Day 1: Tokyo here we come

Plan for the Day

The plan was to fly from Singapore to Narita transiting at Kuala Lumpur on a night flight. We should touch down at Narita by 8am. We gave ourselves two hours to clear custom and get into Tokyo and start our sightseeing. By about 3 pm we would head to our “hotel”, dump our luggage, take a rest before more night sightseeing.

By the end of the day
The day of cherry blossom viewing was a let down, thought not completely. We arrived in Tokyo 2 days after the “best viewing period” which we thought would still be fine. Unfortunately it was not the case as most trees had already shed their flowers and even the fallen petals on the ground were gone. 

Malaysian Airlines

Malaysian Airlines (MAS) was having a promotion for flight to Narita so we bought our tickets with MAS. The plus was that MAS was a full fledged airlines with 30kg check-in luggage per customer, with meals and entertainment on board. The minus was there would be an 1 hour transit at Kuala Lumpur. This was only a slight inconvenience compared to other full fledged airlines flying directly to Narita at a higher ticket cost of 20 to 30% more. We had traveled on Malaysian airlines before and was quite pleased with our experience.

In the recent years many budget airlines had offered flights between Singapore to Tokyo,  I had tried very hard but had yet to find a “budget” priced ticket  from these budget airlines. I could forgo meal and entertainment on board, I could endure the tight space but by the time I added in check-in luggage cost, which was unavoidable for a two weeks trip, there was no saving.  So despite the availability of budget airlines our fourth trip to Japan was on a full fledged airlines. 

Transit at KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport)

Our transit time at KLIA was about an hour, the duration  was just comfortable for us to disembark from the first plane and make our way to the 2nd plane. There was no need to exit custom or retrieve our luggage. The airport was rather large and to get to the boarding gate we had to take an internal train. Luckily the signage was pretty good so we reached the boarding gate easily.

Data Roaming in Tokyo

For the past three trips to Japan, we had booked a pocket  wifi from Japan Wireless for unlimited data access for at least four connections. In the recent year Singapore telco (M1) had rolled out “Data Passport” plans that allowed us to utilise our “Singapore data” of our mobile line at a foreign location at a affordable charges. In this case for $25 per person I could data roam in Tokyo on my Singapore data plan. The minus side was that we would be limited by the amount of data size of our Singapore Mobile plans. The plus side was the freedom of not having to stay near the person holding the pocket wifi to have internet connection. This meant that when we drifted apart from each other we could still communicate on whatsapp.

Getting to Tokyo central

There were many ways to get into Tokyo. Normal Train, express train, limounsine bus, express bus, cab etc. In our case we were going to Chiyoda Palace & Garden and the cheapest mode of transport was by express bus from Terminal 2 to Tokyo Station. The ticket price per person was ¥1000 and it included one large bag.

Once we exited the custom at terminal 2 and stepped into the arrival hall we could spot the ticketing counter for the Keisei Express Bus (Toyko Shuttle). There was no queue and we easily bought four bus tickets. 

Bus ticket from Narita Airport Terminal to Tokyo Station

Bus ticket from Narita Airport Terminal to Tokyo Station

It was also a short walk to bus stop 19 just outside terminal 2 where we waited to board our bus. We handed our luggage (4 pieces) to a staff waiting at the bus stop, each piece of luggage was numbered and tagged and four retrieval tickets were given to us. When the bus arrived we boarded the bus and left it to the staff to load our luggage into the luggage hold. The bus was clean and the seats were comfortable.

Keisei Express Bus at Bus Stop 19 outside Terminal 2

Keisei Express Bus at Bus Stop 19 outside Terminal 2

The journey to Tokyo station took about an hour, it hardly felt long as we dozed off as soon as the journey started. Too soon we reached Tokyo and the bus stopped at ‘Keisei Bus Stop 3’ just 200 to 300 metres from Tokyo Station. We took our time to disembark from the bus and by the time we stepped onto the pavement, some Keisei staff had already unloaded the luggage from the bus storage hold. I liked the seriousness the staff checked the numbers on our retrieval tickets before handling over the correct bags. This was very unlike other bus trips we had taken in China, it was a “free for all” situation where customers grab “their own” bags and left. 

Chiyoda, Tokyo Station and Keisei Bus Stop 3

Chiyoda Palace & Garden, Tokyo Station and Keisei Bus Stop 3

On the pavement we whipped out our phones and started google map application. It took us just a short while to establish our orientation and set off to Daimaru at Tokyo Station.  

Luggage storage

We needed to store four large bags before we could proceed to any sightseeing. We could store our luggage in coin lockers which could be found in Tokyo Station or at a manned luggage service center, “Sagawa Express” located behind Daimaru in Tokyo Station. 

image source : http://www.sagawa-exp.co.jp

image source : http://www.sagawa-exp.co.jp

We walked past Daimaru turned a corner and went toward Sagawa Express. Along the way we saw rows and rows of coin lockers. They came in different sizes and prices. We were tempted to use the coin lockers which costed ¥600/24hr per large locker for each of our large (25″ size bag) but decided to move on to Sawaga Express. Sawage Express charged ¥800 per large bag and the bags had to be collected by 11pm on the same day. Though it was more expensive to store our bags at Sawaga Express we felt more secure handling and retrieving our bags to human. Interesting we were not the only people that felt like this as at Sawaga Express there was a queue.  

Sawaga Express at Tokyo Station

Sawaga Express at Tokyo Station

Ramen street at tokyo station

By the time we off loaded our luggage it was already near to 11am, it was about 3 hours since we touched down at Narita Airport. This morning the airport custom was rather chaotic, due to the high volume of people and some new changes in custom clearing procedure. It took us more than an hour to clear custom.  At 11 am we decided that it was time for lunch before visiting the cherry blossom at Chiyoda. 

Tokyo station was huge with shops and eateries everywhere. We took a short walk to the Ramen Street at B1. At the start of the “Street” there was a board showing pictures of ramen. Each picture had a number tag on it. We soon realised that the number indicated the shop where that bowl of ramen would be sold. 

Start of Tokyo Station "Ramen Street"

Start of Tokyo Station “Ramen Street”

We picked the best looking (delicious) ramen and headed down the street to the shop. Outside the shop was a vending machine where we picked our ramen and paid. The machine issued meal coupons which we gave to the shop staff when it was our turn to enter the shop. 

Queuing up to get into a Ramen Shop at Ramen Street of Tokyo Station

Queuing up to get into a Ramen Shop at Ramen Street of Tokyo Station

Our four bowls of ramen costed ¥4320, lesser than the amount we would usually paid in Singapore. Considering that we loved ramen, we would surely be consuming many bowls of it on this trip!

Chiyoda palace park

On google map Chiyoda Imperial Palace and Garden looked as it it was just next to Tokyo Station. But this park was huge, so by being “beside” did not meant it would be a short walk! Just to get out of Tokyo Station to be on the station exit (Marunochi exit) nearer to Chiyoda was a long walk passing corridors of shops, cafes and restaurants. It was very easy to get distracted by all these colourful shops but finally we reached Marunochi exit. The exit was rather impressive, just before the exit was a lovely octagon/round dome and external facade was a majestic “traditional” brick structure.

Tokyo Station - Marunouchi Exit

Tokyo Station – Marunouchi Exit

Chiyoda Palace and Garden was one of the best places in Tokyo to view cherry blossom and I had seen breathtaking pictures of cherry blossom in this place. We had arrived in Tokyo 2 days after the declared “best viewing” period which I thought might not be too bad. Unfortunately 2 days was too many days late!!! There were still cherry blossom to be seen but majority of these trees had already shedded their flowers and turned green. We were fortunate to still see a short stretch of cherry blossom trees that still had flowers. 

Short stretch of cherry blossom trees at the outer edge of Chiyoda Palace Park

Short stretch of cherry blossom trees at the outer edge of Chiyoda Palace Park

It was just past noon and many were people sitting on the benches eating their packed lunch under the long outstretch branches of the cherry blossom trees. Apparently this was a “cherry blossom practice” for the locals. 

We moved on to the castle moat that surround the palace ground hoping that we would see the famous scene of “cherry blossom petals filled moat”. Surrounding the moat were many cherry blossom trees and when the flower petals fell into the moat it would turn the entire moat “pink”! 

It was a huge disappointment. The moat was just greyish in color. There was no floating pink petals on the water surface. There were only one tree that still had some flowers, nothing spectacular. 

No cherry blossom on the bank of the moat of Chiyoda Imperial Palace

No cherry blossom on the bank of the moat of Chiyoda Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace was off limit but its garden ground was open to visitor at no charges. So we walked in to explore. Sigh…no cherry blossom. The only sign that cherry blossom bloomed in this garden were the fallen petals on the floor.

Pretty pink petals on the road

Pretty pink petals on the road

The palace garden would had been spectacular when the cherry blossom trees were in full bloom. But all we could see were cherry blossom trees with very little flowers. We spent about 30 minutes walking around the garden before making an exit. 

Chiyoda Palace Garden

Chiyoda Palace Garden

Dinner

We had our dinner at Chinese Restaurant just next to our rented apartment. We went into the restaurant as it was the closest to our apartment and we were tired and did not want to go far.

Restaurants and shops near our rented apartment

Restaurants and shops near our rented apartment

The owner of the restaurant seemed to be Japanese as they could not speak Mandarin. We ordered two bowls of noodle and one fried rice. The noodle looked pretty plain and tasted likewise. The fried rice was tasted ok. There was not much meat but plentiful of carbo and our dinner came up to ¥2808.

 

Accommodation for the Night

Before arriving in Japan I had booked and cancelled several “hotel” bookings before settling for this one. The price, the size of the “room” and the distances from the various Tokyo Cherry Blossom sites came into consideration when which would be our “desire” place for the night.

We found “Airport without changing trains/Kuramae Area” on Agoda.com. The name of the “hotel” sound strange, I guessed the owner was trying to emphasize one of the advantages of her accommodation. I did not find this accommodation on Booking.com so probably this place did not satisfy some of Booking.com’s requirements. Booking it was a risk as there was no customer’s review at all. But I liked the price, though expensive was lesser than another one I booked and cancelled. I did some research and found that the owner actually was an AirBnB host with several listings and had good reviews from AirBnB users, so I felt less worry that this place would turn out to be a great disappointment.

This accommodation was about 500 metres from the nearest station Asakusabashi Station. Dragging our bags through the roads to the apartment was not too difficult, the most difficult part was exiting the station to get onto the road. For that we had to lug the heavy bags down a short flights of stairs as there was no escalator or elevator in sight. 

Route from station to accommodation

Route from station to accommodation

This apartment was a self check-in accommodation. The host just emailed me the address of the unit and the code to open a locked box placed outside the unit. In the box was the key to the unit. Our unit was a studio apartment with 4 bunk beds, it had a small kitchenette at one corner of the room and a sofa & coffee table.

The apartment was generally clean but looked a bit untidy.  It had a bathroom, washing machine, microwave and a fridge. In the room there was also a flat screen tv and a pocket wifi router. Space wise very sufficient for four persons. For three nights the cost of the apartment was SGD$444.

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