The first day is never that exciting, yet somehow we managed to take 40 pictures of it!
We flew out of San Francisco because Swazzle had been up in the Bay Area for 2 weeks shooting another project during the day and building puppets for the Tokyo job at night. The previous day Patrick had stayed up all night finishing those puppets so they could be shipped ahead for their flight to Tokyo from LA, and then he went off to finish shooting his scenes on the other project—which meant he stayed awake for about 42 hours straight. Needless to say, he had no trouble sleeping on the plane!
Because all the travel arrangements were being made by the ad firm’s travel agent, we didn’t find out when we were leaving, what airline we were flying or where we were staying until about a week before we left. The answers turned out to be: Tuesday at 1:25pm, JAL, and the Akasaka Excel Tokyu Hotel.
The puppeteers all got to fly in swanky Business Class with lay-flat pod beds and free slippers, but Patrick gave up his seat to fly with me in Economy—I knew I’d married the right guy! Besides, as it turned out, all the Japanese hotels ended up giving us enough free slippers to choke a horse. (Although, really, just one free slipper would prolly be enough to choke a horse…)
Now I don’t know how JAL rates among frequent fliers to Asia, but as someone who’s been subjected to United Airlines’ service from LA to Orlando a few too many times, I found it pretty dang good.
The plane seemed fairly new, with on-demand TV at every seat and cool drop-down overhead bins for every three seats, so you never had to fight with anyone to fit all your junk in. The seat pitch was respectable – not great when the person in front of you leaned his seat back, but it felt an inch or two deeper than on domestic US flights. It was also very exciting to become instantly immersed in Japanese – the announcements were made in Japanese first, then sometimes Chinese, and then English. It helped us get used to smiling and nodding and pretending we knew what was going on.
The 11-hour flight was uneventful except for being seated behind one of only two kids on the entire plane, who had struck up a friendship in the boarding area and spent most of the trip together, screaming. Then, when they were separated, they would scream some more until they were reunited.
The flight started with dinner, which was some kind of chicken on noodles:
Then they dimmed the lights so we could pretend it was night. I hadn’t had any time to read guidebooks before we left, so I crammed for most of the flight, did a Japanese lesson on my iPod, and still had time to glaze over during “Whip It” on my seatback TV.
At one point, Patrick discovered that it wasn’t really night when he opened our snoozing seatmate’s window shade and saw this…
I only dozed for about 30 minutes after dinner/lunch/whatever, but I ended up feeling OK. About two hours before we landed they turned the lights up and fed us salmon on noodles, which I think was s’posed to be breakfast.
After we landed, we went through Passport/Immigration control with no trouble, got our bags easily, and then skipped through customs.
Narita Airport Terminal 2
I asked Patrick to take lots of pix of everything for PassPorter’s forthcoming guide to Tokyo Disney….
I think this was Customs
This is the counter for the Airport Limousine, which is not a limousine at all—it’s a bus! It’s prolly the way we would have gotten into Tokyo from Narita if we hadn’t been met by a rep from the ad firm. For reference, it’s ¥30/person one-way and they only take cash.
And here’s where you can buy train tickets…
Thank goodness we didn’t have to figure THIS thing out!
We’d been told to look for a guy with a sign that said “Rock ‘n’ Roll Tokyo” – how awesome is that? Sure enough, a rep from the production company, Hiro, was there to meet us and get us to the hotel. The trip took about 45 minutes, and Hiro must’ve thought we were delirious as we oooohed and aaaahhhhed over every bunker-like building and road sign and vehicle we saw on the way into town. Of course the biggest “oooooh!” came when we whizzed by Space Mountain. Then Patrick asked, “What’s that building all outlined in white lights?” and I said, “I dunno – I think it might be a Ramada or something…?” It later turned out to be the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel – whoops!
When we got to the Akasaka Excel Tokyu Hotel, which turned out to be right across the street from a subway station, Hiro helped us check in—a godsend when you’re tired and disoriented and have spent most of your two weeks of Japanese language study learning how to ask for two beers…
The lobby’s on the third floor
Pay attention to this sign. I didn’t, and it later turned out to be a huge, wonderful surprise
Our hotel room was much nicer than I expected – it had been recently redecorated and didn’t have the IKEA feel I saw in older pictures on TripAdvisor. It was also a decent size—not huge, but you could actually walk around the bed. It turned out to be the biggest non-Disney room we had.
My favorite part was the corner window into the bathroom cuz it made the place feel bigger. Although it was a trick figuring out which way to dial the blinds so your spouse couldn’t see in!
The view wasn’t half bad either.
Patrick loved the soaking tub and shower…
…But most of all, he loved the complicated toilet!
This thing had enough buttons to launch a missle attack… on your bottom! There’s a button for a spray of water, and one for a stream, one to make the seat hot enough to fry an egg and then an automatic function that runs the water to cover up embarrassing noises. On that first night we had each other in stitches as we tried out all the various functions and shrieked in surprise at what we got.
Other cool features of this hotel: It has a 7-Eleven on the first floor, which means an ATM that accepts US ATM cards and a cheap meal are always close by; it is adjacent to a small shopping complex with restaurants and stores and even a post office; the subway station across the street connects you to the central Marunouchi and Ginza lines; and there is a street running behind the subway station that is jam-packed with restaurants and clubs.
I never thought I’d be so glad to see a 7-Eleven!
McDonald’s… not so much….
After we’d dropped our stuff in the room, we wandered down this veritable restaurant row trying to decide where to eat.
We almost randomly picked a traditional sushi place and got what we think we wanted through a combination of my pigeon Japanese and lots of hand gestures. Oh, and the picture menu, kindly handed to us by a German couple. We felt very cosmopolitan sitting there eating sushi for dinner in Tokyo after starting the day with breakfast in San Leandro, CA. …Never mind that it was the next day!
Dinner was good! The only drawback was the haze of cigarette smoke filling the place. After dinner, Patrick had a 9pm costume fitting for the ad (!), but before he left we had time to pick up our first weird Japanese dessert at 7 Eleven.
It was blue flavor!
He was out til about 11pm, so I stayed in and web surfed with our free Internet access, trying to get my head around the fact that we were ACTUALLY IN JAPAN!