It's finally here! The vacation I've been waiting for. And day one... not very exciting. Though I knew that'd most likely be the case. So here's a quick rundown of how the day went:
The Traveling (And Celebrities!)
I woke up at 6:30 AM and was out of my place by 7:20. I decided to take the train rather than an airport bus, as I wasn't entirely clear how the airport buses worked or where, exactly, to find them (outside of them being somewhere in Sanbon). Plus, the train only takes 30 minutes longer than the bus, and you save about 10 bucks. The entire train ride (including about 3 transfers) took a little over 2 hours, and I got to the airport at almost exactly 9:30. My flight didn't leave until 11:40. So I was doing pretty well.
Then I entered the place and... wow did I get turned around pretty fast. You have to walk quite a ways just to get to the main terminal area. Then I wasn't sure which floor to go to in order to check in. Usually it's on the first floor, but nope. Turned out to be the third. But while I was wandering around, I found what turned out to be one of a ton of money exchange banks, so I switched out my "won" for "yen." They say not to do it at the airport, but this one actually didn't have too bad of an exchange rate. And then I made my way up to the third level where I proceeded to get lost again. This time I couldn't find the United Airlines section, so I wandered around until I finally found a sign that said which sections had which airlines. And it was basically on the other side of the area. But I got there alright and did a self-check-in that went pretty fast. And that allowed me to jump right to an express desk with nobody there (the lady even called me over by name, assuming after it popped up on her screen from the self-check-in). She took my checked bag and informed me that they were actually going to start boarding the plane at 10:55(-ish), and it was already a little after 10 by this point. So now I started to worry a little. Anyway, she sent me on my way to security.
Security was easy, as well. Didn't even have to take off my shoes. They did have to run my backpack twice, but no major issues. I was done with security after about 10 minutes, including waiting in line. Then I had a long trek which eventually took me to a train that I had to take to the Concourse, followed by another long trek to the actual gate. By the time I got to my gate, I still had about 25-30 minutes until boarding, so I just hung out there for a while. I think there was a famous US basketball player there, because some people were taking giddy photos with him. I say basketball player not because he was really tall and African American (though that was the case), but because he was wearing basketball-type clothes and, as I later saw on the plane, had a deflated basketball with him. Oh, and there was yet another baggage check right before you entered the plane itself. And apparently they wouldn't even let people take bottled water on the plane, as one guy got stopped for that.
The flight was uneventful. It only took about 2 hours. I tried watching Oblivion (the Tom Cruise movie), but had to stop 20 minutes from the end because the plane was about to arrive at Tokyo. So I make my way to the immigration area, and this is when something pretty cool happened. I'm waiting in line for the Immigration area, and there's this group of like 5 people in line right in front of me. They're all rock-band looking (like stereotypical Russell Brand types that only seem real in the movies). They had band T-shirts and tattoos, almost exclusively for the band The Cure. At first I wasn't sure, because I don't know what the band looks like despite knowing who they are. (Flash forward a bit--I looked it up online once I reached my hotel. Sure enough, it was them! And they're in Japan for a huge multi-band rock concert happening this week called Fuji Rock Festival).
Anyway, after Immigration, I got my checked bag super fast and went through Customs (which took less than 5 minutes all together). I found the desk for the hotel buses, got a ticket, and waiting about 20-30 minutes for mine to show up. Then it was another 80 minutes or so travel to my hotel.
After I got checked in, I made my way to my insanely small room (though that was to be expected). It's good enough for what I need. It's not like I'm gonna be staying in here the whole time. Hopefully. Pics of the hotel and room (a few more to come later):
I hopped on my computer and tried to locate the nearest Lawson store so I could try and get my Ghibli Museum ticket. Fortunately there was one no more than a 5-10 minute easy walk away. I figured I'd head over there, try and get my ticket, then look for a place to eat.
Long story short on this front, I found the store pretty easy, followed by instructions to get the ticket... and they were completely sold out. Like, for the entire week at every time. So sadly, I won't get to see the Ghibli Museum. Oh well.
So I started to make my way back toward the hotel and found a nice restaurant/shopping center. And within that, I found a great little tonkatsu restaurant. I couldn't pass up tonkatsu in its native country. The waiter guy was insanely nice and tried to speak English to the best of his abilities (which weren't good, but he was so overly nice and polite that the gesture alone was wonderful). He brought me an English menu and some cold tea (which was pretty decent). And I ordered a dish that was kind of a sampler. It had 2 bite-size tonkatsu pieces, 2 pepper/cheese roll things, and a huge, flaky tempura shrimp. (And a little thing of soup.) I also ordered a "cola."
One of the cooks first brought out a huge bowl of cabbage salad (pretty norm in Asia, it seems... and I have to admit, I really kinda like it). He also brought this little bowl of sesame seeds with an actual wooden stick thing and asked me if I knew how to use it. I said no, so he said to use the stick to crush the seed up 5 times and then pour the tonkatsu sauce into it and mix it up. Pretty interesting. I munched on the cabbage salad until they brought out the rest of my food, which didn't take long. And then I chowed down. There was so much, I couldn't even finish every single thing. And it was all delicious. While paying, the polite waiter gave me a stamp card that I could fill up to get money off after so many stamps.
(Pictures of the restaurant and food to come later.)
Unfortunately, as I left the building, I noticed it had started to rain a bit. I was going to walk around more, but alas... rain. So I came back to the hotel for a little while until it cleared up (wherein I wrote the majority of this post). But then I decided to head back out.
I'd heard the best place to get a great view is the Observatory Deck on the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office (#1)... which, fortunately, is like a 5-minute walk from my hotel (if you know where you're going, anyway). I make it there, and there are people already lining up to go up. They check your bags if you have any and you wait in a line until one of the two elevators shows up. Then an attendant shows a group into the elevator and sends you up. I wasn't sure what to expect going up, but it certainly wasn't what I got.
Basically, it's a large room with two little toy/gift shops on either end. The room itself is surrounded by windows that show a huge stretch of the city... which looks amazing at night. And then off to the side is a fancy little bar if you want to stay and have drinks. I walked around taking pictures and looking at knickknacks for a while--some people even offering to take pictures of me, as well (though there's glare in the windows behind me).
And then I waited in the even longer exit line and went back down, making my way back to the hotel (much faster than it took to get there). And that was my first day! I have to say I was a little worried at first about the experience of my first day. But the second I hit that observatory deck at the government building, the magic of Tokyo really started to hit me. And that was just like .001% of what I'll be experiencing the rest of the week. And I can't wait to do so! And now, a bunch of pictures of the Observatory Deck:
|What I see going in, to the right.|
|Part of the outer decor of the bar.|
|The elevators to go back down.|