Tokyo on Our Own

Prince Hotel PJs

The hotels in Japan all seem to come with Pajamas! Yukata, I suppose, but these are like extra long, button-up sleep shirts with 3/4 length sleeves. (Maybe they are full-length sleeves on a non-monkey armed person? Unsure.)

I of course had to try them out! And also there are slippers! They fit size 8 lady feet! They do not fit size 13 man feet.

Also: bidets. I had to work up the courage to try it, but, you guys? I think they are really on to something. They don’t understand how to sell a ticket online because they have been perfecting the bathroom experience.

Also: the hair dryer was incredibly underwhelming. I thought I had come to the land of my hair people (I have twice as much hair as your average human … and each strand is twice as thick … drying my hair is exhausting …) and so I was super excited about the hair dryer sitch. Alas, hotel hair dryers in Japan leave just as much to be desired as the ones in the US.

Breakfast at the Tokyo Prince Hotel? Awesome spread. Western food! Eastern food! Something for everyone at the buffet. So I did what any Asianish-American lady would do: served myself up a bowl of piping hot steamed rice, snagged some butter from the Western toast station, and added some sugar (meant for coffee, I’m sure) from our table. Breakfast butter-sugar rice! (Ok, so probably that has an actual name? I just know it as ‘how I like to eat rice at breakfast.’) Also I loaded up on bacon and fresh fruit. (Tip: fruit is really expensive in Japan. If you have a hotel breakfast buffet, take advantage!)

Y’all, I ate butter-sugar rice every morning we had a breakfast buffet. So good. Also a complete abomination? But so good.

Probably we stopped in the hotel basement Lawson (I LOVED that the hotel had its own Lawson!!) for some bottled water and snacks.

Before we headed out, we swapped out the husband’s sim card for a Japanese one. We had ordered it beforehand and had it shipped to us, just to make things easier. So we had internet and maps and access to google translate everywhere we went! Pretty awesome! And a world of difference from our 5th anniversary trip to Italy where we rented a blackberry so we’d have access to email. EMAIL. No internet. JUST OUR EMAIL. 10 years ago. The world is such a different place, in just 10 years!

Our hotel was a bit of a walk (15 minutes?) to the Hamamatsucho train station, but we had our maps, the weather was perfect, so off we went!

At the station, we struggled with the ticket machine for a bit. From his research, the husband knew we wanted Suica cards, and that we’d start out with $20 on them and add more as we needed it. The menus weren’t super intuitive, but we eventually figured it out and got our cards. (We later learned from another couple on our trip that you can order Suica cards ahead of time and have them shipped to you in the US. Probably for a nice up-charge, but, no fighting with machines!)

So we found the right train, hopped on board, and a few stops later we were in Akihabara. Nerd capital of the world, so, yeah, of course that’s where we started.

First stop was the Mandarake Complex, 8 floors of anime collectibles. Each floor was small, but crowded with … so much. Some of it I recognized, some of it I didn’t. Totoro, that fried egg with a butt, vintage video games, comics, just all completely unnecessary but oh-so-fun stuff! We stopped at a wall of capsule vending machines and found the perfect souvenir. Seriously, this little guy still goes with me everywhere I go.

Next up was Yodobashi Camera. So spacious! Floors and floors of department store goods, not just cameras. Also books, stationery, beauty products, refrigerators, phones, watches … if you want it, they have it.

Lunch at McDonald’s, nothing to write home about there …

And an owl cafe! Not sure why it’s called a ‘cafe’ (they do have a vending machine for drinks?) but they delivered on the owl front!

We rounded out Akihabara with a stop at Don Quijote. If Yodobashi Camera is spacious and classy, Don Quijote is … brash and cluttered? But you have to stop in, it’s like nothing else. The aisles are mazes, the store is floor after floor stacked on top of each other, you never know what you’ll find. It is claustrophobic, but also amazing! Snacks, toiletries, clothes, halloween costumes, toys, they got it!

We snagged some adorable toothbrush covers, they are open-mouthed cats that eat your toothbrush head when it’s packed away in your bag. But also, they eat the bottom of your toothbrush and stand it straight up on the hotel bathroom counter to dry. They are adorable and genius.

My fitbit history tells me that took us over 10 thousand steps, so we likely called it a day and headed back to the hotel to meet our tour group and for our Gate 1 welcome dinner!

We tried everything! Even liked some of it!

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.