A quick impulse excursion to Tokyo for the new year11 January, 2012 by Chad
To explain the lack of updates in quite a while, I had been away in Tokyo again the past couple of weeks for an impulsive getaway. As with all the previous years, I’ll be uploading a day by day walkthrough of the journey over here.
While I have had the intention to return to Japan again soon for quite some time, a combination of work and weekend events have kept me in Singapore for longer than expected. Warning, possible long chunk of text below.
The decision to fly was only made a couple of days before leaving this time, having basically been forced by my director to utilize my remaining annual leave during the holiday season. Had I known about it sooner, I would had definitely left the week before to spend the Christmas there too.
Despite being against it, construction had been going on at my place in Singapore for the beloved “HDB upgrading”. While I had opted out of the plan, a construction blunder downstairs on a neighbor’s apartment resulted in them having to destroy our bathrooms as well to reach the pipes to repair the neighbors’ pipes.
I would be taking this trip together with my brother. We were both eager to get away from the past month (and still ongoing) drilling, having to put up with no elevators, everything being coated with a layer of soot and the dozens of other inconveniences like having random people loitering and peeking in from outside of your house.
Due to the lack of planning, getting ready for the trip itself was a frantic endeavor. One of the main reasons why we even considered flying at such a last minute was the availability of cheap $533 tickets on a specific Delta flight.
Eager to get things settled on the evening when we decided to fly (two days before the flight), I returned home from work to book a pair of tickets for Narita Airport and immediately after reaching the “flight booked” confirmation page, a stay at Candeo Ueno-koen.
For a while, I attempted to see if I could use my previous Skymiles to subsidize the trip, having accumulated quite an amount from past travels. When there wasn’t any clear means to do so, I even opened one of those “real-time” consoles to assist in your booking to inquire about it. But getting no immediate response, I found out through fine print on the site itself that only AMEX card holders could claim the miles.
At some point, the console got lost in the clutter of other opened windows (you know how it is with Macs). I found it again later only after booking the tickets, to find a chat log filled by a customer service assistant annoyed by my lack of replies. I paid no notice to this then.
But this is where trouble struck. Early, the next morning, while looking through my online credit statements I realized that my card had not been charged for the tickets. Sure enough, there was no e-mail from Delta either.
Called up Delta to ask, apologizing ahead for any tone on account that I was quite panicking at this point. The hotel booking wasn’t refundable either so changing our itinerary was out of the question.
Sure enough, they could not find any reservation under my name. This was despite me clearly having gotten a confirmation from the site the day prior. On hindsight, I really should had checked for the email first before booking the hotel.
The person on the other end asked if I would like to re-book the tickets. Delta raises their ticket prices the day prior to flights, so despite the plane being pretty much empty (no one flies on New Year’s Eve itself) I would have to pay double for each ticket now.
I saw no reason why I should have to bear this cost because of a system error on their part. The lady asked what I wanted and I replied well I wanted the tickets at the price that I originally paid. After being put on hold for a long wait so that she could check with, read, customer service, I was told that that was not possible. At this point “You realize I’ll probably never fly Delta ever again” were my exact words and the reply to this valued customers was “That’s too bad”. Needless to say, the conversation ended there.
So as things go, we ended up booking two tickets with ANA the day before our flight. Unlike Delta, their ticket prices do not escalate prior to the flight. While more expensive than what we had intended to pay, it was still less than what we would need to pay to fly with Delta. Even if Delta had not left such a bad taste in my mouth, ANA was the better choice at this point of time.
Looking back, even my previous experiences with Delta had been tolerable at best. Having had to put up with stringent body checks for the US bound flight, in-flight dining and flight times for the savings.
Packed up quickly and briefly considered some places we could cover during this short trip. It would mostly be a sightseeing opportunity and would mirror the 2010 trip quite closely. However, we would be spending the New Year’s in Japan, a time traditionally famous for closed shops and overcrowded temples.
On the other hand, the flight by ANA was far more pleasant. Despite being a smaller 767 plane, the seats were spaced further apart and the luggage compartments smartly folded upwards for a lot more room in the cabins. Instead of leaning backward, the seats popped out a curved backrest so you don’t bother the person behind you.
Not that it mattered much on this flight as there were hardly anyone on board. Pretty much everyone else had the seat beside them empty and some entire rows were devoid of passengers.
I have heard various horror stories of those flying ANA of the terrible on flight meals and was pleasantly surprise to learn that that wasn’t the case. In fact, as far as airplane food goes, today’s breakfast was good. I guess it also helped that we were being served by a lovely cabin attendant that looked like a slimmer, more pleasing Yonezawa Rumi.
In-flight entertainment was limited though to just a small selection of recent shows. And as it is the case with most flights, didn’t manage to get more than a couple hours of sleep.
ANA’s midnight flight timing meant that we would have the entire first day free. The plane dropped us off at Narita Airport at about 8 AM. From which we took the local Keisei train down to Nippori for 1,000 yen and switched over to our hotel just one stop away at Uguisudani.
After dropping off our luggage at the hotel it was off to Harajuku this morning. Due to the spontaneous nature of the trip, we had to rely on visiting Gorakudoh to snag some second hand tickets for next week’s SUPERGiRLS concert. There weren’t any other pair tickets save a couple for the back row at 4,000 yen each, we snapped them up immediately.
After some exploring of Harajuku, we took a short detour to Omotesando, where the entire area was lined up with Fairies posters on every lamp post.
Figured might as well pay a visit to the Meiji Jingu too. Decorations had been put up in preparation of the new year’s celebration. It would be pretty crowded in the next few days when it is customary for locals to visit for the first time in the year. For this reason the main shrine building was closed off.
Instead, a large area in front of the shrine had been sectioned off so that people could throw their money at the shrine instead. The temple staff must had cleared the donations on a daily basis or the pool of money would be quite a sight during this season.
Next, we took a walk over to Shibuya, passing by the Yoyogi Stadium on the way. Though it was still early, many had already turned up in anticipation of tonight’s Kouhaku Uta Gassen new year program.
There were a few troublesome looking school girls standing on the overhead bridge here holding up notebooks with something written on it. No they weren’t here for enjou kosai. On closer inspection it turns out that they were begging for tickets to see Hamasaki Ayumi.
Just below the bridge and next to the stadium, were a dozen or so crazy blinged out Ayumi fan cars and vans laid out on both sides of the street. These were owned by late 20 or 30 something ora ora kei and yoruhime kei looking Ayumi fans. They were definitely on a whole different level of wota.
We followed this street down to Shibuya since it passed by the SKE48 Shibuya store. For some reason, there was a comic book strung on one of the trees here. A van advertising no3b’s latest single drove by, we would encounter these no3b vans a good many times more over the next few days.
Nothing notable at the SKE48 shop. They did have the KII unit song photos in plentiful stock here though despite being sold out online. But we ended up walking out empty handed.
Many of the buildings in Shibuya were advertising AKB48’s newly released Seibu Dome Concert DVD. But buildings that weren’t plastered with AKB48 had large banners advertising Fairies’s Hero/Sweet Jewel instead. Others were in preparation for the fukubukuro that they would be selling in the coming days.
It wasn’t getting any earlier and having realized that we had missed lunch so far, decided to seek out something that could possibly satisfy two meals this late afternoon.
While I was hoping to hit up either Midori Sushi at Mark City or the adjacent Tengu Izakaya, there was a long brunch queue at Midori’s this Saturday afternoon. We didn’t fare any better with Tengu as the entire Renga Building that housed the izakaya was closed for the holiday.
Instead, we decided to look toward the main streets of Shibuya for other options. After weighing upon a few choices, we settled on a random yakiniku place that we saw at the entrance of the street.
The shop offered a course set for 2,500 yen with a clause that we only had a couple of hours to eat. We went ahead and ordered two sets without clarifying the contents or amounts first. Higher end establishments and similar joints in Singapore tend to have meager servings.
The cuts turned out to be pretty good and plentiful. Too plentiful in fact as we would soon learn. It didn’t seem like much at first but additional plates of stuff were brought to us at intervals. A Chinese couple sitting opposite us (who must had been regular customers as they shared a serving) mocked our madness.
After about halfway, we were getting more full than needed. With this knowledge, we now know that we would had been better off sharing a single course and getting a couple of ala carte options. Just going with a selected few plates would had sufficed too as the most delicious pieces were the ribs, tongue and steak cuts.
After dinner, we looked around to find that many other shops around Shibuya were already closing early today. Still suffering from the lack of sleep on the flight, we decided to head back to the hotel to retire ourselves.
As mentioned earlier, this trip’s stay was at Ueno’s Candeo Hotel again. My experience here can only be described as pleasant. Candeo isn’t the cheapest or most luxurious place by far, but it does fit the bill for all of our requirements.
While not exactly swimming in options for hotels when I had booked our room here at the last minute, we still managed to get a twin room here for a pretty decent price of about SGD$140 a night.
Those who want the full rundown can visit this previous writeup on Candeo Hotel Ueno-koen. There isn’t much going on outside here save for some necessities like a SunRus convenience store and a budget supermarket downstairs (the streets are mostly lined with love hotels). But the three star business hotel has a great location for tourists, overlooking Ueno Park and being literally right next to a station on the most utilized Yamanote Line.
Turning on the tube, it seemed that we reached back in time to catch the annual Kouhaku Uta Gassen. Ayumi was up when I switched on the TV, which I can only presume was one of the opening acts.
AKB48 popped up soon after in full force. The presence of what must had been all 48 groups at this year’s show seemed a tad obsessive. But not even the combined forces of all of AKB48, SKE48, NMB48 and whatnot could keep us awake in our exhaustion as we were both unconscious at some point before 9.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.