Friday, October 29, 2010
Hiroshima Mon Amour
Sooooo, here we are in Tokyo and ready for bed since we didn't sleep on the plane and sheesh, this is exhausting. But since I filled my little notebook with four pagesof notes just while driving on the Friendly Bus from Narita, I figured I might as well share. Sarah is already showered and snuggled down...
Our plane (UA 853)was a half hour late leaving SFO due to a mechanical problem, so we arrived on time a half hour late (huh?) and the lovely geisha with the wheelchair was right there waiting for me. This is, without doubt, the only way to travel long-haul and if I did not have spinal injury, I would invent one or be smart enough to call ahead on a trip and order the service, which gets you and those accompanying you through the lines and check-points in a breeze. And you don't even tip in Japan!
We did not go through the regular enter here line because of the wheelchair, but were delighted with our no-line entry and the cute machine that took a photo of the face and gobbled up your fingerprints all at the same time. There was a video showing how to do it, in case your Japanese isn't fluent. It's a little NEC computer that has a Mt. Fuji screen saver and says things like 'look here' and 'thank you' in animation formats. This is even better than the fancy toilets we have come to expect.
We got to the Friendly bus counter and were told there was a bus to our hotel, the ANA InterConti in Akasaka, in five minutes, so we rolled outta there in a hurry and didn't get to check out the arrivals area of Narita that much. I paid for both our tix with a credit card-- 3,000 yen each, or about $36 to $50 depending on who is giving you the exchange rate. Jean Chatsky says Capital One doesn't charge a transaction fee on international charges, so I wanted to test it out-- I seem to remember that they have changed policy and now charge the same 3% upcharge that everyone else adds to your bill. Stay tuned.
At the bus counter, everything is as up to date as in Kansas City-- in English and digitally arranged and color coded. You get the times of the next two buses and the departure slot on the pavement written in a little circle. Ours was #11, right outside the door. The luggage was on-loaded and we got baggage claims then clamored onboard. Seamless and easy; so far, so good.
A local gentleman in a Friendly jumpsuit paraded down the aisle with a big yellow sign in Japanese and English telling us to fasten our seat belts and off we went, past the airport Hilton and past the First Wood Hotel, which made me wonder if it was one of those Love Hotels you read about in guidebooks. Despite the fact that the Japanese drive on the 'wrong' side of the road, everything was so normal and simple that there was a reassuring air of possibility.
Yes, there are bathrooms on the bus.
If you think this is a horribly foreign place where you cannot adapt, consider these facts:
* you read left to right, like Hebrew;
* you drive on the left side of the road, like London;
* you speak the translitered ts sound in Japanese, like in Russian;
* you can spot the exit signs because the kanji are the same as in Chinese;
* you can tell you are near Akasaka when you spot the Tokyo Tower, a copy of the Eiffel Tower, just like in Paris.
See? It's all very simple if you travel enough.
Disney is to your left as you drive into town; you can't miss it. The traffic didn't build up until we hit our exit, marked toward Ginza, passed the rear of the hotel, saw a view to what looked like the George Washington Bridge and endured a mass of sphaghetti like overlfies of highway and white cars (mostly Toyotas). The ANA InterConti is the first stop; most people got off the bus. I was quietly singing one of the songs from Pacific Overtures -- 'Welcome to Kanagawa'. Although we were not really in Kanagawa; It's still the only welcome to Japan song I know.
At the InterConti ANA, you take the interior escalator up to the 2F to the lobby; you have to bring your own luggage or ask someone to help you-- there were no trolleys or dollies. Yet a non-porter person (a Friendly guy!) was cheerful and willing to help. Check in went smoothoy, although if you think the French are rude, get a load of this team. And don't even look at the hotel's posted rate of exchange at 70 to 1...we will find a bank first thing in the morning and hope for better news. Since the bank rate is beter than 80 to one, this seems criminal.
Our room is on a lounge floor and is lovely, but small --as are most hotel rooms in Tokyo-- the bathroom at least has a heated toilet with self-flush trick, amen. The Club Lounge is stunning and we hope to make dinner out of their snacks in the near future, but we were 15 minutes too late tonight. We tried to find a cute neighborhoody place for a bite, but walked into something so local that no one spoke English and I forgot the Japanese word for water.
In fact, I could only think of it in Swahili, which is not too helpful here. We found Starbucks (across the street) and the subway (next door) as well as Seven-11 and Family Mart(you cannot buy a family there) ...but were unable to buy a SIM card for my unlocked phone. Another task for tomorrow.
We have two deliscious looking double beds in the room and soft down pillows and duvet as well as a buckwheat pillow. There's tons of hot water in the shower and the toilet is always a pleasure.
The best news of the evening was the word that the General Manager of the hotel is a Scotsman. We plan to kidnap him tomorrow and have our way with him. At the very least, perhaps he can make Tokyo seem less foreign. And to think, I've been here many times before and do not intimidate easily. You are surprised I speak your language? Tomorrow will be better, Sarah is mumbling. Right.