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Tamashii No Tokyo Part 1 - JoshB's Japan Odssey

People have been asking me, on CDX and in real life, how was the trip to Tokyo. For posterity's sake, I'm going to write about it here.

I got the opportunity to go to Tokyo from a meeting with Bandai at the 2009 NYTF. They invited me to attend the Tamashii Expo, but of course I had to pay my own way. But money was not the only obstacle. My wife had said after my last Tokyo trip "You are not going to Tokyo again without me".

At the end of Toy Fair, I was waiting in the hotel lobby for our ride out to the airport, when my phone rang. My wife was out keeping busy with the kids, and they ended up at a pet store, looking at a puppy.

An idea sprung into my head. I said to her, you can get the puppy if I can go to Tokyo. Surprisingly she agreed, and I began to make my plans for a trip to the motherland.

The first thing in order was the flight. From the east coast, Tokyo is a LONG way away. Total air flight time is around 16 hours, so you want to make damn sure you pick a good seat. I always go with this travel agency out of California called Gateway LAX. They buy tickets to Japan wholesale, and they have blocks of them, so not only do you get the best price, but you also get to pick your seat. Now normally I fly on American Airlines, because being a fat American, I need the extra inch of seat room in economy. I highly recommend finding out what kind of plane you are flying in and visiting to figure out what kind of space you have. While flying AA to Tokyo is cheap, it is not fun. The planes are old, the flight attendants tired and jaded, the entertainment stupid. I heard that flying a Japanese airway was the way to go, so I took a chance and booked a flight on Japan Airlines. You have to be careful when booking a JAL flight, because often even though they say JAL, they are actually AA flights. The good thing though is that the two airlines share miles. After confirming the flight with the agency, the next stop was hotel.

On my last two trips to Tokyo, I had the fortune of staying with someone I knew, so I didn't need to get a hotel. This time though, i was on my own. There are of course a lot of hotels in and around Tokyo, but they can vary wildly in price and location. Cheaper hotels tend to be out of the city or away from train stations. Hotel booking sites like priceline and only have a limited amount of affordable hotels available in the Tokyo area. Where location was so critical, I didn't want to take a chance with priceline and get a hotel in the middle of nowhere. What I ended up doing was researching the areas around my destination and then searching that name with hotel. So, for example, I searched "Akihabara+hotel" on google. A little research found out what I was looking for was a bare-bones business hotel, so I searched for a business hotel and found one called Ochanomizu St. Hills Hotel. Actually, I found a bunch, but this one had an English web page and great prices. At 7,980 yen a night, it seemed like a steal. So I went ahead and booked that online, and I was set to go.

Of course the weeks in-between are filled with google searching about all kinds of things relating to my trip. I know I needed to put aside time to see Tamashii Nations, and also to do some Sakura Blossom viewing, but other than that, my schedule was pretty open.

The time came and I had to get up at the crack of dawn. Why did I book my flight so early? Checking in was quiet and easy, although I had an issue with my baggage. See, in order to get around easily, and to be able to bring back lots of stuff, I packed my regular suitcase inside of another larger empty suitcase. While convienent to carry around, it was over the airlines weight limit, and subject to a charge! ack. So I had to separate the bags at check-in, and each on its own was under the allowed weight. Go figure.

The first leg of the flight is from Boston to Chicago, and takes about 2 hours. This is of course on a smaller, AA plane. Once in Chicago, I then transfer to a JAL flight to Tokyo.

This is one of those big international planes that has the two level seating, and because I was able to pick my seat, I got the coach section in the bubble at the top front of the plane. This is awesome for many reasons. For one, you are far away from the engines, so it is quiet. Second, there are less people up here, so you get better service.

I had picked an aisle seat on-line, and as I approached my row I could see the look of horror in the face of the Japanese woman and her young daughter as this big hairy Gaijin goes to sit next to them.


But the seat was ok, it was an aisle seat, so I would live. It was noticeably smaller than an AA flight though. Not but a few minutes into the flight, the attendant comes over to me and says that the front row in this section is completely empty, and I can have it all to myself if I want. HELL YEAH I wanted to. So I mosey up to the front seat and sit down. It is then that I realize I have made a mistake.

When seated in a normal row, you have room under the seat in front of you for your feet to stretch out a little. Not so in the front row - there's a wall in front of you. So then I thought at least I can kind of scoot sideways and put up the arm wrests and spread out a little. Nope. See, on a normal seat, the TV for your seat is in the seat back of the row in front of you. With no row in front of me, the TV monitors were stored in the armrests between the seats, making them immobile. To add insult to injury, the armrests were actually larger to accommodate the monitors, reducing the width even more.

I decided to stay in the seat, because i could spread all my stuff on the other seats and not have to fight for elbow space with a 10 year old Japanese girl. I took advantage of the free booze (another perk of JAL) and got a glass of wine, downed some Tylenol PM and I was out cold.

The flight from Chicago to Tokyo is about 13 hours long, and I slept about 8 of them. Not too bad. I watched a few movies, played some games, and as I passed the time the map showed our flight inching closer and closer to Japan.

As we pass over Hokkaido, the captain comes on and says a message in Japanese, and I miss the English part. But I look at the monitor and my plane begins to turn away from Tokyo and head back up north!

A flight attendant explains to me that a FedEX plane has just crashed at Narita Airport right ahead of us, closing down the entire main runway. We are being diverted to Saporro.

Resigned to my fate, I look out the window and watch the snowy landscape pass by. We arrive at Sapporo airport and are unloaded from buses, which brings us to customs and immigration. I have no idea what I am doing right now. Am I getting another flight? Nobody is telling me.

Apparently Sapporo isn't used to getting multiple international flights diverted in at once because there are only two people in immigration and it takes forever. We have to get our baggage, have it inspected, and then go upstairs and wait in line at the JAL terminal to get another flight. Finally, they book us on a flight to Haneda airport, so I get my ticket, check my bags again, and then wait to get through the terminal. This whole ordeal takes HOURS. I am dying.

From Sapporo to Haneda is quick, maybe an hour? I can't really tell what time it is, but it is dark out, so it must be late. I arrive at Haneda, which is closer to Tokyo than Narita, and quickly claim my bags.

It's 9pm at night. I have no Japanese money, because usually I get the currency exchanged at the international terminal at Narita, and then hop on the Narita Express into Tokyo. But now I am at a domestic terminal, so all the currency exchanges are closed.

The stress of a long day is settling in. I just want to stop. But I get on a shuttle bus with my luggage and find the one currency exchange open in the small International terminal. After exchanging currency I make my way to the subway station which ends up bring me to Tokyo Station. From there I take the subway to Ochanomizu Station.

I get off the train and pull out my map. It says that I need to go straight across the bridge outside the station, up a few blocks and I am there. Well, I take an elevator out of the station and come out on the wrong side of the river. I ask a cab driver if he can drive me, and he's trying to tell me in his best broken English that the hotel is only a few blocks over. I am so tired, I don't care, I ask how much. 900 yen he quotes me, but then, he says to forget about it and tells me where to walk.

I'm too tired to argue anymore. Its around 10pm. I was supposed to arrive around 3. I drag my luggage all the way around the station, find the bridge, cross it, and from there I can look over and see the neon lights of Akihabara. It is here that it finally hits me, I am in Tokyo.


I make my way up a giant hill (I guess the hotel is called St. Hills for a reason) and finally check in. I get my card, go up to the seventh floor, collapse and die.

Tomorrow, I visit HobbyLink Japan.

Posted 28 April, 2009 - 21:35 by JoshB


2 comments posted

I've been fascinated with Saporro after watching Akira Kurosawa's The Idiot which takes place in Saporro. The Ice Festival looks amazing and it was one of the highlights of the film. They still do the Ice Festival to this day and I need to experience it at least once!

Leonardo Flores
CollectionDX Staff Writer-West Coast Bureau

Showapop's picture
Posted by Showapop on 28 April, 2009 - 23:32
Wow! What trip getting there

Thanks for sharing the details of how you
planned for the trip and what you experienced.
I would have jumped at the chance to sit in
the front of the section of airline seats also.
Too bad there was a stinking wall so your feet
couldn't stretch out as far as you wanted.

I bet your great visit to Hobby Link Japan
made all the discomfort of getting there
worth it.

krakit's picture
Posted by krakit on 14 June, 2009 - 16:31