Friday, April 17, 2015

Our Home in Japan

I was recently told a story about a family that travelled to South America and didn’t enjoy themselves. Apparently there was an issue because they felt their living quarters weren’t American enough. For myself, as I have gotten past my 20s, I think I enjoy seeing how the locals live life. When I was a teenager, and stayed with a host family in Mexico, I hated it. I felt so out of my element as I was split from other students from our group. But, everyone has a different taste as to what they want his surroundings to be. Don’t get too excited and book quickly to “get the planning over with”. Look into where you are staying by performing your due diligence.

                                   Apartment 1 Neighborhood in the daylight

Once Eric found out about Aribnb, we were on our way to the sort of stay we wanted. Unlike the scenarios described earlier, Eric and I were set to experience life in Japan as a local (or close to it). Prior to finding out we could rent a person’s apartment, we were nervous about being stuck in a 10 foot by 10 foot hotel room, with a closet as a shower. We had heard a friend’s story about his two experiences with small rooms. We also read reviews regarding hotels we had considered. Eric and I weren’t sure we wanted to take away a similar story. 

Before we had arrived in Japan both our hosts were in communication with us. Even though our trip was in October we began our correspondence in June. Through their Airbnb profiles, we knew history, hobbies, and their personal goals for travel. In turn, our hosts knew about us and our plans for Japan. We didn’t keep in constant communication, but just enough for introductions and for planning.

Part of that planning involved our first host picking us up from the airport. (Huge convenience as we arrived at a time most buses into Tokyo had stopped running) By the time we arrived in Japan, during the tail end of a typhoon, it felt as though we had all met. Obviously that wasn’t the case. This was our first meeting, but our first host was very welcoming. Soon, I will get into the difference between our first host and second host.

As we had hoped, the car ride to the apartment felt like a familiar face picking us up here at LAX. We were very tired and in no mood to deal with train lines and bus transfers. If you decide to go with Airbnb, and the host offers some sort of transportation arrangement, take it! This was even more convenient than Magical Express at Walt Disney World. We found him just passed Customs and we were ready to go.

Getting closer to the place, our host pointed out a few businesses we might want to visit during our stay. There was a pancake restaurant that he was fond of, but I’m not sure it was similar to IHOP. It was nearly 9 PM, dark, and raining outside from the typhoon so it was hard to commit these business locations to memory. Arriving at the building, our host stopped his Prius right at the front door. He even helped us take in our luggage. He had the persona of a 5 star hotel valet as he held an umbrella over us! 

We stayed on a higher floor and had to carry up our bags while trying to remain quiet for his neighbors. This was a tad tough because although we stepped lightly, we made a stomping noise as we climbed the stairwell. We echoed all over that building. During our stay, I came to suspect that he owned the entire building and he was renting all the units to people like us.

                     Washer (soap included)

The apartment was spacious and even had two beds (one was a futon). During our stay here, Eric and I were able to really spread out. The look and layout was not a surprise to us at all because this was all revealed before we booked. We knew we would find cereal, bread, butter, milk, water, juice, and a few snacks in the kitchenette. Eric and I already knew how to work the remote controlled AC because our host sent us a “How TO” YouTube video. And of course, before we entered we were very aware that we needed to remove our shoes while in the apartment. We were set! Our host thought of everything! He had city and bus maps for us and even offered to take us to DisneySea the next morning. Unfortunately for us, he wasn’t leaving the area until near 8 AM, which was too late for us (covered in a previous post).

              Balcony of Apartment 1

                                            View from Apt 1's Balcony

During our stay we had plenty of room to get ready and not bump into one another. The shower situation was slightly different than we are used to, which was fine. One stands in the center of the bathroom to shower, and the tub is used to soak AFTER showering. We knew before to not shower in the tub because as I mentioned, it is used for a CLEAN bath. I thank sources like YouTube, and the expert, Chris from , in knowing appropriate behaviors in Japan. 

We had arrived in town on a Monday night and we left this first apartment on that following Saturday. Deep inside my being, I was a little nervous about getting from Apartment 1, near Tokyo Disneyland, to Apartment 2 in Shibuya, Tokyo. Our host knocked on our door around 10 AM that Saturday morning (moving day) and asked if this was our last day. I was a bit confused by that question. We were only booked through that day. Maybe it was a nice way of saying, “So, you guys are getting the Hell outta here, right?” To leave a good impression, we washed our towels and bedding. 

Our host really was excellent! I asked him if he could verify that eric and I had our bus route to the train station correct. We would need to take 2 buses to reach the station that would then take us to Tokyo Station. He thought that was a little too involved and offered to drive us to the station himself! In case I hadn’t yet mentioned it, We Love Japan!

                                            View Outside the Station

After being dropped off we purchased our first train tickets into Tokyo. This was an exciting moment as we finally would be able to use the skills we learned online to buy the tickets. I make it sound more thrilling than it is. It’s an easy machine to us if one knows how to switch the language to English. The next step is purchasing the ticket for the correct distance. If a passenger buys a ticket for too short a distance, the turnstile won’t let the traveler exit at the destination until the difference is paid.

Taking the train into the city and seeing the skyline from our vantage point was more than exciting! As we had learned, we didn't speak into our phones and only used quiet voices. Oh! If we had a runny nose, we made sure to not blow our noses in public. The train announcements were in Japanese and English. And, there were little electronic jingles that played at each station that reminded me of The Disneyland Electrical Parade. What’s the clichéd phrase? “It was a dream come true!”

Arriving in Tokyo station, the busiest station in Japan, we saw people flying left and right! All around us the place was humming! For some reason, at 1 PM, everyone was in a hurry and it was infectious! Although we were in a slight rush, anxious to get our trip going again, we had to find the Rail Pass office. We were sent all over that station. People were sending us to Japan Rail Pass offices, but it wasn’t until about 45 minutes later that we found the correct one. After we finally obtained our Japan Rail Pass, which would gain us access to the convenient Yamanote Line and Bullet Trains, we headed for Shibuya. It took us about 15 stops on the Yamanote Line, but we finally made it to our new neighborhood.

We had to take bridges over busy streets near our second apartment(like in Vegas). This required us having to lug our suitcases up and down many stairs. Then, we had to wheel our luggage up a lengthy incline toward the apartment. This tiring act didn’t take away from the fact that we loved our second place. It was located on a very quiet street, which had a café on the corner. This building was  a five minute walk from the noisy street that housed the famous Shibuya Crossing (five way crosswalk). We were amazed that all that excitement was so near, yet this neighborhood was so peaceful.

This time we didn’t meet our host in person. Here, we had specific instructions sent to us on how to retrieve our key. The key was left for us in the mailbox and we had been given the combination. Just like our first host, he was a realtor with a few apartments for rent within Tokyo city. Soon after our arrival, he messaged us on the Airbnb app to make sure that all went smoothly.

In the unit he also had a kitchenette with snack items, along with wine on the table! That wine would come in handy, as soon as we found the glasses. The restroom here was a little more suited for Westerners. There was a tub/shower like we would see in The States. The sofa in this place also became a bed. He had a flat screen TV that we never used (like at Apartment 1). The AC here operated easily, with a click of one button. Again, like our first apartment we had a portable WIFI device for our iPhones. It appeared that Eric and I both chose the perfect places to stay. 

During our time here, the action of Shibuya was right at our doorstep. I bet we could’ve spent a few days exploring the ins and outs of Shibuya alone. We also were fortunate to be a close walk to the train station. We could jump on the Yamanote Line and get whisked away to the major meccas of Tokyo. 

Even though we never met the owner of this apartment we were tremendously satisfied with the time we spent (and money). I slept well and I never had that tossing and turning experience. The only set back that annoyed us a bit was the WIFI was weak in this apartment. Yes I know that is something to which to roll one’s eyes, but we needed it. We were on vacation, but we weren’t ready to toss away the internet for 8-10 hours at a time!

In all seriousness, I can’t recommend Airbnb enough. As I said, there is an app that can be used easily and it is free to download. Through the messaging system, users are able to get in contact with the hosts and ask questions about their listings. I don’t at all work for this company or get any sort of “kickback” from them. I just think people need to visit Japan and make it as easy as possible. If you love using the self-checkout lane at the grocery store, you will love this. And, it gives such a feeling of living there, being a local!

There is more to come in regards to our Tokyo trip, but I wanted to get this out there. Maybe I have convinced half of you to start skipping the movies, saying no to those Vegas trips, and to start eating at home. There is a world of real life whimsy waiting for you in Japan! See you all soon with more Tokyo adventures as we explore Shinjuku, Tokyo (where I was asked if I wanted a sexual massage).


No comments: