We touched down in Narita at approximately 6 o’clock in the morning, with little more than 3 hours of sleep out of the last 48 hours, to 10ºC weather and a practically deserted airport. Once we had gotten our bags and gotten through customs, we were met with a guide who helped us buy our bus tickets and find the right bus to take us to our hotel. He was so lovely, polite and so incredibly patient with this group of foreigners with who were clearly lost.
Stepping out of the airport and walking to the bus terminal I was struck by three things:
First: The air was crisp and clean and absolutely gorgeous
Second: There was a a little room where smokers were cramped into that I needed to avoid at all costs because asthma
Third: There are legitimately vending machines everywhere
In the first half hour of being in Japan, I was already going insane with happiness. The streets and the buildings and the people were everything I had anticipated and more. It was like every Japanese drama, every anime and every story from my childhood was unraveling before my eyes. I don’t quite know exactly what it was, but the very atmosphere was different. It was a different kind of air we were breathing and it was intoxicating.
The bus ride from Narita to the Shinjuku Washington Hotel took about 2 hours, leaving us with a few hours before check-in. So we dropped our bags off at the Concierge and took off to explore the area.
We took a bunch of photos near Government buildings, found a cute little coffee shop which (thankfully!) had an English menu and tracked down a little ramen shop for lunch. What’s funny about finding this little ramen shop is that we stumbled upon it by accident. We had stopped walking to try and gain our bearings using Google Maps when people started to line up behind us. It wasn’t till a minute or two later that we realised that it was for a little restaurant in front of us. We motioned for them to go ahead of us in the line and when more people started lining up behind us, we took it as a sign to join the line. My very limited Japanese confirmed that this place did in fact sell ramen which was exactly what we were craving in the freezing weather. I’m so happy that we decided to walk in.
Now at this point in my travels, I am still unsure about whether all Japanese restaurants such as these have similar ordering systems but upon entering the ramen shop, we were met with a vending machine with about 5 English words on it. After some guess work, we managed to place our order and join the line. The shop was crowded and loud and warm and absolutely fantastic. We barely waited 10 minutes and somehow by chance got seated next to or near each other despite being seated at different times. The noodles were being cooked right in front of me, and I am still awestruck at how easily they prepared everyone’s food with such grace and minimal mess.
The ramen was incredible. I’ve always loved ramen, but I had only ever had it in Sydney. I was told by family that not finishing your food is rude, and an insult to the chef in Japan but even without that knowledge it mind, I don’t think I could’ve wasted a single bite. Best possible first meal in Japan.
We had finished our food with still so much time to spare so we wandered around towards Shinjuku Station and Takashima Times Square for some photo taking and shopping. We had to visit Uniqlo and the sales were dangerous, even taking into account the exchange rate.
By the time we had finished, it was time to head back to the hotel for check-in.
True to Tokyo’s nature, the room was cosy and absolutely perfect. We were high enough to get a great view of the Ginko trees that lined the streets and the surrounding buildings. After a warm shower and a quick nap, we headed out to the Observation Deck in one of the Government buildings just a short 5 minute walk from our hotel. It was the perfect vantage point to take photos of the city skyline.
The line to get into the observatory was only a short 5 minutes compared to the 25 minutes that it took to get back down.
Afterwards we took a stroll around the city and had dinner at a small restaurant who’s name was completely in Japanese and didn’t get the chance to write down.
We stopped by 7/11 on the way back to the hotel for some Japanese snacks. This would be the first of many trips, for 7/11 in Japan is amazing beyond words.
By the time we got back I was so exhausted and ready for bed, but it was a great first day in Nippon. Tomorrow, Mt. Fuji!