Sunday: Arrival in Tokyo
Airports are airports, even when they’re in a foreign country. They’d shown us an arrival video on the plane, but it had mixed “what to do if you’re catching an international flight” with “what to do if you’re catching a domestic flight” and “what to do if you’re staying in Tokyo”, so we weren’t altogether clear on what we were supposed to do—including if we needing to take the shuttle to the main terminal.
It turned out that we did indeed need to take the shuttle, which turned out to be a train. We made stops at our first experience with Japanese toilets first. Fortunately, they were western toilets—I’m not sure I’m ready for a squat one. They also had instructions and extra buttons, if one wanted to use it as a bidet. This bathroom had soap and hand dryers, which I soon learned wasn’t true across Japan. I had to buy a towel to keep in my purse so I’d have something to dry my hands with in the bathrooms!
The Narita Airport itself was large and spacious—it wasn’t anywhere near as cramped at line areas as I’ve seen in other airports. We wound our way through immigration (although I had to add more to our forms. It turned out that “address” in Japan only needed to be our first night’s hotel. I’d left it blank since we were moving around.) Customs was also uneventful—we each had one carry-on size bag and a daypack/purse sized bag—and that was it. During the week, we had many times to be glad we were traveling light, since not all Japanese train stations have escalators!
We actually had several tasks to complete in the train station before we could catch the Narita Express for Tokyo. First, we went to the post office, where I presented my passport and picked up the pocket wi-fi I’d pre-ordered. It was such a convenience throughout the trip, since most of our hotel rooms had wired internet and not wi-fi.
Our next stop was to exchange our JapanRailPass vouchers. Stan went to extract money from an ATM (which I kept calling an ATM machine, which I generally never do, since I call them Money Machines. I’m not sure why I switched) while Jennica and I stood in what turned out to be the wrong line. Stan’s attempts were futile—not all Japanese ATMs accept foreign cards. Fortunately, someone directed us to the Citibank machine, which was perfectly happy to give us yen.
We then followed the directions we got from the woman we spoke with at the end of the long line, who had sent us downstairs to exchange our rail passes. Sure enough, we found the office and a charming woman exchanged our vouchers, gave us our passes, gave us a map of JR Tokyo trains, and reserved seats for us on both the Narita Express and our train for Kyoto the following morning.
After a bit of confusion over whether the numbers on the platform referred to car numbers (sorta), we discovered that the overhead signs did indicate car numbers, and we found our seats. Again, watching the luggage some people were struggling with, I was glad we hadn’t succumbed to the desire to “bring too much”. (Although I knew I’d be glad when we gave away the heavy bottles of Ohio wine in our suitcases.) (Note to self: next time, find lighter gifts to bring.)
The train ride was fine and we all took many pictures from the windows. We were thrilled that the Narita Express was air conditioned—it was well over 80 degrees (and muggy) inside the airport and we were all soaking with sweat.
When we got to Tokyo Station from Narita, we didn’t have any trouble finding the Yamonte Line to the Kanda Station, which was where our night’s hotel was. I’d booked an inexpensive room, which I’d picked with three criteria: triple, near a station easy to get to from Tokyo Station, and inexpensive. The first two I was right about—triple and inexpensive. “Easy to get to from Tokyo Station” was not such a rousing success. Getting to Kanda Station (only one stop from Tokyo Station) wasn’t hard at all. Finding our hotel, well, that was hard.
We didn’t know which exit to leave the train station from—and we picked the wrong one. The map outside the station was oriented differently from the map I’d loaded onto my phone. Street names weren’t marked everywhere, and they probably wouldn’t have helped anyway since my phone map was not very detailed. Predictably, we went absolutely the wrong direction.
As we realized we were going the wrong direction and trying to figure out the map on the phone, a very charming and friendly Japanese man asked if we needed help. He couldn’t figure out the map either, but called the hotel, got directions and then led us to the hotel. We returned to Kanda Station, walked through it and came out the other side and wandered through several small streets where I wanted to stop and marvel at the experience of being in Japan, but instead walked as fast as I could (not very fast) to keep up with Stan and our guide. He actually had the hotel staff on the phone as we walked to get us to the hotel—what an amazing and warm welcome to Japan!
Once we got to the hotel, I realized I should have printed out all of the hotel paperwork, but it worked out fine when I explained we’d pre-paid for the room. It had gotten dark while we were walking and all any of us could think about was getting a cold shower. Our room was tiny, and the bathroom surprised us. We were familiar with shower stalls being a single modular piece, but this entire bathroom was a single unit. However, at that point, all I cared about was setting the room temperature cool and standing under cold water. By consensus, we did not wander out again to gawk or eat. None of us had any trouble falling asleep.