The Journey Begins

on Saturday, April 30th 2016 at 6:44pm PDT
in Los Angeles, CA

Greetings all! I'm very excited to be embarking upon my first ever trip to Asia- to Tokyo, Japan, to be precise- and am hoping to share as much as I can with you, my friends and followers around the world.

Now this would be the sort of thing that would be great if I had a blog, but unfortunately my personal site is still under development. In the meantime I've hacked together this little page using some of the code I wrote for the aforementioned website, which I developed specifically to be useful for travel blogging. In particular, the software automatically checks my location and time zone, and utilizes the time from my device instead of the server clock- the upshot being that you'll be able to see what actual time (...and day) it was for me when I posted, which ought to come in handy given the significant time difference between Japan and the US. Also, clicking the location link in the timestamp will take you to a Google map of my GPS coordinates, so you'll be able to see where exactly I was (of course, a lot of the time the answer will probably be "sitting in my hotel room," but, we'll see what happens.

Part of the challenge of blogging here is that I'm packing light this trip, and so I'll be doing everything entirely from my iPhone. Photos for this blog will be hosted via Flickr, and clicking on any photo will take you to its Flickr page if you want to view it in higher quality or see nerdy photographic details like camera settings and what editing software I used.

So come along and let's go adventuring!


The Weary Traveller

on Saturday, April 30th 2016 at 8:53pm PDT
in Los Angeles, CA

I haven't left LA yet but the last 24 hours are already a bit of a blur. I worked yesterday, and then I was up until 5am writing the software that runs the blog you are now reading. Then I woke up and went to meet a friend from out of town at Disneyland, and then the day was a mess of packing and prepping. So more than anything I just feel ready to go to sleep -which is good!- but I've got to make it to San Francisco first and on to my actual flight to Japan, which isn't for another five and a half hours.

My very chatty Uber driver Robert had many interesting stories to tell- turns out he's also a photographer, a limo driver, and wants to be a voice artist (he's got a great bartitone voice, so I hope it works out!)

Uber-ing to LAX with Robert

Admittedly, however, I was a bit out of it...

Resting My Eyelids in the Uber

While I left two and a half hours before my flight to San Francisco, the journey to LAX took an hour and a quarter and then I had to get through security. Finally I reached Terminal 4.

LAX Terminal 4

And then...

This whole trip was booked through American Airlines, but other airlines are operating most of the flights. For my jaunt to San Francisco it's America Eagle, which means I had to get to Gate 44, which involved this not-at-all sketchy looking shuttle bus...

On the Bus of the Eagle, Part 1

Although on the whole shuttling right through the airport surrounded by planes and lights was actually rather wonderful and pleasant.

On the Bus of the Eagle, Part 2

And actually, Gate 44 is rather nice! I like the wavy ceiling quite a lot.

Gate 44, Part 1

Gate 44, Part 2

And so I made it to the gate, 9 minutes before boarding as you can see. Efficient!

9 Minutes

Onward to San Francisco!

The Green Mile



If You're Going to SFO, Be Sure to Bring a Book or Something

on Sunday, May 1st 2016 at 12:45am PDT
in San Francisco, CA

The best part about flying at night is the lights:

Soarin' Over San Francisco

Of course, it occured to me on the flight to San Francisco that there isn't going to be much in the way of lights on the flight to Tokyo, because we'll be flying over the ocean. Oh well. With any luck I'll be asleep anyway.

The flight to San Francisco was comfortable and uneventful. Much as I enjoy making fun of the equal parts scrappy and anachronistic American Eagle (I described the flight experience to my travel partner, who is currently in Hong Kong, as "like the Blockbuster Video of air travel) part of me wished that the small plane was the one I'd be spending 11ish hours in on the journey to Tokyo, instead of a hulking 777-300ER. But land we did, and so it was time to find my way to my actual flight to Japan.

I've been to San Francisco a few times before but I'm not sure if I've ever flown here before. I arrived in Terminal 2, which is quite hip and contemporary:

SFO Terminal 2, Part 1

And I do mean hip. If you look carefully, you'll notice that T2 includes a Yoga Room:

Which Way to the Yoga Room?

Which almost seems kind of silly, but then, if you're going to be cramming yourself into a metal tube for several hours maybe some yoga is a good idea.

Elsewhere the ticketing area of the terminal feels a bit more classic airport terminal, with wood accents and some very neat light fixtures shaped like airplanes (click on this or any other photo to see the full-size version on Flickr):

SFO Terminal 2, Part 2


I had to make my way from Terminal 2 to International Terminal A, which meant a trip on the AirTrain:

Over the AirTrain

It's rather similar to the AirTrain at JFK, except that at one point it dead ends and reverses onto a different track, which threw my tired mind for a loop (no pun intended).

I reached Internationak Terminal G, which is an entirely different experience than Terminal 2. If T2 is hip and contemporary, TG is a cathedral:

International Terminal G, Part 1


International Terminal G, Part 2

Not pictured: Intl Terminal G also has its own museum and library. I mean, Jesus.

Anyway, though American Airlines had technically checked me in already I didn't have a boarding pass, so off to the Japan Airlines desk I went. JA only had one flight going out at this hour, so that made things easier.

The State of the Economy


I had already called in advance to get American Airlines to assign me a seat on the plane (yes, you can't do everything online kids), and luckily had gotten a K seat- that's the window seat on the right side of the plane. I have difficulty sleeping on planes in any circumstance but for whatever reason the right side window seat is where I have the most success. Mostly I was just happy not to be in a middle seat, especially in the middle section which is 4 seats accross.

My wonderful Japanese check-in hostess, however, insisted we could do better: 47K, to which I was assigned, had another guest next to me in 47J. But 26K was available and 26J was empty, meaning more room for me (it's also closer to the front, yes, but only by about 3 rows, because the numbering on 777s is weird). I nodded vigorously and she printed my boarding pass.

After that, I made my way through security and into the terminal, which, well...

International Terminal G, Part 3

...doesn't exactly set the imagination aflame. The restaurants were closed, although the luxury shops were still open, in case someone wandering about at a quarter to midnight desperately needed something from Coach or Burberry.

And so, fully 2 hours before my flight, I made it to the gate...

Barbarian at the Gate

But I guess boring is better than stressful. I've got a hot meal and hopefully some good sleep ahead of me, and then the real adventure begins: trying to make my way through Tokyo to find my hotel.

Next stop: Japan!

Me, Myself and My Hat


Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

on Tuesday, May 3rd 2016 at 2:41am JST
in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Well folks, it is late- or maybe early? After a busy first day in Tokyo I got back here to the hotel around a quarter to one, and after an hour of pouring through today's photos it's now nearly 2am. Which also means I've been awake for approximately 24 hours. So if it's alright with you I'm gonna keep the text to a minimum and try and let the photos do the talking!

After my travel companion Alexander made it in from Hong Kong, we headed downstairs around 10am to get a bite to eat at the bakery/deli on the first floor of the building:

Shibuya, Shopping and Shrines


Shibuya, Shopping and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping and Shrines

We decided to head to Shibuya, home of a lot of major shops and department stores. While we could have taken the train, we decided to walk so as to better take in the city. It struck me for the first of many times today that Tokyo has a fantastic mix of urban sprawl and natural greenery:

Shibuya, Shopping and Shrines

And immediately after taking that photo I was nearly struck, literally, by a passing bike. Bicycles are very common and can ride on the sidewalk or the street, so you definitely have to keep an eye out. In fact later on down the sidewalk there was a chicane to try and slow down bikes passing through:

Shibuya, Shopping and Shrines

As we got closer to the heart of Shibuya the urban landscape became more dense and more colorful:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Our first stop in Shibuya was, of course, the Disney Store, the largest in Tokyo. 

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

While it may be the largest, it isn't actually very large. What it is instead is tall: three stories. This was a common theme in shops, restaurants, pretty much everything; small spaces that go up high. The three floors each had a Disney theme: Alice in Wonderland, Princesses/Pinocchio, and Toy Story, all connected by a tight spiral staircase.

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

While some of the merchandise was somewhat different than what you'd find in the US, there wasn't much particularly crazy or interesting. Standouts were this line of adorable Zootopia plush (astoundingly complete too- Flash the sloth is included in the set but was so popular they'd sold out of him) and of course the :sum Tsums:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Having seen all there was to see at the Disney Store, we pressed on into Shibuya:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Not far from Disney we found, of all things, an honest-to-God Tower Records!

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

...which featured a whopping 9 floors:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

We headed towards the famous Shibuya Crossing, a massive Times Square-style intersection:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

We decided to make our way over to Takeshita Street, a major urban shopping district:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

More nature and bikes along the way:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Takeshita Street is, it must be said, intense:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Thing I totally regret not trying: this cool escape-room type game thing where you have to navigate through a field of laser beams:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Takeshita is also a great place to experience Kawaii, aka Japanese Cute Culture.

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Above the store in the above picture was, in fact, another Disney Store. This one was genuinely rather small:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Just across the street from Takeshita Street, once again showing that balance between urban sprawl and nature, is the beautiful Meiji Shrine:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

I could have gladly spent all day here.

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

As it happened, due to the Golden Week holidays, there was a festival of events happening:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

I was starting to fade at this point and we decided to keep moving instead of sticking around until the performances began.

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

We headed back towards Shinjuku, where the Park Hyatt is located:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

The Park Tower in sight, we headed back up to the hotel to regroup before embarking on evening activities:

Shibuya, Shopping, and Shrines

That probably seems like a pretty full day, but it was only mid afternoon. Coming up next: Tokyo after dark!



©2016 Ben Wszalek