Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Konichiwa, Tokyo! - Part I

The visas did come in on time - sigh of relief - Japan, here we come! A last minute crisis with the washing machine almost derailed my packing - but finally, Thursday morning, we left right on time to get to the Pudong airport. This Spring Airlines was going to be interesting - we had booked our tickets sight unseen, only because of the great deals - I have to admit there was some anxiety! In the end, it wasn't bad at all - the plane was fairly new, the stewardesses very pleasant...yes, the seats didn't recline, but it wasn't really that uncomfortable! They are quite strict about the luggage allowance - 15kg total per person - incentive to pack smart! Beginning of this vacation, and I'm already wondering where else Spring Air flies to!

The only drawback in flying Spring to Tokyo is that the flight lands in Ibaraki airport - about a 90 minute bus ride away from Tokyo. The airport itself is pretty well organized - although, the customs and immigration process was slow, slow, slow! - almost seemed like we were going to miss our bus! And of course, it took much, much longer than 90 minutes - once we reached the outskirts of the Tokyo, the traffic was so bad, we were crawling along at a snail's pace! No surprise the Metro system is so good!

We finally staggered into our hotel at 6pm - almost 12 hours after we left Suzhou - only to run into something totally unexpected! Our hotel - Intercontinental, Tokyo, mind you - didn't have a room available for us. Oh by the way, they had already charged us 3 nights stay for this absent hotel room - details, details! When they finally figured out a room for us, it was on a smoking floor - 5 minutes inside, and all 3 of us had raging headaches! So back to the reservations desk again! After another longish wait - a 'higher up' stepped out to talk to us - he wasn't exactly rude, but there was a glimmer of something not nice - it was either the smoking room, or another room that didn't have the bed preferences we had asked for. And no, they wouldn't refund our money - so we could pick one of the rooms, or else! Not cool, Intercontinental, was expecting much better! Later that night, we found an Indian restaurant right around the corner - amazing what butter naan and chicken tikka can do for drooping spirits!!

After the Burj Khalifa, Ajey and I have a deal about not going to any more towers - so instead, the next morning, we walked to Roppongi Hills. A mall,with an observation deck with views of Tokyo city, and sometimes even of Mount Fuji (weather permitting)! Roppongi was quite impressive - tons of restaurants - a very urban, upscale neighborhood. After a not-so-quick lunch at TGIF, we made it to the observation deck. No Mount Fuji - was much too hazy - but did get to see Tokyo Tower, and the Rainbow Bridge in the distance. Our ticket included the entrance to what was possibly the weirdest museum I have ever seen! Seriously, a Lexus car lit up with strobe lights, a room filled with lighted balloons - most exhibits were totally baffling! We could have also gone to the Mori Museum of Art - but philistines that we are, we chose to pass - heading to the Metro station for the next destination on itinerary (remember the itinerary?!)

Roppongi crossing

View of Tokyo Tower from Roppongi Hills

Japan has always known to be really technologically advanced - so a visit to Electric City in Tokyo is a must! Like any big Asian City, the underground Metro system is highly developed - complex yet very convenient. Unlike other cities we have explored, the Tokyo Metro was quite pricey - in Beijing, for 2 RMB, you can do unlimited exchanges, however, in Tokyo, we paid between $2 and $5!! There are daily passes, and in hindsight, we should have just bought a 2 day pass - but we weren't really expecting to travel that much by Metro! Anyway, Electric City - wasn't just a building like I had thought - rather a main street and a network of side streets with all kinds of electronic items for sale. With a vague idea of looking for a new phone for Ajey, we wandered into a few of these stores - but the prices didn't really seem to be any different form anywhere else. So we walked, and walked some more, and then a little further - so far the day was not turning out as we planned!! Coming up next - Shibuya!

Electric City

The Shibuya crossing - the Times Square of Tokyo - is known as the world's largest pedestrian crossing. More interestingly, the Shibuya station is also home to the statue of Hachiko - the Akita made famous by the movie 'Hachi - A Dog's Tale'. I've yet to see a movie about a dog which doesn't leave me sobbing - Manasi and I watched Hachiko together, and the film absolutely broke our hearts! So we eagerly stepped out of the Hachiko exit at Shibuya station - all we could see was a large mural depicting Akitas. Where's the statue? Maybe on the other side of the square? We walked over to the crossing - and I don't know about Times Square, but the sheer number of pedestrians was mind-boggling! We crossed back and forth a few times - all the time keeping an eye out for Hachiko - but no luck! Finally gave up - Manasi was crushed - she had been looking forward to this all day! She was so disappointed that we decided to go back for one more look - and there he was, partially hidden by the buses parked around the station - Hachiko in all his glory!!

Shibuya crossing

Mural outside Hachiko exit

Finally - Hachiko!

First day in Tokyo - and we had walked our feet off!! The Metro is really convenient, but what with walking between different platforms, and going up and down a million stairs - just getting from 1 place to another is completely exhausting! Technically speaking, the nearest Metro station from our hotel was a 5 minute walk away - well, the entrance to the station was 5 minutes away - once underground, we walked at least 15 minutes before we got to the actual station. Spent so much time underground - we were beginning to feel a bit like moles at the end of the day - surfacing for a few minutes, then diving back into the tunnels! Sure was glad to take a taxi back to the hotel after dinner - I don't think I would have made it back on the Metro!

As always, I'm rambled on a bit - and I have to finish our Tokyo travels in a second post! Part II coming up - don't go anywhere!!

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