Dispatch from Tokyo

Eleven days ago, I landed in Japan for  what is my second visit to the country.  And on this trip – more than the last one – I am getting a better sense of day-to-day life.  (Maybe it’s because I got many of the tourist-y things out of the way last time around!)

Here are some random highlights from the trip.

Dreamliner Takes Flight

Now boarding for Tokyo...
Now boarding for Tokyo…

I’m a bit of an air travel geek.  Getting somewhere can be as exciting of an experience as actually arriving and being on the ground.  And I’ve never been more excited to get on a plane as I was to board the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner which United uses for its non-stop service from Denver to Tokyo Narita.

United Airlines flies the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner from Denver to Narita. (Photo Credit / United)
United Airlines flies the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner from Denver to Narita. (Photo Credit / United)

The Dreamliner has been in the news quite a bit over the last two years – often for all the wrong reasons.  Early problems with batteries caused a number of early flights to land prematurely, and the entire series of aircraft was grounded for a while as engineers tweaked the jet.  But now, the Dreamliner is up and in the air (with Air Canada announcing today it will be acquiring a number of the shiny new aircraft.)

But for the early foibles of the Dreamliner, there are so many technological advancements that makes it a next-generation aircraft.  The lighter body of the plane makes it more fuel efficient.  The cabin is pressurized to make it feel like you’re flying at a lower altitude than on most airplanes.  And windows can be dimmed at the touch of a button – just like an LCD screen.

Now boarding...
Time to get on the plane!

Boarding the Dreamliner, you could still smell that “new car smell” onboard.  There’s no mistaking this is a newer aircraft.

United has configured the Dreamliner to be nine seats across per row in economy, and being a shorter person, I have to admit that there was ample leg room where I was sitting.  (Protip : window seats are nice in theory, but the aisle seat lets you get up and stretch your legs way more easily during a flight like the eleven hours I spent in the sky from Denver to Tokyo!)

Service on the flight was great – they pumped us full of food and drink for about the first three hours up in the air.  Unlike Air Canada, wine and beer is not free, but I still whipped out my credit card to get a bottle of vino to start the flight.

If there’s any complaint about the plane, it’s that the lumbar part of the seat isn’t very padded.  This means e-v-e-r-y time the person behind you reaches in to their seat pocket, you feel what they’re doing in the small of your back.  If you have a child or fidgety adult sitting behind you, this can make for a bit of an uncomfortable experience.  But it’s a minor inconvenience.

And even though I was stoked to get on board the plane when I was in Denver, I was even more happy to get off of it when I landed in Tokyo.  Not because it was a bad flight, but it was time for my real vacation to begin!

There's a great deal on Narita Express tickets right now - ¥1,500 one way from the airport to the city.
There’s a great deal on Narita Express tickets right now – ¥1,500 one way from the airport to the city.

 

Affordable Luxury

Spa La Qua at Tokyo Dome City
Spa La Qua at Tokyo Dome City

Working hard is a big part of Japanese culture.  Long hours, stressful days, never a minute wasted – especially in companies with a more traditional mentality, the work just never seems to be done.  But everyone needs balance, and that can come from something as simple as a day at the spa.

Spa La Qua is located in Tokyo Dome City (next to the huge stadium where the Yomiuri Giants play baseball) and is a facility dedicated to “affordable luxury.”

Time to relax!
Time to relax!

For roughly C$30, you gain access to a massive complex with multiple traditional baths (yes, the type I’ve talked about before), saunas, and a huge “relaxation room” with reclining seats that can stretch out in to full beds.  For an additional C$7, you get access to two more floors of saunas.  There are also pay-as-you-go massage and spa services throughout the facility.

There is no time limit, and in fact you can stay overnight if you really want to for an additional C$20.

After a week of pounding the pavement around Tokyo, getting a few hours to relax and soak was a welcomed treat.  And while Spa La Qua isn’t so much a traditional “onsen,” it is a unique – and affordable – way to chill out, right in the heart of the city.

Be a geek – loud and proud

One part of Japanese culture Chris admires (and so do I) is the fact that it embraces the idea of being a dedicated fan or supporter of something, even if it’s a little different.

Tokyo’s a place where cosplay fans gathering in Harajuku on a Sunday to mingle in full costume is no different than baseball fans getting dressed in their team colours to head off to the stadium on gameday.

This is in sharp contrast to North America where wearing your allegiance to things outside the mainstream can sometimes/often be looked down upon, and mocked.

And with such a massive population (metro Tokyo’s population is roughly the same as all of Canada), there is a base to support businesses that are a little outside the mainstream.

One of my favourite places we stopped to grab drinks at over the past week has been at the SF Flux bar in Kanda.

"Where we're going, we don't need roads..."
“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads…”

As it’s name implies, SF Flux is dedicated to geekery – complete with an impressive collection of memorabilia from Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel comics, and pretty much any form of North American science fiction and fantasy franchise you can think of.

Chris and I with his friend Erina pose with Ironman at SF Flux in Kanda.
Chris and I with his friend Erina pose with Ironman at SF Flux in Kanda.

There are bars like SF Flux all over Tokyo – tiny places where you can get a drink and experience a unique environment.  It was a great little experience that is most definitely not in any guidebooks.

 

That’s all for now.  There’s so much more to share, but it’ll come once I get back to Canada and have some time to reflect on the experience.  But needless to say, this is a great break in a country with so much to explore and discover!