Return to Japan – Day 1

Return to Japan – Day 1

Note to self:  Do NOT plan to do 30 things upon arrival into Tokyo when you are leaving early the next morning… sometimes there are air delays.   After sitting in LAX for an unexpected 3 hours (making the 11 hr flight into a 14 hr sit in the seat flight…), we arrived into Tokyo Narita a little after 6P.   Customs was extraordinarily quick – probably because there were so few “other passports” deplaning – only about 15% of the 2/3 full flight were actually going to Japan – the rest were transiting to other parts of Asia.  For this time of year, that’s a little unusual and shows the clear drop in tourists from the US.

Alas, the luggage wait was longer than usual; most likely because they were desperately trying to get the connecting luggage to the right flights and figured the folks that were just picking up theirs could wait a little.

This trip we were using a JR Pass so that I could see how easy that is to navigate starting at Narita.  We raced downstairs to the station and got our passes validated and reservations made for the next Narita Express to Tokyo Station (they leave about every ½ hour).   I had time to make two other reservations, but was running out of time so only took care of my plans through Kyoto.   The JR Pass can work easily for some itineraries, or if you’re familiar with the train system, but it does require some up-front time at the beginning of your trip to get all the reservations in place.   The staff at the Narita JR station were quite helpful and their English is excellent – they obviously deal with this situation all the time.   I can’t say how long it would take to get things handled if you came in during the normal arrival times for inbound flights from the US (between 2-6P).   We were in very late so there wasn’t any one around and no lines.

After getting downtown about 3 ½ hours later than planned we checked into our hotel for the night, the Hotel Metropolitan Marunouchi, and took care of logistics (re-packing, food, etc.).   We also took our extra bag over to our final hotel – one of the ways that I suggest people handle excess luggage when they have onward plans that require different clothing or equipment.   The Four Seasons Marunouchi was happy to take our bag and will have it sitting in our room when we arrive in about a week. So now we’re not schlepping around all those clothes we need for the family obligation at the end of the trip.

The Hotel Metropolitan Marunouchi turned out to be a very nice option for a quick stay in Tokyo when leaving the next morning.   I will admit, even after many transfers through Tokyo Station, the place still befuddles me.   We wandered around quite a bit trying to find the right exit – this is partially because it was pouring rain and I preferred not to soak all our luggage walking around outside.  I know if we’d just left the station and walked outside we probably would have been just fine.   However, upon finding the right exit – the location turned out to be really GREAT!   It’s located right outside the Nihonbashi exit and there is a covered walkway to the building, so you don’t even have to walk out in the elements.   And, best of all, it is directly across from the entrance to the JR Shinkansen station for the Tokaido line, which is the main line south for our clients.  So at least for departure, it would be almost impossible to get lost going for your train.

I’m writing this on the train south and will post as soon as I get internet connection.   In terms of observations related to the Tohoku earthquake – there were only a few:

  • I asked the flight attendants on the flight what they had been seeing and, no surprise, the main thing has been the lack of tourists to Japan.  Full flights but mostly transit passengers.   They did tell me flights later this week are almost full, so perhaps business travelers are starting to come to Tokyo again.
  • The Narita Express train has a screen with the status of other trains that you might be connecting to.  There were about 8 train outages showing.   Two were listed as blackout involved – both for lines directly North into the affected areas.  The others were for inspections, accidents and signal trouble.
  • I did notice that it looked a little darker outside, but then we couldn’t recall if we’d arrived this late before.  Most of the areas we passed through were residential – so we could see lights on in the houses (usually only one window per house) but not a lot of street lighting.  As we got closer to Tokyo the lights increased and started to include commercial places like grocery stores and parking lots.
  • This morning we looked around and noticed a decided lack of western faces in the train station and the stores and restaurants.   This is one of the main holiday seasons and there were clearly very few westerners holidaying in Japan right now.
  • There is definitely no gloominess in Tokyo – it seemed to be business as usual from the gentleman who did our train reservations to the cheerful bellman who assisted us to the room to the waiter at the restaurant we found in the train station who helped with our food allergies.

Finally, and most importantly from the perspective of what I’m trying to find out on this trip – not a single aftershock during our first call into Tokyo.   We were staying on the 30th floor and I used to live in LA, so am pretty familiar with the feeling – at 30 stories you can rock and roll in a typical aftershock.

More tomorrow after traveling to Takayama.

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