Having been to Tokyo twice before, I thought of skipping the city on my September 2017 Western Japan trip. But in the end, I included it in my itinerary because I was arriving at Haneda Airport (羽田空港 HND) at night. It is much nearer to Central Tokyo than the other Tokyo airport, Narita Airport (成田空港 NRT) and I wanted to take advantage of that. Arriving at night also meant that I should spend the night near Haneda Airport. Curious to know where I stayed and how I made the most of my first night in Tokyo?
Singapore -> Tokyo via Bangkok
This was the first time I flew with Thai Airways to Tokyo. The fare was cheap at S$380+ and I didn’t mind the 4-hour layover at Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in Bangkok, Thailand. I was told that there would be lots of shopping and food options to keep me occupied at the airport.
As usual, I made a last-minute check on the seats availability when doing the online check-in for my flight. Lucky me, I could secure window seats with an empty seat beside me and there were on the left side of the plane (away from the sun) as well.
Tip : Check the direction of the sun when choosing seats for day flights if you are sitting at the windows. You can also find out about the aircraft seat arrangement and the seat reviews here.
My flight landed at 9pm Japan time and I was tired, not from the long flight but from keeping late nights finalizing my travel itinerary the past month. Clearing immigration at the airport was a breeze but I was given a physical body check at the customs! I was taken completely by surprise. Nobody else was checked! The officer asked me the usual questions like where I was from, how long was I staying, where was I going, etc. But when he found out that I was traveling alone, he signalled a female colleague to come over to give me a pat-down! WTH! In what way did I look suspicious anyway?!?
Other than that embarrassing incident, everything else went smoothly (thankfully). It took me about 40 minutes (from the time my plane landed) to exit the International Terminal. Next, I had to take the airport shuttle from the International Terminal to Terminal 1 to catch the free hotel shuttle at 10.10pm (bus schedule). Then it was another 10 minutes to reach the hotel. It would have taken longer had I not booked a hotel near the airport.
Tip : When navigating the airport or train stations in Japan, it helps to always ask for directions to save time. Whether they are able to speak English or not, the Japanese are always helpful.
Hotel JAL City Haneda Tokyo
I chose to stay at Hotel JAL City Haneda Tokyo for its free hotel shuttle from the airport and the affordable rate. The hotel shuttle also serves Hotel JAL City Haneda Tokyo West Wing in case there are no more vacancy in the main building.
This hotel is ideal if you have early flights out of Haneda Airport as their breakfast hours start at 4am and end at 10am. You don’t have to miss breakfast even if you need to check out early. They were also prompt in responding to my requests and questions (via my agoda booking). I’m definitely bookmarking it.
From my room’s window, I could see the main road and there was a Sukiya right across the hotel. Oh boy, I was so happy when I saw food! It was late and I was hungry. Meals on the plane was ok but the food was long digested and gone.
Sukiya and Matsuya are like the Yoshinoya in Singapore but better. They have more choices of serving sizes, greater variety and serve breakfast as well. And they are way cheaper! My Gyudon (beef bowl) with 3 Cheeses cost only JPY 490.
Ask for their English menu and ring the bell on the table when you are ready to order. You will be given a bill when your food is served. Bring the bill to the cashier to pay when you have finished eating. Typically, this is how you order and pay for your food in Japan. Elsewhere, you could be ordering directly with the staff, on a form or from a screen.
Perhaps the most challenging way of ordering food in Japan is getting a meal ticket from a vending machine that has neither English menu/instructions nor pictures. In these instances, I would check out the food options from photos posted by reviewers on Google map and then ask for help with the ordering. To use a vending machine, you need to insert money first before selecting your food choices. Then hand over your meal ticket to the food counter unless it’s indicated otherwise.
Checking out the Neighborhood
After I had satisfied my hunger, I explored the neighborhood hoping to find a Lawson conbini (24-hr convenience store). I needed to collect my ticket for Satsuki and May’s House (from the movie “My Neighbor Totoro”) which I had booked online. The best way to find one is to follow the crowd. With so many conbini (also referred to as konbini or combini) in the cities, you are sure to find one within minutes. Very quickly, I found a Lawson, got my ticket and bought a cream puff and my favorite alcoholic drink. (Not that I needed help with sleeping…)
Age verification for purchase of alcohol and tobacco image source
Tip : When paying for an alcoholic drink at a conbini, you will need to declare that you are above 20 years old (Japan’s legal drinking age) by tapping on the touchscreen that is linked to the cash register. The prompt will appear on the screen when the drink’s bar code is scanned. If you look underaged, you may be asked to produce proof. Always have your passport handy.
It was almost midnight but there were still people walking outside the conbini. Curious, I walked further up the street to check out and found the train station that I would be using the next day! So near to the hotel! 👍
On my way back to the hotel, I stumbled on yet another great find – a Yamato Transport office just opposite the hotel. I didn’t notice this when I explored the hotel’s neighborhood on the Google map as it’s labelled in Japanese. Would be checking it out first thing in the morning.
A Productive First Night
When I finally went to bed that night, I felt rather accomplished. I thought to myself what a great start I had on my first night and prayed that the next day would be even better 🙂