It was towards the end of the Summer of 2016. I began drafting this post on the flight back home from Narita until I felt queasy after the plane reached its highest altitude, stopped and passed out in my cramped economy seat with my backpack full of fresh second hand manga volumes of Nisekoi and Hayate no Gotoku! Japanese snacks eating up my leg space. It wasn’t only because of the air sickness which put me off from writing, but it was also because I just couldn’t find the right words to summarise and describe my incredible experience – oh wait, I think I just did it…
On the 7th of August, 2016, I took the plunge to do the thing every anime and manga and Japanese culture fan would always ever dream of; traveling to Japan.
For as long as I have been a anime and manga fan from way back when I had always idolised the idea of visiting Japan and the possibility of living and working there. I remember back in high school I discovered Danny Choo and the life he was leading documented on his website; binge – reading every post he made from the very beginning, embellishing his plethora of wide-angled photographs capturing still moments of Japanese life and so on. Danny Choo’s efforts was also how I ended up becoming good friends with a bunch of people who I now talk to on Twitter. As I grew older and years passed the reality kicked in my idolisation waned, however the desire to travel to (and maybe work in) Japan one day still remained.
Using money I’d saved up over the past few years and dragging along my friend Joe who I met at my university’s anime society, over the scorching hot summer of 2016 we spent three weeks in the far eastern motherland and did what the Romans would have done if they’d stepped into an eight-story high DVD porn shop.
This trip was a big deal to me because it ticks off a huge to-do on my bucket list; serving as a grandiose graduation trip as I had just recently finished my bachelor’s degree before the trip; weighing in the pros and cons, this was the perfect and only way for me to go all-out before I succumb into the working life. There are no words that can truly describe it but I have to at least anyway, Tokyo was absolutely amazing.
The purpose of these posts is to recollect what I did throughout my time out in Japan as well as talking about things I particularly liked the most. Similar to the way Danny Choo writes his photo blogs back in the day. It’s also a good way to show off all the photos I took rather dump them all on Flickr and call it a day; after all, I shot over 8000 photographs in raw format eating up a good chunk of hard drive space…
– 24 hours of travel –
Our journey began on the 7th August 2016 at Heathrow Terminal 4 airport at 4am in the morning.
After me and Joe met up in the waiting area we checked in our bags and went through the security bits to enter the passenger area with all the funky duty-free shops.
The waiting areas post-security was pretty quiet and chill at 5am.
Had some breakfast before the flight!
Our journey to Japan begins with a short haul 4-hour flight to Moscow in Russia!
We sat in the center of the plane next to the wings which is the best place to take scenic high-altitude photographs.
The cup and bottle holders on planes never fit my water bottles…
The airplane for this flight was the Airbus A320 which was a pretty small plane. No inflight entertainment or refreshments unless you requested and purchased some.
To the skies!
To the land of Putin!
Once we landed in Sheremetyevo International Airport and walked through the various pathways, a funny incident occurred during the security check where a staff lady approached us speaking in broken English and we had no idea what she was saying. We realised that she was telling me to delete the photo I just took of the glass dome roof in the security bit because photos weren’t allowed. She was heavily persistent to witness me in deleting the photo as her eyes was glued to my phone with an anime wallpaper on the homescreen (I forgot what at the time). Because it wasn’t that good of a shot anyway so I deleted it to her satisfaction and walked off. I then took a pic of her back when we parted ways just to screw with her lmao.
This was also the time to take a break in the toilets and to brush my teeth after the flight to prepare for the long flight to Narita.
Russian vending machine! The Mountain Dew bottles look weird.
At Sheremetyevo Airport with muh waifu.
Some cool-looking Soviet souvenirs in the many shops at the airport. We didn’t have any Kubles on hand sadly so we weren’t able to buy anything at all in Russia. I keep forgetting that I had technically visited Russia while travelling to Japan in the process!
Matryoshka dolls in the duty free shops!
The closest thing related to anime and manga I found in Russia.
The Sheremetyevo Kerfuffle
Let’s just say our flight experience to Japan with Aeroflot was quite the rough one.
The flight from Heathrow to Narita was a connecting flight via Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, and to be frank navigating around this shitty airport was a total nightmare.
It all started once we got off the short flight from Heathrow and tried to find the location of our next flight. We read on the flight timetable our plane to Tokyo would be at Gate 28, and off we went. Suddenly we hear an announcement of a bunch of sudden gate changes; discovering our plane got rerouted to Gate 58 – which was all the way across the other side of the terminal which takes 10 minutes to get to. Once we got to Gate 58 (while also noticing how the environment in the terminal slowly turned ghetto) we were sure this was the right gate because there were other Japanese and Asian folk waiting in the area.
It was around 30 minutes until the scheduled take off and we became worried because nothing was happening; no screens displaying the flight to Tokyo and the flight timetable nearby didn’t show our flight.
We tried asking staff hanging around and jfc they so unhelpful at telling us where to go regardless of the language barrier and worst of all they were extremely rude. Case in point; one staff ignored me as I tried to get her attention as she was flicking through some documents.
After running a few gates down to the “master” flight timetable which had all flights displayed, we found out our plane was ultimately moved to Gate 24; basically around the proximity of where we were right from the start. Fortunately we had no hand luggage to drag around and so we sprinted as fast as we could across the terminal from one side to the other while crapping our pants realising there was only 15 minutes left before the plane takes off.
Good news and bad news. The good news was that we safely made it because the flight was delayed due to the heavy storms! The bad news was that the delay lasted for an entire hour which ate up precious time we would have had in Tokyo.
After our bad experience with Sheremetyevo I highly do not recommend going there for a transfer flight or for any flights in general. The constant gate changes and the godawful bad and unhelpful staff made our two hours in Russia a total nightmare. It’s unsurprising to see the airport being consistently unfavoured on Google Maps.
Gate 58 where we waited for a good half hour before we realised our plane was at the other end of the terminal. The flight timetables on the monitors on this end only shown flights in the vicinity.
Lining up to board the plane straight to Narita airport!
This time it was a long haul 10-hour flight from Sheremetyevo to Narita International Airport.
Bye bye Moscow! Won’t miss ya.
One of the many dinners provided in-flight. Standard airplane quality food but it was bearable to say the least.
Panzer Boom was one of the many games you can play from the stellar games library featured in the in-flight entertainment, including other classics such as Brick Break, Match 3 and Romantic Horoscopes.
And it wasn’t because this reminded me of Girls und Panzer which made me take this photo.
Interacting with the interface was so clunky because the buttons on the remote and game controller were really hard to press and won’t register input most of the time which made me somehow nauseous. I was only checking out the entertainment stuff for a brief time before I retreated to my phone to watch Kizumonogatari Part I and read Boy Skirt which I had pre-loaded onto my phone~
– Flying into the
Land of the Rising Sun –
Hard to decide when Day 1 specifically began as I was jumping between 3 timezones, but it was now around 9am Japan time on Monday 8th August and we were still on the plane above the eastern end of Russia and near the western edge of Hokkaido.
The sky in the morning was so healing to look at.
The psuedo-Japanese breakfast we had before landing in Narita. If memory serves me right I had borscht with beef as the main.
At least they tried.
Only a couple few more hours before we touch down in Narita so we watched the latest Love Live! Sunshine episode to get hyped!
Screwed around with the entertainment thing once more as I was feeling better by this time (I didn’t chunder as I normally do in flights!) and found this funky European CG cartoon.
Above the Fukushima Prefecture around this time.
We were given a Japanese customs declaration form to fill on the plane which is to basically declare we aren’t terrorists. Turns out this form was pointless because we had to fill out a proper sheet once we were in immigration.
There it is. The first real photo I took of Japanese soil!
We landed in Japan at around 12:18pm JST on the 8th August 2016 on a very cloudy day!
An hour later than scheduled due to the delays.
COME AND SLAM, AND-
I was now like a hyperventilating excited child looking and reacting at every mundane thing I saw.
While walking through the hallways we stopped by the toilets, and before I knew it, this was the first time for me coming into contact with a Japanese toilet. After burning my thighs on the heated toilet seat I was soon perplexed by all the buttons on the wall and tried to figure out what they do (the symbols didn’t help at all). Not gonna lie, Japanese toilets are a godsend – but only when you know what they buttons do.
After spending 5 minutes trying to figure out how to flush the toilet (it was the giant button) we went into the immigration bit.
After lining up and showing off my broken Japanese to the immigration officer it was time to collect our luggage!
North Wing in Narita!
We were finally set free!
My head was in a faze trying to come to terms that I was finally in Japan, this was really a big deal to me after longing to visit for so long – and here I was. While my constant self-reminder of the time in BST to satisfy my body clock and to ground myself in reality, the reality that I am now in Japan over-rided my jet lag.
It was finally time to set things into motion. I whipped up the PDF the Airbnb host had sent me prior to guide me from Narita Airport to our apartment in Tokyo and opened up my Wunderlist with my set list of things to do once we had arrived.
The first thing to do was to get a Suica card!
The vital pass to grant me access to Tokyo’s metro and trains. I was deciding between PASMO or Suica but a lot of people I talked to told me to go Suica. I read up on the differences and each pass does more or less the exact same thing, the only differences being that some train lines and some shops only works with one pass or the other. I liked the penguin mascot so I went with Suica.
I wasn’t too sure on how to get a Suica from the get-go and (awkwardly enough) I walked up to this booth with PASMO signage above asking the Japanese staff lady where to get a Suica card in English (I had only just realised the language barrier until this moment!) the lady was very nice and helpful telling me where the machine was to get one in English.
Trying to pick up a Suica card or to top up on is dead simple as all the machines in Tokyo have an English and Chinese option you can switch to to understand all the instructions on screen. You only had to withstand the social shame of after selecting the English option for the speakers to blare out “ALL FARE INFORMATION WILL BE DISPLAYED IN ENGLISH” to let everyone around you in a 5-mile radius know you’re a filthy gaijin who can’t understand Japanese.
How to use beverage vending machines?
Step 1. Be a ninja.
Japan is known for its ubiquitous vending machines and Narita was no exception. They had some vending machines selling data-only sim cards for tourists to use. Luckily we didn’t need to get one because our Airbnb host was going to provide portable Mifis; the only caveat being we’re internet-less until we arrive at our apartment in Tokyo.
The airport did have wifi but you had to sign into its funky service and the connection was really choppy on my phone so I couldn’t use it. I was more concerned with trying to find how to get to the right train station in the airport to take us into the capital so I wasn’t bothered with updating my social medias just yet.
I was having trouble so soon trying to figure out how to get to the Access Express line, despite after following what the PDF doc had instructed me to do.
After asking the conductor man sitting in those smol boxes near the ticket gates for help we finally made it to the Access Express line which was our literal hype train into Tokyo!
My first time seeing a Japanese train in person!
Never was I so fascinated with circular passenger handles.
Being bought up in England and conditioned to the tiny TfL tubes and cramped English trains I was so amazed how large and spacious Japan’s trains were compared. The only other public transport I had ridden was Hong Kong’s metro but that was more or less the size of England’s.
A lot of other passengers on the train were tourists too, mostly Chinese or Korean I realised from their Huaweis and Samsungs – brands that are practically non-existent to the Japanese public.
Narita was quite the stretch away from the hustling and bustling Tokyo. Despite being roughly a 40 minute train ride, perhaps my perception of time was off due to the jet lag but time flew by so quickly as my eyes were fixated through the train windows to the outside surroundings; burning the views of the countryside rice farms into my twin retinas.
A ferris wheel!
My first encounter with a pachinko signage. Little did I know that this was foreshadowing to my dozens of encounters with pachinko parlors in the city.
There’s something that I love about boxy Japanese architecture and how compact the buildings are designed and constructed.
Feasting my eyes on these small town views was like watching some establishing shot of an anime, the only thing missing was the subtitles.
Once we hopped off the Access Express at the stop in Oshiage it was time to dive into the core Tokyo subway.
It was at this time I went off on a tangent on my Airbnb host’s instructions, luckily Joe had saved a Google Maps route offline when he had loaded it on his phone on Narita’s wifi; we basically had to jump onto the Asakusa Line from Oshiage to Higashi-Nihombashi (which is still fun to say to this day), then jump onto the Shinjuku Line eastbound to Kikukawa which was the closest stop to our apartment.
This lovely Australian couple were really kind enough to help us out as we were looking lost on the Asakusa metro train and gave us their metro map to use to find our way. Realising we were going in the wrong direction at this point we had to suddenly jump out and say goodbye! Wish I had grabbed their contact details to give a shoutout haha
Even though I’m Chinese anyone can call me out as a tourist with my giant luggage and my red-blue-yellow clothing aesthetic I had on the day.
There it is. My first street photo of Tokyo!
Thinking jumping between the Asakusa and Shinjuku Line at Higashi-Nihombashi Station was as easy as traversing through a couple of tunnels in the underground station, I found out that I had to walk over above ground to the other Higashi-Nihombashi Station which was serving the Shinjuku Line! If there is an actual way to travel across the two stations without going overground someone please let me know~
Once we trekked up the stairs with our heavy oversized luggage the first thing I realised was how hot and dry the air was. 38 degrees. It was like being inside an oven! Personally I experienced harsher temperatures in Hong Kong along with its humid environment feeling like an outdoor sauna but this was the first time I experienced the combination of hot and dry. Japan’s heatwave makes UK’s hot Summers like Winter!
Here are some photos I took on the way to the other Higashi-Nihombashi Station in the blazing hot weather as I take in the atmosphere of the streets of Tokyo for the very first time!
This should have been the time when some hoodlums would approach and take me to a shady place but then a dazzling main character-like person would take me to safety. I was disappointed that nothing of the sort happened.
We finally made it to the other Higashi-Nihombashi Station (totally typed out by hand and not copy-pasted) with the Shinjuku Line and I gotta tell you, lifting and carrying heavy luggage up and down the underground Japanese subway is not fun. Not fun
I love how the stations have lines on the floor to tell you where the train doors are going to be located once it arrives. Something that the London tubes needs but I kinda like playing the guessing game and stand where I think the entrance will stop.
Noticing all the Tokyo subway signage was like learning Japanese in real life since it had all the Kanji/Hiragana/Romanji for you to rea- oh wait.
Thingken about Funabori from D-frag.
Japanese trains felt like a gift from the future how advanced and convenient they are coming from the UK. The trains travelled so smoothly with barely any bumps or vibrations on the floor compared to London’s TfL tubes with its screeching and rattling carriages. You get all sorts of advertising plastered everywhere in Tokyo’s subway trains and even monitors reporting on news!
There it is. My first encounter with a Japanese advertisement with a cute anime girl.
It’s the classic green public telephone I remember seeing in Pokémon! Just without the screen with Prof. Oak.
Photo I took as I yanked my heavy luggage up the stairs exiting Kikukawa Station!
There it is. Sumida. Our base of operations for the next three weeks.
Ronald McDonald chilling.
Walking through the smaller streets nearing closer to our apartment. You know you’re entering a neighbourhood because the pedestrian path becomes a segment of the main road separated by a white line.
This was shot from our apartment window!
And so we finally made it to our Airbnb apartment! It was around 4pm after getting a little lost travelling from Narita, meaning it took at most 3 hours of trekking from the airport. We letted ourselves in as the door was locked by a code combination and the owner had already messaged me the code.
The apartment was 3 stories high – or 4 in Japan because they count the ground floor – with other Airbnb guests staying there as well which felt living in university dorms again, but this time they were foreigners. The place had a communal kitchen, dinner hall and also a shower and washing machine room, which were all clean and tidy and in working order.
The apartment was very cheap too at around £30 a night for two guests; topped off with free Mifis this reduced a lot of costs for us to use on more important things, like home-grown country plastic figurines.
Once we settled in and said hello to the housekeeper and other guests who were hanging around, we took a shower after travelling for practically 24 hours, rested for a bit while setting up the mifis to alleviate my 24-hour internet withdrawal symptoms to shitpost on Twitter and Facebook; notifying friends and family that I was alive and sweating my balls off in the ovening heat. It was a shame we didn’t meet with the Airbnb host at all throughout the time there, but he was very responsive when I messaged him on the app.
I also self-imposed a rule to limit my use of social media while in Japan, sure I could tweet and post photos all I want but scrolling through timelines, Youtubing or reading the news for hours on end was a no-no, gotta make the most out of my holiday!
After a few good hours checking out the apartment it was time to hit the streets! We took it easy for Day 1 (if you would even call it a full day) feeling fatigued from all the travelling and decided to eat out somewhere and do a bit of food shopping with our fresh Yen bills in our wallets.
What’s this anime?
We decided to crash into Jonathan’s as our first meal in Japan. Casually walking in I totally forgot prepare what to say (I left my flashcards of Japanese phrases back in the apartment!) forgetting everyone in Japan – surprisingly – speaks Japanese. It was an awkward greeting with the staff member that welcomed us in making me think about Wagnaria!!, but we managed to pull through as the staff spoke in basic English and we point to her what we wanted to order on the menu.
There was nothing more Japanese than ordering an Australian burger patty with a bunch of sides along with a “free-flow” soft drink.
Free flow equated to unlimited soft-drink refills, and unlimited soft-drink refills equated to unlimited melon soda refills.
I tried out all the half a dozen or so soft drinks and iced coffee and tea they had but I always defaulted back to melon soda; which is what you should totally do in Japan because for some reason bottles of melon soda is gold dust in Tokyo and the only way to drink it is in restaurants or vending machines that are on the pricey side.
The Aussie burger was absolutely gorgeous. Strange to eat just the patty itself it was a fun experience. It was interesting to find myself eating meat from the other side of the world!
Iced coffee! It was cool to see that the ice cubes were almost cleanly cut cubes!
The mifi we were given by the Airbnb host! We weren’t told if there was a data limit to this at first so we used the data scarcely until later on we got told there is a limit (didn’t say how much after we asked for a number of gigs) however we could also request for another mifi!
After finishing up at Jonathan’s and running back to the apartment for a bit because I disgraced myself in Jonathan’s toilets by getting my shorts and underwear wet by the butt sprayer (I was trying out all the buttons!), we hitted up the local supermarket to stock up on some nibbles and drinks!
The supermarket we went to was called LIFE Supermarket with a cute four-leaf clover as their logo which made me think of them as the 4chan/Yotsuba supermarket. The branding also reminded me of the anime/manga series Cross Game if anyone in this world has seen it…
Not gonna lie, I’ve never had a more mind-blowing time in a regular supermarket.
Apples, let alone fruit in general in Japan is so expensive! The apples above were imported from New Zealand.
Meanwhile all the fish and meat were relatively inexpensive.
It’s the snack that I saw in Dagashi Kashi! The thing was only 10 yen so why the hell not! Turns out it was just a elongated cheese puff stick lol.
Stockpiled on packs of Green Tea and Strawberry KitKat! This was practically my only opportunity to get them at face value.
OG Yakult! Even in Japan they were mildly pricey.
Green tea powder!
The legendary bakery!
We also arrived around a good time when there were things being reduced to clear! Unfortunately no brawls took place.
I love me a good old Nippon pint me love.
I was fascinated to find some Pepsi branded “Strong Cola” but later finding out this was an energy drink variant.
One thing I didn’t realise until I experienced it at LIFE supermarket was that you don’t pack your stuff directly into the bags at the tills. After scanning your stuff the till staff places it back into the basket, and after making your payment they give you a couple of fresh plastic bags and you’re supposed to take it to the tables across to properly to pack them into the bags yourself!
After spending nearly an hour in there and making our payment at the tills we exited the supermarket and walked straight…
…across the street into 7eleven!
I’ve had previous experience walking into 7elevens in Hong Kong but this was my first time in Japan!
I was surprised to find how soft-core porn – a thing exiled to inaccessible tall shelves in the UK; out of the public eye and shunned upon if every purchased – to be so out in the open in Japanese stores and normalised for people to pick up to preview!
We didn’t have much to buy after coming from the supermarket so it was time to head back to the apartment.
One of the non-descript vending machines stationed nearby our apartment.
Vending machines are fun and all and you should definitely use them if you come visit to Japan. My word of advice is not to heavily rely on them for hydration because you can save a few yens by buying them in supermarkets as they are usually cheaper.
My first supermarket haul!
Checked out the TV in the communal dining room and it had all of the usual Japanese TV channels airing the late night animes.
Trying to sleep around 11pm (Japan time) was hard when your body still thinks it’s 3pm in the afternoon and even harder when you’re spooning in a double sized bed and your friend chokes you in your sleep with their elbow murmuring in alien tongue… but I digress.
Tune in next time as we descend into the depths of hel- uh I mean head to Akihabara!