Only a month late! We joined the ship a day late in Portland, Maine as…
This was my first flight on Japan’s flagship carrier Japan Airlines (JAL), and it was rather pleasant indeed. I was seated in 1K for a 14 hour flight to Tokyo – the longest flight I’ve ever taken. Anyway, I needed a little luxury, and anybody who thinks I was being indulgent, you’re correct. I was able to secure this one-way £10,517 flight, for 120,000 points and a little under £500. This was my first time in proper long haul first class. The captain said we were flying an “unusual route” these days. I guess he meant avoiding Russian airspace.
There was lots of bowing and the flight attendants couldn’t do enough for us. Sane asked if I wanted to change before dinner. I hadn’t brought a change of clothes for the flight so I declined.
My adventures in gustatory experiences haven’t involved much Japanese food so I opted for the toasted cheese, ham and tomato sandwich. It was very nice.
Wabenabe asked if I’d like her to make my bed. I didn’t think this was too taxing so I declined. I pressed a few buttons, arranged the blanket accordingly, and tried to sleep. It was a little on the firm side. I persevered. I just assumed that Japanese people were used to such harsh sleeping conditions. Then I noticed my fellow passengers had mattresses, duvets, and soft pillows. I decided to accept Wabenabe’s offer and it was much improved.
Anyway, 14 hours flew by with some restful moments, watching Seinfeld, and the captain seemingly finding every patch of turbulence he could, to keep us entertained.
The whole Haneda airport experience was slick, and as I stepped out of the terminal I was greeted by smartly dressed taxi drivers with clean modern cars and civility which is often missing from a taxi rank. My driver was wearing a tie and was the perfect example of what a taxi driver should be. He was even wearing white gloves. 30 minutes later he deposited me at the Monterey Hanmonzon, in the centre of Tokyo.
I had four night in Tokyo at the reasonably priced four star Hotel Monterey located in a fairly quiet neighbourhood of Tokyo, not far from the British Embassy. Facilities at the hotel were sparse to non-existent, and my room was only a little bigger than a room at a capsule hotel. There would be no “cat swinging”.
The bathroom was the best feature. A short but deep bath with a functioning plug and a wonderful toilet that looked like it needed an instruction manual. I shall miss the warm seat when I get on the ship.
I spent three self-propelled days trotting round Tokyo and covered over 80,000 steps. I managed to knock off two of the highlights – the Imperial Palace gardens (no entry to the palace itself), and the Senso-ji Buddhist temple which was amazing.
There were two public holidays during my short stay – Constitutional Memorial Day on Wednesday 3rd, and Children’s Day on Friday May 5th. Japan has 16 public holidays a year including Respect for the Aged Day which is on September 18th this year.
I mooched around my neighbourhood quite a bit, and I was struck just how quiet it was. No loud voices, loud music, raucous behaviour – it was so calm. I liked it. I concluded that the Japanese don’t make a lot of noise and like living harmonious lives.
Some interesting observations about Tokyo. The Japanese are incredibly obedient with regard to pedestrian crossings. Even on a side street at 5 am when there isn’t a car in sight. They patiently wait until the green man appears. I saw only a few instances of jaywalking all week. I was probably the worst offender. I saw one elderly couple do it. I guess they don’t have too much time to waste on such inconveniences. I wondered what the Japanese think when they travel to London and watch whilst Brits cross roads with gay abandon.
I saw lots of police wherever I went, however I didn’t get the impression that there’s much crime. Police cars had three policemen in them. Two in the front and one in the back. And police on the street often had a broomstick. No brush, just the broomstick.
Other curiosities include, no tipping in taxis, restaurants and bars. No trash cans on the streets. They sell coke products, but didn’t see one Pepsi product, and there are 7-Elevens everywhere – 21,000 in the whole country.
For the first two days I was saying thank you to everybody in Portuguese. Obrigado sounds too much like Origato for my liking.
My tower experiences were somewhat thwarted by the crowds at my first attempt. Metro Tokyo is home to 37 million people and a good chunk of them were as keen on the Tokyo Tower as I was on Constitutional Memorial Day. It looks like a red Eiffel Tower. That same night I went in search of a restaurant but everything had closed early because of the public holiday. I ended up buying a sandwich and a can of beer and dining in the local park. The night before I’d been in First Class on Japanese Airlines. Now I was drinking beer out of a can sitting on a park bench.
On one of the days I went in search of a shopping district. What on earth was I thinking! Tokyo has several, and I chose Shibuya which was about a four mile walk from the hotel. I was intrigued by a place called Scramble Square. I needn’t have been. It was a multi-storey mall and very crowded. I lasted five minutes before buying a banana for some much needed energy.
I headed for Tokyo’s tallest building, the Tokyo Skytree at 634 metres (2,080 feet). I was vexed by the crowds once more. More so because this wasn’t one of the two public holidays. I went online and booked a ticket for 8 am – two days hence. I wanted to go up it.
That night I found the Anchor Point restaurant which had been closed the night before and treated myself to clam chowder and the most peculiar mashed potato I’ve ever tasted. They had ruined it with olive oil. Who puts olive oil on mashed potatoes? It was a rather upmarket restaurant and I mused about the previous night drinking beer in the park.
My final highlight was the Tokyo Skytree. I’d booked for the first tour of the day on Saturday and the crowds were gone, with just a few early morning visitors. The elevator hoists you up 350m to the first viewing platform, then a second takes those with the premium ticket up to 450m. The views were magnificent – some of the best I’ve seen, and I’ve been up a few towers in my time. Mount Fuji was visible but it wasn’t a particularly clear day.
After three days walking the streets, my legs requested that I get a taxi there and back and I obliged. They are important to me and I need to make them last.
Japan has a population of around 125 million making it the sixth most populated country in the world, and the total land area is about 50% bigger than the UK, or 94% of California.
After four terrible nights sleep, I left the hotel and headed for the ship to see Georgia. I hope the pillows on the QE2 are more to my liking. I think the Hotel Monterey may have got a “job lot” after the final season of Tenko.