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!


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!



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!


All Over the Map

on Wednesday, May 4th 2016 at 2:53am JST
in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

All Over the Map

My day began around 8:30am- despite having gone to sleep less than 6 hours before, my jetlagged body would only let me sleep so much. Still, I felt awake and reasonably rested. Alexander (who was less jetlagged than me since he was coming from Hong Kong) was still asleep so I took the opportunity to catch up on Game of Thrones (spoiler alert: it's great!).

Alexander got up and we put together a short list of places we wanted to hit. They were scattered around town so we tried to strategize a route that wouldn't have us backtracking too much.

First we started with lunch downstairs at the deli- white bean soup and a lovely pastry sandwich. And Lemongina! Which is like Orangina but Lemon flavored (there's a third variety, Blood Orangina, I haven't tried yet).

All Over the Map

Our timing was perfect to hop on the hotel courtesy shuttle to nearby Shinjuku train station.

All Over the Map

I've mentioned Shinjuku train station a few times before as it's the closest one to our hotel- it's absolutely enormous, comprising several blocks- and buried underneath this department store complex.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

Up to this point we'd been buying train tickets one at a time- you're charged various amounts by distance, having to swipe your ticket at both the beginning and the end. Since we planned to hit several destinations we decided to buy an all-day combo ticket that would give us unlimited rides on the metro and subway for the day, at a cost of 1590 (about $15). Unfortunately when we got to the ticket machines we simply could not find the ticket we needed. To the Internet!

All Over the Map

Turns out we needed to actually go to the ticket office and buy the tickets in person. Alexander bought his no problem, but my determination to use all of my loose change to buy my ticket caused my poor agent some trouble.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

Space Barley!

All Over the Map

First stop of the day was to Toshima, to Ikebukoro specifically, which features a huge and bustling shopping and entertainment district.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

We entered Seibu Departkent store, an enormous and wonderful department store featuring everything under the sun.

All Over the Map

Unfortunately, the maps and all the signs were only in Japanese. But eventually we made our way to the food floor, a huge department store of delicious food.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

Our destination was the Kit Kat Chocolatory. Kit Kat is the most popular candy in Japan, and there are dozens of unique and crazy kit Kat flavors available, with some of the most gourmet and interesting available at the Chocolatory.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

For a coworker back home I got a sampler box specific to the Tokyo region- Chocolatories elsewhere in the country have their own unique sampler boxes. This one featured Butter, Pistachio/Raspberry, Green Tea/Kinako, and Strawberry.  For myself I grabbed little boxes of Chili/Passionfruit and Strawberry Maple.

All Over the Map

We continued to explore the mall, with amazing foods and flavors everywhere.

All Over the Map

You might think that going to the Kit Kat store (on a major holiday no less) would have meant tourists everywhere, but it was actually quite the contrary. Whereas our Monday shopping adventures had taken us to very westerner friendly places, here there were no westerners in sight, little English signage and few people who spoke English.

The mall was so big we could have spent all day there, and very crowded since it was a major holiday. Here's one other neat thing we found: a 7-11 Premium, which was a lot like a little Trader Joes.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

We made our way back to the train station and headed for Akihabara.

All Over the Map

Akihabara is a major center for Otaku- fervent popular culture fanaticism like manga and anime and video games. It's also a well area for electronics and is sometimes known as "electric town."

All Over the Map

From the moment we stepped off the train Akihabara was completely overwhelming. Posters and shops and lights were everywhere.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

We stopped in this Sega arcade, with 7 floors of video and games.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

Crazy Akihabra shops and restaurants:

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

This used toys, collectibles, games and comics shop (the whole building is one shop) has a bit of everything you can imagine, including two floors just dedicated to anime porn (one for men and one for women):

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map


Based on a friend's suggestion we checked out Don Quiote, a sort of everything type store (think of a cross between cheapo souvenir stores and Walmart). The various floors not only included clothes, toys, electronics, and food, but also two floors of arcade, a maid cafe (Google it), and a dance revue (the arcade floors and up were a no photo zone, so use your imagination).

All Over the Map

More Kit Kat!

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

And Orange Coca Cola!

All Over the Map

After the overstimulation of Don Quiote and with my jetlag starting to catch up to me, I suggested we visit a temple. Luckily it seems you're rarely far from a temple or shrine in Tokyo, and there was one just a few blocks away.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

In fact, as we headed towards the train station we passed another shrine and checked that out too.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

Next stop was Tokyo Station, sort of the Grand Central Station of Tokyo. Lots of great architecture around here.

All Over the Map


All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

We couldn't help but visit Starbucks, which had some interesting menu options. I tried the Mango Passionfruit Tea Frappuccino and it was great!

All Over the Map

All Over the Map


We checked out Daimaru, a huge and utterly exquisite department store. I basically wanted to buy everything in the building.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

Walking back through Tokyo Station we reached the opposite side, where the original station building still stands.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

And nearby, the Imperial Palace.

All Over the Map

Unfortunately visiting hours for the palace had just ended. Next time!

Back on the train, we headed to Ginza, another major shopping district with a very Times Square feel to it. 

All Over the Map

All Over the Map


We visited the Mitsukoshi department store, which will be familiar to anyone who's visited the Japan pavilion at Epcot...although the actual store has a very different feel to it than its Epcot counterpart.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map


Nearby was the Apple Store- the first Apple Store ever built outside the United States, in fact. Four floors with a very cool all-glass elevator with no buttons.

All Over the Map


Evening came early- it gets dark around 5/6pm- and Ginzu looks great at night.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map


All Over the Map


I finally got to see one of those familiar all-neon signs, which there don't seem to be many of in Tokyo these days.

All Over the Map

Alex, who took us out to dinner Monday night, suggested a sushi restaurant back at Tokyo station, so we headed back on the Subway. The restaurant was located inside the Kitte mall:

All Over the Map

The bad news was that there was a long line for the restaurant (one of the first negative consequences we'd experienced of today being a national holiday)...

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

...the good news was that there was a fantastic chamber orchestra performance happening in the mall atrium:

All Over the Map


All Over the Map

The restaurant was well worth the wait. It was of the conveyor belt variety, of which I am a fan, and surprisingly inexpensive- I ate sushi until I physically couldn't anymore and only spent a total of about $15.

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

Full and tired, we took the subway back to Shinjuku and caught the courtesy shuttle back to the hotel.

We ended the night at the New York Bar, a lounge at the very top of the Park Hyatt Tokyo building. It's featured a bunch in Lost in Translation, but it's even cooler in person:

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

All Over the Map

Well, now it's 3am so it's definitely time to call it a day. Plan for tomorrow is to take things a bit slower and lower key maybe hang out by the pool a bit. I'll definitely be needing to rest up (and not be up until 3am) because starting Thursday it's gonna be early mornings for Tokyo Disneyland!



Sky Treat

on Wednesday, May 4th 2016 at 4:42pm JST
in Sumida, Tokyo, Japan

To avoid being up till 3am again tonight I'm gonna try and blog as I go a bit today. Let's see how it goes!

Today's first stop is the Tokyo Sky Tree, a very tall tower that opened about 4 years ago. It's so tall in fact that you can see it from our hotel room:

Sky Tree Town

But it nevertheless took about half an hour for us to get there via the subway.

Sky Tree Town

Once we got here, though, it wasn't hard to find. Sky Tree has its own subway station.

Sky Tree Town

Unfortunately it's very windy today so we wouldn't be climbing the tower itself.

Sky Tree Town

But there's a whole entertainment complex and mall here to explore:

Sky Tree Town

Sky Tree Town

Sky Tree Town

Deciding where to have lunch proved a bit of a challenge:

Sky Tree Town

We ultimately decided on a place specializing in Yōshoku cuisine, which is sort of weird Japanese interpretations of western (mostly European) dishes.

Sky Tree Town

Sky Tree Town

My lunch: menchi-katsu (a breaded and deep fried meat cake) with omurice (an omelette filled with fried rice and topped with ketchup):

Sky Tree Town

This was also one of the only restaurants we've visited to offer soft drinks (sodas are big in Japan, just not during meals apparently) so I tried this melon soda, which was very sweet and quite tasty:

Sky Tree Town

We continued to explore-it was very busy due to today being another national holiday:

Sky Tree Town

Sky Tree Town

Sky Tree Town

i got to try some Tokyo Cider- cider in Japan means soda, usually a sort of bubblegum citrus flavor soda (if you've tried Ramune it's a bit like that). It even came in a souvenir Sky Tree bottle:

Sky Tree Town

The tower itself:

Sky Tree Town

Sky Tree Town

On to the next adventure!

Sky Tree Town


©2016 Ben Wszalek