The dilemma about a ten hour flight is how to fill the time. Despite the trip from Amsterdam to Tokyo being a red eye, it did not make a difference due to my disregard of sleeping in seats. I scrolled through the latest blockbusters on the seat’s monitor to see what movies would grab my attention. The stories and sequences end up blending into one blur of nonsensical narrative as time goes on.
Something in the TV show section caught my eye. The Game of Thrones season five box set. As luck would have it I had recently completed season four so now was the perfect time to have a binge session. I managed half of the season before attempting to get some rest.
Arriving at Narita Airport outside of Tokyo, I was to experience a type of efficiency that I could only dream of. Within thirty minutes that I had made it through border control, picked up my backpack from the conveyor belt and settled onto the N’EX train en route to Shinjuku.
After being squashed in economy class for the last thirteen hours, being on a Japanese train was paradise. In the following two weeks of using the transport system I would find the trains to have a luxurious amount of space, to always run on time and the stations were clean enough to eat sushi off of them. The privatisation of railways at its finest.
It was only after arriving did I discover that Shinjuku Station was the busiest train station in the world. Not hard to believe due to the fact that the world’s most populated city (37,800,000) would have a train station that is used by an average of 3,640,000 commuters per day. Still no delays.
With a bag on my back that made my look scream gaijin (foreigner) backpacker, I navigated through the local commuters until I found the south east exit where I was to meet my friends who had already been in Japan for a couple of days.
I waited in the warm rays until Jon found me and we headed towards the hotel. I confided I was hungry and this made Jon dash into one of the many 7/11’s that populated the streets. He emerged carrying two steaming packets.
“Try it,” Jon dared me with a big grin on his face.
I tore open the packaging to find a steam pork bun that reminded me of my travels in China. I wolfed it down. Now I was stuck with the litter by-product of the delicious snack.
“Where are all the bins?” I asked bewildered. We had been walking for ten minutes and I was yet to spot one.
“Good luck,” Jon laughed.
Tokyo apparently has no bins. This is peculiar as it is near to pristine for a giant city. There are also no benches, which would become annoying after hours of walking on the days ahead.
After I checked into my hotel I told Jon and Bonny I would meet them after I showered and unpacked, to get some food and to explore the city.
I woke up. Where was I? All the lights were on. The television was blaring Japanese voices. I checked my phone that was now on 2% battery with a few missed messages from Jon.
I had slept for over four hours. The last thing I remembered was trying out the bed to see how comfortable it was. It turns out it was extremely comfortable. I quickly replied to Jon before jumping into the shower.
By this stage I was even more hungry. Jon and Bonny knew a great place where this problem could be solved.
The sun was setting through the skyline of skyscrapers, and I was led to a descending staircase in a busy alleyway. I followed my friends downstairs to enter a narrow canteen that was divided by a counter bar. There were customers sat on one side, with a kitchen on the other with cooks frantically putting the finishing touches on orders.
Jon and Bonny showed me how to place my order on a machine near the door and it produced a ticket with a number on it. They said they would wait outside for me as the venue was tiny. I took my seat between two Japanese businessmen who were working their way through their food.
A woman looked at my ticket stub and placed a foil tray in front of me. It contained shredded cabbage, breaded chicken sitting on top of katsu curry sauce and hidden beneath was a mountain of rice. I greedily inhaled the food and helped myself to one of the communal jugs on the counter, and poured myself a glass of water. Never had I eaten a katsu chicken curry that tasted so good. Afterwards, I departed with a heavily accented, “arigatou gozaimasu”.
I emerged back on the street, filled with contentment. For the remainder of the evening, Jon and Bonny showed me around Shinjuku. It was a scene from a futuristic, sci-fi movie, with neon signs and electronic noises blaring from building entrances. There was a moment when I felt that Godzilla was peering at me over the skyscrappers.
I was excited to be in Tokyo. The first thing on the agenda would be the Studio Ghibli museum.
To be continued…