2017 Road Trip Day 1: Arriving in Tokyo and a night in Shinjuku
Our 2017 Honshu road trip begins on Wednesday 1 February 2017 when we arrive in Tokyo, our overnight destination before we pick up our rental car and begin the road trip part of our journey. This trip has been our hardest to plan yet because each night is in a different hotel in a completely different location, and we had to balance the travelling between destinations with having enough time to see and do everything we wanted on the way as well as ensuring Tom wasn’t too exhausted from all of the driving. The full planned itinerary (we stuck to it for the most part!) is here and you can read how we went about planning it here.
We land in Haneda as scheduled for around 4pm and we're feeling reasonably fresh following an 11 hour night flight with only a couple of hours of very broken sleep. After collecting our baggage we topped up our IC cards and took the monorail to Hamamatsucho Station so that we could change to the Yamanote Line. Riding the monorail into Tokyo felt like just yesterday that we were last here although in reality it was actually back in May 2016. It's just like we never left, and I’m reminiscing about all of the little things I love about Japan and find difficult to put into words. For some reason I’m surprised at the fact that Tokyo is still beautiful in the winter, the sun is huge and just setting and although it’s chilly there is definitely a feeling of approaching warmth as if spring is on the way.
When we change to the Yamanote line it’s packed and we have around 30 minutes on the train, but luckily most commuters exit at the stop before ours and so we don't have to fight to get off when we stop in Shinjuku. We used to get lost in Shinjuku Station on our early Tokyo trips but now we feel like pros getting quickly and efficiently to the East Exit – closest to Kabukicho where our hotel is situated. Once outside it’s a short walk above ground and we're there.
Usually when I arrive on holiday I’m desperate for a shower and to unpack and ‘move in’ but it’s later than we had hoped and we’re only here for one night. We only stayed in the hotel for around 30 minutes, unpacking a few essentials and refreshing my makeup, but I feel like we’re wasting time! There is just so much to see and we've only got one night here, so we rush to leave and then we're out and ready to soak up what Shinjuku has to offer on a quiet Wednesday night in February.
Our hotel is very close to the Robot Restaurant and also the giant Godzilla in Shinjuku so we pop there for a quick look before making a decision on dinner and where to spend the rest of the evening.
Shinjuku is exceptionally quiet, I don’t know if it’s the time of year or what but the hordes of people lining the streets that we’re accustomed to are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it’s too cold, or perhaps it's because it's still early. We pop to a tobacco shop for cigarettes for me (sorry mum!) as the indoor smoking in Japan is an irresistible novelty, before heading over to a branch of Kinno Kura we had seen on the way to the hotel.
Inside the restaurant it’s relatively quiet and we’re seated immediately, Tom requests 2 hours of nomihodai (all-you-can-drink) and we’re away ordering nibbles and beers via the tablet ordering system.
Some disappointing skewers:
Tom usually avoids takoyaki (deep fried octopus balls) but it’s my turn to choose a dish and I can’t resist it and to both of our amazement he loves it! There were 6 but I forgot to take a picture until we'd nearly finished:
Many beers and some delectable plum wine later and our 2 hours are up, it’s around 8:30pm and we aren’t tired (despite technically missing Tuesday night’s sleep due to travelling), Shinjuku is still quiet so we head back towards the hotel on the lookout for a bar for in which to have a nightcap before turning in. Set back from out hotel we spot Champion bar; the beers are 500 yen, there is no cover charge and we can hear karaoke. I’m not overly enthused by it but Tom forces me to go in and I’m so glad he did because it’s the perfect find.
It's a cramped standing bar, with posters, beer mats, bunting and knick-knacks covering every surface, and it's packed. The drinks flow, the karaoke selections are predominantly in English and we’re standing by the bar enjoying an hour of classic rock ballads. AC DC's 'Thunderstruck' sung reading the katakana is almost too much for our childish sense of humour to take, but the guy who's been on the mic since we arrived clearly does this on a daily basis - his singing voice is on point and he's certainly got more balls than me.
Several beers later and we leave Champion sometime before 10pm, pop to Family Mart (a convenience store) to get some supplies for breakfast before heading home to bed, excited to pick up our rental car in the morning and begin our epic road trip!