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Published: April 5th 2017
After a couple of hectic weeks leading into our trip, the packing seemed to go relatively smoothly. We packed so efficiently that I was sure we were forgetting something, but so far, so good. And given the temps will range from 6' to 18' we packed pretty light - 30 kgs between the four of us. Ample space for a a touch of shopping.
It's been nearly 14 years since Jules and I visited this crazy city and I'd forgotten how big and busy it is. If not for the bilingual announcements on the plane, it feels like any other domestic flight. And despite the length of the flight, the sanctuary of the familiar in-flight entertainment lulls you into a false sense of security. Once you pass through customs your hit with the complexity of the transport system and confusion of the foreign symbols and language - not to mention the unfamiliar smell of stale cigarette smoke in the arrivals lounge. I didn't see anybody smoking but you could smell the remnants of it. And the platforms at Narita have non-smoking booths. Not SMOKING booths but non-smoking booths. Yet, I didn't see anyone smoking on the platforms either.
A short wait and we're on the 20.47 Narita express and as expected it's bang on time. Narita isn't the most conveniently located airport and it's a 90 minute train ride to Shinjuku. At the exact same moment, Jules, Deaks and I realise we are in the wrong carraige. When the NEX hits Tokyo station , it splits in two and the front half goes to Yokohama and the back half to Shinjuku. We trek back to carraige number 7 and settle in for the trip. It's late at night and the scenery is limited for the first half hour. As we approach Tokyo we glide through a ten or more stations the size of Roma St Station - each with a dozen platforms busy with commuters clustered at the precise point where the door will open exactly when it should. Trains coming and going from the platforms are jam packed and flow like arteries into the expansive Tokyo suburbia.
Shinjuku is the biggest train station in the world and feels like it has Westfield Chermside within it's perimeter. We have to exit on the eastern side if we're any chance of finding our hotel. Coming out of the elevators and passed the department store, I'm not confident. We hit the cool night air and are confronted with a wall of neon. My map says 650 metres to Hotel Gracery but how the hell are we supposed to get across that 4 lane flyover expressway?
Thank shinto for google maps. It says to turn at the 7-11, but which one? There are about 3 within 200 metres and the street names aren't very clear. We snake through main roads and alley ways and find ourselves in what appears to be a bit of a red-light district. It's not obvious that these venues are of an adult nature, but the presence of African touts gathering business suggests that they aren't selling sushi and karaoke. But that's the strange thing. Any other country and these parts of town would feel threatening and unsafe. Tokyo just feels safe.
The kids soldier on and barely repress their concerns that Dad is lost. It does feel like we are ducking and weaving in no particular direction, but the map pays off and we find our hotel. It's better than we expected and the 26th floor view of the Tokyo skyline is spectacular.
It's bloody late! I've used the butt washing toilet and it's time to share my tin bed with Deaks. It's Milla's birthday tomorrow and I'm looking forward to one she'll never forget.
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