Because It’s My First Time… in Japan

I felt secure and fell in love with the country. In 2019, I finally visited Japan. It was an unplanned trip that began when my cousin randomly checked air flight tickets on a travel website. Suddenly, she shared a picture of cheap airfare from a well-known airline.

“7 million rupiahs for return tickets Jakarta – Japan – Jakarta” — What crossed my mind at that moment was, “Let’s go!” It was around October or November, and after some back-and-forth on dates, we decided to spend our New Year’s in Japan. The primary reason for traveling during the high season was to have a different New Year’s Eve experience, considering we were budget-conscious travelers. In my sensible years, I never traveled during the high season. Even domestically, my golden budget travel tips were to book well in advance and avoid peak seasons. However, this time, we threw caution to the wind. We only had two months before December, and that was considered the high season.

In our preparation, after going back and forth on hotels and destinations, I had to abandon some ambitious plans because we only had seven days for the trip. Originally, we planned for three destinations: Tokyo, Osaka, and Hakone. However, since the travel time between Osaka and Tokyo was a whole night, I decided to let go of Osaka, allowing us to enjoy Tokyo and Hakone more. Goodbye Hogwarts, and hello Disney Sea.

The day arrived, and we took an early morning flight with Cathay Pacific. For me, an early flight meant a night of delayed sleep because I couldn’t sleep at all the night before. So, before taking off from Soekarno – Hatta, I had already fallen asleep on the plane. Upon reaching Hong Kong for a 3-hour transit, we felt somewhat refreshed (after a good sleep :p) and, after another good sleep and not-so-good in-flight food, we looked for food. Thank goodness we had our credit card because our cash was just too good to be spent at the airport.

After another round of sleep and watching a movie (another 4 hours of flight), we landed in Narita, Japan. It was night, and we felt a bit jet-lagged after the long flight. I got nervous as we needed to reach the Klook counter to get our sim card before it closed at 22:00, and we landed at 20:30. The sim card was crucial as it was our only guide in this adventure.

My anxiety increased when we reached the immigration gate, and only one counter was open to service about 200 people. I told my cousin, “I am afraid we can’t get to the Klook counter on time. If we can’t get there before 22:00, we’re doomed.” Fortunately, we got through immigration at 21:30, and we were saved. The Klook representative was still there, and we got our sim card.

One thing to note when choosing a sim card over a wifi router is that Japan sim cards don’t work in any brand of Android phones. If you only have one phone (and it is Android), it’s better to check the website to see if your phone can be used in Japan. Luckily, I have an iPhone, so I relied on my iPhone with my Japan ‘Docomo’ sim card. My Xiaomi phone (I just found out) couldn’t be used at all, not even for wifi. So, my Xiaomi was only for the camera. Oh, you can work with tethering the Android phone from your iPhone, but that’s just so impractical.

My solo travel to Europe had given me a lot of confidence to travel without a travel bureau. I felt freedom. When I connected to the internet and Google Maps, I thought the rest of the travel would be fine. I was so wrong. First landing on Japanese soil and getting my connection to Google Maps, we needed to get our Suica card. I love this Suica card. It’s an IC card that makes life easier; it can be used as payment for trains, buses, and convenience stores. Essentially, it’s like e-money here but on a whole other level. Suica is a brand name. There are many other IC cards besides Suica, but I chose Suica because that’s what most travel bloggers use.

I won’t say it went smoothly to get to our hotel from the airport, no sir! First, we needed to take the sky train (Shinkansen-ish but not as expensive as them), and it only took us to downtown. From there, we needed to travel with JR (subway/MRT/Metro) to get to the hotel. This is where we got confused. To get on the JR train, we needed that Suica card. But first, we needed to get out from the sky train platform to the JR train platform. We didn’t know that. I thought changing platforms meant just getting out and getting in since we had already paid such an expensive price for the sky train.

So, I used my sky train ticket to get out from the platform and enter another platform. Actually, the gate did not allow me, but I trespassed it. That’s when the station officer called me, even though I was already on another platform. My cousin just laughed seeing what I did. The train station officer caught me in the act. Luckily, he knew we had just landed, forgave us, let us go, and told us to get a Suica first. But it was a bit of a loop. We asked the train station officer, he told us to go to the counter, we asked the counter, they said they don’t sell cards, only top up, so they directed us to a machine. The machine they pointed out turned out to only be for topping up, not for new Suica cards. So, we asked people again, and it went like that. Gosh, I think we spent almost an hour just to get a Suica card.

Yeah, we finally got the card (after long, confusing conversations with the other train station officer who was younger) and understood English a bit better. Yeay! It was another Paris moment. We went round and round just to get to the hotel. But we did reach our hotel, and before we could scream and jump that finally, we were in Japan, we had already given up and fallen into bed to sleep.

Disney Sea, Tokyo Tower and New Year’s

If you’re a fan of theme parks, Japan is the place to go (in case a trip to the US is not in your budget). They boast Disneyland and Universal Studios. Their Disneyland surpasses the size of Euro Disneyland in Paris, where I’ve also been (not very humble of me, sorry). In Japan, you can choose between Disneyland – the land of fairy tales, princes, and princesses – or a bit more adventure, meaning Disney Sea. Since my cousin and I have moved past the princess phase and don’t relish competing with babies, we opted for Disney Sea. :p

So, behold, we had fun with numerous queues (though the queue itself wasn’t the enjoyable part). We anticipated long lines, as we went on the last day of 2019 – December 31st. Every time we wanted to try a ride, we had to wait in line, and the queue could take almost 1.5 hours for a 5-minute ride. What an adventure, right? Despite tired feet and freezing weather, we were happy. I think that was the best day of our trip.

Okay, maybe I made too early a conclusion about the best day part. After Disney Sea, around 18:00, we headed home. I didn’t want to leave, but we only had a day pass, and people with after 6 tickets were already waiting at the gate. They were literally sitting in the parking lot, patiently waiting. That evening, the wind wasn’t pleasant at all – freezing and windy. But they all sat there, waiting patiently. Yes, they had prepared well to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Disney. I don’t know, but someday I will experience it too.

In short, we spent our New Year’s Eve in front of a shrine. We followed the crowd, and the crowd led us there, a shrine whose name I forgot. We were drawn to it because we saw Japanese monks preparing for a ceremony according to Shinto practices. They were all wearing robes with attractive colors. Seriously, they were beautiful robes. My cousin and I just stood there, waiting for midnight.

We watched them chant prayers, and when the clock finally struck midnight, the monks rang the big bells. Happy New Year! The crowd cheered, wishing each other a happy new year – friends, partners, couples with them, or those they called on the phone.

Happy New Year 2020! And there we were, among strangers, just the two of us. We had finally made our dream come true – celebrating New Year in Japan. However, that fact also struck me. Although we made our dream come true, personally, I felt lonely and missed home.

Shibuya, Kimono and Mount Fuji

One of the things I was most looking forward to on our trip to Japan was experiencing Shibuya Crossroads, Mount Fuji, and wearing a kimono. Hmm, okay, that’s three :).

Finally, we reached Shibuya. What surprised me was that it’s essentially just a large intersection, albeit a significant one. What makes it interesting is that when the pedestrian green light turns on, all pedestrians cross in all directions simultaneously, like a swarm of ants. That’s why Shibuya is famous. Many tourists were attempting to capture photos with the bustling crossing people in the background.

Shibuya crossroads at night time

When you’re in Japan, it feels almost essential to give yourself the chance to try on a kimono, at least in my point of view. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to do just that.

Despite having a fever and seriously catching a cold (with symptoms like fever, cough, and a runny nose), I didn’t spend much time outdoors. However, I still managed to make it to the Meiji Shrine and capture some pictures in a kimono.

somewhere with Tokyo Skytree as backround

One thing is for sure, Mount Fuji is breathtakingly beautiful. I didn’t mind the long journey to get there; it was absolutely worth it.

To reach Mount Fuji, we had to go to Hakone. We took the JR (Japan Railways) to a station whose name I’ve forgotten, and from there we boarded the shinkansen, or bullet train. Shinkansen tickets are not cheap, costing around 5000 yen for a single trip. Although we couldn’t reach Gotemba, it was okay because that day, we had the privilege of witnessing Hakone Ekiden.

It was an awesome experience, and I must say, ‘Wow!’ The people of Hakone came out to the streets, filling the sides to cheer on the Ekiden participants. Despite road closures due to the event, we were quite fortunate to witness it.

In Hakone, there is Owakudani, known for its black boiled eggs. It is believed that eating one egg adds seven years to your life. Well, I indulged in three eggs… hahaha. I guess I not only added 21 years but also increased my cholesterol level beyond the safe line. Hahaha…

My first Snow and Snow fall

Being a typical tropical creature, when visiting a four-season country, the desire to see snow is quite cliché, I know. But there’s this longing to taste it, feel it, and that’s why we planned our trip in January. I just wanted to make a snow angel in that fluffy white snow.

For our next adventure in Japan, we sought out a place with snow since Tokyo doesn’t experience snowfall, despite the cold. We headed to GALA Yuzawa Ski Area to find the snow. Once again, we had to use the Shinkansen for the round trip because it’s quite a distance from Tokyo.

Even though I still had my fever, the excitement overcame me. My cousin and I simply enjoyed our time with the snow and the falling flakes. It still feels surreal when I think about it now, but it happened – my first encounter with snow.

Another Visit

My 7-day trip to Japan felt more like a brief introduction than a full exploration. Japan, with its undeniable cold weather and higher living costs, still captivated me with its convenience, friendly people, delicious food, and unique ambiance. Despite the limited time, the experience left me longing for more.

I find myself curious about experiencing summer in Japan, particularly enjoying a fireworks festival in a Yukata. It sounds like a magical adventure waiting to unfold. I make a promise to myself that someday, somehow, I will return to Japan for a more extended visit.