Japan, May 2014: Day One

Seven days ago, it was touch and go whether either of us would be fit enough to fly; however, we battled on and took a lot of (mostly prescribed) drugs to get here! So, after a week of drama, hospital visits and doctors appointments, we’ve finally landed in Tokyo!

With our body clock screaming 1AM, we wandered around the building site of Narita’s Terminal One in search of the elusive Post Office. We’d preordered a MiFi device (basically a mobile phone without the phone capability), so we could tether our phones and have permanent WiFi – and it was ready awaiting collection.

With nearly 6 hours to kill before we could check into the hotel, we opted for the leisurely Airport Limousine Bus to deliver us to Shinjuku Station. The drive into Tokyo passes rice fields, industrial towns and the sprawling metropolis. Rain was falling and the Tokyo traffic was predictably heavy, but the views from the elevated C1 ring road give a unique perspective on city life and the journey seemed to pass in minutes.

It was only once we’d unloaded at Shinjuku it finally hit us; we’re in Japan and despite the year of preparation, we have no idea what we’re doing. With a few hours left to kill, we dumped our suitcases in some coin lockers; paying particular attention to where the lockers were located. Shinjuku is the busiest (and possibly the largest) station in the world. Some entrances to the station are a kilometre from the tracks and there’s a bus service that takes you from the east entrance to the west… So don’t lose your bearings here.

Rather than hang around in the Shinjuku maze, we jumped on a train (delayed because of an earthquake at 8:34 this morning) and headed to Harajuku. Takeshita street (no laughing at the back!) is famous for street fashion and kawaii culture. It’s here you find girls dressed in the wildest, cutest, craziest clothes. Rarely are these mainstream designers, but often personal creations using the unlikeliest of accessories. Unfortunately, Harajuku has become a victim of it’s own success. Nowadays, foreign traders appear to run every other shop, with their staff wandering the street touting for business. It feels a lot more like London than it did a decade ago.

However, a loin ham and mystery cheese sandwich from Wolfgang Puck gave us the energy to go exploring. Immediately we ran into an Israeli woman (can’t remember her name!) from Cool Japan – one of our favourite NHK World programmes. Emma was star struck. I don’t know whether it was delirium from the lack of sleep or the overwhelming colour and buzz of the place, but we ploughed on, passing Carlos (a Mexican, obviously) also from Cool Japan! Exhausted and admittedly tired from traveling, we made our way back to our luggage at Shinjuku and onto our hotel.

Our hotel, the Tokyo Plaza, is located in Shinokubo – or Korea Town as it’s locally known. It may seem odd to stay in Korea Town, Tokyo; but we saw the themed rooms and couldn’t resist. We reserved the ‘Girls Generation’ room (apparently they are a big deal in the Korean music world) and it’s both awkwardly uncomfortable and hilarious at the same time… It’s like staying in a teenagers room. There’s Girls Generation posters and pillows everywhere – just think back to your bedroom growing up – it’s like that.

The area is packed with Korean Pop (K-Pop) shops and caf├ęs. I can’t imagine anything like this working in the UK, but here it seems quite acceptable, and profitable. We made a visit to 7-Eleven and picked up an assortment of ‘food’ for dinner… Now we’re ready for bed.