So, a few weeks ago I went to Japan for the first time! Previously, the farthest I had gone across the pond was to Hawaii so I was quite excited to make the full leap and cross the international date line. We spent 5 days and 4 nights in downtown Tokyo.
Quite frankly, the Japanese culture is absolutely beautiful and it’s refreshing to have a society, in 2015, that values morals, society as a whole, work ethic, quality and doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do instead of any financial gain. This is a country that will literally chase you down to hand you your change back even if it’s only a few Yen. This trip was as much of an adventure as it was an eye opener to how other cultures tackle the same issues that our society faces. I would absolutely love to visit again, and hopefully see Fuji and Kyoto the next time!
The downside is I boarded the plane a sushi lover, and I returned to the states never wanting to eat eel again and on a temporary sushi boycott. Seriously Japan — enough with the eel. It’s breakfast and I want bacon not some phallic demon creature with an odd taste.
To make the journey, we flew Japan Airlines new SkySuite product (pictures below). Heading to Tokyo we were aboard the Boeing 777 for the ORD-NRT Route. The American Airlines First Class Lounge in Chicago was quite nice but like all domestic carriers it is still significantly lacking behind the Asian, European and Middle Eastern counterparts. I guess in a nutshell what I’m saying is literally the entire rest of the planet knows how to do an amazing luxury travel experience except for you — domestic carriers.
The catering, in flight entertainment & seating, service and attention to detail was absolutely superb. By far the best in flight experience I have ever had. The in-flight catering was exceptional and gives you the choice of both a ‘Japanese’ and ‘Western’ 4 course meal to partake in. After the main meal service they have an entire menu of a-la-carte items you can order as you please. The curry was phenomenal as well as endless supply of ice cream!
The Sakura First Class lounge at Tokyo Narita was like no other experience I have ever had. Upon entering we were greeted by name. The staff was absolutely amazing. Before our flight, they set us up with showers. Words cannot express how amazing the showers at the Sakura lounge are. They were nicer than any 5 star luxury hotel I have ever stayed in. The walls were made up of dark, black rocks. Everything was extremely modern and glass — completely my style. It came complete with a steaming hot rain showerhead as well as several nozzles that sprayed hitting the rest of your body in addition to the rain showerhead. Incredible.
After that, they booked us for our 15 minute pre-flight massage. You just tell them where to focus on and they’ll make you relaxed before your pacific journey. At this point, I had been so overwhelmed by the amount of sushi and japanese food on the trip that I did not want to even see the buffet…. but I do write for a food blog so I had to at least take a peak. Incredible, hot and cold dishes, fresh sushi, ramen, liquor etc. It was quite an amazing spread. However at this point even the thought of eel or raw fish made me nauseous so I continued on my way.
At that point it was time to catch our Sky Chariot back to the States! Coming back we flew the NRT-SAN route. This time we got to experience the brand new 787 Dreamliner service. I am an absolute fan of that plane! However, the business class product on this plane was not up to the same standards as the SkySuite. The seats were more or less what you would expect in your typical business class product. It looks like Japan Airline’s intention is to slowly bring the SkySuite across all of their planes which would be a smart move.
In short, I will absolutely look to fly Japan Air’s SkySuite product across the pond any time my life takes me back to Asia.
The Tokyo Hilton
I have a number of absolutely amazing things to say about this hotel and only one major negative. So we’ll start with the positives. By far the best Hilton I have ever stayed at. I’d highly recommend this hotel due to it’s accommodations, customer service, and location.
The Tokyo Hilton is located right smack in the center of downtown Shinjuku which is the business centre district of Tokyo. There is literally a subway stop right below the building as well as some amazing restaurants. The hotel was exceptionally well decorated with as per the Japanese custom extreme attention to detail.
There are several options to get to the hotel from Narita ranging from Limo Bus, Taxi, Bullet Train etc. We chose the bullet train option which had us into the city in 36 minutes versus a 2 hour limo bus ride. Once you’re in the city it’s just a matter of navigating the subway system to take you from the major train depot to the hotel. We learned the hard way that Shinjuku station is NOT the same thing as Nishi-Shinjukugochome :-). Fortunately we were escorted to our hotel by an amazing local!
We were put on a high up floor with access to the executive lounge and views of the Shinjuku area. It was absolutely beautiful at night.
This does, however, bring me to my one major complaint with you Hilton Tokyo. Your shower.
What. The. Fuck.
Now…. I know you’re saying… wait a minute that bathroom looks awesome! It’s really modern, has some sort of $5,000 space age toilet that has more buttons than a mobile phone and will shoot water at you if you press the wrong one (also heated toilet seats are the shit for the record)…. One of the walls is completely glass which is exactly my style…. I should be loving this thing right!? WRONG.
In a hotel room that was a textbook example of modern efficient usage of space and storage, Hilton has employed this disaster. The Katrina of showers (too soon?). It is like they never even bothered to test it after drawing it up.
Allow me to draw you a picture to elaborate.
You get into this thing thinking oh wow! Amazing! Then this happens…. The shower head launches a violent steaming tornado of water at your face at uncontrollable speeds. So, human instinct kicks in and you move out of the way. Good idea? wrong. Now the shower head is spraying its volcano of magma across the entire shower room and into the tub. You look down and cannot help but notice the irony of their being a drain at your feet. No water actually lands there. It all ends up in the bathtub. Which oddly enough if you forget to turn the drain on will sit there and collect your soapy water like it’s some sort of reservoir. Why not try and point the shower head down you ask? Tried that. It violently began spraying water in all directions and even started to leak out attacking the space toilet. Essentially, taking a shower was a constant jedi battle with a fire hydrant with the downside that you always lost.
Hilton — What the hell guys? If you’d like to see what a PERFECT hotel bathroom looks like just take a look at the Conrad London Westminster (formerly InterContinental Westminster). It even comes with surround sound in the bathroom. Check, your move Hilton.
All in all though, I will say that The Tokyo Hilton was a top notch hotel with wonderful luxury accommodations and very well disciplined staff. I would absolutely stay here again if my adventures take me to Tokyo once more. I would however, request a room with a different water park… excuse me…. shower.
Now, for the food and drinks. Incredible.
The standout for me was Zatta (pictured above). Zatta was absolutely intoxicatingly decorated. The walls literally came to life in the evenings. The bar was one of the most unique designs and lighting I had ever seen. It was almost never packed. The bartenders were extremely well trained and made a quality cocktail. You were even given an iPad to place orders with. Depending on the night they even had a DJ spinning but it was never obnoxiously loud. It was the perfect place to have a beverage before heading out.
Close second would be the Marble Lounge (pictured above). They had quite a decent beverage spread but to be quite honest their dinner menu was a bit lacking. However, it was impeccably decorated and well laid out. Upstairs you had the Metropolitan Grill which served all kinds of beef, poultry and seafood over a hardwood fire. Adjacent to that was Junisoh which was a sushi and teppanyaki grill. Unfortunately, we never ended up being able to go to Junisoh. The other remaining restaurant is Dynasty which oddly enough is a Chinese restaurant. We had breakfast here on two of the mornings and it was not bad at all.
Likewise, the Executive Lounge had quite a nice breakfast spread in the morning and appetizers in the evening. The staff were extremely helpful and knowledgeable. They were also quite patient with our ‘american tourist’ esque questions.
Greater Tokyo Area
The only negative thing I could possibly say about Tokyo is Holy Crap it is humid. Past that, this was an absolutely wonderful city with exceptionally nice and wonderful people.
When we landed, we headed straight to the hotel to change and head over to Robot Restaurant. This was a one of a kind event that I am still not even sure what I just witnessed. When you enter you are taken into this ridiculous waiting lobby with a band playing. Everything is shiny, reflective, and chrome. Little do you know that the next 90 minutes will be a complete assault on all of your senses and understanding of reality.
After the pre-show of live musical entertainment and chrome everything you are taken into your seats in the ‘stadium’. What happens next I have almost no words for. It’s like… the Thundercats, mixed with a cabaret show, mixed with some sort of epic ninja battle. Everyone is clapping and extremely happy. It’s noisy. There’s lasers shooting everywhere. You’re completely confused as to what the heck is even going on and then it ends. If you come to Tokyo, this has to be experienced at least once.
At that point we were a bit jet lagged and completely perplexed about what was real and what was not so we decided to call it a night. The start of the next day we headed out to Tokyo Disneyland. Because I’m a freakin adult and that’s how I roll.
Tokyo Disneyland is split into Tokyo DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland. Since we had been to Disneyland and DisneyWorld we decided that DisneySea would be the most unique experience. Unfortunately there was not much in the way of rides though we did go on what they had to offer including all of the interactive experiences. We were even privy to listening to the little mermaid performed in Japanese. However, in retrospect we probably should have used that day to explore Tokyo instead.
The highlight restaurant of the entire trip for me was Ninja Akasaka. I’ll be writing up a separate review just for this place later because it was absolutely exceptional. They took the theme of 5 star dining + Ninjas and made a world class experience out of it. One of a kind experience complete with secret passageways, drawbridges, ninja tricks and throwing stars.
We also got to visit the Sensō-ji Template — which was breathtaking. This is Tokyo’s most visited template and enshrines a golden image of Kannon (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy). According to legend, the was miraculously pulled out of the nearby Sumida-gawa by two fishermen in AD 628. Nearby are temples and shrines for Fujin (God of Wind), Raijin (God of Thunder), and Asakusa-jinjia.
The next day we headed to the island of Odaiba! This place is amazing. So many sites to see. We started the morning off at the Oedo Onsen which was one of the most unique experiences of my life.
Oedo Onsen Monogatari is essentially a hot spring theme park which reproduces the atmosphere of the Edo period. You can enjoy various types of indoor and outdoor baths that are fed by hot spring water pumped from a depth of 1400 meters. Restaurants, massages of all type, games and other entertainment are available here.
We arrived well before they opened and good thing we did because there was a line out the door by the time they opened. You’re given a RFID bracelet to wear for all of your purchases and directed to your gender’s locker room to change into a kimono. After that is it whatever your heart desires! We headed straight to the back to walk along the foot massage river over stones. Holy shit this hurts. After that we thought we would be adventurous and try the pool with the fish that eat your feet…. I think we lasted about 8 seconds. I don’t know what on earth I was expecting that to feel like…. but not THAT.. After having a delicious bibimbap lunch, we received 1 hour long foot and reflexology massages before deciding to adventure out to Odaiba.
There is SOOO much to see and do here. The Decks Tokyo Beach and Aquacity were really interesting shopping malls with all sorts of different stores and things to explore. DiverCity has a massive Gundam statue that stands in front of the building guarding it. The Statue of Liberty Odaiba is amazing with the Rainbow Bridge in the background. The view from the Telecom Center was halfway decent, but I would suggest to look other places for quality pictures.
Inside the shopping malls was the Venus Fort which is really unique. It’s completely styled after an 18th century South European town and even has a classic car museum inside! We finished the Odaiba expedition by visiting the Toyota Mega Web Facility. This is essentially a giant Toyota showroom that shows of all of their latest models, technologies etc.
Next up was the infamous Tokyo SkyTree! The second tallest freestanding structure in the world (next to the Burj Khalifa).
The views here were….. just…. amazing. I don’t have much to say about it other than, holy crap… THIS is the way to see a city.
And then before we knew it…. I was back home!