Friday, October 24, 2014

Hawaii and Japan, 2014 - 10/24 - Day 8 - Planes, Trains and Plum Wine

There was a child on the airplane on the plane ride from Honolulu to Tokyo that screamed like sitting in that seat was the worst form of torture - like there was nothing in the whole universe more horrifying to him than being right there, right at that moment. Considering he was probably two years old, maybe that was true. There was no bag drama this time, no fuel pumping nightmare, just a long uncomfortable plane ride with screaming.
We did get a few meals on the plane and they weren't disgusting. Pork katsu with rice and curry. Also a fair amount of sake and coffee. Because mixing uppers and downers is just the best.
We arrived in Narita airport and passed through immigrations and custom with no resistance, and were dumped into a very nearly empty Narita airport. We bought tickets on the Narita Express, which for people with foreign passports costs only 1500 yen (about $15.00) headed in towards Tokyo. The train ride into the city is a fun transition from rice farming land to old suburb (Chiba) to big city. Tokyo station is a maze of platforms stacked on top of each other, but the signage is pretty clear. We happened to hit the station at around 4:30, right before rush hour, and it was already starting to get a crazy, with businessmen running about in suits, American military personnel headed back to the bases, and the usual cocktail of humanity that fills the central metro station of any big city.
Sean braving the streets of Mita
Our initial plan was to spend an hour around Tokyo station, since we assumed we'd be getting in around 3:00 and we weren't due to meet our airBnB hosts until 5:30, but we ended up arriving at Tokyo central at closer to 4:15, so instead we hopped off the train and searched for a ticket machine to buy single tickets to Tamachi station. Once we figured out the fare system it was pretty easy to get what we needed, though I did almost lose my ticket and would have had to buy another to get out of the station. I managed to find it, lodged between some bills, while I was searching for cash to pay the attendant for a new one.
The neighborhood we are staying in is called Mita, and it's just south of Tokyo tower. Our apartment is owned by a really nice couple named Nikolas and Kenji, and Nikolas very generously met us on a small break from work to let us into the place. It's small, of course, but it has everything we need, including an intelligent toilet that opens up when you enter the bathroom, plays music while you do your business, warms your seat, showers, deodorizes and dries all the bits. It's the sort of toilet you hope to get to experience on a trip to Japan.
One of the things I've been looking forward to when I arrived in Japan was having a jar of my favorite cheap-ass convenience store beverage, Choya plum wine. It's super sweet, has two plums rehydrated in the wine, and comes in a little glass jar with a pull top lid. It's horrible, its almost everything I usually dislike in an alcoholic beverage, and for some reason I love it.
Tokyo Tower at Night
We bought a bunch of cheap snacks from the convenience store, things that Sean was able to loosely translate enough to determine they weren't fish eyes or whatever, and we went back to the apartment to gorge upon them and watch cryptic, bizarre Japanese TV for an hour.
We were both jetlagged but determined to stay up long enough to at least partially offset the time difference. We went out on an unstructured walk towards Tokyo tower, detoured toward Roppongi, and ended up walking around a neighborhood called Azabu-juban. It's famous for a summer food festival that's held every August for two days and is one of Tokyo's largest festivals. The neighborhood itself is a cobbled mixture of shops and residences that sees a lot of foot traffic. It used to house a natural onsen, but it was paved over and turned into a car park in 2009. Azabu-Juban is locaed near Roppongi and a lot of ex-pats, particularly French ex-pats, seemed to hang around there.
A few miles later, I was walking around in a fog, so we returned to the apartment and decided to go to bed early anyway. We're going to take advantage of the jet lag to visit Tsukiji market tomorrow morning, one of the highlights of my previous visit to Tokyo. Hopefully it's still as awesome.

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