We departed New Zealand on March 4th, exactly one year after we left the U.S. Our first flight, from Christchurch to Auckland, left at around 6:00 am. Our layover in Auckland was about two hours. We made it to the gate for our next flight just before boarding began. The flight from Auckland to Tokyo was around eleven hours. The time difference between New Zealand and Japan is only three hours, so it was still the same day when we arrived in Tokyo that evening. That also meant that it was daytime for the entire flight. I don’t normally sleep well on planes at night, so I had an eleven hour movie marathon. Alana, on the other hand, was asleep by the time we reached cruising altitude. It was, however, suddenly the end of winter instead of the end of summer. Like I mentioned in the last post, we had been thinking more along the lines of warm spring weather so the biting cold was a bit of a shock.
We booked an AirBnb in Yokohama for our first few nights. Yokohama is bit far from the center of Tokyo, but at only $22 a nigh, it was decidedly our first budget victory. In order to get there we needed to buy IC cards to use on the subway and local trains. We figured it’d be easy to find an ATM at the airport (many places, even in Tokyo, are cash-only). It was not easy. Tired and cranky, we wandered around searching for an ATM with our heavy backpacks on. Finally, we saw one that we’d walked past 5 or 6 times before. We bought two cards from the desk and put a starter amount of cash onto each of our cards.
IC Card: A rechargeable card that can be used to pay for most forms of public transportation in major cities in Japan. They can also be used at convenience stores and vending machines. Two popular brands are Passmo and Suica.
Did I mention how far from Tokyo Yokohama is? Well, in case it wasn’t clear, the train ride from the airport to our AirBnb was about two hours. Fortunately, none of the trains we took were particularly crowded, so we didn’t have to struggle with our large backpacks too much. We spent the ride speculating about how the name of our stop, Nagatsuta, was actually pronounced. How do you think Nagatsuta is pronounced? It wasn’t quite what we expected.
We had settled on na-ga-TSOO-ta, only to arrive and find out it was more like na-GAts-ta, like the u was MIA. Clearly we had a lot to learn about the language. We had the full address to the AirBnB, so we were confident we could find it. Our confidence did not last long. Upon exiting the train station, we found ourselves in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Not yet having access to WiFi or data (d’oh!), we only had a rough idea of where our AirBnb was. The neighborhood was full of small, twisting alleys, houses didn’t appear to be numbered in any particular order, and many of them were missing numbers entirely, and it was dark and rainy and cold. Since we didn’t have WiFi or phone service we had no way of contacting our host.
Just when we had abandoned all hope of ever finding our temporary abode, we were serendipitously rescued by our host’s husband, who just happened to be walking down the street on his way home from work. It was quite late at this point, around 10:00 pm if my memory serves me correctly, but our hosts welcomed us happily and made sure we had everything we needed. Our room was…cozy, and located on the first floor of the house. We gratefully set our things down and immediately took care of our most pressing issue: connecting to the internet. Once we had a reliable way of figuring out where we were and how to get around (Google Maps), we set out to take care of the next most basic of our needs: food.
We weren’t sure what we would be able to find, now that it was approaching 11 at night, but again luck was on our side. It turned out that there was a restaurant just down the street open until 3:00 am! This was quite a shock after having spent a year in New Zealand, where everything closes promptly at 9:00. Then, to add another layer to the surprise, it turned out said restaurant was none other than our old standby for cheap western food in China: Saizeriya!
We bundled up and headed down the street. We walked in and one of the staff started off at a mile a minute in Japanese. Our blank expressions and nervous laughter must have cued her in to the fact that we were ignorant of the language and she kindly translated to English, “Smoking or non-smoking?” (complete with cigarette puffing pantomime). Holy smokes! I thought (heh heh), they still have smoking sections in restaurants?! Not only that, but the smoking section was significantly more crowded than the non-smoking.
The menu was similar to, yet subtly different from, what we had grown accustomed to in China. They were missing some of my favorites like the fruit salad and bowl of corn. I ordered a pizza (without mayo) and Alana ordered spaghetti. The pizza was more of a thin crust and looked like it might have actually been made by hand and cooked in an oven (compared to the obviously mass produced, frozen, just-add-water and microwave pizzas from Saizeriya China). The food was decent enough and satisfied our stomachs and our sense of nostalgia.
After returning to our AirBnb we went over our plans for the next day. We made sure to download a Japanese dictionary app. There were a few that we looked at, but we ended up going with the Japanese Language Guide & Audio from World Nomads because 1) it was free, and 2) it included such useful phrases as “Don’t shoot!” and “Those drugs aren’t mine!” After skimming the language basics we went straight to bed. We swore a solemn vow not to sleep in. We had to make the most of our ten days in Tokyo.