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Japan

Leaving Japan ... for real, finally


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Dai and I spent a couple of hours together at Aeon mall where we grabbed lunch from the supermarket and some groceries to take back to New Zealand. After lunch, it was time for him to rest before the night flight home.

I wandered around Narita a little, taking shelter away from the rain in various places.

Late afternoon, I returned to the room and we made our way to the airport in the crew bus. I was introduced to the Captain who would (if necessary) grant me their crew-rest seat for take-off and landing.

But fourth time lucky, I got on the flight without any special intervention. I had a bad seat in between people but I was just pleased to have a seat, any seat to get home. The crew were nice enough to give me a spare bunk and I managed to get just under 5 hours sleep (assisted with a sleeping pill) after dinner.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Leaving Japan ... Take 3


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large_5550_14320012666244.jpgQuiet Narita village before the fair started.
I had breakfast in town. I had done most of what I wanted in Narita [Narita-travel-guide-283388] so spent the morning in bed checking commercial flights back to Auckland and also attending to emails, admin and bills. There weren’t any real viable flight alternatives.

I checked out just before 1100, once again, leaving my pack at reception. I wandered around Narita’s old town. There was a drumming fair on which was quite good to watch for a while. The alleyways were busier today; not as much live seafood as I remember but there were eels being gutted. They pin/nail the eel’s head against a board and gut it, splay it before cutting them up and putting skewers through them for the grill.

I thought I would spend the rest of my available time at Hana Noyu spa again before heading to the airport. Only in Japan can you get female bathhouse attendants in a spa filled with dozens of naked men. Oh, by the way, anyone with tattoos aren’t allowed in most Japanese bathhouses due to the connotation it has with organised crime.

Once again, there was no room for me on the flight. While I was still at the check-in area, my friend Dai who worked up on the AKL-NRT flight showed up. I was meant to stay with him tonight and save on accommodation (even though I had insurance paying for this). He had injured himself during turbulence on the flight up and needed light treatment. We made our way to his hotel and grabbed dinner together with another crew member.

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Leaving Japan ... Take 2


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large_5550_14320009178292.jpgScenes from Narita-san Temple.After a breakfast of pastries, I checked-out and left my bag at the hotel reception.

I began my exploration of the Narita [Narita-travel-guide-283388] area by walking to Narita-san, the temple nearby. It was actually a very nice temple for something that was so accessible and un-promoted. I remember the alleyway from about 15 years ago where there were lots of live seafood. Perhaps, being still early in the morning, none of these were seen.

I continued by foot to Aeon Mall some 20 minutes away. It was a great mall but there wasn’t anything that I needed or wanted. I hopped on the circle-route bus to another mall which turned out to be less interesting. Lunch in the basement was good enough.

Malls are much the same anywhere and I thought I’d use my time more productively by looking for accommodation in the highly likely scenario that I couldn’t fly again tonight.large_5550_14320009342340.jpgScenes from Narita-san Temple.I hopped back on the circle-route bus to Narita town and tried various hotels on both sides of the railway track.

There wasn’t much choice but the Richmond and the APA had a handful of rooms left.

At the airport later, I was told by 1715 that I wasn’t on. There were a couple of seats left but my priority was low and others would have precedence over me. I stood by in case there were families or groups that didn’t want to be split up. As it turned out, a family of four put their two kids on the flight home while the adults remained.

Back in Narita town, the Richmond’s available rooms had been snapped up and APA only had smoking rooms left. I took it. It was tiny compared to Richmond and also costlier.

I wasn’t too upset about not getting on the flight for two consecutive days. Narita was a nice play to have a day or two to explore. If it hadn’t been for work on Monday, I would have left the region to explore further afield until the flights cleared. As it turned out, it was the end of the New Zealand school holidays but Japan isn’t the kind of place Kiwi families holiday in.

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Leaving Japan ... Take 1


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large_5550_143200075720.jpgFinally I have good weather which gives me a glimpse of Mount Fuji.
I woke early this morning without an alarm. The sun was out way before 0600 I reckon. It’s nice to wake naturally, with assistance from sunlight from the outside. This wasn’t the case in wet gloomy Tokyo with natural light further obscured by neighbouring buildings.

I made the most of the onsen once more before being treated to a large breakfast. There was no reason to stay much longer even though the check-out time was 1100. I hopped on the 0940 bus from outside the hotel. Along the way, I caught glimpses of beautiful Mt Fuji against the glorious blue sky, both of which hadn’t featured yesterday. I took some desperate snaps as views of the lake and Fuji were meant to be one of Hakone’s highlights.

I reached Shinjuku station around midday. Again, it was hard to find my way around the multiple stations but I worked it out more easily this time.large_5550_14320007593550.jpgBedding of the homeless in Tokyo.I had to get to Narita Airport [Narita-Airport-travel-guide-1362024] but with plenty of time at hand, the cheapest way was with a change at Nippori for about one-third the price of the non-stop service.

With limited funds and trying to avoid further withdrawals, I made use of the Nippori stop to grab lunch from the convenience store and do things leisurely and carefully to ensure I didn’t hop on the express train or the wrong train.

Despite the dilly-dally I got to Narita [Narita-travel-guide-283388] Airport at 1500 for an 1830 departure. I had a standby ticket and for the first time ever and after many years, I was left behind outstation due to the flight being overbooked. Being Japan, passengers had all checked-in rather early and by 1700 (some 90 minutes prior to departure), they had confirmed that there were no seats left.

I took the train to Narita town centre and started looking for hotels in the station area. First up was Mercure (full), second was Center (only smoking room), third was the Comfort (full) but fourth time lucky I got a huge beautiful room at the Richmond for only JPY12300 walk-in.

After a cheap dinner, I went for a soak at Hana Noyu a cheap but beautiful onsen one bus-stop away from Narita town.

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Exploring the Hakone area, minus views of Mt Fuji


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large_5550_14319998528816.jpgSwitchback train.
It was another early start with the alarm for 0600 for a shower, breakfast and packing up after 5 nights at the Tsukiji Business Ban Hotel. I left at 0700 and got to Shinjuku Station rather quickly but as it was a collection of different stations (different rail companies and then the metro), I spent considerable time finding the office and departure point for the bus to Hakone [Hakone-travel-guide-280113]. I reckon the instructions given had been a bit misleading and I eventually found it.

It was 0810 by the time I got my ticket and the next bus to Hakone was 0830 which could drop me off at Sengoku about 5 minutes from my hotel. The alternative was to wait till 0900 for one that could drop me outside my hotel. I chose the former.

The journey was on the motorway for around 2h followed by about 20 minutes on roads in the Hakone region.large_5550_14319998594683.jpgLargely brown scenery at this time of year.The weather had deteriorated along the way.

I hopped off at Sengoku and after a wrong turn (which was fruitful as I found the ATM to get more money), I found my hotel. I dropped my pack there, grabbed some dumplings from a nearby café and started my afternoon exploring the Hakone area.

I started by taking a bus downhill to Hakone-Yumoto; it wasn’t a short ride and it was windy. The rain got heavier. When I got to Hakone-Yumoto, it was too wet to explore so I hopped on the switchback train to Gora.

The switchback train consists of two carriages. It takes its name from the nature of the tracks … it zigzags up its hilly route but doesn’t switches back at some stops, ie. the front becomes the back and the back becomes the front.

The route itself wasn’t too beautiful at this time of year. The sakura had gone and the leaves weren’t out.large_5550_14319998663698.jpgCable car.I didn’t have any pink nor green but only the greyish brown of bare branches on the mountains slopes.

Upon reaching Gora, I wandered around briefly before hopping on the cable car (funicular railway in some countries) to Sounzan where I changed immediately to a rope-car (gondola or cable car in some countries). That took me to high up to Owakudani [Owakudani-travel-guide-1328809] where I could stop to explore the volcanic area before continuing to its final stop at Togendai.

The weather had kinda fined up enough to fully explore the volcanic streams, pools and vents. It hadn't fined up enough to get even a glimpse of Mount Fuji [Mount-Fuji-travel-guide-1336977], which is supposed to be the highlight of visiting this area.large_5550_1431999874475.jpgRopeway.I could get a glimpse of the water, which I guess must have been Lake Ashi.

Having just been to White Island in New Zealand only weeks before, the volcanic area was pale in comparison. I explored it fully but quickly, covering all the areas that were permitted. High winds started and I thought I’d better make my way back to the rope-car.

To my surprise, the rope-car was still operating. Unfortunately, they closed it within minutes of me joining the queue. There was no refund for the unused portion of the expensive ticket and had to pay for a separate bus ticket back down to the lake. I waited for the bus indoors in the souvenir shop for as long as I could. When I eventually had to queue up, it was in the cold gale.

Down from the mountain on the shores of Lake Ashi, all was calm and sunny.large_5550_14319998815206.jpgLargely brown scenery at this time of year.I had enough of bad weather this trip both in Nikko [Nikko-travel-guide-283488] and the Hakone area. It was time for me to head back to the hotel and wait for dinner and a hot soak after.

The Hakone Mount View hotel turned out to be an excellent choice as it was a hotel set up to give a ryokan feel. It had an onsen and diners would eat in smaller dining rooms of about 8 tables instead of one large hall of 40(?) tables for the entire hotel. The corridors were all dark and atmospheric with piped in koto music. My single room including sumptuous dinner and breakfast cost me less than JPY13000.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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