Sunday, 5 June 2016

BLOG -- My Trip to Japan V.2 -- PRELUDE (plane rides + hotels + timeline of each day in Japan + other thoughts)

So here is the Prelude of my 2nd adventure to Japan. I am going to structure these blogs similar to how I structured my first trip to Japan. I should say that even though this specific entry looks similar to my last "Prelude" to Japan, it's not. I still talk about the plane rides plus hotel, but I cover some other thoughts as well.

Before the actual trip, I was very excited and also very nervous. Why nervous? Because... this time I was going to Japan all by myself!! To some, that may be nothing. To me, though, it was my first time being truly all by myself anywhere. And to experience that in a country where I can't speak the language... if something happened while I was there... just thinking about it makes me shiver. Also, this time my flights were making a layover in the US -- another first for me. I've never travelled to the US before so I was quite nervous about that as well. 

Once I actually landed in Japan and reached my hotel was I able to finally relax. Overall, just like last time, I really enjoyed my stay in Japan. There's just something so magical and awesome about it.

For this trip, I stayed in two areas: Nagoya for the first week, and Shinjuku for the rest of the time.

Below are links to my first trip to Japan if you would like to check them out:
-Part 1: Asakusa, Meguro, Odaiba
-Part 2: Akihabara, Ikebukuro 
-Part 3: Shibuya, Shinjuku
-Japan Eats (all the food I ate while there)
-Random Thoughts + Swag / Purchases
-Extra: Some of My Karaokings 

Before the flight to Japan, there were some things I had to do. I mentioned a couple of these in an earlier blog:

1. Rent a pocket WiFi. As I've said before in earlier blogs, a pocket WiFi is really useful to have if you want reliable internet access. Before the trip, I thought I would only use the pocket WiFi when I was out of the hotel, but it proved to be much more reliable and faster than the hotel's WiFi. 

When I filled out the rental form, I thought I wouldn't use it much on my last day in Japan, so I only rented up to the day before. I actually forgot that's what I did until I reviewed the form one day "for fun"... ahh. I was pretty sad when I mailed the pocket WiFi back.

2. Buy a JR pass. After doing further calculations of all the places I wanted to check out in the first week, I concluded that it would be much more worth it to have. I also quoted the wrong price in my last blog about it, stating the 7-day Green Car price (38,880 yen) instead of the Standard price (29,110 yen). One thing I really liked doing with the JR pass was reserving a seat for the shinkansen (bullet train). I never had to look for a seat when travelling.

One thing I should mention though, is if the next shinkansen is coming in around 15 minutes or less, there's a chance that you won't be able to reserve a seat for that specific shinkansen even if you can reach the platform in time. In cases like that and you are strapped for time, it might be worth trying your luck with an unreserved seat. 

3. Book my hotels. Since I did not book my flight through an agency like last time, I had to book the hotels myself. Once I figured how long I was staying in Nagoya, I booked my Shinjuku hotel quickly since there weren't many available rooms left for the days I planned. For the Nagoya hotel I booked through a hotel agency.

4. Research like crazy on the airport process in the US, layovers, etc. For me, the thing that scared me most with this trip was me messing up something which would result in me not being allowed to board the plane, delaying my arrival in Japan, ultimately resulting in me possibly not being able to pick up the pocket WiFi, the JR pass, nor check-in to my Nagoya hotel in time, and then I'd be stranded with my luggage... while being all by myself and nobody to contact... I had to make sure that wouldn't happen!

So I researched like crazy, reading sections on the airport's website and tons of threads on TripAdvisor asking about travelling with a layover in the US. This was my second time flying so I was very unfamiliar with the airport processes. During my research, I found out that having 2-3 hours of layover time would be recommended so not to miss the next flight. My flight to Japan had only a 50 minute layover in the US... I ended up paying a fee to change my Toronto --> Chicago flight to an earlier time to have a longer layover in the US. 

I also read about needing a travel VISA, so I had to research that (I don't have one!). Thankfully, Canadian citizens don't have to have one to enter the US (phew!). 

Then I read about US preclearance at Pearson airport. Going through US preclearance means going through the US customs + security processes before reaching the US. So that when you arrive in the US, you won't have to go through it. That helped ease my worry that I wouldn't have enough layover time, at least for the flight to Japan. At the time of this writing, the airport in Japan doesn't have US preclearance, which means that on my trip back to Toronto, I would have to go through US customs + security when I land in the US. 

Lol... I was really filling my brain with so much information.

Due to me changing my Toronto --> Chicago flight to an earlier time (8:44 AM), and with the recommendation of being at the airport 3 hours early for international flights, I figured my best course of action would be to stay over at the airport the night before. Naturally I was very nervous... but thankfully my stay there was uneventful. I did my best to stay up through the night but I think I nodded off a couple times.

I think next time, I will book direct flights to Japan instead of having a layover. There's too much stress with making sure I board each plane on time and hoping that each plane takes off and lands on time. 

On my flights to Japan, it was uneventful (phew!) and boring. The flight from Toronto --> Chicago was really short, so I tried napping. The flight from Chicago --> Japan was long and boring. For that particular flight, watching movies was pay on demand, so I tried sleeping. Often I'd wake up and feel achy all over. I kept thinking, 'Are we there yet???'

On the flight back from Japan, watching movies was free (yay!). It kinda made me wonder why the Chicago --> Japan flight was pay on demand since all my flights were booked with the same airline.

Going through customs in Chicago was long! It wasn't so much the process that was long -- it was the line. When I finally got through security, I only had about 20 minute left to board my flight! Ugh... I don't want to go through that again.

So I stayed in two hotels: one hotel in Nagoya and one hotel in Shinjuku.

Nagoya Hotel
So the place I stayed at in Nagoya was Hotel Wing International. When I decided how many days I would be staying in Nagoya, I tried reserving a room through their site, but got a "no rooms available for the dates you selected" message. Strangely (or is it not so strange?), I was able to book a room with them through an online hotel agency. 

Would I recommend this place? Ummm... no, I wouldn't... and there are a couple reasons for that. 

1. Location. While the hotel is close to a subway station that's close to a major subway station, getting to the hotel from the station requires crossing a long bridge. There is no other way to cross the street, and none of the subway exits get you to the right side. This may sound minimal, but it's a huge pain when dragging luggage around. I think it took me about 10-20 minutes to get my luggage to the station when I checked out of the hotel. 

2. My room's bed. So maybe I was just unlucky, but the bed in my room was very terrible. It was very hard and I noticed that I was only able to sleep around four-five hours before waking up with pains on my sides and back. You can see in my itinerary below just how few hours of sleep I had during my stay in Nagoya. 

Another thing to mention, though I was largely indifferent to it, is that the rooms are key-operated. Everytime you leave the hotel, you have to leave the key at the front desk, and when you come back you have to claim it. Maybe this is common practice, but I've never experienced it before.

I guess for a few nights' stay if you had no luggage, this place would be okay, provided that not ALL beds are stiff like mine.

Shinjuku Hotel
In Shinjuku, I stayed at the same place I stayed last time: Hotel Sunroute Higashi Shinjuku. I really liked how accommodating they were the last time when the flight agency booked SMOKING rooms for us when we had specified NON-SMOKING. Also prior to the trip I e-mailed them a few times about making reservations and they always responded promptly. I highly recommend this place, hahahaha. 

Initially, I thought it was my mistake to land in Japan just as Golden Week started. I was thinking 'Nooo, everybody is on holiday -- travelling is going to be so terrible for me!' In the end, though, being in Japan during Golden Week worked very well in my favour. 

Maybe it was because I had a JR pass to reserve seats for the shinkansens, but I rarely experienced any sort of crowd when commuting. Also, I did not have to follow the guideline I had the last time -- about avoiding rush hour times. Since almost everybody is on holiday, there shouldn't be any sort of rush hour time in the morning nor evening. This allowed me to start my day earlier and end the day later.

If I could make things work, I would definitely travel to Japan again during Golden Week. 

The only downside is that some buildings may be closed or open later due to Golden Week. It's best to check online before making plans. Thankfully the places I visited weren't affected at all.

So below is an itinerary of my whole trip. This section is more for me to keep track of my days, so it may not be interesting to you. It does give you a peek at all the places and things I experienced, though.


DAY 0-1: WED. APR. 27 / THURS. APR. 28 / FRI. APR. 29, 2016 (CLOUDY)
8:30 PM - 10 PM -- Reached Union Station
10 PM - 10:30 PM -- UP Express to Pearson Airport
10:30 PM - 11 PM -- Checked in got my boarding pass
11 PM - 3:30 AM (Thurs. Apr. 28) -- Waited for the airline counter to open
3:30 AM - 3:50 AM -- Checked my bag
3:50 AM - 4:30 AM -- Waiting for US preclearance to open
4:30 AM - 5 AM -- Going through US preclearance
8:44 AM - 10:50 AM (9:50 AM Chicago time zone) -- Flight to Chicago (layover)
12:10 PM - 1:45 AM (2:45 PM Japan time zone -- Fri. Apr. 29) -- Flight to Narita, Japan
2:45 PM - 4:10 PM -- Immigration line + Bag pick up
4:10 PM - 4:30 PM -- Picked up pocket WiFi
4:30 PM - 5:30 PM -- Picked up JR pass + reserving N'EX express ticket
6:10 PM - 7:30 PM -- Transit to Shinagawa station via N'EX Express
7:40 PM - 9:20 PM -- Transit to Nagoya station via Hikari shinkansen
9:20 PM - 10 PM -- Transit to Marunouchi station + getting to the hotel (checking in)
10:10 PM -- Dinner from Circle K
2:45 AM -- CRASH

DAY 2: SAT. APR. 30, 2016 (SUNNY; 20 degrees Celsius)
6:30 AM -- Woke up
7:26 AM - 9 AM -- Transit to Gamagori (to Laguna Ten Bosch)
9:30 AM - 6:30 PM -- Laguna Ten Bosch!
6:40 PM - 8:08 PM -- Back to the hotel
8:15 PM -- Dinner from Circle K
2:15 AM -- CRASHED

DAY 3: SUN. MAY 1ST, 2016 (SUNNY; 25 degrees Celsius)
6:15 AM -- Woke up
8:55 AM - 12 PM -- Transit to Ikeda station
12:10 PM - 2 PM -- Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum
3 PM - 4:10 PM -- Transit to Saga Arashiyama station
4:10 PM - 4:40 PM -- Trying to find the entrance to the bamboo grove
4:40 PM - 5:10 PM -- Tennryuji Temple Garden + Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
5:27 PM - 7:06 PM -- Back to the hotel
7:30 PM -- Dinner from 7-11

DAY 4: MON. MAY 2ND, 2016 (SUNNY; 28 degrees Celsius)
4 AM -- Woke up
7:50 AM - 9:42 AM -- Transit to Shin-Osaka JR station
9:42 AM - 11:40 AM -- Got lost a bit + Daiso 100-yen shop
11:40 AM - 11:46 AM -- Transit to Tenjinbashisuji station
11:46 AM - 12:33 PM -- Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
12:33 PM - 12:46 PM -- Transit to Nippombashi station
12:46 PM - 3:48 PM -- Trying to find DenDen Town + Super Potato Retro-kan + The Loft + Daiso 100-yen shop
3:48 PM - 5:34 PM -- Back to the hotel
6 PM -- Dinner from 7-11
9:35 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 5: TUES. MAY 3RD, 2016 (CLOUDY; 24 degrees Celsius)
1:30 AM -- Woke up
9 AM - 9:20 AM -- Transit to Shiyakusho station
9:30 AM - 10:46 AM -- Nagoya Castle
11:30 AM - 11:51 AM -- Transit to Osu-Kannon station
11:57 AM - 1:30 PM -- Evisu Nagoya + wandering around
1:30 PM - 2:45 PM -- Lunch at Cafe Iroha
2:45 PM - 4 PM -- Roaming around Akamon Street
4 PM - 4:14 PM -- Back to the hotel
4:50 PM -- Dinner from 7-11 
9:15 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 6: WED. MAY 4, 2016 (SUNNY; 25 degrees Celsius)
2:15 AM -- Woke up
9:38 AM - 9:40 AM -- Transit to Nagoya station
10 AM - 12:36 PM -- Takashimaya + Tokyu Hands + Detective Conan promotion thing + Takashimaya Food Hall
12:38 PM - 12:40 PM -- Back to the hotel
6 PM -- Dinner from 7-11
9:45 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 7: THURS. MAY 5, 2016 (SUNNY-CLOUDY; 25 degree Celsius)
2:36 AM -- Woke up
7 AM -- Checked out of the hotel
7:17 AM - 10:28 AM -- Transit to Higashi-Shinjuku station
10:35 AM -- Arrived at the next hotel + applied for a Sunroute Edy Card + checked my luggage (was too early to check-in)
10:57 AM - 11:17 AM -- Transit to Roppongi station
11:39 AM - 1:32 PM -- Sailor Moon Exhibit
1:32 PM - 2:45 PM -- In line for Chibi Usa Cafe
2:45 PM - 3:40 PM -- Lunch at Chibi Usa Cafe
4:44 PM - 5:08 PM -- Back to the hotel
5:10 PM -- Dinner from 7-11
9:45 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 8: FRI. MAY 6, 2016 (CLOUDY-RAINY; 25 degrees Celsius)
5 AM -- Woke up
9:01 AM - 10:05 AM -- Transit to Koshigaya-Laketown station
10:30 AM - 11:30 AM -- Lunch at Capcom Cafe
11:30 AM - 1:42 PM -- Village Vanguard + Maruetsu
1:45 PM - 2:55 PM -- Back to the hotel
4 PM - 6 PM -- Roaming around Shinjuku + dinner from the Food Hall at Isetan department store

DAY 9: SAT. MAY 7, 2016 (CLOUDY-SUNNY; 25 degrees Celsius)
4:18 AM -- Woke up
8:54 AM - 9:21 AM -- Transit to Akabanebashi station
9:45 AM - 1:44 PM -- Tokyo Tower + One Piece Tower
1:44 PM - 2:44 PM -- Lunch at Cafe Mugiwara
2:44 PM - 4 PM -- One Piece Tower gift shop
4:16 PM - 4:42 PM -- Back to the hotel
5 PM -- Dinner from 7-11
9:30 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 10: SUN. MAY 8, 2016 (SUNNY; 27 degrees Celsius)
4 AM -- Woke up
8:45 AM - 11:00 AM -- Roaming around Shinjuku
11:10 AM - 11:25 AM -- Taito Game Station
11:25 AM - 11:50 AM -- Back to the hotel
12 PM - 12:50 PM -- Trying to make reservations to Eorzea Cafe
1:01 PM - 1:24 PM -- Transit to Roppongi station
2 PM - 3 PM -- Lunch at Luida's Bar (Dragon Quest themed restaurant)
3 PM - 3:30 PM -- Trying to print out reservation ticket to Eorzea Cafe
3:35 PM - 4 PM -- Don Quijote
4:14 PM - 4:38 PM -- Back to the hotel
5:00 PM - 6:30 PM -- Dinner at Artnia
9:45 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 11: MON. MAY 9, 2016 (CLOUDY-RAINY; 25 degrees Celsius)
5:15 AM -- Woke up
9:33 AM - 9:40 AM -- Transit to Shibuya station
11 AM - 12 PM -- Lunch at Sushi no Midori
12:42 PM - 12:58 PM -- Transit to Ikebukuro station
1 PM - 3 PM -- Animate + Book-Off! + various crane game places
3:17 PM - 3:26 PM -- Back to the hotel
5 PM -- Dinner from 7-11
11:20 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 12: TUES. MAY 10, 2016 (CLOUDY; 25 degrees Celsius)
5:15 AM -- Woke up
10:09 AM - 10:21 AM -- Transit to Shibuya station
11:07 AM - 2:07 PM -- Karaoke-kan
2:30 PM - 3 PM -- d47 Museum + Shibuya Hikarie
3:15 PM - 3:20 PM -- Transit to Harajuku station
3:20 PM - 4:35 PM -- Kiddyland + Candy Show Time + Chicago Thrift Store
4:39 PM - 4:44 PM -- Transit to Shinjuku-Sanchome station
5:30 PM -- Dinner from KFC
5:35 PM - 5:50 PM -- Back to the hotel
9:10 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 13: WED. MAY 11, 2016 (CLOUDY; 23 degrees Celsius)
5:30 AM -- Woke up
10:10 AM - 10:39 AM -- Transit to Akihabara station
11:30 AM - 1:30 PM -- Lunch at Eorzea Cafe
1:30 PM - 4:30 PM -- Various crane game places + Mandarake + Book-Off!
4:48 PM - 5:27 PM -- Back to the hotel
5:30 PM -- Snacks from 7-11
9:45 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 14: THURS. MAY 12, 2016 (SUNNY; 26 degrees Celsius)
5:30 AM -- Woke up
9:14 AM - 10:16 AM -- Transit to Koshigaya-Laketown station
10:20 AM - 11:55 AM -- Lunch at Capcom Cafe
11:55 AM - 3:30 PM -- Wandering around Aeon LakeTown (including Namco crane game + Uniqlo + WEGO + Village Vanguard + other places)
3:35 PM - 4:44 PM -- Back to the hotel
5 PM - 6:15 PM -- Dinner from the Food Hall at Isetan
6:30 PM -- Back to the hotel
9:45 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 15: FRI. MAY 13, 2016 (SUNNY-CLOUDY; 28 degrees Celsius)
5:30 AM -- Woke up
9:29 AM - 9:53 AM -- Transit to Akihabara station
9:53 AM - 10:30 AM -- Various crane game places
10:30 AM - 11 AM -- Almost made reservations to the wrong cafe
11:30 AM - 1:30 PM -- Lunch at Eorzea Cafe
1:30 PM - 4 PM -- Book-Off! + Mandarake + crane game places
4:20 PM - 4:56 PM -- Back to the hotel
5 PM -- Dinner from 7-11
11:15 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 16: SAT. MAY 14, 2016 (CLOUDY; 25 degrees Celsius)
5:15 AM -- Woke up
10:08 AM - 10:20 AM -- Transit to Shinjuku station
10:20 AM - 1:30 PM -- "Exploring" Shinjuku post office + sending out packages
1:59 PM - 2:10 PM -- Back to the hotel
6 PM -- Dinner from 7-11

DAY 17: SUN. MAY 15, 2016 (SUNNY; 27 degrees Celsius)
5:45 AM -- Woke up
10 AM - 2 PM -- Wandering around Shinjuku (includes mailing off pocket WiFi *sniffle* + Maruetsu + Book-Off!)
2 PM - 2:15 PM -- Back to the hotel
9:30 PM -- CRASHED

DAY 18: MON. MAY 16, 2016 (CLOUDY-RAINY)
5:20 AM -- Woke up
11:05 AM -- Checked out of the hotel
11:19 AM - 11:36 AM -- Transit to Shinjuku station + ticket to N'EX Express
12:40 PM - 1:57 PM -- Transit to Narita Airport Terminal 1
2:05 PM - 2:30 PM -- Check-in luggage + security + immigration
5:15 PM - 5:10 AM (3:10 PM Chicago time zone) -- Flight to Chicago (layover)
3:25 PM - 4:55 PM -- Customs + Baggage pick-up + Baggage drop-off + ATS to Terminal 1 + Security in Terminal 1
4:55 PM - 5:05 PM -- Getting to the right gate
5:15 PM - 7 PM (8 PM Toronto time zone) -- Flight to Toronto
8:15 PM - 9 PM -- Customs + Baggage pick-up
9:12 PM - 9:36 PM -- UP Express to Union station
9:36 PM - 10:30 PM -- Transit back home
4 AM -- CRASHED (Ugh... I was so dead the next day at work...)

If you've read this far, thanks for reading!! :) 

I'm not sure when the next entry will be posted since I am still sorting through my photos, among dealing with other things.

Till next time. Take care!

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