Solo in Tokyo: The Journey

And this is how it starts…

The day of my most awaited trip finally came. I saw the countdown timer app on my phone displaying The Day. Yes, this is finally happening.

The Preparation

I only slept for less than 3 hours but I felt like I had a full night’s sleep that morning. The previous night was filled with organizing and packing up my things onto my luggages, ticking off a long list of items and tasks that I have prepared weeks before. My plane leaves at the crack of dawn. Luckily, I am only minutes away (given the traffic during that hour) from the airport. Although just to be sure, I planned to leave the house 3 hours prior my flight departure. Since I was only going to get a Grab driver to the airport, one of my worries was that there would be no available drivers during that early hours of the day. Luckily, I was able to get one, and he was already 5 minutes away from our house when the booking was made.🍀

My parents were both up that morning, ready to send me off. This was my first solo trip and understandably, they were worried. I told them about this travel exactly a week before I leave, and they actually received the news way better than I expected them to. My mom was the more worried one. My dad said as long as I feel confident that I will be able to manage travelling alone in a foreign land, then that’s all that matters. I knew I was. I did all the research that I could do months before the trip, and I knew I was ready. I have already accepted the fact that I could and would get lost along the way, but that’s part of the journey.

While prepping my luggages to be brought outside, I talked to my parents. I noticed that my voice sounded different. I didn’t sound like myself. I was tensed. This is the first time in my life that I was doing something like this. What should happen would happen. Bahala na. This was my mindset at this point.

Departure

It only took me a few minutes of car ride before arriving at the airport. The lines to the entrances were already long. Apparently it was a busy season for travel. Good thing I had three solid hours of allowance before my actual flight.🍀 The lines for the baggage counters were long already. I was somehow familiar with the airport SOPs so I knew what I needed to do.

💡 Travel Tip: Double check the flight and destination of the line you are queueing for.

I was already standing in line for a good 10 minutes when I realized I was in the wrong one. I was flying via Cebu Pacific. Although I was in the right airline, there was another line at the counters further the entrance serving passengers for other plane routes, which includes the flight to Tokyo. Upon realizing this, I went out of the line (which was bound for Vancouver apparently) and walked to the right queue. The line where I was supposed to be was not that long compared to the one I was.

As I queued in line, I was worried that I had to pay for the Travel Tax, which would mean I need to get into another queue at another counter (this happened to me during my most recent trip to Taiwan). The stress of lining up at the Travel Tax counter then going back to the check-in counter was tormenting, I could still remember the feeling. While standing in line, I checked my flight itinerary numerous times to make sure that I checked correctly and that this shouldn’t happen again (it was indicated in my receipt that the travel tax was already included when I paid for my ticket). As I approached the counter, I witnessed this exact case for some of the passengers. When it was my turn, I was able to check-in my bag without any hassle and further processing. 🍀

💡Travel Tip: If possible, pay the travel tax already upon purchase of your flight ticket. All the hassle avoided by this step are all worth it.

A good friend of mine, who was already used to travelling a lot, lent me her Pacsafe shoulder bag, which was large enough to easily access my travel essentials. This kind of bag proved to be essential during this whole trip as it made it easier and more comfortable to get things I needed while I was on the move.

💡Travel Tip: Have a small shoulder bag that will contain all your travel essentials for easier access (i.e. passport, money, ballpen, mobile phone)

That same friend also gave me some extra copies of the Philippine Immigration form so I could fill them out ahead of time. There were a number of information that need to be provided on that form so it is another step of convenience to have them already filled out when going to the airport for departure.

💡Travel Tip: Get extra copies of the Immigration form so you can fill them out prior to going to the airport.

Since it’s Spring time in Tokyo, I knew it will be cold when I land there. I planned my outfit so that I could easily transition my outfit from summer weather of 30C in Manila to 13C spring weather in Tokyo.

💡Travel Tip: Have a jacket on hand. It will make you comfortable on the plane (it can get cold) and when you arrive and get out of the airport.

After going about the other procedures at the airport, I was ready to board the plane.

The Flight to Tokyo

I was placed in an aisle seat, which was convenient for me because I knew I drank a lot of water before boarding so I was expecting to go to the lavatory a couple of times during the flight. I guess the only disadvantage of this setup was that I wasn’t able to get first glimpses of the city by the plane window. 😅 I land at Narita aiport. The whole journey to get there from Manila would take more than 4 hours.

💡Travel Tip: Have some food with you (packed or something purchased at the airport). It’s cheaper and more fulfilling. Also pack up some candies!

I always had the impression that it’s not allowed to bring in food on the plane, so I just purchased food to be served by the airline. The food that was served to me was way below my expectations. It was labeled as “Sweet Chili Chicken” but what I ate were just salty chicken nuggets. Apparently the crew forgot to serve the sauce that came with it. At this point, I was very much looking forward on what food to eat once I land in Tokyo.

💡 Travel Tip: Make all the necessary information easily accessible, like the address and contact number of your accommodation during your stay in that country.

Part of the information required in filling out the Arrival Form in Japan are the address and contact number of the residence where you will stay. Providing those of your hostel will suffice.

Landing at Narita Airport

The very first image I took in Japan.

As soon as the plane landed at Narita, I declared to myself that the dream has officially began. I have fondly referred to this trip as the nine-day dream sequence that I requested to the Universe because I knew this trip is my temporary escape from reality. It is a journey of self-reflection because for all of those days I will be alone with my thoughts.

Hello Narita airport! At this point I was humming TVXQ’s Love in the Ice to myself, one of the only Japanese songs I know by heart from them.

One memory that stuck with me at the airport was this super handsome Japanese immigration officer. His face was straight out of a Jdrama. I was originally in line for him, but one staff directed me to the next counter that was empty. Aww, it was totally a missed chance to meet him. 😆

The Narita airport arrival lobby

The schedule of my airport arrival perfectly fitted my itinerary. At around noon, I was already at the arrival lobby. The first task on my list was to get the portable wifi that I rented via KKDay. It was already in the latter phase of my planning that I realized that I wasn’t able to consider if KKDay would require a deposit for the wifi rental (just like what I experienced during my travel in Seoul). The deposit would be initally charged to your credit card and will be reimbursed when you return the device. I thought if this was also the case, I’ll have to adjust my travel budget.

Curiously, KKDay didn’t require any deposit for the wifi rental! I just showed my printed voucher and passport to the staff and she gave me the device! 🍀 Upon checking and figuring out how it works, I connected my devices to its wifi and contacted people back home that I have arrived safely.

My next task was to get the Suica card which I ordered via Klook. This is a prepaid card that I will be using for my train rides. I was very amazed at how smoothly both these transactions were completed. I highly recommend to get them when travelling to Japan!

The First Subway Ride

The next stage is one of the most challenging part, I must say. I knew I needed to store up some energy so I got a quick snack from a convenient store at the arrival lobby. I didn’t have the appetite for a heavy meal so I thought this one will do.

My very first meal in Tokyo

First time arriving at a subway terminal can be intimidating because there are a lot of signs all over the place. The important step is to filter out which of them you need so you can follow through the instructions (especially when transferring lines). Upon loading up the Suica card, I proceeded to locating the line on which I should be on to get to my hostel.

💡 Travel Tip: Download the Japan Travel app. This will make your subway experience way way easier.

Using the Japan Travel app, it said I needed to board the Keisei subway line to reach Kodemmacho station (with one train transfer). I ended up waiting on the wrong station for a few minutes before I realized I needed to be on the other boarding station. Special thanks to that kind janitor who pointed me to the right direction to the exit even without no word exchanges (I guess it was pretty obvious that I was another lost tourist). It turns out the train system is very much the same with Korea. There were specific colors associated for each train line and there were a lot of signs with arrows that direct passengers to where a specific train line is. It was a bit confusing at first but once you get the hang of it, things will be easier to follow and understand. Also, the other important factor to look is the time indicated on the app for the train arrival. There are other trains that pass by the same boarding stations (i.e. local, express) so you really need to check which specific train you need to get on board (the Japan travel app will tell you all of these info!).

The trains here were really on schedule! When looking on my phone, I actually just looked at what time it was already to check which station I was currently in. Really amazing stuff, Japan.

Checking in at the Hostel

For this trip, I stayed at APA Hotel Kodemmacho-ekimae. At least 3 subway stations are just walking distance from there. From Narita Airport Terminal 2 3, I alighted on Kodemmacho station to reach my hostel. I had to carry my suitecase up the stairs (of which later on I will discover I could have avoided doing this because there are elevators available in each station). Via Google Maps, I finally located my hostel. Yay! The timing of my arrival was just perfect. Checkin time was 3PM onwards. I reached their reception a few minutes after 3. 🍀

Within minutes of transacting, I got my room access card (I was assigned to room 305). Finally, I made it! I have arrived at my room! It was exactly as how it was pictured at Booking.com. The room was the right size for one person, although I have to say that the bed is wide enough for two people.

At this point, it was starting to really sink in that I was already in Tokyo! I turned on the TV, and guess what greeted me: it’s my all-time favorite anime Cardcaptor Sakura!

Aaah I’m so happy as an eleven-year old girl again at this moment. Seeing Cardcaptor Sakura on TV was everything. T^T

First Dine In at a Restaurant

After settling down my stuff at the hostel, my stomach was grumbling. Next up on my itinerary for the day is to go to that nearby Coco Ichibanya branch to eat dinner! I super love Japanese curry. I have already tried dining in this restaurant back in Manila but I wanted to check out if food served in Japan would have a difference.

Thanks again to Simon & Martina for giving me this idea. I have seen their coco curry video ages ago, but I guess it really just stuck with me. Before my trip, I reviewed the video again to check the proper way of ordering your curry at Coco Ichi. I ended up ordering pork curry with 200g rice, spice level 2 (which is just the exact level for me) with pork cutlet and cheese as add-ons. This meal cost me 1,003 JPY.

The photo of my curry meal isn’t loading anymore on my phone (huhu) so I’m posting here the only photo I now have of the insides of the store.

It was so delicious! Thinking about it again now, I still want to have it again. The taste of the coco curry is just how I wanted it. The spicy level is just right (still had me sweating!) and the cheese add-on was just the best. This was the best first meal ever in Tokyo!

I also just love how solo-friendly the restaurants are in Tokyo. My seat at Coco Ichi is a high table directly facing the kitchen. I could see the cooks preparing my meal. While I was waiting, around 2-3 (solo too) people also entered the restaurant.

My First Konbini Experience

I have been hearing a lot of good things about the available food options in Tokyo’s convenience stores. All of my colleagues have told me that even the microwavable food items are of top quality, so buying at one is an activity I was very looking forward to. After that hearty curry meal at Coco Ichiban, I went to Family Mart which was just a few blocks away from my hotel.

Upon entering the convenience store, I couldn’t help but notice the shelves of magazines with women on the cover. I didn’t need to think hard on what kind of magazines those were. I was just a bit culture-shocked I guess that these kinds of magazines are so out in the open.

The array of options in the store are indeed overwhelming but in a good way. Since I didn’t really understand most of the labels of the items, I just listened to my gut feeling on what each of them was. I got food that I thought looked tasty. At the counter, my bills were still in 10,000 JPY denomination, so I gave one of that to the cashier. I don’t know but I had this feeling that I should not fold the bills when paying for them, because it’s a sign of respect to them.

On my way back to my hostel, I noticed that most stores were already closed, and it’s just around 7PM. I think the night ends early at this part of town because I saw some cafes were already closed too. There were only a few people walking down the street, too. If I were in Manila, this scenery might have tensed me up. However since this is Japan, I knew I was safe. I think choosing this location for my hotel was perfect for me. It’s very relaxed and chill (literally lol it was so cold that night). I also came upon an elderly Filipino couple who I heard were arguing if they should just head home because the stores were already closed. I was not sure if they were residents or tourists though.

Anyway, here’s my Family Mart haul! 😅

I think I bought a lot for the night. n_nv
I bought this drink because fellow Japan-traveling Redditors have recommended it. They said this stuff is strong. Since it’s an alcoholic drink, I had to touch the ‘Yes’ button on the cashier screen telling them that I am over 20 years old (I thought the cashier would ask for my ID LOL). Having a drink during my first night in Tokyo gave me a chance to further self-reflect about this journey (omg can I just say I super loved that my room had a bath tub?) However, the only downside was – I had a slight headache the next day.

My favorite in this haul of goodies is the ice cream. I never knew I would enjoy mint-flavored ice cream with choco bits that much. I super enjoyed munching ice cream while watching TV also because there were lots of Kento Yamazaki content going on. I’m just so happy because he’s my most favorite Japanese actor. 😍

I bought lots of drinks, especially coffee, because I knew I would need them every morning.

I super loved this one! It’s like soft pancake on top with creamy pudding at the bottom.
This had been my dinner for one of those nights.

Good thing my room has a mini fridge, so I just stocked there the items that I wasn’t able to finish that night. For my first konbini experience, I am very very satisfied!

Interacting with the locals

Throughout my first day, I was still feeling a bit awkward saying out loud the little Japanese that I know. There were some instances I just said “Arigato” to express my gratitude. I very well know that this is not the formal way of saying thanks, so I knew I needed to change that.

So far, the most useful phrases that I got to use for this day were:
Arigato gozaimasou (thank you)
Sumimasen (excuse me)
Eigo no menyu arimasuka? (Do you have an English menu?)
Daijobou des (it’s okay)

And that concludes my first night in Tokyo! I wasn’t able to go around much because I had to settle down first. I was just glad that I did finally make it to my destination, and thus this officially starts my trip. I was amazed how relaxing my travel was. I’m beginning to have this realization that I am indeed comfortable in doing things on my own. Even though I had confusion in some parts of the trip, like navigating my way in the subway lines, I didn’t really panic that much because I knew I would learn the right way eventually. That’s one self-discovery that I had for this day.

See you on my next post as I wander around Asakusa!

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