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Published: November 28th 2009
Sign leading to the hotel
I like my job but hate the people I work with. I needed a break and I promised my friend Hiromi whom I met in Europe about a year ago that I would come see her in Japan this summer. I submitted my request for 1 week off to my boss whom I later learned to despise. It got approved a few days later and to my luck...there was a seat sale with Air Canada!!! $1000 for round trip from Montreal to Tokyo, best deal I’ve ever came across in a long time.
Jamie who lives in Vancouver also had the same date of vacation as me and he was deciding on going to Cuba or Japan, and since I told him I was going to Japan, he cancelled Cuba and came to Japan with me.
I flew from Montreal to Vancouver, spent a night in Vancouver at Jamie’s house and when morning came, we left for the airport. I love self check in, we avoid line-ups and we can go through security before everyone else.
The flight from Vancouver to Tokyo took 11 hours, very long flight, didn’t get much sleep. Here’s a tip...when you’re going on vacation...please
refrain from checking your emails. I made the mistake of checking my emails at work before I left and there was a huge project waiting for me for when I get back, so it made me a little stressed out. Never again will I do that (hopefully!).
We land at Narita airport, immigration was a breeze. They will take a picture of you and your fingerprint at immigration. I then went to look for my friend Hiromi who was waiting for us. She came to pick us up and bring us to the Oak hotel. Before we left the airport, we stopped at the travel office to get our JR train pass. This pass you have to purchase it in your country of residence. It is a pass only for tourist; you can get the 7 day pass or the 14 day pass. With this pass, you can ride unlimited on the JR line and the bullet train to any city in Japan. Once you paid for the pass, they give you a paper which is also your receipt, with the paper in hand, when you arrive at Narita airport, you go to the travel office, give them the
If you think this is a box, wait till you see the washroom!
paper, they will give you the pass, stamp it and you’re ready to go.
The train system in Japan is just crazy. It’s so fast, always full and very respectful of the rules (no cell phone usage on the train).
Ok, so off we go to my hotel which is located at JR UENO station. This station is a big one, very easy to get lost, but also very easy to navigate once you understand how it works. Don’t be shy to ask the attendant if you’re lost, they are more than happy to assist you. They do not speak English so a lot of pointing is involved. Japanese people are the friendliest people I’ve ever met; no wonder so many people love it here. I once went the wrong way, and the attendant actually ran after me and personally directed me to the right direction. I was very grateful for that. From UENO station, there is a 10 minute walk to the hotel. The hotel is kind of hidden, but there is a sign on the main road pointing left to the hotel. So don’t bring too much luggage with you if you are planning on taking the
See I told you!
train and walking, because it would suck!
The hotel I chose was excellent. It is small, the staffs speaks excellent English. There are 3 computers with free internet in the lobby. If you have your own laptop, you can ask for the internet plug so you can use it in your room at no charge. For $60 USD /night, you can have the choice of a standard room or Japanese style room. Private bathroom in each room, and I was impressed that for a place so small and simple...they give you toothbrush and toothpaste as part of your bathroom amenities. Of course, I took the Japanese style room...duh! Come on you’re in Japan, at least evolve yourself in the culture!!! The room itself is super small...it’s like living in a box, but its comfortable, the bed is super comfortable and I slept very well every night that I was there. This hotel is recommended for backpackers on a budget, as it is near everything. McDonald’s, coffee shop, grocery store, 7/11, ATM machine, train station, book store, temple, postal office, bank, everything!!!
That night we went for a walk in central Tokyo, I had to
Shibuya at night
see Shibuya at night. It feels like time square, but way better! The famous intersection is fascinating to watch. As soon as the light turns green, people from every corner starts to cross the street and it’s crazy to watch people coming from one end to the other from every direction, and it just doesn’t stop. I could stand there and watch this all night; it’s something everyone should experience in Tokyo.
The next day Jamie and I decided to experience the bullet train ride to Kyoto, the historic part of Japan where Geishas frequents the old town. The bullet train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about 2 hours. Holy crap, the train is fast. You could be standing waiting for your train and literally feel the ground shake as the train from the other side pass by.
We arrive in Kyoto and I was excited to go to the old part of town. Why? Because I want to see a Maiko! Apparently it is very rare to spot one, as there are less than 1000 in Japan. The culture is slowly dying. I picked the wrong season to go to Japan, as it was the rainy
season. So it was cold and cloudy the whole day and there was a lot of walking involved. We got lost a couple times, but finally made our way into old Kyoto. Then we were on a hunt for Maikos!!!
I heard from somewhere that if you see a taxi waiting outside a tea house that usually means that a Maiko will be coming out soon. And to our luck, we did see a taxi waiting outside a tea house, and we got excited! We waited and waited I think we waited for 45 minutes until someone came out...and it wasn’t even a Maiko!!! It was some old lady dressed in traditional Japanese dress. We were both cold and disappointed.
We decided to go for traditional tea to warm us up. I had matcha green tea, traditional Japanese tea. My first time trying it and omg...this stuff is so concentrated that both of us got high. Yes high on green tea!! My head was spinning and I felt like I was floating on thin air, then I crashed...hard, really didn’t feel good afterward, but we must go on. The rest of the day, we visited temples and shrines, honestly
The Tea that got us high!
after seeing 3-4 temples, I wasn’t interested anymore, they all look the same after awhile.
On day 3, Hiromi took us shopping in Akihabara. Akihabara is a district in the central of Tokyo. Famous for its many electronics shops. I got myself a new digital camera and a rice cooker for my parents, yeah carrying a rice cooker around town is not very convenient, but there are lockers at the train station, so I left all my purchases in there. The shopping experience in Tokyo is so different. The staffs don’t speak English very well, but will go out their way to help you. I love it! Plus having Hiromi as my translator worked out to my advantage as well.
Next, we went to Megaweb. This is a place for car enthusiast. All the newest Japan made models are here. The coolest part? We get to test drive their cars on the tracks! I chose the Toyota Crown Hybrid. Not available in North America or ever will be. After testing out the cars, we went to the arcades to see what it’s all about. See I’m not really into video games, but it was fun to see all the
craziness that happens inside this place.
For the next two days, I spent time alone with Hiromi. Since it’s not the season to climb Mount- Fuji, I want to see it at least. Hiromi took me to Hakone, this is the place to go if you want a good view of the Mount-Fuji and to get a real natural hot spring. I wasn’t really down on the hot spring, because you’re not allowed to go in with a bathing suit on, you must go in naked. I wasn’t too comfortable with that idea, but hey, if you’re not shy, go for it!
I wasn’t lucky that day, as it was cloudy day, I only got to see the tip of Mount-Fuji, sucks but I’ll take it, it’s better than nothing. We had sushi for dinner and it was freaking good. I went to one of those places where at the center, the table turns and you just pick out the plate that you want to eat and the prices depends on the colour of your plate. The rest of my trip was just go go go, shopping, lunch, dinner and I found out that I couldn’t
Bullet train, so cool!
go on without my daily dose of Starbuck Coffee (yea it’s that bad). Oh, did I mention that the public toilet in Japan is awesome? The seat has a heater; it has functions to wash your bum and music if you don’t want anyone to hear you pee! Ha-ha!
I had McDonald’s on my last night in Japan. Before anyone say anything, let me start by telling you that it tasted amazing. It’s cheaper than North America and I think healthier too. So I recommend anyone who is going to Japan, please try their McDonald’s at least once!
So I’m back at Narita airport. The express train is included with your pass and it takes about 1hrs from Tokyo. It’s pretty far, so give yourself plenty of time to get there and to check in. Remember if you are leaving on international flight, you get off at the second stop, because the first stop is for domestic. The airport has plenty of shops, very clean and easy to navigate.
I absolutely love Japan, this was a short trip but I will definitely come back again
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