Once a year, I make a journey home to Hong Kong to visit my Grandma (and everyone else in HK =P). I’ve done this for almost 10 years now, annually, and with all my vacation. Until one year, I joined a group of friends in Mexico for a beautiful destination wedding. Then it hit me – there is so much of the world to see. Yet with 15 days of vacation per year, a girl can only do so much. Hong Kong is a non-negotiable…so making a pit-stop en route is my compromise.
The usual stop is Korea. But we decided to shake it up a bit and head over to Tokyo instead in 2016. So began my first ever trip to Japan (I don’t know why people are always so surprised when I tell them I had never seen Japan before this!)
Air Canada (Because unfortunately, despite their shoddy service each year, they have the best flight time out of HK to go home). Landed in Narita. The other airport of choice is Hanaeda of course (which is much closer to the city!) – but my friend was flying in from Korea and the flights which matched mine from Vancouver were Narita flights.
A nice little apartment in Ikebukuro. It seems to be a taboo thing in Japan still, to book an apartment on this little website that we make full use of in NAmerica… however the selection in Tokyo was amazing! My friend and I weren’t too picky about the place, as long as it was safe, and convenient…oh and it had to have a decent sized fridge. The beer had to be cold when we got home. This place was definitely convenient! A quick 5-10 min walk from Ikebukuro Stn (it’s the 2nd largest station in Tokyo!) which connects to the NEX train from Narita. The host was great at responding to all my mundane questions before the trip (Her name is Sanae, if you want to try and find her on the website). Apartment was Tokyo sized, tatami style (aka we slept on the ground but it was just fine), and the washroom was so small that for once in my life I was glad I am short. However, everything worked, and we were happy there. Hotels in this area would have cost quite a bit more, and would’ve been a bit further of a walk…so we were glad to have found this little gem.
From Narita, we took the NEX (Narita Express) into the city. It was a good 1+ hour ride, so by the time we got to the city it was night. However it is convenient – the ticket counter was right were the arrival gates exited, and the train was just underneath. We also chose Ikebukuro Station because the NEX goes there directly. That was important as I didn’t feel like being lost after a 10 hr flight in.
The ride from the city to the airport was brilliant. Especially if you are a Studio Ghibli fan like me. The train goes through small towns and farms, and the scenery is not unlike the scenes you would see in Totoro. I wish I spoke some Japanese so I could survive in a small town or farm for a few days…but alas. Anyway, it was great to sit and just reflect on the week of whirlwind activity. I was by myself on the way out as my friend had to catch an earlier flight back to Korea, so it was definitely an unexpected hour of peace just for me.
We also took the local subways as much as possible as it seemed to be the fastest most fail proof way to get around. Which of course meant we planned our trip according to where the stations were clustered. Lots of places were close by enough that we could just walk from place to place (and end up a few stns away from where we began). Advice, get the Suica/Pasmo card as soon as you get to a station. The machines speak English (literally one I used could talk), so it was no problem. You can use that card for paying at convenience stores, and as well the lockers inside most stations will accept the card as payment and re-entry. Plus you can customize your card and print your name on it…a great souvenir. There is deposit required for the card (Y500), and when you return it I think they charge Y200. So might as well keep it for a souvenir!
We stayed here, so I’m a little biased. I found this station to be super convenient and highly recommend it for first time travellers. A few lines connect to this station: the NEX as mentioned above, the circle line which takes you all the way around and back in Tokyo, a line which cuts straight across to Ginza, lines that take you out of the city…etcetc.
Around the station are the major department stores which come in handy because their food and supermarket floors are out of this world. We found ourselves buying food and going back to the apartment to eat on more than one occasion simply because we were too exhausted to battle dinner time crowds. There were many 24hr convenient stores and marts along the main road, floors upon floors of restaurants and bars (advice, look up and into basements for great food choices!)…and our absolute most favourite store: Don Quijote. It was a 24 hr store in Ikebukuro, 7 stories of extreme random, extreme cheap buys. Think dollar store mixed convenient store mix pharmacy (I mean Japanese pharmacy…where they sell all sorts of non medical beauty products along side all the drugs). We were there daily… and found that the same item would be much cheaper here if it is in stock. They even sold charcoal baked sweet potatoes..yums!
Daytime is a bustle of activity, and nighttime is quieter, especially if you walk a block away from the station exit. Plus didn’t feel like I would be dragged into an alley and mugged even when I am alone at night.
There are lockers in almost every station we went to, especially at the bigger more touristy locations. It was very convenient to just put all our shopping into a locker and just come back for it on the way out. You can opt to pay with coins, and the machine will give you a little receipt which you will have to keep and scan for re-entry. You can also choose to use a password for some of the lockers. Otherwise, you can also use your Suica/Pasmo card as a form of payment, and when you need to get back into your locker you simply tap your card again and it will open up! We aren’t talking grungy gym lockers here guys…these are high tech, very well kept (even when the locker seems to be in a sketch part of the station!) and super convenient.
[Part 2: Tokyo Eats]