Sunday, November 8, 2009

Day One - Auckland to Tokyo

We flew out from Auckland on Thursday at 9:30am, had a good flight over, my first ever international flight with your own entertainment centre so I spent most of the flight playing with that. Also on the same flight as me was Alexey and his girlfriend Leanne, friends from Auckland. Another mate Mike flew over the previous day with his girlfriend, Sky.

Leanne, Me and Alexey

Air NZ only served a breakfast at about 10:30am and then nothing until like 7pm NZ time, when he had dinner, so by then we were all starving. Also on the same plane was NZRU's Steve Tew, Jock Hobbs, commentator Tony Johnson and Adrian Cashmore. "Cashie" spent the entire flight standing at the back of the plane with a bunch of other rugby looking dudes drinking Steinlagers. They managed to drink the plane dry of Steinlagers. By the end of the flight they looked tiddly but weren't rowdy, although one of the other dudes looked was rolling around quite drunk saying "I love you man".

First glimpse of Japan


We arrived about 4:30pm local time and were out of the airport not long after 5. Being couples, the others were staying at a nice hotel and me being the 5th wheel I decided to stay at a hostel as it would be cheaper (although still NZ$60 per night). Finding a hostel in Tokyo is not so easy but I found one on the net that was reasonably close to the other's hotel.

I had written directions on how to arrive at the hostel which involved riding the train from Narita airport for about an hour until the Oshiage train station, then changing to the Oshiage subway and riding for about 20 minutes until Jimbocho and then walking about 3 blocks to the hostel. I wasn't feeling too daunted because I figured it would be daylight still so I would find my way around but I started to get a bit worried when it was already pitch black at 5pm while I was still riding the first train.

On that first train ride 2 of the stereotypes of Japan I had were cancelled: 1) that Japanese people are small - they're not, plenty of guys were taller than me, and 2) that Japanese chicks dig white guys. I thought everyone would be staring at me on the train but no one gave me a second glance. No girls sat next to me to "practice their English" like everyone said they would. Not even any eye contact. Admittedly most of the passengers were on their daily grind home from work.

First train ride

Everyone told me to take cold weather clothes, but I was right in thinking it would be hot over there (I'd been keeping an eye on the daily temps beforehand). The ride on the train and at the stations was quite hot and stuffy and I was only in a T-shirt, yet I noticed the Japanese were all wearing longsleeves, suits or fur-trimmed jackets as if it was already winter. I guess they're more used to the humidity.

Buying a subway ticket for the first time wasn't easy but by about the third time I had it sussed like a pro. All you had to do was find your destination station on the map on the wall and alongside it would be the price in yen, and then you'd buy a ticket from a vending machine. Y130 (NZ$2) would be about the cheapest and Y260 (NZ$4) about the dearest.

Once at Jimbocho station I was relieved to find that although it was pitch black at night, the street itself was well lit up with all the shop fronts, lights from buildings and car headlights. There were plenty of people on the street, shops were still open (most shops open from 11am to 10pm) and I found my way to the hotel easily.

Once checked in I had a quick shower and headed straight to the other guy's hotel cos I knew they'd be waiting for me to head out for dinner. Their hotel was only 2 subway stops away and I got there just as they were heading out for dinner. The first dinner that night Mike took us to a cheap place he'd found the previous day. It had the feel of an American diner, extremely brightly lit and patrons eating at the counter. There were no waiters at the restaurant; to order you would choose your meal from a photo of the meal on the vending machine, buy a ticket for that meal and present the ticket to the cook behind the counter.

Vending machine for ordering at the restaurant

Service was real fast and the meal was good value at around NZ$8 for dinner, which consisted of a hamburger patty with an egg on top with rice and a side salad.

After dinner we took the subway to Shinjuku which is kind of a business district, and I was still buzzing from the excitement and the fact that although it was around 10pm on a Thursday night, there were still heaps of people on the street. Suits on their way home from work, kids in school uniforms and girls loaded up with shopping bags. i.e. everyday people doing their thing at 10pm at night, an hour when back home most married couples are in bed and the only people still out on the street are likely to be people going out to get drunk. And the streets were so bright it still felt like daytime. People on bikes would ride around without helmets or lights.


We were rushing to find our way to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, so that we could go up and see Tokyo from the free observatory at night. On the way there we passed a big group of kids hanging out away from the street in in front of one of the government buildings, listening to hip-hop and breakdancing. We managed to get the last elevator up at 10:45pm, but to be honest, the view wasn't very good at night. Yeah you could see a lot of city lights but to me it was a let down, especially since we didn't have our bearings and didn't know what to look out for. And because of the lights from the gift shops inside the observatory reflecting off the windows, I couldn't get any decent photos. At about 11pm the fatigue hit me (22 hours awake straight) so we headed back to our hotels.

Other first night impressions: the streets are real clean, spotless, and they have a nice finished feel. Lots of marble everywhere especially in the subway stations. And half the taxis fleet is from the 80s (although still in immaculate condition). I'd love to know how many kilometres they've clocked up). And although they’re from the 80s, the doors on those bad boys open and close remotely. Pimpin!

80s taxi


  1. Nice detailed post matty boy. Did anyone make the effort to learn some nihongo? How'd you find communicating with the locals?

  2. Hey Bryon

    I only just saw your comment now man, sorry - and blogger didn't tell me you'd posted a comment.

    Mike already speaks a bit of Japanese and so does his girlfriend so they were our go-to guys.

    As for me, well I had enough trouble remembering "excuse me"!

    The usual english speaking tourist in a foreign country rules applied: hotels and tourist info places, fine; restaurants, ask for the English menu or just guess (or make animal sounds); and everywhere else you're screwed...