Our flight was via United Airlines nonstop from LAX to Narita Airport, leaving at 11:50 AM and arriving 3:00 PM.
(If you want to skip straight to the photos, here’s the album for my photos from Day 1!)
I heard that a method of getting over jetlag faster was to adjust your meals ahead of time so that they’re in-line with the place that you’re going. So I started by eating breakfast during lunch time and so on. I mistakenly started a day early, so I ended up having my meals at odd times for two days before the trip. I thought that it gave the experiment a better chance of succeeding. I’ll cut to the chase and say it didn’t work at all. When I was in Japan I was still waking up around 3 AM or earlier. Though in my normal routine I wake up around 5:30 AM so it wasn’t TOO different.
My ritual for flying is to listen to the Superman Theme during takeoff. Supposedly, the theme song is composed to sync up if you start it at the right moment. I’m always a bit off, but if you start playing it as soon as the airplane engines really kick in then you’ll lift off just as the theme gets going.
I packed my kindle with grand hopes of using the disconnected time to finally read, and maybe finish up some books I’ve been working on but then I realized that airplanes all have tons of entertainment built into them. So I ended up not reading at all and instead watched: Creed, Frozen and Real Steel.
The meal was rather underwhelming airplane food. Next time I fly to Japan I’ll try to use a Japanese airline because I remember their food being better. We got some “Asian-style Snack Mix” which was stuff like shrimp chips, wasabi peas etc. The lunch I got was chicken with rice and veggies and a salad.
As soon as we got off the plane we could tell right away that it was HUMID. Living in Los Angeles for over two years I hadn’t been in extreme humidity for a while so it was certainly a wakeup call, but nothing that I hadn’t experienced before. It was part nostalgic, and part icky.
When we got to Narita we got in line for a JR Express ticket. While in line a woman who worked for JR and spoke good English helped us get our round trip tickets into Tokyo.
JAPAN TRAVEL TIP: When taking the JR Express you can get a reserved seat or general seat. We didn’t realize that our seats were reserved, so we ended up sitting in some other peoples’ seats and had to move. So if you’re taking it, check your ticket to avoid this sort of mix up!
ANOTHER JAPAN TRAVEL TIP: Get your Suica card ASAP when you get to Japan. Since the Japanese train lines are privately owned, if you try to get tickets then you have to buy the particular train lines’ ticket and they can ONLY be used at those turnstiles. Suica cards are Pasmo cards can be used at any of them, you just have to refill them periodically. Suica cards can only be bought at the machines with a black frame, others can only be used to refill them.
The ride to Shibuya was about 90 minutes long. After this ride I just wanted to get above ground, so we took the first exit we could find which ended up being a BIG MISTAKE. We didn’t have a pocket wifi yet, but Mark had a limited amount of international data on his phone so he used his GPS to navigate us to the apartment which was supposed to be about 10 minutes away on foot.
It turns out we emerged from the New South Exit which was totally on the other side of Shibuya station and away from anything I had any familiarity with. I asked a guy in Japanese where Hachiko was, but I could tell from his response that he had to give vague directions since it was so far away. We ended up taking an extremely roundabout way to get to the apartment through the sauna-like heat while dragging suitcases, but eventually made it.
We reserved a place in Shibuya for a week rather than reserve a hotel because hotels are EXPENSIVE. I remember finding out about renting apartments by the week, but that information is kind of outdated because everything now is just Airbnb with rates similar to what I imagine those apartments to be. We paid around $1400 for an apartment, which split between three adults is a STEAL even if the apartment was probably 200-300 square feet. Mark booked it through Trip Advisor, but also found the same listing on Airbnb.
Our apartment was small, but nicely decorated and it came with a free unlimited pocket wifi! Of course there was a washlet on the toilet, and also the Japanese bathroom doubled as a dryer for laundry
TRAVEL TIP: During our trip our wifi slowed down significantly which we took to mean it was being throttled. Make sure to turn off automatic photo backups on your phone so you don’t waste bandwidth!
We were tired so we went in search of a place to eat. Rather than walk around a lot searching for a place we just went to a ramen place about a block away which had a sign “We Have The English Menu.” There are quite a few places that advertise English menus since Shibuya is a very touristy area. I think the entire week we only had to use a Japanese menu one time. Most of the menus we looked at had pictures anyway, but knowing some katakana helps too.
My brain was kind of fried so upon going into the ramen restaurant I instantly forgot about the whole ticket machine system where you enter in what you want, print out the tickets and give them to the waiter. But the woman at the restaurant walked us through it and we got our ramen.
The broth of the ramen and the charshu were quite good! The egg noodles were thick and oddly short. Mark said that he thought he saw an option for different noodles, which I would’ve taken because these noodles were very filling and I ended up not being able to finish it. Knowing we wouldn’t be taking leftovers home I felt very bad for not finishing more.
It was already late, so Heather stayed in to watch JL while I went for a walk with Mark. We explored the side streets of Shibuya and also went to the famous crosswalk. There’s really nothing like Shibuya in places I’ve lived in the US because generally in large busy areas it’s almost nothing but tourists, but in Shibuya you have a range of ages and types of people. Also there’re just SO MANY PEOPLE.
We scouted out some places we wanted to go to later like Tokyu Hands, and also got a feel for what was where. There’s definitely a divide between the main area and the one dedicated to bars, clubs and love hotels where there are very few people walking around.
We didn’t stay out too long because we were tired. Not wanting to kill ourselves the first full day in Japan I scheduled us to just go to nearby areas, eat good food and maybe do a little shopping.