Japan Day 1
February 21st-22nd, 2001
San Francisco, CA to Tokyo, Japan
All Photos © 2001 Ting Vogel
Randy Packing
Bayporter Express
Waiting for Liftoff
Randy on Plane

The Bayporter Express shuttle arrived 10 minutes earlier than the agreed upon time of 8:45 AM to take us to the airport. The driver had another scheduled pickup close by - a visiting UCB professor from the UK. He made one more stop down in Berkeley before heading out across the bridge. The traffic was thick but our driver knew all the shortcuts, and being able to use the commuter lane cut at  least half an hour from the trip.

As we rode, we had a lively conversation. The professor had swapped houses with another professor who was visiting the UK at the same time. Unfortunately, while the Oakland Hills is a nice place to live, it is not the most convenient place to be without a car. He studies the biochemistry of plant photosynthesis. He remarked on the energy crisis in California and our topic quickly drifted to alternative sources of energy. I brought up the Arcosanti Project and how they are using architectural orientation to maximize natural energy.

The airport was crowded when our shuttle arrived. We had over an hour to kill. After checking in, we hit the bookstores in the airport to get some last-minute reading material. I picked up another Tom Clancy Op-Center book (Mirror Image) and Randy picked up a couple of Japanese tour books, including a Japanese phrase book. The air traffic was busy this morning. We sat in queue for a seemingly interminable amount of time before it was our turn for takeoff.

Shortly after liftoff, we were served drinks, then lunch. My favorite drink on airplanes is Spicy Tomato Juice with no ice which turns out to be a Virgin Bloody Mary sans celery. Randy had the special seafood selection for lunch. I had the normal fare which was teriyaki beef. I worked on the web pages during the flight and quickly burned through two batteries. I watched two of the three featured movies – The Titans starring Denzel Washington and Disney’s The Kid. The other movie that I skipped was Bedazzled. I saw it when it came out in the theatres and a couple more times on other United flights. I was not psyched to see it a fourth time! Randy spent the entire time listening to DAT tapes or sleeping. 12-hour flights tend to drag on forever. I filled the gaps in-between movies and web pages with my current Tom Clancy Op-Center book, Divide and Conquer, and  occasional breaks to walk laps around the plane. This plane - a 747-400 - seemed smaller than the one I took for my last international flight, but it might be because the curtains to the Business Class were closed so I could not cover that portion as part of my walking route. It made for more laps to get the swelling out of my ankles!

Flying over Tokyo, I notice that the coast was lined with plots of farmland. At this time of year, we could only see the brown earth, bare of vegetation. We landed in Tokyo right at the scheduled time at 3:35 PM JST or 10:35 PM PST. It was a relief to get off the plane. The plane had stopped in the middle of the airfield. We were herded onto a shuttle bus for the ride to the terminal. I noticed that all the workers out servicing the plane were in distinct uniforms, including the plane maintenance technicians and the cleaning ladies clustered at the foot of the plane waiting for the passengers to finish departing. We picked up our bags and breezed through customs, then made our way to the limousine bus stand to get our tickets to the Akasaka Prince Hotel. After finding out what the fare was, we tried getting money from a Money Exchanger, but they did not take credit cards. Instead, we were pointed to some ATM’s at the other end of the terminal. The only ATM that would take our bank card was the American Express one. The Citibank ATM refused to recognize my cards as valid, despite having several of the right banking network logos (little did we suspect, but this was going to be a continuing problem throughout our trip!).

Waiting at the airport bus stop, cigarette smoke assaulted us from all sides. Painted lines on the ground guided passengers to form a single line to enter the bus. It was the longest bus ride I could remember in recent memories – a full 2-1/2 hours from Narita Airport to the Akasaka Prince in Tokyo. Even though it's not that far from Narita to Tokyo, traffic was quite heavy, and once inside Tokyo city limits, we moved at 20 MPH or less until we disembarked. Through the windows of assorted skyscrapers lined up against the 'expressway', we could see rows and rows of people working at their desks. Most desks were lined in straight rows with workers facing one another. In other arrangements, as many as 5 people were clustered around a circular table. It was against every rule of ergonomics in the book! On the streets, pedestrians strode about with face masks. Cabs and cars-for-hire lined the sidewalks. I noticed that each and every truck and car that went by was sparkling clean. I did not see a single dirty car all the way to the hotel.

We were even more thankful getting off that bus than we were getting off the plane. Did I already mention it was a LOOONG bus ride? Upon checking in, we noticed a sign that mentioned you have to request a special room to get an outgoing phone line for computers. And they were all out when I asked! After a bit of dickering, the reservations manager on duty agreed that they would transfer us to one of these rooms as soon as it was possible. 

Our first room was on the 25th floor. The room was spacious and designed in late 60's space age bachelor pad decor! Everything was white and sculptured. A couch wrapped along the window. The controls for the lights and air conditioning and tv and so on were embedded in the night stands. Randy noted that a sign above the phone in the bathroom read “In case of emergency, please pick up the phone. Operator will respond in 40 seconds”. We were not sure what kind of toilet emergency would require prompt operator intervention, but we were glad that they had an operator standing by! Maybe they saw the Ally McBeal episode where she got her butt stuck in the toilet and had to have the firemen come and hammer her out.

As tired as we were, we ventured out in search of food. The first day of an international trip is always the toughest, because if you don't stay up, you won't get past the jet lag. The concierge pointed us to a sushi place in the area of shops near our hotel, but we could not find it. Instead, we stopped at a random sushi bar that had no English words anywhere. But if there is anything we know how to say in Japanese, it’s the names of the sushi pieces! Thank God for that! Futotsu anago nigiri onegai-simasu!

After dinner, we were both thankful to hit the sack, looking forward to another day tomorrow.

More Clouds
Through the Clouds
Virgin Bloody Mary
Coast of Japan
Entering Japan
Farm Plots
They Cover the Coast
Plane Shadow
Uniformed Maintenance Workers
Our Plane
Uniformed Cleaners
Bus Stop
Sun Sets Over Tokyo
The Sunset through a Bus Window
The Akasaka Prince
Desk Area
Sitting Area
Japanese Robes
Sushi Chef Prepares for Picture
Sushi Chef Smiles for the Camera!
The Akasaka Prince Lit Up