I haven’t blogged in a while that it feels silly and weird to type full paragraphs on my laptop again. I have an on-and-off relationship with blogging - occasionally I’d get the urge to write but then there’s always something better to do, like stare at the ceiling and count the cobwebs, or watch my armpit hair grow a millimetre (have you done this? It’s fun - you can also watch your toe nail grow whilst you’re at it).
But then recently I got myself a new laptop, one of those MacBook Pros with retina display (which by the way is pure awesomeness), and I felt the itchy fingers once again. Yeah, I bid goodbye to my old but trusted Macbook which I purchased back in early 2009. It had become somewhat laggy especially when I’d run a couple of applications at the same time so I restored it to factory settings, cleaned it up a bit and sold it online for about $400. Which is not bad, I must say, considering it was 5 years old. In my defence, my laptop was well taken care of and had looked pretty mint. Any trace of dirt or body fluid had been ostensibly wiped clean. My other secret - get a screen protector, palm rest and keyboard cover and install them on day one.
Now the other and actually bigger reason I am enthused to blog again is so that I can write about my recent holiday. See I just came back from a trip to Japan - only my number 1 travel destination on earth - that I am totally compelled to write about the experience. I’ve always been keen to go to this exotic country. It’s at the top of my list of travel destinations, far higher than Europe or the Americas. I mean, the land of ninjas, sushi, Godzilla - what’s not to love? In 2011 my interest was rekindled when the tsunami and the related nuclear disaster occurred - not only would I be able to visit the country of my dreams, but now I could also have a chance to take a sniff of radioactive air and perhaps develop a superhero power in the process. Win-win.
So around November last year I decided, to hell with it, I was going to do the trip. I shared my plan with a good friend of mine, Jean, who is based in Bangkok and she jumped, no, shrieked, at the idea of spending Christmas in Japan. A couple of days later our flights were booked and a plan was set in motion. On the 20th of December, we jetted off from Bangkok to the land of the rising sun.
We arrived in Haneda airport around 2AM and immediately looked around the airport for nourishment coming from the long 7 hour flight. We ended up in this quaint little ramen place that was made to look like a traditional restaurant you’d find in a Japanese neighbourhood. The ramen was delicious, you wouldn’t think it was in fact airport food! A Japanese friend, Yoichi, later told me that concessionaires in the airports were actually recently overhauled and upgraded so that they were at par with food from outside. Which does make sense because airport food is likely the first opportunity a visitor would have to try the local food, right?
Haneda airport is Japan’s busiest airport, and it was darn nice. It re-established my long-standing belief that you can determine a country’s state of economy by the quality of its airport. It wasn’t crowded when we arrived so we easily found an empty bench where we spent the next couple of hours trying to sleep until we could check in at this inn that we booked. There is actually a capsule hotel right in the airport called First Cabin and it would have been perfect, however when I tried to book there were no slots left.
I can see your quizzical look all the way from here. For the uninitiated, a capsule hotel is one of these weird only-in-Japan kind of things. Instead of hotel rooms, all you get are these boxes or ‘capsules’ that pretty much look like a coffin. And you sleep in there.
Holy baby Jesus, right? It looks like the perfect setting for a horror movie. I really did plan on staying in one to experience how it feels to, erm, sleep in a coffin, but my Japanese friend informed me that he would normally not resort to such places because they have a reputation of being unclean and tacky. In truth, these are really meant for working people - men mostly, because apparently women know better - who missed their last train or flight for the day and don’t want to book a hotel room. Or for intoxicated Japanese men coming from a karaoke joint who needed a place to crash. In that sense I can understand what my friend meant by tacky. The capsule hotel in Haneda airport however is a ‘first class’ capsule accommodation and does not really look like you’re about to be laid to rest. It would have been perfect but oh well. If your plane does arrive in the wee hours of the morning and you want to book a capsule bed at First Cabin, better book ahead.
In Haneda airport I had my first contact with the famed, mysterious and mythical Japanese toilet. I have read so much about it and I was so excited to see one finally. It did not disappoint.
For starters, the toilet seats were heated. This was winter and you will see how this makes a big difference. I kid you not what joy it is to lay your butt on a warm toilet seat - you wouldn’t want to leave anymore. Next to the toilet bowl there’s this array of buttons for everything you need to do your business. When you’ve done the deed you can push a button and warm water is unleashed that hits your butt in calculated trajectory. You are more than welcome to let out a sigh and smile whilst this is happening. If you’re a lady, you can push this other button for bidet function. I didn’t try it of course, but what I know is that with a bidet, the toilet makes sure the the lady parts are washed in the right angles. Then there’s another button for air drying. Lastly, the airport toilets don’t have it but later on I would also find there’s a button you can push so the toilet plays a musical tune whilst you’re sitting on your throne. I mean come on, Japan. Can you be any more awesome? Wait, you can - how about a button for a mechanical hand to come out from behind you to massage your back while you’re at it, eh? Who’s with me on this?
Anyways, we headed to our accommodation around 10AM and boarded a train to take us to Asakusa, which is probably the best location to stay in downtown Tokyo if you’re a tourist. It’s got everything - the Tokyo sky tree, Tokyo’s oldest temple, nightlife, restaurants, the works. We were booked in this cosy little inn called K’s House Oasis Tokyo, which is about 10 to 15 minute walk from the Asakusa train station. When we checked in, the receptionist who spoke perfect English handed over a package to me - apparently my local data SIM card had arrived in the mail. Neat.
Side note: If you want to stay connected whilst travelling around Japan I suggest you purchase a local SIM card that will give you 14 days of internet access with 1 GB cap for about 3K Yen. It’s pretty handy for when I need to google something, or use a nifty little app called Hyperdia which gives accurate train schedules. Of course it’s up to you, I’m sure you can survive without internet but I like to have the convenience so this was perfect for me (plus I also wanted to regularly post photos on Facebook whilst touring Tokyo to make my friends jealous, ahihihi). Also, 1 GB sounds small but really that’s thousands of minutes of internet browsing already - or hundreds of cat videos if that’s your thing.
//K’s House Oasis Tokyo
In Asakusa we had late lunch at my first real traditional sushi restaurant with a real sushi chef. It was a bit pricier than the usual sushi place (I think our bill for two people came to about Y3000), but it was worth it. The menu, unfortunately, was in Japanese so we were limited to choosing those that had pictures because, you know, I didn’t want to end up eating raw horse. Which I did, but that’s another story. Our sushi was made to order - when it arrived it was well presented but I made a rookie mistake - I asked for wasabi, which made the chef’s eyebrow go:
It didn’t take long to realise my mistake - when I took a bite of the sushi, there was already a spread of wasabi in between the rice and the fish - apparently this is standard in Japan. Everywhere else in the world, most of the sushis are served with wasabi kept separate because many non-Japanese don’t actually like wasabi. I had probably insulted the sushi chef with my mistake so to make it up I silently offered a prayer to the Japanese deity Hello Kitty to bless this man and his clan for a thousand years.
We spent most of the day roaming the streets of Asakusa and taking in the taste and smell of Japan. By nightfall, we rode this elaborately lighted trike that took us around the block in the CBD. Everywhere we went people gushed and stared at us and some even took photos as we passed. It wasn’t because we looked like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (which we do), but mainly because our carriage looked like it came out of Walt Disney. And the Japanese liked all things cute and fancy. Like the toilet seats the carriage seats were also heated (the Japanese are geniuses!), and the driver gave us thick blankets to keep us warm as it was about 10 degrees C.
We also caught up with my friend Yoichi that night - I asked that he take us to a well-recommended Japanese place and he brought us to this wonderful restaurant right in the CBD.
I knew then I was going to have my fill of Japanese food on this trip.
To be continued…