Thursday, April 16, 2009

OAT Japan, Wed. March 18-Fri. March 20, 2009:

Transition Time, California to Tokyo

Park and Fly Arrangement:

Since we live in San Diego, we need to drive two hours to reach LAX.
In cases where we must fly from LAX, we arrange a park and fly package at a hotel within shuttle distance of the airport. This is to reduce problems with the inevitable jet lag we would have experienced on our return from Japan. Additionally, we knew the return flight would put us in Los Angeles around 4:00 p.m., at the start of the evening rush hour.

Several hotels offer packages that consist of one night’s stay plus long-term parking programs. We also book a second overnight stay at the end of the trip, to address the jet lag and traffic issues.

The funky
Hacienda at LAX, El Segundo, suited our requirements just fine. Their park and fly price before taxes was $149, including up to 14 days of parking. The additional night was a modest $85. We had breakfast at the coffee shop-style Mariposas Restaurant, where a substantial full egg and ham special was available for $5.25.

LAX to Narita Airport:

Check-in was routine and uncomplicated. The United Boeing 747-400 was comfortable as planes go, because we were lucky enough to have bulkhead seats with plenty of legroom. Food was plentiful enough to sustain us through the entire transition period.

We arrived at
Narita Airport about 4:30 p.m. March 20 and went through its efficient passport control. The procedure was quite thorough, with photo IDs and fingerprints in addition to the usual electronic passport checks.

We knew we were in a different country when we visited the public restrooms. First of all, they are spotless. The traditional Asian squat toilets still exist, but the authorities are replacing them with “Western” style commodes with elaborate bidet-like features (left) , fancier than anything we ever saw in France! The Toto urinals in the men’s facilities are high-tech, too, with infrared sensors being routine.

Transfer from Narita to the Hotel Mets Shibuya:

Machiko had arranged everything perfectly for our complicated transfer to the Hotel Mets Shibuya. First, the airport limousine bus coordinator stood just outside the baggage claim area with a sign welcoming us. He obtained our tickets, and ensured that we boarded the correct bus to head into central Tokyo. Traffic jams were everywhere, so the 37-mile ride took over two hours. We were startled to see a simulation of the Eiffel Tower, bathed in yellow lights, on the way. (We learned later this was the Tokyo Tower, built in 1958 as a communications broadcasting facility).

The limousine service terminated at the
Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel some distance away, so we needed to take a taxi to the Mets Shibuya. We had the 700¥ handy to pay the fare, to be reimbursed by OAT with a receipt.

A smiling Machiko greeted us in the lobby of the Mets Shibuya. She was surprised to see how little luggage we had brought! After escorting us to our room, she offered to take Irina and the two of us for a night walk around the Japan Rail (JR) Shibuya Station neighborhood. Since we needed the exercise after the long flight, we went for it.

The diversified high-rise development around the station included hotels, retail commercial, restaurants, office and residential towers. To a planner, this was a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) carried out to an extreme seldom seen in the United States. Even at 9:00 at night, the place was swarming with crowds. We walked past a wide variety of eating choices ranging from cheap
kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi places with plastic replicas in the windows (dishes from 130¥) and noodle houses (500¥) to a department store basement where cheap take-out offerings were available as well as fancy bento boxes at 3800¥!

No comments: