The time difference between the UK & Japan is 8 hours. Therefore despite our body clocks telling us it was still the same day and around 11pm, it was actually 7am Japanese time when we landed and we still had a full day ahead of us. We were both tired but fuelled by adrenaline we were quickly off the plane and onto Japanese soil.
There was no wait at Security and no problem either. This meant we had a bit of a delay at the carousel waiting for our bags to come off. Mine was first which immediately set Karen off on a panic for hers, despite the fact that 90% of other people from our flight were still waiting. Her's fortunately followed a minute of so later thus meaning she was only at DefCon 5 for a short period.
In a cheery mood we made our way through the arrivals hall trying to locate the JR East Travel Office where we had to exchange our Railpass vouchers for the actual passes. Our hearts sunk when we saw the queue. After 30 minutes which passed quickly, as we both managed to access the free Wifi we then reached a sign which said that the wait time from that point was at least another 60 minutes.
I then formulated Plan B with the help of a sign and a map. This was to purchase Monorail passes and get the Railpasses at the Train station which was at the end of the Monorail line. We knew we were going to have to go on the Monorail anyhow. Buying the monorail tickets was a challenge in itself but we did so at a machine and caught the next one.
It was all very pleasant and different. I even caught a glimpse of Mount Fuji in the distance. At Hamamatsucho station we alighted and dragged our cases to find the Travel Office at this station. This was somewhat of a challenge. Our first impression of the Japanese people is that everyone you ask wants to help even if they don’t know what you are asking, which just causes morel round confusion. Eventually though, tucked away in a corner we found the office and our gamble paid off as there was no queue. There was a lot of paperwork involved in getting the passes but with assistance of a very helpful young lady we were finally ready to go.
Feeling proud of ourselves we made our way through the station, found the platform we needed and caught the correct train to Kanda station from which our Hotel was walkable. So far - so good. The walking instructions to the Hotel were simple to follow and we felt safe and happy walking through the streets.
We checked in but sadly our room was not available until 2pm (it was by now around 9.30am) so we stored our luggage and decided to find the nearest Starbucks which was back near the station. Refreshed by the hot drinks and snacks we decided to visit the relatively close by Imperial Palace Gardens. This time it involved taking the Subway which involved yet more faffing about trying to work out what tickets we needed (different machines). It all felt as though we were in our own ‘Race Across The World’ programme. The Subway surprised me as I expected it to be pristine and perfect, but it wasn’t. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, just well worn. The trains themselves were very good and high tech. We were easily able to determine where we were and when we needed to get off and change lines.
The Imperial Palace Gardens were free. That is the biggest positive. The gardens themselves were just ordinary. But after travelling so far, at least we were having a nice walk outside. Surprisingly as they are featured as No 1 on the top ten things to do in Tokyo, they were quite empty. There was a traditional Japanese area to the gardens but even then I have seen better versions of this in other parts of the world.
By now we were starting to flag badly. We had some small cans of coke with us that we had liberated from the BA lounge which we sat and drank which livened us for a while, but we were in need of more. We thought we would walk from the gardens to the actual palace itself which had a picturesque bridge in front of it.
On road to the Palace we came across Fountain Square in which Karen thought she spotted a coffee shop It turned out to be another ‘Rest Area’ which is just a seating area they seem to have for people to take picnics or their Bento boxes to seat and eat. We sat down and drank a bottle of water before deciding whether to walk on or go back to our room.
Thinking however that we not come back this way again we walked on. The Nijubashi bridge was quite nice to look at but nothing special. As we made our way back across the park, Karen’s eagle eyes spotted people with coffee cups so we headed towards what looked like a coffee hut. It was actually an ice cream hut that did also serve coffee. Everyone seemed to be buying a Green Tea whirly ice cream that was then topped with edible gold leaf. We didn’t know if this was a Japanese delicacy or something dreamt up for the tourists. Karen deliberated for ages whether to have one but then worried what Gold might do to her insides. Instead she bought a coffee and then regretted it as it was small and not that good.
We decided it was finally time to head back and that we would try and get a meal on the way. We had seen a Pizza Hut near to Starbucks close by the Hotel and as Karen fancied Pizza thought we would try that. When we got there was an English menu up outside which was good. However the prices were not as they were about £25 each, so we passed on that.
We found a few cafe type places that one or other of us would have eaten in but nothing we both agreed upon. Our back up plan was the Pasta restaurant in the Hotel. However as we continued on we saw a sign at a bar which said 'Happy Hour Guinness'. Karen liked the sound of that and so we went in. It was an attempt at a British pub. We ordered 2 drinks, and Fish & Chips for less than half the price of one pizza. Admittedly the portions were very small but it was hot and acceptable. We were both still hungry so thought we would share some fried chicken afterwards. This was not so good and Karen spat her mouthful out. I was so hungry though so I ate the rest.
Finally we got into our room. Actually it was more like a cupboard, very small cupboard. The double bed was small but it had to be to fit in the room. I could almost touch both walls with my outstretched arms. I think it was a converted office block. Small the room have been, but it had everything we needed (apart from space) and was exceptionally clean and well-designed.
A special mention must be made for the toilets in the Hotel. It was a pleasant but welcome surprise to be greeted by a heated seat when I sat down for the first time. I have not yet been brave enough to try some of the other buttons, but watch this space.
Also when you get in the Hotel lift, like many other hotels you have to use your pass to activate it. But cleverly it utilises the information on your door card to select the correct floor for you, so you cannot access other floors. Also the room doors are metal. Not only is this more secure, but it allows them to use magnets to stick on the door for signs like 'Do Not Disturb'.
By 8.30pm, Karen was sound asleep when I crawled in my small allocated space, predictably tight next to the wall. Within seconds I too was out like a light.
First impressions was that Japan is that it is OK. From what we seen so far it is not a pretty City. It is functional, efficient, friendly, interesting and clean. What more do we need? This hopefully augers well for the rest of the trip.