Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day 1: A Day of Firsts

It was, by any definition, a red letter day - first time at Terminal 3, first time on an A380, first time to Tokyo. How exciting!

inside Terminal 3

a big welcome - how nice ;-)

As usual we arrived early at the airport, early enough to eat at Senso Bistro (a first too!) and to check out the shops (Angkor D'Artisans, anyone?) Then it was onto the plane.

inside the plane

It was huge - there was even an imposing spiral staircase leading downstairs to (presumably) the suites. In cattle class, there seemed a little more leg room, a little more space to wiggle around, but nothing so substantial that we were overwhelmed. I guess economy seats are economy seats. There was a cute compartment just under the window though that we could perch things on top of and even open up to put things away. Other than that, the flight was pretty normal, right down to computer boo-boo and bad food.

aha, not everything worked

c'mon SQ, you can do better than this...

Then it was bedtime. We awoke to a lovely sunrise...

day break - photo by HM who was awake

... and the typical airline breakfast...

breakfast 1 - definitely the better of the two

breakfast 2 - eggs just don't travel well

... but as the plane started its descent, we learnt that it was 12 degree celsius in Tokyo, a wet and rainy day indeed. How could this be? Wasn't this supposed to be the start of summer...

eek, did that look cold or what?

thanks, A380

Still, we were in Tokyo, land of the weird and wonderful, yay! Unfortunately, it was also the land of the ultra-expensive taxi, so from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo, it would have to be the airport limousine bus or the train. The bus won by a nose; the bus stop was immediately outside Terminal 1, no need to trundle our trolley bags to the train station. For 3000Y (SGD $45) each, we could be deposited at Shinjuku Station, five minutes away from our hotel.

The wait at the bus stop wasn't long. It was illuminating though. Clearly we weren't the only ones caught out by the weather. As we stood in the queue with the wind blustering, everyone around us looked a little underdressed, particularly the Singaporeans who had just flown in. There was a pre-teen girl in a short skirt who kept whining that so-and-so jie jie (older sister) had told her Tokyo would be hot. Weather's like that - deal with it, girl.

The ride downtown was relatively long. In all, it took 1.5 hours, even though traffic was clear. We tried to stay awake, to take in as much as we could of our first look around Tokyo, but try as we might, we could not. The long ride turned into a short nap. I did spot Tokyo Tower briefly. My first impression of Tokyo? Not exactly pretty...

From Shinjuku Station, we took a taxi, the first of only two throughout our stay. The 3-minute ride cost us 660Y (SGD $9.90), the flagdown rate, ouch. And then there we were, at Oakwood Shinjuku Apartments.

Technically speaking, Oakwood Shinjuku wasn't even a hotel. It was an apartment complex with service apartments. In between long-term leases, the management fitted short stays like ours. Of all our options, it appeared to be the best value for money, dollar for dollar, and practically on the doorstep of a major transport interchange too. The only catch was only being able to find out three weeks before our stay if an apartment was at all available. As a backup plan, I booked us into another hotel, one that would allow us to cancel our reservation without penalty. In the end, we got ourselves an apartment at Oakwoood Shinjuku for only 11550Y (SGD $173.25) a night. Sweet.

Now we would find out if the apartment was as nice as it looked on the website.


control panel for just about everything

bathroom mirror

not the biggest bed in the world but comfy

see the flatscreen tv?

bose speakers!


kitchen aids

We were very pleased with our find. The apartment, ours for now, was compact but fitted out with every appliance we could need, including HM's favourite, the self-filling bath; my favourite was the electronically warmed toilet seat... The design was sleek, the feel comfortable, the ideal hideaway from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Tokyo.

Of course, we didn't come to Tokyo to rest and relax per se. Off we went in search of brunch and our first taste of Tokyo.

a good omen - serious food country!

The street from our apartment complex to Shinjuku Station was lined with small shops. We found a typical ramen shop that looked promising.

Step 1 - decide what to eat

Step 2 - decide on the size of the meal

Step 3 - pay for our food

Step 4 - hand our tokens to the man behind the counter

Step 5 - eat!

my ramen - such sublime eggs!

HM's ramen

That was an excellent meal, for a small no-name eatery. The quality, from the noodles to the stock to the cha siu, was stellar. Clearly, the Japanese took their food seriously which was a good thing for us.

Sated, we were off to explore Tokyo on foot. We wandered around the Shinjuku Station, to get a lay of the land, popping in and out of the station itself and the surrounding department stores.

outside the station - kawaii!

The constant drizzle eventually drove us indoors for good. Fortunately hiding out at Takashimaya Times Square was no hardship. Our favourite store? The mindboggling Tokyu Hands. What couldn't we find there?

giant croc slipper

peanut clogs

cutesie uniforms for, uh, costume parties?

mushroom man

eggplant guy

After a hilarious two hours exploring Tokyu Hand's very entertaining five floors of wares, we decided we needed a break. We moseyed on downstairs in search of food and a place to sit down. We made our way to the famed Takashimaya Food Hall and admired the produce.

what does a 15750Y ($236.25) musk melon taste like?!

such pretty mangoes, two for 21000Y ($315)

luscious squid

Unfortunately, there was no place to sit and sup. All the seating was inside proprietary areas, all of which had long queues. It was after all tea time. We would have been happy with those benches that line public areas in Singapore shopping centres but there were none to be found in the basement of Takashimaya Food Hall. (At that point we hadn't yet realised that casual eating was a faux pas by Tokyo standards.) Our quest for seats had us wandering out of Takashimaya Times Square altogether.

well well well, what have we here?...

no krispy kreme for us, sigh

We did eventually find a place where the queue was not ludicrously long.

guess what this place serves, duh

now that's a good deal

For 1470Y ($22.05), one could have "an appealing pot of tea" each and a choice of three sweets. The room was filled with ladies taking a break from shopping and taking advantage of this sweet deal.

ah that hit the spot

Between the two of us, we did our best to sample the entire range of pastries.

strawberry milk cake, ice cream, berry and crumble tart

english scone with jam and freshly whipped cream, pumpkin cheesecake, seasonal shortcake

Was it the standard of Japanese pastries that drove the Japanese obsession with sweets or vice versa? Whichever way it was, Japanese patissiers were evidently highly skilled. The sponges in particular were oh so light and it didn't hurt either that all the ingredients were good stuff, right down to the fresh cream.

After tea, we retreated to our apartment, tired out from dealing with the rain. A hot bath and a nap later, we were back out on Shinjuku's streets which, on a Saturday night, were heaving with life.

an appreciative audience

licensed to play

somewhere in Shinjuku

After circling lane after lane of eateries and pubs, we found ourselves a place to have that quintessential Japanese experience, a meal at a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi joint.

in the basement of an office block

our fellow diners

aji (mackerel), I think

maguro (tuna) sushi
We had many a plate of sushi, sake (salmon), ikura (salmon roe), uni (sea urchin), amaebi (sweet prawn) to name a few. Nothing too exotic but all fresh as can be.


At 180Y ($2.70) for a blue plate and 210Y ($3.15) for a white one, the bill came up to 2625Y ($39.40) for 15 plates. We staggered out, stuffed and in disbelief.

The rain had stopped for good, although the air was still nippy, just nice for an after-dinner stroll. In quirky Tokyo, there was lots to see.

what looked like ragging

the Japanese deity, Tanuki aka the God of Restauranteurs

one way to get attention

a whalemeat restaurant!

an anachronism?

It was a fitting end to a fascinating day.