The trip across to Japan was began poorly, seated at the rear of a Qantas 747 feeling every bump of the tropical air and unable to sleep on our 9 1/2 hour overnight flight. I was relieved to finally touch down at Narita, the clean and modern airport.servicing Tokyo. I had no problems getting through immigration, but they appeared a bit confused by B’s status as a Malaysian living in Sydney.
The first task was to convert our Japan Rail Pass vouchers for the actual pass and book a seat on the Narita Express (N’EX). This fast and modern train runs all the way from the airport to Shinjuku in 70 minutes, past rice paddies, forested hills and then the expanse of residential appartments around Tokyo proper. Most interesting was Chiba, where big monorail tracks ran overhead.
There are electronic maps near in each compartment of the N’EX and announcements in both Japanese and English, so we were easily able to track our progress to Shinjuku. Once there, we spent about half an hour dragging our suitcases around trying to find the Shinjuku New City Hotel. Big street maps located at strategic intersections proved useful here.
We were exhausted and needed sleep, but the check-in time was 3pm, so all we could do was leave our bags there and stumble back into the tropical heat and humidity of early Autumn Tokyo.
Apart from skyscrapers, West Shinjuku also has such fantastic electronic retailers as Yobodashi. A huge selection of cameras and the best looking computers that I had ever seen. I returned to this store many times during our stay and never had enough!
We then wandered around the shopping centres near the station and in East Shinjuku, including Takashimaya Times Square and Tokyu Hands eating tonkatsu and the delicacies in a bento box. Finally, back to the hotel at 3pm for a sleep. For dinner, we returned to the station area and found a narrow alleyway full of cigarettes and charcoal grills smoke from the tiny bars and noodle stalls that squeezed in together on both sides of the street. It was liking stepping into another world. Japanese customers sat on stools around the narrow bars eating yakitori and drinking beer. We found ourselves climbing up the narrowest of staircases of one such establishment, to be seated on cushions around a long low table. While other young Japanese smoked and watched baseball on the small television, we tried some yakitori – barbequed skewers. Tasty, but expensive!
The night sky may have been dark by the time that we had finished eating in Shinjuku, but the streets were still bright from the myriad neon lights and plasma screens that dominated the walls of the urban canyons.