Previously, I shared how we planned our trip to Japan. In the Internet age, you can find information at the tip of your fingers on just about anything. As Japan is one of the most popular countries for tourism, glowing reviews are practically everywhere on every travel corner. It will leave an impression on readers, and they unconsciously will have an expectation of the country. I am no different from any other tourist when it comes to expectation. As for Japan, all I could think about were beautiful pictures of Japan that I found all over the Internet. But is Japan actually like that? Is it really what the Internet says it is? Well, time to find out!
Touched Down At Narita Airport
Let’s start this on a high note: welcome to Japan! After months of planning, my dream of travelling to Japan had finally come true. We departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Malaysia Airlines in the evening. The flight to Tokyo took seven hours, but don’t let those long flight hours fool you. Japan is only an hour ahead of Malaysia! I know, it was rather mind-blowing when I learnt about it. Such a short time difference for long hours of flight.
After having some dinner and a quick nap, we finally touched down at Narita International Airport. I often thought that culture shock shouldn’t be a big thing since I researched a lot about Japan. I was wrong. The moment I took a step into the train to get to Shinjuku, I realised some things were just not what the Internet pictures showed. As I navigated more around Japan upon arrival, the shock was much more evident.
Expectation: Japanese Are Polite And Disciplined
Of all the expectations, the idea of expecting the Japanese to be polite and disciplined is a bit… off-putting, to say the least. However, there are many YouTube videos and travel articles praising the Japanese for their polite attitude and discipline. So much so that I became a bit sceptical because it led me to question whether these articles and videos might have been exaggerated. So, I couldn’t help but looked out for more evidence when we got off the plane.
After getting off the plane, we took an escalator up to the immigration hall. For the first time, I witnessed the Japanese practising escalator etiquette. Escalator etiquette is a rule that people should stand on one side of the escalator to allow those in a hurry to walk past on the other side. Japan, or Tokyo specifically, practises the British system of Left Hand Traffic, which is a similar practice in Malaysia. However, this etiquette is practised differently depending on the region. For example, in Osaka, people practise Right Hand Traffic instead. Though escalator etiquette isn’t exactly a new thing, not many people practise it and most prefer standing on both sides. So seeing the Japanese practise it casually was a new sight. Oh, and the immigration officer made us feel welcome. So, that was nice!
Meeting Our Tour Guide
After we cleared immigration, we met our Malaysian tour guide at the arrival hall. He most likely had flown to Japan first before us. Narita Airport looked very nice but there were bare areas because it was under construction. We collected our luggage and my dad went to buy some drinks for us. Because it was summer, the airport was full of international tourists. Most of them appeared to be from China, based on the characters on their tourist guide’s signboard. My dad returned with water bottles and our tour guide helped us find our way to the hotel.
Expectation: Silence In Trains All The Way
Based on our itinerary, we were supposed to take a bus to Shinjuku. But our tour guide suggested train instead, which was more convenient. When reading several travel articles about Japan, I remembered the important rule about not making noise in public transport. Especially in trains. It was in my expectation that the trains would be extremely quiet. Or just silent in general.
Honestly, I underestimated how quiet the train ride would be. The train from Narita Airport to Shinjuku was quiet because there were not many people there. When we dropped off at a station in Shinjuku, we went to another station to take a local train to the hotel after dinner. Despite already being late at night, the train was packed and the travel articles weren’t exaggerating how quiet it could be. No matter how packed the train was, people would always remain quiet. It was so quiet that it became awkward for me to even ask my dad anything, in fear of disrupting the atmosphere. If you’re a talkative person, then it’ll most likely be a struggle.
What’s For Dinner? Soba!
Whilst at Shinjuku, we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It was simple noodle shop that sells udon and soba noodles. Now, my siblings and I tend to be picky eaters, but the trip was wearing us out. At that point, we would eat anything as long as it fills our empty stomachs. The noodle shop was small and it had a giant bowl at the front. Ah, if only I had enough energy to take note of its name.
All of us had soba with soup. It was plain, simple, and delicious. Either it was really good… or we were just really hungry. Nonetheless, it was a good dinner. And it gave us enough strength to continue our journey to the hotel.
Expectation: Navigating The Train System Is Difficult
I had this expectation since the planning. Whilst doing transportation planning, I was overwhelmed with the many train lines. Immediately, my expectation of the train system was difficult, especially in Tokyo because it has so many. It is made worse as we don’t speak Japanese and I bet the signs are in Japanese. Yeah, I would say the train system didn’t give me a positive impression, to say the least.
In reality, the train system wasn’t really that bad. In terms of language, Japan has included English translation for station names under Japanese characters. It made it easier for tourists like us to know which station to go to. Though the train system is still, in my opinion, complicated. But with translated signs, it did ease things up. Since we travelled with our tour guide, we left most of the communication to him. If you planned to travel alone though, I’d recommend using Google Translate for help, especially with the camera feature. Too bad I didn’t know about this beforehand. The trip would’ve been more fun.
Final Expectation: Sakura Hotel Hatagaya!
For relatively cheaper hotels, the rooms tend to be on the smaller side. Last I checked, Sakura Hotel Hatagaya had 3.8 stars on Google reviews. Though it was close to a four-star hotel, I couldn’t help but not have high expectations of it. The building looks simple and plain. Nothing too fancy. But then again, hotels in Japan, especially in Tokyo, are expensive. If we were to stay at four- to five-star hotel, we could’ve been broke that day. Nevertheless, I tried to keep an open mind about it.
The hotel’s façade wasn’t really impressive. It’s exactly like the picture I saw. Plain and simple. Again, nothing fancy at all. That changed when we entered the reception area. It was small, just only a few steps away from the front door. Because we arrived at night, the reception looked so warm and welcoming. And there was a small café right next to it. The rooms weren’t that bad either. Though it was small, it was clean and comfortable.
I mentioned previously that a prayer space is a must for a hotel. As Muslims are required to pray five times a day, they need a space to perform their prayer. Prayer space is not necessarily limited to mosque or house, it can be anywhere except the graveyard and washroom. Of course, there are requirements to pass before Muslims can use it as a praying area. Contrary to what I believed, there are actually various hotels around Tokyo that caters to Muslims’ needs. We specifically chose Sakura Hotel Hatagaya for our stay in Tokyo as the price suits our budget. Not to mention it has enough prayer space, which was great. Yeah, definitely beyond my expectation.
Additional Expectation: Anime Is Everywhere
I admit, this was the expectation I’ve been holding on to from the very beginning. I’ve been obsessed with anime and manga since my early teens. Up till now, to be honest. With Japan being the birthplace of manga and anime, I was looking forward to see them there. In hindsight, that thought was rather naïve as manga and anime are in Japanese, and I don’t speak the language. So, that was a realisation that came too late. But then again, I didn’t buy any manga and anime, except for a Haikyū!! merchandise folder.
When I arrived to Japan, pictures of anime wasn’t that prominent as the Internet made it out to be. It is possible that it exists somewhere, but I didn’t see much at the airport or Shinjuku. Granted, I was tired from the trip, so my attention span wasn’t that good. Thinking back, it is possible that anime is more prominent in other places, or it has its own merch store. Maybe. Needless to say, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to fangirl over some of my favourite anime. Maybe I’ll see it somewhere else. Who knows?
The Next Step…
Now that we arrived in Japan… so what’s the next step? We will be staying in Tokyo for four days, so anything can happen. What would those trips be? Will it be fun? Chaotic? Disappointing? Well, you’ll see everything of my first day in Tokyo in the next episode. So, stay tuned!
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