Tokyo: The End of our Adventure

My new tshirt! And a furoshiki full of snacks

Our last day in Tokyo, we rode the Airport Limousine Bus to the Narita airport. It picked us up right in front of our hotel, made a couple of stops to pick up other passengers, and then we were on our way.

At the airport, we spent the last of our cash in gift shops and vending machines. The husband had been considering trying Coolish and he finally took the plunge. And then he was so sad he missed out on 16 days of coolish fun: It’s soft-serve ice cream in a toddler applesauce pouch. So … the presentation leaves a little to be desired, but I understand the actual product is quite delightful.

I loaded up the snacks I wanted easy access to on the plane in my furoshiki, all flipped and folded and knotted up as a bag. And I wore my new shirt!! (First time I washed the shirt … it shrank. A LOT. Turned into a belly shirt. I guess Japanese ladies aren’t generally as tall as I am … so they don’t need shirts as long as I need them? It’s a shame, though, I really loved the color.)

And then we got on a plane and made it home, and were so sad to not be in Japan anymore. But … super happy be back in our not futon-mattress bed. The end!

Tokyo: One Last Day

Frosted flakes!

Our last full day in Tokyo started off with our standard Shinjuku breakfast: cornflakes for me (these guys are frosted, a very nice surprise for the lady who eats butter-sugar-rice), and a protein bar and coke for the husband. I opted out of the breakfast buffet when I booked this last hotel because it was like an extra $20 per person. And, well, I can eat quite well out of a conbini, thank you very much, for less than $20. Maybe not bacon and butter-sugar-rice well, but, ya know, well enough.

On our way out for the day, we bought our Airport Limousine Bus tickets in the lobby of our hotel for the next day. We opted for the bus this time around because our departing flights were out of Narita, which is much further away than Haneda, and a taxi would have been … very expensive. It was incredibly convenient, and they helped us by making sure we picked a bus that would get us to the airport in plenty of time for our flights. With a paper time table. Most technologically advanced country in the world ($3000 robot dogs, man) and they used a paper time table.

This last day was wandering around Shibuya to catch the famous Shibuya crossing (the in-laws saw it in its true madness on Saturday night: in the middle of a Monday, it’s less manic) and to check out some malls. We also wandered around the Shinjuku train station malls, which there seem to be no end of.

Once we were sure we were done with the trains for the day (it was a sad moment, to be sure), we traded in our Suica cards to get our remaining money back. We played around with one of the automated machines for awhile, but couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. As we were struggling, a local stopped and asked us if we needed some help, and walked us to the customer service line. As it turns out, you cannot return your Suica cards to the machines. At customer service, we traded our cards in and got our $15 back or whatever. Not a ton of money, so it wouldn’t have been the worst thing if we hadn’t been able to figure out how to cash them out, but, still, it was nice to get back.

As we were packing up that night, I realized I had no clean shirt to wear the next day. I had lost a shirt to a toiletries mishap on the flight over, and had just figured I’d pick up a t-shirt in my shopping adventures, but I never quite did. “So just wear a dirty one?” I hear you think to yourself. But: one does not simply wear a dirty shirt on a 12 hour flight. That is too much, even for me.

So I did some googling, and found a department store at the more affordable range of the spectrum: Uniqlo. So off we went, across the street from our hotel to … Times Square? Where we ran into a Shake Shack! If we had known that was there, then maybe we wouldn’t have eaten so much Wendy’s First Kitchen! Next time. We’ll know for next time.

So we found the mall, and rode the escalator up and up and up and up till we found Uniqlo. (Seriously, it was on the 12th floor. At like floor 8 I made us get off the escalator and pick up a paper mall-map from a stand, I was beginning to think we were in the wrong building.)

And then we found it! So crazy thing about this store: there are no cashiers. There are rfid tags on all the items. When you check out, you just put all your stuff in a bag, then a machine tells you what you owe, and you pay it. It was magic! A far-cry from the paper time table of busses we saw that morning.

I picked up a beautiful blue t-shirt, we paid for it without talking to or interacting with a soul, and then we were on our way back to packing for the trip home.

The fitbit tells me this was our day of the mostest steps: we passed the 20,000 mark. It was our last day, and we wanted to make the most of it! Besides, we had a 12 hour flight coming up, we could recover on the plane.

Getting to Japan

October the 6th dawned bright and early, after we got on our first leg of the flight to Houston. Very quick hop.

At the Houston airport, we got some yen at a terrible exchange rate. Got breakfast … I seem to recall the first one didn’t work out … we may have eaten two breakfasts? Just pulled up the google maps of the IAH international terminal: Custom Burgers took a really long time and gave us random breakfast sandwiches we didn’t order. So then we headed to Pappasito’s Cantina for breakfast tacos … which I think we quite enjoyed. Google rates Custom Burgers at 1.9 stars vs. Pappasito’s at 4 stars. Checks out.

At any rate, back to the trip: we had premium economy seats! Premium economy on United, so, eh, but the husband wasn’t completely sardined in. The seats were arranged in a 3/3/3 configuration, so we picked D and E in the middle: an aisle and a middle seat. With no one to climb over us, because seat F is also an aisle. (These are important things to consider when on a 12 hour flight.)

Plane food was mediocre. (Seriously, United: other airlines give their premium economy guests the business class food. Just saying.) We arrived in one piece! Yay!

Made it through the checkpoints in our bleary eyed state, found our luggage, then on to find our driver.

Ok, so weird thing about Japan: you don’t book tickets for things on the internet. Like, there’s no e-commerce. Most technologically advanced country in the world, and there’s no e-commerce.

So to get transportation from the airport to our hotel, first I looked at the Airport Limousine Bus, as it came highly recommended by the dad. Their website is … well, not super helpful. They do list some hotels on their site, but apparently not all of them. I asked b2 to take a look at the Japanese version of the site and he confirmed, he did not see my hotel on the list. (Which they TOTALLY cover, I saw their bus at our hotel later. So *shakes fist*.)

Ok, so that was a bust. I then tried to google private car transport in Tokyo and … didn’t really find what I was looking for. I happened upon a message on Trip Advisor recommending this place. Where you enter your ‘massage’ in their contact form.

So … I filled in the form. Expecting a quote? I guess? Got an email back with a confirmation. Also a quote. But a confirmation? And … I never gave them any money. But they promised a driver who would be holding up a sign with my name on it.

I decided to roll with it. Worst-case scenario, there’d be no one there and we’d just get a taxi once we got there. No biggie.

The day before we left, I got another email with our driver’s name. Seemed like it might actually work!

Sure enough, once we were headed out of the airport with our bags, we indeed passed “a low fence where people are waiting. Our drivers & guides wait there also, with the passenger’s name on a board.” Ms. Kisugi was there, in her white gloves and sensible pumps, with my name on a board. And so we followed her to a car.

I had a brief panic that this was some kind of scam, that she’d charge us twice as much once we arrived.

But, nope, we arrived at the hotel, paid her with a credit card, and it was even a few yen cheaper than we were quoted.

So, yes: in Japan, you totally book things via email, and then pay for it later.

Checking in at the Tokyo Prince Hotel was a bit of an adventure. In Japan, people are very polite. But also: there is no customization. No “the customer is always right” philosophy. Our guided tour started at that hotel, and I tried to add on an early arrival through Gate 1, something they usually do. But … not so for this trip. So, eh, I booked my own room through hotels.com, and figured when I checked in, I’d get them to put us in the same room that we’d be in for the guided tour portion.

Not so. They would have none of that. But they did offer to transfer our bags to our new room for us while we were out and about sight-seeing. And so we took that option.

And then, they took us to our room with our bags! Which was a highly confusing affair.

First confusion: Our room had a main door, then a little vestibule? with a door to the bathroom and also a door to the bedroom. I know shoes inside in Asia is a huge no-no, and so I thought perhaps this was where the shoes needed to be removed? But also, the vestibule was tiny, not meant for two Americans and a Japanese lady, so as I paused to ask if I needed to take my shoes off, I really slowed down our progress. Some back and forth later: no, no I did not need to remove my shoes. So I continued into the room, she brought our bags in and explained the tv remote (there’s a language button! To switch all the shows into English? It’s magical!)

Second confusion: the tipping. I tried to tip. She was … embarrassed? Refused the tip. So I apologized, kept the money, she left, and we had the evening to ourselves!

Dinner was from Lawson’s in the basement. Yes, a convenience store. But don’t knock it till you try it! Conbini’s are all the rage, and their food is actually really good. Seriously. You are gonna hear a lot about conbinis.

Surely I forced the husband to stay up till 7 or 8 pm? That’s the typical travel-fight we have: I can sleep on the plane, he never can, we make it to the hotel and I force him to stay up till bed time. He’s always glad the next day, but man, that first night is pretty rough for us, not gonna lie.