6:40 AM. Awake at 6:30am, perfect. My no-jetlag plan has worked perfectly. Gotta love it. Now to recap.
The flight went smoothly; we touched down almost to the minute that they had said we would. We then taxied for what seemed like forever, hooked up to the jetway, and disembarked. There’s a short tram ride from the gate to the terminal, then the short line through immigration. So far so good, even my Japanese seemed to be working with the man controlling the Immigration line a la Fry’s. The woman at the counter even checked the extension on my passport without asking why the date said “expires in 1999”. I have the unfortunate luck of having lost my passport, twice, and now my passport says that it expires in 1999. In the back, on an out of the way page, there’s a note which looks like I could have just printed it myself that says it was extended until 2008. I always worry – the woman controlling security at Austin asked and I had to show her the page. Fortunately I guess it’s normal, so no one questions it. Doesn’t lead to any lack of stress though.
I went down to baggage claim and waited for my bag. And waited. And waited. Everyone else seemed to have gotten theirs and still no dice for me. I went to the restroom and came back, and still no bag. Right about the time I was getting nervous, my bag magically showed up. PHEW. Swept through the final Immigration check and headed out into the massively chaotic and busy main terminal, jeez! Changed some travelers’ checks into cash in a 30 minute line (bleh, only 108 to the dollar), then went downstairs to the JR office to trade in my rail pass voucher. First escalator I took got me right to the JR East office, man I’m good, I know right where everything is. :) Still, I realized I was nervous, which is really silly. It’s the first time I’ve even come here alone, and even though I’ve led two people around individually, and traveled with three others, I still was worried somehow. I guess because there’s just no one to confide in or something. I just kept talking to myself explaining what I was doing. Habit.
If you ever come to Japan to visit and plan on going *anywhere* outside of Tokyo, get a rail pass. They come in durations of 7 to 21 days, and the normal ones you can only get outside of Japan. You can ride all of the Japan Rail Lines (JR) trains, including reserved seats on the shinkansen (bullet train) for no extra cost, as much as you want. It cost me upwards of $523 to get, but it’s going to save me almost $1000 when I finish the trip. Plus if your plans change, you don’t feel bad about ditching your tickets once you get them (see my 1998 trip with Kel for one fortunate incident involving that – Hakodate). You can get a JR East or a JR West pass once you’re in Japan, but it only lets you go north or west, not all over, and costs a little more. However, if you don’t have one, and you want one, it’s something at least.
I realized, after my pained conversations with the guy at the counter, I was in fact VERY tired now. My Japanese went to crap, which usually takes a day. I understood him, but couldn’t speak very well. Bleh. I traded in my voucher from Sta Travel in Austin at the JR office, and a woman brought out my rail pass, a little cardboard book that shows the beginning and end dates of travel. I have until the 3rd to get back here on my 21 day, which will probably work out perfectly, since I leave on the 5th. She asked me where I was going, and to be honest, I didn’t know yet! Still, I said Tokyo and she went back and brought me a Narita Express train ticket in to town. Narita is about an hour from the center of Tokyo, so you have to take a train. The NEX is about 4000 yen I think, but it’s covered by the rail pass. This was nice, but a little rushed, as I only had 25 minutes to the train and didn’t even know where I was going yet!
I walked out, bought a Mount Fuji telephone card, and called Sakura Ryokan with the number I brought with me (and thought I’d left and freaked). At this point, it became painfully, horribly clear that my Japanese was complete crap. Here’s the gist of the conversation with the owner translated from Japanese:
“Sakura Ryokan. Hello.”
“Yes, a little reservation I’d like to do, but…”
“Tonight, is that good, okay tonight?”
“Hrm… let me see. Tonight, hrm… I have a western style room.”
“It’s OK? Good.”
“I’m Marc Hernandez.”
“Could you spell that please?”
“Where are you now?”
“I am at Narita. It is at Narita.”
“now, going. Now.”
“Ah okay, we’ll be waiting, thank you…”
“excuse me, I’m rude.”
Uuuuuuugh. Fortunately I know it’s because I’m tired. I walked to the entrance gate, flashed my rail pass to the guard, then went down to the tracks. When using a rail pass, you can’t go through the automatic gates, you always have to show the manned station. You flash it, they open the gates if necessary, and you walk on through. I looked at my ticket and determined I was in Car 1,Row 3, Seat A. The car numbers are written on paper signs up on the sides of the electronic ones, but I couldn’t, in my fatigue, determine whether they were increasing walking one way or decreasing. I turned around three times before I finally made it to where my car was. I plopped down on the floor. At this point, I realized I never asked for the Shinkansen schedule at the JR office. Crud. It’s a little green book that has all of the train schedules listed in it. I got one in 1998 and have been trying ever since to get one again so I don’t have to guess. Screw it, I’m too tired. The train arrived and I took my seat, leaving my bag in the luggage area in the end of the train, then effectively tried to take a short nap on the hour ride to Tokyo. It still hadn’t sunk in at this point that I was in Tokyo for real, I mean, it just felt like another of my many dreams. Even seeing Japanese signs everywhere just didn’t convince my brain of where I was.
The NEX arrived at Tokyo Station and I really was feeling bad due to my pseudo-nap. I walked from the NEX across the station and the sheer volume of people was very overwhelming in that state. Tokyo Station is incredibly busy and very crowded. I knew where I was going, so I just kept on moving. I took the Yamanote line train to Ueno, which is like three stops. The Yamanote (green) line, makes a loop around central Tokyo, so it’s very convenient to get places nearby, unless it’s directly across from wherever you’re going. I exited at Ueno Station, and then followed my memories out of the station and down to the Hibiya Line subway. I took the same escalator where Molly and I met our friend Angela and smiled. It was finally starting to sink in. I got my 160 yen ticket and got on the subway, passing a big poster in Japanese for I Robot. This is one stop to Iriya, and then one heck of a walk to get out of the station. I now know – when getting on at Ueno for Iriya, walk to the other end of the station first and you’ll end up right at the exit gate. Same goes the other way around!
I took the long and all get out flight of stairs with my moderately heavy bag out of the station and paused for the light. It was amazing just how familiar everything was, like I’d not been gone very long at all. I think this may be why it hadn’t sunk in – nothing was really new anymore. I’ve done this so many times now, that it’s just like going to Houston. Well not really. At first this worried me, like I was getting bored with Japan or something, but I thought about it and realized, “No, it just makes it more like home.”
I got to Sakura Ryokan, filled out registration, and went up to my room For the first time, I’m on the other side of the inn, which was not really all that remarkable, but interesting. I lightened my load some, then went back downstairs to head out. I ran into the otoosan (proprieter) and he immediately recognized me. I said it was my fourth time, and he called his wife, who also came in and recognized me. They’re both really nice. I asked if I could use their internet station, and then got on the computer to answer email and look up Gene and Lou’s phone number. A few quick emails later I was out the door to head to Akihabara to look for a watch. As I got downstairs. I realized I didn’t have my *current* watch. I debated for about 30 seconds then went back inside to get it. I just can’t do no time-telling ability. I got the watch, and when I got back out (after having tied and retied my shoes) realized I never looked up the phone number! Duh. Ah forget it, I’ll find internet access somewhere.
I started to head back to Ueno, but then remembered, doesn’t this subway head straight to Akihabara? I couldn’t quite remember if it was the right way or not, so I got off at Ueno anyway. Sure enough, if you take the subway from Iriya two stops past Ueno, you end up at Akihabara. I caught the next one (they come every three minutes on the nose) and got off at Akihabara, the Electric Town.
Akihabara is the place to go to get electronics. It’s jam-packed with various stores hawking all manner of gadgets. Actually, it’s a little overpriced, so I tend to find what I’m looking for, then buy it in Shinjuku or Shibuya or somewhere. I found a number of watches, but didn’t get around to buying one. I did see lots of places advertising and selling Biohazard (Resident Evil) Outbreak: File 2. I realized I was very hungry and refrained from asking about a cell phone due to crappy Japanese currently and lack of food. I thought about eating at the soba noodle shop there next to the station, which I always do, but that wasn’t what I wanted. I went back in the station and caught the Chuo (orange) line to Shinjuku. The further I got from the hotel, the worse I felt about it, as I’d have to backtrack to get home and sleep!
My goal tonight was to get to the Park Hyatt Tokyo, where they filmed Lost In Translation. I took the South exit from Shinjuku station and turned right towards the skyscraper district. MAN was it busy! I could see it in the sky though, there were the towers that housed the hotel. I kept on walking and it just seemed to take forever in my fatigued state. I found this really cool area near the Shinjuku Washington Hotel that I stopped to take some pictures at.
I finally arrived and immediately recognized the driveway. Cool! I went inside the building; the hotel is on the upper floors of the skyscraper, so I had to find the way in. I wandered around for a while, and I kept seeing signs saying the main entrance was on the second floor. Okay… so how do you GET to the second floor? The elevators all went to floors inbetween. About the time I was going to ask, I found another sign saying to take the stairs in the delicatessen at the far end of the hotel. As I walked into the “delicatessen” I realized… holy crap this place is SWANKY. This was no delicatessen, at least none I’d ever seen. It was beautiful, all covered in wood, with very sharp, modern lines. At the top of the stairs is a small pastry shop, then a sculpture in a small room. At the elevators I found a map of the hotel. I went to main reception on the 41st floor. I’m a little afraid of heights, so the elevator made me somewhat nervous… they always do.
I walked out into the gorgeous lobby, with trees and open glass ceilings. It didn’t occur to me until later that this was the same place that Bob Harris is in when he’s leaving in the end, but it was! The whole building is really dark, darker than the movie, quiet like a library, and looks VERY VERY EXPENSIVE. I turned right and walked down the main hallway (also in the movie). I asked a woman near the restaurant where the bar was, and she said the New York Bar and Grille was on the 51st floor, and I’d have to walk down, turn left, and take another elevator. I walked through what looked like a library in someone’s house, then took another elevator to the bar level. As I exited, a woman greeted me and walked me to the entrance. The passed me to a waiter who told me there was a 2000 yen music charge after 8pm. It’s fine, I didn’t care. Since I was alone, he asked if I wanted to sit at the bar, and of course, I did! He started to seat me at the center of the long table, and I asked if it was okay if I sat at the far end. As he led me over, he asked, “Lost in Translation, right?” Of course, I said, and he smiled. I took the chair at the far end of the table, and he pulled out the one next to me for my bag. He opened the menu and pointed out they have a drink combination called an “LIT” and then pointed out the Hibiki Suntory Whiskey, which is the same brand Bob Harris was advertising in the movie. I looked around and was blissfully happy. Sure enough, it was the same place, but was much darker and really looked smaller. I ordered a Hibiki on the rocks, which was 1700 yen a glass! I really didn’t care, it was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to drink. He brought me a little cup of wasabi pea-type things with rice crackers and peanuts, which must have been what they were snacking on in LIT as well. A jazz band started playing as in the movie, and my scotch arrived. I took a sip, let the ice-chilled single malt run around my mouth, and took in the atmosphere.
Music filled my head, the sight of the Shinjuku skyline filled my view, the wonderful flavor of the scotch tickled my tastebuds, and happiness warmed me from the bottom of my soul. At that moment, there was absolutely nowhere in the world I would have rather been. I picked up the glass, looked at it and said out loud, “For relaxing times…. Make it… Suntory time.”
A woman started singing with the band, and I just sat there and listened, sipping on my drink, eating the snack and enjoying myself. She sang “The Girl from Ipenema” and “Fly Me To The Moon” which I had a hard time singing along to. I really wanted someone else there, it didn’t seem fair that I couldn’t share this with anyone! The waiter came back and I ordered another glass. It’s the best scotch I’ve ever tasted in my life. After another 20 minutes the band finished the set and I asked the waiter for the tab. I realized at that point, I was tipsy, sleepy and hadn’t even eaten dinner yet! He brought the tab – 6600 yen (about 63 dollars) for two glasses of scotch, music, and bar nuts.
I took the elevator down to the 45th floor, or Garden Level, to try and get a picture of the pool. As I walked out, it was a very small lobby type room. A very friendly woman greeted my in English, and I asked if I could take a picture. “I’m very sorry, sir, but we cannot.” I thanked her and got back in the elevator down to the 41st floor. I was disappointed somewhat, but in the long run, nothing could have taken away the bliss I was feeling at that moment. I went back out to the main lobby, which is when I finally recognized were it was. When the elevator arrived, the “pin pon” of the chime really caught my ear too. A woman standing at the smaller bar bowed to me and I bowed back as the elevator doors closed.
I walked out of the front of the building a little tipsy from the scotch and no food, but stopped to take a few pictures of Toochoo and the building that houses the hotel. This trip I brought my tripod, and I’m glad I did. I took the long walk back to the station, and realized I was fading, fast. I made it to the station and caught the Chuo back to Tokyo station. I kept passing out on the train! At Akihabara, I made the decision to get off and take the subway instead as it would save the long walk in Ueno. It took me a while to find the right exit out of the station (Showa Dori exit, not Electric Town) but I did and took the subway back to Iriya. “Just a little further,” I kept saying to myself.
I stopped in my favorite 7-11 and quickly found a rice ball, some yakitori, and a big bottle of water for dinner, then raced back to the ryokan. Drat, someone was on the Internet station. I went back to my room and grabbed my laptop. I noticed there was at least one unsecured wireless network around, maybe I could connect to it. I ate dinner quickly, then walked out of my room with the laptop to search for a better signal. On the third floor, a network called SAKURA showed up! COOL they have wireless here! I went in to the eating area on the first floor and connected up without any trouble. Awesome. It wasn’t super fast, but it worked.
I checked my mail, and fortunately, Gene had written me with their number. I quickly posted my log without pictures just to let people know I was okay, then went upstairs to call Gene. I talked to him for a second, then turned on Lost In Translation to check out where I’d been. In the bar, I realized Bob moves to the end, but sits in the SECOND chair! I’d been sitting on the end! Oh no! So that was why he pulled out the second chair, it wasn’t for my bag, it was for ME.
I passed out in under 3 minutes at 11pm.
I woke up at 6:30 without a hitch and it took me a minute to figure out where I was! Not a problem though. I’m going to take the Shinkansen to northern Japan in a little while, although I can’t remember if I need to leave from Ueno or Tokyo station. I think Ueno, but I’ll ask downstairs.