The Japan Trip – Friday night to Food tour

Posted: November 8, 2014 in Diners Club
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The craziness of the journey that Shane and I were to embark on only began to sink in as I was leaving work on Friday afternoon. Up until then I had been too busy to really think about the trip. We had caught up during the week to book a tour and discuss the trip, but really there hadn’t been a lot of planning involved since we had booked the restaurant in early September. When Shane arrived with the suitcase, it all got a little bit exciting – I packed hurriedly, and we enjoyed a beer while we waited for our driver to arrive – of course we weren’t getting a lift to the airport or catching a regular taxi, we were going in style. The trip to the airport was uneventful, on the journey there we organized for our driver to pick us up on the Monday night, until then we hadn’t given much thought to Monday. Friday to Monday, 20hrs of flights, two nights and two full days in Tokyo. This was going to be fun. Checking in and getting through customs was straight forward, and pretty soon we were on our way to find a drink and collect ourselves before the adventure began. Thankfully Shane still had his gold Qantas frequent flyer status (Which expired on the 31st October!) so we had access to the Qantas international business lounge.

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Free food and drink is always appreciated! Thanks Qantas International Business Lounge!

It makes a difference to the start of the journey, being able to sit, relax and just get a drink or a bite to eat whenever you feel like it. We had about an hour and a half in the lounge before boarding – and then we were on our way. We were on the A330-200 which is configured in a 2-4-2 seating arrangement, I’d selected two seats in the window so it was nice not to have to share with a stranger or have to worry about climbing over 2 people. The Jetstar international seats have a bit more leg room than the domestic ones, and so even though Shane and I are both over 6ft, we still had enough room to be reasonably comfortable. Ok, so it’s no Qantas business class lay flat bed, but whatever – it did the job. The flight’s pretty easy, 10hrs give or take, overnight landing in the morning, I got about 4hrs of good sleep and dozed for another 2, Shane probably got a little less.

Landing in Narita was easy, getting through customs was efficient, very little Japanese between the two of us was no problem at all – all the signs were in English and Japanese. I even managed to purchase a coke at a little kiosk. I knew a couple of words – I tried those out, the man responded in Japanese, I smiled and nodded, showed him the coke I wanted, smiled and nodded some more and eventually gave him some money and he gave me the coke. Japanese is easy…

Because Shane Sucks at photo's, I thought I'd include a pic of what the train actually looks like - and some info about it. It's no shinkansen, but it was still cool

Because Shane  and I suck at photo’s, I thought I’d include a pic of what the train actually looks like – and some info about it. It’s no Shinkansen, but it was still cool

We had booked the Skyline express to Nippori, a fast train, the goes about 160kph and gets you into Nippori station which is on the Yamanote JR line. I was expecting some challenges catching public transport, but it was so easy. We had to change in Nippori, and purchase tickets to get us to Shinjuku. Once again, simple task – we asked at the help desk, they spoke English, we got our tickets and we were directed to the platform to catch the train. Easy. Why can’t we get a public transport system in Melbourne that works like this? It was about 9am by the time we got to Shinjuku – there didn’t seem to be a huge amount of people around, and a lot of shops hadn’t opened yet. The Shinjuku station by the way is huge – and mostly underground. However the signage makes sense and is easy to follow. We eventually climbed out of the station to be greeted by Shinjuku. Wow. This place is like times square – but crazier. Billboards everywhere, quite a few people out and about, even though a lot of shops are still closed – This was my Dorothy moment – I was not in Kansas anymore.

Our first mission was to get to the hotel, Shane’s GPS made that task pretty easy and after about 20mins of wondering around Shinjuku we arrived at the Grandbell hotel. Since check-in didn’t open until 3pm we got them to hold our bags, I changed in the toilets and we got ready to explore around Shinjuku.

Walking around Shinjuku, we realized that we had booked ourselves into a hotel situated near the red-light district – there seemed to be a lot of “love hotels” and gay bars. Lots of night clubs and bars – you could tell it would be an interesting area at night, wondering through all the small back alleys – early on the Saturday morning after Halloween there was evidence of the partying from the evening before, and people still in costume, or still drunk… Yep, this side of Shinjuku was certainly interesting. We decided to head back closer to the station which seemed more like an upmarket shopping area, which had the more reputable bars and restaurants. I needed to find something to eat and perhaps do some shopping. The weather wasn’t too bad at this stage, a light shower or two occasionally, but generally mild, about 22c. Indoors however, it was always quite hot, they don’t like to use the air-conditioning apparently – Had to keep taking my jacket off.

Not all that different to back home...

Not all that different to back home…

Check out my post on the Burger section for a clip and more information about the Burger experience!

Check out my post on the Burger section for a clip and more information about the Burger experience!

The first place we stopped off was Burger King – now I know you might think that’s a bit stupid – fly all the way to Japan just to get a burger you can get at home. Well, actually, the burgers here are different – you can’t get these at home. They have this black burger called the Kuro Diamond. It’s in a Black bun, with Black cheese and a black sauce, normally patty, mayo, tomato and lettuce. How could I pass up that sort of opportunity? So I ordered the burger with some onion rings and a coke zero – once again, my pointing, smiling and nodding skill were showcased to great effect. Monies were exchanged – and food was provided. Easy. Shane got a whopper with avocado and fries – a little different, but essentially the same. The meals were provided quickly, and they were presented perfectly on the try – it looked like what you see on a commercial – these Japanese take pride in everything they do. I unwrapped my burger and took the first bite – and that was about all I wanted to take. Honestly, disgusting. I felt sick. The black shiny cheese and the black sauce had this weird flavor combination going on – sort of vegemite mixed with mushroom soy and oyster sauce thing going on – it was just wrong. At least I can say I’ve had a black burger… The onion rings were quite nice and Shane was kind enough to give me some of his fries.

We decided to make our way back towards the shopping district in Shinjuku to kill some time before we could check in. The area around the station is quite built up and home to a range of up-market shopping options – from Zara and Topshop, tiffanies and coach. Plus there’s a whole bunch of electronics stores alongside a multitude of bars and restaurants. By this stage it was clear that the place had woken up, people were everywhere – there was just no end to the hoards of people.  By this stage the weather had also taken a turn for the worse and was raining fairly heavily. We decided to see if we could find some umbrellas, walking into the first likely store, to be greeted by photos of naked women – it seemed like a normal gift shop kind of place from the outside, they sold gifts and books and dvd’s, I guess kind of like a news agent – but there was no censoring of the photos, obviously not worried about kids walking in? I guess f you could read the signage you’d know… Anyway, we got out two tiny clear umbrellas for about 300 yen each and then continued to wander Shinjuku. Shopping for clothes here is pointless if you are bigger than a medium. I wanted to see if I could pick up a sports jacket – their idea of XL is probably closer to our medium. Their XL pants were 92cm – Didn’t worry about trying to find any clothes after that.

I also needed to get a USB cable so I could charge my phone – I’d brought the charger/adapter, just not a USB cord. Managed to pick one up from an electronic store by holding up my phone, pointing to the mini-USB port and saying charger – cost me about 2000 Yen, but I got what I needed eventually. After all that shopping, we decided that we really needed to find a spot to sit down and grab a refreshing beverage. Getting a table in Tokyo is easy, walk in to the bar or restaurant of choice, wait until the person greeting you has stopped talking, smile, nod, then hold up the same number of fingers as people in your dining party. Follow the waiter/waitress as y moving along saying “Hai, hai” Sit down. Smile and nod. I’m pretty much a local by this stage. The menus normally have photos, so Shane and I pointed to the photos of the beer, held up two fingers, smiled and nodded. Two beers arrived a short time later. This time however, I wanted to get creative. I whipped out the phrase book and after getting the waitresses attention – sisimasen – potatoru firu, arigato. Smile, nod. Some 5 minutes later, a bowl of chips and tomato sauce arrived at our table. Yep, I knew Japanese was easy.

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Pretty tired by this stage…

It was getting towards checking in time so we started to walk back to our hotel, stopping for refreshments as we went. This time we walked through the less respectable area of Shinjuku, there are “Girl bars” everywhere, dodgy looking bars, nightclubs and lots of hairdressing salons. Apparently there’s quite the cross dressing thing going on here. The hair dressing salons are to help you get that “feminine” look. We did a bit of research and read a few horror stories about drink spiking and getting mugged so we decided not to risk going out in this area of town.

A walk way on the way back to the hotel.

A walk way on the way back to the hotel.

Finally checked in at about 3pm, got to our rooms and discovered that a small room in Japan is pretty bloody small. There is no extra space, you get a king single – although they call is a double – no chance of two normal sized westerners in there.

Tiny Bed

Tiny Bed

A tiny bath/shower, and a toilet. – that’s about it. The toilets by the way are pretty cool. They have inbuilt seat warmers, a bidet and a blow dryer. All controlled by a remote on the side. Shane in particular was pretty excited by the toilet. I think he took a dozen photo’s, I hope no action shots. Anyway, here’s just to give you an idea of the controls!

Confusing - but the best part was the seat warmer!

Confusing – but the best part was the seat warmer!

By this stage we had been going for quite some time with very little sleep so showers, a change of clothes and a really quick accidental nap were the order of the day. I lay down after my shower and woke up 30 mins later. By this stage we had to get going because we had our tour booked – Tokyo by night. We had to get from Shinjuku to Yurakucho, once again relying on public transport. We purchased Suica cards from the ticket machines at Shinjuku station  – which all display in English if you press the button and loaded up some funds – 500Y to buy the card and the 1500 loaded (I had 300 left over by the end of our trip). Once again we were traveling on the Yamanote line which is like a big loop around Tokyo. It’s so easy to catch and there’s pretty much a train every few minutes. I don’t think we waited for more than 2 or 3 minutes ever. It takes about 30mins from Shinjuku to Yurakucho and we were supposed to meet our guide out the front at 5pm, since we caught the 4:27pm train we were cutting it fine.

I’ll update the food tour soon…

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