A brief tale of my travels through Japan (in particular Sapporo, my second home). I started travelling to Japan in 2003, and have made 9 trips since then... I've been married (to T-chan), bought my first house, and had one child (our son, L-kun) and now a second one (our daughter, C-chan).
I'm writing this in 2012, so it's sort of like going back in a time machine. Eventually I will get back to current day!...
17th August, 2010 - Well after a heart-felt departure from Sapporo (as all departures are), we headed off to Tokyo.With the flights using Qantas and JAL, we tended to avoid stopping over in Tokyo in previous trips, which in hindsight was a bit silly (as they charged approx $100 per person for the stop-over). Still, for that price, it was getting questionable as to whether or not to just fly to Tokyo and buy separate flights to Sapporo. In recent years there's been the arrival of Hokkaido specific cheap flights too.
Cheaper flights from Tokyo to Sapporo include Air Do from about 9,800 yen and of course don't forget you can fly JAL for 10,000 yen anywhere within Japan (if you purchase the Yokoso Oneworld Japan Pass ticket, which needs to be purchased from outside of Japan). Also Jetstar Asia will be starting up a discount service shortly. But if you're looking for cheap flights out of Osaka / Fukuoka airport, then you really can't go past Peach Aviation from 3,400yen one way out of Osaka!
We arrived in Tokyo at Haneda Airport - which unlike Narita, is actually in Tokyo itself, and is relatively easy to get to and from. You can check out info on Haneda Airport... or more correctly Tokyo International Airport... here. It's primarily a domestic airport, however they opened a new International Terminal in 2010 making it a very attractive entry point into Japan. There are three terminals: Terminal 1 - JAL and associated airlines (including discount Hokkaido flights); and Terminal 2 - ANA and associated airlines; and a third International Terminal. It amazes me that in this day and age that Japan still uses Narita - possibly one of the worst airports in world (location-wise).
So the purpose of this trip was to visit T-chan's brother in Tokyo - and of course, have a look around Tokyo at the same time. What we didn't know at the time was that 2010 was an EXTREMELY hot year in Tokyo... in fact, so much so that people were advising us not to go there with L-kun given how hot it was. I mean, it was already hot in Sapporo (which was a very rare thing indeed)... I have to admit that I was a bit worried as to how hot it could possibly be in Tokyo. In fact, we were sort of freaked out by the stories of people dying of heat-exhaustion... No sooner had we arrived at the airport and we were looking for vending machines for sports drinks.
Now because H-kun (T-chan's brother) was still at work, we'd have to kill about 5-6 hours at least. In Tokyo... in the middle of one of the hottest summers. Carrying our suitcases (though we had forwarded several already). Our plan, was essentially to make our way to Meguro Station on the Yamanote Line, find somewhere to store our bags and then go shopping for the afternoon. H-kun lived next to the Musashi Koyama station which is just accessed from Meguro... so our plan was making some sense.
Source: Official Haneda Airport Website
From Terminal 2 there are a number of options for transiting into Tokyo proper. The Keikyū Airport Line, which conveniently hooks into the Shinagawa Station (on the famous Yamanote circle route in Tokyo), and the Monorail... which although much less handy, is an experience. The Keikyū Airport Line takes about 15 mins to get into Shinagawa, and costs only 400yen. Via the Monorail it takes about the same time (or just a bit longer) and just a little bit more expensive. For some strange reason, we chose the Monorail option... which even pre-11-03-11 was an interesting ride (suspended as it is over Tokyo Bay). I can vividly recall thinking then, what would happen if.... Still, it turned out to be a good choice, as L-kun loved it. Completely loved it. Even though we did end up having to back-track from Hamamatsuchō Station.
Now - the plan (if you remember) was to off-load our suitcases at the lockers at Meguro. We got to Meguro station and quickly found the lockers. Only one problem. All the lockers were full. Not good. Not good at all.
Time for Plan B. What was Plan B again?
So we grabbed our suitcases and headed across the road to grab a bite to eat in McDonald's... yes, I admit it. Still, when you're walking around in 35+ degrees in about 300% humidity, you'll go anywhere that's close. And air-conditioned.
From Google StreetView
A quick phone call to obaachan and ojiichan later..."Obaachan, atsui!!!!!" And it was hot too. In fact it was a stinker.
Though we eventually found the silver lining in the somewhat sticky predicament that we found ourselves in... and it's amazing where you can spot an inspirational heavenly beam of hope. Even in McDonald's!
In the time taken to eat lunch was just the right amount of time to get back and find (miraculously) a spare large locker (which costs about 500yen for the whole day). It was a challenge to fit all our bags in there, but we managed somehow. These are good options as the lockers are yours for the whole day - which overall, I think is good value. It's just hard to judge if you'll get one or not.
Well - at least we had arrived. Mission half complete. Now all we needed to do was survive the afternoon and somehow meet up with T-chan's brother... we hoped. We were already starting to get sweaty - but there was one thing that was also true. After 7 years of travelling to Japan together, we had finally returned to Tokyo. We let out a collective HUGE SIGH OF RELIEF. The temperature however showed no sign of providing any relief whatsoever.
It may have been only seven years since last we had been to Tokyo, but so much had changed since then. It would be interesting to see how much the city had changed with time too.