Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Japan 2013 - Day 1: Tokyo

The day has come. After about 6 months of planning and preparing (all the rushing and scrambling), we were off to the airport early in the morning of June 6, to catch our flight to Japan. A medium baggage and a cabin one, and our own personal hand carries, that's as light as I could pack (given the size of the boot of the car we were renting).

We booked promo fares by AirAisa around end February. It cost us $181 for the Singapore-Haneda leg and $218 for the return trip (per person), plus checked baggage of 20kg (Sin-Hnd-Sin) for 2 persons @ $22/pax/sector. It was indeed a good buy, after checking the airlines ' website for several weeks, since we spent way below the original expected airfare.
after checking in, we still had 2 more hours of waiting time before boarding.
This art exhibit of raindrops seemed interesting.

Our flight via Airasia to Haneda International Airport, with a layover at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The flight left Singapore at 1140am, arrived KL at 1240pm, and left for Haneda at 230pm. 

the boys during our flight
Ira enjoying the view upon take off. Kelvin gadget time while passing time.

After eating Dunkin' Donuts and siew mai at KLIA, we were off to our connecting flight to Haneda. For the boys, it was movies and games. For me, that meant longer nap time.

Touchdown Haneda was at 1030pm. Immigration and customs clearance were straight forward. No delays or long queues (thank goodness!). 

Tokyo International Airport (Haneda Airport)
Keikyu Tourist Information Center
Phone: 03-5708-3055
Open: 7:00-22:00
2nd Flr, Keikyu Haneda Airport
International Terminal Station, 2-6-5
Haneda Airport, Ota-ku, Tokyo

We got our luggage and looked for the exit to the train stations/platforms. I had our 12-day itinerary printed including train travels and transfers, but I still had to be sure of the details. 
I approached the customer service officer from the train station desk and she politely answered my query (which train to take to Shinagawa Station and how much?). Although she didn't speak much English, we understood each other using hand signals, a price list and a calculator. Plus points for Japanese customer service - polite and with a smile. Language barrier crossed out of my list.
behind Ira is the complicated transportation map of Japan (and that's not even all of it!)

I paid for our train tickets (that's 400 yen for adults, and half the price for kids) at 11:15 pm, we were handed our tickets, then we hauled our baggage to the gantry. Ticket into the ticket slot, out the other side, retrieve the ticket and bring it to the exit gate on your final stop. Ira loved this new way of getting in and out of the gates. We waited for the train (hoping we were at the correct platform) and it was right on schedule.

We were about to face one of my greatest fears coming to Japan (riding the trains, or should I say, taking the correct one!). I really made sure I asked the train station officer that we were on the right train and it would stop at Shinagawa Station (no transfers for beginners, please). Twenty minutes after, we arrived at our destination - safely and stress-free.

we could still smile after 9hrs of journey from KL
Keikyu Line, in my favorite color!

From Shinagawa Station, we walked towards Konan-guchi exit to get to the free shuttle bus service to the hotel. Since we knew we would be arriving in Tokyo that late, we decided to book a hotel closer to the airport. More convenient and less travel time for us (just in case we got lost or something, we can take a cab!). The exits were confusing at first, but we were able to find our way out, and our shuttle bus. Unfortunately, it left just before we reached the street level. But we didn't wait long for the next shuttle bus to come.

the boys familiarizing themselves with the new surroundings
Can't wait to get to the hotel.

Travel time was about 5-10 minutes to Toyoko Inn Shinagawa-eki Konan-guchi Tennozu. Check in was fast and efficient. I showed the booking printout, they made me sign the guest info sheet, photocopied our passports (SOP for all hotels), collected payment (yes, payment was upon check in for most of the hotels we stayed in), and handed over our key cards.

Toyoko Inn Shinagawa-Eki Konan-guchi Tennozu
Address: Shinagawa-ku, Higashishinagawa 2-2-35, Shinagawa Ward
Phone: +81-35-715-1045
(+) close to Tennozu Isle Station (monorail and Rinkai Line)
(+) free shuttle service to Shinagawa Station which connects to many JR train lines and subway lines (although it was stated that it only serves the route during specified time, we found out that the shuttle actually operates almost
(+) free breakfast
(+) night gowns provided (less sleepwear to pack)
(+) toiletries provided
(+) close to Haneda Airport
(+) 7-11 is just around the corner
Family room 3A (FREE 12yrs below) = 21,960yen
Booked thru

We went to our room which was conveniently located near the lift, put our things down......
 took wacky photos......

and looked for a place to buy supper. We were famished! 
Good thing there was a 7-11 store a few steps away (yep, just around the corner), 
talk about convenience.
the first of the many vending machines we encountered in Japan.
Also the first of the many packed ready-to-eat meals we had while in Japan.

That's fried rice for choosy Ira, chicken curry rice for dad and some noodles for Kelvin. After eating the first batch of food, Kelvin was still hungry so they had to go down again to buy a second serving! Prices range from 398 yen to 500 yen. Not bad.

The hotel also provided night gowns (we were also wondering what they were at first), so we took one for each. There goes the loads of sleepwear I packed.
ta da! Our first Japanese night gown.
It was too big for Ira cause they didn't have one for kids, but he managed to wear it well.
family photo in night gowns, this was taken about 1am already.
Nope, we didn't have jetlag. Just some left over energy from sodas and carbs.
You can notice the room was quite big. But the toilet was small.

Since we slept very late the night before, we weren't able to wake up early the following morning to have breakfast at the hotel. The kids just wouldn't get up. So much for free breakfast. But we had to get going by 9am or we won't be seeing much of what Tokyo has to offer.

We got on the shuttle bus to Shinagawa Station at about 10am (I took note of the shuttle timing given during booking, only to find out that now it operated the whole day!). It was our first sight-seeing day in Tokyo. I knew it was going to be a challenge for me to find the right train to our destinations (yes, the maps were intimidating - there's a subway map then there's the JR lines map). 
 I have one of each in my bag every time

First decision to make is whether to get a SUICA (ezlink like) card or just buy the tickets as and when we ride. I actually preferred the SUICA but hubby said we can do with the "per trip" tickets. And so we did. I checked the map (JR east lines), we're supposed to go to Asakusa Station, got confused, and bought the ticket to the wrong destination (Asakusabashi)! Good thing I asked the train officers to reconfirm. I was told to take the Asakusa Subway Line instead as it goes directly to Asakusa. We got a refund from the tickets we bought then walked to the other side of Shinagawa Station (where the subway entrance was) and bought our tickets there.

Since there was a Mcdonald's across the street, we decided to have breakfast first. We were shocked to know they allow smoking inside at certain time during the day.

nope, we didn't take the Shinkansen, just posing at the gates :)

I approached the train officers in the desk and asked them how I could buy tickets for Asakusa. Would you believe the officer even went out and accompanied me to the ticket machine and guided me accordingly?! We were really impressed by their good quality of customer service. 

receipt of our tickets to Asakusa Station 
(I was able to save the receipts, but was not able to take photos of the tickets)

The place was quite far from where our base was. Platform numbers for each train line are stated on the sign boards as you enter the train station gates. This I didn't notice until the last 2 days of our stay. So I was always asking and reconfirming which platform to take. 
 at platform 2, waiting for our train to Asakusa Station

Blooper alert: we had to transfer trains as the one we took terminated before reaching Asakusa Station. Then on the next train we took, we weren't paying that much attention we missed our stop and reached Oshiage Station (where the Tokyo Sky Tree was). We decided to take the train back to Asakusa Station as originally planned.

a view of the Tokyo Sky Tree from Asakusa River

the viewing platform on the bridge

a view of the Asahi Breweries Ltd buildings and Azumabashi (red bridge)

just outside the Asakusa Culture and sight-seeing center

making wacky poses yet again

 my shot of hubby taking photo of the Tokyo Sky Tree and Asahi Breweries
horn hat?

 the Tokyo Sky Tree at the palm of Ira's hands

one of the scultures / art exhibits around the area

From here we walked towards Kaminarimon Gate, around 2 blocks away.

Kaminarimon (Thunder) Gate featuring a giant lantern
The first gate leading to the Sensoji Temple

the lantern bigger than us

Sensoji Temple
2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
Phone: +81 3-3844-1575
after the Kaminarimon Gate was Nakamise-dori (Nakamise Street) 
filled with shops selling a variety of Japanese souvenirs and food

Kaminarimon Gate taken from the inside

conveniently located vending machines at Nakamise Street
Prices range from 120 -150 yen

that's me amidst the busy Nakamise Shopping Street

Nakamise Shopping Street
AsakusaTaitoTokyo PrefectureJapan

we stopped by this shop to try their bean "pancake"
She said it's better to take the newly baked ones (they were being made right there and then!).
These pancakes filled with red bean come in different shapes.

Ira checking out some interesting key chains

on our way to the second gate - Hozomon (Treasure House Gate)

Hozomon Gate is the entrance to the inner complex 
where the temples and pagodas are located

a beautiful door in the Hozomon Gate

Traditional Japanese straw slippers hung behind Hozomon Gate
made by 800 citizens of Murayama City in one month
symbolic of the power of "Ni-Ou", this serves as a charm against evils
It was said that many people touch this O-waraji to wish to be good walkers.
Taken in this photo was Kelvin trying to reach the slipper.

Ira's idea of "touching" the slipper as he cannot really jump that high to actually reach it

a statue at the roof of nearby buildings

overlooking Tokyo Sky Tree from Sensoji Temple
Senjoji Temple - an ancient Buddhist temple 
which is Tokyo's oldest and one of the most significant.


it was a very hot day

Kelvin calling Ira's attention as he saw this shop selling katanas
along Nakamise Street on our walk back to the train station. 

Our boys were fascinated by these legendary swords. Unfortunately, we can't buy one for them. Aside from they are not trained in handling swords, it's also illegal to bring one into Singapore.

After our visit to the temple and shopping street, we walked back to Asakusa Station to take the train to Ueno Park.
our ticket receipts to Ueno Station via Ginza line

As it was already lunch time, we decided to stop by the mall / eating place nearby. We had chicken curry rice and pasta.

iced teas in Japan are not sweet by default. But they do give gum syrup and milk.

this was what's left from our red bean pancake from Nakamise Street

some of the interesting displays of food outside the eating places
Ira was fascinated by them. Initially, he thought these were real!

After lunch, we walked to Ueno Park so the boys can have fun time in the playground (and rest time for the adults).
water fountains can be seen almost every where in parks in Japan. 
But the boys had a hard time figuring out how to refill our bottles as the spout was upwards.

cute bus that we saw while walking to the park

crows were also everywhere in Japan. And they seem to be bigger than those in Singapore.

Ueno Park playground, here I come!!!!

map of Ueno Park. So where shall we head first???

a stretch of hand prints in Ueno Park

Ira having the time of his life at the park

30 minutes to an hour was enough rest for us to re-energize for the next few hours of walking the streets of Tokyo. Next stop, Akihabara.
it was an easy transfer as Akihabara Station is just 2 stations away
 from Ueno Station via JR Yamanote Line (which was the JR line we usually used)
There was also a park exit that is accessible to the JR line.

waiting for the train to come

in search of a specific shop in Tokyo's Electric City

our main destination in Akihabara

Ira testing a DSLR camera

We came to Akihabara hoping to get a point and shoot camera for myself (or was I the only one hoping?). We left the electric city without an Ixy (canon) in hand. 

Next stop, Ginza - Tokyo's most famous upmarket shopping, entertainment and dining district.

buying our tickets to Ginza via Tokyo

receipts of tickets to Tokyo (?)

receipts of tickets to Ginza (?)
we needed to transfer to a subway line

In Japan, if you switch from JR to subway lines, you need to exit the JR stations first then buy tickets again to enter the subway stations. We found it a bit inconvenient to have to go in and out of the gantries. But since the trains were efficient, and we were just there for a few days, we can bear with that.

the famous Wako Store 

actively looking for a toy shop

stopping for dinner. 
We wanted to try ordering from a vending machine. 

soba, soba, soba

Ira trying out his first Japanese soba dish. And he liked it!

He also said he's a fast-learner. He hasn't used chopsticks before our trip to Japan. Surprisingly, he got the hang of it. He also reminded us to slurp loudly as this meant that the noodles were delicious. Thanks for the tip! Everyone in the place was slurping loudly.

Note: We observed that the Japanese eat VERY fast. They order, sit and wait for their food, slurp all the way till the bowls are empty. Then pay and leave.

happy with our early dinner treat

Since we were full and still had a lot of time in our hands, hubby suggested we walk to Tsukiji Fish Market. I said it may be quite far, about 1km from where we were. But the weather was nice and we had nowhere else to go so we walked all the way to Tsukiji from Ginza. There were actually signs to several attractions around Ginza and Tsukiji, so I guess it was possible to really walk around these 2 areas.

we were confused what this traffic light signals meant. The red stop light was always lit, then there were these green arrows. We stopped and observed for a while (we needed the info since we will be driving in Hokkaido). Red light means stop. Green arrows mean go (on the direction of the arrows, of course).

our little boy was bored (cause he didn't find a toy shop where he could buy beyblades) 
and getting a little cranky

after a long day of walking around Tokyo and seeing some of the attractions, 
we were hotel-bound

buying our final tickets for the day

bought tickets to Hamamatsucho Station
where we transferred to JR line

then bought tickets to Shinagawa Station

Ira monitoring the stops

and our first day in Tokyo ends....

It was a good day. Although we had a late start, we were able catch up to our itinerary (except we gave Tokyo Station and the attractions there a miss). The boys loved going on the trains although we had some misses and bloopers earlier on. We survived day 1 of train riding adventure in Tokyo. The boys were happy to be back to the hotel and looked forward to our flight to Hokkaido the next day.


  1. Hi karen, my name is SK and i'm so happy that i found your blog which can help me plan my Hokkaido trip (late Oct). I have lot of questions and hope can get your inputs. I will have 8D7N trip (fly from PG to Tokyo, Tokyo - Hokkaido, then back to Tokyo), i travel with my sisters and my mum who 70+. So, i need to make sure i plan my trip properly so that my mum won't be so tiring. My email account is, and hope can hear from you soon. Thanks in advance...:-)

    1. Hi SK! So how was the Japan trip planning? Hope it went well.


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