It was light outside when I woke up. It was definitely not supposed to be bright like that when I was waking up. I had a plane to catch and it was an early flight. Why was the sun up already. I cursed a lot in my head while I searched for my phone to check the time. It was 8:40 and my flight left for Tokyo at 7:30. I had missed it. Apparently the festivities I participated in the night before had made me forget to set the alarm. I packed everything and ran down stairs to take a shower where I continued to curse to myself. I was at a loss for what to do but I figured it made sense to call the airlines. I did that the minute I got back to the room. Well, not quite, I spent at least a half hour trying to find a later flight and then the number for the airline. I reached someone and told them I missed my flight and needed to get on another one. They were happy to oblige for a fee but they were booked solid. So I could go and wait around an airport all day and hope some other schmoe failed to make his/her flight or I could decide to travel the next day. Except I had a few issues. First set of issues, I had no room in Osaka for the night and I had a room in Tokyo that I would be paying for even if I didn’t use it. Next issue, I had things booked for that evening in Tokyo that was a set time. I also had a set time for the Studio Ghibli museum the next day. I was pretty much going to be throwing money away by not being in Tokyo that day. I thought about standby but not knowing if I would make it or not and also not having anywhere to go besides the airport sounded terrible. I had to find another option and I wanted to find it fast.
My salvation came in the form of the Shinkansen, a.k.a. the bullet train.this seems like a good time want to break down the upside and downsides of taking the train.
Con: I bought the airline ticket already.
Pro: I would have had to pay baggage on the plane but not on the train. This was a bone of contention for me because I had clicked the button saying I wanted to pay for one checked bag when I booked but for some odd reason the only flight that it applied to was the last one. I had to pay for bags on the flight in and it looked like I would have to pay on the flight to Tokyo.
Con: The plane flight is faster.
Pro: Once you factor traveling to the airport, being there early, and then traveling from the airport to my hostel (over an hour), it pretty much evens out. In fact, it probably is quicker to take the train.
Con: I wasted money on the flight. The ticket for the train was twice what I paid for the plane ticket.
Pro: The Shinkansen has lots of leg room and I did not feel cramped despite being given a middle seat.
Pro: I could get 3 hours of sleep on the train.
Pro: I was taking the bullet train.
I lugged my already decently heavy bag to the JR line, which is notable considering I still had 4.5 days left in Japan, and then took that to the station where I could catch the Shinkansen to Tokyo. I had him tell me exactly where to go and I headed to the train; half walking and half jogging. I boarded the correct car, lifted my, kind of heavy and definitely too big, luggage up and put it in the overhead space. About a 5th of it hung over the side and I hoped it did not fall and kill me while I rode along. Once I sat down and put my music on, sleep took over and my worries floated away. 3 hours later I was in Tokyo Station.
My directions to my hostel gave 3 different ways to get to them. I could got to Ueno station and walk, I could go to Iriya station and walk a tiny bit, or I could go to Uguisudani station and walk. Their site recommends that first time Tokyo visitors go to Iriya station and I had plotted out how to get their from the airport but I had no idea how to do it from Tokyo Station. I was having trouble figuring out what platform went where and my head jumbled the advice and I found myself convinced I needed Ueno station. When I got there I realized my paper really did not tell me how to get to the hostel from the Ueno station. I did however screenshot a map from my iPad that showed getting from the airport via Ueno and the other two. So I used that map but what a non live map tells you is to walk about 15 minutes to your destination and then the map showed streets with no names. this was a common theme to finding places in Tokyo. It was a lot of “walk such and such meters and turn right and at so many more meters turn left”. Then I sat there puzzling over which exit to leave from and I compared my map to the wall map and I made a guess and hoped I was right. I walked and nothing was matching exactly but I kept walking fearing that I would not find the place and that I was going the wrong way. I figured if I was walking for a while without any sign I would flag down a taxi. I can be stubborn sometimes and despite seeing taxis I just kept walking and this time it paid off. I found Iriya station and I had the directions from there to the hostel. Those directions included pictures so I oriented myself at the subway entrances until my view matched the picture view. The directions helped me navigate myself towards the street with the exception of one hiccup of a pictured building being under construction and not looking like the picture at all.
I checked in and had them help me figure out how to get to the robot restaurant. Then I took my stuff up on the escalator dropped it off and headed out. I was headed for the Uguisadani station to catch a JR train to the side of town I needed. I spent several minutes trying to figure out how to buy the right priced ticket and that meant I had to locate a train line map. Luckily I had picked up all brochures I saw when I was in Ueno station because there was no English on this map. Once I figured out where I needed to go I worked on figuring out which ticket to buy. I wanted to have multiple uses so I wouldn’t have to spend 15 minutes figuring out what ticket to buy to come home. That was when I saw multiple trips and I selected that one. The price was higher then Osaka had been but I thought maybe it’s because I am in Tokyo. So I paid what it requested and then I got 10 tickets for the train. I had goofed up. wanted a day pass and had instead got 10 very specific single use passes. I was irritated but I at least could go and come back without having to deal with tickets. I thought that I could use them all week and tried to feel good about it. I got on and there were only two trains that used this station so selecting the right one was finally easy. Unfortunately that was one of the last times the path was clear for me that day.
I had spent so much time trying to figure out how to get to the side of town where the Robot Restaurant is I managed to not figure out how to go there from the train station. Feeling like it would all work out I started walking in a direction. I was heading toward Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building because it seemed familiar. I, for the life of me, could not figure out why until I was safely back in Shenzhen. I had done some research of things to do and see in Tokyo but had left it in Shenzhen. On the list I had written down this building because it is tall and has a FREE observation levels about 243 m up. It would be a great view of the city and I had planned to do it on the day I came to Shinjuku for the Robot Restaurant. Unfortunately I could not remember that and I had yet to leave the massive underground complex so I did not see this building. I like to think that if I had seen it my brain would have remembered the image I had seen online. I will never know because I finally got a map in English that said I needed to turn around. So I did and I found the place. Well, not right away, first I would go the wrong way. You see the map directions said “go straight 400m then turn right and go 350m”. Once again the directions were vague and I could not get one that updated as I walked. I spent at least an hour wandering the wrong sides of Shinjuku before I managed to get my brain to decipher here I was to have the map make sense.
When I finally did make it to The Robot Restaurant I was in for a shock. There was bright lights and people standing in the middle of the street. The people, more specifically, the men that were standing around were trying to get clients for the massages, soaplands and other racy businesses around the area. You see, The Robot Restaurant, the place I was headed, is right smack in the red light district. I did not see that until I looked at the reviews later. I was wondering about the show I was about to see and the various sites, Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor among them, that had recommended the place. I had glossed over the whole red light aspect when I hurriedly booked something that was sure to be one of a kind. I was in no mood to be hassled after the day I had but I was a white male unaccompanied in this area and I had no chance. I was surrounded by guys with little catalogs with the strange Japanese version of explicit photos. Blurred faces and lower areas were not enough to conceal what the intent of the places they were selling were, and if you were confused the guys would help explain the point for you. The phrase “whatever you want” was said frequently as I tried to Jedi mind trick my way past them “This is not the White Guy you are looking for”. Unfortunately my Jedi mind control is not as strong as I would like it to be. It was unfortunate because even after escaping into the relative safety of the Robot Restaurant ticket area I would have to face them again. You see I had spent so much time wandering I had missed my time and would have to kill another hour in the area.
I think normally I would have been up to of killing time. I might have been ecstatic about the prospect of exploring Shinjuku but I had a hard day and I was afraid that if I wandered too far I would get lost again. So I stuck around pretty close, circling back every few moments. It occurred to me that I was starving so I went into a place that served sushi and the hawker outside assured me there would be an English menu. I sat down and was presented with the English menu and no matter where I looked there was no tuna, salmon, scallop, octopus, or eel topped sushi. The waitress noticed my confusion and presented a little info brochure explaining that they serve meat sushi. So I looked again at the menu and saw that it did in fact feature things like roast beef and chicken. It also happened to offer basashi, known in English as horse meat sushi. This was unexpected and I was fairly certain it would be raw and although I consider myself to be an adventurous eater I was not mentally ready to try raw horse meat. I think, had this come on a day where I was not exhausted and irritable I would have watched long enough to try it. Instead I settled on what I knew would be cooked the roast beef and then I added the avocado sushi to the order. I ate my food and thought about getting something else and even thought about trying to wait to see what the dude next toi me ordered but in the end I was nervous about being late. So I headed out and then promptly forgot about it until I began writing this adventure down. I was moments away from talking myself into eating horse. Looking back on it I am sad that I didn’t just as I am sure some of you reading this are glad I didn’t.
It seemed like an eternity before the show started. I returned to the ticket counter and stood in line to get the actual ticket that they had not been able to give me before. Then we headed back out, through the guys who were selling a different kind of flesh. We went down a road and into a building From there we took an elevator to a waiting room where a band in robot costumes played music and a half robot girl came out and belted out some tunes. I was impressed but I had no idea what would be coming next. It was a show that I didn’t expect and have no clear idea how to describe without saying it was like a live action episode of Power Rangers. The show was music, dayglow paint, cute girls, mechanized platforms, lighting effects, explosions, swords, guns and craziness. The halftime show even featured a holiday theme for all of us Westerners. It was an evil Santa that was being pummeled by his overworked reindeer. Somehow that fight ended up with me getting a free basket of popcorn. Shortly after that the chain fence they put up for the battle came in handy when a lost sword came hurtling at me and was stopped at the last second by the chain as I looked dumbly right at it. I took a gajiliion pictures and I will let them explain the show.
The minute the show was over I hopped the train home and I ended the day at the sushi restaurant near my hostel that was cheap and featured the fish I had been expecting earlier.