|Date||Tuesday March 3rd -> Wednesday March 4th (skipped part of a day with the time zone change)|
|Days in Japan||Day 1|
|Location||Santa Rosa -> Los Angeles -> Shinjuku Ward (Tokyo)|
|Hotel||Sotetsu Fresa Inn Higashi Shinjuku ($56.78)|
|Daily Objective||Get into Japan and situated into my hotel|
|Daily Tip||When traveling to a new country – make friends in advance to help you settle in!|
Today’s Japanese Lesson
|Hello / Good afternoon||“kon ni chi wa”||こんにちは|
|Morning (like “good morning”)||“o high yo”||おはよう|
|Good Evening||“kon ban wa”||こんばんは|
Map of Travels
Look Ma’, I Can Fly!
Today I woke up a little sluggish & tired (but that’s okay because I have a potential 12hr nap to look forward to). I was able to force myself out of bed and began to make my way down the street to my previously scheduled haircut appointment. The overall process took a little longer than I expected but was worth every minute. Looking fly and feeling good I drove home, grabbed my bag, and took off for the airport with about 40 minutes left before the flight’s departure. Keep in mind I didn’t leave a lot of time between my haircut appointment and my flight but I wasn’t too concerned as I was flying out of my very small and convenient local airport. It usually only takes about 10-15 minutes to check-in, walk through security, and get to the one of the only 4 gates in the entire airport.
To my surprise, and despite the growing virus warnings, the local airport was the busiest I’ve ever seen it. My dad was determined to see me off and was able to secure some parking as I made my way to the kiosk to print my boarding pass. Apparently, on this particular day, the kiosks weren’t working and spit out a generic advisory for everyone to go to the front desk which obviously only had one employee frantically trying to take care of a long line of anxious and quite irritated older travelers (primarily women). I secured myself a spot at the back of the line as the flight time slowly crept closer and closer. The usually non-existent security line was quite visible and seemed to be making little progress which the numerous women in line had also noticed and were now beginning to get quite chatty about their current situation and irritation that the airport was this busy. I wish I could’ve felt empathy for the unlucky young chap behind the counter but I too had noticed his lack of urgency to move things along.
As it turns out, the airport had 4 different flights with the exact same departure time which was trying the small airport’s staffing capabilities. One lovely patron added to the commotion by commenting that the gentlemen at the desk had told her she’d most likely miss her flight given the current time frame. I didn’t have a long layover in LA and if I missed this flight it could spell disaster for my entire trip. The idea of ending my trip before it even started added a few beats per second but fortunately, I’m a bit of a veteran when it comes to missing flights and being in stressful situations. I’ve achieved a level of zen when at airports that involves a nice deep breath while letting everything just pan out as it will without taking any extra years off my life. With that said, I finally arrived at the front of the line and then the youngster had the nerves to explain to me that I should arrive at the airport earlier when checking in for international flights. I do have to give him some credit because after a quick glance at my passport and a few clicks on the keyboard I had my ticket in hand and was able to join the security line which was now apparently just trying to get everyone through as fast as possible to prevent anymore harassment from the 12 or so impatient ladies in line.
Fast forward a little and I was in LA making my way towards the international terminal. It appears my flight would be one of the earlier flights out given that most the shops were still closed, gate desks deserted, hallway lights dimmed, and the entire terminal was rather empty. I was slightly concerned with the fact that I hadn’t been given a transfer ticket for my upcoming flight but also didn’t want to take any risks by leaving the terminal to find help. This was my first big trip internationally and I wasn’t totally sure what the normal procedures were but my departure from Santa Rosa had overall been pretty quick and easy. I rolled the dice again and decided to just grab some lunch at a little Mexican spot I’d randomly visited once before. After eating, I still had a little time to burn so I sat in a lounge-like area and figured it was a good opportunity to let my bank & credit card companies know I was traveling to a different country. Somehow along the way I also was able to secure a credit increase on my cards ;).
As my flight time drew near I made my way to the terminal and was thankful to see the clerks were finally present and preparing to check people in. I nervously made my way to the main desk somewhat concerned with the possibility of not having been given a proper ticket in Santa Rosa. Thankfully all was well and I was able to get my ticket printed and everything seemed to be working out just fine. I noticed a large lack of masks but felt okay as I had my medical mask securely indenting my cheek bones. I eventually boarded my flight which was about 50% full and I even scored a window seat with an empty middle seat and another guy around my age riding aisle. I quickly assumed he was more of an international-traveler than me as this was my first international trip and thus, I kept a close eye on his early flight habits. The first thing he did was remove was his shoes which seemed like a reasonable play given we’d be in the air for the next 12 hours. I quickly popped mine off too right as the stewardess began her speech and video about our flight plans and literally asked that no one remove their shoes… I caught the guy slowly cower in his seat and joined him in hiding my feet under the seat in front of me just as the “seat-belt checker” circled the plane.
Houston, we have liftoff!
My trip had finally officially officially started! So far, minus a little added stress at the Santa Rosa airport, everything was moving seemingly smooth. The food/drink cart made its first round and I made a basic soda order as the guy next to me ordered a beer and proceeded to pull out his credit card. The steward quickly shrugged him off and advised him that it was free drinks (alcohol included!!) – apparently typical on international flights. I gave myself a quick mental facepalm but then analyzed the situation and realized that it’d make a lot more sense to have a drink at the end of the trip opposed to the beginning of this grueling 12-hour flight. My seat partner either really wanted to knock out or he was somehow even more excited as me about the fact that he could order free alcohol. After about 4 Lagunitas Pale Ales and 3 bathroom breaks, my newest partner in crime seemed relieved that it was finally time for our first in-flight meal.
After thoroughly examining the food menu I realized there were multiple options and I hadn’t placed any kind of an order yet, the likely assumption was that I’d pick as they came by. Apparently, that wasn’t the case as my partner questioned what I’d ordered while he received his apparently pre-ordered “American-styled” meal. I went wide-eyed and just replied with “shit, I’ll take what the guy gives me” which turned out to be the “Japanese-styled” meal (and the better choice in my opinion). The flight continued as I crushed a few movies, got a mere hour or so of uncomfortable sleep, enjoyed another “Japanese” meal, and right before going too insane I touched down in Japan!
I made my way off the plane while desperately seeking Wi-Fi in order to initiate my pre-planned meeting with Riu whom I’d met on “HelloTalk” and had agreed to meet me at the airport. The trip thus far had been much easier than I anticipated and I hadn’t had to jump through any hoops to get into Japan. Now came the “challenging” part as I walked up to a table where it appeared travelers were filling out some entry paperwork. I found the “US – English” form and began to examine it. It was NOT the most self-explanatory form and there was no help in sight. Everyone seemed to be suffering the same trouble as me so I felt a little less embarrassed after being asked at the following checkpoint to fill out more info before I could pass. I got through the fingerprint check and moved along to another area where the baggage claim was located. I attempted to exit the area as I had a carry-on and didn’t need to wait for luggage but was quickly stopped by security and asked to fill out yet another form regarding my baggage & belongings. I made my way over to another counter where there were yet again little to no instructions, let alone a pen to use to fill out another form. I somehow managed to complete a decent portion of the form and brought it back to the counter where security checked the inside of my bag and gave me the green light!! The final phase had come to an end and I was free to let loose and have some fun in this new and foreign country.
Luckily Riu recognized me from a distance and came running up to greet me before I could even locate Wi-Fi. We proceeded to pick up a sim card from a nearby vending machine so that I could use my phone without needing Wi-Fi. We continued down an escalator and purchased a set of train tickets to get us to the station located near my hotel in Shinjuku which is one of the 23 special wards inside of Tokyo.
You can learn more about Japan and it’s geography HERE.
Planes, Trains, and … Hotels?
The train was convenient, empty, and clean which was a nice change of pace from the usual San Francisco BART trains that I had become accustomed to. The chairs also could “unlock” and twirl around converting a 2-seater into a 4-seater which was pretty cool.
You can learn more about local Japanese transportation HERE
After a quick hour or so we got into Shinjuku which I would call home for the next 5 nights. I hadn’t done a lot of research on the particular areas of Tokyo but apparently Shinjuku is broken into two different areas. One side is filled with posh shops, shopping malls, and nice restaurants which are filled throughout the day. During the evening another area, just blocks away, transitions into a red-light district riddled with plenty of Izakaya, bars, host clubs, girl bars, and love hotels.
- An Izakaya is a is a type of informal Japanese bar that serves alcoholic drinks and different types of food. Izakayas are casual places for after-work drinking. They have been compared to Irish pubs, tapas bars, and early American saloons and taverns.
- A hostess club is a common feature in the night-time entertainment industry of East Asian countries. They employ primarily female staff and cater to men seeking drinks and attentive conversation. The modern host clubs are similar establishments where primarily male staff attend to women. Unlike a strip club or something of that nature, most of these clubs merely engage in conversation and flattery with the occasional light touching (although obviously there are many different types).
- Traditionally, a girl’s bar was a bar where the women would join you for drinks on the couch and entertain you much like a hostess club but a little more casual. Now they’re transforming more into of a bar where where female bartenders make drinks and serve customers from behind the bar. The customers sit at the bar and can talk to the girls as they make drinks although they’ll still partake in some flattery and join you for some drinks as long as you’re paying. The term has become super broad and many Japanese can’t even describe them accurately. There is a fee to enter most of these bars which can range from about $10 to $30 for 30 minutes. The girls are very skilled at keeping you engaged so that you lose track of time and leave with quite a pricey tab. There are also many snack bars which are essentially the same thing but are typically a little cheaper and you’ll get a little snack upon arrival. Make sure to note all the expenses closely as many of these bars have been known to rip off foreigners or clueless patrons. It’s always okay to confirm the overall expenses and your spending limitations upfront.
- The bars in Japan are slightly different than what you may expect coming from America. They traditionally charge a small seat cover which is added to your tab at departure. Since there are no tips in Japan you can just consider this your tip to the bartender for showcasing their skills. Personally, I like to bar hop and this cover turned me off as I’d be paying $7 or so for a cover and then order a $5 beer before leaving to another bar. Alternatively, most Izakaya and other restaurants only serve Highballs and beers which makes it difficult to find a good cocktail. The bartenders take the craft of bartending very serious and while cocktails don’t quite cost as much as in the US, if you want a real drink you need to make your way to a bar.
You can checkout more about nightlife in Japan HERE
My hotel was located just on the outskirts of the craziness but still within walking distance to the famed Shinjuku Station. I checked into my business hotel and was quickly asked if Riu would be staying with me as I had booked the room for 1 person. The attendant seemed a little too concerned about it which I later learned was because many people try to find alternatives to staying in a “love hotel” in order to have some quick fun. Business hotels are primarily for traveling business men/women and focus on 1-person rooms and typically don’t allow guests. I had to explain that she actually lived nearby and wouldn’t be staying as I left her in the lobby and dropped my bag in my room.
You can learn more about types of accommodations HERE
Riu was able to utilize her time while waiting for me in the lobby by picking a spot for my first meal in Japan! She chose HUB which is an English Pub chain that everyone here seems to go crazy for. My first meal was fish and chips accompanied by a few pints of beer which was unexpectedly quite a comfortable welcome.
HUB is a chain that is located in many cities throughout Japan. They are essentially English-styled pubs that are famously known to draw in foreigners. Because of this, many Japanese women will go to HUB to meet and speak with foreign men. Alternatively, because of that chain reaction, Japanese men will go to HUB to find women as it’s typically pretty hard to locate women in Japan without visiting and paying at a girl’s bar. Moral of the story is if you’re looking for a friendly atmosphere as a foreigner and people who want to chat with you, visit a HUB.
CULTURAL NOTE – DRINKING & SMOKING
You can smoke indoors in many places, drink at any hour of the day or night, carry open alcoholic containers outside, and have the ability to buy alcohol on just about every corner. The legal drinking age in Japan is 20 but with the occasional beer vending machine publicly accessible outside and the lack of ever ID’ing anyone given Asians all look young, it’s a very flexible law.
CULTURAL NOTE – TRASH CANS
While there are many vending machines, there are almost no trash cans (apparently terrorist precautions – bombs get dropped in cans), and still no trash anywhere to be seen. People simple don’t generate quite as much trash and if they have a bottle and can’t find a recycling bin, they’ll just carry it around until they find one opposed to leaving it somewhere on a bench or something (like in the US).
CULTURAL NOTE – VENDING MACHINES
You can find a vending machine on just about any street (even in residential areas). There are tons of different drink options and you can even get hot or cold drinks at most of them. There are also cigarette machines scattered around although you have to smoke in designated smoking areas when outside and sometimes inside. You may even stumble upon a vending machine on the street that’ll dispense a nice cold beer – most commonly found in hotels.
After enjoying my meal and taking note of the local craze for highball cocktails, we eventually made our way back to the hotel where sleep & a bed would be very welcomed. When we returned to the hotel, the front desk receptionist was absent and it turns out I told a little white lie about having two guests stay in the room ;). Luckily, I had already catered my sleep schedule slightly in the US to the Japan time zone so I wasn’t too concerned with feeling jet lag over the next couple days.