Breakfast at the hotel
I woke up before 6 a.m. local time despite falling asleep at around 1 a.m. I think my body is just used to getting less sleep in a straight run because I've been irresponsible for the past few months about that... I dawdled in bed for about an hour and a half, trying to figure out what I wanted to do before leaving Tokyo for Kyoto in the early afternoon. I was almost settled on Tokyo Joypolis on recommendation from a friend, but I was afraid there would be long lines given it was the weekend still. I settled on the Tobacco and Salt Museum since a lot of Redditors liked it, and it sounded unusual. I noticed it was very close to the Tokyo Skytree as well.
After figuring that out, I went to the hotel restaurant to get my complimentary breakfast. It was perhaps the best hotel breakfast I've ever had: there was rice, Japanese curry roux, rice porriding, a salad bar with Caesar, sesame, and olive oil dressings, various Western breakfast meats, scrambled eggs, Japanese-style omelette, breads, cold fish (salmon, mackeral I think), various soups, juices, black coffee, hot water for tea, natto, and perhaps more that I missed. I had my fair share, being mindful of not getting too much as I loved sampling everything. The one thing I had difficulty stomaching was--yup--the natto. I tried it! I finished it! But never again. My favorite things were the salad I made with a combined Casesar-and-sesame-seed dressing and the pork and vegetable soup (such an umami broth).
Exploring the airport
After breakfast, I wandered around the airport, taking advantage of being free from my luggage for a few more hours. I checked out the Observation Deck, which let me see lots of planes landed at the airport and a few taking off. I heard there was supposed to have a good view of Mt. Fuji here as well, but if I read the provided map correctly, Mt. Fuji is on the opposite side of the Observation Deck... so I didn't see it at all.
Besides that, compared to the night before, the airport was so lively, and it was neat to see their historical restaurant-and-shop area with lots of cool goods and foods displayed. I wish I could've tried one of the restaurants last night, but alas, my body probably was happy to have been spared the extra calories.
Also of note: the security line as a boarding passenger that morning was wild! I will need to ensure my partner and I have plenty of time to get through it when we leave Japan in April... Can't take advantage of TSA Precheck here.
Internet and IC Card
I next went to find the booth for my pocket wifi. While I had order one from Japan Wireless, apparently they partner with Ninja Wifi, and I had to pick my JW one from there. I was a bit worried at first since I specifically didn't want Ninja Wifi, which had a daily data cap and throttled the rest, but rest assured, the contents of my pickup were right, and I was even instructed that I couldn't drop off my pocket wifi back at the same spot because it was from a different company.
Next, I had to find an IC card dispenser. Via frantic Googling, I figured out that I could get one from a commuter ticket machine. However, I had to be sure to get the regular IC card; there is one for temporary visitors (that's prettier and) that lasts only 28 days, which is not enough for me. I figured it out, and loaded some of the money I withdrew the day before onto it.
While I had read about how IC cards worked, as I began using it throughout the day, I quickly realized it was like a souped-up version of the Washington, DC Smartrip card, and that the transit system in Japan was similar to DC in that there wasn't a flat rate for trains--instead, the rate increased by distance. The Japanese IC card is like the Smartrip card in that it is like a prepaid card that you can swipe through ticket booths to seemlessly get onto local trains and buses. What makes it way cooler than the Smartrip card is you can also use the IC card for vending machines, luggage lockers, and many retail stores.
After obtaining both items, I went back to my hotel room. I tested the pocket wifi, and I panicked a bit since I wasn't getting any signal out of it. I held on to hope, though, that maybe this was a rare pocket of space where there wasn't good signal...
A brief moment in the city of Tokyo
Once I checked out of my hotel room and lost wifi signal from their wifi, I tried connecting again to my pocket wifi. As I hoped, it worked!
Learning how to use the IC card
Using a combination of Navitime and Google Maps, I found my way to the right subway line towards Shinagawa, a major station in Tokyo where I could also take the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Because of this, I figured it was a good base for me to store my luggage and check out Tokyo for a bit. Here is where I started refamiliarizing myself with Japanese transit customs and getting used to this powerful IC card.
Learning how to use luggage lockers
When I got to Shinagawa, I found a luggage locker section. Unfortunately, as I read online, the large lockers tend to get taken quickly, and there were just a few small lockers left. Thankfully, my checked bag and second carry-on individually fit in the small lockers. I learned that I need to lock each locker one at a time at the locking machine. While the machine would print out receipts with warnings to never lose them, I learned that if you pay with an IC card, the machine just needs your card to properly identify your locker(s) and unlock them. So cool!!!
Learning how to compensate for Google Maps
Luggage settled, I used the subway to get to the Tobacco and Salt Museum. After exiting from the Honjo-Azumabashi Station (one stop from Asakusa), it took me ~10 minutes to realize I was walking in the completely wrong direction. In DC and the suburbs, and even a most of the time in New York City, I was used to the Google Maps arrow roughly pointing me in the correct direction and updating my location status in a timely way. I learned that, in Tokyo, and even in Kyoto where the buildings are much shorter and it's less condensed, Google Maps, or my GPS specifically, or both (?), lagged a lot in real-time updating and typically the arrow pointed in the opposite direction I was heading...
Learning where to walk
I read that, in general, Japanese people walk (and drive) on the left side, and stand on escalators on the left side to allow people walking on the right. However, I also read that such practices can be regional. Tokyo, and much of Kyoto so far, seems to be left-side practioners. Still, my American habits are hard to break, and I often find myself walking on the right side, even after Day 3 as I'm writing this.
I also learned that many sidewalks have lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists, and unlike in the U.S., the bicyclists (and drivers) actually yield to pedestrians!
At the Tobacco and Salt Museum
Learning how to purchase Shinkansen tickets
Off to Kyoto on the Shinkansen
My first ekiben
Checking into my home for the next month
Wandering at night
My first 2023 meal in Kyoto: Ramen
My first 2023 Japan food shopping