Taiwan to Tokyo

After almost two weeks of travel we are home. Well, our second home. From our room on the 22nd floor of the Shinjuku Prince Hotel I can see the blinking red lights of tall towers, including the Tokyo Skytree and the old Tokyo Tower, the flashing rainbow of the neon decorated pachinko parlours of Kabuchiko and the massive clear television screens of the Labi electronics shops. Only, it is a little darker now as big lights are switched off early to save power and some buildings demolished and not yet replaced. The clackety-clack of trains to and from busy Shinjuku Station sound from the western side of the hotel. The room may be tiny, but everything has its place, as it has since we first stayed in 2005.

I woke at 4 am and we were down at the Taoyuan Novotel’s lobby by 5, ready to catch our taxi to the nearby airport. The hotel had provided breakfast bags of fruit, croissants and juice for us to take along. Taoyuan Airport was quiet, mostly shut and the queue to check in was short. We walked straight to immigration, past the Hello Kitty themed Eva Air kiosks.

There was another Hello Kitty play area as we walked to our gate, with a small slide. Unlike Sydney, the airport had a number of spaces devoted to things other than shopping, like a library, aboriginal display, orchids and even paper umbrellas.

At the gate lounge I noticed that it was my friend Barry again parked outside. To be fair, Scoot doesn’t possess many aircraft, but I do find Barry to be rather clingy.

We piled onboard into the same seats as on our flight to Singapore. The Eastern European captain warned that the airport was experiencing congestion and we would be delayed. We taxied past a wide variety aircraft types belonging to Taiwan’s Eva Air. A couple were even decorated with Hello Kitty liveries. No wonder there was a delay as the taxi route took us right on to the main runway before looping around to face the opposite direction.

With a flight time of about two and a half hours mostly over sea and clouds there wasn’t much to say about the majority of the flight. I still found Scoot’s seats uncomfortable and the journey felt like it took longer than the actual longer flight to Taiwan with Malaysia Airlines. I’m still not impressed by Scoot.

All of us slept for part of the journey. Fortunately, I awoke just as we were approaching Japan and in time to catch a view of Mount Fuji rising snowclad above the clouds. The were glimpses of the Izu islands too, and plenty of ships plying the waters.

S-t-r-e-t-c-h seats, so don’t be fooled.

One of the crew members demanded I switch of my camera during descent, the first time that’s happened in years. The shoreline looked so flat and with the waves rolling in it was too easy to recall the tsunami of just over two years ago. The many rectangles of paddy fields were unfilled and unplanted, giving the landscape a brown appearance. In between the paddies and the hills of bamboo forest were so many golf courses.

Down with Narita Airport says a holdout farmer

Once we had disembarked an automated yellow shuttle train took us to the main terminal, where we exited as quickly as possible. Rather than activate our Japan Rail Passes I bought a Narita Express (N’EX) ticket plus Suica smart card to get around. Smart cards are so convenient!

The journey on the red, black and white N’EX to Shinjuku station is a long, but relaxing one. We used it as an opportunity to locate a Ito-Yokado local department store along the way, and to admire the huge Tokyo Skytree tower. The sky was blue and the weather unseasonably warm. The cherry blossoms were opening early, which was good in some ways, but I was hoping to show Alex snow in Central Japan on this trip.

The path to the hotel was oh so familiar that we walked it virtually on autopilot. Up in our room we all fell asleep in the double bed. It was a most delicious feeling, lying there listening to music, gazing out the big window high above the cityscape and gently drifting off.

Our stomachs all woke up hungry, so we crossed the road to Sakura Sushi, a longtime friend of ours. Their sushi train includes grilled fish sushi as well as sashimi and it all tastes so much better than the stale shopping centre sushi we are all to familiar with in Australia. Even Alex seemed happy.

After that we walked up to the big Takashimaya Times Square, home of the department store, along with Tokyu Hands and other shops. Alex was happy to catch a lift up to the kids section, which also houses a Disney Store. There we purchased tickets for Tokyo Disneyland for a couple of days’ time. Alex spent a long time playing with a wooden railway set and other toys. So did many other young kids!

I only found a single CD soundtrack to buy in Tower Records, itself a record for me. By the time we emerged we were hungry again. The station area yielded no reasonably priced eateries that interested us, but we found ourselves in the Subnade underground maze of shops which leads to our hotel. There we dined at an old favourite Tonkatsu Wako. As their name suggests, they serve tonkatsu, or crumbed pork. They also had a kids set which included drinks and a toy, along with unlimited refills of miso soup, shredded cabbage and rice. It was wonderful to eat some simple food which included fresh vegetables.

Our hotel complex includes a number of shops in the Seibu PePe section, such as Uniqlo, Muji and, most useful of all, a 100 Yen shop. Everything costs (including local sales tax and current exchange rates) just over  A$1. And most importantly of all they sell grapefruit Gokuri juice, my favourite since 2003, though it means my quest to find it is now too easy. They also sell cheap toys. It was wonderful tonight to see Alex building a spaceship out of the 42 piece Lego-like blocks we bought for a dollar.

He’s been stroppy and homesick at times, and at others dancing around being a pedestrian hazard with a big smile on his face and flirting with the ladies. Hopefully he’ll enjoy some of the activities we have planned for him on this part of the trip and others that will appear out of nowhere.

Right now it’s just great to be here.


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