I left the hostel at around 5am. The night before I had told someone to wake me up at 5:00 in case I overslept my alarm. I see a man sprinting upstairs while I’m in the lobby, by the time I put two and two together I’m sure he had already woken up my two roommates and made everyone confused... oops
The once noisy Qianmen Street was now completely quiet. The brisk morning air made for a contemplative walk through this beautiful narrow street. I noticed some vendors were already steaming their dumplings for the day, and the smell of fresh cooked food wafted in the air. After asking 3 times if there wasn’t any meat in them, I decided to try a few. 12 veggie dumplings for 12 Y`uan was not a bad deal! Well worth it to have something warm to snack on while I headed towards the subway. They were some of the best dumplings I had ever had!
The subway to the airport was about the same price as the bus, but I got there in half the time. If you are coming back from Qianmen, take the #2 subway to Dongzhimen and then take the airport express for the final leg. You should get to the airport nice and quick!
I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I couldn’t help but pick up a can of Maca Oolong tea at a health food store. It was actually quite good, slightly sweet with the nuttiness of the maca and the crisp floral taste of the Oolong. I took the “automatic people mover” as they call it and arrived at my gate in a matter of 5 minutes. The airport is big but they make it easy to get around. Before I knew it, I was on the plane and I was moved to a seat with extra legroom. Not bad!
The flight attendants were so nice on air China. They were always eager to help out and couldn’t have been more friendly. The flight was only 3:30 hours, and after the 14-hour flight the day before, it felt like nothing. We landed in Narita sometime in the afternoon and I was beyond excited! I had flown into Narita before but was not able to leave the airport so this was felt like taking care of unfinished business.
It took me awhile to figure out the subway situation. Luckily, the people at the airport were so friendly and the machines were incredible. As I would soon learn, everything in Japan is engineered to be just a little bit better. The subway ticket machine asked you where you wanted to go and then gave you suggestions based on distance and price. So nice!
On the way to the subway, some nice lady gave me her subway card that she was no longer using. Not only would I not have to buy one but I would get 300 yen towards my first subway! These cards make everything so easy. Get a Suica card at the beginning of you’re trip and you’ll save so much time every day!
On the way into Tokyo, I started to get my first glimpse of Japan. Normally the areas around a major airport are some of a country’s least attractive but here there was nothing but beauty. Traditional houses, backyard gardens and little kids playing soccer and baseball. I was beginning to fall in love with Japan. The more I saw of it, the more I began to appreciate this wonderful country.
I got off at Ueno station and ambitiously set out on an hour long walk to my hotel. Feeling confident already, I walked right through the gate to get out of the station. I was so close to getting through but then suddenly the doors clamped down on my leg and flung me forward so abruptly, my backpack almost fell off my shoulders. The men at the help desk couldn’t help but laugh. Embarrassed and confused, I sought out shelter in the bathroom to plot my next move. It was then that I remembered how sophisticated the toilets were in Japan. Nearly every public toilet (at least in Tokyo) has attachments like heated seats, deodorizing fans, music players and a pressurized water jet. I really wanted to get a video of this water jet in action. I pressed the button and the jet began to squirt out, but because I was standing up, it sprayed all over my pants... I did not think that one through! I emerged from the bathroom with a huge wet spot on my pants. I’m sure the men at the info desk had a great time seeing this silly tourist getting clamped by the subway gate, going into the bathroom, peeing his pants and then trying again. I took it all in stride and new that eventually I’d get the hang of this city.
I was blown away by the atmosphere here. Unlike New York, Tokyo doesn’t “feel” like a big city. It is a series of neighborhoods almost independent of one another. There are a few pockets with huge buildings but mostly it is quite small little streets friendly to pedestrians and bikers. I wandered into a large street market called Ameya Yokocho and that’s where the culture shock really began to sink in. Here you could buy just about anything you could imagine, and a few more things you couldn’t imagine. As tempted as I was to peruse the entirety of the street market, I said to myself what would become my mantra for the next few days “pace yourself”. If you stop at every cool thing you see in Tokyo, you will never get to where you are trying to go. I just had to move on and know that there was stuff just as cool waiting for me.
That walk was an amazing introduction to Tokyo. Friendly people, amazing food all around, adults playing arcade games, vending machines on every block. You keep looking for some bit of familiarity but there is none. Everything about Japan is different than what you are used to. Unique and incredible. Tokyo delivers just about everything you could ever want from a city. I couldn’t wait to continue exploring it tomorrow!