Friday, August 10, 2012

Goodbye Kyoto, Konichiwa Tokyo

Wednesday was our travel day so we started off early so we could take the limo bus to the airport and still have some time in the lounge to relax.  We took a taxi from the hotel to the airport and the limo bus was easy to find thanks to the instruction from the concierge at the hotel.  It was a long trip to the airport due to some traffic, but we made it there with plenty of time to spare.

We headed towards the Japan Airlines counters to check in and I wanted to use the elite check in since there was a line to get to the counter.  Unfortunately we were told that there wasn't a separate line, so we were ushered into the main line, where our checked baggage was x-rayed before being checked in.  After checking in we went to the departures level where there were some shops before security.  I forgot to look up where the lounge is, so we found a map, but it wasn't listed.  I went back down to the check-in desk to ask where the lounge was, but she obviously didn't understand what I was asking for because she asked for our passports and flight information.  After a while I think she understood and told me the lounge was before security on the left side.  Back up to the departure level I went and we looked for the lounge without success.  We found a first class lounge entrance and tried in there.  He pointed us down the concourse, but the lounge wasn't there either.  Finally we ran into another JAL employee (but she kind of looked like the other employee and her English skills were about the same, so maybe it was the same person?) who didn't understand what I was asking for at first, but when I called the business class lounge by JAL's name (the Sakura lounge) we saw the light bulb go off and she said it was through security and to the right, across from gate 18.

We headed through security, which is 100x easier to deal with than security in the US.  Shoes stayed on, no liquid limits, no removing laptops, no nude-o-scopes, and none of the other security theater we go through back home.  It was quick, efficient, and made sense, like most things in Japan.  We found the Sakura lounge and sat down to relax.  There was hardly anything in the way of food (just some snack mix) which is surprising since overseas lounges tend to be much better than US ones, especially in the food that is offered. I grabbed a coffee and a coke and I was heading back to our seats when I saw a very interesting looking beer machine.  After finishing my coffee I decided to see how the machine operated.  If I knew how cool it was going to be I would have been ready with my phone's camera, but the machine surprised me.  I grabbed a glass, placed it on the platform under the beer spout and pressed the button for a cold Asahi.  The machine sprung to life and tipped my glass like a good bartender would to minimize the amount of foam caused by the poor.  Then, as the glass was almost full the machine automatically righted the glass and the spout began to pour out some foam until there was the perfect amount of head on the beer.  I removed the glass, amazed at the job that the robotic bartender had just done.  Even though it was only 10:30 am the beer tasted good and I almost went for another, just to see the machine in action again.

At this time we were hungry and it was almost time to board, so we left the lounge and grabbed some food from a convenience store in the terminal.  Boarding began shortly thereafter and we settled into our seats on the 777.  I think Japan might be the only country with carriers that routinely fly such a large plane on such a short  route.  Amazingly, the plane was almost full too!  Before too long we were on the ground waiting to collect our luggage.
Our luggage came out pretty quickly and soon we had purchased our limo bus ticket to the Conrad and were waiting in a line to board our bus.  While we were waiting an earlier bus using the same stop as ours pulled in and loaded up.  As they were pulling away the 2 limo bus station employees in charge of loading bowed to the bus!  So much bowing, so much respect for each other.

The limo bus schedule claimed it would be an hour before reaching the Conrad, but there weren't a lot of people on the bust and we only ended up making 2 stops, which means we arrived at the Conrad after a half hour.  The bus was met by a couple Conrad employees who escorted us to the elevator that goes up to the lobby.  At the lobby the escort wheeled our luggage up to the check in desk and then stepped back while the front desk person took over and checked us in.  She informed us that we had been upgraded to the executive floor due to our status (yes!).  I had inquired about confirming the upgrade in advance a few months ago.  They said it was possible, but that to do so would require an additional charge of 10,000 yen per night (about $100).  I'm glad I didn't do that!  Anyways, during check in the concierge stepped over and handed us our tickets to the baseball game that they had purchased for us (Japanese baseball tickets are hard to buy if you aren't in Japan) and explained how to get there using the subway system.  After about 10 minutes we were finished checking in and our escort grabbed our luggage and we were whisked up to the 37th floor (the top).  We got to our room and I just couldn't believe how nice the room and the view was.  Huge windows with a couch spanning the entire width so you could lounge about and look at the city.  Very large bathroom with a nice tub, double sinks, rainfall showerhead, and fancy toilet.  Huge closet with a small dresser and lots of hangers.  There was even a small pine tree in a little tube of water at the entrance (really it was just a branch cut off of a much larger pine tree).

Due to all of the travel we were a little tired, so we decided to relax until it was afternoon tea time in the lounge.  Around 3 we went to the lounge and were greeted immediately by the lounge staff.  One of them asked us what we would like to drink (coffee for me, cappuccino for M) and invited us to take a seat anywhere (we chose the window seats of course!).  We made our way up to the self service area grabbed some finger foods and sat down at our table.  Our coffees came a minute later, M's cappuccino was delicious and my coffee was very good.  We sat for a while enjoying the view and contemplating our next destination.

Once we were done relaxing we headed down to the lobby where we asked the concierge for a dinner restaurant recommendation for a place serving udon noodles.  With directions in hand we set off on our first adventure in Tokyo.  We decided to go to the Ginza district, which is pretty close to the hotel (2 stops away).  The Ginza district is where all of the expensive shopping is in Tokyo and real estate is really expensive here ( around 10 million yen per square meter I hear!).  One thing I didn't realize about Tokyo is the extent of its' underground network.  I always knew the subway system was extensive, but there are foot corridors linking many of the buildings and stations to each other, meaning you could go for blocks (or maybe a mile or more!) without even having to see daylight!  We reached the train station and the next challenge was to buy train tickets.  We were surprised to find out that in Tokyo the subways maps don't have any of the English names or even the assigned station numbers like Kyoto did.  This wasn't a big deal for us on this trip since we were only going 2 stops, but would later become a big hassle.

We bought our tickets and headed to Tokyo station.  We headed out from the station and took in the sights of Ginza.  We ended up at the Sony store which used to be notable because you got to play with the robotic dogs.  Unfortunately those are no longer on display, but there were still some neat technology demonstrations.  The one I was most interested in was 4K TV.  4K is the next step up from 1080p high definition.  Supposedly they are shooting some Olympic coverage in 8K.  The 4K stuff was really sharp so I am excited for the technology to become more mainstream.

After the Sony store we headed to dinner.  It took a little bit of searching we were able to find the udon restaurant in the basement of the Tokia building.  There was a line (always a good sign) and after about 20 minutes we were seated.  We ordered some corn tempura as an appetizer.  M ordered an udon soup with wagyu beef and I got tonkatsu curry udon (what else! :) ), both with double servings of noodles.  The corn tempura came and it was good, but not quite as good as the tempura specialty restaurant.  The main dishes came in these huge bowls and at first I thought that ordering 2 servings was a bad idea.  I like mine a lot more than M liked hers and at the end she was stealing my curry sauce for her noodles.

Finally we took the train back to the Conrad for the night.  When we arrived in our room we noticed that the turn down service had occurred and we had the signature Conrad Tokyo bears waiting for us.  In addition housekeeping brought a bucket of ice, which is much appreciated since in Kyoto I ended up going to get a bucket of ice anyways almost every night.

That's it for our first (half) day in Tokyo and hopefully I will get to write up Thursday tonight!

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