Hey there people! Yeah, I know I haven’t been active very much on the blog. I’ve a lot going on in real life, from scholarship applications to family matters. So I decided to say “Fuck all that” and go on vacation to Japan to escape reality for around 5 days. Now that I’m back home, I think I’ll share some of my experiences while in Japan.
This was my first trip to Japan and also my first time travelling abroad. The last time I’ve been abroad was when I lived in Canada for 4 years (which was more than a decade ago). So, I tagged along with a tour group, which obviously limited my exploration options. In a nutshell, in five days, I only got to visit Tokyo and the essential tourist spots, such as Tokyo Tower and of course, Mount Fuji. I also got to see the sakura, though my time was limited.
Without further ado, here’s the story of my trip, conveniently summarized in three parts.
Day 1: Japan-bound
From Bali, I headed on a night flight to Jakarta. Direct flights to Japan from Bali are quite rare and also expensive. So, with my group, I headed to Jakarta. Since my flight was at six in the morning, we spent the night at an airport hotel.
I headed to the airport at 3 AM the next day. Of course I was sleep-deprived; I only managed to get 3 hours of sleep at the hotel, and there were three people including me packed in the same room. After checking in, I waited for my flight at a premium lounge. That’s why you should at least have one rich friend you can suck up to. While waiting, I stuffed myself with all the food I could manage at the buffet.
At 6 AM, I boarded my flight, JAL 720. My first impression of the Japanese airline was “Holy shit, the Economy class was quite fancy”. I was used to Indonesian Economy class, which sucked. All of the seats had personal TV screens and the in-flight movies were awesome too. They had Interstellar and even the live-action Parasyte movie! I was sure that the 7-hour flight would feel short.
I spent most of the flight watching movies and snacking. The flight attendants were all amicable and understanding. I get dehydrated easily, and they happily brought me drinks every hour or so. And because I wasn’t on an Indonesian airline, I had all the wine I could drink. Yeah, fuck you Indonesian airlines for not serving alcohol.
Before I knew it, I was at Narita airport. And what was I greeted with? A bunch of schoolgirls. I haven’t been in Japan for an hour and I already got a glimpse of real-life schoolgirls. Oh you thought I was going to post a photo? No chance, I’ve read on Sankaku Complex of what happens to people who approach schoolgirls.
But after disembarking, I had to poop. So I went to the toilet and… behold, the legendary Japanese toilet! It has buttons to control the strength of the water stream (so those with sensitive asses can also enjoy a stream of warm water), make sounds for those embarrassed by the noise of your nukes, a deodorizer, and control how hot your seat is. Japan should not be exporting anime, they should export more of this shit!
I got through customs without problems and without any hassle. Once I got through customs, my luggage had already arrived. The Japanese sure are punctual and efficient. I then proceeded to get a limited 3-day JR Pass. Unlike the usual unlimited JR Pass which costs around 30,000 yen but can be used at all JR lines across Japan, I got the limited 3-day JR Kanto Area Pass for 8,300 yen. It was a lot cheaper than the unlimited pass (I only had around 50,000 yen on me) and I was only going to be in Tokyo for 4 days.
Since I was a part of a tour group, we waited for our pickup to the hotel.
As soon as I stepped out of the airport, I inhaled the crisp spring air. The temperature was a nice 13 degrees Celsius. I felt like it was spring in Canada. But most importantly, I instantly noticed how orderly things were. Unlike Indonesian airports where people fucking solicit you everywhere and everything is out of place, everything was in order. Buses stopped at their designated lanes, taxis were parked in their spots, and there were no assholes soliciting me to get on cabs or buses. It was really nice and tranquil.
Even the trash is handled neatly.
Our pickup arrived shortly after and I was on my way to Tokyo. It took me about 1.5 hours to get to my hotel at Asakusa from Narita. Along the way, I was busy gawking at all the sights we passed by. There was Tokyo Disneyland, the Skytree, and a lot more. I even got to see my first sunset in Tokyo.
Once I arrived at the hotel, everyone else was shivering since at night, the temperature dropped significantly. I was accustomed to cold weather and my jacket provided more than enough insulation. We checked in. I was slightly surprised at the size of the hotel room. It was even smaller than my dorm room at university, and there were 3 people staying in it! I unpacked with great difficulty.
Since it was already 8 PM, I felt a bit hungry, so I considered walking outside to find a convenience store. From what I’ve been reading on travel blogs, convenience stores in Japan are the go-to place for hungry travelers on a budget. On my way, I passed the Sumida river and saw the majestic Skytree glowing in the night. There were also restaurant boats on the Sumida river. But the best part was there was a blooming sakura tree just five minutes from my hotel! It was so beautiful…
Anyway, I spotted a 7-11 and headed straight for the bento section. There were a lot of bentos on display. But, I couldn’t read their descriptions. I could only read a few Kanji, you see. So, I just took one with meat in it and took it to the counter. The cashier was the first time I ever conversed with a Japanese. Thanks to my Japanese classes in high school, sign language, and a few years of watching anime, I could almost understand everything the clerk said.
It was getting late, so I returned to my hotel room and ate my bento. It tasted alright too, unlike the ones at Indonesian convenience stores. I also grabbed a soda from a vending machine (I passed by like ten of them on my way to 7-11). After I was satiated, I began rummaging through the brochures in my hotel room. It seemed that I could get AVs on demand. Ah Japan, you really do understand men. But VOD was expensive, so I decided to take a bath. The bathroom was incredibly small. I sometimes regret being 1.8 meters tall. The bathtub was only 70-90 cm in length! I could barely stretch my legs.
So after a troublesome bath, I went to sleep at past midnight. I had to wake up at 4 AM the next day, since we were going to Karuizawa.
Day 2-1: Karuizawa, Land of the Posh
The next day, I woke up at 4 AM thanks to a barrage of alarms and my stiff legs. It was cold, and since I wasn’t in tropical Indonesia, I didn’t have to take my morning shower, so I just washed my face. I was scheduled to take the Shinkansen bullet train at 7 AM to Karuizawa.
We were ready to depart to the train station at around 6 AM. We had to go to the Ueno Station to take the Shinkansen to Karuizawa. Unlike the others, I came prepared. I asked for a map of the Tokyo metro from the hotel’s front desk and also for directions to the Ginza Line subway. It was only a 15-minute walk from the hotel. But since it was our first time in Japan, it took us 30 minutes to get to the station because we had to stop every 100 meters or so because someone had to stop to take pictures.
Morning in Tokyo was rather quiet. It was an early Saturday morning and there weren’t a lot of people on the streets. There was one thing I noticed on the streets: people drove very safely. Nobody ran red lights and always gave priority to pedestrians. When turning left, if there was a pedestrian in the way, the car would stop and wait patiently until everyone was across. In Indonesia, you would be subjected to obnoxious honking and yelling.
We arrived at the Ginza Line Asakusa Station thanks to a helpful local. Again, you can talk to locals with limited Japanese and sign language. He pointed the way to the Asakusa Station.
At Asakusa Station, we encountered a few problems. It was my first time riding the Tokyo Metro. But before coming to Japan, I did a lot of research. Watching anime and people on YouTube really does help, you know. The moment I saw a Pasmo/Suica machine, I went and bought myself a Pasmo card for 2,000 yen. Now, my group did not understand how to go through the subway gates. They bought only three Pasmo cards (there were 7 of us), thinking that one Pasmo could be used collectively. Apparently, it doesn’t work like that. Thus, we got in trouble when one of us tried to jump the gate. Thankfully, the gate attendant was reasonable. She helped them buy additional Pasmo cards while I waited patiently behind the gates. I then explained to them how the gates worked.
And then, we waited for our train to come.
The Tokyo subway, like most of Tokyo, was clean and orderly. People queued at the correct spots. There was no trash in sight. The people also kept quiet. We were the only boisterous ones, despite me pleading them to shut the fuck up. The train came right on schedule. Punctuality is something which I highly regard, and it feels nice knowing that the Japanese share my views. If something is scheduled to come at a given time, it better fucking come at the given time. Indonesians apparently have a hard time understanding that.
The ride to Ueno Station took exactly 15 minutes. The inside of the train was comfortable, quiet, and again, orderly. I’ve been using the word “orderly” quite a lot because that’s my lasting impression of Japan. When we got off at Ueno Station, I was welcomed with the weekend rush hour. Ueno Station was one of the bigger stations in Tokyo and there were a fucking lot of people. But despite the chaos, people kept their sanity. They queued patiently at the gates. You can’t find that in Indonesia!
Since we had JR Passes, we had to go through the manned gate. I took a minute and studied the Yamanote Line. From Ueno, it was only 4 minutes to Akihabara. I’ll get to that later. Then, after an obligatory group prayer, we were off to the Shinkansen platform.
Our train was scheduled to arrive at 6.58 AM, so I explored the platform a bit. I didn’t get a chance to buy breakfast on the way, so I looked for that nice old lady in the stall that sells food like what they show in anime. Of course, I found one. But the bento prices were ridiculously expensive by Indonesian standards. A normal bento cost around 1,000 yen. Since it was only my first day in Japan, I decided to get a sandwich (450 yen). Then, I got some hot cocoa at a vending machine (160 yen). Food in Japan really is expensive.
Then, our train arrived. It was my first time aboard the Shinkansen and it was beyond my expectations. Thanks to my JR Pass, I got a seat in the reserved section. The inside was sophisticated and resembled seats on an airplane with more leg space. You could even turn the seats around for groups. There were a few people inside, most of them dressed in winter gear and carrying skis. I sat beside a couple on a date. Thanks to them, I thought about my girlfriend. Fuck you, romantic couple. The journey to Karuizawa took about an hour or so. I expected it to be a bumpy journey, but the train didn’t make a sound or even sudden bumps. It was a really smooth journey. My hot cocoa didn’t even spill!
Then, we arrived at Karuizawa. It was only 8 AM. It was frigid outside. I haven’t been exposed to cold temperatures for a long while, so I was thankful that I chose to wear a warm jacket and gloves. But it was still cold as fuck. Our group was supposed to go to Shiraito Waterfall, but there weren’t any buses ready yet. We had to wait until 11 AM. So, we spent three hours exploring near the station. It was very close to Prince Hotel Ski Resort and also a high-end shopping area. The shops weren’t open yet, so we hung out at a nearby 7-11 and got hot drinks.
At around 10 AM, a Hoshino Resort shuttle bus started operating. Since it was free and we still had an hour to spend, we decided to get on the bus. It took us on a 25-minute ride to Hoshino Resorts, where there was a hot spring and other nature-related activities. It was really nice to get crisp, fresh mountain air.
We returned to the station at around 11 AM. The bus headed to Shiraito waterfall was already operating, so we got on. It took us on an hour-long drive through the hills of Karuizawa, where there was snow and beautiful cottages owned by rich people. We got off at the Shiraito stop and hiked an additional 300 meters to the waterfall. The natural scenery was breathtaking and refreshing. I also got a chance to play in the snow. Ah, how I miss winters in Canada… Also, enjoy some Miku playing in the snow.
After viewing the waterfall, we headed to the bus stop. We also visited the nearby shops. There was this one guy selling roasted iwana fish. It cost around 700 yen per fish, but the price was really worth it. I had 2 sticks of fish. The person was also really nice. At around 4 PM, we returned to the train station.
Finally, the shops were open. The ladies in my group went like crazy and dashed to the shops. I’m not an avid shopper; I came to Japan to sample the food and culture. Also, the shops at that particular location were the kind of high-end premium retails which were frequented by the posh. So, I explored the area for food. I found some anime staple foods, such as custard pudding and yakisoba bread. They are quite delicious, but not very satiating. I also found this “For the Glory of Satan”-flavored Pocky. The food at the food courts were rather pricey, ranging from 600 yen for a simple hamburger to 1,000 yen for a plate of curry rice. Oh yeah, let me tell you something: Pocky in Japan is way more delicious than Indonesian Pocky. That’s because Indonesian Pocky uses different ingredients to comply with halal standards. You know what I’m talking about.
I walked to the Prince Ski Resort, a good 20-minute walk from the station. At first I thought it was real snow, but after a bit Googling, I found out that the Prince Ski Resort uses snow machines. Oh well, gotta keep the business running, since Karuizawa rarely gets natural snow in abundance.
Then, at 6 PM, we headed back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen.
Day 2-2: Akihabara, the Holy Land (Night)
Here’s where I finally got to travel on my own.
I thought we were all getting off at Ueno Station. So, when we reached Ueno, I got off the train and frantically looked for a bathroom. When I looked for my group, they told me they were headed to Tokyo Station for Ginza to do some sightseeing and shopping. I was left alone at the station. Finally some solo travel time! I’m guessing you guys already know my next destination… Akihabara!
So I hopped on the Yamanote Line and 4 minutes later, got off at Akihabara Station. It took me a while to get on the Line, because I was confused and got lost at Ueno Station. Thankfully, the JR staff were helpful.
Let me describe my feelings when I first exited the station with this pic below:
AKB48 Cafe! Gundam Cafe! Sofmap! Akiba! Mandarake! Tora no Ana! I have set foot on the Holy Land!
But seriously, as a first-timer in the Holy Land, I was utterly confused and disoriented. Everything was so bright, so flashy, and there so many people walking to and fro. I even bumped into a lot of people. I headed to the main street and decided to get to know the main street first before venturing into the alleys. And I ended up in an Animate shop, loaded with anime goodies.
But it was getting late. I knew that trains stopped at midnight, and it was 10 PM. So I decided to head back to the hotel and made plans to visit Akihabara the next day with a friend. But I ran into a bit of trouble.
From Ueno Station, I wanted to get on the Ginza Line. I was stopped by a ticket gate. Feeling confident, I tapped my Pasmo, but the gate rejected me. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The attendant then called me, and I thought “Shit, I’m in trouble…” I tried explaining in broken Japanese that I was trying to get to the Ginza Line, but my Pasmo wouldn’t open the gate. He checked it on the computer and asked me to show my ticket. I said I didn’t buy a ticket (because I didn’t need one; the JR Pass covers the Yamanote Line). He asked me which station I came from, and I answered Akihabara. I told him that I used a JR Pass to get to Akihabara. He told me show my JR Pass. Then, he let me pass the gates.
Then, after a bit of processing and brainstorming, I then figured out how the Pasmo ticketing system worked. When I scan my Pasmo at an entrance, it records the location. When I exit my destination station, the machine records where I entered from and then automatically deducts the correct fare from my balance when I scan the card at the exit. Such a brilliant system. Since I entered Akihabara with a JR Pass, the Pasmo didn’t have my entrance location, resulting in an error at the exit gate.
That taught me to always look for manned gates when carrying a JR Pass.
I got back to my hotel safely, despite walking in the middle of the night. In Jakarta, I would have been robbed, raped, or even killed. But in Japan, I felt really safe on the streets at night.
And that concludes this first part! In part 2, I describe my journey around Tokyo and Mount Fuji. It was a blast!