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Tokyo Winter 2011 Day 1

The reason for the erratic updates!

01 March, 2011 by

If you’ve been following this site, then you’d might had noticed the sparse updates as of late. That’s because last month, the only remaining active authors at Supermerlion (sort of); Wilson, Yan and myself left for the land of the rising sun.

This time we were up for a hasty excursion through our usual Kanto spots, as well a southern expedition through the Kansai regions of Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka, all the way up to Hiroshima. Could it be done in the limited time and finances we had? Who knows. Follow as I write about our daily adventures in Japan.

The idea of flying back to Japan for the winter was something we had been considering since our previous trip in Spring. With the intention to experience a little of the winter weather, a January trip would had been ideal. Unfortunately, it was impossible for Yan due to other commitments, so February it was.

Concrete plans started forming in October but the exact dates could only be finalized two months later, as Wilson had to ballot for his leave. By this time, we had missed out on ANA’s promotions so we ended up flying with Delta again.

Not that it was a bad thing. Between their generous baggage allowance, superb in flight entertainment and perhaps the lowest ticket prices for any non-budget airline Delta won out against our other options. That meant that the only things we had to endure were the spartan US bound custom checks and the less than favorable flight timings.

The flight for Narita left Singapore Airport at 5.45AM in the morning. Singapore’s transport efficiency hinted that we had to leave at about 3 to catch a ride over to Changi. Yan and Wilson both worked at odd hours and were thus veterans of functioning at this hour, or could simply sleep walk really well. Years of lethargy from an office life and the inability to digest food at a time when I ought to be sleeping saw that I would worship the porcelain god just prior to the trip.

Let's Go.

Delta 280 was a newer model B747 plane that had a more spacious 3-3-3 seat formation in the economy section, as opposed to the cramped 2-5-2 seats. This was good because I completely forgot to choose our seat positions when purchasing the tickets 2 months ago and only remembered it too late. Thankfully the system had automatically assigned us some decent seats on purchase.

Pork Noodles.

Before long it was time to brave the in-flight cuisine. Yan chose some pork noodle thing, which like most airplane food was bad. The omelet that Wilson and I chose was slightly better.

Safe. But still mush.

Being stuck in a flying container 30,000 feet in the air meant that I finally had time to put my PSP to use. Despite narrowing it down to Haruna, Mocchi, Lovetan and Natsuki, I ended up with Takajo on my first play through AKB1/48: Idol to Koishitara. Spent the remaining half of the trip sleeping.

Filling up the embarkation form.

At least this time, the company had the common sense not to use an orange pen to fill up the alien registration forms.

Back home.

We dropped off at Narita Airport at half pass one, where Wilson and I promptly headed to Uniqlo to grab some thermal inner wear, which would be put to good use tomorrow. We didn’t want to spend the $25 or $30 bucks at the Singapore store when we could get it back in Tokyo for half the price. As usual, there weren’t much clothes appropriate for the season left, as stores had started to prepare for Spring.

We were operating at quite a tight budget this time so some luxuries had to be forgone. Instead of a coach we took a train down to Ueno where we would be staying for the night. This would mean the Skyliner for most people, which takes you to Tokyo some 60 kilometers away in 45 minutes for 2400 yen ($36).

No one tells the gaijin though that you can take a local train for a fraction of the cost and still get there in 75 minutes.

Guess which we took.

Wilson and Yan bought their tickets, while I paid by Suica. For 30 minutes of your time, you get to save 1400 yen or approximately $20.

30 minutes might seem like quite a lot of time to waste, except when you consider that in Singapore, we’re pretty used to spending 90 minutes traveling from Choa Chu Kang to Changi Airport which is only 30 kilometers away. So yes, even this classic metal train below traveled double the distance in record time.

If this were my first time visiting Japan, I’d be pretty damned impressed. Anyone I’ve known who have been to Japan with an open mind (and not expecting Ninja and Geisha at every corner) has come back with pretty favorable reviews. Someone called the people “evolved”. But some time ago I came to the realization that Japan really isn’t that advanced. When you’re depraved in Singapore for long enough, everywhere else looks magical.

Next stop, Ueno.

Thanks to Delta’s flight timing, we would reach Tokyo at about 3PM. Even with the additional hour of daylight in Winter, there would only be 2 hours till nightfall so we planned to stay in evening in Tokyo before setting out early tomorrow morning for Osaka. Had we flew by ANA, a more favorably timed landing at the new Haneda airport could have saved us a day. But ANA flights to Haneda were fully booked.

New Tohoku Hotel.

Our first hotel was a old establishment off the side streets of Ueno. It was the cheapest place we could get near the train terminal. Due to the last minute booking and single day stay, it wasn’t that cheap either though. But it seemed like a good idea at the time to stay for the night to maximize the use of our Rail Passes for the next few days.

On hindsight, trying to squeeze as much as we did on a 7 day rail pass may not have been the wisest of decisions. But more of that in the posts to come.

Inside.

Turns out we took a long detour.

After we had lugged our luggage around the streets of Ueno to find our hotel, we learned of a shorter route via a overhead crossing near the adjacent JR Station (we came via Keisei). There were open air escalators up the bridge but they would be closed in the wee hours that we would awake the following morning.

Open air escalators.

Pretty neat overhead bridge.

We obtained our rail passes at the JR Station and booked seats for the following morning’s train before heading off to Asakusa. Yan had some life goals to attend to there, while Wilson and I were free for the evening.

Asakusa.

Our resident foodie, Yan had compiled a list of so called “must-eat” foods for Japan and much time was spend seeking particular shops at off beat locations. Tonight, we were up for Monjayaki in Asakusa at one of the most famous stalls. By famous, I meant that it appeared in some Japanese variety program. Given the nonsense that airs on Japanese TV, I can’t attest to this claim but Monjayaki is a cuisine unique to Tokyo that is worth a try.

The main Monjayaki restaurants were located at Tsukishima but since we were to grabbed some Okonomiyaki this evening too the nearby Asakusa was a straightforward choice. Having not had anything substantial to eat since the breakfast on the plane, we were pretty famished by the time we reached Rokumonsen.

The main shop was full.

Peering in, the main branch was pretty packed. After making a phone call, one of the staff at the store lead us through the side streets to another branch that was full too and they were turning away customers, but a table awaited us there.

So one of the staff brought us to another outlet a few blocks away.

Monjayaki.

Sticky.

It was difficult to decide what to make out of the Monjayaki here. Being rather hungry, I would have loved for something more abundant but any sustenance now was appreciated. In our hurry we scalded our tongues. There goes our taste buds for the next couple of days.

Back here again.

After our really late lunch, we walked around the Asakusa area for a while. It was pitch dark beyond the main streets and most shops had already closed, despite it being only 6PM. Wilson and I were left disappointed at being unable to grab some post meal snacks.

Shopping street.

Mostly closed.

The main gate.

The main temple was undergoing preservation work during our last visit here. It was especially red and glossy now with its new coat of lacquer.

Fresh new coat of lacquer.

After paying our respects to Kannon, we went about searching for the Okonomiyaki place that Yan was looking for. After an extended search through the area, we concluded that it was closed this evening so I brought him down to the next place he was looking for, a Sento (public bath) South of the main Asakusa streets.

Back alleys.

Sento.

Wilson and I left Yan up to his business at the bath while we went about looking for something else to occupy our time with. The plan was to meet back at the Asakusa Metro at 9 so we had about an hour and a half to roam the streets.

Pretty bleak.

As before, Wilson and I ended up taking shelter at ROX. It was about 4 degrees outside so we were regretting our decision of only purchasing one pair of thermal wear. Unfortunately, the Uniqlo outlet here had completely phased out their Winter line.

A basic necessity.

I grabbed some lip balm from a nearby Pharmacy before heading back to the train station to meet up with Yan. I had left a stick in the refrigerator back home but found it missing yesterday. Someone must had ate it.

Shelter.

The ledges by the ticketing machines here had plastic bumps for you to rest your umbrellas on. How crazy is that.

Derived from trial and error. Or common sense?

Wilson and I waited around the station till half pass 9 but there was still no sign of our accomplice. Phone messages to him were left unanswered. We left the comfort of the station to take a look around the area before deciding to head back to the hotel first.

We would find him already there.

Turns out, that while it could receive messages, the M1 Sim Cards that Yan and I purchased in advance of the trip couldn’t send any calls or messages without first making a call in Singapore. How stupid is that? I could always fall back to my regular card but Yan was left without any communication for the rest of the trip.

Without contact, Yan had somehow went to the Tsukuba Express station instead, stumbled around Asakusa and finally ended up at a further exit of the Metro terminal.

It was already 11PM by the time the party was consolidated, so plans to head to the nearby Tengu Izakaya had to be canceled. Wilson and I were prepared to head over to Lawson to grab something to eat but to Yan, having to resort to convenience store food on our first night seemed like an unfavorable option. So we ended up settling for a nearby fast food type soba place. Big mistake.

Last resort.

Deceptive.

Wilson's Katsu rice and soba.

Yan ordered some mince meat with a half boiled egg.

Contrary to popular belief, not all food in Japan is good. But walk into any establishment and there’s a 75% chance that it would be decent. I wasn’t expecting a great meal but in the hunger, anything moderate would have tasted awesome. The meal here was not awesome.

We were treated to soggy soba and toppings that had been reheated numerous times. The only saving grace was the instant grade curry that I had. It would have been a feat if they could fail at cooking rice. But unfortunately, this would be a feat that we would encounter.

My tempura soba and curry.

A meal from a Japanese 7-11 would had been fresher and probably much more enjoyable than this evening’s dinner. Not the best way to start a first night in Japan. Sadly, this probably wouldn’t be my last depressing meal over the next few days.

Disappointed, at our communication screw up and tonight’s dinner we headed back to recover for an early morning tomorrow.

Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.


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Chad

Supermerlion's Webmaster and Editor-in-Chief. Singaporean Nikkeijin with over 12 years of experience in the media industry. Producer at a Japanese entertainment company. Former Web Developer, Graphic Designer, Multimedia Programmer, Manager and Consultant. Shoots with a Canon 5Dmk2 and Sony RX100-2.
  • Josie Yu

    Hi,

    It’s really nice info u have there 🙂 I wonder how was the winter when U visited Tokyo last year? I heard it was warmer?? and even the autumn started late.

    this is a crucial info I need as I am planning to visit Tokyo during spring. I really would love to see the sakura best bloom viewing period. Last year it was delayed a week than its average blooming period leaving the first week of April only buds along the branches 🙁

    So if the winter is delayed, then I could assume the spring most likely to be delayed as well so I could set my mind on a specific date of flight.

    Cheers
    Josie

  • unknown

    Good to see Kannon done with the renovation. (^ w^)b

  • dan

    thought u guys were dead, lol, glad you are back

  • I bet you guys have a fun adventure.. Please continue and post more ;))

  • I am all impressed with all the pictures of food for sure.

  • superclover

    Welcome back chad. Looks like you ate a lot.

  • Benny

    nice.. always love to read your write ups from your trips..