Thursday, June 21, 2012

Japan Trip - Day 1

  I started this blog because Facebook thought my posts were too lengthy (they were.)  I wanted to share this trip with my friends because- 1.- I like to journal for myself anyway.  This is the first time I have typed (on the iPad) rather than scribbled on loose-leaf paper though. This is probably a good thing, as no one-not even me- wants to try to read my handwriting (doctor- you know)  I have pages of stuff written on other trips that one will probably ever read.  Perhaps this will be different.  If not, It'll still be instant scrapbooking!
2.- I hate when I see all these gorgeous photos of friends in exotic places on Facebook with NO COMMENTARY.  Hello!  Tell us where you are and what it's like.  I can't travel all that much on a veterinarian's salary but, maybe, through my friends' experiences, I can feel that I have.  That's what I tried to do here:  Make anyone who wanted to see Japan but couldn't, feel like they were seeing it through my eyes.   
Why Japan?  Well, that all started years ago when the kids were small.  I was suggesting exotic locations for travel and my husband (6'6" and not any more able to afford First Class on a veterinarian's salary than I am) was objecting to anything that was going to stuff him into a toaster-sized airline seat for longer than the 5 hours it takes to get to Hawaii.  Frustrated, I said, "OK, kids, when you're 17, I'll take you anywhere in the world you want to go.  Just the two of us."  Well, kids remember stuff like that.  Last year, James was 17 and we had our trip to Japan all planned out.  (Japan was James' obvious choice.  He loves anime, manga, oriental food, and takes Japanese in High School.)  Then Japan suffered the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear meltdown, so we put the trip off until this year.  Traveling with a teenager means not spending all our time on shrines and gardens but spending time on things James is interested in: like the manga museum and the anime stores in Akihabara.  I also chose a few things- like the Disney visit and the trip to the Osaka aquarium.  We planned only the basics and changed plans on impulse.  It was great.  So this is my account of my trip with James to Japan June 19 to July 4 2012.

  So, I'm sitting here in our suite on the 12th floor of the Narita Airport Hotel at 5:22 am typing away. I've been up since 3. It's about 1:22 pm at home and I couldn't sleep anymore. James, however, has no problem and is still happily zonked even though he slept most of the time on the plane yesterday too. Already we have one really serious snag and several small good things. We left yesterday morning at 6 am, planning to arrive at the airport at 7 for a 9 am flight. Already, things were complicated. I had not been able to check in the night before and found out this was because Alaska Airlines had changed our 10 am flight to 9 am., however, had not reissued a ticket for the right time. After several blood-pressure raising hours on the phone, I found out that the ticket office was closed, but would reopen at 6 am the following day, so we just had to head off to the airport hoping it would be ok. It was; we just had to stand in line at both the Alaska and Singapore Air counters to check in. We had a standard uncomfortable 2 hour coach flight from Seatac to LAX with our carry-on suitcases above and our backpacks underneath the seats in front of us. James slept and I read the Poultry Press and Readers Digest. 
     Then we arrived at LAX. 
     Our flight out was not listed and we soon found out why. We had to go outside the LA terminal (a long walk in itself) then wait outside 25 minutes for the right bus to take us to the Bradley terminal for Singapore Air and other international travel. Good thing we had a 4+ hour connection! I would have been flipping out with the usual 90 minutes, especially since there were almost no signs and we wandered around the terminal floor for a good 20 minutes until we found out at the information desk that we needed to take a plain, unmarked elevator to the 3rd floor and there, low and behold, we finally found the desk for Singapore Air (which said Air France almost the whole time- but that's another story.) For an international airport, LAX is really poorly organized with lousy signage and shuttle service- NOT impressed. Singapore Air only lets you carry on one item, so we checked our rolling suitcases. 
     Afterward, I realized half my cash was in that suitcase- in my money belt- so maybe not the smartest thing but it came out all right. We were hungry and needed lunch so that was the next item on the agenda after passing through security for the second time that day. Reason to dislike LAX number next- although we could see a whole kiosk of attractive places to eat above us on the balcony as we stood in line for tickets, it turns out that none were accessible after you'd gone through security! Well, that was annoying. We walked all over and had to settle for pre-made sandwiches. James had a beef quesidilla and I had a chicken salad sandwich with way too much mayo. We just drank from our water bills. The bill was $28 plus change!! I know airports are expensive, but I thought that really took the cake. We weren't even in Tokyo yet, but were already experiencing the food sticker shock! (About 5 hours later I came down with cramping pain and diarrhea- which is still bothering me right now- so I suspect I also got a side of food poisoning with my extra mayo.) 
     Anyway, we boarded a HUGE double decker jumbo jet- the Singapore Air staff was really efficient with the loading and unloading- and our strategy worked!! Although the whole plane appeared full, we had an empty seat between us. (The Japan guidebook recommended booking aisle and window seats, rather than 2 seats together, with the hope that no one would take the empty seat and that, if someone did, they would certainly be happy to trade.) This made the flight much more comfortable, although it already put pathetic Alaska to shame with its footrests, complimentary socks and toothbrushes, hot towels, and free meals and snacks, as well as a very large selection of free TV and movie options for the personal screens. I can't imagine how nice First Class must be if that's how they treat their Economy passengers.      
     Although the flight was over 12 hours, we both felt it was the best airline experience we ever had. ( I watched "Red" and X-files and Remington Steele episodes, James slept half the time, then found some anime to enjoy.) We got off the plane and it was sweltering- and if I say that it really was! Sweat was just pouring down my face as we went through Customs (no hassle) and picked up our baggage. 
     That was when it hit me, the one BIG THING I'd forgotten that was about to negate all my careful planning. My Japan Railway vouchers, purchased 3 months earlier, were still at home. Oh no!!! I wanted to cry but knew I'd only get a headache. James was a rock. "Don't worry Mom, it's done, there's no point in blaming yourself, let's just get to the hotel and see if Dad can Fed Ex them." James figured out how to find the information desk and our shuttle to the Narita Airport Hotel- picked because it was the closest one and I figured we'd be tired. 
     We checked into our awesome suite (a nice surprise- a free upgrade as we were late and all the tiny economy rooms like the one we'd booked were full) and then went downstairs to tackle the internet (Wi-fi 500 yen- roughly $7.00) and available only in the lobby. It was awful! It disconnected us over and over as we tried to Skype Craig about our problem with the Japan Rail tickets (which, I suppose, saved me from hearing all the things he would have liked to say to me about someone who forgets something so vital...) 
     Anyway, through a combination of 30 second Skypes and faulty email- we got through and, hopefully, the tickets are headed to us at the Tokyo Bay Hilton where we'll be Sun- Tue nights. One more thing to worry about. Oh, and that's another thing- the exchange rate is a lot less than I expected! Last time I looked it up, it was about 92 yen to the dollar, but I only got 140,000 yen for $2,000 at the airport yesterday, so clearly the exchange rate has been dropping right along. Great, it's like 20% of our money was stolen out of our bag. Guess we really have to watch the ramen prices now!
On the bright side, the room is really awesome with a huge flatscreen (interesting looking at all the dubbed American shows) and a bathroom to die for. 
Look at all the buttons on this toilet.  I stayed in the bathroom 5 extra minutes playing with them all.  Be sure to stop the butt washer before you stand up....

Sunrise over Narita

     A shower and a bathtub big enough that James and I both could have fit (don't worry- we didn't try- still too American for the whole group bathing thing- ick,) bathrobes, toothbrushes, razors, all toiletries and the cool Japanese toilet. Gotta say, I love these high-tech toilets with all the cool buttons. I think butt-washers are a splendid invention that is clearly missing from US society.  Also on the bright side, James' allergies- which were bothering him all day and through the flight- are completely cleared up.  It seems those eosinophils don't know what to do with all these foreign antigens.  (Of course, if he lived here long enough, they'd no doubt figure out how to make him miserable here too, but for now, he should have a good 2 weeks.)

Link to Narita Tobu Airport Hotel

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