So you know I went to Japan. You know how much it costs. But what was it like?
The day I was traveling was extremely busy, so I didn’t really have the time to think what I’m getting into. It wasn’t until we crossed the Passport Control at Dubai World Central Airport (which is emptier than a ghost town on a weekday night!!) that I started having this heavy feeling. I have to confess I’m not a huge fan of air travel.
Didn’t matter though, soon after the journey began I pretty much fell throughout the plane ride, which was great since we were traveling through the night into the next day.
While most of the journey was patches of ocean and brown land far beneath the thick layer of clouds, it wasn’t until we entered Japanese territory that I sat up to see what’s really under me. This was my first view of Japan…
Yup, I could almost see trails on the snowclad peaks! Within 20 minutes a lot of farmland, small villages and then some towns crossed under us until I finally saw the huge sprawl of Tokyo. And only when the plane turned to land at Narita airport did I see the massive shadow of Mt. Fuji looming in the distance. It was scary and awe-inspiring at the same time.
Soon we landed and went through passport control and luggage, got our JR Pass, got my mobile SIM and took the train to Shibuya. This is when I looked outside the windows, well after sunset. I can’t really explain that initial feeling. My wife and I are sitting in a rather boring looking train, eating some snacks, and I see some Japanese text on various labels when it slowly dawns on me, I’M IN MOTHERFRACKING JAPAN!!!
So the train reached our station, we got out and I see a sea of Japanese people. I obviously don’t mean that in a racist way, but I’ve never been to an East-Asian country before, so this was quite…different, yet so exciting!
Stepping out of Shibuya station, the easiest direction to Cerulean Tokyu Hotel is to look around and see the tallest building nearby, and that would be Cerulean standing 40 floors high.
Walking towards the hotel we realized that this is the first time we’ve technically stepped foot on Japanese land. Until now it was just the airport and train/ subway stations. It’s 9:30pm and the whole area is just sprawling with people, but I don’t see the famous crossing yet. Apparently we had come out of the South entrance, which was good because our hotel was right opposite it.
After an easy 4 minute check-in process, we go to our room on the 27th floor and……I just stood past the entrance hallway to see the view.
My biggest reason for choosing Cerulean Tokyu was the view. It was just mesmerizing. I’m a sucker for cityscape and having a good view in the night time is essential for me. And what a kickass view Cerulean offered! Apart from the bedroom, even the bathroom was designed in such a way that the bathtub had a full window view of the city beneath. Don’t worry, though, there was no building in front of the hotel for miles that could get a peek inside 😉
Oh, and all you heard about Japanese toilets is true. Complete automation of…washing and flushing. Warm seats! Heck, they even have this noise maker (sounds like water down the drain) in public toilets so no one can hear you doing your business!
Being a 5-star hotel obviously meant the room in Cerulean was fairly big, and after almost 24 hours of non-stop traveling (from leaving home to arriving at hotel), nothing was more rewarding than the pleasant ambiance of the room and that awesome view. Money well spent!
Soon we went down in search for some food, and by soon I mean 11pm. And this is when I saw Shibuya crossing in all its glory. Sadly I didn’t bring my camera with me, and even now I regret this as the only one thing, that I didn’t get a chance to take picture there. But it’s just like in the movies, there are people EVERYWHERE.
So with one extra day before our tours began, we took it easy and decided to go to Ueno Park. Because it has a zoo and FOUR MUSEUMS connecting to it!!
Going through the park throughout the day I realised that in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in the world, this park was very serene and beautiful. There were old people, school kids, college students, families (on a weekday) and even a baseball pitch with teams practicing. Everybody was relaxing amid the lush trees, either reading a book or hanging out with friends; not a mobile phone in sight! It was just amazing how people came to relax in this ultra-hectic city, right in the middle of it where you couldn’t even see buildings for the most part.
Starting off with Tokyo National Museum, it wasn’t as exciting as we thought it’d be. Partly because most of the labels aren’t in English. But a worthwhile trip nonetheless, especially since we hadn’t been to a proper museum in ages.
Next came the National Science Museum, which was awesome in every sense of the word. Meticulously detailed displays on all 7 floors. Each floor was dedicated to a certain topic, like prehistoric life, physics, space, etc. This is also where I encountered my first Engrish fail. On some of the floors it said ‘discovery space’ (or something to that effect, can’t remember now). I was getting excited that many floors have Space related stuff. But it was just the experimental area for that floor where you could interact with things on display……discovery space. Yeah…
As the day veered towards its end, we decided to go back to the hotel, but maybe have our first sampling of ramen before we hit the bed. On the way, however, we saw what looked like a multi-storey gaming arcade. As we walked closer I could hear this loud buzz from inside, and upon opening the doors I was greeted with a blast of noise, bright lights, metal clinking and cigarette smoke stinking. It was, of course, a Pachinko parlour. To date I have never seen people (students, salarymen/ women and old people) sitting in front of an arcade machine, just popping in one coin after the next, a cigarette in their hand, staring hopelessly into the void of more coins. It was cool at first, but got scary real fast. The addiction levels in here were too strong. I’ve seen pachinko in anime and movies before, but this was some next level shit.
After that insanity, we decided it was time to tone things down a bit, and went for some wholesome ramen. Now ramen shop are a dime a dozen in Tokyo, but we wanted something either halal, or made of fish stock. After finally finding one in Harajuku, I wished I had never had it.
The restaurant itself was very nice, had somewhat of a Chili’s vibe to it in it’s decor and atmosphere, but seeped in local culture; nothing American about it. The ramen came with fish sauce and dried fish powder. My hunger levels were over 9000 so I just dug in, despite the smell. A quarter of the way through things started to get a bit difficult, so I started adding a hint of ginger and some chilli powder. Half way through I was adding every condiment I could find on the table to make sure I didn’t taste fish. The last couple of bites were literally me shoving the food down my teary-eyed face. I just, cannot, stomach that much fish taste.
With aching feet, a stuffed belly, and mental exhaustion finally setting in, we returned to our hotel room. The view, once again, was very refreshing. Doing a quick search for our train timetable on Hyperdia (this site came in extremely useful!) we went to bed, excited about the journey ahead, and a little worried because we had to wake up in 5 hours…to go to Mt. Fuji!