Endured Narrated

Tokyo 2010: 26 Hour Party People

A blow-by-blow description of what is necessary to get from Shinagawa, Japan to Jersey City, New Jersey:

1/3 11:30 AM JST (1/2 9:30 PM EST) – checked out of the Prince Sakura Tower Tokyo. Discovered that the Airport Limousine bus would not be running due to a marathon. Directed to use the train system instead.

1/3 11:50 AM JST (1/2 9:50 PM EST) – with two heavy suitcases in tow, departed Shinagawa Station on the JR Yamanote, bound for Tokyo Station.

1/3 12:15 PM JST (1/2 10:15 PM EST) – arrived at Tokyo Station. Purchased two Narita Express (“NEX”) train tickets. Proceeded to platform.


1/3 12:33 PM JST (1/2 10:33 PM EST) – boarded NEX.

1/3 1:27 PM JST (1/2 11:27 PM EST) – arrived at Narita Airport. Queued up at Air Canada ticket counter.

1/3 2:00 PM JST (1/3 12:00 AM EST) – ticket counter opens. I am told I should check my coat since I may not be allowed to bring it onto the plane to Newark. Despite both suitcases being full, I manage to do so.

1/3 2:20 PM JST (1/3 12:20 AM EST) – while going through security, I am forced to throw out my can of FFXIII “Elixer” soda. The only reason I had it with me was because, as a duty free item, I was supposed to have it with me in case Customs wanted to see it. I discard it, sadly. I am happy to note that Japanese airport security does not force you to remove your shoes.

1/3 2:30 PM JST (1/3 12:30 AM EST) – we pass through Japanese immigration and customs. I am not asked to show my duty free items, meaning I’m not needlessly carrying an extra bag full of things.

1/3 2:40 PM JST (1/3 12:40 AM EST) – I purchase a new set of headphones at “DUTY FREE AKIHABARA”, having misplaced my regular iPhone earbuds. An hour later, I would find them again.

1/3 2:50 PM JST (1/3 12:50 AM EST) – we settle down to eat at one of the three restaurants in the terminal. I have a cheeseburger; it is acceptable. I am fascinated by gum syrup.

Waiting At Narita

1/3 4:25 PM JST (1/3 2:25 AM EST) – we begin boarding for our flight. We are in row 42 out of 44, troubling for someone who needs to catch a connecting flight less than two hours after landing (4:45 PM EST). Our legroom is less than ideal, and I miss being in an exit row.

1/3 5:10 PM JST (1/3 3:10 AM EST) – we take off. Watching a video about Toronto arrivals, I learn that I have to clear US customs while in Toronto, rather than in Newark – which includes claiming my baggage and then re-checking it post customs. Again, troubling given the amount of time we have for the connection, never mind the unknown additional security.

1/3 8:10 PM JST (1/3 6:10 AM EST) – I begin to get scattered amounts of sleep, in two to three hour pockets. I am frequently interrupted by food service.


15000 Miles?

1/3 2:30 PM EST (1/4 4:30 AM JST) – the pilot announces that we are being asked to hold in the air for an extra 15 minutes, which means we probably won’t reach the gate until 3:30. I notice that the in-flight map says we’ve gone 15,000 miles, which would mean we had been traveling over 1000MPH on average. You would think a navigation system could deal with the international date line and the fact that we’re now in the past, but seemingly not.

1/3 3:45 PM EST (1/4 5:45 AM JST) – we deboard and speed walk towards immigration.

1/3 3:55 PM EST (1/4 5:55 AM JST) – we arrive at the US connections baggage claim. I notice that our flight is delayed by two hours to 6:45 PM, thus replacing the fear of not making the connection with the frustration of not getting home when we had intended.

1/3 4:15 PM EST (1/4 6:15 AM JST) – our luggage finally appears. I withdraw my coat and replace it with the bag of goods I had needlessly been carrying. We clear customs without incident.

1/3 4:25 PM EST (1/4 6:25 AM JST) – we go through another regular security screening. This time, the shoes come off.

"Enhanced Search"

1/3 4:30 PM EST (1/4 6:30 AM JST) – on the way to the gate, we see two large gender-separated lines. The one additional measure that has seemingly been added post-Christmas scare, the “Enhanced Search” is an individual bag check and pat down. I am asked to turn on each electronic device once (phone, Kindle, PSP). I am asked to undo my belt, to lift the soles of my shoes, to spread my legs and grab the table. I am asked how the David Foster Wallace book (Broom Of The system) I am reading is. (I am unclear whether that was a security test, small talk, or a sincere question from the guard.)


1/3 4:50 PM EST (1/4 6:50 AM JST) – I finally clear the screening, having been in a longer line than Katie and opting to go to the bathroom before queueing. It is noted that had our flight been on time, we would have missed it.

1/3 5:00 PM EST (1/4 7:00 AM JST) – we spring for an hour of Boingo wifi. Twitter updates are quickly sent, email is checked.

1/3 6:00 PM EST (1/4 8:00 AM JST) – flight is pushed back again, this time to 7:45. I get in line at Tim Horton’s and buy a 10-pack of Timbits. They make me feel much better.

1/3 7:30 PM EST (1/4 9:30 AM JST) – an announcement informs us that the plane has arrived, albeit at a different gate, and it will be here shortly. We remain incredulous.

1/3 7:45 PM EST (1/4 9:45 AM JST) – flight is pushed back to 8:00. The crew heads down to inspect the plane.

1/3 8:05 PM EST (1/4 10:05 AM JST) – we board. We are in the last row. The pilot informs us that the plane picked up a lot of ice on the way in, so we have to stop at the central de-icing station before we can take off.

1/3 8:35 PM EST (1/4 10:35 AM JST) – we take off, having been de-iced. We are offered free headsets and free drinks (including wine/beer/cocktails) as an apology from Air Canada.

1/3 10:10 PM EST (1/4 12:10 PM JST) – having just passed the 24 hour travel mark, we touch down in Newark. The pilot informs us that we are being held on the tarmac for 15-20, though, because our gate is not available. There is a collective groan. During this time, we learn that Terminal C at Newark is shut down due to a security situation. I am happy to be traveling to terminal A.

1/3 10:45 PM EST (1/4 12:45 PM JST) – we deboard.

Baggage Claim at EWR

1/3 11:05 PM EST (1/4 1:05 PM JST) – our luggage appears. We get in the taxi line, doing that wonderful NYC thing where you avoid having a conversation with the illegal limo hacks trying to prey on unsuspecting tourists. A man behind me tells one of them off, to which the driver gets defensive, saying he’s just “trying to do us a favor” since it is cold out. I laugh, while mentally noting that it is about 40 degrees colder than it was in Japan.

1/3 11:30 PM EST (1/4 1:30 PM JST) – we arrive at our apartment building. We collect our mail, unlock the door, begin unpacking, and invite over Bruce and Alanna to exchange gifts and catch up.

It has been exactly 26 hours of physical time passing since we left the hotel.


Tokyo 2010: A Scattered Final Day

We had held today as a final wrap-up day, mostly with the intention to clean up things we had missed, not found, or otherwise not gotten around to. This may be less interesting than the other days – my apologies.
After the Fukubukuro madness, we took a short ride up to Harajuku to grab a few additional gifts for people. Because of the proximity to the Meiji shrine, the area was flooded with people – as we would learn, Saturday foot traffic practically everywhere in Tokyo is about five times the volume of what we experienced mid-week.
We then returned to Shibuya once more to hit the Tower Records (or, as our bank transactions romanized it, “Towa Reko”). With the death of large-scale music shops in NYC – HMV closed around 2003, Tower in 2007, and Virgin Megastore in 2009 – I found it thrilling that Tower and HMV are not only alive, but thriving. More functional than any Tower I had ever been in previously, the store featured lots of listening stations, plenty of recommendations, and well defined floors. (Entertainment, unfortunately, is one place where the Japanese costs far outpace ones in the US – most Japanese CDs float between $20-30, tax inclusive. Games and movies run a similar premium. Strangely, American CDs tend to be about $15-20, even after tax.)
As far as pickups: the new Fantastic Plastic Machine album, “FPM”, just came out a week prior and was a no-brainer. Katie managed to find House☆Disney, a remix album by Japanese house artists. She also picked up the heavily advertised flumpool album.
After some more flitting around in Shibuya – visiting the Seibu and Oioijam department stores – we headed to the station to grab the train to the Imperial Palace. January 2nd is one of two days of the year (the other being in mid-December, for the Emperor’s birthday) that the inner gardens are open to the public. That was the intent, anyhow – due to an unspecified “accident”, train service would be suspended for about 45 minutes.
As Close As We Got To The Inner Garden
By the time we made it to the Imperial Palace, the large crowds coming back didn’t give me a lot of hope – and sure enough, people were being turned away at the entrance.
Imperial Palace Trees
Still, the parts of the grounds that are open to the public at all times are impressive and otherwise pleasant.
We then returned to Tokyo Station with the intent of finding me my bowl of ramen. But after searching around, we opted instead for Suginoko, an Udon noodle place (ironically, right next door to Katsugen from two days prior). I am not heartbroken over missing out on the ramen – the bowl of hot udon in a pork curry broth was fantastic. The Udon was served with a side of tempura fried mass of onions – not unlike an onion ring loaf, but about a thousand times better.

While venturing around the station, Katie got pulled into a mochi kneading demonstration. The crowd was very excited to see her whack the mochi with the mallet, and afterwords we were given some of the fresh mochi with sweet red bean paste. Delicious.
By this point, we had been out and active for nearly 12 hours, so we cut short the evening plans, but not before taking the train to Hamamatsucho for…
Pokemon Center Success
Yes, the Pokemon Center. Watching Katie’s eyes light up as she slid through the crowded store, grabbing nearly every Pichu-related item she could find was quite a sight. I opted for a shirt from the upscale/designer line, Pokemon151.
For the last time, we returned to Shinagawa – I managed to make it out of the turnstile with exactly 40 yen remaining on my Suica card – and returned to the hotel to begin trying to figure out how we’re going to pack all this stuff in our two suitcases.


Tokyo 2010: Fukubukuro

On January 2nd, as most stores re-open after New Years Day, they put out fukubukuro – mystery bags filled with whatever inventory they feel like, usually at a steep discount. All the major department stores seem to do these, as do many electronics stores and clothing shops.
While the Apple Stores around Tokyo were participating, I just missed the cutoff at the Shibuya store at around 6:30 this morning. *C’est la vie.*

Shibuya109, From Afar

Shibuya happens to also be home to Shibuya109, a large tower of fashion shops. It was clear almost immediately that girls were flocking here from around the area in the hopes of grabbing as many bags as they could carry. Every time the walk signal would light for the crosswalk, another swarm of Japanese girls would run across the street to get the best position in line.

Here is one such crossing:

That’s a security guard on a bullhorn you hear in the background; there were at least five of them posted around the exterior of the building to ensure that the girls ran the corridors in the most appropriate manner. Inside, I could hear girls posted outside of each shop shouting on their own bullhorns, trying to convince the horde to come to their store and run away with a bag.

Post Fukubukuro Trading in front of 109

As the girls start to emerge with the bags, many of them plop down in designated protected space, open their bags, review what they got and potentially offer items for trade. Various handbags, accessories, jackets and shirts were constantly thrust in the air and swapped. A block away, a van sat with a small posse of shoppers who seemed to have scored about 12 bags from the same store, undoubtedly destined for eBay.

All told, it is loud, frantic, and a sight to behold, with nothing comparable in the US. (Save maybe Black Friday, but I don’t think people get trampled for Fukubukuro.)