Tokyo Travel Diary – Day 1

Tuesday 22 January, 2013
12:34 Sydney time; 10:34 Tokyo time

Exit Row

I’m sitting comfortably in a seat on Japan Airlines flight 722 from Sydney to Tokyo. This is a short trip for work, to discuss the wrap-up of last year’s project and the plans for new one I’ll be leading a team for this year. I have two days of meetings in Canon’s main office in Shimomaruko, then a Friday morning to myself before flying home on Friday evening.

I woke up just before the alarm, set for 6 o’clock this morning. I had some muesli and yoghurt for a quick breakfast, brushed my teeth, tossed my toothbrush into my luggage, and rang a taxi to collect me for the trip to the airport. M. got up as I was leaving to wish me farewell. The taxi arrived shortly after I walked out to the street, and whisked me off to the airport.

Partway through the drive, I heard a strange clunking noise from my side of the taxi. The driver heard it too, and expressed surprise. I realised it was the belt buckle of my trenchcoat, which had got caught in the door when I closed it, and must now be flapping along the outside of the car. I elected not to open the door while the taxi was flying down the expressway to the airport, but a minute later the knocking became so persistent that I asked the driver if it would be okay to open the door and pull it inside. He agreed and I did so, making the remainder of the journey quieter.

I arrived at the airport, walked inside, and found the check-in counters for JAL. There were no queues, and I had no checked luggage, so it was very quick. I asked for an exit row seat if one was available, and the woman granted the request, saying the flight wasn’t full and I’d probably also have an empty seat next to me. I went immediately through customs and security to the departure lounge area to wait for boarding.

I sat down and tried the airport wi-fi, which took a few minutes to wangle, but managed to get connected. After reading the news and checking Facebook, I ran out of things I could do from my work laptop without all my passwords (I tried one but misremembered it). I had a long time to wait, and my breakfast was smaller than usual, so I bought a chicken caesar wrap from a cafe. It was incredibly mediocre, but satisfying enough. Then with nothing much else to do I browsed the couple of book shops and walked around a bit to exercise my legs. Eventually the clock ticked to 08:45, half an hour before departure, and I headed to the gate. Boarding had just started and there were fewer than 100 people left, so I got straight into the queue and headed on to the plane. My seat is an aisle seat in a row of three at the exit row just behind the wing of the Boeing 777-200. Another guy taller than me got the window seat, but there’s an empty seat between us.

Economy meal

The TV screen on the facing panel showed video from the nose of the plane as we taxied out to the runway, leaving the gate a good 5 minutes early. I could see the tarmac and the plane in front of us as we queued up waiting to take off. After quite a wait on the taxiway, we moved to the runway and I could see the video of the yellow lines speeding below us as we took off. The view changed to a downward facing camera showing the city slipping past beneath us as we turned slightly west of north and headed up into the sky.

The JAL flight attendants are all women, and they put on pink aprons with an antique hot air balloon motif over their uniforms as they started serving rice cracker snacks, drinks, and then a bit later on the first meal. It was a choice of beef curry, or chicken ravioli in a tomato sauce. I chose the ravioli. It came with a bewildering array of sides: a brown bread roll and butter; potato salad; another salad with crisp asparagus, red capsicum, and lettuce with a separate vinaigrette sachet; a serve of soba noodles garnished with shallots and something which I thought was ginger but had a spicier kick, with a small bottle of “noodle sauce” on the side; and a fruit salad. The ravioli was mediocre, but the rest was on the good side. Then there was chocolate ice cream for dessert! It was frozen like a rock and took some heavy spoonwork to chop up.

I’ve started reading Hiram Bingham‘s Lost City of the Incas, which I bought last year after we returned from Peru. I grabbed it as reading material last night, figuring another trip would be a good opportunity to knock it off. It’s the centenary edition, and has a 60 page introduction before it even gets to Bingham’s material, but I’m into his second chapter and it’s gripping stuff.

Narita Express train from Narita Airport to Tokyo. 18:25

Narita Airport Station

The flight was eventless. We got a snack of a vegetable quiche about two hours before landing, for which the attendants put on their aprons again. The guy next to me had some friends who weren’t so lucky to get an exit row seat, and they came up and chatted with him a few times. As the snack was being served, the guy asked his friends how much a beer was. They said it was free, and the guy said, “You’re kidding!” and immediately asked an attendant for one. His friends were highly amused.

I read the first two sections of Hiram Bingham’s book, knocking off over half the page count. It was good reading, but sitting inactive in the seat caused me to yawn and almost nod off a few times. I stretched me legs and walked around a bit to overcome it. It didn’t help that they closed all the window shades and turned the cabin lights down. I don’t really understand why they did that, considering it was a fully daylight flight and few people would have wanted to sleep.

The sun was just setting as we touched down in Tokyo a few minutes after 17:00. The nose camera again showed a great view, this time with the low cloud breaking just as we approached the runway, so we could see the runway lights appearing eerily through the fog. The taxi was really long, and when we arrived at the gate and normally everyone would race to stand up and get their luggage despite being instructed to wait until the seat belt sign had been switched off, nobody moved. The Japanese passengeres clearly respected the dictate and nobody else was game to break ranks.

22/365 View from Shinagawa Prince Hotel, Tokyo

Off the plane, we walked to a shuttle train between the satellite terminal and the main terminal. Then I joined the queue for foreigners to clear immigration, which took a while. But I won in the baggage claim area as I didn’t have to wait for luggage and went straight to the customs check, where I was waved through with a cursory look at my form and a question about whether I was here in Japan for business. Once outside in the arrivals area, I quickly found the escalator down to the trains and what looked like a ticket office to buy a ticket for the Narita Express. I wanted a combined Suica card ticket, which is available only for foreigners, including the Suica stored value card for use on Tokyo’s public transport system. When I got to the counter, the guy told me I was in the wrong spot and had to go to another office across the concourse. There I had to wait about 10 minutes for a person in front of me to be served, but then I quickly got my tickets, including a return ticket to the airport for Friday afternoon, so I don’t have to worry about the hassle of buying another ticket then.

Then it was downstairs to the platform to wait 20 minutes for the train. I started noticing the cold and got out my coat to put on while I waited. On the train, there’s a Japanese guy in my assigned seat, but the carriage is barely half full so I grabbed a seat behind him with an empty seat next to it. The ticket inspector just came through and looked at my ticket, then at the seat in front of me, then gave the guy sitting in my seat a right earful. But he let us both stay where we are.

It’s a long way from Narita to Tokyo, even on a Japanese express train, and I estimate I’ll be at my hotel around 20:00. I hope it’s not much later than that, since I’m starting to get hungry.

Shinagawa Prince Hotel, Tokyo. 21:40

Yabu Kuni

The train arrived at Shinagawa at about 19:30, earlier than I expected. I found the correct exit from the station and crossed at the enormous crossing to find the hotel. I wasn’t expecting the street to be so bright and busy and full of large buildings with neon all over them, though in retrospect I should have been prepared. The hotel wasn’t hard to find, but the reception desk was. I went in a promising looking door, and approached a reception counter, only to be given a map with a complicated route through a bunch of shops, down some corridors, and up a lift to find the reception for the part of the hotel that I’m actually staying in. Once there, up the lifts that are adjacent to a bowling alley, I checked in and was given a room on the 22nd floor of the tower. The view from the windows is amazing. I’ll try to get some photos both at night and during daylight.

The first order of business after checking out the room was to head back downstairs to find some dinner. Back on the main street, I managed to find the exact place where I had dinner the first night I was in Tokyo with a work colleague six years ago. It’s a nondescript hole in the wall noodle bar with a long counter lined with stools. I wanted to try it again, but the stools were all full and I had no idea of the waiting etiquette, so moved on. Nearby I found a “beer restaurant” and as I was looking in the window display at the plastic food dishes to see if there was anything that looked good, an old plump woman came out and ushered me inside in broken English. Figuring it might be fate, I walked in.

Wing Food Market

Unfortunately, the first thing that hit me was the stench of tobacco smoke. But the place looked okay and I was starving, so I took a table at the back and the woman gave me a menu, also in broken English. I ordered a small Kirin beer, and then pondered the menu. Finding gyoza, I asked for those, and the woman asked if I wanted rice and miso soup with it; I said yes please! As I waited for the food, I looked around the place and saw that almost everyone in the restaurant was a man dressed in a grey business suit, sitting in groups of four to eight people. The only exception I could see was a woman dressed in a grey business suit.

The food arrived and went down a treat, probably because I was so hungry. After finishing, I asked for the bill in Japanese from a younger waitress, and she indicated that I just had to go to the front counter. There the old woman added it up and I paid. Outside I took a photo of the place, then went for a bit of a walk in the area just near the station to see what all the shops were. I found lots of restaurants, and a cool food parlour where there were little stalls selling all sorts of fancy treats, both savoury and sweet. I found an old lady selling mochi and picked up one for dessert – it turned out to have adzuki bean paste inside, which is good, since I like that!

Now I’ve returned to my room, had a shower, and will turn in soon. I figure I’ll get up at 07:00, seek breakfast, then figure out how to get to Shimomaruko and the Canon offices for my 09:40 appointment.

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