The first day in Tokyo02 January, 2013 by Chad
After boarding our bus, we spent the rest of the night, or rather morning enroute to Tokyo. The Willer Express coach bus that we were taking was surprisingly comfortable, so for once I managed to catch some sleep along the way. Willer Express operates buses to and from all over the country on a daily basis, and is definitely one good way of getting around long distances in Japan for the budget traveler.
We had opted to take our journey to Tokyo overnight, so while it would take longer than say via Shinkansen, we would also be saving on another night’s accommodation. A bullet train to Tokyo would cost at least 10,000 yen but the ride from Nagoya to Tokyo by bus would only set us back 3,600 yen each.
Personal entertainment systems were provided for each seat, though apart from Eri, we were far too tired to do anything but rest. Randy was most fascinated that each seat also had a power outlet, so we could charge our cell phones along the way. Apart from boarding or disembarking, the bus was mostly pitch dark. There were also shaded covers at each seat. Our pickup point at Sakae was one of the last, so it was mostly just highway beyond that.
Outside the largest gas station ever in the middle of nowhere. Got its own 24 hour supermarket and toilet is size of basketball court.
— Supermerlion (@supermerlion) November 6, 2012
As there were no toilets on board this bus, we stopped at just three points after that, once every couple of hours or so. I was especially amazed by the first rest stop not too far from Nagoya, as I had never quite seen anything like it.
This was one of NEXCO’s “Service Areas”. Just the toilet here was about the size of a basketball court. The large car park was built seemingly in the middle of nowhere to accomodate the many other buses and trailer trucks passing through between cities. There was also a 24 hour convenience store the size of a super market, an actual supermarket and some restaurants and cafeterias.
Regrettably, being half asleep, it didn’t cross our minds to check our the combini, or take any photographs of the rest stop. But thanks to the wonders of technology, you can take an entire virtual tour of the place on foot thanks to Google Map’s panoramic interiors for businesses.
Slept through the second stop and by the time I came to, we were already nearing Tokyo. The last rest stop was just by the border to the city. It was really foggy here, such that you couldn’t see the sky clearly or even too far. The green lighting at the border reflected off the fog for a rather otherworldly effect, it was like being in one of those horror video games.
How different a city Tokyo was is quite apparent from just the rest stop. Compared to the large, country architecture at the Aichi stop, an elevator on the ground floor here led to a rest stop that was entirely underground. There were just some rest rooms and a bunch of different vending machines there.
We reached Tokyo Station slightly before the expected 6.30 AM time. The working crowd had yet to arrive but there was still a good many people catching the bullet trains this morning. It was much too early for us to head to our accommodation yet, since my liaison there would only arrive at 9 AM.
Hoping to kill some time till then, we tried looking around for somewhere to get some breakfast. However I was quite unfamiliar with the new Tokyo Station which had been just renovated the last month. There didn’t seem to be anything open yet at this time.
Randy tried looking up his map on his phone, but it indicated that the nearest McDonalds would be a few blocks away, not a distance we’d want to attempt with our bulky luggage.
Between varying states of hunger and sleepiness, the three of us weren’t exactly functioning really well at this time. We spaced out near a taxi stand for nearly half an hour before I ended up finding a McDonalds just inside the station while looking for a rest room. We finally wheeled our luggage there for the first meal of the day. Guess, this new shop wasn’t reflected in the maps yet.
Ended up getting an Egg McMuffin set. It tastes quite identical to the ones you’d find in Singapore, except that it was 430 yen rather than $4.30. The only difference here is that you are given the tea bag separately, rather than pre-inserted into your tea.
I would usually feel quite bad for staying as long as we did at any other eatery (though most Singaporeans seem to be blissfully immune to this notion). Thankfully, there weren’t too many people who would actually be stopping to eat in on this Wednesday morning. There was a young woman decked out in a lolita dress behind us who had had been here reading her book for much longer.
We spent the next 90 minutes chilling out at the McDonalds. As far as I know, the ones in Japan offer free refills on their coffee and tea too. You’ll need to return to the counter for a top up rather than having self serviced pots like in some other places, but just this action is enough to deter most from taking advantage of it.
Eventually, as recommended by the apartment manager, we took a cab over to the apartment. It’s only 10 minutes away, so thankfully the fare didn’t cost us too much.
Kurumi Mansion is a mansion, in the Japanese sense of the word. These are basically single room studio apartments that are smaller than their western counterparts. They’re probably the closest things you’d find to HDB flats in Japan, and are aimed towards the lower-middle income singles or couples who still insist on housing within the city.
We had arrived at the apartment block with still some time to spare but the building manager appeared soon enough. After settling the paperwork and paying our rent, he showed us to the rooms and explained some of the basic information about the mansion, as well as its surroundings. He was really friendly, perhaps more than we’d be usually comfortable with.
Eventually we were led to our rooms. It was a lot smaller than I had imagined, though I didn’t mind and we had knowingly booked the smallest option anyways. The main problem though was that the room was really old and there were lots of unnecessary stuff inside like cookery and such that were in a too disgusting state to use. These further minimized the actual amount of living space we had to our disposal.
Wasn’t quite sure when the last time the place was used, but it certainly showed its age. There was the typical old room smell and the place was covered in dust so just disturbing the bed left clouds of dust throughout the room. Tried to get some circulation by switching the air conditioning’s fan to its maximum and opening the window but there was only a small, toilet sized window to the room so there was very little ventilation.
Everyone was still really beat out from the trip over to Tokyo, so we spent the rest of the afternoon recovering. The apartment doesn’t provide any toiletries, so had to make do with some basic ones from the combini downstairs. It belonged to a company that we had never seen before and didn’t carry much items.
Also did some laundry that morning. There were free washers and even drying machines on the 3rd floor of the apartment block. However we could only use them between 9 AM and 9 PM each day. While this seemed like a minor annoyance at first, it would prove to be quite a major inconvenience later on.
There was also a vacuum for use here, which I promptly borrowed in an attempt to clear some of the dust in the room, but it barely helped. Ended up bumping into the overtly friendly apartment manager and cleaner along the way down, the two of them made up the entire staff. After some small talk, slept through the rest of the afternoon.
Was definitely feeling a bit down about the accommodation. Was definitely the worst living conditions I’ve had in Japan so far. I didn’t care so much about the size or facilities of the place but the thing that got to me was definitely the state at which it was in. Part of the reason I get away to Japan as often, is to take a break from the usual respiratory difficulties and the room did not bode well.
We had opted to stay here rather than my usual business hotel, as Eri was against paying any more for accommodation. On hindsight, perhaps ought to had been a little selfish and stayed elsewhere alone. But then again, there were a lot of things that we lacked the foresight for this trip. Hopefully, things would get better, or perhaps we’d grow more accustomed to the place in time to come?
We woke up in the late afternoon. Better rested, it was time to make full use of the remaining hours in the day. The sun had already set for the day, but thankfully, unlike the other cities, Tokyo tends to stay up later.
Like any good ota, the rest were keen on visiting Akihabara as our first stop in Tokyo. It didn’t mind since we could pick up some much needed toiletries and supplies from either the Don Quijote or the supermarket near Akihabara Station on the way back.
It was a long walk from our hotel to the Metro Kayabacho Station a kilometer away, but from there it was just three subway stops to Akihabara.
The streets around Akihabara were crowded this evening with people headed in our opposite direction back toward the station. We looked around at a few of the anime and toy shops around but found nothing of particular interest.
Thanks to the unbearable stench of sweat and body odour, it is literally impossible to stay long in some of the shops. The rest of the world makes Akihabara to be the holy land for all things otaku, but in reality it’s really more of a quarantine zone for the most undesirable expects of Japanese society.
We’d actually meet up with Yan, outside the Don Quijote building at Akihabara. Many of our readers will better know it as the headquarters for mega pop idol group AKB48.
While not part of our original plans, Yan had scheduled a trip to Tokyo for the next two weeks to coincide with our stay. Yan would be living at a backpackers bunk within walking distance of Akihabara, so he had been in the area after landing in Japan this afternoon and dropping off his bagage.
Spent the next couple of hours bringing Yan and Eri around to the typical wota shops, like Liberty and Lammtara as they searched for their AKB48 goods or what not. Also stopped by Akiba Culture ZONE again for the capsule boxes there so they can look for more photos. They each walked away with a bunch of AKB48 and Nogizaka46 photos.
We tried looking around the Softmap there too. You could here their broadcast of NMB48’s Virginity throughout most of Akihabara. The place had changed a bit since the last visit here earlier in the year, with the top floor being converted completely into the Idol Yokocho outlet. The first floor still carries all of the building’s 48 family related goods though. The rest no doubt took note of the place to return here again in the future.
Yan wanted to check out an old video games shop hidden in a building along one of the side streets. There was no indication of the place but thankfully he had saved a map onto his phone, so I managed to find the shop without much trouble.
Looking around Akihabara, there managed to be even more maids littered all over the city than past visits. While you’d see the maids standing at junctions giving out flyers, you’ll bump into one in front of almost every building now.
According to Randy’s (unproven) observations, the better looking ones came out later in the evening. The girls come down on a rotational basis, occasionally you’ll see one of them leave eagerly after their watches ring. Given the state of things in Akihabara, you can no longer really blame the passersby for refusing to accept any of their flyers.
We found the old games shop just a block away from Akiba Culture ZONE in the back of one of those old apartment buildings. It occupies a few floors there, each carrying a different range of old video game cartridges or CDs.
The shop carried a pretty extensive collection of old video games, though they were pricier than a similar shop the rest of us had seen back in Osaka. Yan was looking for a copy of Super Mario World for his Gameboy Advance. He still collects and plays old Japanese games on that system to this day, I guess you could call him an enthusiast of sorts.
Our last stop was to returned to the Donki building again. Really wanted to stock up on supplies but Yan wanted to head elsewhere for dinner, so unfortunately could only buy the bear minimum stuff this evening and smaller, more expensive rations to last until we found another supermarket.
Bought one of these air fresheners to help mask the old apartment smell. Was really nice, probably the most pleasant smelling air freshener I’ve ever seen before. It smells like those Meiji grape jelly candies. Wish could find this in Singapore.
Yan brought us over to a izakaya diner over in Minato Ward that he had heard about online. It was crowded inside but thankfully we didn’t have to wait long to get seats. Quickly sensing the gaijin-ness, one of the chefs asked casually where we were from while we waiting up front for some seats to clear.
We let Yan handle the ordering today and he wanted to give us a treat too as it happened to be his birthday too. Despite the plastic tentage, the food at the izakaya ended up exceeding our expectations. The servings were generous and the entire meal worked out to be a lot cheaper than we had anticipated.
According to Yan, the place was famous for its sashimi and sushi among other things. The sashimi wasn’t that fresh though, bu the sushi definitely comes recommended.
Randy especially liked the finely shredded salad, so we even had extras of that. For some reason, while our hotel in Osaka had the same salad for our buffet breakfast, he had neglected to try this until today.
Commenting that he could eat this every day, Randy resolved to try doing that. He wanted to tighten his budget, after calculating that he had spent over $200 on combini food alone, since arriving in Japan. Sure enough, he’d grab some of the salad at the Lawson on the way back to our hotel later.
Thoroughly enjoyed the dinner. Eri didn’t eat much through the meal though, after suddenly feeling ill. So after dinner, we decided to head back early so that she could get some more rest. We agreed upon meeting at Ginza tomorrow morning. Yan wanted to visit the Masterpiece shop there and the rest were keen on doing some shopping in Tokyo too.