Thursday, 10 April 2008

Day 1 - Arrival in Shinjuku, Tokyo

We took the Qantas QF21 night flight from Sydney to Tokyo, which arrived just before 7am to Terminal 2 (where all the foreign airlines land - I think Terminal 1 is reserved for Japanese airlines). We cleared through immigration fairly quickly with typical Japanese efficiency and emerged downstairs feeling a bit lost.

Fortunately we found a Tourist Information Center and grabbed a few brochures. I thought it was interesting that the Japanese characters (外国人観光案内所) state that this bureau is for "foreigners" only (外国人) - clearly if you are a Japanese you need to look elsewhere.

We also found a Seven Bank ATM, next to some sort of sculpture from the local temple. This ATM is quite important for people who don't have enough Japanese currency, as Seven Bank and Post Office ATMs are the only ATMs that will accept foreign cards (most Japanese ATMs are domestic only).

Seven Bank is the subsidiary of Seven & I Holdings, who also own the chain of 7-Eleven convenience stores (not only Japan, but worldwide). They also own the Denny's chain of restaurants (Japan only) and in 2005 purchased the Sogo and Seibu department stores. I know the Sogo name well, as I have seen Sogo stores in Hong Kong and also Malaysia.

We bought a 14-day Japan Rail pass  prior to departure, so the first thing we needed to do was to find a JR office that we can convert our coupons into actual passes. We wandered downstairs and immediately encountered a small scale "Narita" version of "rush hour" (as you can see from the photo, the time is 8:26 am) - these don't look like travellers to me but more like office workers. By the way, the sign just below the wall clock in the upper left quadrant of the photo indicate directions to the "Pet Hotel" - wish we had time to sneak in to have a look!

We finally found the JR ticket counter. The next Narita Express train to Shinjuku (新宿) was at 8:54am so we had a bit of time to find the right platform.

... And we found it. While waiting, the "local" train arrived on the opposite platform ...

... a few people, including a "salaryman" disembarked.

A train arrived at our platform, but it was a local ...

Finally, our train arrived. Yay!

The surrounding countryside was pretty, but it was a very foggy morning, so it was hard to out details ...

... but the agricultural heritage of the Chiba prefecture (千葉県) was quite self-evident.

Finally, the train arrived at Shinjuku Station (新宿駅) around 10:15am.

Shinjuku Station was a real rabbit's warren full of corridors all looking virtually the same, and interconnecting tunnels like in a maze. Fortunately, I had downloaded a PDF map of the station beforehand, so we managed to make our way to the West Exit (西口). We then took a taxi (very short trip) to our hotel, the Shinjuku New City Hotel (新宿ニューシティホテル).

It's not a very big hotel - it's a "businessman's hotel" which means it's in a convenient location, not too expensive, but features free breakfast every morning and free Internet connection. We requested a room with windows that can be opened, and were allocated rooms at the back facing an alley way but at least it did have openable windows which means I can sleep at night without turning the air-conditioning on.

After unpacking, showering and changing clothes, we decided to venture outside. The weather was pretty gloomy, and it started drizzling when we stepped out. The hotel faces Shinjuku Central Park (新宿中央公園)

We walked along a street cutting across the park (we could have walked in the park itself, but I didn't want to get my shoes muddy).

And right outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Tower (東京都庁舎) we saw our first cherry blossom! The red aluminum and stainless steel sculpture in the left of the photo is called 朱甲容 (Vermillion shell?)

The pale pink flowers on the willow like branches are called the Shidarezakura (weeping cherry) blossom (枝垂れ桜):

And the darker pink buds in the tree in front are (I think) the yaezakura (double flowered cherry) blossom (八重桜)

The Tochomae subway station (都庁前駅) is located right outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Tower (the name 都庁前 literally means "in front of the Metropolitan Government") - some bicycles are parked outside the station entrance.

Since it was raining, we walked in the underground pedestrian mall underneath Chuo Doori (中央通り), which is the street leading into the Shinjuku Station West Entrance (新宿駅西口). We also had lunch in one of the restaurants around here.

At the end of the mall is the modernistic Odakyu HALC (小田急ハルクビール) shopping centre.

The HALC contains the Odakyu department store (小田急百貨店) and a large Bic Camera (ビックカメラ) store with multiple floors.

It started raining quite heavily when we reached the HALC.

This is the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower (モード学園コクーンタワ): would you believe it's a school - well, actually three schools located in the futuristic building - Tokyo Mode Gakuen (fashion vocational school), HAL Tokyo (special technology and design college), and Shuto Ikō (medical college). According to Wikipedia, building is "completed in October 2008, the tower is the second-tallest educational building in the world and is the 17th-tallest building in Tokyo. It was awarded the 2008 Skyscraper of the Year by" At the time we visited Japan, the building was still under construction (hence the crane on top).

Outside the HALC is the Shinjuku bus plaza:

Behind the HALC is a busy shopping street leading into the Shinjuku Nishigushi station (a satellite subway train station linked to the main Shinjuku station).

The Odakyu and Keio department stores.

It's been a long day, we were soon tired, so back to the hotel room (we bought some takeout food from the basement of one of the department stores).

Map of our walk from hotel to Shinjuku station:

View Day 1 - Arrival in Shinjuku, Tokyo in a larger map

Full albums on Picasa:
[2008-04-10] Japan - Narita
[2008-04-10] Japan - Shinjuku

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