Field Report: Tōkyō, Japan (15 February 2014)

15Feb14 Keisei Nippori Station Tokyo Japan 003

Not much to report for the last few hours of my winter journey across Japan, but I’m not one to leave a day undocumented.

I had plans for my last day in Japan. A walk around the Marunouchi district, perhaps with a brief stopover at the lovely Mitsubishi Ichigōkan Museum. A last-minute manga shopping raid at Akihabara, with all available volumes of Tonari no Seki-kun as my primary target. Might even have time for a nice farewell-to-my-beloved-Japan-for-now lunch at a nice place somewhere.

Save all that for a future trip, mate – because the weather is being just a tiny bit uncooperative.

Ever tried walking through a raging blizzard to a convenience store for a breakfast food run, with stinging snow flying into your eyes and covering every exposed surface on your body? Ever tried doing the same thing, in reverse, as you try to make your way back to the hotel with the spoils of your raid clutched tightly in your gloved hand?

Well, this is all I’ve got to show for it: a wakame onigiri and a plate of omurice. Dig in.

15Feb14 Musubi Omurice Tokyo Japan 001

The next few hours were a bit of a struggle (to put it VERY mildly). Having just been outside, I knew that the walking route to Tōkyō Station was well nigh impassable, with every square inch of pavement buried under snow or – worse – flooded with inches of dirty rainwater. After consulting with reception, it became clear that even a taxi ride would not be advisable (given the high demand under these trying conditions), so I had no alternative but to bundle up, walk out the door and hope for the best.

By the time I reached the station, my shoes were sopping wet, and my socks were soaked all the way through with meltwater. To make matters worse, train services were being delayed or cancelled right and left, with the Narita Express (my usual ride to the airport) also badly affected. I still had several hours to spare, so I calmly walked around trying to gather information from JR employees and customer service desks, and also watching the human drama unfolding all around.

Or lack thereof.

On the one hand, train delays are a very serious matter around here. By default, the railways run bang on time, so doubtless a lot of people structured their travel plans and appointments around specific train arrivals and departures. Even a few minutes’ delay can send a tightly balanced schedule crashing down like a house of cards, which is why things like train delay certificates are a part of life in this corner of the world.

On the other hand, the discipline that the Japanese are known for was also very much in evidence. What I saw were orderly queues for ticket rebookings, silent groups huddled together for warmth with eyes glued onto the electronic notice boards overhead, people patiently asking questions at information counters – and railway staff apologetically answering back as best they could.

More often than not, the best features of a person come to the fore in the worst of times. I saw that today almost everywhere I looked, and came away quite favourably impressed.

But for all that, I still had a flight to catch. Let’s go.

A JR employee confirmed to me that Narita Express services were suspended, and it wasn’t known with certainty when they’d start running again. Struck with a flash of inspiration, I asked if the Sōbu Line Rapid Service (some trains of which serve Narita Airport) was still running, and he replied in the affirmative.

Good. We’re making progress.

I also made enquiries at the tourist information office, where I received yet another suggestion: take the Yamanote Line to Nippori Station, from where I can hop onto the Keisei Skyliner to Narita Airport. The advantages were clear – the Skyliner is a fast, direct express service; trains are designed for passengers travelling with luggage (and I had quite a bit of that); the ride is likely to be more comfortable than on the simpler, slower trains of the Sōbu Line. The disadvantage, though, is that my JR Pass wouldn’t cover the Skyliner as it belonged to a non-JR company.

In the end, the thought of me cramping into a crowded train with limited baggage space for a long ride to Narita tipped the scales in favour of the Skyliner, additional fees notwithstanding.

From Tōkyō Station, I travelled to Nippori Station and crossed over from the JR area to the Keisei section, where I purchased a ticket for the next available Skyliner.

15Feb14 Keisei Nippori Station Tokyo Japan 002

15Feb14 Keisei Nippori Station Tokyo Japan 003

15Feb14 Keisei Nippori Station Tokyo Japan 004

Never mind everything I’d gone through that morning – I was still feeling rather excited. Despite having been to Japan several times before, this was going to be my first time on the Skyliner, the fastest train between central Tōkyō and Narita Airport. (Note that depending on which part of Tōkyō you’re going to, the slightly slower Narita Express may in fact be the better choice – as is usually the case for me given the districts I prefer to stay in.) As a railway enthusiast, trying out a new train is always a time for celebration, and no mere snowstorm was going to take that away from me.

Here she comes now.

15Feb14 Keisei Skyliner Nippori Station Tokyo Japan 005

And we’re off.

15Feb14 Keisei Skyliner Tokyo Japan 006

I arrived in Narita with hours to spare, so I simply wandered around looking for stuff to buy, gawking at the Hina Matsuri display, and enjoying a curry lunch.

15Feb14 Hina Matsuri Narita Airport Tokyo Japan 007

15Feb14 Curry Rice Narita Airport Tokyo Japan 008

15Feb14 Curry Rice Narita Airport Tokyo Japan 009

Then came my flight, which will be the subject of a separate report.

And that, my friends, is that. Not exactly the best conclusion to an amazing half-month wintertime sojourn across one of my favourite countries in the world, but even this less-than-ideal day had its good moments, and I can happily sign off on this trip with a big gold star and look forward to my next time there.

Next up – a flight report for my homeward journey, followed by an effort to tackle my massive blogging backlog which includes a trip to Seoul, a couple of days in Taiwan, a family holiday to Japan (yes, I did go back pretty soon didn’t I), all soon to be overtaken by yet another trip to Seoul which is due to start less than four days from now.

But for the moment, thanks for reading and see you again soon. Cheerio.

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