Tokyo – Getting a Taste of the Metropolis

Saturday, September 14, 2013
Tokyo, Kanto, Japan
We set off early in the morning to the Chitose Airport. Again the traffic and the noise, even at rush hour, don't seem too daunting. Everyone seems incredibly polite on the road and honking is at a minimum. Security at the airport is odd: the undersides of the cars are checked, but not the insides; we’re scanned by hand-held metal detectors, but our luggage isn’t scanned or opened.  

I must admit I was apprehensive about the radio communications after our struggles with the accent on arrival . Everything went much smoother though this time around. We were put on the expected departure procedure and off on our filed flight plan to Nagoya. (For those interested, we actually called Frankfurt flight service to get this flight plan filed! We had wanted to use but it wasn’t working). We understood why we had to fly so high as the mountains were impressive. I’d also thought of Japan as a fairly small country, but our long flight passed just a couple of the islands took quite a while. We were too high to see too many distinct features, but the landscape was surprisingly green. My preconceived notion had much more industry blanketing the landscape.

Nagoya sits just south of a mountain range so we had to descend quickly into the city. It wasn’t too cloudy under 5000’, but it was definitely hazy. The only way we made out the runway at 6 miles out was because we were on the glideslope. This airport was seemingly in the middle of a giant metropolis . On touchdown I learned a valuable lesson, as instead of only vocalizing a correction suggestion to Johannes, I took the controls. Not a good idea. We bounced a bit, it was my fault, and I vowed not to interfere again. Fortunately Johannes and I have a good rapport and after a couple beers it was understood and dealt with.

The rest of the crew was waiting (and to our chagrin had seen our botched landing) so we headed out to Tokyo. Tokyo doesn’t have a viable general aviation airport, so we would have to take a couple hour Shinkansen bullet train from Nagoya. We were all excited about seeing these trains, their efficiency, and their speed. Paul Mauguin, working for Peter Steeger, had met us at the airport and took us to the station until we boarded. Again it was an example of the excellent service Peter’s Petair Company was providing.  

The bullet train didn’t disappoint. They’re sleek, clean, and yes, very fast . From Nagoya to Tokyo the view started to look a bit more like I’d anticipated: a giant sprawling metropolis along the corridor. Our hotel there wasn’t going to be with the rest of the group, but rather in the nearby hip Ginza section of town. The location was indeed fun with lots of little restaurants, boutiques, and bars. Nearby was also the Maximillianstrasse of Tokyo, with gratuitous Bulgari, Prada, Hermes, etc stores. It was a fun mix and Johannes had chosen well.

We ate at a small Vietnamese place that served up tasty tapas in a fun atmosphere. It felt good to be in Tokyo and we had quite a sense of accomplishment.  

The following day we wanted to combine some sightseeing with our most necessary chore: laundry. Getting vague instructions from the receptionist on where we could find a laudromat, we set off in the same direction as the fish market that we wanted to visit anyway. Finding the Laundromat was pure luck . We couldn’t begin to read any signs and since it was in the upper floor of a pretty derelict building we wouldn’t have seen it from the street side. A helpful man pointed out the final stretch to us and soon we were enjoying our first Japanese Laundromat experience. The time that took allowed us to explore the fish market where we had a pleasant conversation with a 3rd generation shop owner of a tuna drying & smoking shop. She gave us a taste of the fish broth and for the next half day that taste lingered. Powerful stuff.  

Afterwards we went for a walk from our hotel to the Imperial Garden. That put us by some of the massive downtown skyscrapers. Again I was impressed with how quiet the city was in comparison to what I’d expected. Somehow there just wasn’t much noise. Tokyo had been awarded the 2020 Olympic Games only a couple days prior, so there were still lots of posters out promoting it as a candidate city. It brought back memories of our China family vacation in 2001 when we were in Beijing as it was announced they would host the 2008 games .  

On this night we also had a group dinner with the other crews. The restaurant was seemingly out of cliché movie set with each party behind paper screen doors, the seating on cushions at low tables with shoes removed, and the wait staff attractive and attentive ladies in kimonos. The food and presentation were excellent as we moved from sashimi courses to individual table grills. There was also all-you-can drink beer, wine, and sake, so that helped warm everyone up. When we had to leave, we went back to the group’s hotel and closed down that bar as well. I’m really starting to like our group, as it’s a fun mix of lively personalities and folks with interesting backgrounds. 

On our last full day in Tokyo we decided to do an organized bus tour to get out a bit further. The tour basically only served to reinforce my opinion that pre-recorded bus tours suck. Hop-on / hop-off services are okay, but here we were the only two non-Japanese speakers stuck with a crappy sporadic automated headset while the others enjoyed almost non-stop commentary . The only thing we did discover on the tour was the Asakusa district, so after the bus tour finally finished (it was only an hour) that’s where we headed. Actually, the bus tour did have one other incidental highlight, and that was cruising on the highway maze that weaves through the city. It was almost like a roller coaster weaving through the overhead lanes around and the various blocks and at times over the river and canals. I’d never seen a highway network like that before.

The Asakusa district is where you get inundated with cheesy souvenirs and can ride the runner-powered rickshaws. We opted for just some people watching and that gave us a good enough impression. Fun for us was also riding the metro. By 2020 Tokyo has a long way to go to make things more bilingual. There was very little information in English and it took us quite a while to find out where we wanted to go and how to get there. We still don’t know if we were paying the right amount.

Routing from Chitose (RJCC) to Nagoya (RJNA):

CHE HWE V71 GTC V30 KMC V52 KCC at 12,000’.
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