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Last updated : Nov 2009
Arrival in Japan
Rating: ( 4.4 ) ( 50 votes )

Tokyo, Japan
May 27, 2004 19:40

Pros: nice place, and interesting
Cons: none

The cab ride to the airport is no problem and we got though passport control without any issues. We are very happy to be boarding a plane and not a train this time. When we go through security, Mark's backpack is spotted for suspicious items and is searched. The can of fruit salad we had left over from the train ride and the small can of "Octopus in American Sauce" are removed. The options are to open them (and eat them on the spot?) or check them as luggage in their own small box. I decline both options and leave them on the security counter. So whoever's Christmas stocking I have this year won't have canned octopus in it. I'm sorry. Blame it on the Chinese security guard.

The flight and arrival at Tokyo, Narita was fine. We made stops to exchange currency, but couldn't change our Mongolian or Chinese money which is a problem. We stop by the Tourist Information Center and get some maps and directions. No problems getting our Japan Rail (JR) Passes and the folks set up our tickets to get into Tokyo. We ask about getting to our "hotel" and it takes the attendants a few minutes of paging through maps to find it based on a printout we brought along. Where is this place? They finally locate it and give us detailed directions on which lines to take to get there. They are very helpful. We take a bus to another terminal and the second bank we try there will take our Chinese money which is great. Still no love for Mongolia.

We get on an express train from the airport to Tokyo central station. The ride is about an hour long and the seats are comfortable. On the front of the train car is an electronic map which shows our progress along the route. The country looks green out the window. Many towns and rice paddies along the route, the rice is very pretty.

Tokyo station is very busy but everything is well marked in English and we are amazed to easily find our way through the station to the proper platform. The most difficult thing is learning to stay to the left in the walking traffic. We ride to the next stop and must switch here to a non-JR line which means we have to pay. As we are fumbling with the ticket machine, the guy next to us stops to walk us through it. More kindness. The ride out takes about 20 minutes and we exit the train station in our neighborhood.

It seems to be a regular "town" where many people commute to the city but also work locally. There are shops and stalls around the exit from the train, which eventually give way to restaurants and bars and then to houses and apartments. All the streets are very narrow (20' wide?) and the buildings are small. No grand estates with lawns and all that. The effect is that you're walking down a back alley lane when in fact it is the main drag in the town. We walk the 15 minutes to our place and find our keys waiting for us by the door. We step out of our shoes and into the slippers which are waiting for us. The slippers are tiny and Mark is walking on tippy-toe to stay in them.

The place itself (Hibari House) is essentially an upscale hostel, where most people appear to be living here while working/studying. There's a common room with tv, fridge, stove, table and this computer. There are separate men and women baths, coin-op laundry and coin-op showers. The showers give 8 minutes of water for $1, but you can switch the water on and off as you go. With that little feature you can shower using about 4 minutes of water only. We never would have guessed.

After getting settled in we struck out to find some dinner. Not far there was a quaint looking place with closed doors and Reen stuck her head in and was greeted loudly by the owner, so we sat on down. It is a sushi place. We were the only customers and sat at the bar. It was quickly evident that we couldn't speak each others languages, but were both eager to try. It seemed the sous-chef (the main chef's wife) knew a few English words. With some hand drawn pictures and smiling and pointing we indicated we'd like to spend $15 each on dinner and sat back to see what we got. And of course we're not quite sure what we got but it was very good. Mostly nigiri-sushi, some rolls, salted soy beans, miso soup with tiny clams in it. Right after serving up the first few pieces the chef spoke his first word of English. Right out of the blue he said "Philadelphia". We were amazed and nodded. Throughout the meal, the four of us continually tried to communicate and had some success. We conveyed the basics of our trip, both where we had been and what our plans were for Japan. A major breakthrough that all four of us were proud of. It was great to see that they were as eager as we were to communicate, all smiles and laughs the whole time. At some point the chef complimented Maureen on how well she uses chopsticks. High praise that Mark was jealous not to have received himself. For dessert we had a frosty beer on the house and left with many thanks and smiles. It was a great first meal in Japan.

We headed back for bed and will set out early tomorrow to see the big city.