The year 2013 has been one which I wondered if I was heading anywhere – career has been shite (no comment), love life basically non-existent (trust me – I‘ve tried, I’ve tried), feeling drained of all inspiration to do something meaningful in life, getting older…
So, one night in early December 2013, I lay awake in bed and decided that my life could be better if I changed my way I perceived it.
And right there and then – I made the decision that I’d travel to Japan alone and fulfill my dreams one by one. Starting with getting a Dreamcast in Akihabara! I’m born on the Gemini-Cancer cusp by the way (24 June – yes, you can argue all you want that it stops at 23 June but I know that I don’t possess the inherent homebody of a Cancer native because I could never sit still at home and I’ve always lost interest in things very quickly) and part of my character involves making the most random decisions ever, provided that it sounds fun! And once I’ve made up my mind, nothing will make me change it.
I know lots of people would raise a skeptical eyebrow when I declared that one of my long-held wish is to get a Sega Dreamcast console. It’s an old video game console, marked for failure when the PlayStation 2 was released in 2000. Next – it was the oldest of all the 6th generation video game consoles, which means that whatever stock I could lay hands on are likely to be machines of at least 12 years in existence. The answer is simple – I’ve always supported underdogs and I liked Sega a lot, especially since the MegaDrive days when every kid clamored to play Sonic the Hedgehog and not Mario Bros.
So, I spilled my travel plans to my closest work friends and everyone I spoke to wished me luck. They said language is a barrier, the things in Japan are expensive etc.
But I would have none of it. Nothing is going to change my mind once I could see the possibility of my dream becoming a reality. Mark my words!
I’ve also grown tired of Malaysia. I’ve lived here all of my life and I yearned to be a jetsetter – to travel, to write about my travels and to spread the message to the world that there are so many beautiful and wondrous marvels that we are all destined to enjoy if we work hard to make it come true.
Another reason is this – I’ve just visited Hong Kong and Macau in October 2013, went to Bangkok in November 2013 and I said, just for the record, let’s make it three months in a row that I’m travelling outside of Malaysia. So, Japan – here I come!
I won’t lie – planning for this trip is not one of the easiest that I’ve ever managed. My HK trip was largely handled by my brother and my sis-in-law. The Bangkok holiday was a company trip. I was on my own for this one!
First step is to apply for a few days’ annual leave from my boss. Check. Next, book a flight. AirAsia has got plenty of seats. Then, based on the flight itinerary, book a hotel room. Since I’d arrive at Haneda airport close to midnight, I’d have to stay someplace nearby, otherwise I’d end up paying exorbitant taxi fees. I’d initially wanted to stay at Sunroute Shinjuku but as I’ve said – I won’t pay crazy fares for transportation. A friend who has just gone to Japan in October said that staying close to the city centre is better for travel and I’m inclined to agree but I stuck to my decision and did not regret it at all. Next is the most important – my travel itinerary and schedule. So, I’d have to do extensive but necessary research on the transportation, estimated time from one station to another, food that I’d be consuming, shopping plans etc.
One thing that made a lasting impression upon me was the sight of the airport ground crew bowing to the plane when it stopped. Nowhere in this world could this spectacle be seen. Tokyo is going to be so fun.
I did not bring any warm clothing in my hand carry which was a dumb thing to do. I had winter wear stocked in the check-in luggage but that would have to wait. It was close to 5 degrees Celsius outside and getting a nasty cold is the last thing I need.
It was freezing cold when I took this picture. Actually, lots of things were playing in my head too – could I clear customs on time before the last train on the Keikyū line? I also needed to get to a washroom quickly to alleviate bladder pressure. Did I fill up my entry documents correctly? I was so sleepy on board, watching over my personal stuff, my passport, my neatly folded Japanese yen notes etc. keeping it from prying eyes and quick fingers. That’s what you should expect by travelling alone. You are solely responsible for yourself.
Fortunately, most of my initial concerns were quickly laid to rest. Everything went very smoothly and before long, I was heading to the Pasmo machines to get this card:
Pasmo card is the contactless card system for train travel in Tokyo. You could buy one and load up sufficient credit on it, say e.g. 5000 yen. This allows you to travel within the Tokyo metropolitan area railways without queuing up to purchase tickets, you could also switch train lines with different operators and even buy groceries and stuff at participating stores. Its counterpart is the Suica card which functions more or less in the same fashion. Since I’m on the Keikyū line the only card issued at the stations are the Pasmo. Understand that there are promotional day passes which you could benefit from and which would suit your own travel plans, so don’t follow my route blindly. I did it because I wanted to travel from station to station with merely a quick swipe of the card instead of carefully treading on certain limitations imposed on day passes (e.g. territorial restrictions) that would hinder rather than help my journey. I’m not renowned for my patience too, by the way. It may not be the most cost-efficient way but I deduced that I could swing it.
There are instructions in English if you do opt to get your card from the Pasmo machines. You could get your very own personalized card (with your name on it) and that’s so cool. It’s so painless that your card could be issued in your name within three minutes (inclusive of inserting notes into the machines to complete the purchase thereof).
I then boarded the airport shuttle bus to the JAL City Haneda Airport Hotel. I had initially thought that it would be difficult to board one but it was super duper easy. It was already close to midnight by then but my mind was so excited! I couldn’t stop smiling to myself. I did it! I’m finally in Japan!
I checked into the hotel fairly easily as well. The staff’s command of English is fairly rudimentary but they were efficient and got things done.
I did say it was cold, right? So cut me some slack if these pictures of the hotel ain’t so hot.
Anyway, the next morning is a crucial one. So, stay tuned for the next entry!