Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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To Japan Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan, Thursday, 16 September 2010 11:54pm

As planned, I walked over to Kowloon Station and checked my bag. The woman at the All Nippon Airways counter couldn't stop cracking up at my bag, which is in the form of Domo-kun, a rectangular character with a toothy mouth from Japanese TV.

At the airport, I dropped some post cards off at the post office, bought a new SIM card for my phone (I determined that it was cheaper to use a Hong Kong SIM card with an unlimited data plan than to rent a SIM card in Japan. It turned out that loading one screen of the Maps app would cost me about $6 on the Japanese plan), and settled in for a brunch of dim sum. Dim sum at the airport is actually surprisingly good. If you're ever at Maxim's, I recommend the roast goose.

Even though the plane had been sitting at the gate since before I arrived (about two hours before my flight), my flight boarded 15 minutes late "because of the late arrival of the inbound plane". I believe that's been the reason given for every one of my planes in China being late.

Entry into Japan was easy. Navigating the train system was a little more complicated. Tokyo's rail system is run by a bunch of different companies on a bewildering array of lines. I had hoped to take a 9:12 "Sky Access" train to a midway point and then transfer to a line that would get me to my hotel, but I didn't get to the rail station until 9:30. The next Sky Access train wasn't until 10:39, so I ended up taking the Keisei Main Line train to the same midway station instead.

The woman at the ticket counter who helped me figure out which train to take gave me a handy map with the appropriate stations circled. The Spanish woman who ended up sitting next to me on the train saw it and it turned out she was planning to make the same transfer and go to a station just two stops away from mine. We chatted a bit about Madrid and San Francisco. The Japanese woman next to her was also making the same transfer (though she recommended switching one station early, to avoid the rush at Aoto station). It turned out that she had gotten a degree in Biology at San Francisco State University some years back, and was returning from a trip to Micronesia to go Scuba diving. We chatted a bit about diving and San Francisco.

The last challenge was finding my hotel, once I was at the subway station. My friend Howard described the system (and his feeling of triumph when he got good enough at speaking Japanese to tell a cab driver how to get to his house) to me years ago, which was lucky because otherwise I would have had no clue where to go.

In Japan, streets are generally not named (major roads are, but not normal-sized streets). Instead, numbers are given to the district, block, and building number within the block. These numbers are assigned based on when the district, block, or building was built, so they don't necessarily have a spatial order. Because of this, there are area maps posted all over Tokyo (especially at train stations, but also at major intersections and other places of interest). Once you figure out that "1-5-5 Asakusabashi, Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan" means the first district, fifth block, fifth building in the Asakusabashi ward of the Taito municipality of Tokyo, all you have to do is find the block on the map and then walk around it, looking for the building with the right sign. Amazingly, I only made one wrong turn before finding my hotel!