Japan: Day 1/Night 1: An uneventful start / by Vipin Kumar

Francis and I met up at Narita airport around 5.30-ish.

Forex and SIM card woes:

We try to exchange NZD/INR to JPY but the Forex counters there didn’t support either of the currencies. Instead got pointed to an ATM. We also tried finding a local SIM card outlet but weren’t successful. The next item on agenda was to get the JR pass (Japan Railway pass) by showing the EO.
The plan was to travel to Takayama overnight and save on a night’s accommodation. However, the lady at the ticket counter gave us options to either Nagoya or Toyama but not for Takayama. Some context - At any point if you're confused which trains or connections to take, feel free to just walk into one of the ticketing offices and let them know your destination. They give you a travel itinerary on a short piece of paper (like a credit card receipt), highlighting the times in English and the connections. Due to the language barrier we couldn’t really get what she was saying but realized that Takayama wasn’t an option. We chose to go to Toyama as going through Nagoya would’ve meant crossing Kyoto and I didn’t want to cross the city we were coming back to anyway later. 
We got the tickets for all the trains we’d to catch that night at the Narita airport itself and proceeded to the airport transfer to Tokyo station. From Tokyo station we had to catch a Shinkansen to Toyama. All the while we’re using public wifi spots trying to find out if Toyama was a big enough city/town for us to get a SIM card and exchange/withdraw JPY. We had no money on us, had only plastic (which if you’ve done your research will know isn’t prevalent across Japan, esp outside the cities), no SIM so no internet. Our journey had begun with no money, no food, no water and we were getting on a 1.5 hour Shinkansen. Using the public wifi at Tokyo station we’d consoled ourselves by looking up Toyama and realizing it’s a city.

Surprise #1 

This is where Japan surprised me first. I realized with Toyama, and in the subsequent days, that almost every stop on the Shinkansen belt is developed. You don’t walk into a ghost town or a place where people look at tourists with surprise. You walk into an organized city/town in most of the cases. In my limited travel knowledge + being from India, you don’t expect stops in the middle of two major cities to have all the facilities. This is the reason we were looking up Toyama to understand if we’ll be able to get cash and a SIM card. And I was SURPRISED. 

Shinkansen (bullet train):

Let me talk about the Shinkansen as well. Two things definitely happen as soon as you board a bullet train (Shinkansen). First, the locals open whatever food takeaways they have AS SOON AS soon as they’re seated. Second, the Shinkansen leaves before the minute, printed on the ticket, is over.  So you can imagine two travel worn indian boys, with no cash and hungry and there’s an explosion of food smell in the bullet train.
Luckily, there was a in-train food service which accepted cards. So we bought some green tea cakes and water. The Shinkansen is one of the most convenient modes of travel in my experience. It’s better than flights coz there’s no security check to delay you and the station isn’t far away from the city. The leg room is insane (pic below) and the aisle is pretty wide as well. There are loo’s, smoking zones (in some) and you hit speeds of 297kmph (fastest I recorded on an app).


The bullet train actually ran 20 mins late. Having heard that the bullet trains never run late, we came to the conclusion that delays run in any country and Japan+Shinkansen weren’t any different. Only after we got down did we realize the reason for the delay. The wind was pretty strong with light showers. There might’ve been a storm close by. Then we got reminded of the lady at the ticket counter at Narita airport and her sign language. We realized that Takayama wasn’t possible because there might be a storm warning (especially since Takayama was the base of the mountain range). 
With the station public wifi, we quickly found a budget Ryokan for approx. 4k JPY/person/night and took a cab. The wind was so strong, the cab was shaking when we stopped at the airport. Went to a nearby 7-eleven (marveled at how anime adult comics were right beside the snacks section), withdrew money (7-eleven's have ATMs that accept international cards), bites and beer for dinner and we crashed. Had an early morning train to Takayama.