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Archive for February 21st, 2012

Welcome! (いらっしぁいませ !)

Last time I blogged I spoke in general about my trip to Tokyo in December, and now it’s time (well past time, really – I should pick up the pace!) to share a bit more detail about it. I’ll start with how I got there for day one – I didn’t leave my hotel on that first night once I got to it, because the process of reaching it was arduous enough.

I used Priceline to book my flight (Thanks, Shatner!) and flew out of Atlanta, Georgia’s Hartsfield International Airport. It’s the world’s busiest airport – not really as a destination, but as a hub for transfers between flights. It’s really a city unto itself, complete with its own subway-style train system, but I’ve flown out of it often enough to be quite familiar with it now. I was very determined not to miss my flight, so I decided to beat rush hour traffic by heading there around 4 AM. I ended up lounging at the gate for over two hours before takeoff, but it beats being late.

I only checked one suitcase for my flight – and it had another, smaller suitcase inside it and not much else. All of my essentials were in my carry-on bag and my pocketbook, just in case the others didn’t make it. Obviously, I intended to leave Tokyo with much more than I brought into it. It’s also just easier to keep things light when you’re alone, of course. Trying to drag three heavy suitcases through a crowded airport is not exactly a good time.

My first flight was only from Atlanta to Chicago O’Hare airport, and was pretty unremarkable. The flight from Chicago to Tokyo was much more interesting, in many ways. First off, the plane was enormous. It was an American Airlines Boeing 777. (My grandfather was an aerospace engineer, so I pay attention to these things. Also, I just really like planes.)

The seating things for first class looked like some sort of high tech space pods. I was definitely not in one of those. I was not in business class either. You see what that leaves.

Economy class was still much nicer than any flight I’ve been on before – more leg room than I was used to, a fairly roomy seat, plenty of in-flight options for entertainment, and 3 FULL MEALS. I think before this I’d had one full meal on a flight, ever, and that was from Chattanooga, Tennessee to San Francisco. Yes, thirteen hours is a lengthy flight, but I did not expect that much food. It was decent stuff, too, though I’d find it was not as good as what I had on the flight back. The differences were between the services provided by Japan Airlines in cooperation with American Airlines, versus the return flight being staffed fully by Japan Airlines on one of their own planes.

American Airlines might give you some sushi, but trust Japan to give you surprisingly tasty octopus rice.

I’d attempted to aggressively hydrate myself in Chicago, since medicine I take makes me especially prone to becoming sick from dehydration, and I had no idea what a 13 hour flight might do in that regard. I remained surprisingly well hydrated. Too well hydrated. So I must apologize to the poor young Asian man who had to let me out to go to the bathroom about eleventy billion times. (Okay, maybe it was 3 or 4, but I certainly FELT like I was getting up way too much.) He only got up once, as I recall. He was also about half my size but ate twice as much food. (I couldn’t finish the meals.) I can only conclude that he gets a lot of exercise. I mean, in addition to constantly standing up to let chubby American girls past.

There were quite a few choices for movies to watch, mostly Hollywood fare, though. Since I was heading to a large city in Asia where people routinely walk around wearing face masks, I somehow figured ‘Contagion’ was a fine choice of film. What can I say, I like to be prepared for worst case scenarios. My doctor had already advised me not to touch any dead birds in Tokyo, as if that were a common activity of mine. I did touch some cooked chicken, because I laugh in the face of danger – or maybe because it wasn’t lying on the street looking diseased, like virus-stricken dead birds do (apparently.)

"I'm not scared of you, killer viruses of the apocalypse!"

I didn’t sleep very much on the flight. I was too excited, plus all that food kept coming around. I studied my hiragana instead. When we landed, it was afternoon in Tokyo. I collected my luggage and began the process of going through customs, which was surprisingly painless. I sometimes had to be pointed towards a table with a form to fill out, but it went pretty quickly. Within an hour I was on a limousine bus to my hotel.

I'm not entirely sure where the "limousine" part comes in, but they were friendly enough.

I’d recommend the Friendly Airport Limousine service to anyone staying in central Tokyo but flying into Narita. Narita is actually about an hour’s drive from Shinjuku, for example. You can take a train, but there are not any reserved spots for luggage on the trains. There’s a place to put bags above passenger’s heads, but if the train is crowded (and they often are) you do not want to be dragging large heavy bags around in it. The cost of taking the Friendly Airport Limousine is around $40 (one way) but you’re guaranteed a seat, and your baggage rides in a nice big cargo area. After the long flight, it was nice to be able to sit down in a comfortable chair (better than airplane seats) and look out at the city as night was falling. I noticed that at night, the road system seems to have a blue-green glow to it – evidently the headlamps of the cars and the fluorescent lighting used on the roads has a different tint than what we’re used to in the US. It seemed quite beautiful to me that evening, almost tranquil in contrast to the garish lights and signs on the buildings. The roads we traveled along included lots of tunnels and bridges – in places traffic is stacked on top of traffic, but it moves along surprisingly efficiently for the most part.

I say "surprisingly" since we're talking about a place where the roads can look like THIS.

I arrived at my lovely hotel around 6 PM, Tokyo time, and checked in. I stayed on the 18th floor. A bellhop (who spoke decent English – it was an international-business-oriented hotel) showed me to my room, and pointed out where various things were located. I’m not used to that, but from what I’ve heard it’s fairly standard in Tokyo or in luxury hotels in general. Yes, I somehow managed to get a room at the Tokyo Hilton for about 1/4 of the usual going rate, when I bundled that in with my flight. I would have never thought of the Hilton, but Priceline had a lot of other hotels I’d never heard of, some of which had lower “star” ratings…and they were more expensive than the Hilton. Evidently it was undergoing renovation, but I wouldn’t have known. I’ve never had such a level of hotel service in my LIFE…yet some people on the Priceline hotel reviews apparently didn’t think it was up to par.

There's just no pleasing some people.

I can’t even remember if I ate anything before falling asleep – I probably just had some juice from the little “pharmacy” downstairs (It was sort of a gift shop/mini grocery, and the prices were very reasonable. I could get the same drink for 100 yen (around $1) there that would have cost 500 yen in the minibar. Yet this shop was in the hotel. Conclusion: People can be REALLY lazy.

I had a 100 yen juice box every day I was there. I loved these juice boxes. They had the juices of something like 26 different vegetables and 14 fruits in them. My favorite one tasted primarily like grapes.

The one on the far left. It definitely did not TASTE like some strange giant purple turnip-y...thing.

That pretty much sums up the travel day – next time I’ll talk more about my hotel room, and use my own pictures. None of the photos used in this entry are mine, but I’ve linked to the pages they came from. Thanks for reading, and I hope some of this info can be useful!

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