31.10.2009 - 04.11.2009 20 °C
Well, my trip didn't start without a hiccup. The last words you want to hear at the airport when checking in for your first flight is "I am sorry but we can't let you board the plane" - but this is exactly what I heard. Apparently Air NZ will not let you board a plane to Japan unless you have a paid-for ticket out of Japan (even if you have bought later flights to and from other countries!) but all I had was a booking confirmation for a ferry from Osaka to Shanghai which I have to pay for in Osaka. So I had to scramble over to the booking desk and buy a fully refundable plane ticket for $1,700!
Aside from that incident, everything else has been awesome. Travel from the airport to the hostel I'm staying in takes around 1 3/4 hours using a series of train and metro lines, somehow I ended up at the hostel with no problems despite the huge stations, masses of people and completely foreign surroundings.
First thing I did after checking-in was to walk into a common room full of people, some wearing costumes - it was Halloween after all. Met plenty of friendly people from all over the globe. A few of which were NZers who had just come back from the All Blacks vs Wallabies game. It wasn't long before I was in the metro again with an Aussie/Bolivian and a Kiwi turned Aussie on our way to the suburb of Shinjuku for a crazy night visiting little Japanese style bars tucked away in side alleys. This was my first introduction to the bright neon lights of Tokyo.
Shinjuku, Tokyo - Bright Lights, Big City
Had a really good night nibbling on Japanese food and sampling a WIDE variety of local beers. We didn't make it back to the hostel until 9 am! So much for easing into things.
My hostel is a capsule hostel, which basically means I sleep in a capsule that's about 1x1x2 meters with only a curtain separating you from the room and 27 other capsules, you also get a locker which solves all security problems. It's very basic but cheap and comfortable and most of the people are very friendly.
My Capsule (stayed here 8 nights!)
Next day I made a trip back to Shinjuku (to see it in daylight) - got off at the busiest train station in the world used on average by 3.6 million people PER DAY (this still blows my mind).
On Wednesday, myself and two other guys from my hostel and one of their friends who lives and works in Tokyo visited the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park, it was worth the look and it wasn't so big you couldn't do it swiftly in a couple of hours (no photos allowed inside)
Roddy, Andrew and I Outside Tokyo National Museum
Then the friend that lives here showed us a few odd things in Tokyo that you won't find in the guide books, such as the "Dear Stage". This strange little "club" off an alley in Ueno is about the size of a lounge room. It has a tiny stage about a foot of the ground. We walked in, payed 500 Yen, got a free drink and stood at the back of the room waiting. About 5 minutes later, when the place was more full (with about 20 people), they drew black curtains over the door and windows and a Japanese girl jumped up on stage and started singing crazy Japanese rock songs - the people in the "mosh pit" (some wearing suits fresh from a day at the office) started dancing and singing in unison with the girl. Three or so other girls also came out and did a song and then it was all over. Apparently the crowd that comes in are their groupies. All I can say, is that it was a completely bizzare experience. See the photo below, if you look at the screen behind her, it shows the crazy groupies jumping up and down.
Crazy Girl and her Groupies Singing Japanese Rock Songs, Ueno, Tokyo
Every day since I've been here I've made several excursions to the more popular suburbs, including Shibuya and its famous pedestrian crossing (bad timing with the photo because I didn't go at rush hour)
Famous Crossing in Shibuya - Apparently as many as 2000 people cross here at peak times
The view of central Tokyo from Daiba on the man made island in the South East of Tokyo (yes they have a mini statue of liberty here and the photo doesn't do the view any justice - it was amazing)
Amazing View from Daiba, Tokyo
The huge Ameyoko Market in Ueno
Arty shot of my silhouette against the bright neon of Ueno while making the traditional Japanese photo pose (making a peace sign, head tilted)
Lots more neon, strange smells (good and bad) and people everywhere. Got the hang of the metro quite quickly, even though some of the stations are huge and shared with other rail lines so it can be a bit confusing, not cheap though that's for sure.
So far I can truly say that Tokyo is absolutely fantastic, I could easily live here (if I learnt the language)
Anyway, that's all I can write for now. I'm in Tokyo until Sunday so I'll have another weekend to enjoy here before moving on to Nagoya or Kyoto, I'm not sure which yet.
Until next time...