DM's Japan 2006 Trip Diary

Day 1 - Sydney to Tokyo

Sunday, 22 January, 2006

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Written at 08:40 next day

Our flight left Sydney on time and stopped briefly in Cairns, where it was hot, humid, and raining, although we only got to feel it in a brief blast as we moved between the plane and the boarding tube. Then we were on the way to Narita Airport near Tokyo.

The flight was uneventful, but as we approched Japan we moved into a holding pattern just off the coast. The pilot announced that Narita was very jammed because of snow the previous day. They had closed a runway, and we were expected to be circling for about half an hour before landing. It turned out to be more like 45 minutes, and then our delays were just beginning.

After landing, we joined a long queue of planes waiting for a terminal gate to become free, so that we could get off. We spent over an hour crawling along the taxiway, watching JAL planes overtake us and grab berths as they became available. Finally we slid into a gate and disembarked, some two hours late.

Then we raced across Narita's terminal buildings, interrupted by a wait for a shuttle train that transported us all of about 100 metres between two buildings (we could have walked faster). Matthew was leading us at a rapid clip so we were ahead of most of the other passengers. When we hit immigration, I found the reason why, as we joined a queue of foreign passport holders that had the enouraging sign that from where we were standing it was an hour and 15 minutes wait.

Thankfully it didn't take anywhere near that long, as the queue bustled through quite rapidly, getting us to the front in about 15 minutes. After having our passports stamped, we collected our bags and proceeded to customs, where we had a carnet for the camera equipment we were carrying. We were ushered into a separate area where a guy processed the documents and then waved us out to the arrivals lobby.

Arrivals was crammed with people and luggage everywhere. It took a good 5 minutes just to find a place where we could stop moving without blocking the stream of arriving passengers behind us. Matthew purchsed tickets for the Airport Limousine bus service to Shinagawa, and then we moved outside into the frigid 2°C air to wait at one of the 20 or so bus stops.

An agttendant checked our tickets and waved us into the fourth marked queueing area on the footpath, as ours was the fourth next bus to depart from that stop. Others lined up in their appropriate queues and the buses arrived, were loaded, and departed with amazing efficiency. Our bus left at 9:35pm, taking us along a freeway into the heart of Tokyo. There was not much to see, except piles of snow littering places, not very thick, maybe a few centimetres.

Approaching Tokyo, I could see parts of the bay on our left, which appeared to be heavily built on with construction on piers or reclaimed land. We passed Tokyo Disney, and then a couple of enormous ferris wheels, lit brightly. Near Shinagawa we exited the freeway and drove along a river for a bit to our hotel, the Le Meridien Pacific.

Shinagawa Fujin Noodles
We checked in, and then, hungry following the delays to our arrival, we rigged up and walked out to look for food on the streets of Shinagawa. Most places we passed were closed already, it being after 11pm. But we found a tiny hole-in-the-wall noodle place, packed with people sitting shoulder to shoulder at a long counter facing the cooks. We waited for seats to become free, which took a couple of minutes, then sat and ordered some ramen. It took a little time to arrive, since they were very busy, but was delicious when it did.

Satisfied, we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep before rising early to get the trains to Utsunomiya. It was well after midnight by the time I sent a quick email to Michelle and climbed into bed.

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