Journal 20081002 Japan

Holiday began with an overnight bus trip to Dublin Airport for a connecting flight to Paris CDG. I thought four layers of clothes would keep me warm enough, but boarding the City Jet plane at 5.30am with high winds and the back door of the plane wide open put a right chill in me. We arrived in Paris with an hour and half to spare, but it took nearly an hour to go through security again! I didn’t understand why we had to do that, for a connecting flight. Then another bus transfer to the plane, and another hour wait. Our flight ultimately left an hour late. But at least the flight was pleasant itself, with champagne served as an aperitif and a pretty good beef and mushroom dinner. The professional staff made up for the chaos of CDG Terminal 2.


I managed to get about 4 hours sleep toward the end of the 11-hour flight. Upon arrival, what struck me was the first official station you see is an emergency health clinic. “If you are suffering from a fever or feel unwell, please go to the health clinic here.” That’s pretty smart, actually, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen this in other airports.

Immigration control was straightforward but customs was a bureaucratic ritual: every passenger’s case was inspected. Our smuggled apples got through.

Our holiday was organised by an agency, Inside Japan Tours, based in England. As promised, we were met by representative, Sasa. She efficiently took us to the Japan Rail (JR) office, for us to exchange our vouchers for our 14-day JR Pass. Sasa then gave us our metro cards (with 2500 yen credit) and 2000 yen for a taxi journey to our hotel. I have to say, having this organised for you was an ideal welcome to a new country.

I later realised that the taxi journey was superfluous, in that the nearest Tokyo Metro station was just one block away from the hotel. But I’m not complaining. It was an exciting and stress free way to get to our initial destination, with no need to navigate the metro system hauling cases.

We arrived too early to check into our room, so our plan was to leave our bags and walkabout the area. But we went to the restrooms to freshen up. By the time Madame Oui was done, I thought the concierge came up to me to relieve us our our cases, but instead he said that we could indeed check in, a good 4 hours early.

That was probably wasn’t wise for our sakes, as we promptly put our heads to the bed and sleep for much of the rest of the day! I was a little perturbed when I woke up, because I had hoped to orientate ourselves by daylight.

As suggested in the Time Out Tokyo guidebook, kindly lent to me by a colleague at work, we went for a roundtrip on the JR Yamanote Line to get a sense of scale of the city. You couldn’t really see much, particularly as we went during rush hour. But the hour-long complete journey made us realise that it wouldn’t take that long to get to any part of Tokyo that we might like to see.


Madame Oui was still very tired, and it took us a while to decide where to eat. I’m embarrassed to confess that far from sushi, teriyaki, sukiyaki, or tempura, our first evening meal was Mos Burger, a Japanese hamburger eatery. But my special “Mos Burger” (cheese burger with chili meat), chips, and melon soda was yummy! Madame Oui also enjoyed her cheeseburger and onion rings.

I took Madame Oui back to the hotel so she could resume sleeping, and I headed back out with my camera. I didn’t think that I would be out for too long, but I had a good time discovering the back alleys and restaurant displays. I returned over an hour later, satisfied with several dozen photos.

I turned my laptop on, to transfer my photos over, and was pleasantly surprised to see my MacBook automatically make a free wi-fi connection. I immediately checked my emails, then uploaded my photos to my website. Happy days.

Some remarkable moments of the day were: seeing a man walking through busy Ueno train station, wearing a robe. He stuck out among the thousands of men in dark business suits.

Another was a middle-aged women riding a bicycle, wearing a kimono. Madame Oui wondered how she could peddle, considering how tight kimono dresses can be.

I had read about the existence of homeless people in this area, but I was still taken aback by blunt presence of it. Homeless men laid out their cardboard beds and block pillows right in the main sidewalks. One was settled inside the open tourist information office (though I’m sure he’d be asked to leave when the office closed).

At the end of the night, there were throngs of salarymen everywhere. So, it is true: these career-oriented men work hard all day then spend their evenings with their male colleagues, before heading home after 10pm. A Friday after-work pint is one thing, but the daily evening meal bonding sounds overbearing, at least for me. All the same, it was entertaining for me to watch the ritual of repeated bowing when the men would separate for their goodbyes.

Although I more or less forced myself to bed at about midnight, and was jetlagged awake at the time, thankfully I feel promptly asleep.

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