Starting on May 16, 2005, we spent 5 nights in Japan's capital.
We ended up paying about $180/night via expedia.com, which was quite reasonable considering the rates quoted on the hotel's website.
We took the subway's Marunuochi line to Akasaka station. There's a map at the station with yellow exits that leads you to points in the surrounding area. It’s a 5-minute walk to the tower side of the New Otani. The hotel consists of two parts, the Main and the Tower. I’m not sure if there’s any real distinction, perhaps tourists in Tower and business travelers in Main?
If you enter via the Tower, the lobby is on the third floor. The first few floors are occupied by office workers, and there’s also an office block extension. We checked in at the Tower and were disappointed to not be informed, until we were in the room, that although we had reserved a nonsmoking double room, we’d been assigned smoking (brick hard) twin beds room. The hotel was fully booked and we couldn’t be bothered to unpack and repack in case a nonsmoking room became available. So that resulted in me waking up with runny eyes and stuffed nose due to agitated allergies.
The room was quite spacious, with a roomy bathroom with the usual amenities: TV (CNN and BBC being the only English channels); Internet access at a ¥1,200 per day (modem cabling is supplied); free tea and coffee; lots of snacks and other expensive goodies in the fridge and drawers; and bedside lighting controls with a radio. The bathroom was well stocked with everything from toothbrush and paste to little bottles of shampoo, etc. The towels were all quite soft and didn’t smell bleached – usually you get one rough and one soft one. The bath/shower functioned well with enough water pressure and a fancy showerhead. There was also a patch of the mirror that didn’t fog after a steamy shower. The toilet was standard, with lots of little buttons to play with!
The third floor connects the Tower and Main with the breakfast area, some touristy shops, and a travel agency. If you’re going to be picked up by a tour bus, make sure you wait in the lobby of the Main. From the breakfast area, one can see the hotel’s famed garden, which is quite large, and the pool and a restaurant are hidden there, too. There’s a pond with koi (do not feed) and mini bridges. It’s quite a peaceful environment that’s perfect for wedding photos. We were lucky enough to catch glimpses of a couple exchanging vows in the hotel – it’s quite common for larger hotels to have Shinto Shrines to wed people.
I was not entirely impressed with the hotel as a whole in that breakfast wasn’t included – it was more expensive that some of the dinners we had in Tokyo. We opted for the coffee shops down the road near the Belle Vie subway entrance. There was also an extra charge to use the gym and hotel pool facilities! It was a nice enough hotel, but not quite a value for the money.
We'd finally made it to Japan. Now, here's a country that has intrigued me from a distance and managed to keep a double arms-length distance until now.
The very act of going through passport control and fetching luggage to enter is Japan. A thousand misconceptions, assumptions, and hopes filled my mind as we tried to find an ATM. A simple enough task and one we obviously took for granted - even after noting cautions from other travellers. It doesn't take long to sink into the 'there's-no-crime-here' comfort zone which made it a lot easier to withdraw wads of cash to have handy. In so doing, we averted a second night spent looking for the post office or Citibank ATM signs.
We took the train from the airport. Nothing notable really - standard subway atmosphere. Or was it? The only noticeable 'noises' were coming from other newbies. Locals were reading papers, sleeping or texting on their cell phones. The same situation on most other subways rides we took in Japan. We even had an amusing chuckle at a teen intent on sleeping and texting- simultaneously! Funnily enough we were never privy to local's cell phone conversation: for one, we wouldn't have understood them anyway; secondly, hearing cell phone rings was a true rarity; thirdly, people would rather miss their train to whisper in a corner on the platform than yack for all to hear on a crowded train! What bliss indeed. We used our Japan Rail Passes (JPR's only obtainable by non-citizens prior to entering Japan) for the stretches between Kyoto and other cities by Shinkansen (bullett train). The JPR can also be used on the Japan Rail line within Tokyo. Fact: all countries should seriously consider investing in a rail system similar to Japan's!
Getting something to eat was an adventure in itself. Ok, so we did cheat (Subway sandwiches are just as good as home but their McD’s are a bit dry) but otherwise we followed our noses! The cuisine can seem rather bland - especially if you like Thai or Malay food. But the combinations work - wasabi rocks (burns too)! Experiencing sushi & co in Japan - it was well worth the trip. We tried to stick to places the locals frequented which made it all the more amusing when ordering and notably a lot cheaper than expected. You’ll never go thirsty in Tokyo - unless you’re still out looking for an ATM that’ll line your wallet *gheghe* Vending machines everywhere - from water, to a caffeine shot to a cold beer! All available around the corner :-)
Shopping is one of my all time greatest past times. Window shopping incorporates people watching, day dreaming and with the malls the size of Japan - light exercise is also a factor. There is a certain level of "you’ve-seen-one-you’ve-seen-them-all" for malls in Tokyo. They have similar layouts: grocery shopping in the basement (great place to get a lunchbox style snack); LV & similar "no-price-tag-in-the-window" type boutiques on the first floors; followed by local and other designers on the next 3-6 floors. Top floors feature a mingle of restaurants - perfect for dinner after a long day’s shopping! Just remember when you walk in to the stores you’ll be met by a sing-song chorus of greetings - which basically mean "Hi, ask if you need any help & thanks for shopping with us". What ever happened to "Konichiwa"? It’s the same at coffee shops and other eateries - when entering and exiting. When I did splurge I was always tickled by the rather showy process of wrapping items and handing over: even the tiny lip gloss I bought was handed over ceremoniously in a bag big enough for accommodate a makeover package!