08.05.2015 20 °C
I discovered, when booking our flights to Narita airport in Tokyo that it would be easier, quicker and a lot less hassle it we departed from Beijing rather than the airport closest to us.
So we sped along the track on the high-speed train to Beijing West from Xinxiang East train station, checked into our hostel for the night and had a beer... or two!
We stayed at the Dragon King Hostel in the Dongcheng district and would highly recommend it, as not only is it close to a subway station, but the staff are exceptional and the atmosphere is both friendly and homely.
We checked out in the morning, wolfed down an 'American Breakfast' and walked the 200m or so to the subway.
A few stops later and a 25 yuan Airport Express ticket and we were on our way to Beijing Terminal 2.
We checked in for our flight, went through passport control where Ricky's portable charger was taken from him and I was felt up by airport security so much that I thought it only fair to be bough dinner, or at least a drink by the offer 'searching' me, given her closeness and forceful caress of my inside thigh!
The beginning of a soft porno aside, we went to our gate, only to discover there wasn't so much as a vending machine, let alone a smoking room, so proceeded to take out our books (one each of many) and passed the time by engrossing ourselves in our respective good books.
We boarded our flight an hour after it was due to depart (oh China...!) apparently destined for Shanghai, as a 'technical stop' to arrive at Shanghai airport, disembark, go through the 'exit-to-international-flights' border control and left to figure out where to go next.
This in itself was such an ordeal that a cigarette was desperately required and dutifully achieved by half walking/half jogging through the airport to a smoking room, inhaling pretty much the whole cigarette in one drag and then scrambled back to gate 16 tore-board the plane we'd just got off!
3 hours later, another bag of peanuts and an odd combination of pork curry and sushi later, and we arrived in Tokyo, but not before sitting on the tarmac in Shanghai for 45 minutes and flying over Tokyo for an extra 15 minutes before landing because of the 'danger bok' or something to that effect, as outlined by our inaudible flight attendant.
Now, I was somewhat aware that the trains in Tokyo stopped around midnight and as we were then 2 hours late to Narita, we were pushed for time to get money out and figure out which train to get.
This farce wasn't helped by my bank capping the amount I could withdraw each day, confusing me and putting added pressure on out time schedule.
Eventually, I realised there was a cap, got out what I could and we made our way down the escalator to the trains.
We were walking towards the ticket machine to purchase our tickets but were greeted by several members of staff screaming "GO! GO! GO! The last train of the night is almost here! Buy your tickets on the train" GO! GO! GO!"
We heeded this advice, practically threw our luggage down another set of escalators, launched the through the open doors of the train, and sat down just as the doors were closing.
Now, having never been to Japan before, trying to navigate a subway system with a thousand stations and not even knowing which line you're travelling on presents obvious problems.
The instructions from the hostel would have made perfect sense, had we been on the train they'd advised, however, we were not, we were heading in the wrong direction, not knowing how to rectify the situation but knowing that if we got off the train, we'd be sleeping outside.
Ricky decided that he wanted to get off, but with my last ounce of sanity, I asked the only foreigner in our car, who happened to be sat only a seat away, if he could help us.
We told him were we wanted to go and after subtly correcting our pronunciation, said the train would get us there or at least pretty close which was calming.
70 minutes later, we got off at the station 5 stops away from Asakusa before the train went in a different direction and made our way to the exit.
Now, during that 70 minute journey, not one person came to sell us a ticket so when we were faced with the arduous task of leaving the train station and in our delirious travel-raped fatigue, the only viable option we could think of was to tail-gate someone through the exit gate, hauling our luggage through the closing barricades and making a run for it.
After successfully evading any immediate castigation and enjoying a victory cigarette, we got in a taxi for the last leg of our ridiculous journey and checked into out hostel for the night just in time!
We stayed at Tokyo Original Hostel and were glad to leave in the morning for the hostel we'd booked for the next 3 nights as our room was so small we could barely get our suitcases in... upright!
The only plus side was that the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful and they gave us a thank you note and origami Pikachu they'd made themselves when we left in the morning!
We walked around the corner and up the road to our longer stay hostel, Khaosan Kabuki and were much more impressed with out surroundings.
We were upgraded to a swanky private suite at no extra cost for a reason I'm still unsure of and concluded that for the rest of our trip we would pretend we were a soon-to-be-married couple travelling before the wedding to hopefully get more free-upgrades... when in Rome, so to speak!
Before we came to Japan, I'd booked tickets to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, a short train journey away, to see the collection of Ghibli paraphernalia, and today was the day I needed to go.
I asked at the hostel reception how to get to Mitaka and the lovely receptionist gave me a pre-printed slip with directions to the museum and I got ready to go.
Ricky didn't want to come so ventured around on his own whilst I went to the subway station.
I enjoy travelling with someone who doesn't need constant molly-coddling and can just do their own thing; it means that both parties get the most out of their trip without anyone feeling left out.
I went down to the Ginza line, paid the 170 yen to get to Kanda station and got on the train.
The subway ticket machines are off because rather than selecting a station, you select the amount of yen it'll cost to get there, according to the map overhead on the wall.
I arrived at Kanda and had to get a new ticket for the JR Chuo line but the map was only in Japanese so I had to guess the value and get on the train.
25 minutes later, I arrived at Mitake station and went to the south exit as instructed by my print out.
When I put my tiny rectangular ticket in the exit gate, it advised me my fare needed to be adjusted so I went to the machine a stone’s throw away and it told me the difference that I needed to pay; very useful, and civilised!
As I walked out of the south exit, I immediately saw a sign for the Ghibli Museum which confirmed the route I'd already commuted to memory and happily began the 10-15 minute ramble to the second small bridge over the narrow river that accompanied me down the road.
I took a right turn and then after a little more walking, I saw the sign on my left.
I exchanged my paper ticket for my real ticket, a real film piece from one of my favourite Ghibli films (Howl's Moving Castle) and went inside.
Annoyingly, but also understandably, you're forbidden from taking pictures inside the museum, only outside, which was still beautiful and equally magical.
Inside was beautiful, wooden floors and staircases with random little doors and cast iron bannisters - I felt like I was in a Ghibli movie!
I looked at all the artwork displays, the extensive heaps of books and sketches plastered across the walls and the beautifully specific way the desk was arranged to suggest Miyazaki had only just stepped away for a moment.
I obviously bought some souvenirs from the gift shop before traversing the iron staircase to the giant metal guardian from Castle in the Sky on the roof of the museum.
I didn't stay for long and was back on the train to Asakusa before I knew it.
I particularly enjoyed the 'real' Catbus from My Neighbour Totoro full of 'real' dust mites from Howl's Moving Castle that the children could play on.
You can see pictures inside the museum on their website: http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/
I walked back along the river to the station, had a cigarette in the designated smoking area (you are not allowed to walk on the street smoking!) then got back on the train to Asakusa via Kanda station and met Ricky.
We went to Starbucks for a drink then went to Freshness Burger for dinner before walking around looking for Byron Bay Café which Ricky had found earlier in the day for a Baileys and Chocolate Milk, then went back to the hostel where I wrote this and Ricky played Bomberman on the Nintendo until 3am!
I think I use hostels incorrectly, given that I much prefer the common areas when there’s no one else in them…!
We woke up around 10am and headed out to Harajuku; the Fashion District.
I’ve never seen so many beautiful, ordinary (as in, not famous!) people in amazing clothes before!
Ricky and I bought several items and for the first time ever in our time together, I spent more money on clothes than him!
We walked around for a while, following cool people to see where they were going, looking into kitsch little shops to see what they were selling, and genuinely just loving our environment.