Monday, December 26, 2011

Japan: Day 1 - Arriving to Tokyo (December 26th, 2011)

Today I arrived to Tokyo... first time in this part of the world.
About 3 weeks back, I realized that I had some left over vacations that needed to be used by end of year...all right! The only problem was that it was too late to find a good priced ticket to anywhere in the world. Everything was at least double the cost due to the holidays... except Tokyo Haneda airport. American Airlines posted an offer of reduced mileage trip (50% discount ! ). This was a no brainer, I just bought it and spent the next two weeks reading about Japan and looking for lodging options.
Exchange rate: 1 US Dollar = 77 Japanese Yen

Day 1:

We arrived to Tokyo Haneda Airport at 10:30pm. Luckily for us, the flight was smooth and without delay. In Japan, most of the public transportation stops at midnight. There are still some buses, and of course taxis . Cabs are very expensive. Buses charge more, but frequency and destinations are much less than on daytime.
It was too risky to book a cheaper but far away hotel, therefore I decided to stay close to the airport. The closest hotel is inside the airport, but pretty costly. About 2 miles outside the airport, there is one inn which has a pretty decent cost, but it was full; and the Hotel Jal City Haneda Tokyo which was more expensive than I wanted, but I knew I would reach at any time ( a cab shouldn't be that expensive in worst case).... this hotel has a free shuttle service that ends shortly before 12am (midnight). Since we didn't check bags in, just went directly to customs. The line was short, less than 10 minute wait. The customs personnel were very polite and friendly (Japanese are very welcoming and friendly to visitors). So, after a short while, we were out of customs asking a policeman where the free shuttle stop was located. The guy was helpful , but didn't have any idea and he called a lady for additional help. Basically, we had to walk straight across custom's EXIT, following the Group Bus sign. The international arrival gate is on the 2nd floor; the Group Bus stop on the 1st floor (take elevator or walk stairs down). Be careful, there is another bus stop called route bus and it is for regular line buses. The free shuttle is called Group Bus and this is a stop across the street.
On the first floor, there's a parking place that would fit about 8 buses side by side, a waiting room, and restrooms. We sat at the waiting room with a couple Japanese people. The room is heated , has comfortable seats, and a vending machine for drinks. The restrooms are clean, they even have electric bidet.
Japan in general, and Tokyo in particular, is probably one of the safest and cleanest places in the world. This is what I've read, what everybody who I knew that came to Japan told me, and what I'm confirming. Attention has to be paid of course, Tokyo is a 30+ million people place. But it is quite safe day and night.
Although it is winter now, the temperature isn't that low. Probably about 9 Celsius at 11pm. We carry a pullover and a winter jacket.
The group bus to the hotel was easy to identify because the hotel name was written on its side.
After a 10 minute trip, we arrived to the hotel.
Hotel Jal City Haneda is a very good option for staying the fist night (about u$150/day). Check in was fast (I had prepaid the hotel through The room is small (as probably most of the things in Japan), but comfortable , safe, and clean. It has a queen bed, fridge, high definition Sony TV (all channels are in Japanese) , a desk, free wired high speed internet access no configuration needed (they provide a cable, you can find it under the desk), restroom with bidet, bath accessories (shampoo, soap, tooth brush, and other stuff for women hair), slippers, a couple of robes, and more. I would rate this hotel as a 3 star. The bed is firm and the room very quiet, allowing for an excellent night of sleep.

Vending machines everywhere in Tokyo and Kyoto
Vending machines everywhere in Tokyo and Kyoto

Tips & Tricks:

  • If flying with Japan Airlines, try to reserve sit on the exit row (45 was it for us). There's plenty of leg room and the seats recline (not too much, but enough for sleeping). There's no row of seats on the exit window.
  • I'm not endorsing any airline in particular here, but fyi, Japan Airlines offers free alcoholic drinks in Economy class. Also, the food served was pretty good (Chicken Teriyaki, Fish, Pasta).
  • Japan Airlines planes have a camera on the bottom, and the video is displayed in the screen inside the plan. It allows to watch the take off/landing as the pilot sees it. Very interesting.
  • If you arrive late to Haneda, remember that the public transportation is very scarce after 12am. Unless you are familiar with Japan/Tokyo, don't attempt to travel far away with public transportation or you could get stuck in the middle if you're late.
  • An option to save money is to just to stay and sleep on an airport bench. Many travelers do that, and take the train when it starts running at 5am.
  • Before traveling, print the way to the bus/public transportation you want to take in order to save time as it gets confusing with all signs in Japanese.
  • Book the hotel before coming. Pre-pay it, then you don't have to worry about this. I didn't even get asked for a credit card.
  • In order to plan this trip, I got several travel guides and DVD from the public library. They are a great and free source of information.
  • In Japan, you can always ask the police for help with directions. They are ready to help, but might not be very fluent with English.
  • Travel lightly if moving through different places. Subways can get packed at certain times of day, without room for large bags.
Helpful guides used along my trip:
  • Fodor's Japan ( ISBN 978-0-307-48049-1 ) : This book has travel information from everywhere in Japan.
  • Top 10 Tokyo Eyewitness Travel (ISBN 978-0-7566-5367-5): This small pocket book is great for Tokyo. It includes the most important places to visit, events, and things to do. Maps from Tokyo, rail, subway are included. It's fine, but more details are needed when walking the areas.

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