Friday, March 6, 2009

5 Days, 4 Nights.

Geez! More than a month since my last post. Procrastination has been a constant, debilitating companion lately. Tonight, I sever this overdue companionship. Still basking in the memories of my last trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, I figure this would be a good jump-start.

A mere five days and four nights were all we had. As we expected, it sure wasn't enough. But we made the most of the time on our hands and got an awesome glimpse of the fascinating city that is Tokyo.

Admittedly, I was feeling jittery a few days before our trip. I had nightmares about getting lost in the city's complex subways (which actually happened numerous times) and getting "Lost in Translation" in a country known to possess a fraction of English-speaking citizens. But apart from that, my expectations were set really high, basing them on what little I know of this mega metropolis.

And the verdict? Well, reality far exceeded all expectations. I'll let my photos tell my story...

First Night...

We arrived at 6PM. Immediately after securing our luggage, we dashed to catch the JR Express train to Tokyo. And barely made it to the next available trip. 

Feelin' lucky...

Finally, in Japanese standards precision, we arrived at Tokyo Central station after an hour and twenty minutes, as printed on the brochures. We got off one station more, the Shinjuko Station.

Looking haggard outside the Shinjuko Station East exit

My friend Yeast struggling with our ginormous backpack and bravely fighting his way among the thick crowd to search for our hotel. 

Grabbing a cab in Tokyo at 710Y ($7) flag down and 90Y ($.90) every 288m was not only ridiculous (applies to simple travelers like us), it was simply out of the question (read:budget). After 20 minutes of walking around (almost aimlessly) the Shinjuko labyrinth and asking for directions for the 78th time (obviously induced by the scarcity of English in the locality), we finally found our hotel. We hurriedly checked in and dumped our bags in our adequately sized, nicely equipped and immaculately clean hotel room.

Famished, we headed out for our first meal and ironically picked a western-themed cafe (only because smoking was allowed inside!).
And so, our first ever meal in Japan was western food.

Day Two... 

As planned, we found our way to Tokyo Disneyland. Nothing spectacular really, if you've ever been to one, you get the same "magical(?)" experience. This park though is obviously more expensive than it's Hong Kong counterpart, and slightly bigger. 

"Are we there yet?" taking naps on the train bound for the amusement park

Outside the main entrance, behind me are just some of the pretty Japanese ladies garbed in their designer coats and toting their over-priced Vuitton's and Gucci's.

"And it took us 25 years to get here..."

Got taken for a ride...

Just me and my palace, and my dream, in dreamland.

We got back to the hotel at about 7 and rested a bit. The next day, we were going to move to another hotel, so we decided to locate the hotel that night. I can't remember how many miles we walked, but my calves now have more definition from all that walking.

One experience further boosted my admiration for the Japanese people. Of the countless times we asked for directions, we were only turned down once or twice, and we strongly suspected it was because of the absence of English. New York was a totally different story, but I'll go back to my story. We asked this one guy in a fancy suit who clearly was on his way home from working late at the office. He struggled with his English to try to give us the right directions. But he didn't stop at that, while we started walking, he caught up with us and asked us to follow him. It was already around 10PM and we were pretty sure he was in a hurry to catch his train home. The hotel route was surely out of his way, but he did more than just lead us the way. He used the GPRS on his phone to locate the hotel and when we were just two blocks away, he showed us where the hotel was and after thanking him profusely, headed on his way. That was really a WOW moment for us!

After finding our hotel, which was a good 1o minute walk from the hotel we were staying at, we were starving. We found a small, ordinary looking restaurant.  It was really the photos of the dishes posted on the glass windows that drew us in, and the chef inside who was garbed in a "traditional Japanese chef outfit" (I'm at a loss for the right term). And, it was our first time ever to order and pay for restaurant food at a vending machine. A small slip comes out from the machine after paying, and you hand this out to the chef and with utmost efficiency, your food is served in less than 10 minutes. Amazing!

At 600Y (about $6), it wasn't bad at all! and the food was delish! The best miso soup I've ever had.

Day Three...

We moved to the other hotel. This was a lot bigger and had better location. Reasonably priced too.  It's amazing how much money you save by booking hotel rooms online weeks ahead.

The view from our room...

And I just couldn't resist taking the shot of our high-tech, temporary throne...

After settling in and getting some needed rest, we headed out to Ueno in the afternoon to do some shopping and sight-seeing.

The Ueno Park, a few meters away from the Ueno Station

A good view of the area.

Yet another... I meant the background.

After Ueno and at around 7PM, we decided it was the best time to experience Shibuya and witness for ourselves the world's busiest intersection at its peak. And what a sight it was! I would have to say, I have never seen droves of impeccably dressed people crammed in one area. Tokyo is undoubtedly home to Asia's most fashionable people, if not the world! Labels, labels and more labels strut before your very eyes, you feel like you're sitting front row in a fashion show! Even the men are fashionable!  

Yeast was brave enough to stand in the middle of the five-way intersection, amid the rushing crowd.

I on the other hand, settled at the side street.

Shibuya at night.

Of course, a Friday night in ultra hip Tokyo, hitting the local club scene was well-plotted on our itinerary. 

And we were more than ready to immerse...

Day Four...

Arriving at 4AM at our hotel, we spent half the day sleeping and waking up with gruesome hangovers. This day was supposed to be Yokohama day, but we knew it was too far and we were already pressed for time. So we ran through our guide book and decided on Akasaka instead.

"Hmmm... even the stairs light up here... way too cool."

We visited a Buddhist temple and bought a good luck gift for our friend. 

On the way home, we stopped by the shops at Shinjuku for some last minute shopping and immediately, we were put to a halt with this light installation at the subway station. 

(At least now we know what happened to the Eye of Sauron)

Day Five...

Our trip was coming to an end. Well, we still had a whole day and we certainly saved the best for last, Harajuko. And since our friend told us that the Harajuko girls usually come in full regalia on a Sunday, we got there before the scene began to unfold.

Colorful crowd at colorful Harajuko.

This shop gave me an idea what the Harajuko girls would be wearing today...

Yeast: "Do you think they have my size?" Roy: "Of course! we're in Japan, remember?"

It's such a shame though that I failed to take photos of the fabled ladies because I was too mesmerized by the sights to pull out my camera.

This was definitely one of the most lasting and lingering experience I've ever had. Tokyo leaves scenes in your mind that sticks for a loooong time. Definitely the reason I spent a lot of time planning and working on this post. I felt immensely compelled to share the beautiful experience. And I would go back in a heartbeat if I could afford another trip back. There's still so much to see and experience in this beautiful land and its warm, friendly people. I honestly couldn't think of any unpleasant experience I've had on this trip.  Well, except for the fact that our flights were consistently delayed (Thank you, United).

But even that couldn't dampen my mood on our flight back to Bangkok. I was heavily packed with beautiful memories and all set to go home. 

Arigato and Oyasuminasi for now!