Browsing Tag: Japan

Outside the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.

Outside the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.

Flying to Tokyo, Japan to experience the first flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was only part of the trip. This time I was delighted to be able to experience the fascinating city of Tokyo.    A year ago, I flew to Tokyo to check out the Haneda Airport’s new International terminal, and the turn-around trip didn’t allow me time to tour the city.  However, this time I was fortunate to stay at the Peninsula Hotel for several days and I want to share what I discovered in this city.   Of course my critique is not everything one needs to know about traveling to Tokyo, but a good list for beginner travelers to Japan.

TOKYO IS BACK TO NORMAL AND LOOKING FOR TOURISTS
When talking about visiting Japan, the elephant in the room is the Tsunami that hit on March 11, 2011. The quick answer is that Tokyo is back to normal operations and are welcoming tourists with open arms.

Tourism was hit hard after the Tsunami. The numbers of visitors dropped over 72% in March compared to the March, 2010. Tourism has continued to slip and in September 2011 numbers were down almost 25% compared to 2010.

I thought that I might feel a little guilty when visiting and having fun, due to the tsunami, but quite the contrary; the city and the country make it very clear that it is safe to return to Japan and there are some pretty amazing deals going on right now.

The Takeshita area of Tokyo are for trendy younger folks with some very interesting stores. Not my cup of tea, but interesting to check out none-the-less.

The Takeshita area of Tokyo is for trendy younger folks with some very interesting stores. Not my cup of tea, but interesting to check out none-the-less.

ENGLISH IS NOT AS WIDE-SPREAD AS YOU MIGHT THINK
Although quite a few people in Tokyo do speak English,  you can’t count on finding that many English speaking locals. However, I did discover that the younger population is more apt  to speak English.  In many of the restaurants you can get by with pointing, but for others that might not work, if you don’t have a basic food vocabulary.
There is enough English spoken throughout the city to make your way around, but having a smart phone with a GPS map would be very helpful.

CHOOSE YOUR AIRPORT WISELY
Tokyo has two airports to choose from: Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND). Historically Narita handles international flights and Haneda operates the domestic travel, but recently that has changed. Typically you will find Haneda is more expensive, but it is located much closer to downtown. It takes about an hour to get from Narita to Tokyo and costs about $40 per person to either take the train or bus (and about $200+ for a cab). I thought flying into the Narita airport and driving into Tokyo would be a worthwhile opportunity to see the Japanese countryside, but, the views are not that great so that experience does not need to be on your “must do” list.

This was one of the many "dark" alleys in Tokyo. However, even walking around by myself at night, I never felt unsafe or unwelcome.

This was one of the many "dark" alleys in Tokyo. However, even walking around by myself at night, I never felt unsafe or unwelcome.

IF YOU LIKE TO SHOP, YOU WILL BE IN HEAVEN
I am not much of a shopper, but the people of Tokyo are. It is a big city, but many people do not have cars and live in small apartments or houses. They have disposable income and a lot of that goes to “stuff.” Unlike many Americans who shop online, seeing stuff in person is much more popular in Tokyo. This means that there are stores for everything. I got to visit a ten story electronics store and was amazed to discover a  six story store that only sold paper goods. You will also find designer shops selling Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci and the like.

WALK TO THE LEFT
People drive on the right in the US and many walk to the right as well when passing someone coming or going. When I first got to Japan, I kept running into people and couldn’t figure out why. It took me a bit to realize that not only do the Japanese drive on the left side of the road, but they also walk to the left of other people. Even after realizing my mistake, it took me a while to get the hang of walking on the left and by the time I did, I was heading back to the US and started running into people again. This is not a huge deal, but having a heads-up can help avoid confusion and possible head-on collisions.

Robataya Restaurant in downtown Tokyo (there is also one in New York) was one of the most amazing meal experiences I have ever had. Great interaction with the Chefs and others that are eating.

Robataya Restaurant in downtown Tokyo (there is also one in New York) was one of the most amazing meal experiences I have ever had. Great interaction with the Chefs and others that are eating.

A CULTURE OF JOB PRIDE
This is something I partly saw during my last trip, but really saw it during this time. It seems that so many people have a pride in their jobs that you just do not see in the US. From people sweeping up trash to those driving buses, everyone I encountered was nice, professional and clean. For example, in the six story paper store I mentioned earlier there was a woman there whose job was to help people line up for the elevator. This wasn’t some high-end shop, just your run-of-the-mill sort of place. First off in the US, this job would never exist and if it did, the person would most likely be grumpy, hatehis job and make it very clear that he wasn’t happy. “OMG people get in one of the lines, get on the elevator, how hard is this?” In Japan, this woman was polite and she treated her job like it was one of the most important things in the world. It was very refreshing to see this level of service almost everywhere I went.

YOU DO NOT GIVE TIPS, BUT GET AMAZING SERVICE
One might think that people have a pride in their job to get something out of it, like a tip, but that is not the case. Tipping in Japan is seen as a negative thing — almost an insult. Some places will automatically include gratuity on your bill, but people aren’t looking to be rewarded with a bigger tip. Not that I do not mind tipping in the US for good service, but it just seems to be that many times you get sub-par service AND are still expected to tip in the US. Having people treat you with respect and doing their job just makes the experience that much better. Plus you don’t have to worry about how much to tip people or keep bills/coins handy.

Could you imagine vending machines like this in the middle of a busy downtown train station in the US without being damaged or having big bars on them? It is a very different world in Tokyo.

Could you imagine vending machines like this in the middle of a busy downtown train station in the US without being damaged or having big bars on them? It is a very different world in Tokyo.

PEOPLE RESPECT PROPERTY
The city is very clean and vandalism is almost non-existent. One of the first things I noticed was riding in the subway and the seats were cloth — CLOTH! Could you imagine cloth seats in the US? How long would it take for them to get ripped, stained, written on and/or worse? There also wasn’t any graffiti on the public transportation that I saw and none of it smelled of urine — nice. Another thing I noticed were vending machines located almost everywhere around the city. They weren’t locked down with big bars like you see in the US and they all worked.

GETTING AROUND IS EASY – USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Taxis are quite pricey and the cost can add up quickly. Just going down the street can easily cost about $10.  In Tokyo and the surrounding area, there is a great train/subway system to get around and it is best to use them. Public transportation is very clean and safe. It could be a bit challenging figuring out exactly what train to take while at a station, so probably good to plan ahead either on your own or ask your hotel before heading out.

One of the entrances to the Imperial Palace Plaza, which is a large park in the middle of downtown Tokyo and right across from the Peninsual Hotel where I was staying.

One of the entrances to the Imperial Palace Plaza, which is a large park in the middle of downtown Tokyo and right across from the Peninsula Hotel where I was staying.

CHECK OUT HIBIYA PARK + TOKYO IMPERIAL PALACE
I know Tokyo is a well developed city, but I was expecting to see more traditional Japanese architecture. There were some places that gave a little bit, but it wasn’t until I checked out Hibiya Park that I got what I was really looking for. It is a large park area that is located right in the middle of downtown (almost like Tokyo’s Central Park).

Not only are there a lot of open park grounds, but this is also where the Imperial Palace is located. Unlike the White House in the US, they hide the Palace pretty well. Even from my hotel room, overlooking the park, I was only able to see the roof. Down on the ground, there are a few things to view, but not the actual palace and security is pretty tight.

DO NOT BE SCARED OF THE FACE MASKS
When making your way through Tokyo, you might notice there are quite a few people wearing white face masks. Do not worry — there is not a pandemic. People who are getting sick wear the face masks so that they do not infect others. It can be a little off-setting at first, but with a dense population in Japan, this is done to cut down on the spread of disease. It makes sense and it is too bad that more people around the globe do not do this.

The Peninsula Hotel, where I stayed, which is a five star hotel located right in downtown Tokyo.

The Peninsula Hotel, where I stayed, which is a five star hotel located right in downtown Tokyo.

STAY AT THE PENINSULA, IF YOU CAN
While in Tokyo, I was staying at The Peninsula Tokyo. Since getting into travel writing, I have been fortunate to experience quite a few first class hotels and this hotel has been one of the best to date. This might be a shocker to most of you, but I am by no means rich and/or famous, so when I travel on my own dime (this trip to Tokyo was sponsored by The Peninsula Hotel and ANA), I am not booking really high-end rooms. However, recently my opinions and thoughts about hotel rooms have changed.

When I was in college, it was about finding the cheapest room possible; I didn’t care what it looked like or where it was located. As I began to explore paying a bit more for nicer hotels and then even a bit more for a better room, I have begun to really appreciate how much a hotel can be a part of your travel experience. Not only are we talking about the quality of sleep you can get (I had my best jet-lagged sleep at the Peninsula to date), but the time you spend in your room. It is pretty nice to wake up and reach over to push a button to have all my curtains open up and (after my eyes got used to the light) seeing Tokyo. It makes one feel like the king of the world and certainly adds an enhanced dimension to your travels.

One of the huge benefits of the hotel is its location — right in the middle of all the action. Luckily I had much free time during my visit and it was easy to leave the hotel and be a short walk from the shopping and important tourist destinations without needing to use transportation. But when I did leave for other parts of the city, it was an easy two block walk to the subway to hitch a ride.

BE PREPARED TO DRESS NICE, EVEN IN LAID BACK SETTINGS
Before leaving, I checked the weather and saw it was forecast to be in the mid-to-upper 60’s. For a Seattlite, that means shorts. I did not want to make the same mistake (of not taking shorts) when I went to Singapore, so I made sure I packed them this time.  It never reached the 60’s, and although I would have normally worn shorts anyway,  the only people I saw wearing them around Tokyo were the tourists. Most local citizens, even on the weekends, had suits on and were dressed nicely and for some reason to me, it just did not seem right to wear shorts. However, I did wear jeans — I mean I have to have some limits here.

Tokyo is a HUGE city. From every angle, the city just kept going and going. This is the view of the Tokyo Tower.

Tokyo is a HUGE city. From every angle, the city just kept going and going. This is the view towards the Tokyo Tower.

CONCLUSION
This was my second trip to Japan and I know it will not be my last. There is something about the people, the culture and the country that is very alluring and welcoming. I am hoping to visit this summer to explore more of Japan outside of Tokyo. The town and country are ready for tourists and if you have been meaning to make your way over to Japan, the timing could not be better.

YOU KNOW YOU WANT MORE
* All my Tokyo, Japan photos
* Photos of The Peninsula Hotel
* Story and photos on flying on ANA’s 787 Dreamliner
* Video of my Boeing 787 flight from Narita

ANA's first 787 Dreamliner (JA801A) sits in the background at their second (JA802A) waits to take us for a ride.

ANA's first 787 Dreamliner (JA801A) sits in the background at their second (JA802A) waits to take us for a ride.

When I first started this blog a little over three years ago, I never thought I would be one of the first people to ever fly on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This truly is a dream (liner) come true.

A nice little rainbow surprise when boarding the ANA 787 Dreamliner. This is not a standard lighting configuration, but it sure is groovy.

A nice little rainbow surprise when boarding the ANA 787 Dreamliner. This is not a standard lighting configuration, but it sure is groovy.

Over the years, I have closely followed the 787, through its many ups and downs and I was honored to be invited to Tokyo to take an excursion flight around Japan. The night before the flight I received little sleep and was up at 4 am, like a kid on Christmas.

JA802A is begging to go for a ride.

JA802A is begging to go for a ride.

On Wednesday, October 27th, the 787 Dreamliner (JA801A) had its first revenue flight from Narita International Airport (NRT) to Hong Kong International Airport (HGK), but my experience was a bit different. Our flight was on JA802A, ANA’s second 787, which took off from NRT and experienced a 90 minute excursion, including flying over Mount Fuji — pretty rad.

We are on our way. Even though I did not have a window seat, I could see outside quite well. A Delta Air Lines Boeing 747-400 at Narita can be seen.

We are on our way. Even though I did not have a window seat, I could see outside quite well. A Delta Air Lines Boeing 747-400 at Narita can be seen.

I had been on JA802A just a few weeks prior, while it sat at Paine Field, but this was much different. The energy being on JA802A with “real” passengers, when we are about ready to lift off was palatable. The flight contained some ANA VIP customers, representatives that ANA works closely with, the winners of ANA’s 787 photo contest and only four media representatives.

I was sitting in 9D, which is the inner aisle seat on the left side (SeatGuru.com already has its ANA 787 seating chart up), but I still had ample opportunity to look out the 787’s larger windows.

The plane will filled with a mixture of different people. I had seat 9D, which was the left side aisle seat.

The plane was filled with a mixture of different people. I had seat 9D, which was the left side aisle seat.

“Please be seated, we are about to take off,” never sounded so good. After a short taxi, the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines started to spool up and what a glorious sound. Do not worry, it stayed very quiet in the cabin, but you could still enjoy the unique sound that the Dreamliner engines provide.

The 787’s take off was a smooth experience and I didn’t feel pinned to my seat, like on many other aircraft. The sound and ease of take off, felt very similar to the A380 (but the 787 was a bit quicker). As we lifted off, the passengers clapped and cheered — we were off!

This photo does not do the wing justice. The bend is MUCH more impressive in person.

This photo does not do the wing justice. The bend is MUCH more impressive in person.

I was really looking forward  to seeing how the 787’s wing looked from inside the cabin while flying. The good news is it looked as cool as I was hoping; the bad news was the photo does not do it justice. The wing had an unbelievable bow, like I have never seen before. Airlines really should put a sign at the windows over the wings that state, “The wings are supposed to do that.” I can’t wait to see what they look like in turbulence.

I should have drank more water before the flight so I could have tried out the bathroom with a window. Just took photos instead.

I should have drunk more water before the flight so I could have tried out the bathroom with a window. Just took photos instead.

The flight was only 90 minutes and that didn’t leave a heck of a lot of time. I was up and down the aisles taking photos and videos, checking the views outside, the lavatory with a view and playing around with the in-flight entertainment system. I could have been on the plane for ten hours and still wanted more.

Mount Fuji as seen from ANA's second 787 Dreamliner (JA802A)

Mount Fuji as seen from ANA's second 787 Dreamliner (JA802A)

So, the big question is, “Was it what you thought it was going to be?” Yes — the Dreamliner is an incredible aircraft that will evolutionize air travel for many passengers. On paper, I think the Dreamliner will help to revolutionize airline transport due to a large leap in technology, efficiency and cabin comfort, but for most passengers they aren’t going to notice all the changes — but that is not a bad thing.

Sticker on the Dreamliner! Don't worry ANA, I took it down :).

Check the AirlineReporter.com sticker on the Dreamliner! Don't worry ANA, I took it down.

For me and probably for most of you airline fans, the changes will easily be noticed. However, for the average passenger, they will feel the 787 just provided them with a great flight, but might not realize why.  When airlines moved from props to jets, it was quite obvious of large change, but it is not as obvious with the 787 Dreamliner.

Narita International Airport, as seen from the 787 Dreamliner.

Haneda Airport, as seen from the 787 Dreamliner.

All that being said, I firmly believe the 787 Dreamliner will be the new standard in world travel. It is comfortable, quiet and beautiful. I feel that this aircraft will make many frequent fliers change their top airline choices based on the Dreamliner product.

My first flight on the Dreamliner was unreal, but I can’t wait to try one of a real, “normal,” scheduled flight to put it to the real test. It is great to think that in only a few short years, these Dreamliners will be flying all over the world — a world that I am excited to experience.

After landing back at Narita, I really did not want to get off the 787, but they made me.

After landing back at Narita, I really did not want to get off the 787, but they made me.

SEE ALL 44 PHOTOS FROM MY FIRST BOEING 787 DREAMLINER FLIGHT

More Boeing 787 Dreamliner Stuff:
* Interior photo tour of JA802A while at Paine Field

* Jon Ostrower’s photos on his FlightBlogger site
* Photos and story from Ben M on USA Today
Chris Sloan, Airchive.com/2C Media
* Video and photos from Guy Norris with Aviation Week

Be one of the 10,000 to share Japan with the world.

Be one of the 10,000 to share Japan with the world.

I just had the opportunity to meet with Mizohata san, the Commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency and san, the Director of Intentional Tourism Promotion about Japan’s tourism outlook. I will be sharing much more information later, but one thing that seemed to interest quite a few people on Twitter was the fact that Japan is hoping to offer 10,000 free flights to Japan in the summer of 2012 to people who can help share the word about the benefits of Japan.

If approved by the government, anyone will be able to sign up online in April 2012 and state how they can, “communicate their experiences through blogs and social networking during and after their trips.” Those who can show the most benefit for Japanese tourism will be most competitive in the selection process.

Winners will be offered free airfare, but any other expenses have to be covered by the person. However, there is a good chance that hotels in the region will also offer great deals for promotions to visitors.

The aim of this project, called “Fly to Japan!” is to:
* Eliminate worries about travel to Japan through positive words by actual travelers
* Increase of domestic comsumption by spending during travel
* Development of new tourist routes and resources.

Since this has not been approved yet, there are not too many details, but figured I would give a heads up to those of you who might be interested.

Much more information about the state of Japan and their tourism outlook will be given in a future story.

As reported earlier in the week, the second Boeing 787 Dreamliner (ZA002) is currently in Japan undergoing Service Readiness Validation. Even though words about what is going on in Japan is interesting, photos are even better. Boeing has been doing a pretty great job posting photos on their Flickr account, but they also have some slick hi-resolution photos on their media page that I wanted to share. All the photos below were taken by Boeing and have the description from Boeing below each one. Click on any photo for a much larger version. Enjoy!

The Boeing 787 flight test airplane ZA002 readied for departure from Boeing Field to Japan on Saturday, July 2. Over the coming days, Boeing and 787 launch customer ANA will conduct an important validation of their readiness for the 787 Dreamliner’s entry into service. Photo by Boeing.

Photo by Boeing. Click for larger.

The Boeing 787 flight test airplane ZA002 readied for departure from Boeing Field to Japan on Saturday, July 2. Over the coming days, Boeing and 787 launch customer ANA will conduct an important validation of their readiness for the 787 Dreamliner’s entry into service.

Click the link below for additional photos.