Ended up waking up around 4am. Guess we're not quite over the jetlag after all. Turns out Pat
woke up about the same time.
We spent the time sorting out the stuff to pack between our 2 suitcases. Melissa had offered
to buy breakfast buffet at the Hilton "to get us started off right". We had our choice of
Western style or Japanese style breakfast. Onny had mentioned that the Japanese idea of
"western" isn't always what we Westerners would think. The fish was a little dry and over
cooked, and so far this trip, anything labelled 'sausage' is a hot dog. There were many sizes,
shapes and colours, but to the taste buds it was always hot dog. No popcorn for this meal
Did a last pow wow in our room and discovered Melissa and Pat had misplaced the tickets for the
tours. We had brought every smidgen of paperwork however, so I figured replacing them
shouldn't be much trouble. Checked email from Pats dialup, and then Melissa and I went to take
care of checkout while the guys kept an eye on all the baggage.
Turns out when we split the reservations my name was on the room they took, and their names
were on the room we ended up in. When we tried to run the cards, one card was declined as
the name didn't match correctly. While trying to explain this we came to the conclusion it
would be easier to just pay for the rooms they had us listed under, and sort out the phone
charges later on.
Leaving the hotel we realized how lucky we had been in planning out the trip so that we'd avoid
a weekend in the parks. The hotel was rather busy, and they had started running 2 busses to
take guests to the Bayside Monorail Station. We managed to smoosh into one, bags and all, and
Len and Melissa figured out the ticket machines at JR Maihama and grabbed us tickets to Tokyo
Station. On the platform (in the smoking section of the platform) the first thing we notice is
a guy standing there reading a "FreeBSD for Beginners" book. I dug in my laptop case, and yup!
I did still have a sticker sheet in there. Popped over and pointed at the book cover and
presented them to him, which got some odd looks while he tried to figure it out. When I walked
back to the gang, he got the idea, and smiled and bowed.
We rode in the last car, as just like BART, everyone tends to pack into the middle of the
train. The ride took about 15 mins to get to JR Tokyo Station. I was sure glad we'd learned from the
first England trip and had packed lightly. I had my laptop and duffle, and Len had the small
wheeled carryon and his small notebag. Pat and Melissa had a few larger and numerous bags
between them, and this make it a little trickier for them to get thru the packed crowds. My
advice, PACK ONE BAG! It gets heavier after 15 mins, and taking more up and down stairs thru
huge crowds gets harder and harder.
JR Tokyo Stn. is BIG. Think large airport without windows, and there are several levels. We were
eventually able to find lockers big enough to hold all the bags. (they were outside the
ticket gates near one of the Yaesu south exits, and the big ones were way in the back , down
some stairs) We used the ones across from #19 on this map
There were 300,500 and 600 yen sizes, but it was tough find one that wasn't taken, or unusable.
Be very very very certain to know *exactly* where the lockers are. Areas of Tokyo Station all starts
looking alike. We pegged ours by noticing the shop across from them, the drugstore next to the
entrance, and the store down the way a bit. We needed all of that to locate them again a few
hours later. Not all the stations have the lockers for the BIG suitcases, as we found in
Ikebukuro. There's a 3 day limit on the locker, after that they pull out your stuff. If you
leave it after midnight you have to pay again to get your things. The luggage thing can't be
too overstressed. If you don't believe me, check out this article.
Once we had the bags sorted out we were free to navigate the station and get the rail tix we
wanted. Luckily the JR East (Tickets for Tourists) page has suggested you print out the page for the ticket you want
and show it to the agent. Once we found an office that could sell us the ticket it was fine.
We had opted for the one day, covers all train and subways ticket as we didn't know which we'd
be using where. As it turns out JR covers all of the main Tokyo areas fine, so we never needed
it for anything else. Next time we wont bother, as these tickets don't go thru the gates, you
have to show it to the attendant. Not all exits have manned gates, and those that do usually
have a long line of people asking questions of the agent, so getting in and out was
occasionally problematic. Tickets in hand we went off to catch a train for Hamamatsucho
I was kinda worried about the trains, as I'd heard how confusing they can be, but it wasn't bad
at all. Each line has a colour on the map, and this colour theme is carried out on the trains,
the signs, etc. We mostly used the Yamanote line while we were in Tokyo. Its a big circle,
and light green. If you have a map it's not bad. The platform has an arrow in the theme
colour, showing the direction and the next station down the line, in Japanese and English. The
Yamanote line was easy because in a pinch you could always just go all the way round to your
stop. I'm told the whole round trip takes about an hour.
Crowds can be quite thick, even at non commute hours (I dread the thought of having to get thru
a large station at peak commute) and it's not always easy to find an elevator or escalator.
Hamamatsucho was a few stops down, and we had one of the newer trains that had the LCD display
showing current station, number of minutes to reach each station along the way, and any delays
along the route. The display alternated languages in English and Japanese. Hamamatsucho was
no problem and we bounced down the stairs to the Bus Terminal that most tours leave from.
As we had the invoice, and their reservation system had us down for 4 people there was no
problem at all over the lost tickets. I'd paid for 4 places, we had four people, and an
invoice, and they didn't even bother to print new tickets.
That solved we popped back up to the station for a bite to eat. Len and I weren't hungry yet,
so I had coffee and he had a beer while Pat and Melissa had a rice dish lunch. You really have
to love those menus with the pictures and frequently an English description for those of us who
never could manage another language. Our guide for the tour, Atsuko, showed up early, and as
it was just the 4 of us going to the Ghibli Museum we left a bit early. She was wonderful at
getting us thru the crowds, onto the platform and train in no time at all. She also answered
our questions about Japan and Tokyo. (Red triangles are painted on windows to show entry/exit
points for emergency personal in case of need. Mt. Fuji is only seen on very clear days, the
school uniforms differ by school, not by grade). She pointed out a women walking down the
street in kimono and explained this is only worn for special or important occasions.
We arrived in Mitaka in about 30 mins and took the cute specially painted bus to the museum.
(Others go there too, we just lucked out to get the one with the Ghibli paint job.) We got
pictures at the Totoro gate and the main entrance. You're allowed to take pics anywhere
outside the building, just not inside. The roof garden was considered outside, luckily. You
get a "ticket" made from 3 frames of 35mm movie stock, showing scenes from a Ghibli movie, that
entitles you to see a short film inside the museum. The fresco as you enter the building is
incredible. Look for your favourite characters there, and in very small details all over.
Half the fun is standing around staring at the frames and trying to guess the picture. I had
NoFace sitting on the train. There are small lockers in the atrium courtyard so you can stash
your stuff while you look around. They even refund the money when you return the key!
The museum was such a wonderful place it would be impossible to describe it in detail. Pat
going up the inside spiral staircase was amusing, the wash rooms are so good you have to see
them (thought the seat on the womens had been set a little warmed than I'd expected. Not hot,
just unexpected). The Mamma Aiuto Gift Shop was PACKED and impossible to get into. Window
browsing was making me drool, and the cels for sale displayed on the wall of the gallery were
beautiful and expensive. Atsuko knew of a department store just a few blocks away that sold
plenty of Ghibli items, so we shouldn't worry about the store being such a mess as we could get
some souvenirs there instead. There was a JR station just outside the store and we got on and
back to Tokyo Station. Atsuko walked us to where we'd were certain we'd left the luggage to be
sure we wouldn't get lost, and we thanked her for being such a great guide.
Well, we were close to the lockers anyway, it just took a bit more hiking and walking until we
finally saw the landmarks we'd picked out. Good thing we had several to choose from.
Collected the bags and back on the train, this time to Ikebukuro where we'd reserved our rooms.
Ikebukuro Station is another large station, and while we had directions it was still complex.
There were lots of signs to the West Exit, but in all the crowds it was tricky to find. There
were a lot of steps and escalators, but many of them went into the Tobu Dept. store.
Seeing our confusion a woman stopped and asked us if we needed help. She looked at the map we
had, and pointed out the correct escalator. Turns out we were nearly standing on top of it.
Just outside we saw the first landmark on the map, the KFC. Made the turns and followed the
directions and still managed to miss a turn in the dark. (We missed the first alley and ended
up in the second one). Len looked about and finally found the entrance. The Kimi Ryokan was
not quite what we'd expected from the website. While the clerks all spoke English, it became a
comedy of errors from there on.
Our reservation had clearly stated 2 of the extra large rooms (Pat is 6ft. 7in. tall and we'd
seen advice that the small rooms could be uncomfortable for anyone not Japanese sized.), 4
people, for 2 nights. The confirmation we had received stated the same. Some how when we
arrive it had been converted to one small room for 1 or 2 people for zero nights.
While being constantly interrupted to answer the phone wasn't helping matters, he was
eventually able to get us 2 small rooms, once we convinced him the 4 of us couldn't share one
small. He still had the idea of 2 people however, or he expected the four of us to share 2 hand
towels and 2 robes. After the 4th phone call we were able to convince him we'd need 4 towels, 4
robes, and a set of keys to each room with the little plastic tab to allow you to use the
The room that looks so pretty on the web site is on the first floor. The rooms on other floors
don't look quite like it. Best thing we could say was "At least there's not much mildew or
any visible roaches". Aside from the small size, it was painted (was being about 20 years ago)
institutional green. The woodwork was rather grubby dirty from too many fingers and not enough
scrubbing, and the tatami mats on the floor were the same, aside from where the futons usually
covered them. The old handprint on the wall was the only clean spot. The window latch was
broken, and probably what contributed to the mildew and damp growing there. Luckily they had
pegs and hangers on the wall, but they were up so high I had trouble reaching them on my tippy
toes. I was just able to reach the phone. Think begrimed college dorm meets youth hostel.
The bathrooms at the end of the hall weren't in much better shape, and I _really_ hope the
smears on the walls were mascara. Toilets are at either end of the hallway and clearly marked
Mens and Womens. The men all seemed to prefer to use the womens, even though it was smaller than
an airplane toilet, probably because it had a lock. As the Kimi locks its doors from 1am to
7am, 1am is a BAD time to try to use the toilet. Any toilet. All the kids come in from
drinking and its rather busy for the next half hour. The Japanese tub is open from 4pm to
11pm, but we weren't around enough to actually try it. Considering the mess found around the
sinks, I'm not certain I would have wanted to.
We met up with our friend Onny, who was staying there, and went out to one of the Tengu "pubs"
for dinner. The Plum Wine Sour was great, and they had Guinness. We all stuffed ourselves
silly, ordering an assortment of various dishes, served family style. We started with 4
choices, and added more as we went on, once we knew how hungry we were. The guys liked the
deep-fried chicken gristle more than I did. We started the meal with a sake Onny recommended
(I think it was the Masumi) and finished with the house sake (Iyoyo-something) which is served
with the glass in a small lacquer box half full to show that you're getting "good measure'.
We shared that around and headed back to the hotel well fed.
Pat & Melissa have to eat at set times, and we had to catch the tour pickup several blocks away
at 7:30, so as we picked up our keys on the way up we asked the desk clerk how we went about
being let out early. He asked what time and we said 6:30, and he said that would be no
problem, he'd let us out, and would we be checking out at that time as well. As we were only
allowed to pay for a single night we were getting nervous about finding ourselves roomless the
next day. We again stressed we were staying TWO nights, and he said "oh yes". Went on up to
our rooms and off to sleep.