Lost in Translation – Korea/Japan 23-27 Dec 2011
Getting to my accommodation for the first night required three trains and two transfers: Tokyo Monorail from HND to Hamamatsucho station, JR Yamanote Line from Hamamatsucho to Shinjuku station and finally Toei-Shinjuku Line to Akebonobashi station.
I got on a Rapid train which took about 20 minutes to reach Hamamatsucho.
Japanese trains were quite similar to Korean ones and I even spotted someone familiar on board.
My only gripe about Tokyo’s train and subway system: it wasn’t really friendly for a visitor with trolley bag!
It took more than an hour to reach Ace Inn Shinjuku and I was welcomed by a solemn-looking receptionist.
I paid 3,150 JPY (~S$50) for my cubicle and received a towel and a key to my locker. I was also instructed to leave my shoes at the ground floor and change to slippers before going up to the room.
There were 28 cubicles on each level and judging on the luggage I estimated mine to be more than half filled. The showers was in the basement and required an additional 100 JPY; the reason given being that the payment will prevent users from hoarding the shower.
I didn’t think paying extra for the shower was really reasonable considering how much I paid for the hostel but I did want to have my first one in more than a day. After shower, despite my fatigue I went to check out the lounge at level 9. It was quiet on Christmas Eve so I went back to sleep in my humble “capsule” once my hair was reasonably dry.
Before checking out the next morning, I snapped photo of the tiny locker assigned to me.
Not willing to spend on transportation, I trekked for around 30 minutes from Ace Inn to Shin Okubo where my hotel for the next two nights was located.
Somehow my booking wasn’t received by the hotel and the nice receptionist was quite perplexed about how to deal with it. She requested for the printout of my hotel confirmation and made some calls while I tapped on the hotel’s WiFi. I was quite surprised that she actually spoke Korean over the phone. After some time both of us knew that it wouldn’t resolve quickly and she suggested that I left my luggage at the lobby first and continued with my plan for the day.
After walking a bit around the area, I wasn’t so surprised that the receptionist spoke Korean; Shin Okubo is Tokyo’s largest Korea-town and there are many shops selling paraphernalia relating to Korean popular culture. Hangul is quite visible and there are many Korean eating places as well.
Lunch was next on my agenda and I walked in the direction of the Shinjuku station.
Shinjuku station was like a mammoth maze. Somehow I managed to navigate it and found a place to eat.
I ordered ramen with gyoza and they cost all of 580 JPY.
After filling my stomach, I was back on the streets of Shinjuku and trying to find my way to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government building has two free observation decks at its two towers; I just randomly picked one to visit.
After a cursory check of my bag, I was ushered into the holding area and waited quite a while for the lift with several other people. There was a lift attendant there to press the button for us; I thought that must be the most boring job in the world.
There was nothing to complain about the views; one of the signs claims that Mt Fuji is visible on a good day.
I decided to escape the viewing gallery after the invasion of Chinese tourist hordes. Upon exiting the elevator at Level 2, I discovered that Japan National Tourism Organization has an office inside the building.
There were plenty of materials for tourists and I was fascinated by the artwork which depicted the different regions.
Since it was still early to return to see whether my room was ready, I decided to go to Harajuku where Meiji Jingu was located.
The entrance of Meiji Jingu was round the corner from the JR station.
What struck me was that Japanese emperors were deified; I wouldn’t expect any Brits to pray to Queen Victoria though.
I retraced my route back to Harajuku station and checked out my guidebook for any interesting sights nearby.
Apparently one should walk through Takeshita Dori if they happened to be in Harajuku.
Despite the crowds there were never any pushing and shoving; I’ve definitely experienced worse in a less crowded conditions.
Shibuya didn’t seem so far off from the map so I decided to walk there.
I tried looking for the famous Hachiko statue at Shibuya station.
I expected a huge statue considering it had a train station exit named after it so it was a little underwhelming when I discovered the statue.
Nevertheless I was still glad to make it to Shibuya, home of the famous junction where all the cars stop for pedestrians to cross at every direction.
Since it had gotten dark, I thought that my room would be ready.
To my surprise my luggage was still sitting where it was originally. Apparently the hotel still hadn’t gotten hold of the online travel agent (Booked through BMI website) whom I booked with the hotel with. Despite that, the receptionist informed me that I would be given a deluxe single room (since all the single rooms were taken).
The room was a pleasant surprise; with a huge comfy bed and plenty of space to lay things around.
The toilet was kinda weird though; seemed to be an addition to the room.
Considering I was only pay S$95 per night for a Tokyo hotel, it was really value for money. My only complaint would be the WiFi strength in the room which was close to non-existent.
Dinner would be at Shinjuku with D, a friend whom I met from volunteering in Singapore F1 Grand Prix. He’s an Australian based in Tokyo and flies in every year to be my Sector Chief. It was great catching up with him over a beer (or two) in an Izakaya.
The staff must be quite perplexed that the Asian guy just kept grinning while the gaijin spoke Japanese to them. I decided that ordering of food should be left to the expert and he (and the restaurant) surely didn’t disappoint.
We joked that between us we could actually decipher the Japanese menu; while he could read katagana and hiragana but limited kanji (100 odd characters according to him); I could understand most of the kanji (which was similar to Chinese characters) but none of the rest.
As D would be working the next day, we ended our night relatively early. I retraced my route back to Shin-Okubo and were soon back in my hotel.
Although I woke up rather early the next morning, I didn’t get going until 10am (to avoid the Tokyo’s rush hour).
Based on some great advices, Asakusa is a must-see place for any first-timers to Tokyo. The nearest station on Yamanote line is Ueno, which happens to be one of the major transportation hubs of Tokyo.
I had a choice of between a short but expensive subway ride (two stops) or walking 30 minutes to Senso-ji. Not difficult to guess which I chose.
After the longish walk, I finally hit Kaminarimon, outer entrance gate to Senso-ji.
The pathway between Kaminarimon and Hozomon (the inner entrance gate) is laid with stores selling food and souvenirs to tourists.
Since I was there I decided to indulged in fortune telling (100 yen donation); there were tins filled with wooden sticks and one would shake the tin until one of the stick came out (similar to Chinese version).
Based on the number indicated on the stick, one’s fortune could be inferred.
Fortunately for those who received the the unfortunate news (like myself), the temple provided a way to dispel the bad fortune; one just had to fold the piece of paper and tied it on to the strings provided (and hoped that the bad fortune doesn’t follow him/her out of the temple).
After fortune-telling I decided that some retail therapy would be good for me. The stalls were pretty inviting and I spent some time browsing through the food stuff.
I went inside a stall selling rice crackers and I didn’t know that there were so many different types of rice crackers until then.
I bought quite a bit as well for friends and family back home.
Although I thought of buying more things, I knew that it wasn’t a good idea since I would need to lug these things around until late afternoon (when I went back to the hotel).
After done with Asakusa, I retraced my route back to Ueno and along the way I dropped by a random noodle place for lunch.
It seemed that it was quite impossible to get bad food in Japan. I was given a choice between soba and udon; decided to go with soba as I thought udon should be left till I visit Kansai region (one day). The crispy tempura was definitely find of the day.
The noodle shop seemed to be family-ran and the lady doing service was probably around 70. Despite that, her service was enthusiastic (typical Japanese); it was great to be served by people who take pride in their work.
Nearby to Ueno station was Ameya Yokocho, a vibrant street market. Took a walk through it but the strong yen was killing my interest in shopping (not that I had much to start with). I preferred to walk through Ueno Park instead.
I was pretty shagged after the stroll through Ueno Park and decided to return to my hotel ahead of the evening rush hour.
After a few more chapters of Nothing to Envy in my room, I headed out to Shinjuku again.
I thought I should pay a visit at the famous depachika at Isetan before closing time.
It was truly an amazing place with all sorts of food and even more amazing packaging (and prices of course).
My friend Y highly recommended Grom ice-cream when she knew of my trip to Tokyo and I stumbled into it in Shinjuku.
On my walk back to my hotel, I discovered a really cheap eating place ran by Indians (or Nepalis?) at the edge of Kabukicho.
Funny that my dinner was actually much cheaper than my dessert.
Last night in Tokyo was spent finishing up Nothing to Envy. It was my second read but the impact was no less.
A sense of deja vu when I switched on the TV next morning:
Too bad I missed out on the tearing pudgy son.