|A 'bullet train' zooms past Tokyo's Hamamasutcho Station|
After getting a 'cultural high' in Kyoto & Nara, I found myself back in Tokyo again, back to where this trip in Japan began. It took 2 hours and 30 minutes of smooth, quiet and super-punctual journey on the Shinkansen Hikari. A train journey that I must say has got me envious of the Japanese - after all, trains in the US still travel on antiquated tracks which limit their speed to that of a snail. Obama please, let's get the Amtrak moving fast!
It was almost the afternoon rush hour when our train reached Tokyo's suburbs so instead of getting myself squashed in a packed Tokyo Station, I decided to get off one station ahead, in Shinagawa. From there, it was a less crowded 5-minute journey on the Yamanote Line to Hamamasutcho Station, the closest to my hotel. Thanks to Hyperdia, I was able to choose wisely on transport options in Japan.
|The elusive Mt. Fuji covered yet again by clouds|
I've decided on staying in the Hamamasutcho area for convenience. From the Hamamasutcho station, there's the Tokyo Monorail going to Haneda Airport, giving me enough time to catch my American Airlines flight that leaves at a terrible 6:40 AM the next day. Staying at the airport hotel was out of the question since it's really very expensive. Besides, I still want to visit Akihabara in central Tokyo which is a convenient one-train ride away from the station.
Of all the hotels nearby, the cheapest I could get was Chisun Hotel Hamamasutcho, part of a Japanese hotel chain. I booked this prior to arrival and was charged 6,640 yen for a single room. However, it took me a long time finding the hotel - my mistake, I lost the map I thought I had in my day pack. From the train station, I went around in circles, asking some people who honestly didn't know where it was. Half an hour into this problem, I entered a pub (that had no patrons yet) and a female worker was able to help me (even offering me a glass of water!). She called the hotel herself. It turns out, I was way off, in the opposite side of the neighborhood that took a good 20 minutes of walking to finally reach it.
At the hotel, it took a while for someone to check me in. Then I realize why it's the cheapest in the area - it's the smallest of all the rooms I've stayed in. The usual amenities are there, including the high-tech toilet bowl. Thank goodness I'm only there for one night but I did hope to sleep well in order to wake up at 4 AM the next day for my flight. As planned, I went out right away, back into Hamamasutcho Station where I took another Yamanote train. Ten minutes later, I was in Akihabara Station.
Japan is known for so many things but nothing grabs a man's attention (besides women & cars) than electronics. In Tokyo, Akihabara reigns supreme as the Electric Town: a district that's always been devoted to anything with wires, microchips and optics. Stores selling the latest in electronic goods are everywhere, from cameras to computers, home appliances to heated toilet bowls! In recent years, fans of anime and manga have been coming in droves lured by the many shops and businesses selling Japanese comic books and cartoons.
While I'm not into anime and manga, I am certainly into electronics. Akihabara felt like the Willy Wonka factory of electronics. It was exciting to see cool gadgets in a country known for its quality. As a Nikonian, I was of course drawn to the camera shops. The huge Yodobashi Camera caught my attention - it's bigger than its branch in Shinjuku. However, the price of a Nikon D7000 is still more expensive than in the US (about $400 difference!). I checked a flash unit that I was planning to buy but their Nikon SB400 was almost $180 (I finally got mine at Crutchfield back in the US for $110 with coupon). Most of the Akiba shops do offer duty free prices but looking at those two examples already got me worried about my budget for electronic goods. In others words, I'm better off buying in the US.
All that walking - and salivating - got me hungry so I went around to see where I can grab a quick meal. It was dinner time. I entered one with plenty of people seating around a bar and seated myself right away. One staff greeted me with "irasshaimase" but he was apparently looking for something in my hand. I couldn't figure what it was so I asked for the "menu". It was confusing; no one else could speak English. Then the cook, who was done with one order, turned to me, motioning me to go over to the door and there, he showed me - a vending machine. It took only nano-seconds for me to realize my ignorance. I needed a "meal ticket". Duh!
The vending machine had all the photos of food (mostly gyudon) with corresponding prices. After paying the machine, my "meal ticket" came out which I then handed over to the cook to prepare. It wasn't long before the magical wonders of a Japanese griddle brought forth my 750 yen meal (about $9). Atypical of how gyudon is served, the beef sat on a plate separate from the steamed rice. My order came with green salad and miso soup. It was a yummy quick dinner! By the time I reached my hotel, I was so tired I just plopped unto my bed (thankfully, my hotel alarm clock was already set earlier).
|A distant view of Mt. Fuji & Tokyo from Seat 24A|
The loud ringing early at 4 AM the next day felt like some cold water was doused on me. I woke up immediately in the darkness (I can not sleep with the lights on). But like most early mornings while traveling, I find myself disoriented in hotel/hostel rooms, bumping into night tables, walking with hands groping for anything, not even knowing what country or city I'm in. Then I find the light switch. Ah! So I'm here in Japan. After a quick shower and inspecting my bags, I checked out, walked into the train station and boarded the first Tokyo Monorail leaving for Haneda Airport.