…actually began in Kyoto, when I went to the JR information desk and asked to book two seats for a sleeper train to Tokyo.
I was told that all the sleeper trains going to Tokyo were fully booked.
So were all sleeper buses. It hadn’t even occurred to me to make reservations in advance, and even if it was clear that I should have, I couldn’t help but feel a bit miffed – how was it possible that that there were a lot of people from Kyoto traveling to Tokyo the same night? (Yes, this is a stupid question. No need to answer, haha.)
The man behind the desk, who was very helpful and patient despite the fact that my Japanese was bad and his Engish was nonexistent, suggested we ride on the shinkansen instead as that was also covered by our JR passes. In stilted Japanese, I explained to him that a bullet train is too fast and I wanted a slow transport because we’d have nowhere to stay in Tokyo as our hotel booking was for the next day. He looked down at his terminal and typed, presumably to look for possible openings, but looked up moments later and briskly shook his head.
I thanked him and left, going back to R so we could regroup (haha). We considered going back to Ryokan Harimaya, but somehow neither of us wanted to. I forgot R’s reason, but mine was we’d already said goodbye (as dramatic as that sounds). There was also the possibility of being turned away, so we thought we should stay at the train station instead, no matter what.
Eventually we were like, f*ck it, let’s just go to Tokyo. Bahala na si Batman!
And so we left Kyoto by shinkansen at past 8:00 PM and arrived in Tokyo approximately 3 hours later.
Very peopel. Amaze. Really much. Wow
The most accurate word to describe Tokyo Station is BAM. The moment we got off the train, there were just… people. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of people even though the hour was late, all walking briskly, and there was a steady hum that came from the crowd: the combined sounds of their shoes tapping on the floor and their own voices as they chatted while walking or talked on the phone without breaking their strides. R and I had to walk across the crowd and it felt a bit like being in Amazing Race (challenge: cut through the thick Tokyo Station crowd in 5 seconds!).
Because R and I never bothered to look up our hotels on Google Maps (really, very bad idea, please don’t be stupid like we were, haha) and our very specific Agoda voucher stated that our hotel was in the area of “Ueno / Asakusa / Akihabara” (“WTF that’s 3 DIFFERENT AREAS!” I yelled at R then), R abruptly decided that we should next hop on a train to Ueno. So far, so good.
When we got to the information desk at Ueno Station and found it already closed, things started looking bleak. The entire station seemed deserted, and no wonder, because by then it was already past midnight, and it looked like we had gotten on the last train. Feeling lost and having absolutely no idea where we should go next, we walked up to the station map which we pretended to read even though it was in Japanese while we tried to look for free Wi-Fi signals. (This was the part where it occurred to us to use Google.)
After a few moments, we noticed a girl hovering by the map behind us, and we stepped aside because we thought she wanted to look at the map herself. She did, but then she turned to us and asked if we were lost. Or at least, that was what I thought she asked. I asked her in turn if she could speak in English – nope – but somehow, a conversation ensued. My sister liked to ask, “Did you speak in Japanese? What did you say? What did they say?” and I really wouldn’t be able to recall the exact words, only that it was very relieving to somehow get both points and meanings across despite the slight language barrier.
The girl was actually Chinese but spoke very good Japanese, and for some reason she seemed happy to know that we were Filipinos vacationing in Japan. After somewhat explaining that we were looking for our hotel and we didn’t know how to get there, she took out her phone to look up the hotel’s exact location for us! (This is very surprising because in the Philippines, with all the modus operandi going on, you’d be stupid to take your phone out even if it’s to help a lost person.) I remember she kept exclaiming yabai, yabai (“oh no!” / “crap!”) because her portable Wi-Fi seemed to be running out of battery.
When our hotel finally showed up on whatever app she was using, she informed us that we should take a taxi because it was very far from where we currently are. R and I shook our heads; taxi was expensive! She explained that there were no more trains nor buses because of the hour. She didn’t really give us time to think about it as she practically dragged us out of the station to the taxi stand. She conversed in Japanese with the driver at the start of the line, showed him our hotel address which the driver promptly typed up on his GPS before putting our luggage in the trunk. It became evident why the girl seemed to be in a hurry when her phone rang. I caught bits of the conversation: Hai hai, gomen ne… Firipinjin… tasukete… which I took to mean as “Sorry, I’m helping some Filipinos”.
Then she turned to go. I asked for her name so I can thank her properly, but she just said no, no, it’s okay and promptly left before we could thank her at all.
Mr. Taxi, taxi, taxi
The taxi ride was very nice, comfortable… and expensive. R and I watched the meter like a hawk, feeling our hearts in our throats the more the rate went up as we drove along. We didn’t encounter any traffic. It seemed like we were headed into a quiet neighborhood. I thought of Tokyo as a city that was open 24/7; it evidently wasn’t the case wherever our hotel was.
We eventually reached the hotel – according to the GPS – but neither we nor the driver could see where it was. I don’t know exactly how Tokyo’s street numbering system works, but it is confusing as heck. We went forwards and backwards the street before R finally spotted the hotel sign. No wonder we couldn’t really see it – the entire hotel looked closed, including the sign. We got off, anyway, the driver getting off as well to bring our luggage down. As R and I stared up at the dark facade, I heard the driver ask us, daijoubu desu ka? (Will you be alright?)
I answered with a tremulous hai, and he left us with quivering knees and a bill of around 1700 yen.
R and I decided to walk around the neighborhood to hopefully find another place we can check in for the night. The sound of our luggage wheels rattling against the concrete made us cringe, but we plowed on, walking around one block before going back to our hotel entrance. We saw more hotels during our short walk, but all of them seemed to be closed for the night as well. We half-heartedly accepted the possibility of us staying outside for maybe 4, 5, 6 hours (who knew?), but as a last resort, I opted to use roaming to call L, a friend of mine who then lived in Chiba.
While I was talking to L, a Japanese guy arrived, gave us an amused look and said, in English (!!!), “What are you guys doing here?”
Since I was still on the phone, I left R on his own to converse with the guy. Apparently he was a guest in the hotel, and each guest had a key to the main door as well as their rooms. He couldn’t really help us with anything since he can’t really let us in on his own…
…when the lights in the house across the street suddenly turned on, and out stepped a sleepy-looking man. We definitely thought we’d woken up a neighbor, but he turned out to be someone better: he was part of the hotel staff! We apologized for the bother, but he said it was just as well because we were guests after all – albeit stupid ones who arrived a night early. (He didn’t say that last part, haha.) As it turned out, our room was already ready, so we could book it for the night (even though it was around 2:00 AM by then) if we wanted to.
We ended up paying extra, of course, but we didn’t really care. Warm futons, here we come!
The kindness of these strangers have made such an impression on me that I’m still able to recall and write the experiences even after more than a year of our trip to Japan. Thank you, Ate Chinese, for helping us look for our hotel and for showing the taxi driver the way. Thank you, Kuya English, for talking to us so loudly that we managed to wake up the hotel staff across the street. Thank you, Kuya Hotel, for accommodating us in the middle of the night.
We were just on our 5th day in Japan then and so far, it hasn’t failed to be good to us. 🙂
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misadventures (and information, of course)!