Tag Archives: Japanese Hotels

Sayonara, Japan

It was pouring so I splurged and asked the front desk to call a taxi.  The cab hit a traffic jam; I was impressed there could be one in Shimoda.  The driver started down a maze of tiny back alleys that didn’t appear to be legit driving routes but as long as the car didn’t get stuck in the narrow passages what did I care?

We ran up to the ticket taker at the station, who pronounced, “Tickets, no good!”  He shook his head, made an “X” with his fingers, and indicated I should get into the ticket purchase line.  I could feel Charlie’s anxiety rising.

“Wait, wait!  Are we gonna miss our train?  Are we gonna miss our flight back home?!” he asked.

“No, Mr. Worry Wart.  We’re not going to miss either,” I said calmly, although I was feeling anything but calm inside.

And so began a very stressful day I wrote about that night.  I can feel my anxiety rising as I write this, so I won’t go over it again.

We did get to Tokyo and we ended the day with me watching Crazy Rich Asians and Charlie watching Charlie and Chocolate Factory.

He had requested Titanic but his mother nixed that.  Probably not the best choice the night before a 13-hour trans Pacific flight anyway.

We arrived early at the airport, well before Fred and Hiromi, who were coming to see us off.  We had our last meal in Japan; I gave Charlie my raw egg so he got to slurp down two, which made me gag.

We walked around and checked out the shops.  “Tokyo banana” was some kind of gift thing but not a thing I was curious enough to purchase.

I bought books—a collection of Japanese short stories; Kazuo Ishiguro’s Artist of the Floating World, and A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute (which has a WWII South Pacific theme).

Following a comment in the introduction to the short stories written by Murakami Haruki (as his name is used in Japan), I hit upon my favorite Japanese-themed book so far, The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki.  All these somehow led me to another great book with a WWII South Pacific sub-theme, A Gesture Life, by Korean-American author Chang-rae Lee.

Each of these has brought me many hours of absorbed contentment, some laughs, and some pain due to difficult content.

We turned a corner and there were Fred and Hiromi with Charlie’s cousin Ichiro.  They had planned to take us out for breakfast but since we’d beat them to it,  Plan B was coffee and ice cream.  Charlie grabbed Fred’s phone and dove into Pokémon Go while Ichiro played on Hiromi’s phone.

Next, grandma treated the boys to many games in the top-floor arcade while I grabbed my last chance to by “authentic” plastic souvenirs.

At last we walked across this bridge, where I took photos of grandparents and grandsons, who put on faces like they were being tortured.

Charlie and I walked through security, waved good-bye once more, and boarded our plane.

And that was Japan!

People have asked me how much it all cost.  I did do a reckoning and estimated my tab was around $4,000 all in for the month, including airfare and minus the $1,000 I got for subletting my duplex.

A person could do better by skipping the Nara Hotel, which was the outlier for accommodations.  But then they would miss out on the all-you-can-drink rooftop deal.


Meilparque Hotel: $107/night for a tiny, sterile room with glaring lights but a good breakfast and close to three stations and a major shrine

New Tohoku Hotel: $101 for a filthy/worn but quiet room with good beds and breakfast and great location

Air BnB in Omiya: $73—you get what you pay for

Hotel Monday Toyosu: $99 for a microscopic room near the fish market

Nikko: Annex Turtle Inn, $87, horrid beds but homey with a lovely onsen

Kyoto: Koiyama Hotel, $67, spotless, kitchenette and washer, hard beds

Nara Hotel: $149, charming, enormous room, free shuttle

Koyasan: Shojoshin-in Monastery, $120, including two fantastic vegan meals per day, futons

Shimoda: $94, lovely views and room but futons, no internet

Honey Park and Honey Pots

“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.