It was late December of 2008 that I first took an international vacation by myself. I went with EF tours to London and Paris. While in Soho in London, I went to the Onitsuka Tiger boutique on Carnaby Street. There I purchased a pair of yellow and black Mexico 66’s reminiscent of the Tai Chi’s worn by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Vol. 1.
At the time Onitsuka Tiger had a campaign called Made of Japan. The bag in which a got my shoes was a beautifully designed sneaker city of Tokyo. I think it was then that I realized I wanted to go to Japan.
I cut out a part of the screen printed brown paper bag and hung it on my wall. All it said was JAPAN. Now, nine years later, I’m on my way.
Thursday – April 6, 2017 – United States of America
Apartment to Sullivan Station (via bus; 10 min)
I left my apartment at 10:25am EST to catch the 89 Bus to Sullivan Station. According to my “Catch The Bus” app, I had 4 minutes until the bus was to arrive. knowing that it only takes me about a minute to get to the bus stop from my apartment, I took my time. However, as I rounded the corner onto Broadway, I saw that the bus was already at the stop. I ran and luckily the merciful bus driver waited for me. This was the first of several connections/forms of transportation I would have to take on what would be one of the longest days of my life.
Sullivan Station to Logan Airport (via subway (Orange line and Blue line) and shuttle bus; 40 min)
At Sullivan station I boarded the Orange line bound for Forrest Hills and took it to State Street. There I switched to the Blue Line. I took the Blue Line to Airport where I then boarded a shuttle to Terminal E. I arrived at the airport at 11:15am.
Logan Airport to Narita Airport (via JAL Boeing 787; ~14 hrs)
Once there, I checked in and got my boarding pass. After that I checked my phone and saw that the other guys weren’t far behind. A short while later I met up with Pete who then checked his bag. Then, after that we figured out that Dan was already making his way through security.
Japan Airlines B787 at Logan Airport
Pete and I followed suit. Apparently Thursdays at 11:40am isn’t a particularly busy time for Logan Airport’s International terminal, we basically just walked right through. After hashing a few things out, taking some pictures of the plane, using the restroom and grabbing food, it was time to board (1:00pm).
The boarding process was quick and hassle free. Our plane pushed back promptly at 1:20pm and after a short taxi to the runway, we were air-born. You don’t realize how cool all of the features of the B787 Dreamliner are until you get to experience them. The larger overhead compartments, the larger windows that dim rather than use a shade, the graceful flex of the carbon fibre composite wing once in flight.
I started the flight by listening to the latest episode of This Is Only A Test (Tested dot com’s podcast). Shortly after, or possibly right before the hour and 45 minute podcast ended, we were served our first meal. Dan and I (who were sitting next to each other) had the pork meal. Pete, who was sitting behind me, got the chicken. The meal was pretty big and pretty good, it filled all of us up.
Our first meal on the flight
After using the restroom and chatting with the guys for a bit, I started my first movie, the Academy Award Winning Best Picture -er sorry, that was the other one- La La Land. I don’t know if it was because I was on a plane or that I heard so much about it or that I had built it up too much but I only thought it was ok.
After the movie I stood and stretched for a bit, looked at maps, looked out the window, chatted with Pete and Dan, then watched the movie Allied, which was also only ok.This was then followed by a snack/meal service, more chatting, an episode of Star Wars Rebels, and a nap which was followed by our last proper meal of the flight.
An episode of Wheeler Dealers led us to a holding pattern where we made circles out over the ocean which ruined our initial estimate of an early (3:30pm instead of 4pm) arrival time. After a sketchy crosswind landing, we touched down at Narita Airport at 16:07 Japan time.
Friday – April 7, 2017 – Japan
One of my biggest fears upon landing at Narita was being able to get our JR Voucher converted to a JR Pass, book our Narita Express train from the airport to Tokyo and get to the bullet train on time, as well as getting our PASMO card and our Japanese SIM card all while making it on time to our various connections.
I assumed that our biggest hurdle would be going through customs but the whole process, including Pete having to collect his bag at baggage claim, only took around a half an hour. Once we got through and made our way out to the lobby, we then scrambled to find where to exchange our JR Pass Voucher for a usable JR Pass.
Dan, Pete and I getting off the plane
Eventually, after asking a few people, we found the JR Pass ticket booth. There, not only were we able to get our JR Pass, we also got our ticket for the Narita Express train (#42 which left at 17:47 just as I had researched) and our ticket/reserved seat for the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka (#529 which departed at 19:10, also as I expected).
After getting all that we went over to the PASMO machine to purchase a PASMO card. PASMO is one of many “IC Cards” one can choose from while in Japan. It is a subway tap-card that works in seemingly all subway stations and most busses, not just in Tokyo. After sorting out our PASSMO, Dan and I went in search of a SIM card.
We went back upstairs and, using Pete’s phone, figured out which retailers sold the specific SIM card he was looking for. As I looked around the airport, amazingly I saw one of the retailers from the website. This was the first of many times that, as a team, we figured out where we needed to go. We grabbed our SIM cards and, after collecting ourselves, made our way to the platform to board the Hogwarts, er, Narita Express.
Narita Airport to Tokyo Station (via N’EX train; 52 min)
We got to the platform in plenty of time and as I expected, the N’EX showed up at 17:47, right on schedule. The first thing you notice after entering the spaceship looking train, is that the ride is not only very quiet, but also incredibly smooth. Additionally, despite the fact that it was not a bullet train, the N’EX hauled ass doing probably 80 kph.
Narita Express Train
As we entered Tokyo, Pete pointed out to me the Tokyo Skytree, which he mistook for the Tokyo Tower. Even from a distance you could tell it was massive. It dwarfed everything else in sight. Eventually we arrived at Shinigawa station where after a bit of fevered confusion, made our connection to the Tokaido-Sanyo shinkansen.
Shinigawa Station to Shin Osaka Station (via Shinkansen aka bullet train; 3 hrs)
I don’t know what made me think this was a good idea, a 3+ hour train ride after already being subjected to ~14 hour flight and an ~hour long train ride. Regardless, we boarded the train, which again was perfectly on time, and began our journey.
Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka
The three of us were miserable. Despite the relatively comfortable seats, we were all exhausted but yet could not really fall asleep. Despite travelling at ~274 kph (about 160 mph) the train felt like it was taking forever. I felt like I was on Snowpiercer. Eventually however, we made it to Shin Osaka Station.
Shin Osaka Station to Nippombashi Station (via Subway; 20 min)
Our journey was nearly over. There were only two more subway trains to take. Once we got to the station, I pulled out my itinerary and, thanks to its through detail, as well as excellent sign spotting by Dan and Pete, we found our trains without a problem and before we knew it, we were at Nippombashi Station.
Nippombashi Station to Air BnB (via walking; 10 min)
View from the 14th floor balcony of our Air BnB
Thanks to my Google mapping before the trip, I knew not only what exit number to leave from (#10) but also exactly where to go once we got out. The walk was very straightforward and, with help from Pete, we figured out out the exact location of the Air BnB and how to get in it. Once we did, we got settled and then, after admiring our accomplishments, all went to bed.