Tokyo Day One Part One – Arrival at Haneda, Meiji Shrine and Harajuku
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This trip report will be comprised of JFK-LAX Delta BusinessElite, LAX-Haneda Delta BusinessElite, Tokyo Day 1 Parts One and Two, Tokyo Day 2, Tokyo Day 3, Tokyo Day 4, Park Hyatt Tokyo Review and Delta Economy Comfort Narita to JFK. I’m going to do my Tokyo blogging while I’m here and so much is fresh in my mind and I’ll recap the flights and hotel when I’m back.
My 11.5 hour, 5,488 mile flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda ended with a smooth touchdown and quick taxi to the gate. Haneda didn’t appear to be the second busiest airport in Asia, but apparently it is. Since I was sitting in seat 7A on the 777LR, I was the second person off the aircraft and at 4:55am, customs and immigration was empty. I was originally nervous that I had forgotten to print my return flight itinerary or hotel stay, but the friendly agent, donned in a surgical mask, simply asked me to put my two index fingers on the scanner, look into the camera and within 60 seconds I was through. Simple enough. It was very similar to using Global Entry in the US.
Interestingly I got to meet a fellow TPG reader who was on the flight and seated in business class. While the plane wasn’t near capacity, apparently he got a pity upgrade at LAX because he was doing a direct turn back to the US 19 hours later. I was impressed with his skills, generally Delta does not upgrade Medallions on international flights unless the flight is oversold and they absolutely must bump people from coach to business. In fact, that happened to me as a Silver Medallion several years ago on JFK-Buenos Aires, but it hasn’t happened since and I’ve been on 10+ coach international trips (mostly mileage runs on mistake fares). In any case, I hope he got upgraded on the way back (feel free to chime in and comment below about your return experience!).
Moving along, I was feeling really refreshed from almost 8 hours of solid sleep, so my plan to get a taxi was called off (I originally thought I’d be exhausted and was prepared to splurge). However, I was well-rested and heavily-caffeinated, so I was ready for my adventure to begin.
I approached the bus ticket desk to inquire about a bus ride to the Park Hyatt, though I was skeptical because I had read conflicting information that the buses only drop off at Shinjuku station, which is a solid 10-15 minute walk to the hotel. However, the friendly agent informed me the bus would drop me off right at the hotel and the fare was only 1,200 Yen ($15). Score. It was only shortly after 5am and the bus didn’t leave until 5:45am, so I thought I’d try my luck as getting into one of the lounges. I hadn’t done my research, but I figured I’d be able to gain access to one of them using either my Skyteam Elite Plus status, Delta BusinessElite ticket or my Priority Pass (courtesy of my Amex Platinum Card). The JAL lounge didn’t open until 5:30am, so I tried ANA and was politely turned away. Let me tell you, it was a weird feeling that I hope I never experience again! Oh well, it’s fun to make newbie mistakes once in a while, right?
As I mentioned, I was feeling adventurous, so I saw the sign for pay-for-use showers and rest rooms, so I figured I’d hang out in the poor man’s lounge. I paid 800 yen ($10) for 30 minutes of shower-time. After being on airplanes for over 17 hours, I was ready to rinse off the inevitable layer of film that comes with traveling thousands of miles in dry cabins. I noticed the shoes at the door of the showers and it was a friendly reminder that I was no longer in Dodge. I kicked off my size 14 loafers, which made the petite womens shoes next to them look like toothpicks.
I opened the door and immediately it hit me that I was in Asia – the space was tiny! After some maneuvering to get my Tumi suitcase and Bally carry-on bag safely in the room, I surveyed the space and was pretty impressed. It was immaculately cleaned – probably cleaner than my shower at home, though I’m not sure if that’s saying a lot. I raised the shower-head to accommodate my freakish 6’7″ height and was also impressed by the water pressure. I had an enjoyable 10 minute shower and was on my way – feeling as fresh as one could be.
I proceeded to the bus area and noticed two areas: route buses and organized buses. I wasn’t sure which I should go to, but saw people congregating down the stairs from route buses, so assumed that’s where I should be and I was right. It was a sunny morning and in the 60’s and there were only a handful of people on the bus, so everything went smoothly. Like clockwork, the bus left at 5:45 and after we dropped everyone else off at Shinjuku station, we proceeded to the Park Hyatt which was only 5 minutes away. There was absolutely no traffic and the door-to-door time was about 30 minutes.
(Full Park Hyatt Tokyo review to come).
After a quick breakfast I decided to walk to Yoyogi park, which houses the Meiji Shrine. It took me about 15 minutes to get there, mostly through a residential neighborhood. I really liked being able to watch people living their everyday lives early on a nice Sunday morning. This was a nice first impression of the city and a far cry from what most people have told me about Tokyo, including that it is, “New York City on crack.”
I entered the park on the Southwest corner with a group of about 50 schoolchildren all in their uniforms who were loudly chattering. I smiled thinking they were probably saying, “Who the heck is that giant?!” I even get that in the US!
I didn’t have a map, but I figured I’d run into the shrine, which was highly recommended to me in my request for Tokyo tips. I really enjoyed walking around the peaceful park and taking in the amazing smells. It was relaxing to watch people meditating and just taking life easy. My life has been entirely too hectic recently, so I reveled in the solitude of the park. It really was nice not having a map – in fact I came to a fork in the road and felt very much like the Wizard of Oz. I ended up going left, which was the long way, but in the end I found the main entrance to the park and made my way to the shrine.
I had read in other reports that you should rinse your hands and mouth before entering the shrine, so I waited and watched a Japanese family walk their young child through the process, which was actually very simple. All you need to do is dip the wooden ladle into the fresh spring water, pour it once over one hand – dip again and pour over the other hand and then dip a third time and pour it into your hand and then slurp it out of your hand, swish it around in your mouth and then spit it out on the ground. Simple enough, within 2 minutes I was cleansed and on my way into the shrine.
The shrine was actually a large outdoor area with some little shops and flower displays. Perhaps most interesting, were the brides who were donned in unbelievable traditional Japanese outfits, followed by their bridal parties. You could just sense the tradition and respect and I had read they don’t mind having pictures taken of them, so I snapped a couple good ones.
I figured I would pay my respects and donated some coins to the shrine, so I watched for about 10 minutes as people approached the main area to pray. The process differed slightly, but generally people would walk up, throw some coins into the wooden box-like collection “trough,” bow twice slowly, clap twice loudly, stand in silence for about 30 seconds as they said a prayer and then bow once more and leave. I did this and even though I felt a little out of place, I think it went alright (to date no international incidents have happened in Tokyo to my knowledge).
I took a leisurely stroll on my way out of the park and headed towards the east side so I could exit towards Harajuku, which is known for the Takeshita Street – the home of the Harajuku girls and boys – the wildly dressed, goth/pop/schoolgirls/whatever flavor of the moment (see: How to dress like a Harajuku). I walked through just as things were starting to get busy around 10:45am, but I got enough of a flavor. Basically it’s a row of crazy costume and clothes shops – think your local Forever 21, Hot Topic and Claire’s stores mixed together and on acid.
To be continued!
Reminder – Full disclosure: My flights and hotels were comped by Delta and Hyatt respectively.