24 hours in Tokyo

Trip Start Dec 27, 2012
Trip End Jan 07, 2013

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Where I stayed
Palace Japan Hotel

Flag of Japan  , Tokyo,
Friday, December 28, 2012

In the 3 1/2 years we have traveled together as "non revs", I have become very accustomed to being stranded in airports in the U.S. from sea to shining sea. We have had much better luck with our international endeavors, although that is in part due to Rufio's research and planning. This case was somewhat different, as we didn't really have a choice or flexibility in destination. Rufio was working over the holidays in Singapore, and as unlikely as flights looked for non-revving, I would rather risk being stranded for a day or so than sacrifice New Year's Eve with him. So it was...

I landed in Tokyo from JFK with ample layover time to log on to the computer and chat with Rufio, who was closely watching the seat assignments for the once daily Singapore flight. I had been warned before I left Atlanta that getting a seat would be difficult, but perhaps not impossible. I waited patiently during the boarding process, until a very sweet redcoat called my name. "I made it!", I thought in delight. I clutched my luggage and scurried to the gate.

Redcoat: "Hi, Miss Tippins? There is no chance for you to make it today. You will be listed for tomorrow's flight"

My heart sank. A young couple and one other traveler had volunteered to vacate their seats for a stipend compliments of the airline since the flight had been overbooked. Together we followed the redcoat to baggage claim and then through immigration. At ground transportation I unloaded my computer and Rufio and I worked quickly to secure a hotel room. He suggested a nice hotel nearby with shuttle service to the airport. However, my dismay over the flight quickly turned to wanderlust. If I had a full day to spend in Tokyo, I was not going to waste it in the sleepy town of Narita where I landed. I hastily decided on the cheapest single private room I could find in the vicinity of Tokyo, and with that headed to the train ticketing booth.

The ticket agent, whose English was broken at best, showed me three trains options to get to the stop I needed to alight, each with varying speeds and prices. I chose the cheapest and subsequently slowest, then hustled down to the platform to make the departure time. I only had a moment to look at the labyrinth that is the Tokyo rail system before the train departed. In that moment, I could not locate the stop, Manami-Senchu station, described on the hotel website. I took a picture of the map to study on the train, yet still couldn't manage to locate the stop. After an hour, we were nearing the last two stations on the line. I had to make a decision quickly as we neared the second to last station, Nippori. The only indication I had this might be the correct transfer point was the list the ticket agent showed me with ticket prices. The fast train was labeled "Nippori". Although she never mentioned the transfer, I took a chance and exited at the station. It was in fact the transfer point to Manami-Senchu, which was now indicated on the station directory. I later learned that the Tokyo rail system consists of several independently operated companies and an official public line, all which use varying rails and stops. The JR line I was on didn't operate at Manami-Senchu, and thus the station was not included on the rail maps. A look at one version of the rail system is included in the links below. 

The next hour of my life took an emotional and physical turn for the worst. I knew the hotel was a little less than half a mile from the station and thus an easy walk, but I had optimistically not packed for a stay in Tokyo and as such was wearing late spring appropriate attire in the middle of a Japanese winter. I attempted to hail the first taxi from the stand, but upon realizing my destination was so close the driver insisted I walk. I stomped off in the direction of the hotel. About 1/3 mile later my extremities were freezing, and I was beginning to wonder if I had missed the hotel. I paused momentarily, thinking I might try to find a place with wi-fi to check the internet. 

My train of thought in that moment: "Internet. Computer. Bag. Where is my tote bag?!??"

A wave of horror rushed over me. Before I exited the train station, I stopped in the women's restroom. I was amused by the floor latrines, but concerned about where to place my tote bag, which contained nothing very valuable except my computer. I decided to place it on a small ledge, and somehow managed to leave it there. As I practically ran the 1/3 mile back to the station, I could do nothing but pray it was still there. I had resigned myself to accepting the loss as I ran up to the turn-style. As I tried to get the security guard's attention, I peaked through the window and saw my bright purple punch floral Vera Bradley large tote sitting on the counter. I exclaimed a thanks to God and waved frantically. When he turned, I decided the best means of communication would be to simply pick up my matching purple punch roller-board to show him the bag belonged to me. He smiled and brought the bag over, along with a form to fill out claiming the article. I ripped open the zipper frantically to find the cold matte metal box that contains all my work and my memories in its place. Instant relief fell over me, and I suddenly remembered how cold my hands were. I stomped past the taxi driver who denied me service earlier to the next cab in the stand. I told him, not asked, that he was taking me to the Palace Japan Hotel. He indicated I should ask the fist cab in the stand, as was orthodox, but I explained as clearly as I could that I was going in this cab. The cold had made me a force to be reckoned with. I refused to walk that half mile again, still not exactly sure where the hotel was. He reluctantly obliged and I let myself in the back seat. 

In a moment I arrived at the hotel. The lonely clerk checked my passport, gave me the key and provided a restaurant recommendation upon my request, although seemed surprised that at 10:30 pm I hadn't yet eaten dinner. In fact, over the course of the past few days I hadn't eaten very much at all. I'll get to that later. The restaurant was, as luck would have it, back near the metro station. I didn't much care to go out in the cold again, and I was slowly realizing my exhaustion. I made my way to the room, or should I say space. There was a single bed, a small desk with a 10" flat screen television and approximately 4 feet of space to the door. There was also a built in wardrobe adjacent to the door. I could do nothing but laugh, especially since at the same rate I could only get shared hostels in other parts of the city, or alternately a "pod". At the very least I had a bed, a door and the public shower was directly across the hall. I sent some communications to a worried mom and boyfriend and readied for the shower. 

I was terrified that the showers would be cold since I discovered the sink water felt more like ice. Luckily the showers did have hot water, although they were set to turn off after a minute, so I spent about 15 minutes hitting the button until I felt thawed. I had put my hair up in an attempt to not get it wet since I didn't pack a hair dryer, but the size restriction of the shower made that impossible. I reluctantly washed my hair, trying to contemplate a quick and easy way to get it dry before I returned to my ice cold room. As I dried, I heard the sound a hair dryer in the sink area. I walked out and saw a young American girl drying her hair. I went to my room to dress, thinking I would beg her to let me use it, for a price if needed. When I stepped out of my room I didn't hear the sound anymore, and was scared she had already exited with her prize possession. As it turned out, the hotel provided two hair dryers for patrons. This little accommodation gave me the greatest joy, and quite possibly saved my health. There was a room heating unit, but the controls were completely written in Japanese. The display read 30C, but there was no indication of how to turn the unit on. I pressed every single button, but the heater never operated. It felt like it was 0C in the room, and I wasn't sure how I was going to sleep or survive through the night. Then a little manna from heaven in the form of a Redken travel hair dryer came my way. After drying my hair and warming my hands, I smuggled the dryer momentarily into my room. I lifted the covers and placed the dryer underneath until the entire bed was piping warm. I ran it back to its place before tucking myself in very snug to the warm covers. I slept warm and well until about 4 am, when I repeated the process. 

Around 6 am my circadian rhythm insisted it was time to explore the city. Since I didn't have much time, I was happy to be up bright and early. I did a little research on the area Asakusa, and found that its many famous shrines and temples opened at 6 am. I used the hair dryer to warm my pile of clothes, before putting together the most ridiculous outfit in attempt to stay warm enough to walk around the city for 8 hours. I had in my possession several layers for my core region, but very little for my extremities. I knew the first temple I was to visit was situated next to a street market, so I hoped I might find gloves and socks there at the very least. I layered two "body suits", two tanks and a sundress over my core, with leggings, socks and flats on my feet and a light cardigan for my arms. To keep my hands warm, I brought an additional tank top to wrap them. As utterly ridiculous as it made me look, I used a sarong packed for sunny pool days in Singapore as a makeshift scarf and with that headed out.

My intention for staying in Tokyo was to see the gleaming city of lights and action so often depicted in films and television. I had, however, elected a much less scintillating area of the city due to price constraints. Asakusa, situated to the north-east of the city centre, is known for its myriad religious sites, but that is the extent of its notoriety. It is a sleepy neighborhood, with few bars and restaurants to speak of for entertainment. I considered taking the metro to the more exciting neighborhoods, but after learning the complexity of the rail system I was concerned I would waste precious time getting lost in the city. I decided the day would be spent walking Asakusa.

The morning was brisk and clear as I set out in my colorful apparel. I was happy to be out early, as I felt I had the neighborhood to myself. I made my way to Sensoji-Temple, a stop frequented by many travelers and locals. A few merit makers paid their homage and sent their prayers as I admired the architecture of the different shrines. Unfortunately Nakamise Shopping Street hadn't opened its stalls yet, so I wandered around aimlessly in a feeble attempt to keep my blood flowing. As it was nearing 8 am, I assumed the stores must open soon. I happened upon an open coffee and snack shop, so I stopped in to warm up. A lonely woman sat behind the counter reading the news as I walked in and took a seat at a small booth. I ordered coffee and entertained myself with my photos as the woman took her spot behind the counter. When I felt thoroughly thawed I took back to the street. More shops were opening, so I meandered through some nearby alleys until I felt confident I could procure the necessary outerwear. As it happened, the first shop I checked sold gloves. Within minutes I scored a new pair of knee high socks. Feeling much warmer, I made my way to the next sight on my map.

Over the course of the next few hours I covered several miles of Asakusa. I stopped at Matsuchiyama Shrine, Imado Shrine, Chomei-ji Temple and Hashiba Fodoson. I briefly considered making my way to the Tokyo Sky Tree, but the cartoonish map provided by my hotel only showed the tower, not the streets to get there. I was approaching the time to leave for the airport and as previously mentioned I hadn't eaten much in several days, so I made my way back to the hotel to pick up my luggage. Since I didn't find any enticing eateries during my walk, I decided to take the advice of the hotel clerk from the previous night. 

In the bottom floor of a shopping and living complex across the street from the station were several rice and noodle shops. At the recommended spot, I took my spot in line to order from a machine. The digital display had 6 screens with a variety of dishes to choose from. I chose a rice dish and took a seat. When my hot meal arrived, I relished the warming feeling it provided in the crisp cold. When I finished I made my way to the station en route to the airport. 

Until this point in my day long solo journey, I was rather proud of myself for flawlessly navigating the ridiculously complicated metro and the city streets without any help from my trusty navigator Rufio. Pride cometh before the fall. Literally within minutes of reaching the airport I made a costly mistake. The airport express was due to arrive in 30 minutes, while the "local" train was arriving in 4 minutes. In a momentary lapse of judgement spawned by what I think were the initial stages of hypothermia, I decided to board the local train. About 15 minutes later, I was alone in a bucolic town, lost in translation. The station director managed to communicate that the next train back would be another hour. While this would be a close call for getting to the airport in time, I decided now was not the time to take chances. I negotiated a 5000 yen ($60) ride to the airport from a lonely cabbie. 

The extra time at the airport was worthwhile as I was able to purchase a shower from the day spa before finally boarding my much anticipated flight to Singapore.

Tokyo Rail Map
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