Let me tell you about my first week in Japan (日本). I have finally arrived for the fourth time of my lifetime so far. And quite a lot was different this time. For the first time, I flew with Japan Airlines instead of my usual European airline. Also, my girlfriend was with me.
Flying with Japan Airlines was a lovely experience. We sat in the left row and had it all to ourselves. That’s the advantage that you have over other airlines: If you travel with exactly one other person, you do not have to sit next to a stranger, guaranteed.
It was also my first time to land in Tokyo’s (東京) Narita Airport (成田空港) instead of Haneda (羽田空港). I was a little disappointed as I really like Haneda and its closer proximity to downtown Tokyo. But since JAL only directly flies to Narita, I had no choice.
Fastest immigration ever?
Getting our luggage was a breeze, way faster than before. Generally, everything was faster. Immigration was over quickly, even though I had a long-term visa where I had to have a residence card created and such. Customs were a 30-second chat with the staff member and that was it.
Before departing for Ikebukuro, I made my first purchase of this time’s Japan trip, a bottle of water! Exciting, I know. After arriving at Ikebukuro and having experienced the loveliness of Japanese staff already, we headed to our first dinner. Shabu Shabu/Sukiyaki (しゃぶしゃぶ/すき焼き) was on the menu and I loved every second of it.
Feasting on some fine pork and beef as well as having my first two beers in Japan, it was finally time to head to the comfort of a bed. Let me tell you, traveling for around 24 hours with a huge time zone difference does things to you. I actually managed to fall asleep in the evening, perfect to get used to the Japanese time. However, in the morning I felt just as tired as before because in my head it was still the middle of the night in Germany. Jetlag is a dangerous trap. It took about 3 or 4 days until I just about settled in.
What to do and eat first?
That’s always the biggest question I ask myself when I arrive in Japan. There’s a long list of things that I want to eat, buy and enjoy. But where to begin? Correct, the convenience store (コンビニ, konbini). Always a solid first step. Grab myself a Famichiki (FamilyMart’s signature fried chicken, be careful not to get addicted), an egg salad sandwich and after that try not to spend all my pocket money right from the get-go.
After unsuccessfully trying to not break the bank on the first konbini visit, we just wandered around aimlessly and had fun that way.
Setting life up in Japan
As my girlfriend just herself finished her Working Holiday Visa in Germany, we had to get some documents for her in her home town in Saitama. And because we forgot one, we had to go again the next day. But we had donuts!
Then we signed up for a SIM card to get ourselves some mobile internet. With all the documents ready, it was finally time to get my address written on the back of my residence card. Thinking it would just be a quick visit, we ended up spending almost 3 hours (!!) at that place. The reason: dealing with Japan’s national pension system turned out to be more work than anticipated. Also, for some reason I had to enter the national insurance plan even though I already have my own insurance in Germany.
I thoroughly researched on this topic and everywhere I found it said if I have my own insurance, I do not have to enter the Japanese one. Even on the homepage of the Japanese embassy in Germany it says you only need one of both. But the staff at the municipal office would not have it. I had to enter. Now I pay a monthly sum for an insurance I do not need. Amazing.
I guess bureaucracy sucks in any country and Japan is not an exception. But luckily, we got that over with.
That’s sadly not the only bad experience I’ve had in my first week in Japan. It’s not directly related to Japan though. In my fourth night here, one of my teeth randomly started to hurt like hell. Figuring it would go away by itself, it only became worse. And that’s how I ended up at a Japanese dentist not even a week into my one-year stay. Epic. I have now been twice and have been told that I will probably need at least 3 more appointments. Wonderful.
But now back to the good stuff!
Enjoying some of the favorites
To get back to good spirits, I spent a fun day in the Kichijoji (吉祥寺) district in Tokyo’s western outskirts. Many of you may have heard from this area as the famous Ghibli Museum is located here. I also wrote an article about its Inokashira Park which is so far easily my favorite park in Japan.
We had lunch at an amazingly picturesque restaurant near the entrance to the park. Originally, we planned on having our beloved tomato Ramen (ラーメン) here, but we found out that it had closed down. We made sure to find a substitute though! I’ll include some pictures of my experiences below.
The next day of my first week in Japan we went to popular Harajuku (原宿). Even during the week, Takeshita street was just blasted with people. Be prepared for hordes of people on the main streets. We managed to get to another tomato Ramen place and it was delicious. Harajuku is a paradise for shoppers so we spent quite a while looking around many different shops.
To top everything off, we had crepe at one of the many stands spread throughout Harajuku. Always a treat. Visiting Yoyogi Park (代々木公園) is a must when coming here to shake off some of that Tokyo rush.
After relaxing for a bit, we made our way towards Rikugien Garden near Komagome Station (駒込駅) (near Ueno (上野), on the Yamanote Line). The garden had a special illumination going on which was very beautiful to look at. With the lake in the middle, the lights reflected gracefully.
Takeaway on my first week in Japan
Overall, it was an awesome first week in Japan and it feels great to finally be back after almost 2 years. Even with some drawbacks, it was made up by the sheer amount of fun you can have in Japan. The best feeling: I get to stay here for a whole year. I am still very much at the beginning of a long adventure and the realization that I don’t have to leave for a while is amazing.
It’s fundamentally different than the trips before. Much more relaxing. For my next week, I headed back over to my favorite town (so far) town of Japan, Kyoto (京都). We just came back and spent 4 beautiful nights there. More on that trip in my next article!
That’s it for my first post from Japan, I hope you enjoyed it!
It’s cool to write this kind of articles next to my travel guides. As I experience more stuff in my life here, I’ll be sure to report it to you!
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Stay tuned for the next one where I’ll dive into my recent Kyoto/Kobe (神戸) trip and give you useful tips as well!
See you there!