Planes, Trains and Monorails

on Monday, May 2nd 2016 at 7:59am JST
in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Well, I've just arrived here at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, thank goodness. The hotel will have to wait for another post, however, because we've got a lot of travel to catch up on!


The Japanese Airlines flight was, in a word, lovely. A fertile army of flight attendants kept the whole thing running smoothly. While I was in economy class, the economy cabin was not even half full, meaning I had an entire row to myself. 

JL001
One thing that struck me was that the plane interior was lot very warmly, as opposed to the cool greys you usually get in the US and elsewhere:

JL001

I managed to sleep about as well as I ever do in these situations. The fact that I had an entire rows worth of blankets and pillows certainly helped.

About two hours before arrival breakfast was served:

JL001

And at last we arrived in Tokyo- 45 minutes early, too (around 4am). Haneda is everything I would have imagined a Tokyo airport to be, sleek and modern looking.

Plains, Trains and Monorails
Plains, Trains and Monorails

Plains, Trains and Monorails

Immigration and customs was a breeze, thankfully, and soon I arrived at a very sleepy terminal. Luckily, the currency exchange was open at that hour, since I'd neglected to change any money in LA or San Francisco so as to take advantage of the more favorable exchange rates on this side of the Atlantic (I'd say I gained about 1000/$10 versus if I'd exchanged in the US).

Plains, Trains and Monorails

While the currency exchange was open, nothing else was, as the trains and monorail didn't start operation until 5am or so.

Plains, Trains and Monorails

Eventually everything opened up and the place started coming to life.

Plains, Trains and Monorails
Plains, Trains and Monorails

There were several options for getting to where I needed to go, but I opted for the monorail because A) it was the cheapest (500 total, or a little under $5) and B) what's the point of traveling to Tokyo if you can't ride a freakin' monorail?

Plains, Trains and Monorails

The tickets are interesting- while it looks like a piece of paper the back is a matte black, presumably magnetic material the ticket information is printed on.

The sun was finally up (insert "Land of the Rising Sun" joke here) and I got my first real look at Tokyo.

Plains, Trains and Monorails

Luckily there was a lot of signage everywhere, and much of it with English translations too.

Plains, Trains and Monorails

The first monorail was at 5:17am and arrived, of course, exactly on time.

Plains, Trains and Monorails

The inside of the monorail was quite comfortable- not at all unlike a metro or subway. One major difference is that there weren't any doors between cars, meaning you could look all the way down in both directions, which is kind of neat.

Plains, Trains and Monorails

Pretty much everyone was headed to the same place as me, Hamamatsucho station, so I just followed the crowd.

Plains, Trains and Monorails

Next it was the Yamanote line, a traditional metro, which was included in my 500 monorail ticket.

Plains, Trains and Monorails
Plains, Trains and Monorails

I made it to the platform at 5:39am, and the train was at 5:41am, so my timing was good.

Plains, Trains and Monorails

The train was like any other metro type train, the main difference being it was very quiet. Announcements warned everyone not to talk on the phone. Part of it was cultural respect, but part of it was also probably that it was very early on Monday morning and no one was in a chatty mood.

Plains, Trains and Monorails

Between Tamachi and Shinagawa I had my first "Lost in Translation" moment- I'd this far been spoiled by the precedence of English signage and announcements. But the train came to an unscheduled stop, and the driver made a rather long announcement in Japanese. Nobody much looked worried, and I'm sure he was just apologizing for the delay, but I was struck by that momentary terror of not knowing the language and being at an informational disadvantage. And so after a few minutes, the train continued on, accompanied by another long announcement saying what I do not know.

And so I arrived at my destination, Shinjuku:

Plains, Trains and Monorails

From here I went on on foot for the final kilometer to the hotel.

Plains, Trains and Monorails
Plains, Trains and Monorails

Luckily I had Google Maps to direct me; unluckily Google Maps sometimes seem to have no better idea of where I was than I did:

Going Up?
(There was no elevator. I was waking on the sidewalk.

But I made it to the Park Tower which, in fairness, is rather hard to miss:

Plains, Trains and Monorails

Next time: venturing inside the tower to the Park Hyatt Tokyo!



A Walk in the Park Hyatt Tokyo

on Monday, May 2nd 2016 at 10:35am JST
in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Where were we? At the Shinjuku Park Tower!

Checking In

The tower itself actually contains many different things, including lots of offices. The hotel starts on the 39th floor and goes all the way to the top.

Checking In

Whike I was in the right place, I was on the wrong side of the building. Luckily the guard at the office entrance had a map to explain where I needed to go:

Checking In

Getting around to the other side involved a bit of a maze of some very lovely walkways and courtyards:

Checking In

evebtualky I made it to the other side and into the Park Hyatt entrance. The first floor lobby is lovely but very simple, since all that's down there is a bunch of elevators to get you up to the hotel. After giving my name I was escorted upstairs to check in.

Checking In

The elevators, by the way, not only have lovely lighting and wood paneling, but each one features different sculptures. This elevator features sculptures of dogs:

Checking In

We reached the lobby level, which starts with this wonderful atrium:

Checking In

Checking In

This was also my first taste of the amazing views the hotel offers. Bring so high up means that everything has a view:

Checking In

It was about 6am at this point so everything was very quiet. That's just as well, because as I soon discovered the hotel is a very well-appointed maze.

Checking In

Down this hallway...

Checking In

Lies the casual restaurant, which was just starting breakfast service:

Checking In

Turning the corner, there's a kind of library hallway:

Checking In

And turning the corner again, you finally reach the lobby proper:

Checking In

I checked in, but it would be another half hour or so before our room was ready. So, I headed back to the restaurant for breakfast.

Checking In

While I wouldn't say Tokyo as a whole is extremely expensive (at least compared to LA), one thing about staying at an expensive hotel is everything is expensive. Keeping in mind 1,000 is a little under $10:

Checking In

I opted for the Belgian waffles, which I have to say were excellent:

Checking In

By the time I finished my room was ready, and another elevator ride brought me up several more floors to reach it.

Home sweet home for the next three days:

Checking In

Checking In

They'd set out pastries, parfaits and fresh carrot juice for us:

Checking In

The bathroom:

Checking In

And last but not least, the view:

Checking In

Checking In

Checking In

Time to settle in and freshen up a bit, then it's onward to explore Tokyo!


Land of the Falling Sun

on Tuesday, May 3rd 2016 at 3:28am JST
in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Boy is it late. One more quick post to get us caught up to the present (and then I can get myself caught up on sleep)...

After freshening up in the room, we headed out to the atrium lobby, which in the evening is a busy mix of bar, lounge, and restaurant. Amidst glasses of wine the sun set on our first day in Tokyo, which couldn't have looked better from 43 stories up:

Land of the Falling Sun

Land of the Falling Sun

I was in touch with a friend from high school, also named Alexander, who has been living and working in Tokyo for several years now and offered to take us out to a locals dinner. This entailed venturing out to Meguro, to some very small locals restaurants where the menus are only in Japanese.

Land of the Falling Sun

Land of the Falling Sun

First was Onoda Shoten, which is a sort of Japanese-Korean fusion restaurant. The entire place is very literally smaller than my apartment. Copious quantities of meat and veggies were ordered and grilled very hot, along with several rounds of drinks.

Land of the Falling Sun

Land of the Falling Sun

Land of the Falling Sun

Land of the Falling Sun

That was all pretty filling, but for the true locals experience you have to hit more than one spot. So we next went to nearly Minato-machi Baru, which is a sort of Japanese-Italian pub.

Land of the Falling Sun

The place had something like five different menus, some with food and some with drink, all entirely in Japanese, which Alex luckily talked us through:

Land of the Falling Sun

My cola highball (highballs are quite popular in Japan).

Land of the Falling Sun

Also on the table were fried oysters, some fantastic potato salad, tiramisu, and a sort of Hors d'oeuvre plate of bread and curry nuts and salads, which we hadn't ordered. Apparently as Japanese pubs such as this it's standard for them to bring out a plate like this, which you're then charged for, as a sort of table charge (but at least you get food in the bargain).

Land of the Falling Sun


It was getting close to midnight, and not only were we tired but wary of missing the train back to Shinjuku, which ended at 12:30am. We made it back to the Shinjuku train station, and walked back to the hotel the same exact walk I'd made at 6am that morning. A full circle day if there ever was one.

Land of the Falling Sun


Well, it's now 3:30am, and I've been up nearly 26 hours. Time for bed. Till tomorrow!


©2016 Ben Wszalek