Tokyo, the Land of the Rising Sun (PART 2)

Konnichi-wa everyone!

Whoa, it has been close to a year since my Japan trip! The persistent thought of my incomplete Tokyo travelogue has been lingering in my mind so here I am continuing where I left off in the first part. In this post, I will be documenting my activities during my final days in sushi-land. Since this trip happened last December, I may inadvertently leave out some details but I will try my best to recall to the best of my ability 😆

* * Day 2 * *

(Tokyo Disneyland)

Taking cue from our trip to Hong Kong Disneyland the previous year, we allotted one full day for the magical kingdom. The morning sun had already peeked its bright rays through our curtains when we were woken up by our annoying alarm clock which we had previously set at 7.00 a.m. JST (1 hour ahead of SGT). The chilly and crisp winter air outside seeped into our tiny room (or so I felt), causing my reluctance to get out of my warm and cozy bed to snowball (no pun intended) exponentially. I admit that we kinda took our time because we had already purchased a two-day passport (eTicket, at ¥12,400 each) to Tokyo Disney Resort (which includes DisneySea), so we needn’t have to spend time queuing up to enter.

It took us about an hour to reach Maihama station from our hotel (10 minutes away from Higashi-Shinjuku station) and we had to transfer trains twice  – once at Shinjuku-Sanchome station and another at Tokyo station. We had the impression that eating or drinking was allowed onboard due to the huge cluster of vending machines on the train platforms so before we hopped on to any train, we made sure we had a bottle of drink and a small packet of tidbit to keep us awake throughout the journey. Well, it turns out not to be the case… Oops. Eating or drinking on trains, although not prohibited by law, is likewise frowned upon in Japan. But I guess having a little nibble won’t kill, yes?! After all, we had left our hotel without having our breakfast 😦

One of the many vending machines we saw...

One of the many vending machines we saw…

Brazen display of tobacco along the train platform

Brazen display of tobacco along the train platform

Inside the Tokyo station-bound train

Inside the Tokyo station-bound train

Boarded the Maihama-bound train at Tokyo station

Boarded the Maihama-bound train at Tokyo station

The trains are equipped with seats covered in comfy velvet which implies high level of self-discipline among the Japanese. Should such sofa seats be used in place of the hard plastic ones in our trains, they will probably lose their lustre and softness in no time because of recalcitrant passengers who eat and drink on board :\

The priority seats in red are separated from the rest and put in a corner next to the empty compartment between carriages where you can make urgent calls (be sure to shut the doors, though!). Talking on mobile phones in the seated areas of the train is a strict no-no. The Japanese values their peace and privacy a lot, so it’s not unusual to be commuting in stark silence.

Look, a convenience shop along the platform!

Look, a convenience shop along the platform!

Maihama station

Maihama station

Mini Yakult

Mini Yakult

I was looking forward to visiting Tokyo Disneyland because friends had been raving to me about how much more breathtaking and enchanting it is from other Disneylands in the world. Upon further research, I discovered that Tokyo Disneyland is wholly owned by a local leisure and tourism corporation Oriental Land Company and not by Walt Disney Company, hence allowing for more flexibility in the imagineering and construction of the theme park. The innovation of the Japanese is apparent in the rides and even in the range of merchandise in the gift shops, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself spending more than budgeted.

Once we exited Maihama train station, we followed the (not-very-visible, in my opinion) directions to Disneyland. For the uninitiated, the way to Disneyland is on the right whereas the train to the Disneyland Hotel and DisneySea is on the left. It took us between 10 and 15 minutes to walk to our destination in the sunny but chilly weather.

Red arc

Red arc

There is a Disney gift shop right before this huge red arc for those who wish to buy some Disney merchandise without having to pay the entrance fee to the theme park. If I remember correctly, there was no difference in pricing and almost everything was stocked up there. I felt this was a nice gesture on the part of Tokyo Disneyland because not everyone can afford the expensive admission tickets.

Welcome to Tokyo Disneyland!

Welcome to Tokyo Disneyland!

Opened in 1983, Tokyo Disneyland is the first Disney Park built outside the United States and remains one of the world’s top theme park destinations. It spans over 114 acres on a reclaimed land which is about a 90-minute journey from Tokyo. Unless you forgo all the rides and go around the theme park on an e-scooter, it is almost impossible to explore every attraction within a day (or even two). It is humongous.

We're in!

We’re in!

More whimsical sculptures..

More whimsical sculptures..

A huge Christmas tree to commemorate the season

A huge Christmas tree to commemorate the season

Sleeping Beauty's Castle!

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle!

 Birds (geese?) like this one are aplenty at the theme park!

Birds (geese?) like this one are aplenty at the theme park!

A must-visit place for the Pooh fanatic boyfriend..

A must-visit place for the Pooh fanatic boyfriend..

This quote by Eeyore is so aww-worthy!

This quote by Eeyore is so aww-worthy!

Boxes with a cushiony exterior shaped like Pooh's head!

Boxes with a cushiony exterior shaped like Pooh’s head!

It was impossible to miss those conspicuous yellow Pooh heads on the shelves because they were sold in virtually every gift shop! It’s certainly a must-have for all Pooh collectors. Each box contained a few individually packed honey sponge cakes moulded in the shape of Pooh’s head which were too cute to be eaten. I failed to notice that they had relatively short shelf life (like most Japanese snacks) so I had kept mine past their expiry date as I couldn’t bear to open the box. I took my first bite into the sponge cakes six months after their purported expiry date but voila! They were still saccharine and fresh – probably not as fresh as when I first bought them but still pretty much edible and salable. What do you know, the Japanese are such an overly cautious bunch… 😛

So don’t toss your expired (but still looking good) Japanese snacks away without first tasting them!

Disclaimer: The above is just an advice only ah.. please don’t blame me if you get diarrhoea after that ^^’  Thank you.

Winnie the Pooh refillable and reusable popcorn bucket!

Winnie the Pooh refillable and reusable popcorn bucket!

Popcorn pushcarts like the one above can be found at every corner of Disneyland! The design of the popcorn bucket (made with good quality and sturdy plastic) as well as the flavour of the popcorn vary, though. Boyfriend and I happened to find the one that sold Pooh buckets and, of course, honey-flavoured popcorn! 🐻 You can refill your bucket with popcorn of different flavours at any pushcart for a lower price 🙂

Joined the crowd to catch the parade!

Joined the crowd to catch the parade!

Managed to get the perfect shot of Mickey :)

Managed to get the perfect shot of Mickey 🙂

Donald and Daisy!

Donald and Daisy!

Cowgirl Jessie from Toy Story!

Cowgirl Jessie from Toy Story!

Jolly Pooh and Tigger!

Jolly Pooh and Tigger!

Screen capture from my video.. because boyfriend insisted that I took videos instead of still photographs for his favourite Pooh segment -_-

Screen capture from my video.. because boyfriend insisted that I took videos instead of still photographs for his favourite Pooh segment -_-

Due to our ill-preparedness for this trip, we didn’t go around to collect all the FASTPASS tickets like what most travel bloggers had done before we embarked on our exploration of the theme park. It was our biggest mistake because all the tickets ran out by the time we wanted to take the rides. We had to give the more popular rides a miss because the regular queues were insanely long and could take up to two hours. Not wanting to waste most of our day lining up, we went to attractions that could accommodate more visitors at once with shorter waiting time, like Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

Mickey's PhilharMagic

Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Mickey’s PhilharMagic is a 4-D film attraction featuring 3-D effects, scents and water, as well as a number of Disney characters in a 12-minute-long show. Initially, I had my qualms going there because I had the uninformed impression that it would be another 3-D show designed to please young children. But boy, was I so wrong. I was immersed throughout the screening!

You can't see the visuals clearly without those 3-D glasses, but this part was on The Little Mermaid

You can’t see the visuals clearly without those 3-D glasses, but this part was on The Little Mermaid

The theatre is equipped with motion seats that will move in tandem with the movie action but there are also stationary seats for those do not want to watch the show with the vibration. During the show, small amounts of water would be squirted from the seat in front (I think) of every person to simulate the effect of rain or water splashing. Then, there would also be wind effect to mimic fog. I can’t recall what other 4-D effects there were but the whole experience was absolutely delightful. You won’t regret going there at all!

It was starting to get dark at 4 p.m...

It was starting to get dark at 4 p.m…

The Gadget's Go Coaster was one of the few rides we managed to take that day. No complaints - I LOVE roller coasters!

The Gadget’s Go Coaster was one of the few rides we managed to take that day. No complaints – I LOVE roller coasters!

We then caught the second daytime parade in the afternoon at a confined space next to the parade gate where the performance concluded. Although we arrived at the venue late, we were lucky enough to find a spot that was still fairly close to the performers, and so were able to snap some good shots! The characters that made an appearance during this parade were pretty much the same as those who did in the earlier one.. with the exception of Frozen’s Anna and Elsa.

Frozen's Elsa and Anna

Frozen’s Elsa and Anna

Our appetite became especially ravenous after walking around the entire day in the freezing temperature, so time to grab a bite!

Our appetite became especially ravenous after walking around the entire day in the freezing temperature, so time to grab a bite!

A cuppa hot tea to go with our pretzel!

A cuppa hot tea to go with our pretzel!

The long wait did not deter us from joining the queue for the Grand Circuit Gateway

The long wait did not deter us from joining the queue for the Grand Circuit Gateway

Like its Hong Kong counterpart (Autopia), the cars at the Grand Circuit Gateway operate along a guide rail and do not actually require any steering whenever they reach a turning point. The cars move when the gas pedal is being stepped on but will stall when another vehicle is detected in close proximity ahead of them to prevent collision.

Unfortunately, that would be our final time behind the wheels of the electric cars at Tokyo Disneyland because the Grand Circuit Gateway will be closed permanently in January next year to make way for newer attractions 😦

While waiting for the nighttime parade to begin, boyfriend went to buy dinner! Look at the Mickey-shaped egg yolk!

While waiting for the nighttime parade to begin, boyfriend went to buy dinner! Look at the Mickey-shaped egg yolk!

The curry don was disappointing. The curry sauce was decent and there were barely any meat in the dish. The dish above wasn't satisfying either. Since I wasn't the one who bought dinner, I'm not sure how much they cost. But knowing Disneyland, they definitely wouldn't be affordable. I expected better from Tokyo Disneyland

The curry don was disappointing. The curry sauce was decent and there were barely any meat in the dish. The dish above wasn’t satisfying either. Since I wasn’t the one who bought dinner, I’m not sure how much they cost. But knowing Disneyland, they definitely wouldn’t be affordable. I expected better from Tokyo Disneyland

Grateful to have hot tea to keep me warm *brrr*

Grateful to have hot tea to keep me warm *brrr*

The nighttime parade was, nevertheless, stunning with all the bright neon lights adorning the shimmering floats but I personally feel that it was not in any way more magnificent than the one I witnessed in Hong Kong. In fact, I thought the nighttime parade at Hong Kong Disneyland was more memorable. Sounds absurd, I know. Either my expectations were pegged too high or the novelty of it had worn off from me. I just didn’t feel the magic as much as others had claimed to experience.

Or perhaps, the weather was just too cold for me to bear (because, well, my outfit wasn’t thick enough to keep a barrier between the cold and my frail body) that I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy the trip. All I wanted to do was to head back to the hotel and tuck myself beneath the comforter 😥

To spare you the agony of loading more pictures on your phone (trust me, it’s more or less the same as those I took in Hong Kong), I’m excluding the photographs (or rather, videos) I took at the nighttime parade from this travelogue.

Following the parade was a short light show and fireworks display at the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. We weren’t lucky enough to get the front spot as the viewing area was immensely crowded. There was a 15 minute (or more) interval between both shows which was strangely not mentioned on the park map, so we left after waiting meaninglessly for 10 minutes. We should have guessed when the crowd refused to budged. I spied the person behind us literally exclaiming in delight and promptly moving forward the moment we vacated our spot ¬_¬ Not long after we got out of the crowd, the fireworks finale began 🙄

Only at Tokyo Disneyland

Only at Tokyo Disneyland

Although bummed out that we missed the fireworks show, boyfriend was quick to realise that most of the rides would be less packed at that time. Hence, we took the golden opportunity to visit the nearest ride before we called it a day. True enough, the queue at Ride & Go Seek was relatively shorter.

The only picture I could take of this ride because photography is forbidden inside (I did take some shots secretly but they turned out blurry)

The only picture I could take of this ride because photography is forbidden inside (I did take some shots secretly but they turned out blurry)

Night view! Beautiful :) How I wish I could stay in one of those lighted houses permanently *lol*

Night view! Beautiful 🙂 How I wish I could stay in one of those lighted houses permanently *lol*

By the time we left Tokyo Disneyland, our belly had already digested the miserable dinner we had earlier on and we were deliberating if we should hunt for places to eat or have supper at Sushizanmai instead. In the end, we decided against both ideas as we didn’t want to dip further into our depleting funds and simply shared a bowl of instant noodles we bought from the convenience store near our hotel. The meal was complete with several kinds of warm soup we bought from vending machines along our journey to our hotel.  #goodenough

A vending machine with touchscreen! It doesn't just dispense drinks but hot canned soups as well

A vending machine with touchscreen! It doesn’t just dispense drinks but hot canned soups as well

We went around different vending machines to collect all the available soup flavours. I love the clam soup! It didn't taste preserved at all!

We went around different vending machines to collect all the available soup flavours. I love the clam soup! It didn’t taste preserved at all!

* * Day 3 * *

(Tokyo DisneySea)

There seemed to be no amount of alarm clocks that could unearth either one of us from our cocoon of blankets. Having gone through the same routine in Hong Kong, we knew it would be near-impossible to wake us up with a single annoying alarm tone, so we had set two the night before – one on my phone and the other on boyfriend’s. Still, the plan failed and it was not until noon that we finally crawled out of bed. The fatigue from the previous day’s event had certainly gotten the better of us. So much time had been wasted on grabbing that few more winks of sleep that we probably wouldn’t even have time to explore half of DisneySea.

But we couldn’t abort our plans because we had already paid for the tickets :/ So off we went with a mild feeling of dread because our legs were not ready for the long travel ahead of us to Maihama station. Mind you, it’s Japan we’re talking about.. which involves a lot of walking. Even transferring from one train line to another at a particular train station could take us up to 20 minutes of brisk walking. I’m always up for long-distance walks. Just.. not that day ∪_∪

Upon arrival at Maihama station which, by then had been all too familiar, we headed directly to the light rail station and waited for the train bound for Tokyo DisneySea.

Zero sense of urgency: Late but we were still able to fork out a little time for photo-taking :P

Zero sense of urgency: Late but we were still able to fork out a little time for photo-taking 😛

Train approaching!

Train approaching!

Comfy seats and Mickey-shaped windows

Comfy seats and Mickey-shaped windows

And we're here!

And we’re here!

This place has got that USS vibes..

This place has got that USS vibes..

Busy Mickey greeting his little fans at the entrance!

Busy Mickey greeting his little fans at the entrance!

..which reminds me, I didn’t get the chance to take any pictures with the mascots at Tokyo Disneyland (and DisneySea). How devastating 😦

It was here we heard a performance of some sort going on and were trying to trace the source of the sounds...

It was here we heard a performance of some sort going on and were trying to trace the source of the sounds…

But first, a wefie! (And check out my Mickey headgear - yay!)

But first, a wefie! (And check out my Mickey headgear – yay!)

Oh, so this was where the sounds were coming from! Look, it's Goofy and his entourage!

Oh, so this was where the sounds were coming from! Look, it’s Goofy and his entourage!

We stationed ourselves behind the existing crowd but were subsequently ushered to a corner by the wardens to allow for a wider walking area ¬_¬

*squeals* HELLO CHIP AND DALE!

*squeals* HELLO CHIP AND DALE!

But the view from our new spot was so poor, we could only see the side profile of the performers. We gave up and proceeded to have our lunch at Cafe Portofino, just in front of the park. It is a counter service buffeteria that offers Italian food options set in a spacious and warmly-decorated hall that instantly places you in the renaissance era.

Outside Cafe Portofino

Outside Cafe Portofino

Not sure about you but I find the interior truly breathtaking!

Not sure about you but I find the interior truly breathtaking!

Something's cookin'..

Something’s cookin’..

Standing in line to get our food..

Standing in line to get our food..

We added a Paradiso set (a bowl of soup and one soft drink) to one of our main dishes (“Piatti”) for an additional ¥570. The portion size was reasonable and was able to keep our hunger cues in check for quite a long time.

I can't remember what this was.. Maybe vegetable soup.

I can’t remember what this was.. Maybe vegetable soup.

Rotisserie Chicken (half portion), ¥1,420

Rotisserie Chicken (half portion), ¥1,420

The half-sized Rotisserie Chicken was roasted through but still retained adequate moisture to keep the meat succulent. The seasoning was fine but nothing to write home about. I felt that the plating of this dish could be done better. Don’t you think it’s too.. bare? I’m not demanding expensive sides. Perhaps, y’know, some fries or mashed potatoes would be able to fill those empty spaces around the chicken.

Linguine Pomodoro with Italian Meatballs, ¥1,260

Linguine Pomodoro with Italian Meatballs, ¥1,260

This was boyfriend’s main course which he gobbled down in a heartbeat. The decently cooked pasta was bathed in creamy marinara sauce and topped with limited number of meatballs. Boyfriend had no complaints about the taste but it was clearly too small a portion to satisfy his hunger.

It had started to drizzle when we exited the restaurant but it was light enough to continue exploring without any rain gear. Armed with a copy of the DisneySea map, we went from attraction to attraction only to find that many of them were either closed or had too long a queue. In addition, the next shows at theatres were hours away so we were left with no choice but to join whichever queue was available to us.

Mediterranean Harbour

Mediterranean Harbour

Venetian Gondolas

Venetian Gondolas

This place sells really appetising sandwiches!

This place sells really appetising sandwiches!

The crowd on a weekday

The crowd on a weekday

Feels like the streets of New York

Feels like the streets of New York

The Tower of Terror houses DisneySea's most exciting attraction - a thrilling, free fall-style ride. It looks scarier at night. As expected, the queue for this was LONG but even if it wasn't, boyfriend would still be too timid to take it. Hence, I was forced to give this a miss..

The Tower of Terror houses DisneySea’s most exciting attraction – a thrilling, free fall-style ride. It looks scarier at night. As expected, the queue for this was LONG but even if it wasn’t, boyfriend would still be too timid to take it. Hence, I was forced to give this a miss..

Restrooms adjacent to the Tower of Terror

Restrooms adjacent to the Tower of Terror

Just a few distance away lies Toy Story Mania! and a snaking queue meandering around barricades positioned outside the entrance. There was a signage indicating the estimated waiting time of two hours placed at the end of the queue. Still, we went ahead and join the line knowing that the wait would be equally long at other attractions. Now let me stress how important portable WiFi routers and a reliable mobile charger are especially in times like this because time crawls at a sloth’s pace without them :\

I don't know about you but entering the attraction through Woody's mouth seems a little horror-esque..

I don’t know about you but entering the attraction through Woody’s mouth seems a little horror-esque..

The tram led us to a 3-D shooting gallery where we toss eggs, pop balloons, throw rings and play other games

The tram led us to a 3-D shooting gallery where we toss eggs, pop balloons, throw rings and play other games

Our shooting device!

Our shooting device!

My score on the left and boyfriend's on the right. I lost. I'm just not good at games :<

My score on the left and boyfriend’s on the right. I lost. I’m just not good at games :<

More games at the Carnival Corral (within the Toy Story Mania!) which didn't have any queue..

More games at the Carnival Corral (within the Toy Story Mania!) which didn’t have any queue..

We couldn't help but feel hungry after spending most of the afternoon touring a large area of DisneySea and queuing hours for a ride that lasted less than 10 minutes.. So we treated ourselves to a good ol' hot dog bun! I liked how the condiments came packed in fold-and-squeeze wrappers so we didn't have to dirty our hands!

We couldn’t help but feel hungry after spending most of the afternoon touring a large area of DisneySea and queuing hours for a ride that lasted less than 10 minutes.. So we treated ourselves to a good ol’ hot dog bun! I liked how the condiments came packed in fold-and-squeeze wrappers so we didn’t have to dirty our hands!

Soon, it was time for the nighttime water show at the Mediterranean Harbour. In order to get a good view, we arrived at the venue about half an hour before but was surprised to find almost all spots taken up by then. Sadly, it wasn’t the best day to be outdoors as well because the rain had been in drizzles on and off throughout the day, wetting the ground. But the Japanese seemed to be well-prepared for that (or perhaps because cleanliness is imbibed in their culture) as we noticed literally everyone around us seated on mats.

The only weirdos seated on the ground without a mat

The only weirdos seated on the ground without a mat

The huge water screens transformed into a gigantic Christmas tree during the performance

The huge water screens transformed into a gigantic Christmas tree during the performance

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

The rain persisted throughout the show and finally transitioned into heavy downpour accompanied by thunder and lightning when it ended. Everyone instantly sought shelter in the Emporio store nearby. Not long after, an announcement came on that the fireworks display would be cancelled due to the bad weather 😐 Ah, bummer…

We remained in Emporio until the rain lightened. Since there was still more than an hour to closing time (Tokyo Disneyland closes a lot later than Hong Kong’s), we went deeper into the theme park to find Mysterious Island and Mermaid Lagoon. Perhaps due to the late hour (coupled with the wet weather), we did not have to queue for any of the attractions we set foot in.

Along the path leading to the Mysterious Island

Along the path leading to the Mysterious Island

The iconic Mount Prometheus in the background

The iconic Mount Prometheus in the background

One of the more conspicuous attractions at Mysterious Island - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This is the main entrance to a downward spiral to the ride

One of the more conspicuous attractions at Mysterious Island – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This is the main entrance to a downward spiral to the ride

As we walked down the slope, I spotted this weird-looking structure..

As we walked down the slope, I spotted this weird-looking structure..

Water filled the bottom of the attraction because we were about to take a "submarine ride"!

Water filled the bottom of the attraction because we were about to take a “submarine ride”!

Boyfriend insisted on wearing that Pooh tag around his neck... I guess it's true that Disneyland brings out the kid in all of us

Boyfriend insisted on wearing that Pooh tag around his neck… I guess it’s true that Disneyland brings out the kid in all of us

The attraction is based on a spin-off from a novel of the same name by Jules Verne and does not actually move underwater. Suspended from an overhead track (the yellow structure depicted above), the submarine is equipped with “double pane glass dome windows that contain water and bubbles to create the illusion of … diving deep into the ocean”. It’s a very simple dark ride where you have to occasionally flash the torch light to see things. I don’t remember having to complete any mission so it wasn’t as fun and interactive as I thought it would be.

Each side of the submarine, if my memory doesn’t fail me, can accommodate up to 6 people so boyfriend and I had to share a cabin with other visitors. Some may find the inside of the cabin sweltering with no air-conditioning but it felt like a warm haven, a quick refuge from the cold to me 😆 I tried taking some shots in the cabin but the shutter speed of my camera was too slow to capture the fast-moving objects.

With under an hour remaining before the shutters came down, we headed towards the wholly-sheltered Mermaid Lagoon to ride whatever was available. We were able to take most, if not all, of the rides because they were largely vacant. Lucky us!

Spotted King Triton on his sleigh drawn by.. dolphins?

Spotted King Triton on his sleigh drawn by.. dolphins?

The inside of a whale is a gift shop! Look how the ceiling is designed to resemble the roof of the mouth - so cool!

The inside of a whale is a gift shop! Look how the ceiling is designed to resemble the roof of the mouth – so cool!

Blowfish Balloon Race

Blowfish Balloon Race

It's some sort of a carousel, I guess.. The merry-go-round effect made me rather queasy after that lol

It’s some sort of a carousel, I guess.. The merry-go-round effect made me rather queasy after that lol

Mermaid Lagoon Theatre! We were just in time for the final show of the day

Mermaid Lagoon Theatre! We were just in time for the final show of the day

Inside the theatre before the live performance began.. It was a truly captivating one with lots of acrobatic elements. Photography is forbidden in the theatre

Inside the theatre before the live performance began.. It was a truly captivating one with lots of acrobatic elements. Photography is forbidden in the theatre

Jellyfish everywhere!

Jellyfish everywhere!

Took another ride - the Jumpin' Jellyfish! The rides in this area are mostly kids-friendly and family-oriented, lacking the thrill factor as you can tell

Took another ride – the Jumpin’ Jellyfish! The rides in this area are mostly kids-friendly and family-oriented, lacking the thrill factor as you can tell

Ariel's Playground

Ariel’s Playground

Can't remember where the stairs lead to..

Can’t remember where the stairs lead to..

Triton's Kingdom

Triton’s Kingdom

Thereafter, the closing announcement came on and throngs of visitors including boyfriend and me proceeded to take the light rail back to Maihama station. The platform was so crowded that we barely made it to the first train that arrived. Thankfully, the journey home was comfortably seamless and we managed to take the weight off our feet and catch forty winks! Looking back, we were really daring to have slept on a train in a foreign land..

* * Day 4 * *

(Tsukiji Fish Market, 海鮮丼 大江户 Kaisen-don Ōedo Restaurant, Pokémon Center)

Sadly, our shallow pockets meant that we could only afford to tour a city with a high standard of living for a maximum of four full days. As this trip drew to a close, reality started to bite again. On the one hand I dreaded getting back to the grind of my Final Year Project but on the other hand I was psyched about the final full day because the highlights of the trip were left to this day. For the first time during the trip, I was already up and about at 8.30 a.m. JST (that’s 7.30 a.m. SGT), all set for the first destination of the day – Tsukiji Fish Market!

But first, let me parade my haul from a vending machine along a train station platform ^_^

But first, let me parade my haul from a vending machine along a train station platform ^_^

Any travel guides would recommend viewing of the tuna auctions as it is a must-do in Tsukiji Fish Market. Auctions begin at 5.25 a.m. JST and only a maximum of 120 visitors are allowed to view per day. We had initially planned to see the auctions but were not disciplined enough to wake up at an unearthly hour for it. Moreover, since public transport only starts at 5 a.m., we would need to hire a cab to get there. Mind you, Tokyo holds the title of having the most expensive cab fares in the world and we’re obviously too broke for that by the second last day of our vacation. Our journey would probably rack up hundreds of dollars in cab fare because Tsukiji Fish Market is quite a distance from our hotel. We didn’t want to risk being denied entry into the market due to reaching capacity after having gone through so much trouble either!

Our train ride to to Tsukiji Shijo station lasted about an hour. We read from some travel blogs that the station is just directly below the market but somehow or other we got lost and had to walk a bit.

En route to Tsukiji Fish Market

En route to Tsukiji Fish Market

It was reported in that Tsukiji Fish Market would be relocated to a much bigger and newer site at Toyosu, Koto but the move has since been delayed over cost and health concerns.

In a high-tech country like Japan, deliveries from aisles to aisles in wet markets are done on motorised carts

In a high-tech country like Japan, deliveries from aisles to aisles in wet markets are done on motorised carts

Dried goods for sale

Dried goods for sale

A corridor of eateries!

A corridor of eateries!

The sashimi restaurants inside and outside Tsukiji Fish Market are undoubtedly your best bet when it comes to quality and fresh seafood since all the sashimi are delivered fresh from a stone’s throw away. Every alley is lined with such small and cramped restaurants which draw throngs of hungry people from all over the world and the queues may even stretch for hours. Boyfriend and I were seriously spoilt for choice so we chose the one that had one of the longest queues (typical Singaporean behaviour) as well as enticing menu display. Orders are taken in advance so that they can be served promptly the moment customers take their seats in the restaurant.

The lunchtime crowd!

The lunchtime crowd!

Sashimi restaurants had the longest queues..

Sashimi restaurants had the longest queues..

海鮮丼 大江户 Kaisen-don Ōedo Restaurant - our choice of restaurant

海鮮丼 大江户 Kaisen-don Ōedo Restaurant – our choice of restaurant

It was a challenge to move into the inner seats and we barely had space for our bulky backpacks

It was a challenge to move into the inner seats and we barely had space for our bulky backpacks

Once seated, we were served a bowl (?) of hot green tea, pickles and miso soup (not pictured)

Once seated, we were served a bowl (?) of hot green tea, pickles and miso soup (not pictured)

One of the many sashimi platters on the menu (¥2700)

One of the many sashimi platters on the menu (¥2700)

P don served with my favourite uni (sea urchin) (¥2400). Boyfriend and I ordered the same dish!

P don served with my favourite uni (sea urchin) (¥2400). Boyfriend and I ordered the same dish!

Never underestimate the tiny restaurants at Tsukiji Fish Market (or any eatery in Japan, as a matter of fact). They may seem small but their prices are comparable to that  of notable Japanese restaurants in Singapore. The total damage from our sashimi feast  (just those few dishes pictured above) reached close to a whopping S$100 which had well exceeded our budget for this meal. But it was money well-spent. The food was truly remarkable – those firm, thick slices of sashimi were laced with fatty marble and had a slight briny tang. And I had never felt so satisfied eating that huge slab of uni!

I can’t remember if the restaurant accepts credit cards so do bring enough cash along before heading to Tsukiji Fish Market for your breakfast or lunch.

海鮮丼 大江户 Kaisen-don Ōedo Restaurant
5-2-1 Tsukiji
8-Go, Chuo 104-0045, Tokyo Prefecture
Operating hours: 4.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Website: http://www.tsukiji-ooedo.com/

After our lunch, we tried to find our way back to the JR station and chanced upon shops like these along the way. You'd be surprised (or maybe not) to hear some of these salespeople conversing to tourists in Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese etc.) because many of them actually come from China!

After our lunch, we tried to find our way back to the JR station and chanced upon shops like these along the way. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) to hear some of these salespeople conversing to tourists in Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese etc.) because many of them actually come from China!

More dried snacks.. not very cheap, eh?

More dried snacks.. not very cheap, eh?

We finally saw fish for sale at the fame fish market :B

We finally saw fish for sale at the fame fish market :B

Some tamago-looking food... To this day, I still have no idea what this is X)

Some tamago-looking food… To this day, I still have no idea what this is X)

Finger foods like this were aplenty near Tsukiji Fish Market. I don't know what this whole street of makeshift street food stalls is called but it seems to be quite a touristy place. (note: after some Googling, I conclude that this could be Tsukiji Nippon Fish Port Market)

Finger foods like this were aplenty near Tsukiji Fish Market. I don’t know what this whole street of makeshift street food stalls is called but it seems to be quite a touristy place. (note: after some Googling, I conclude that this could be Tsukiji Nippon Fish Port Market)

Damn, these BBQ food looked really good! But I was urged by boyfriend to control my spending :'( Ok bye.. I will come back to you next time!

Damn, these BBQ food looked really good! But I was urged by boyfriend to control my spending 😥 Ok bye.. I will come back to you next time!

With the help of our life-saving Google Maps app, we managed to locate the nearest JR station from where we were wandering along and take the next train down to Ikebukuro station! 😀 *prances around*

Alright, I’m going to be honest here. The main crux of this trip wasn’t the amusement parks nor the shopping malls but the Pokémon Center (although the abundance supply of fresh sashimi we could eat was also another major deciding factor for boyfriend). As a diehard Pokémon fanatic since my childhood days (yes, for the uninformed, Pokémon has been around since the late 90’s and not only recently with the launch of PokémonGO), it has been my absolute dream to visit the specialist store because I’ve been wanting to start my own collection of (preferably official) Pokémon merchandise.

Knowing that I would wipe out the Yen we had and possibly max out my credit card there (which did happen eventually), boyfriend wittingly pushed the Pokémon Centre back to the last day on our impromptu itinerary so that we didn’t have to starve on our final days in Japan 😆

Display taken at Ikebukuro station which misled us into thinking that Sunshine City (where Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo store is) was just nearby. We didn't expect to a 25-minute walk to get there -_-

Display taken at Ikebukuro station which misled us into thinking that Sunshine City (where Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo store is) was just nearby. We didn’t expect to a 25-minute walk to get there -_-

A barricaded smoking corner! Can Singapore please adopt something similar so that all the second-hand smoke can be confined within the area?

A barricaded smoking corner! Can Singapore please adopt something similar so that all the second-hand smoke can be confined within the area?

We're here! All the lethargy from commuting and walking the entire day instantly dissipated when I saw the huge Pokémon sign greeting me!

We’re here! All the lethargy from commuting and walking the entire day instantly dissipated when I saw the huge Pokémon sign greeting me!

CHO KEWT!

CHO KEWT!

To prep our wallet for this day, we watched videos taken at the Pokémon Centre on YouTube to know what items were stocked up in that season. Using the videos as a guide, we came up with a shopping list but was dismayed to learn that what we wanted were already sold out and replaced with some other designs 😥 So, lesson learnt: don’t rely too much on YouTube videos for the latest products at the Pokémon Centre because almost everything sold is seasonal. When we were there, we witnessed how crazily fast the stocks come and go. It’s not unusual to see shelves once filled with stuff become empty and replenished again. The staff are that efficient!

I wanted to sweep everything off the shelves but my luggage only had this much space! :(

I wanted to sweep everything off the shelves but my luggage only had this much space! 😦

Towels, shower caps, T-shirts and other wearables!

Towels, shower caps, T-shirts and other wearables!

Stationery. This drives me NUTS

Stationery. This drives me NUTS

Snacks that come in adorable packaging! Bought a few mainly because of the (metal) boxes..

Snacks that come in adorable packaging! Bought a few mainly because of the (metal) boxes..

Pikachu plushies and keychains

Pikachu plushies and keychains

Look at the topmost shelf! Almost empty!

Look at the topmost shelf! Almost empty!

Pokémon toy vending machine! Look what I got :D

Pokémon toy vending machine! Look what I got 😀

3DS casings and covers!

3DS casings and covers!

MORE snacks! Do take note of their short shelf life too!

MORE snacks! Do take note of their short shelf life too!

Our haul! We had more bags after this picture because we went back in to shop again... Total damage came up to about S$300 u__u Thank God it was already our final day in Japan LOL

Our haul! We had more bags after this picture because we went back in to shop again… Total damage came up to about S$300 u__u Thank God it was already our final day in Japan LOL

Unless you aren’t a Pokémon fan, you must be prepared to spend a least S$100 at the Pokémon Centre (credit cards are accepted) because the product selection there is massive. We deliberately emptied our backpack prior to heading out of our hotel that morning because we knew we were going to buy a lot of things at the Pokémon Centre. Still, we had to lug a few bags of our purchases back to our hotel because there wasn’t enough space in our backpack! 😳

Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo
3-1-2 Higashiikebukuro
2F Sunshine City Special Shops Alba, Toshima 170-6002, Tokyo Prefecture
Operating hours: 10.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m.
Nearest JR station: Ikebukuro

On our way back to the JR station, we stopped by a huge arcade with many toy catcher machines. Boyfriend tried his luck at one and successfully got a mid-sized Gudetama after several tries lol

On our way back to the JR station, we stopped by a huge arcade with many toy catcher machines. Boyfriend tried his luck at one and successfully got a mid-sized Gudetama after several tries lol

This is the actual size! It's bigger than my head o_O

This is the actual size! It’s bigger than my head o_O

We spotted this and were enticed by the fragrance of the takoyaki~ We were cash strapped after all the shopping and had to trade money at a nearby money changer to buy dinner :/

We spotted this and were enticed by the fragrance of the takoyaki~ We were cash strapped after all the shopping and had to trade money at a nearby money changer to buy dinner :/

YUMZ. Actually, nothing quite different from the takoyaki we had at the ION Orchard (already closed, by the way) but the experience of having a Japanese snack in Japan felt more authentic...?

YUMZ. Actually, nothing quite different from the takoyaki we had at the ION Orchard (already closed, by the way) but the experience of having a Japanese snack in Japan felt more authentic…?

Trying to explore other parts of Tokyo with so many shopping bags in tow can be a real pain in the arse (besides, we were already penniless and the value in our PASMO card wouldn’t be able to take us anywhere farther..) so we returned to our hotel to pack our baggage and have an early rest.

* * Day 5 * *

(Departure)

With a heavy heart, it was time to bid Tokyo goodbye. Our evening flight meant that we could sleep in and have plenty of time to do a final round of shopping at the airport (and not forgetting our final visit to Sushizanmai for lunch. God, we miss that place) after returning our Wi-Fi router. We used our two-way NEX ticket to bring us back to Narita Airport. It was a smooth ride and we slept throughout the journey.

I love Narita Airport and this is one reason why

I love Narita Airport and this is one reason why

Just when I thought I could leave Tokyo without having to dig deep into my pockets again on my final day, lo and behold, another Pokémon store in the airport! ARGHHHHH STOP TAKING MY MONEY!

Just when I thought I could leave Tokyo without having to dig deep into my pockets again on my final day, lo and behold, another Pokémon store in the airport! ARGHHHHH STOP TAKING MY MONEY!

Of course, what other attire can Pikachu be donning in the airport?!

Of course, what other attire can Pikachu be donning in the airport?!

If I ever strike it rich one day, I'm going to start collecting Pikachu plushies and have a room in my house just to display my collection!

If I ever strike it rich one day, I’m going to start collecting Pikachu plushies and have a room in my house just to display my collection!

Snacks and cup noodles... ~_~ I can't take this anymore..

Snacks and cup noodles… ~_~ I can’t take this anymore..

Found this (the authentic ones) at S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa outside the Pokémon Research Exhibition so it's not so exclusive to Japan. For people who can't afford it (or don't see the need to buy the authentic ones), you can find the replica at shops that rent out lockers to merchants to sell products

Found this (the authentic ones) at S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa outside the Pokémon Research Exhibition so it’s not so exclusive to Japan. For people who can’t afford it (or don’t see the need to buy the authentic ones), you can find the replica at shops that rent out lockers to merchants to sell products

DS cartridge holder and 3DS covers! Boyfriend bought the Pikachu cartridge holder on the bottom left

DS cartridge holder and 3DS covers! Boyfriend bought the Pikachu cartridge holder on the bottom left

I miraculously managed to refrain myself from spending a single cent at this Pokémon store mainly because I didn’t have any to spare LOL. A life-sized Pikachu mascot would also make an appearance on certain days. Sadly, we missed it 😥

Pokémon Store Narita Airport
Narita International Airport
Narita, Chiba 282-0004. Terminal 2 Main Bldg. 4th Floor
Operating hours: 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m.

We had always wanted to try McDonald's at every country we visit so we decided to have our early dinner here!

We had always wanted to try McDonald’s at every country we visit so we decided to have our early dinner here!

Menu looks very similar to what we have back at home..

Menu looks very similar to what we have back at home..

..except for the Ebi Filet-O burger which has been highly raved online! Gotta try it to believe how good it is!

..except for the Ebi Filet-O burger which has been highly raved online! Gotta try it to believe how good it is!

My final verdict: It's not too bad! The kitchen probably prepared it in a haste to serve the crowd so I didn't feel it was exceptionally better than the Ebi burger in Singapore

My final verdict: It’s not too bad! The kitchen probably prepared it in a haste to serve the crowd so I didn’t feel it was exceptionally better than the Ebi burger in Singapore

When at Narita Airport, one must never forgo the souvenirs and leave the shops empty-handed. As broke as we were, we could still squeeze out a few thousands of Yen on credit. I’m not kidding when I say that it was our poorest time of our lives together..

Royce chocolates

Royce chocolates

A not-so-popular choice among the tourists (no doubt the shape is cute though) but I guess if the Japanese made it, it must be nice as well!

A not-so-popular choice among the tourists (no doubt the shape is cute though) but I guess if the Japanese made it, it must be nice as well!

Airport-exclusive KitKats! The matcha-flavoured one is pretty common and can already be bought at my local supermarkets but not for other flavours like strawberry, sakura, etc. WAAAAH SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

Airport-exclusive KitKats! The matcha-flavoured one is pretty common and can already be bought at my local supermarkets but not for other flavours like strawberry, sakura, etc. WAAAAH SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

And THIS is what I have been searching high and low for in Tokyo. I tried finding it at Harajuku and other touristy places but to no avail! It seems to be exclusively sold inside the departure hall only!

And THIS is what I have been searching high and low for in Tokyo. I tried finding it at Harajuku and other touristy places but to no avail! It seems to be exclusively sold inside the departure hall only!

Another popular Japanese snack which expires as fast as a loaf of bread is the Tokyo Banana! Boyfriend bought a few boxes for himself because he LOVES Tokyo Bananas!

Another popular Japanese snack which expires as fast as a loaf of bread is the Tokyo Banana! Boyfriend bought a few boxes for himself because he LOVES Tokyo Bananas!

Interesting toilet design! The black figures on the wall are moving shadows, not of the actual toilet users, of course!

Interesting toilet design! The black figures on the wall are moving shadows, not of the actual toilet users, of course!

Look how SPARKLING clean the toilet is! I wonder how much effort is put in on a regular basis to keep the toilets this white! Even the walls of brand new HDB flats are not as white as this okay lol

Look how SPARKLING clean the toilet is! I wonder how much effort is put in on a regular basis to keep the toilets this white! Even the walls of brand new HDB flats are not as white as this okay lol

A personal sink and hand dryer for introverts like moi? Truly appreciate that thought, Japan!

A personal sink and hand dryer for introverts like moi? Truly appreciate that thought, Japan!

Our meal onboard our Don Muang Airport-bound AirAsia flight! I can't remember what the exact name of this chicken rice is is called but it wasn't disappointing :)

Our meal onboard our Don Muang Airport-bound AirAsia flight! I can’t remember what the exact name of this chicken rice is is called but it wasn’t disappointing 🙂

We landed at Don Muang Airport at Bangkok past midnight on a Sunday with about five hours to go before our next boarding time. It was our longest and most miserable five hours yet because most shops in that dimly-lit dilapidated airport were closed at that time (no offence, Thai readers, but I would stick to landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport next time) and getting free Wi-Fi access (without having to register myself with the service provider over and over again after 30 minutes or so – no thanks) is more impossible than getting connected in the busiest Capitaland mall on a freakin’ public holiday. It truly felt like a budget terminal but yeah, I know I can’t complain because I chose to fly budget, yadda yadda.

That’s it, another lesson learnt. No more transfers at Don Muang Airport ever again! :\

And now, I shall unveil the colossal amount of purchases I made over my 5-day stay in Tokyo. Brace yourself, especially if you’re a Pokémon fanatic.

Japanese snacks from Narita Airport! ALL ARE SUPER NICE. I will buy an air ticket to Narita Airport just to buy more of these!

Japanese snacks from Narita Airport! ALL ARE SUPER NICE. I will buy an air ticket to Narita Airport just to buy more of these!

From Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea!

From Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea!

Snacks from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo!

Snacks from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo!

Universal handphone flip cover with slots for cards (left) and porcelain plate from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo! Pikachu socks from one of the shops at Harajuku

Universal handphone flip cover with slots for cards (left) and porcelain plate from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo! Pikachu socks from one of the shops at Harajuku

We didn't have money to collect plushies but we were able to afford plastic folders and files! So we went around collecting different designs at Harajuku and Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo! :P

We didn’t have money to collect plushies but we were able to afford plastic folders and files! So we went around collecting different designs at Harajuku and Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo! 😛

Nanoblocks (waaaay cheaper in Japan!), pouch, stickers, sticky tape roll - all from Harajuku!

Nanoblocks (waaaay cheaper in Japan!), pouch, stickers, sticky tape roll – all from Harajuku!

Sleeping Pikachu plushie (now my bed companion) and Pikachu backpacks from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo

Sleeping Pikachu plushie (now my bed companion) and Pikachu backpacks from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo

Pikachu headgear, notebooks, cartridge holder, card holder, Pikachu T-shirt, miniature Mew plushie (which ran out of stock really fast!) and more sticky tape rolls from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo!

Pikachu headgear, notebooks, cartridge holder, card holder, Pikachu T-shirt, miniature Mew plushie (which ran out of stock really fast!) and more sticky tape rolls from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo!

And that’s about it! I sincerely apologise for the long interval between the previous and this part of the travelogue (if anybody was waiting for it at all) because I’ve since entered the workforce and I’m usually too tired to blog when I get home. You won’t believe how many MONTHS I took to complete this final instalment because I kept dozing off at my desk XD But blogging helps me to remember key events which I would otherwise forget so I know I had to do it. My terribly poor memory is why I tend to be really detailed in my writing. Sometimes my brows would furrow in anxiety and my jaws drop in disbelief when I reread my archives because I don’t remember what I wrote XD

But despite the sky-high cost of living in Japan, we appreciate how much importance is placed in the freshness of their food.. and we miss their delicacies (*cough*fresh sashimi*cough*). The Japanese are very friendly and helpful – no doubt about that! We had met security officers who wouldn’t hesitate to temporarily leave their post just to bring us to the nearest washroom because we couldn’t understand a word of Japanese they were saying. Tokyo is definitely worth another visit but I’ll be sure to go back in my thickest winter coat next time with more than sufficient cash 😆 !

Thanks for reading, everyone! 🙂

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Tokyo, the Land of the Rising Sun (PART 1)

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Tokyo, the Land of the Rising Sun (PART 1)

Hello everyone!

It is an annual affair for boyfriend and I to take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and jet off for a year-end vacation. But unlike previous years where we would remain in our comfort zone and opt for a destination that speaks a language we are familiar with, we dauntlessly planned a free-and-easy trip last December to a country which mainly converses in a language we are absolutely stranger to. I was determined to overcome all the odds, though (even tried to pick up basic Japanese), because I had been dying to bask myself in the glory of authentic Japanese food and Pokémon in their country of origin 😆

Source: Dan Price (FreeImages.com)

Tokyo (source)

We booked our flight and accommodation for four nights (starting from 15 December) via Expedia a month prior (we’re spontaneous like that) which amounted to a cost of S$1762 for both of us. Considering that we made our travel plans very close to the peak period, we obviously didn’t clinch the best deal. In fact, I felt it was extremely pricey for a budget carrier (Thai AirAsia X) with a 5-hour stopover at Don Mueang Airport on return (as we couldn’t afford the direct flights listed.. or so we thought) and a hotel accommodation without breakfast. To top it off, we had to fork out an additional S$264 for our luggage because AirAsia does not provide any free baggage allowance. The staggering amount was also due to the change in flight during the stopover on both departure and return, so we had to pay TWICE the usual baggage cost. Admittedly, it was our fault for not doing proper research before we went ahead with the booking but still… I think what we paid for was equivalent to the price of the direct flight tickets ARGHHHH!!

In-flight meal: Spicy Fried Chicken with Rice and Traditional Thai-Style Omelette (THB180)

In-flight meal: Spicy Fried Chicken with Rice and Traditional Thai-Style Omelette (THB180)

We boarded the plane with a virtually-empty stomach because of my tardiness (I had an advertorial due on that day and had only managed to pack my luggage an hour before I left the house) so we satisfied our hunger with some Economy Class airline meals. As unappetising as the picture above may seem, the dish was actually very tasty and fragrant. The chilli hot basil sauce that doused the fried rice had the right amount of heat. I was literally savouring every spoonful of this flavoursome dish.

What a view!

What a view!

Being amateur travellers without Japanese in our linguistic repertoire, we had our qualms about getting around Tokyo independently. But our worries were unfounded as soon as we landed at Narita Airport. From the moment we touched down to the time we arrived at our hotel, there were English signage guiding clueless tourists like us.

Narita Airport

Narita Airport

* * Day 1 * *

(WiFi router rental, Shinjuku Granbell Hotel, Sushizanmai, Harajuku, Shibuya Crossing & CoCo Ichibanya)

Getting our WiFi router from a telecom booths at Narita Airport

Getting our WiFi router from a telecom booths at Narita Airport Level 1

Everything went well until we tried communicating with the locals, that is. Before we left the airport, we combed the first storey for a telecom booth that we could purchase a prepaid SIM card from because we would need internet to use Google Maps on the go. We eventually rented a 3G WiFi router at ¥1,000/day (converts to approximately S$12+, slightly cheaper to rent from Changi Recommends which charges S$12/day) from the first booth we spotted (didn’t bother going around comparing prices) because there was a daily mobile data limit for SIM cards which I remember was definitely not enough for one full day of touring. The price of a SIM card was also comparable to that of renting a WiFi router so it made more sense getting the latter. Plus, up to four devices could be connected to the router at the same time too! Yay to live Instagram updates!

The WiFi router we rented

The WiFi router we rented

Rental of the router is chargeable from the pick-up day to the return day, regardless of whether it will be in use. According to the information leaflet we saw at the booth, the maximum download speed of the WiFi router is 40 Mbps but may slow down in trains (especially Shinkansen, or bullet trains, and subways), near mountains, seasides, basement floors on and near high buildings (higher than 15 storeys) so it is advisable that you share your itinerary with the staff before committing to the rental. Insurance (in case of loss or damage of item) is also available at ¥300 per day. You would need to produce your credit card for them to do a “temporary” charge to it as a form of deposit.. just in case you fail to turn in the router.

There were a few staff manning the booth and we were served by one who couldn’t really speak and understand English (but he was nice and I could see that he was trying very hard). Boyfriend had to rely on Google Translate (all hail the mighty Google) to get our message across. We wanted to know their operating hours as we were afraid that they would be closed by the time we reached the airport for our departure flight. If I remember correctly, they open at 8am and close at either 6 or 7pm (Japan time). I’m not sure about the telecom booths on other levels but if you’re going to arrive in or depart from Narita Airport at ungodly hours, then you should play safe and rent a router from Changi Airport instead.

Following that, we took the elevator down to the basement floor to purchase our Narita Express (NEX) pass to Shinjuku station (map here, line coloured red). There was a long queue at the ticket office and we had to wait for close to 45 minutes for our turn. The same pass could also be used for travelling back to the airport via NEX on our day of departure.

Waiting for our NEX train to Shinjuku station

Waiting for our NEX train to Shinjuku station

The time of arrival for the next NEX train clearly depicted on the electronic scroll board and trust me, the trains come on the dot

The time of arrival for the next NEX train clearly depicted on the electronic scroll board and trust me, the trains come on the dot

The platform serves different train services such as the JR (Japan Rail) and Keisei Electric Railway so it is important to pay attention to the announcements on the electronic scroll board as well as through the PA system to know if you should board the incoming train. You don’t want to get lost in a foreign country!

Inside one of the NEX train cabins

Inside one of the NEX train cabins

Upon boarding the train, we went to look for the seat number indicated on our passes, though we could technically occupy any one we saw since the train was quite empty. There is a storage space for the baggage at every cabin but you have to be quick to get the lowest compartment (the most convenient one which doesn’t require you to lift your heavy luggage). Once we fixed the position of our luggage, we secured them with the provided combination lock. With plenty of legroom and a comfortable reclining seat in a tranquil environment, I was kinda worried I would fall into deep slumber and miss our stop LOL.

All in all, the journey took about 1.5 hours. Reminders would be made a few minutes before the train pulls into the station to allow you to have ample time to collect your luggage. And the moment we alighted, I could immediately feel the chill (and omg I hate winter) 😐 We were supposed to take a 15-minute walk from Shinjuku station to get to our hotel but clearly that wasn’t possible in this cold weather. So we hailed a cab! This was despite having warned about the exorbitant cab fares (even for short distances) in Tokyo. True enough, it was expensive for we paid about S$15 for a 10-minute ride.

Never been so excited to ride a taxi!

Never been so excited to ride a taxi!

The first thing we noticed upon entering the cab was this plastic partition that separated the driver from the passengers, perhaps for safety or hygiene reasons? We had to show the driver the address of our hotel on our phone and pass the cab fare through the rectangular gap on the plastic panel. Honestly, it felt kinda.. weird. Haha.

Shinjuku Grandbell Hotel

Shinjuku Grandbell Hotel

Partially covered with foliage, the Shinjuku Granbell Hotel is inconspicuously located at the back of an alley, away from the main road. It seemed like a housing estate to me at first glance as the hotel signage wasn’t even noticeable (why the grey on grey though). Still, I loved the serene surrounding and how it was near to convenient shops and popular restaurants.

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It was 20 minutes past ten when we arrived at the hotel and all we wanted to do was dump our luggage aside and sink into the bed, re-energise ourselves before we hit the streets. But the concierge wouldn’t accommodate to our early check-in request (stipulated check-in time is 3pm) unless we paid ¥7500 (S$91.. that’s ninety-friggin’-one Singapore dollars), like, whaddaheck?! It wasn’t like it would affect their housekeeping activities because the room was clearly ready for occupancy. I was raging inside and annoyed (which spoiled my morning) by that ridiculous policy but both of us didn’t want to waste time loitering around the area with our bulky luggage (or worrying about our luggage at the lobby) so we relented! Looking back now, we shouldn’t have because ARGH it’s S$91 goddammit!!! Imagine the things I could do with S$91!!

*sigh* The hotel 无缘无故 (without any reason) earn ¥7500 from us. This, I cannot swallow! :angry:

Bought this from one of the vending machines at the lobby

Bought this from one of the vending machines at the lobby

The Japanese looooove their vending machines. Look, they even dedicated a room for one at the hotel HAHA

The Japanese looooove their vending machines. Look, they even dedicated a room for one at the hotel HAHA

Our room number

Our room number

Economy Double room

Economy Double room

The room overlooked the alley leading to the main street and was illuminated by the morning light that shone through the window. I’ve come to appreciate hotel rooms with unobstructed window view because it seems like a privilege these days only offered at deluxe rooms, so this was definitely a plus point.

It was also equipped with the necessities like a bar fridge, hairdryer, kettle, coffeemaker and a TV. Speaking of which, the hotel very kindly *cough* treated us to the preview of selected premium television channels (HBO and the like) for a day. After which, we would need to PAY to access them if we don’t want to watch the free channels (the only English channel with clear reception was CNN I think – pathetic and unacceptable).

NANJA KORYA?! (WHAT THE HELL?!)

Is it a common practice among Japanese hotels to charge (unreasonably even, in my book) for every nitty-gritty thing? Money seemed to be king in this hotel and I absolutely hate it -_-

Also, just a word of caution if you’re intending to book the cheapest room at Shinjuku Grandbell Hotel: the Economy room is as small as the typical cage apartment you see in Hong Kong. After assembling our luggage on the floor, there was practically no space for walking around the bed. If you’re claustrophobic, please do yourself a favour and upgrade to a bigger room.

The toilet was the best part of the room

The toilet was the best part of the room

The toilet bowl control panel!

The toilet bowl control panel!

The highlight of the bathroom was, of course, the smart toilet bowl which releases jet of water to cleanse your private area after you’re done with your business. I used to think that it would create more mess but the water pressure (adjustable to your preference) was actually strong enough to remove any fecal residue and what’s more, there’s even a function to blow-dry so you don’t wet your underwear after! On top of that, the position of the nozzle can be adjusted to aim the water at the right spot. My favourite function of all, however, has got to be its ability to warm the toilet seat before you sit on it because cold toilet seats are my mortal enemy especially during winter. So thank you, Japan, for this brilliant invention!

Now, where can I get this smart toilet bowl in Singapore?

Fog-proof mirror

Fog-proof mirror

Another discovery we made (I sound like a suaku) in the bathroom was the steam-proof shower mirror! It does not fog up because that particular area is heated and it saved me the trouble of wiping my mirror every time after bath. This is such a great toilet accessory to have so why aren’t other hotels following suit?!

Shinjuku Grandbell Hotel
2-14-5 Kabuki-cho
Shinjuku-ku Tokyo
160-0021, JAPAN
Nearest subway station: Higashi-Shinjuku

Tel :+81-(0)3-5155-2666
Website: http://www.granbellhotel.jp/en/shinjuku/

* * *

After spending close to an hour frolicking in bed, we headed out for an early lunch at Sushizanmai, a famous sushi restaurant, under the recommendation of the hotel! It was conveniently located less than 10-minute walk away but the journey felt like an eternity because of the cold.

Vending machines, vending machines everywhere!

Vending machines, vending machines everywhere!

Sushizanmai

Sushizanmai

Sushizanmai entrance

Sushizanmai entrance

You might have heard of Sushizanmai as they were in the news (albeit one that caused a fair bit of uproar) recently for paying US$117,000 for a 200 kg bluefin tuna, an endangered species. But putting the negativity aside, this restaurant is regarded as the best sushi restaurant in Tsujiki Fish Market (where their main outlet is) and is known for serving reasonably priced sushi meals. They have over 40 branches in Tokyo and Kanagawa and are open 24 hours.

Sushi prices

Sushi prices

Apart from sushi, Sushizanmai offers delectable bowl dishes with complimentary miso soup as well. Throughout our stay at Tokyo, we have patronised the restaurant more than twice and had tried various dishes on the menu. On several occasions, we were given seats at the counter and the friendly itamae (chef), knowing very well that we were foreigners, would try to strike up a conversation in English with us. The service staff also provided us with spoons for the miso soup even though (based on our observation) it is to be drunk directly from the bowl. All these little actions made us feel so welcome we felt so happy spending our money there 😆

Kanpai! (Complimentary and refillable hot matcha)

Kanpai! (Complimentary and refillable hot matcha)

Chawanmushi (¥500)

Chawanmushi (¥500)

Chawanmushi - ingredients

Chawanmushi – ingredients

The scrumptious steamed egg contained generous portions of shrimp, eel, shiitake and chicken and had a bit of zest from the small piece of orange peel. Served hot, the egg was so soft and silky, it melted in my mouth!

Sea Urchin Temaki Sushi (¥500)

Sea Urchin Temaki Sushi (¥500)

It wasn’t long ago that boyfriend and I had our first taste of uni (sea urchin) and I remember how we were so apprehensive about the flavour and the texture it would leave in our mouth. Now that we have become complete lovers of uni, we find it hard to satisfy our craving in Singapore because not only is the serving generally small, it is also expensive here! But at Sushizanmai, the pocket-friendly price of the uni maki meant that we could have our fill of the coveted sea urchinIf you haven’t tried uni before, it actually feels like caviar on the palate and tastes slightly like seawater with a hint of sweetness. It’s hard to accurately describe the taste, though, because I find it rather unique, so keep an open mind and try it some day!

Clam Miso Soup (¥400)

Clam Miso Soup (¥400)

When it comes to customer service, the Japanese never fails to go the extra mile. Noting that we already had two complimentary bowls of miso soup that came with our don, the service staff who attended to us offered to swap them with the clam miso soup we separately ordered at only ¥200 each. In other words, we got to have two full bowls of clam miso soup for the price of one! We certainly did not make any special requests or show any signs of displeasure; she made the arrangement on her own accord!

Squid Leg Tempura (¥480)

Squid Leg Tempura (¥480)

We ordered tempura on our last day at Tokyo because we were starting to feel deprived of fried food after consuming mainly healthy dishes which were either steamed or raw since our arrival. We had something similar at Itacho Sushi (a sushi chain from Hong Kong) back home and we wanted to try for ourselves the original version of it. Although the taste didn’t turn out to be vastly different from what we had in Singapore, we preferred the squid leg tempura at Sushizanmai (duh!) as it was better battered (not too oily too despite being deep fried) with a light crunch.

Deluxe Tuna Don (¥2800)

Deluxe Tuna Don (¥2800)

Undoubtedly, what boyfriend and I miss most about Tokyo is the generous servings of fresh and high-grade sashimi in restaurants (so much so that there were still pieces of sashimi left even after we were done with the rice) while paying tens of dollars less than in Singapore. For less than S$40, you get an assortment of thick and succulent chunks of bluefin tuna (yes, the highly-coveted fatty ones too) over seasoned rice. The cold, buttery chewy flesh had a nice pale pink-red colour and was adequately moist. Boyfriend loved it so much that he had it at every single visit.

Deluxe Chirashi-don (¥1480)

Deluxe Chirashi-don (¥1480)

As much as I would love to sink my teeth into those bluefin tuna, I couldn’t resist having my all-time favourite Chirashi-don because I prefer variety. The Deluxe Chirashi-don boasts an assortment of thirteen kinds of rawfish and shellfish atop vinegared sushi rice for just (..wait for it..) S$19?! There were unagi (eel), ika (squid), saba (mackerel), salmon, tako (octopus) and many other types of sashimi as well as tobiko (fish roe) and tamago (egg) – all probably were still alive awhile ago. I don’t know how else to describe this dish, except to say that it’s pure perfection.

Both dons were so good, we completely abandoned our low-carb way of life and finished our meals down to the last grain of rice. Seriously, already writing this is giving me the urge to pack my bags and fly to Tokyo right now!

Sushizanmai (Higashi Shinjuku)
1-1-13 Okubo, Shinjuku, Tokyo Prefecture
169-0072, Japan
Nearest subway station: Higashi-Shinjuku
Operating hours: 24 hours

Tel: +81 3-5155-6655
Website: http://www.komura.co.jp/shops/detail/22#_=_iy

* * *

Foreseeing that we would be slightly jet lag on our first day in Tokyo, we didn’t plan anything strenuous on our (non-existent) itinerary and instead, went sightseeing at Harajuku and visited famous landmarks around the busy Shibuya station. The cheapest and most efficient way of getting around Tokyo is via subway but before we could do that we had to familiarise ourselves with the different routes and service providers – which is no mean feat, I tell you – or risk getting lost. Just by looking at the map is enough to give anyone a throbbing headache! We learnt that the easiest way to understand the map is by looking at the line symbol and station number because there was no way we could remember all the station names.

Subway ticket machine

Subway ticket machine

Even buying the pass can be a tricky business because certain terms we Singaporeans use such as ‘top-up’ is labelled differently on the ticket machines. But we eventually got the hang of it after a few attempts. If you’re going to Tokyo for the first time, here are some step-by-step guides to buying subway passes (or PASMO, as the Japanese call it) from the self-service ticket machines:

How to buy a subway pass

How to buy a subway pass

How to add value to your subway pass

How to add value to your subway pass

The subway station near our hotel (a 10-minute walk away) is an interchange station for the Oedo line (E) and Fukutoshin line (F) so in a way, it added to our convenience and saved us transport time. It is also worth noting that both lines are operated by different companies so they are accessible by different gates (housed on different levels) with separate charges. Boyfriend and I once entered the wrong gantry but fortunately the station master promptly refunded the money to our cards. We couldn’t afford to let the money go to waste because train fares in Tokyo aren’t cheap. I think we added ¥1,000 to each of our card about four times throughout our 5-day stay even though we only took the train up to four times each day!

¥4,000.. that’s approximately S$50 oh my god, and about how much I pay for my concession pass every month in Singapore. Oh Japan, Y UR COST OF LIVING SO HIGH?! (And we still have the cheek to complain about our transport fares back home)

Our subway station! (taken on the final day)

Our subway station! (taken on the final day)

The level of discipline among the Japanese is truly admirable. More vending machines that dispensed beverages and snacks were found at every corner of the train platform but even so, the platform and trains remained sparkling clean. I can’t imagine how dirty our train platforms would be with all the regular spillage if we were able to purchase food and drinks there.

Another memorable feature of the train stations in Tokyo was the use of melodies to signal train departures (typically about 3 seconds after train doors are open). As far as I can remember, every station has its own jingle and listening to them made our mundane train rides more enjoyable (I kinda looked forward to every station in the train HAHA). Many of them are also based popular songs like “It’s A Small World”/”Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” (the two jingles I heard on separate occasions at Maihama station where we got off for Disneyland and DisneySea, and I understand that it was recently changed to “Let It Go” – how cool!) or Astro Boy theme song. The melody is so loud and crisp that sometimes I’d see passengers in the train waking up from their slumber and rushing out as it played LOL maybe Singapore should implement something similar because I find it more effective than the boring “doors closing” announcement 😆

I wonder if train companies have to pay royalties for using those popular jingles, though.

* * *

Ice cream vending machine inside Meiji-jungumae metro station!

Ice cream vending machine inside Meiji-jungumae metro station!

We took the subway and alighted at Meiji-jungumae station – just four stops away – to get to Harajuku, a district known for having the most fashionable brands in Japan. Contrary to what I saw on the internet, there weren’t many Lolita girls or people dressed in a bizarre fashion in sight, perhaps save for one or two loitering around the street with a boombox on their shoulder. Majority of the people there were decked out in normal winter outfits, or maybe.. those I saw were tourists just like us LOL

Harajuku

Harajuku

Since it was winter, there was nothing practical for sale that we could wear in sunny Singapore so we mainly combed the streets for food!

As we were walking around Harajuku, we saw a long queue forming outside this pastry shop called Croquant Chou Zaku Zaku and couldn’t help but get in line as well. Being Singaporeans, a useful rule of thumb is that anything with a queue must probably be something good. True enough, those almond cream sticks (or “Croquant Chou”) the shop was selling were so delightful, they’d warrant joining the snaking queue again (which, by the way, moved rather quickly too).

Croquant Chou Zaku Zaku

Croquant Chou Zaku Zaku

Almond cream sticks from Croquant Chou Zaku Zaku

Almond cream sticks from Croquant Chou Zaku Zaku

Encrusted with almonds on the surface (had initially thought they were cereal), the cream sticks were hand-piped-to-order with sweet milky custard to the brim. It kinda reminded me of the cream puffs from Beard Papa but these were a lot more gratifying because you get to relish in a bountiful amount of fresh custard with every bite. Apparently, Zaku Zaku originated from Hokkaido and was a huge hit (well, it still is judging from the queue) when it opened its first stores in Tokyo last year.

Harajuku

Harajuku

Harajuku

Harajuku

Japanese schoolchildren donned in their signature school ensemble dotted the shopping district as it was a weekday afternoon (winter break would only commence four days later on 19 December). Apart from a multi-storey Daiso, there were small boutiques carrying streetwear as well as other sundry shops selling toiletries. I blew most of the money we had allocated for that day’s spending at a gift shop (sorry, forgot to snap pictures!) that stocked up on Pokemon-themed items. I have a soft spot for anything Pokemon and it is also one major reason why I had always wanted to visit Japan. So go ahead and take my money!!

As we were walking along the streets of Harajuku, our attention was suddenly drawn to the massive heart-shaped cotton candies a few girls were holding. Beside them was a flight of stairs leading to a shop called “Totti Candy Factory” which we wouldn’t have known if not for the walking advertisement.

Totti Candy Factory price list

Totti Candy Factory price list

Sans makeup at Harajuku... How daring of me.

Sans makeup at Harajuku… How daring of me.

Totti Candy Factory is basically a shop that sells merely cotton candy in fanciful shapes and vibrant colours – a novelty which, no doubt, attracts the feminine eye. There are a few flavours (marked by different colours) that you can mix and match for your pyramid-shaped cotton candy but the option to switch around the flavours is not available for the heart-shaped one I’m holding in the picture above. The standard flavours for that were strawberry (pink) and soda (light blue) but honestly the taste wasn’t anything spectacular.

Another way to draw customers to your shop is to have an eye-catching banner overhead just like how Calbee+ does it. It’s impossible to miss Calbee+ when the area around it is illuminated by the three spot lights affixed above its banner at nighttime.

Calbee+

Calbee+

Calbee+ food

Calbee+ food

In addition to the racks and racks of potato chip bags you’d expect from a Calbee shop, there was a kitchen at the back that serves freshly-made potato sticks in a cup! I can’t remember what toppings there were but mine was sprinkled with cheese powder. Crispy, crunchy and salty to the right amount, these are a gazillion times better and more addictive than Jagabees! You’d definitely need more than one cup to momentarily please your palate.

Potato sticks with cheese

Potato sticks with cheese

* * *

Following that, we returned to the subway station to catch the train for Shibuya because I wanted to sightsee some more before heading back to our hotel. Shibuya is where you can find the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world in front of the Hachiko exit of the subway station as well as a very popular dog sculpture, just a stone’s throw away. Visiting these attractions had been a lifelong dream (no joke!) and I was extremely elated to be able to finally strike them off my to-do list.

Shibuya

Shibuya

Shibuya crossing

Shibuya crossing

It was an interesting sight to witness hundreds of people surging forward at the same time while the motorists waited patiently on one side for the traffic lights to turn in their favour. It would have felt like a scene from Resident Evil if it had rained! 😀

Hachiko sculpture

Hachiko sculpture (a very kind Japanese man had offered to take this picture for us)

I remember watching Hachi (a movie based on the true story of a very loyal Japanese dog that waited faithfully for its owner to return home without knowing that he had already passed on) many years back and crying buckets of tears over it. When I found out that there was indeed a sculpture made in honour of Hachi, I told myself that I would visit it one day, and I’m glad I really did!

* * *

We settled on an affordable meal at CoCo Ichibanya for dinner after having spent most of our moolahs for the day at Harajuku. The outlet near our hotel also opens late into the night (like 1am) which was perfect for late-night eaters like us.

CoCo Ichibanya (Higashi-Shinjuku outlet)

CoCo Ichibanya (Higashi-Shinjuku outlet)

We’ve had dined at CoCo Ichibanya before we visited Tokyo as they have outlets too in Singapore, so we knew how the food tasted like. But unlike the Singapore outlets (or those outside Japan, I guess), you do not incur additional charges for every increase of spiciness level of the curry. The dishes are also a lot cheaper (and I’m talking about a price difference of about S$8 here) in Tokyo and not forgetting, more choices on the menu as well.

Minced Meat Cutlet Curry (¥659)

Minced Meat Cutlet Curry (¥659)

Curry, being the highlight of the menu at CoCo Ichibanya, is generously soused over the rice (most of it hidden beneath the cutlet) and the meat. It is fragrant, mildly thick and extremely appetising with a very recognisable sweetness that you would normally find in Japanese curry. The pork cutlet in this dish was well-battered with fairly chewy flesh and the portion was big enough to last ’til the final spoonful.

Soft-boiled Egg and Chicken Meatball Curry (¥714)

Soft-boiled Egg and Chicken Meatball Curry (¥714)

This is one of the dishes I believe isn’t available in Singapore. Well, it probably does with just the chicken meatball patty on rice and you’d need to make extra payment to have the egg added. The egg yolk, in fact, marries well with the curry to give it a thicker and more buttery texture. Therefore, I would really recommend adding a soft-boiled egg to whichever curry rice dish you have at CoCo Ichibanya. The meatball patty was extremely tender and moist (even without going with the curry) although I wish it would come in a much bigger portion.

Overall, I must say that the standard of the food there is not far off that of the outlets in Singapore. But while the food in the Tokyo outlets is served with people on a super tight budget in mind, it is the complete opposite in the case of the outlets back home and can cost me at least S$35 for just two simple dishes (after GST, of course).

CoCo Ichibanya Curry House
1-1-2 Okubo
Fujiichi Bldg, Shinjuku 169-0072, Tokyo Prefecture
Nearest subway station: Higashi-Shinjuku
Tel: +81 3-5287-5518
Website: https://www.ichibanya.co.jp/english/

That’s all from me for my first installment of my Tokyo travelogue! Do stay tuned for the subsequent parts! 🙂

Thanks for reading!