OK, so this was a fairly long day by most people’s standards, mainly because by most people’s standards it was actually two days, however there was no bed involved in the middle, and therefore in my mind it was just one very, very long day.
It began at home in Milton Keynes, but not very much of it was spent there as we were out of the house before daylight on our way down to Heathrow. As is normally the case with early starts, we stopped on the way out of town to grab a takeaway coffee.
We were early enough that the traffic on the M1 and M25 was tolerable, and we were into the car park at Heathrow in under 90 minutes from home. I now see that as a very reasonable amount of time. It used to take a lot less than that but nowadays it’s quite rare in my experience.
We were bound for Heathrow Terminal 5, the home of most BA flights from the airport. We had a direct flight into Tokyo’s older but now somewhat jazzed-up airport of Haneda on one of Mr Boeing’s very finest 777 aircraft. The flight promised to be mindlessly tedious though, in the way that 13 hour overnight flights are. It was only lunchtime, but it’s one of those flights that crosses a sufficiently large number of time zones that you can’t really figure out what time (or even what day) it is until the day you come home again.
While we were flying eastwards in daylight we managed to eat our way through some lunch and take a couple of not-too-bad photos of bits of northern Europe drifting by beneath us. I quite like the one of the Gulf of Riga that I’ve included here. Unfortunately, I also decided that a good way for me to get some sleep on the plane would be to drink a lot. It didn’t work. All that happened was that I got a monster hangover while we were only halfway across Russia and it took me until lunchtime to get rid of it.
So in the middle of probably the worst bit of my hangover we landed at Haneda at what was, for Japan, quite early in the morning – before-the-start-of-work kind of early. It was a first experience of Japan for us both, and I’m not sure either of us was really sure what to expect. I guess we sort of expected, in true stereotypical fashion, that getting through the airport would be smooth and ruthlessly efficient. It was. Or at least, it was until we missed a sign and descended a staircase into the wrong bit of the bus station, which meant we had to climb back up and down again to cross a road.
Haneda is serviced by a really rather excellent idea of a bus which runs directly to a group of large hotels in the Shinjuku area, which is where we were staying. We bought our tickets and got directed to the correct bus stop by a nice lady in the arrivals hall, and then queued up for all of 10 mins before our “Limousine Bus” arrived. The bus itself didn’t have any luxury features that might make you think it was a limousine, but after brief stops at each terminal building it then proceeded directly through the Tokyo morning traffic to Shinjuku Station, a bus terminal, and a handful of nearby hotels (of which ours was the final stop). It took about an hour, I guess, but it was brainless and easy and not very expensive.
Our hotel was expecting us to arrive, which is always handy, but wasn’t expecting us to arrive quite so early. It was only 9am after all. Our booked room wouldn’t be available until 3pm, but they said if we didn’t mind upgrading our room (to a category where they’d got some available ones) then they could let us have a room at 10:30 (ish). We decided to go for it, partly because “holiday rules apply” and partly because we had other things to get done during the day, some of which required rearrangement of the content of the bags we were carrying. This left us with just over an hour to kill and a need for some breakfast, so we made our first (of many) visits to the Starbucks over the road. They had a familiar selection of coffee based beverages and some quite unfamiliar looking cakes and pastries. The chocolate chip scones were nice.
While we were in there we noticed a few other Europeans who were obviously there for the same reason that Kas was, and we took the opportunity to ask one couple how easy it was to get to the expo site. We needed to go there to get Kas’s number and she wanted to do it on the Friday so that we could have a full day of tourist activity on Saturday. It turned out to be quite easy from a logical perspective (one metro and one overground) but a little time consuming.
That’s all by-the-by though. First of all we had to go check into our hotel room. Our room was of the “superior” category, whatever that means, and was on the 19th floor, about halfway up, and had a nice view out in the general direction of where the marathon would be starting. All very nice apart from the push-back wood-and-paper screen thing that separated the sleeping area from the bathroom. It was possible to push the screen back whilst in the sleeping area such that you could see someone in the shower or bath (but probably not someone on the toilet). Weird. But enough of that. The room was big enough, clean, warm and had comfortable looking beds which we were both looking forward to trying out later in the day.
Before that we had the adventure of getting to the expo site in front of us. This involved getting the Toei Ōedo Line from Tochōmae to Shiodome and then the Yurikamome on to Kokusai-tenjijō-seimon. The only annoying part really was the fact that you had to buy a separate ticket as the two lines are operated by different companies. The Yurikamome is quite entertaining, as it’s an above ground line that’s essentially rubber-tyred vehicles running on concrete guideways. It’s driverless too and it goes over the fairly large and impressive Rainbow Bridge.
The expo was at the Tokyo Big Sight and it was fairly busy by the time we arrived. Unlike some other marathon expos Kas has been to, this one had most of the gory parts happening in a closed area that couldn’t be accessed by non-runners. I’m not really one for browsing round such things anyway, so while Kas had a good old expoing session I went out for a bit of a walk and a few geocaches. Well, Japan was a new country for me both in physical and geocaching terms, and Kas was kind enough to give me a good two hours of free time in an area that had quite a few caches nearby. The walk around here was also my first experience of being out on the street, I guess. This area was all perfectly easy to understand from the perspective of a European with no knowledge of Kanji (nor of Hirigana and Katakana). Everything is written in multiple languages on all the road signs, much like they are in Singapore, including some very Latin looking script. Anyway, I had my GPS, so at least I’d always know where I was even if I didn’t know where I was going.
My walk took me down onto what I think it as artificial island with a ferry terminal on the end. Well, I know it was an artificial island. I’m speculating about the ferry terminal part. Natural islands don’t have shorelines that are perfectly straight. Anyway, I digress. The walk down this part was not really one of Tokyo’s tourist highlights, but it did yield a handful of caches in quick order in a location that was fairly free of other people. By this time also the sun had come out and I was wondering why I was wearing quite so many clothes.
Once I’d finished the ferry terminal I walked down the artificial island that has the Tokyo Big Sight on it. There were a handful more down the side of this one, although a couple of them seemed to be missing.
This took me up to my assigned meeting time with the boss, and we duly met up and made our way back to the hotel via the par-two train system again. By the time we got back it was very nearly dark, which means we’d been out of bed for about 30 hours, but we still needed to sort out some dinner for the evening. We got all showered and cleaned up and went for a look at the various hotel restaurants, assuming that they’d be horrendously over-priced, which they duly were. This lead us to take a stroll up the street and discover an interesting feature of the Shinjuku area, namely that there’s a layout of streets at the top that cars and buses go on, and then there’s a layout of underground tunnels, subways and shopping malls (with restaurants) that are completely hidden from street. We walked into one random shopping mall and were greeted by a number of different restaurants offering a variety of different cuisines and all at somewhat lower prices than the hotel. They gave us reassurance that we’d be able to eat reasonably well throughout this trip without getting fleeced.
We chose a Thai restaurant and treated ourselves to a one-course quick meal, which was very nice indeed, before retiring to the hotel for a large quantity of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Before that we managed to raise the energy to take a few photos of lit-up skyscrapers out of the hotel window.
By the time we made it to bed we’d probably not seen a bed for 32-33 hours. I call that a long day. But definitely only one day.