Tokyo, Japan

Going to Japan was totally unplanned. Due to an emergency, I had to fly there.

I stayed at a hotel for two nights in downtown Chicago. The River Walk was minutes away but I wasn’t in any mood to take a walk and enjoy. There’s a River Walk in San Antonio, TX, which I walked once many years ago. I wondered how different they were.

I rose early the second morning and rode a taxi to O’hare international airport. I was enduring motion sickness the entire drive and afraid of vomiting in the car. The driver was a Spanish decedent and I was too sick to practice Español with him. The traffic after 9 in the morning was still very bad. Had I lived and worked in Chicago, I wasn’t sure how I could have dealt with the commute. Finally, we arrived at my terminal. It felt like a long time but actually about 30 minutes.

The free WIFI at O’hare had a limit of 2 hours after that one had to pay. What? Are you kidding me? This was a major international airport, why do you have to be so cheap? No way. I wasn’t going to pay any. I unplugged myself from electronics and waited for my United airplane for about 4 more hours. And guess what, without the convenience, I survived just fine.

My flight flew to Beijing, China. The airplane was packed and 98% of the passengers were Asian looking. Talking to people gave me the illusion of time passing not as slowly. The food served was terrible as usual. And the amount of food wasn’t enough for big people because I sat next to the food serving station and saw people came by asking for more food. The trip took about 13 hours.

The Beijing airport was pretty modern with unlimited free WIFI. It’s spotlessly clean. I could have used the floor as a mirror. The filtered water fountain had both hot and cold water options. The subway train that took me from where I landed to where I could go out of the airport had platform screen doors to screen the platform from the train. The accidents every so often happened in New York subway where people were pushed off of the platform wouldn’t have happened there. The exchange rate was $1 to ¥6.2 when I was there and there were plenty of windows to exchange after passing the custom. A fee was deducted though. One could get a SIM card before leaving the airport for making local calls on iPhones. There was a different range of prices. I got the cheapest one since I was just transiting over to Japan and wasn’t expecting to make many phone calls there. There were buses outside that drive people to cities/towns around Beijing for a fee.

Über drivers were everywhere. I thought of downloading the app before I left home but opted out. Paying for Über was electronic as well, no cash was ever changed in hands.

I ate mostly in restaurants for lunch or dinner during my stay.

Black fungus with asparagus, bamboo shoots and lily

Black fungus with asparagus, bamboo shoots, and lily

Stir fried shrimp

Stir-fried shrimp

Stir fried liver and kidney with plenty of garlic

Stir-fried liver and kidney with plenty of garlic

Lamb pockets with double onion

Lamb pockets with double onion, double pepper, and cilantro

To eat this dish, you use a spoon to scope stir-fried lamb in the center of the plate into one of the pockets. I didn’t like the pockets much, but I could make a lamb dish with rice instead.

Duck feet cold plate

Duck feet cold plate

Beijing duck

Beijing duck

This was my first time flying to Tokyo, Japan and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The dinner ANA airways served was the best airplane food that I never had because it’s so fresh and the service was the best as well compared to all US airlines, Canadian airlines, Chinese airlines and Qantas. The service crew consisted of beautiful young women. The airplane was very new and clean. There were footrests and screens in front of passengers in the coach section, which I wasn’t lucky enough to have when on United flying to Beijing for economy class. Strangely, more than half of the seats were empty. The Chinese were not on that airplane to Japan, which was a good thing for me to enjoy and rest for several hours. Unfortunately, there was a Japanese passenger on the aisle seat, or I could have lain down like many others did.

ANA airplane in the air

ANA airplane in the air

The menu. Can you believe it that they serve saffron rice on the airplane? Too bad it's not available at this time.

The menu. Can you believe it that they serve saffron rice on the airplane? Too bad it’s not available at this time.

My fish dinner. Hmmm, so yummy. I didn't like the soba noodles though.

My fish dinner. Hmmm, so yummy. I didn’t like the soba noodles though.

At Haneda airport, I took the free shuttle bus from the international section to the domestic terminal 1. The bus driver was very nice. She showed me where to catch the bus to Narita airport. There was one attendant getting people in line and one attendant tending the luggage. I thought to buy the ticket at the bus door but realized it’s not the case when the bus arrived. The person attending the luggage took me to the machine to buy a ticket. The machine couldn’t finish my transaction because US credit cards had no code, but the machine required one. I then ran with him to a counter inside the building to buy the ticket. Then we ran back to the bus. He took my luggage to the luggage area of the bus and gave me the ticket after showing me the number on the ticket. I boarded the bus and didn’t even have time to thank him for helping me catch the last bus of the night.  Both attendants bowed to the bus before it departed. Finally, I could breathe a sigh of relief. If I didn’t catch that bus, I wouldn’t know where I could spend the night.

I felt that the bus was heading to a rural area. One could perfectly understand the road signs if she/he knew Chinese because the Japanese borrowed many Chinese characters in ancient and modern times that meant the same thing though they pronounce differently. Unlike in the States, the driver seat was on the right and the passing fast lane was the rightmost lane.

After about 1 hour and 30 minutes, I was dropped off at Narita terminal 1 fourth floor entrance. There was a luggage attendant waiting at the stop already. After he handed my luggage, I walked into the building, and it was pretty lifeless. As I was contemplating a place for staying overnight, a police walked toward me and checked my ticket, then he told me that the fourth floor would be closed after 11 pm and there were places for sleeping on the first floor. There I went. Sleep quarters cost $80 at the airport for a bed. But I wasn’t planning on paying to sleep. I found an area where some people had occupied some of the chairs. I situated myself to five of the chairs. My airplane tickets had $20.6 charged for Japan Service Facilities. I might as well use it. There were two polices patrolling, covered by the Japan Passenger Security Charge that I paid $5.1 for while buying my airplane ticket. The area was barricaded and safe, the chairs weren’t so comfy as a bed but I made do and took several cat naps. And guess what, there was unlimited free WIFI at Narita airport as well, I was able to use it to kill some time.

Around 5:30 am, I decided to go to the bathroom and fresh myself up. The bathroom was equipped with regular toilets, the squat toilets and the Japanese Toto washlets to accommodate the needs of different people. I had heard of the Toto washlets but that was my first time to try it up close and personal. The Toto washlets appeared bulkier than the regular ones and were powered by electricity. They had a music function to disguise the peeing sound. Since it’s in a public bathroom, it’s unnecessary. However, if inside a small house and the bathroom was close to the living room when you have a guest over, then it had its place for self conscious people. Also, if I lived in a tiny house, I probably would splurge a little bit on a toilet. For bigger houses, if the electricity was supplied by solar panels, I’d have no problems of having a fancy toilet. There were different water spraying options with different water temperatures. I tried Spray and Bidet, but wasn’t able to tell the difference. It’s a very nice product. The only thing I could think of to improve it was a dryer option. Upon pressing that button, a warm wind would be blowing to dry the area up, which eliminate the need for toilet paper. I took advantage of the Toto washlets during my short stay in Japan. On the side wall, there was a small lower washbasin and a baby seat mounted to the wall. I thought that was very considerate as well.

Equipment for little people

Equipment for little people

I ate some food that I brought with me from Beijing for breakfast. Then wondered around since the security gates won’t open until 7:30 am. I had the entire morning and early afternoon to explore. The trash area caught my eyes. Instead of just Trash and Recyclables, the recycle bins were separated in more detail, which would save sorting time for workers. There’s a kid play area in my terminal, which I found very humane. And kids were actually playing in it. There was a little room designated to nursing mothers. I had never seen it at other airports and wasn’t sure of the usage rate, but the Japanese took everyone’s needs into consideration.

Japanese recycle bin

Japanese recycle bin

Kids playing area. I snapped this picture after children left the area.

Kids playing area. I snapped this picture after children left the area.

The nursery

The nursery

Since the departing gate wasn’t assigned yet, I walked toward the gate that United usually departed from for that time slot. I stopped and bought seaweed, squid, small soft fish snacks at the duty-free shops for my children back home because the prices for these were reasonable. It turned out that they only liked the seaweed which tasted better than the Korean made, the other snacks were too salty for them. I used them instead in noodles. I bought Macha for myself, it cost about half less than in the States. I should have bought more. I really liked Macha. The Japanese electronics, lunch containers and water bottles were of high quality but very expensive. Some of the electronic even cost more than in the States. I wasn’t sure how we got a price reduction negotiation on imports from Japan. There were Chinese shoppers spending big money. One of them bought many small containers of lotion made of horse fat. He would give them away to female relatives in China. He boasted that they loved it, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy horse fat lotion and put them on my body. There was a section in one of the duty-free shops dedicated to Mikimoto pearl jewelry. They were very shiny and beautiful but extremely expensive. It’s like our Tiffany & Co. or France’s Cartier. I passed by a Tiffany & Co shop in the airport. Most of the makeups were of USA brand names with only one Japanese brand name.

A pretty yukata. But I wouldn't spend $100 for a bath robe.

A pretty yukata. But I wouldn’t spend $100 for a bathrobe.

I killed time by watching the big screen TV in the waiting area. I saw a FedEx airplane arriving at the terminal.

I wasn’t planning on spending money eating at the airport, but Mr. Adventurer persuaded me with texting to try some authentic Japanese food since we had no idea when we’d be able to visit Japan. The servers greeted me with big smiles. I ordered a seafood salad for lunch after studied the menu. My seat had a big window in front of me to view the airport. The server brought a damp warm towel and a small cup of free Macha tea. The salad was very expensive at $12 but extremely fresh and tasty. It had green leafy vegetables, shrimp, tuna, salmon, scallop, and squid. It was drizzled with pine nuts, sesame seeds, sesame oil, soy sauce, and vinegar. Since I liked it, I ordered a piece of fresh tuna sashimi that cost $5.5. Again, very expensive, but worth the money and experience. That turned out to be my biggest splurge in Japan.

My little cup of Macha

My little cup of Macha

Japanese seafood salad

Japanese seafood salad

One piece of tuna sashimi

One piece of tuna sashimi

Busy airport in light rain

Busy airport in light rain viewed from my window

From Narita to Houston, the middle seat was empty, which I never encountered before with United. I had no complaints about it. It made the long hours on the plane easier to endure for me and the aisle passenger.

Houston Bush international airport had free unlimited WIFI as well. Not sure why O’hare was that cheap. The kiosk was used for doing Customs, which made the process much quicker. Technology is everywhere to enhance our lives nowadays.

On my way to my next gate, I stopped by a cowboy/girl boots store and had a peek because boots in this neck of woods were famous. Indeed, the boots were very nicely made with real leather but expensive. The two pairs that I checked had a sticker price of  $300+ and $200+, respectively. Wow, that’s a little shocking to me. They cost much more than that pair of boots I bought in early Spring in preparation for my trip to Europe in the winter. That pair of boots had the waterproof leather upper and insulated to -20° C, and I bought them for around $108 after I had been watching them for a long time and waited until there’s a sale on Monday. I didn’t waste any time and walked out in about 1 minute before embarrassing myself in front of the salespeople.

There’s a customer who was very angry at the person behind the United counter at our departing gate. She said that the person working at the counter was the rudest person that she had ever encountered from all the airlines in the States. I had to agree with her, especially after just coming back from Japan which had the best world-class service.

How did a small island country become much better than us in so many ways? I couldn’t help but ask myself that question that I didn’t have good answers to.

General Impressions:

  • Japanese service people were really polite and humble. They took pride in whatever they were doing, however small or minute.
  • It’s very clean in Japan.
  • Their products seemed good quality and could last a long time. I would rather buy expensive but high-quality stuff and use them for a long time than buy cheap stuff and throw them away in less than a year.
  • However, the above assumption couldn’t be made with Japanese cars though. I used to think that they were good quality but recently had learned that they cheat to pass the crash test by not using steel on the passenger side to save cost because there are no criteria for testing that side of the car. I have decided that my next car wouldn’t be a Japanese car since my car is used as the family car and there’s always people in the passenger seat.
  • Japanese had this paying meticulous attention to detail, refined way of life.
  • The Japanese and Chinese flight attendants were young and beautiful. I hadn’t noticed that from Western and Qantas airlines.
  • Both Chinese and Japanese airports were more modern than ours. Deep sigh. I still couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that the States was not the first class place anymore.
  • The credit card I used in Japan didn’t have foreign transaction fees. It was a good way to save money and a must-have for international travel.
  • It was the first time that I was away from my kids in two foreign countries by myself for a week. I missed them so much, even though I had business trips in the States while Adventurer Jr. and Adventurer Jr. II were young.
  • It was a roller coaster ride of a hectic week and I had a week of brain freeze. I wasn’t in any mood to do any sightseeing. So my impressions were about the people and places that I had to encounter during this trip.

Financial Implications: $2,296

  • Hotel in Chicago downtown for 2 nights: $250. This hotel costs a lot more points than others. Instead of using point, I paid for it and earned some points for future trips.
  • Photo: $10
  • Taxi from hotel to O’hare international airport: $45
  • Airfare: $1,100, including $300 tickets changing fee, which was much cheaper than I used to get due to slow season. The price I usually pay was $1,400
  • Bus fare from Haneda airport to Narita airport: $31
  • Spent: $860

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  1. Pingback: Morocco, England and France Trip, Oh, My | The Adventurer Blog

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