A week’s getaway begins28 April, 2013 by Grace
Hi, I’m Grace, yet another Singaporean obsessed with many things Japanese. I’ll be writing about my experience of my recent week-long trip to Japan on this site.
It’s been almost two years since I had last been to Japan. I’ve gone to Japan twice before, one in central Japan and the other in Hokkaido, but they were both on tour groups. This was the first time I was going on a free and easy trip so it was easily a lot more exciting.
Actually, I had been yearning for this trip for a really long time, and as a graduation trip of sorts, it was part of what spurred me on to finish my polytechnic education. My plan back then was to take a solo trip, but my parents wouldn’t hear of it since they couldn’t trust me to be all alone in another country. I then pulled along my best friend from poly who also loves Japan and I believed I would have no trouble travelling with.
However, my parents were still not convinced it would be okay, while my friend’s parents are also strict and didn’t allow her to travel with just friends. In the end it was settled that we would be travelling with her mum, which put both my parents and her parents to a better peace of mind. Not what I had in mind initially but it’s still better than travelling with my own family members.
The itinerary was still completely planned by my friend and I, so very skewed towards our interests, and her mum was like a kind of guardian throughout the trip who followed what we planned. There’s also days where we split up, for my friend and I to do our own things and her mum would go somewhere else to do her own things. Anyway, we’re both waiting for graduation so we were pretty free. It seemed like waiting for the trip to come took forever but it finally did.
On my previous trips to Japan, I’ve taken both JAL and ANA. This time, we took Scoot, the low-cost carrier under Singapore Airlines which started operating in June last year, as the prices were attractive.
We heard quite a lot of things about Scoot both online and through word-of-mouth and so we knew what we were in for. The seats were normally comfortable as like any other airline, and leg space was considered pretty good for a budget carrier. There’s no leg rest and the headrest area is just flat which is a little uncomfortable. They also don’t turn off the lights in the cabin besides for take off and landing. A small exception was when we were flying there they did dim the lights for a couple hours at about 3am. Well, all these are probably how they entice people to buy their neck pillow, blanket and eyemask pack.
We also heard from friends who had taken Scoot, that no matter how hungry you get, to never purchase their hot meals on board, because they taste really bad and you will feel like throwing it away after eating a bit. So we duly noted their advice and steered clear of the plane food. On the going journey it’s not hard to endure hunger since it’s the wee hours of the morning, but if you think you’re gonna be hungry, you might want to sneak sweets or small snacks on board. They clearly state that they don’t allow outside food of course, so be careful if you do.
Our departure was delayed by some passenger who didn’t turn up for the flight, so in the end we were about half an hour behind our itinerary but it wasn’t that bad since our first day wasn’t packed. Flying to Narita Airport by Scoot is undoubtedly cheap, but you also fly for longer hours because there’s a transit at Taiwan’s Taoyuan Airport. You still take the same plane after the transit. To me transiting was a bit confusing, maybe because I had never been to Taoyuan Airport. The staff will direct those continuing on to Tokyo towards a counter to collect your transit card. You’ll have to go through scanning your handcarry bags once more and then wait for departure again. In case you get lost or anything, make sure you know Scoot in Mandarin is known as ku4 hang2 (酷航).
If you’re trying to catch sleep on the flight I recommend plugging in to music or wearing earplugs. Because the flight includes transiting, every single announcement they make on the plane comes in English, Mandarin and Japanese. It gets pretty annoying and longwinded and at some point I felt really pissed off. It wasn’t because I was trying to sleep but because the constant announcements were giving me a headache. Other than that it’s basically a smooth ride.
Anyway, upon reaching Narita Airport we headed to find lunch since we were famished from not eating anything on the flight. Since we wouldn’t be able to check-in to our hotel until 3pm, we ate at the airport in a slightly pricey udon and soba shop. The food was normally delicious.
Our original intention was to take the limousine bus to get to Tokyo Station. However, when we wanted to buy the tickets at the limousine bus counter, the kind counter staff referred us to a rival bus company, Keisei Bus, which was having a promotion – 900 yen to Tokyo Station. This was more than 3 times cheaper than taking the limousine bus so we were all pleasantly surprised and promptly bought the Keisei Bus tickets.
Roughly a little more than an hour later, we came to our stop at Tokyo Station. Here, we wasted quite a lot of time being lost trying to find the line that went to Hatchobori Station, just one stop away. Our hotel, Dormy Inn Tokyo Hatchobori, was located near Hatchobori Station. We underestimated the size of Tokyo Station for sure, but it didn’t help at all that the direction signs were confusing. We climbed up and down stairs with our luggage just trying to find the entrance to the correct line. I was quite frustrated by the time we found the train line. By the time we reached our hotel, it was already an hour past check-in time. We quickly put down our stuff in the hotel room.
Heading out again, we took the train towards Oshiage Station where the Tokyo Skytree was located. From joining the queue for tickets until we actually bought the tickets, the total time taken was around 25 minutes. We also learnt that there were strong winds and the Skytree would be closed the next day, while for the rest of this day the staff was restricting the number of people going up the lift at a time. Hence, it was another 35 minutes before we were able to take the lift up.
However, all the wait was certainly worth it when we saw the amazing view. We were lucky enough to catch the last of the day view and watch the city slowly light up as night fell. After spending ages snapping shots of the view, we finally decided to make our way back down. It was decided that we wouldn’t spend another 1000 yen to go up to the higher deck because the view would mostly be the same anyway, and we had already spent 2000 yen to come up to the lower deck.
Had a quick look through the Skytree shop located on the same level but there didn’t seem to be anything worth buying, so none of us bought anything. The strong winds were unfortunately still going on, so when we got to the lobby area, we were dismayed to find a long snaking queue for the lift down worse than the one we waited for when heading up.
Along the queue just a short distance before the lift, there was a glass floor feature. It took me a few minutes before I could bring myself to stand on it because it was kind of scary. My friend however didn’t waste any time and simply stood on it. I guess I’m weak. We took a few photos there then rejoined the queue for the lift. It was a total 40 minutes queuing before we finally took the lift down and got out.
Feeling cold and hungry, we went into Tokyo Solamachi just next to the Skytree. We couldn’t decide what to eat though, so we walked around. Then I remembered that I wanted to visit the official Rilakkuma store that was in this mall and so made my way there, while my companions looked at other shops. Finally, we regrouped and suddenly right in front of us we noticed there was a takoyaki shop in the form of Gindaco which looked darn good to us there and then.
So we ended up eating takoyaki… which didn’t turn out to be a bad decision and it tastes better than the Gindaco branch in Singapore. But okay, that was not really counted as dinner. We knew our hotel actually served free ramen at night so after the takoyaki we made our way back for the ramen. It was decent and definitely not what you would expect for something free.
That isn’t the end of the day though. Back at the hotel we caught a few hours of sleep, and then woke up to head for Tsukiji Market as planned. However, we couldn’t find the ticket selling point for the tuna auction so it took some effort following people around. This was a bit of a failure in planning as we should have printed out a map or woke up even earlier. By the time we got to the place, we were told that tickets for the day had been sold out! It was a real disappointment, especially after waking up this early for it.
We thought about trying again the next day but then gave up the idea eventually as we would be even more exhausted without adequate sleep and the following day we had to wake early to change hotels. Unfortunately, for me at least, I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance to see the famous tuna auction at Tsukiji before the market moves to Toyosu in 2015.
Since we made the effort to come out anyway, we had sushi breakfast (the sushi we had was alright but not particularly worth mentioning to be honest) before heading back to the hotel again to catch a bit more shut-eye.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.