attendant in order to actually purchase it. I was also warned in advance about this from reading online accounts in the prior week that foreign credit cards didn’t work on this system because Japan is so behind the times in terms of payment, and this was true, as my Visa was outright rejected, so I paid with cash instead.

I then went back into the terminal itself to try to find somewhere that I could rent a SIM card from. I apparently had to book in advance to get some of the better deals (and I still might, later on in this trip), but I ended up going for a 90 days/10 GB prepaid SIM card from Softbank. This cost 6935 yen after taxes. Here’s a line of toy machines I then passed by on the way to the terminal. Las Vegas has its airport slot machines, whereas Narita has these, I guess.

After this, I planned out the route to the inn/hostel where I was going to be staying at for the first few days. The suggested app for this (and the one I used) was not Google Maps, although that does work as well, but a website called Hyperdia, which I turned into a handy home screen link on my phone. It gave me a route using the Keisei Skyliner from Narita Airport Terminal 2-3 to Nippori Station (express, one stop away), and then a transfer to the JR Yamamote line (inner loop) from there to get to the station I needed to get to, Takadanobaba. I went past the transit gate with my Suica card, then realized from a sign inside that I needed a secondary ticket to get onto the Skyliner train, so I talked to the station’s ticket attendant, who swiped my card on some machine he had, which let me out so I could buy it from yet another ticket counter. This ticket cost 2570 yen but gave me a reserved train seat on a specific train (#62, the next one coming along in 8 minutes), and I used my Visa card here just fine. I carded my way back past the toll gates without incident (or any extra fee) and headed to the train platform.

Here, I found out that I technically didn’t actually need a ticket, this Keisei Skyliner train shared a platform with a slower Keisei-Ueno Rapid-Limited Express train thing that did not require a reserved seating ticket (and would only have cost 1030 yen or so), but it would have turned an express 38 minute ride into one that was around an hour and 10 minutes, plus the seats were a nice bonus since I was lugging bags along, so there was that. The train station was quite crowded, with several dozen people waiting for the next rapid-limited train. I also found out later on that there was a way for tourists to combine a Skyliner ticket with a discounted 24-48-72 hour Tokyo Subway ticket by ordering in advance, which would have been nice too, but c’est la vie. Figuring out how to the train system is a major goal of this trip as well. (There was also a separate gate to a JR station at that Terminal 2-3 nexus area, which I will probably be using for my return trip on Nov 25.)

The Skyliner train ride was nice and comfortable. No one asked to see my ticket, although several ticket conductors walked by, and the express train blazed by several stations on its way to Nippori station. It was around 7pm by then and the skies were surprisingly already pitch black, so I couldn’t see much from the train window except when it passed by the area around a station, since Narita airport is located on the outskirts of the Greater Tokyo area. Nippori station was a big transfer hub, and the central area looked like this:

I had a little trouble going through the gate at first because it said I needed to purchase a JR ticket so I asked the attendant if the Suica pass was enough. He noted that I had just alighted from the Skyliner (which was about 10 feet away) and asked to see my pass, but I couldn’t find it in the mass of papers and receipts that I had by that point. He pressed some button and asked me to swipe my Suica card at the gate and let me through anyway. In hindsight, he might have been looking to see if I had purchased that extra Tokyo subway addon ticket, maybe, but I hadn’t. Oh well. Either way looking confused helped, I think (but cannot confirm) that I didn’t end up paying for this ride.

I went down to the Yamamote Line platforms (which were behind me and to the right from the point of view of that picture) and waited for my first JR train. This green loop train is one of the most important/crowded lines in Tokyo, if I am not mistaken, and at this time of night it was quite full of people commuting home from work or school.

At least I wasn’t on wherever this Tohoku Shinkansen line was:

Train announcements were made in both Japanese and English (and I had also seen some earlier signboards cycle through Korean as well) and included the name of the next train station, the transfers that could be made from there, and whether the train door would open on the left or right side. It strongly reminded me of my experiences on the Seoul transit system about eight years ago or so.

My stop was eight stops away, and I watched the people floating on and off before it was my turn to get off. Takadanobaba was a very busy station since it was in the heart of the college town/neighbourhood around Waseda University, and my phone was almost dead by this time, but I walked past some nice night city scenes before eventually managed to find the place I was going to be staying at for the next four nights.

Tama Ryokan

Tama Ryokan, or ๅคšๆ‘ฉๆ—…้คจ, is a little building buried just off the main Waseda-doori road, to the east of the Takadanobaba station.

Despite being practically adjacent to a road with tons of thoroughfare, both vehicular and pedestrian, the place was nice and quiet, if a little small, but well worth its price of something like 4000-5000 yen a night for a room as well. They have six rooms for rent, and an old Japanese woman speaking halting English tends to the place. She looked up at me confusedly as I entered though — apparently her husband, who had attended to my booking through booking.com’s website and even answered a couple questions I had there, was on a trip to Malaysia at the moment and had neglected to actually add my listing to the tracking spreadsheet that they used or informed his wife about it.

Thankfully they still had a room available, so she showed me to it and gave me a quick tour of the house. It was cramped, or cozy, as I prefer to think of it, with two sets of long, narrow stairs leading up to the second floor, and each floor being basically one passage with well-aged wooden doors or paper sliding doors leading off to little rooms. The entire place was left unlocked so that we could come and go at any time, since it was a safe neighbourhood — the owner, Eiko Shimizu, said that she was born here and had been living here for 70 years and had never had an incident in this neighbourhood. Some of the rooms themselves were lockable, though only from the inside.

The place technically has five bathrooms, although each one was tiny — one upstairs was just a toilet bowl next to a window without a sink or tub or anything in it (although it has a nice heated bidet), and a tiny room next to that one had two urinals and no sink. Not sure if that room was really meant to be used or not, even by guys. There was a long, metal, school canteen style sink outside though. Downstairs was the shower room, which consisted of a bathtub and a little showering area next to it. There were two little crawlies on the wall when she was showing me around the place, but none when I actually returned to use it later. As long as they don’t fly or aren’t too big I’m fine with that though. I figure the transient bug population comes in and out, since a lot of the ryokan’s windows were left open or at least ajar. Lastly, there were two more toilets downstairs side by side, these were bathrooms that were apparently shared with a building next door, a curry restaurant that her sister owned and operated. She said that those were backup toilets for if the one upstairs was in use, and to make sure to use the correct exit door if I did ever use it, since they also had doors that went back out to the restaurant.

Eiko was super nice and patient, even though her English wasn’t perfect and she got confused once or twice by me. Still better than my broken Japanese though. The place only had two-prong power plugs in the wall, but she brought me a travel adaptor to use for my laptop, which required a Canadian three prong plug, showed me how to operate the heater in the room if needed (it wasn’t, it was about 15 degrees Celsius and I left the window ajar the entire night for the gloriously gentle, distant night city noises) and even offered me some Pocky chocolate.

I didn’t take many pictures of the place (since it was night and all) but I did take a couple of my room and all my worldly possessions.

As well as one of the view from the main entryway:

And a random vending machine across from the front door of the inn:

After settling in, I went out to source some food. I ended up at an eatery called Matsuya, where there was a ticketing machine (that had an English mode that translated about half the things it needed to translate into English) where I could make a selection and get a food ticket from. This accepted my Visa card, though like every other machine I had seen so far, it required the actual card and did not accept tap to pay systems.

My first meal in Japan thus turned out to be a “Set Meal of Stir-fried Pork with Ginger Soy Sauce, Salad” (่ฑš็”Ÿๅงœ็„ผๅฎš้ฃŸ, or grilled pork with ginger set meal), and a free big bowl of rice, for 750 yen.

The cook came over to take the food ticket from me once I had finished ordering, and delivered the tray about five minutes later. It wasn’t particularly amazing, but it was pretty great after a long plane trip, especially since it came with a lot of side bottlles of condiment as well. I liked the shape of these little bottles.

After this, I bought some tea from a vending machine so that I’d have a bottle to fill up with water,ย  for the next day, went back to the inn, had my shower, and then zonked right out at around 10:45 pm or so.

Total time from the time I left my house to when I fell asleep here was just over 28 hours. Also, I think my new shoes are giving one of my toes a blister, though that’s partially my fault as I didn’t wear socks (who wears socks onto an airplane? The correct way of travelling in relative comfort on an airplane is to be able to take off your shoes!).

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