As with any major event, test or holiday, I wanted to ensure I got maximum rest beforehand. So, naturally, I left everything to the very last minute, and ended up staying up until 4ish to finish my packing, cleaning, and general organising. The previous night had also been quite a late one, as I’d been frantically trying to scrape together a half-decent itinerary, so we had some idea of what we wanted to accomplish each day. So it was with a heavy heart and more than a little trepidation that I set my alarm for 1 hour and 18 minutes later. It wasn’t the best start to my birthday, or the holiday, to say the least. However by some small miracle I managed to lug all my baggage down to the station, and catch an early enough subway that even taking into account the fact that I might get lost or confused (which I of course DID) I still had oodles of time to make it onto my shinkansen at Nagoya station. What followed was undoubtedly the most relaxing part of my day, although I obviously didn’t realise that at the time. The shinkansen ride was smooth, fast, and nap inducing. I definitely needed it.
When I arrived in Shinjuku, by means of a JR transfer, I was tired with aching arms and in great need of a few more hours shut-eye, but definitely ridiculously excited to see Cassdoll, after almost a year apart. Unfortunately, despite how long it took me to find the hotel; I had a bit more wait time before she arrived. As we were both so exhausted from our respective journeys to make it to that point (Cass arguably even more so than me), it wasn’t quite the movie-inspired reunion I’d been envisioning. We were both just keen to dump our bags in the hotel room and relax for a bit before venturing forth into the city of Tokyo.
It was not smooth sailing.
Somewhere along the line, between the Australian travel agent making the booking for us and the Japanese contact arranging said booking, there had been some sort of miscommunication. We would be spending the night together. In the same damn bed. Now ordinarily this wouldn’t bother me overly much. In fact the last time I had come to Tokyo, I spent 8 nights sharing very close quarters with a friend; but that was because it had been the cheapest option at the time. The Keio Plaza is NOT a cheap option; far from it! And we wanted what we’d booked and paid for. What followed was hours and hours of attempted communication between me, our travel agent in Aus, the JTB reps, and the hotel; all of which boiled down to the fact that nobody was claiming responsibility, and that we had no choice but to share a bed, at least for that first night. We were assured that the problem would be rectified if possible, but they weren’t going to upgrade us, no matter how much I hinted (oh so unsubtly) that that would be the easiest and best option for all involved. By this point we had been sent to our (temporary) room and told to wait, more than once, and we were beyond starving. We saw absolutely nothing of interest on that first day, other than the girl at the hotel desk slowly change colour as her head exploded from all the pressure (or at least that’s how I remember it). Eventually we were transferred into a twin room, after much kerfuffle and complaining on my behalf. The view was worse, the room was smaller, and I had lost my cuddle buddy. All in all, not a great hotel experience.
Long story short, the Keio Plaza is NOT worth it. Stay somewhere else!!
Luckily where we slept didn’t have a huge impact on the rest of our time in Tokyo, and we were still able to get up to all sorts of stuff and things, without killing each other even once! Maybe I should put some photos in, so I can cut short a few thousand words (you know that saying, yeah?).
While we were in Tokyo, we shopped, shopped, and shopped some more. We did other things as well of course; as you can hopefully see from the photos I may or may not have been too lazy to add in. Shopping, however, was definitely a major focus. The plan was to hit one or two of Tokyo’s trendiest areas per day, and although we didn’t quite make it everywhere, we got enough in that it felt like a worthwhile expedition. Ginza was first on the list, purely to visit the world’s largest Uniqlo; strange as that goal may seem. We walked all 12 floors of it, and I managed to walk away with quite a bundle of bargains, if a slightly lighter wallet. While in Ginza we stumbled across a great little Italian restaurant, hidden down some stairs, a little off the main drag. We took very little time to put away a pizza and some salad each, before dragging our wearing bodies back to Shinjuku. Shopping takes it out of you a lot more than you realise, especially when doing it day in, day out. It was a lot of fun though, and we both bought some great stuff! Other places of interest that we checked out were Harajuku, Shibuya, and Omotesando; although unfortunately Omotesando was a little disappointing, given the hype. Shibuya was a stand-out; the 109 building (ichi-maru-kyu in Japanese) is always worth a visit, if only to browse through the latest crazy Tokyo fashions, and of course do a little subtle people-watching. After the first 4 or 5 floors it does get a little repetitive, but the whole place is doable in a few hours if you include a lunch break to recharge. Harajuku, it goes without saying, should be high on any tourists list of places to visit in Tokyo; but it doesn’t seem to change a whole lot, year to year, so if you’ve been once, and are lacking an intense interest in any of the many unique styles represented there, then once is probably enough. There are plenty of less crowded, less intimidating places to shop in Tokyo; so go, snap some photos, avoid the eyes of the tall, dark, and scary promoters whom can be seen lurking in many a doorway on Takeshita-dori, and head somewhere with airconditioning and better seating in order to continue your shopping in peace.
After 6 nights in Japan’s own ‘city that never sleeps’, we were ready to hop a plane and travel north. Hokkaido was the destination, and relaxation away from the heat, the hustle, and the bustle of the big city was the goal. So we said goodbye to Tokyo, already reminiscing about the amazing fun-filled days and nights we had spent there; the days spent wandering, adventuring, and shopping; the nights spent thinking about all the clubs we would have gone to if our feet weren’t so sore after all the wandering, adventuring and shopping. We did drink a little – while playing Bacardi roulette and Disney Princess Uno – but even though we didn’t party hard, I still think we made the most of the time we had there.
Unfortunately, the drama with the Keio plaza wasn’t just with checking in; there had to of course be some issues with leaving as well. Check-out wasn’t the problem – in fact it was miraculously fast and simple – but actually leaving the hotel turned out to be more of an issue than we had anticipated. We had discovered that the hotel had a limousine bus service (not nearly as fancy as it sounds, by the way), that would take us directly to the airport, without the need for a million train transfers. This was for a small fee of course – nothing is ever free. However it seemed the simplest option, so the night before check-out, we came down to the lobby to inquire about times and such. Naturally as soon as we were asked, we immediately forgot what time our flight was, and even what airline we were flying with. The man at the desk said that rather than having to traipse all the way back down again, we could simply call through and make a reservation from our room. As we had discussed all the details that we could remember (important things like which airport we were departing from) and also given that it was only a very short time later that I called to book, I had assumed, or at least hoped, that the man would have some recollection of our previous conversation. Alas, he did not. And worse than that, his English was so poor that rather than actually listening to what I was saying, he began simply responding with set phrases that I’m sure had worked perfectly well on the thousand other people he had spoken to on the issue of airport transfers. Unfortunately for us and them, we were not your everyday tourist. We were doing the apparently rare thing of travelling domestically within Japan, by plane. So naturally the man on the phone ignored everything I was saying, and booked us onto a bus going to Narita airport; a fact which we did not discover until the next day, when sorting out our luggage. After much fluffing about and also deciding to send a box of souvenirs etc back to my apartment in Nagoya, we finally managed to get on the right bus going to the right airport and then eventually onto the right plane, bound for Hakodate.
Tune in soon* for A Sensational Summer Part 2: Hokkaido!!
*Soon being a very relative term, considering how slack I am when it comes to keeping this thing updated. Hopefully I’ll finish writing about summer before the beginning of winter. Well, we can dream, can’t we?