The land of the rising sun

First sight of Japan

First sight of Japan

Clock up number 47, if I have my maths right. I’ve finally made it to Japan!

I ended up having to get the bus to Cairns Airport as the weather was so bad. It’s not a long walk (around 1½ hours) but in torrential rain it just wasn’t happening. Thankfully this meant I got there to be at the front of the check-in queue before the hordes of homebound Japanese tourists appeared.

I blew my remaining phone credit calling Marina at home. Despite being a call to the UK I got a staggering 50 minutes from the chaff left over from my last payment. Mobiles are far cheaper in Oz.

The flight to Tokyo Narita Airport was pleasant enough. I slept for 2-3 hours and finished the book I was reading (Mayday by Nelson DeMille and Thomas Block – amusingly enough about an air disaster), then spent the rest of the time leafing through my Lonely Planet and talking to the Aussie guy next to me. He was flying to Japan to spend time off work with his wife, who’s Japanese. He was a very useful resource for Tokyo-related information.

Immigration was quick and painless with my lack of accommodation address brushed over quickly when I said I was going to sort something at tourist information. I had looked into booking something the day before, but the only places I could find were “book my email, reply in 48 hours” which was no use.

One thing to note: the Tourist Information Counter at Narita Airport closes at 8pm. I got there just as they were packing up, so they handed me a couple of sheets with a list of accommodation details on. I had to make my own phone calls, so I needed change. It’s only 10 Yen for a minute on the payphones, but you can also use 100 Yen coins. However, as far as I could tell, there’s no way of cancelling a call and making another using your remaining credit if you use the 100s. This makes it very expensive to ring around hostels and hotels… Phone cards are the way to go but I couldn’t find anywhere selling one.

The first place I called was the cheapest, but I only got an answering machine. In Japanese. Arse. The second was much better. Taka from the Fuji Backpackers answered and told me to get to Narita train station from where he’d collect me.

I paid 250 Yen for a ticket to Narita, hopped aboard one of the frequent trains and soon enough was in Taka’s car. The hostel’s lovely. Quite small, comfy beds, communal kitchen with TV, DVD, microwave and free wi-fi. Breakfast is also included (a KL-esque tea and toast), but the shower is 100 Yen for 10 minutes!

My plan is to to this and some nearby neighbourhoods tomorrow. The cherry blossom is still on the trees in Narita (it’s vanished in downtown Tokyo) so I’ll get some good photos of that, and I’m not too far from the two train stations. I will have a chat with Taka-san in the morning and see what he recommends.

Welcome to Japan!

Welcome to Japan!

On Saturday I will meet with Noriko, one of the girls on my tour bus in Tasmania all that time ago. She has offered to show me around for the day. I am also supposed to meet with a Couchsurfer – Misa – in the evening to stay at her flat. I will try to work this out so that I can stay there, yet leave my luggage at the hostel. I would not bother, but it’s not cheap to stay here. One night CouchSurfing will a) be a great experience in this country and b) save me over £20.

From what the other guests here have told me, leaving my luggage and collecting it on the way to the airport on Sunday morning will not be a problem. Their praise of the hostel owner has been very high indeed!

Otherwise, I’ve not seen a lot as I arrived in the dark. The first view over the wing of the plane as we passed the coastline was simply beautiful. Forests and mountains with chains of electric light sparkling in the darkness. Lovely.

The thing about vending machines doesn’t seem to be a stereotype, either. You can barely walk 10m without passing at least one. And the Japanese are as polite and helpful as they’re made out to be. Always with a smile and a nod. They do tend to give foreigners a little bit of a berth, though. Whether from politeness, shyness or some small amount of xenophobia only they could say but one example was on the train from the landing area to the main terminal at the airport.

The Aussie I’d been speaking to and myself made it onto the train. It was busy but by no means packed. Passing Japanese preferred to wedge themselves into the two doors on either side than cram in next to the gaijin blocking one doorway. This is strange only in that they have no issues with squishing themselves together like very friendly sardines in the trains running at rush hour.

I think I’ll like it hear. The only downsides is it’ll be an incredibly short stay and it’s incredibly expensive. Damn the collapsed British economy – everything’s twice the price of 2-3 years ago.

At least ATMs that accept foreign cards are slightly more prevalent than they have been in the past. There’s one in the 7-Eleven down the road from the hostel and I gather a lot of CitiBanks will take them, too.

Oh, and if your mobile phone‘s not 3G-enabled, then don’t expect it to work in Japan. At least this is what I’ve read and I can’t get onto a network here. I did see a couple of American tourists with new phones on my flight who had received calls so I know that some non-Japanese phones must work. I assume it’s down to how new they are.

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Japan is booked!!!

YOKOSUKA, JAPAN - MAY 28:  US navy soldiers li...

Japanese flag

Ok, I did it. I just booked a flight from Darwin to Cairns and another from Cairns to Narita International Airport in Tokyo! After wanting to do so for more years than I care to remember, I am finally going to Japan! A actually have tingles and goosebumps at the thought of it!

Part of the reason I’m looking forward to it is the new challenge. By all the accounts I’ve heard, Japan is a very “individual” country. Being an island like the UK it’s developed a very unique society and ways of doing things. I also believe that only 10% of the population speak any English at all and outside of the main city centres, all the signs are only in the local language.

Time to dig out the dinky phrasebook I have in the backpack and see if I can find a bargain bucket out-of-date Lonely planet somewhere…

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