Those that know me well know that I prefer to sleep in rather than wake up early. So when I say that I woke up at 4:45 AM to catch a flight to Tokyo, yes, it’s OK to be shocked. Still, the prospect of Tokyo was so great that it didn’t matter what time it was. I said goodbye to Ross’ dog Boudreaux and hopped in a cab around 5:15. Uncle (Ross calls all the cab drivers Uncle) thought he was driving the Starship Enterprise (not the crappy diesel we were actually in) and flew down PIE to the airport. His little LCD panel constantly said "Speed warning! Drive safely!" which gave me the idea that we shared the same sentiment for speed limits. Went through security, had breakfast at the United lounge, then plunked my ass down in a United Business seat to Tokyo. While I did sleep a little on the plane, I spent most of the time reading a guide book on Tokyo. By the time we landed, I was completely amped. Went through immigration and the guy was a little surprised that I was there on vacation. He kept asking me if I was going to work. Bizarre. Made it through then went to the airport limousine bus counter, booked a ticket, and waited for the bus. I found my numbered waiting area, watched 3 buses come and go, then jumped on mine. Yes, everything you’ve heard about Tokyo transit is true — it is on time. One nice thing is that it’s considered rude to talk loudly or use a cellphone. Oh to have that attitude in the US!
First stop on the bus was my hotel, Cerulean Tower Hotel. Took about an hour with all of the traffic and a decent deal at 30000 yen. Let’s just get this out of the way first, Tokyo is expensive. Yeah, I’m sure there are ways to do it on the cheap, but almost everything here is expensive. Come here with the wallet open. You don’t have to be big pimping, but it doesn’t hurt. Speaking of not hurting, this hotel is da bomb. I managed to swing a single room with city views of the Hachkiko crossing for $220 US/night. For this a place of this quality, that’s a steal. Let’s just go through the check-in experience:
I was off the bus, had not stepped more than 2 feet with my bags before someone asked me if I was checking in. He took my bag and handed me a ticket in return, then another person greeted me and showed me the way to the hotel reception. At reception there were no less than 3 people waving me into the shortest line. The receptionist asked me to fill out the standard hotel stay card. I literally hadn’t finished writing "HESSE" on the form before the guy had read it (upside down mind you) and asked, "Mr. Hesse will you only be staying with us for 3 nights?" Honestly, I don’t think the ink was dry yet. Once I was all settled up there, a woman suddenly appeared with my bag and showed me into the room. We talked a bit in English and hers was very good (not the case *at all* in Japan). Once into the room, she showed me all of the various things, said goodbye, and slipped out with ninja stealth lest I suffer the indignity of hearing the door close. Looking around the room I thought to myself, I’ve stayed in much worse places in the US (and abroad) for $220/night. So, score one for japanican.com! I highly recommend using them.
The room isn’t pimping, but it is just nice. There’s nothing cheap here at all. It’s all very high quality. Not blinging, but nice. OK I take that back, the toilet is blinging. I want one for home. I mean it. Automatic controls for flushing, bidet, and ummm ball washing. Heated of course and you can adjust the water pressure. Hello, Christmas list anyone?
I had to fight a fire at work, send some emails, then I was off to explore Shibuya. From my room, I could see exactly where I wanted to go, but leaving the hotel….ok I’ll admit I got lost. Welcome to Tokyo. Lost in the first 5 minutes and probably not the last time. Wandered around for a good hour then found the "Ramen place with the pig’s head on the sign" as my coworker Justin described it. Everything on the outside was in Japanese. I don’t speak Japanese. I can’t read it. Luckily I’ve eaten enough Japanese food in SF to know my way around a menu. Standing outside, the place was packed with Japanese people all chowing down. OK, it’s got to be good. Deep breath, here goes nothing and I went inside. After some pointing and gesturing, I ordered what I wanted and paid. A minute later, my ramen popped out, and I went to town. It was great food, and I was even happier. I’d had my first successful Japanese meal without an English menu and without any trouble. When I was finished I looked around for a napkin and then realized that I was in Tokyo. They don’t give you napkins here; you have to bring your own. Granted, they do hand them out attached to advertisements on the street (think tiny packets of tissues in the US), but I hadn’t run across any yet. Oh well, that’s what jeans are for.
I wandered around after dinner and found the train station. Decided to buy a Suica card before rush hour the next day. While the signs and terminals in the Tokyo stations might be in English, the Suica machine is not. However, I knew that it was 2000 yen for a card so I plunked in two 1000 bills and hoped for the best. Some whirring later, I had a Suica card — Tokyo was now at my disposal. What did I do though? I found the nearest Belgian bar and proceeded to get drunk. I stumbled upon this bar named Belgo which had over 100 types of beer, mostly Belgian. Plopped my rear on a bar stool and did what I do well, get drunk.
Slept in late the next morning due to time change from Singapore and decided to watch the Hachiko crossing from the nearby Starbucks. Oh, did I mention that it’s raining hard today? Yeah, that crossing is kinda insane on a normal day. Add umbrellas into the mix and hello collisions! Wolfed down my morning coffee and tried to figure out what would work tourist-wise with all of this rain. I slept through the fish market action so I said fuckit and jumped on the Yamanote line to Harajuku. I wandered around a bit, popping in and out of various shops. Ended up with some cool t-shirts and my obligatory expensive pair of Japanese jeans. All very cool. I was also looking for some postcards to send and a folding hat for Amanda but struck out on those.
On the way back to the hotel, I thought it best to get some lunch — it was 4PM. I ran across a vending machine ramen shop so decided to give that a try. So basically this is how it goes: There’s a big picture menu out front which you use to figure out what you want, you figure out what number that is, go inside, and put your money in the machine and choose the right number. It spits out a receipt that you take to the counter. They asked me some questions in Japanese, I kinda shrugged, she asked "Soba?" and I nodded and gave a thumbs up. A minute later, my curry and my ramen were put on the counter. Bam! I like this. The food was excellent, too. So when you hear about someone ordering food from a vending machine, this is what they’re talking about.
I returned to the hotel, plopped my bags down, and crashed for a nap. Shopping and touristing in the rain can be quite tiring.
Wrote up this post and a Bali post, now I’m headed out to Shinjuku for the lights and night life. Wish me luck! Oh yeah, it’s still raining.