A week of April in Tokyo

Last year, I had not had the chance to visit Japan, or Tokyo, for that matter. For a few years running, I think I had the chance to make an “annual pilgrimage” to Tokyo, one of the cities that never fails to lighten up my heart when I think of visiting. I wouldn’t go so far as to proclaim as it “my home”, because my home rightly will always be Singapore, with its warts and all, good and bad. It is where I will feel most comfortable in and where my loved ones are. But Tokyo, as a place to visit and holiday in, remains at the top. Perhaps until such day when I have a chance to live and work there for a prolonged period of time that will either change this view for better or for worse…

I booked myself on an early morning flight to Haneda, and before getting onto the plane, since I don’t get complimentary access to the lounge anymore (sigh), I made a short pit-stop at Coffee Bean for a tea latte before boarding.

Coffee Bean’s tea lattes are my favourite drink from them, despite that they tend to be fairly sweet due to the vanilla/chocolate powder being used, but somehow I always find them to be quite enjoyable. Maybe it’s the sweet tooth in me speaking up.  While waiting to board the flight, and on this weekday morning to Haneda, it seemed that the flight would not be a full one, judging by the sparse crowd in the waiting area. Indeed, it wasn’t full and there was quite a bit of space available. But it’s an old plane that SQ is using, a 777-200, so the KRIS World system isn’t the new version and can be a bit wonky at times, with a tiny screen that provides a low quality of movies that you watch. Nevertheless, at least there is inflight entertainment to tide me through the 6-hour flight.

When I got to Haneda, I decided to take the Airport Limousine Bus, but which also meant I had a long wait for the bus to depart. I wandered around the airport, which was not much in terms of shops that I could mill around, and also because I was lazy to wheel my luggage around. Even with a 4-wheeler, it still requires some effort particularly because the airport has those metal studs to facilitate the visually-impaired in getting to the lights and escalators, which impeded the smooth movement of the wheels. Got these from 7-11, a small cup of mixed beans salad and a red bean-flavoured Kit Kat! I love the convenience stores of Japan (only Taiwan follows close behind) and what they have. If only we get these here too. The convenience stores in Singapore aren’t really that ‘convenient’ at all, and often times, the prices are just exhorbitant.   On the ride to the hotel, which is just a 45 or 50-minute ride from Haneda. That’s the good part about flying in/out through Haneda, which is located much closer to the city as compared to Narita. However, if you are going by Narita, the NEX makes the transit shorter, less than an hour, but for lazy people like me who want the convenience of the Airport Limousine in terms of porterage for your luggage, then Haneda makes a good choice.  I reached the hotel in the evening and had a relatively quick and smooth check-in to the hotel, Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, my usual go-to hotel in Tokyo, which is located just opposite Takashimaya Shinjuku and boasts competitive pricing, especially if you are staying multiple nights and book early. The rooms are small but they are generally clean and well-maintained, and for the most part I find it to be sufficient for me. I have stayed in their double rooms before once, and other times, always booked the ‘Bright Single Room’. As you can see, there really isn’t much space for you to move around, especially if you have more than one piece of luggage, but with some maneuvering, it shouldn’t be too tough. I laid the luggage facing up on a rack the whole period when I was there and managed fine, but just needed to be a bit careful in not knocking into it in those middle-of-the-night bathroom visits.    That’s it for now, shall update more when I can. 🙂

Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, Tokyo

Ok so I am back from the land of the rising sun, and thought I’d start off talking about whatever I have to talk about my trip with the hotel that I stayed at this time, but I’ll probably replicate the photos on the “Hotel Diaries” page too since I have been procrastinating since a long time ago to update that.

Sometimes when I go on holidays I tend to pamper myself (a lot) by treating myself to luxury accommodation. Of course, I am not talking about those really exclusive luxurious hotels that will clean my bank account out dry, but we’re talking about supposedly 5-star chain hotels that I have perhaps had the chance to stay at one of their residences on business travels and love the hospitality. Like last December, I booked my stay at the Tokyo Hilton; it isn’t the best in terms of luxury but for the price that I paid (which most would consider pretty extravagant already for a personal trip), I think it’s good enough.

On this trip, since it was considerably long at 7 nights, I needed to economise and I wanted to be located in a more convenient place. Hilton is in Shinjuku, but it is a rather long walk from the JR Shinjuku station (at least 10 minutes) and I think this time I didn’t want to have to walk so much. Last January when I went to Tokyo, under my friend’s recommendation I had booked a twin room (23.1 square metres with two 121-cm single beds) at Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku. It was a value-for-money place that is just a few minutes’ walk from Takashimaya Times Square and JR Shinjuku, plus the rooms were generally clean with good service.

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Of course, I chose a smaller room that is also cheaper to suit my needs. By small, it is just 15.7 square metres, with a 140-cm double bed. The option I picked was called “Bright Single Room” that came with a glass window in the bathroom for added sunlight. Well, I don’t know why you would need added sunlight in the bathroom that has its own light, and when I’m in the bath, I would of course draw the room curtains so it defeats the whole purpose of that window. Incidentally, the bathroom door is also mostly glass so this is definitely a single room.

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The bed was snug and comfortable, because as much as I felt cold in the room even with the temperature set pretty high (around 26-27), when I got under the duvet I felt cosy and warm. The pillows weren’t too hard or soft, same goes for the mattress but that could also be because I don’t have particularly high standards where bedding or pillows are concerned. I was pretty satisfied with the room I had, despite it being really small. There is a flask that you could use to boil water for green tea and also an empty bar fridge for you to stock up with whatever you get from the nearby Family Mart, or even Takashimaya Food Hall. Strawberries were in season so I bought some punnets to enjoy during my stay!20130423-091719.jpg

Since the Japanese yen is relatively weaker now as compared to December when I went, the amount I paid for the room was also, in my opinion, good (approximately S$130 per night). Perhaps the only drawback for this hotel is that if you are arriving from, say Singapore, early in the morning, you aren’t allowed to check-in until the official time of 2:00pm, and check-out is at 11:00am. They have this promotion now where you can sign-up at no charge for the hotel membership that would get you late check-out till 1:00pm, and subsequently there are also discounts on room rates. Oh, and if you are departing late from Tokyo, there may not be direct airport transfers available. In my January trip last year, as I was departing from Haneda close to midnight there wasn’t anymore Airport Limousine Bus service plying at an appropriate time, so I had to go JR Shinjuku West Exit (where the Airport Limousine counters and main bus stop are). With luggage, it takes probably about 10 minutes to walk there. This time, I was leaving Narita at about 9:00pm and also there wasn’t a bus leaving at a suitable time so I took the Narita Express instead. It is possible to walk to JR Shinjuku from the station without need to go up/down any stairs in about 10 minutes from the hotel, so this was a pretty good option. Narita Express takes 80 minutes whereas the bus could take up to 2 hours, depending on the traffic. 20130423-091730.jpg

Best of all, there is a Starbucks nearby that I like to visit because it is alongside thoroughfare of commuters. Only downer is that it is almost always crowded so it can be tough to get a seat, even before 9:00am in the morning!

Perhaps in my future trips to Tokyo, I would still consider staying at Sunroute Shinjuku because it is so convenient and I’m quite happy with what I got on both occasions.