“I’ll only buy nonstop tickets, on Delta, to Haneda,” my sister-in-law said when we sat down at her dining room table back in February to jump on the flight sale by a Japanese travel agency in Chicago. “It takes forever to get into Tokyo from Narita.” Narita, Tokyo’s “international airport,” and Haneda, “the other airport.” The former is an hour out from the city while Haneda was a 10-minute tram ride to my station.
Keiko and I tried and re-tried the 800 numbers until I heard a live person, speaking Japanese. I thrust the phone over to her and after 15 minutes of listening to her provide our info and repeating, “Hai, hai, hai…” (yes, yes, yes), we had our tickets—for $1,105 each. That’s hundreds of dollars less than a flight to London right now.
If you want to go to Japan, befriend a Japanese American. They will know about the flight sales.
The flight was so easy. I think it lulled me into thinking the whole trip would be easy. I bumped right into Keiko and the boys at the Minneapolis airport amidst thousands of people forming inchoate lines. Charlie was seated behind me on the plane. I’d been concerned about him kicking my seat but he didn’t. I was charmed that Delta provides slippers on flights to Japan but passed on wearing them. I watched Bohemian Rhapsody, Mary Poppins, Mary Queen of Scots, A Star is Born, and half of Aquaman before we landed.
We breezed through immigration and customs. Despite Keiko’s doubts, I had no problem withdrawing cash from an airport ATM. I waved goodbye as I rode the elevator down to the monorail that took me to Hamamatusucho Station, from which I would walk to my hotel, “just 10 minutes from the station.”
In Japan, everything is “just minutes” from a station. Except if you get lost. Then everything is an hour from your station.
The Mielparque Hotel lived up to its fancy French name. It was an 80s-style brass and glass, marble floors and chandeliers-type convention hotel, trying to brand itself as a wedding destination.
I was asked to pay my bill upon arrival, and they couldn’t get my credit card to work. They tried it upside down and sideways and entered the numbers manually to no effect. Fortunately I had a debit card, but if there was something wrong with my credit card—which gives me 1.5% cash back—this would be a bummer.
I asked about shipping my bag on to Nikko, my next destination. I had read in at least three sources that this was a great service and that any hotel would be able to help me make arrangements. The staff at the Mielparque stared at me uncomprehendingly and shook their heads, while also smiling broadly.
I rode the escalator to the ninth floor and heard the deeply-disturbing baby-girl voice that speaks in Japanese elevators. It’s deeply disturbing. It was my introduction to—my interpretation—the Japanese valuing women who are weak and infantile.
I had paid $20 extra for a view of Tokyo Tower, which was near the hotel. My actual room had a view of a brick wall. So unlike me—I didn’t attempt to fight this with the staff.
Because, as I wrote in some frantic posts in real time, my arrival in Tokyo coincided with the death of my cell phone and a bunch of dodgy charges showing up on my credit card bill. It’s all good now, but one lesson learned is to bring my laptop whenever I travel, even though it adds four pounds of weight.
There was nothing I could do about my phone until the Apple Store opened the next day. I wasn’t going to sit in the tiny room wondering what other people had done here before me.
I liked how the porn movie catalogue said “FUCK!!” on the cover, just in case some English speaker couldn’t tell what it was. Again, it was unsettling how all the women were portrayed as innocent little girls. Maybe “pure” is the word?
So I went out for a wander. After all, I knew the neighborhood like the back of my hand now.