After 112 days living abroad in Cebu, it was finally time to make the trek back to Minneapolis. The routing for the return flights home would be similar to the outbound, Cebu up to Tokyo on Philippine Airlines, and then Delta back to Minneapolis. Since I was in Asia already, I decided that I wanted to stay a day in Tokyo before continuing home.
The reason for this was twofold. Firstly, I absolutely LOVE Tokyo. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, and I hadn’t been in a while. Secondly, by delaying a day in Tokyo I would be able to take a 747-400 from Tokyo-Seattle. Delta is retiring these planes late 2017, and though I’ve ridden on them many times before, it was hard to pass up another opportunity.
The Philippine Airlines flight was scheduled to depart at 8AM. Since we had a large group of people, all with several pieces of baggage, we made sure to arrive at the airport by 5AM. Check in was smooth, and I was able to check my three pieces of luggage without trouble. Because I was staying in Tokyo more than 24 hours, they couldn’t check my bags all the way through to Minneapolis.
If departing on an international flight from Cebu, you must pay a Terminal Fee of 750 PHP, or the equivalent in USD. The payment can only be made in cash, and if you pay in USD you only get Pesos for change. After clearing immigration, we headed to Gate 10 to wait. There is plenty of ample seating at the Gates, but very few power outlets. Unlike the domestic gates, the international gates do not have many options for food.
Boarding was a few minutes delayed, but we were able to depart on time. Philippine Airlines uses an Airbus A321 for this route. Legroom was average, but comfortable enough.
About 45 minutes after departure, the flight attendants came by with a meal service. One of the things I love about flying outside of the United States is that no matter how short the flight is, there is usually a meal service. It’s a nice flashback to the so called “golden days” of air travel. Sure, the meals aren’t anything special…but there’s usually decent enough. In this case I had a pretty tasty rice, egg, and chicken meal. With the lack of food options in the terminal, it hit the spot.
With no in-flight entertainment, I decided to grab a few hours of sleep. We landed on time at Narita and parked at a gate in Terminal 2. We quickly picked up our luggage and took the bus landside to Terminal 1, where Delta departs from. Since I was just going to be staying in Tokyo for one night, I decided to store my bags at the airport. This is a reasonable option if you don’t want to have the added hassle of luggage on the subway to your hotel. The cost was approximately $5/bag, per day. Even though my flight was leaving in less than 24 hours, since the bag was held overnight, I would be charged for two days, not the end of the world.
The fastest way into Tokyo from Narita is the Skyliner train, which takes approximately 40 minutes. It costs about 2500 JPY, which is approximately $25. For more affordable options (About $10), there are local trains which connect you to Ueno Park. However, since these trains make many stops, it can take upwards of two hours to get to Tokyo proper.
Once in Tokyo, you can get just about anywhere via subway, either on the Tokyo Subway or the JR Line. While both trains share many of the same stops and tracks, passes for one will not work on the other. I typically just pay as I go for the subway, and it’s affordable enough if you’re staying in the city. Luckily, a passerby at the airport gave me his Tokyo Subway card, with 24 hours left on it!
My friend and I wanted to keep things affordable, so we decided to stay at a Capsule hotel. I was excited to try one of these, as I hadn’t experienced them before.
Immediately upon entering we removed our shoes. On check in, we received a key for a small locker on the bottom floor of the hotel to store our shoes. Our pods were located on the 6th floor. Locker rooms, showers, and sauna were on various floors throughout the hotel.
Our hotel was located just a few minutes’ walk from Shibuya Crossing, one of my favorite destinations in Tokyo. It’s the busiest crosswalk in the world, with hundreds of people crossing every few minutes.
The highlight of Shibuya Crossing is…to cross! Its scramble design means traffic stops in all directions to allow pedestrians to move any which way. It’s definitely worth experiencing at least once. For the coffee lovers, it’s also home to one of the largest Starbucks in the world.
Getting around Tokyo can be daunting for first timers. Thankfully, Google Maps has tremendous Mass Transit directions which work very well in Tokyo. I had a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot so I was able to stay connected without too much hassle, but if you don’t, most stations have free Wi-Fi.
After Shibuya Crossing, we headed to the Tokyo SkyTree. This tower is the second tallest in the world, and offers absolutely stunning views of Tokyo. On clear days you can even see to Mount Fuji. In the base of the tower there is also a massive, 6 story shopping mall.
There are two observation floors you can pay to access. Day and night offer unique views of the city, but smog can make daytime viewing difficult. On this trip, we decided to skip the observation decks, but walked around the mall for a few hours.
After exploring the SkyTree, we headed to the Asakusa district, which is located in the northeast of Tokyo, near Ueno Park. Asakusa is home to the incredible Sensō-ji Temple and Kaminarimon Gate.
This area of Tokyo also has dozens of shops where you can buy souvenirs. Sadly, we got there a bit too late and all of the shops were closed for the evening. We decided to call it a night and headed back to the capsule hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Having never slept in a pod before, I was a little concerned about the rest I would get. But overall I slept pretty well. The mattress was firmer, which wasn’t an issue. I typically like the temperature to be cool when sleeping, but the pod got rather warm throughout the night. While there was a built in fan, it didn’t work well. I didn’t get the best sleep, but capsule hotels are definitely worth considering if you want to do Tokyo on a budget!
The next morning we headed to Ueno Park, in the northeast section of Tokyo. If arriving from Narita and taking the local train, this is likely to be your first experience in Tokyo. Ueno Park is massive, and is the most visited park in Tokyo. In the spring, hundreds of cherry trees bloom, but it’s beautiful year round. You can easily spend the whole day just walking around enjoying the natural beauty.
The park is also home to several shrines, museums, and even a zoo.
Because local trains can take up to 2 hours to reach Narita Airport from Ueno, we decided to leave Ueno Park fairly early and make the trek back to Narita. In addition, I wanted to leave enough time for us to stop at one of my favorite ramen restaurants located in Narita, which I did not get to enjoy on my outbound trip to Cebu. It did not disappoint.
We arrived back at the airport with plenty of time to pick up our baggage from storage and get checked in for our flight.
If you are transiting Tokyo en route to other Asian destinations, I highly recommend spending some time checking out this spectacular city. Scheduling an overnight layover is recommended however, as Tokyo itself is too far from Narita Airport to see in a layover less than 6-8 hours. Narita, however, is just 15 minutes and two stops away on the local train. While it does not have the tourist appeal of Tokyo, there is still plenty to see and experience if you want a taste of Japanese culture.