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!

Back to Japan

©Y.Shimizu/JNTO

Another big trip looms on the horizon, and I’m finally ready to share some of the details!  This year’s big adventure is a return visit to Japan.

Japan has stolen my heart.  The warm hospitality, the rich history, and the co-existence of ultra-modern and highly-traditional culture continue to pique my interest, and I feel there’s still much to be seen.

Chris is still over in Japan, and now has more than a few months of Japanese living under his belt.  That means I’ll be able to learn from him not only how to travel smarter, but also I’ll get to experience some of the “locals only” things that he has discovered as a result of daily life in Tokyo.

Getting There

I’m not going to lie – I had a bit of sticker shock when shopping around for plane tickets to get to and from Tokyo.  I had some real tough choices to make when it came to deciding on a flight.

For trips to Japan, I’ve had this imaginary threshold in my head of $1600 roundtrip as the most I’d like to spend.   In November, I was comfortably under this amount at about $1330 round trip.  Finding a flight as cheap this time around took some work.

Initially, I really wanted to replicate the same experience I had in November, flying Air Canada from Regina via Vancouver to Narita.  However, without any seat sales the cost was a bit more than I wanted to spend.  That’s when I started to shop around to see my options.

I played with some different scenarios on Kayak, looking at flights out of Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Kayak totally elevates the price-shopping experience.  Best aggregator, IMHO.
Kayak totally elevates the price-shopping experience. Best aggregator, IMHO.

One seat sale back in March had a roundtrip flight on China Airlines from Vancouver to Narita (via Taiwan) for about $1200.  An Air Miles flight to Vancouver would have cost me about $150 in taxes and fees – which isn’t bad.  However, because it was a broken ticket, I’d be up the creek if anything happened en route from Regina to Vancouver that delayed getting on that China Airlines flight.  It wasn’t a bad risk, but once I factored in a night of hotel in Vancouver on the return trip home, it was clear I wasn’t saving money (and in the process, burning up Air Miles unnecessarily.)

Flights out of San Francisco and Los Angeles were around $1000, but also presented the same broken ticket risk and the night of hotel costs, which again put me close to the imaginary spending cap.

I then started looking at the American carriers out of Saskatchewan.  Delta was a bit pricier than United, and the connections weren’t any better.  That’s when I started digging in on what a trip with United would look like.

United flies to Narita out of Denver on a spanky new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.  As a bit of an air travel geek, I was stoked at the idea of being able to fly on this revolutionary next-gen aircraft!  The return flight (also on a Dreamliner) goes to Los Angeles before connecting in Denver for the trip back north.

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)

I was fully prepared to book United out of Regina, then on a lark I decided to see how much it’d cost to fly out of Saskatoon.

By taking the two hour road trip up to the Paris of the prairies, I’d be able to save about $200 on the exact same roundtrip flight (albeit starting as YXE-DEN rather than YQR-DEN), with the total coming in around $1450 (taxes and fees included.)  Considering this wasn’t much more than what I payed in November (and I wasn’t seeing anything cheaper,) I clicked the buy button.

Since buying my ticket, I’ve yet to see any fares as competitive out of Regina or Saskatoon (and the Kayak price tracker confirms this for me.)  For those playing “how many days should I book before a vacation” poker, the answer for this trip was 63 days.

Plans

There are many things that we just didn’t get a chance to do when I was in Tokyo last time around.  Mt. Fuji was originally part of the plan in November, but we just never got around to it.  Same goes for things like the Tokyo Advertising Museum and the Studio Ghibli museum.

Hakone Ropeway near Mt. Fuji / Photo credit - ©Odakyu Electric Railway/©JNTO
Hakone Ropeway near Mt. Fuji / Photo credit – ©Odakyu Electric Railway/©JNTO

One thing I want to experience is the 2014 Grand Sumo Tournament that is taking place in Tokyo while I’m there.  Tickets are pretty reasonably priced (from about C$20 for the general admission nosebleeds to C$160 for ringside seats), and I think it’d be a fantastic cultural experience!

Sumo has a history spanning more than 1500 years.  (Photo credit : ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO)
Sumo has a history spanning more than 1500 years. (Photo credit : ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO)

I’m currently in the process of trying to figure out if I’m going to get a Japan Rail Pass again.  A 7 day pass runs just over C$300 ($43/day), and about C$490 for a 14 day pass (or about $35/day.)  The pass pays for itself with one or two Shinkansen rides, and I’d like to take a day trip here or there while Chris is off at work just to explore the countryside a bit more.  But I also don’t have any definitive plans in my agenda yet to do it.  This is a work in progress.

More to Come

As I get closer to the trip, I’ll be posting more about the planning process and things that end up making the agenda for the trip.

I can’t wait to get there!

Blog post featured image photo credit – ©Y. Shimizu/JNTO

Nobody kicks a dead dog (2014)

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

My job isn’t much different than that of a preacher.

Well, aside from the content of our words (mine can be a little more risque and biting while theirs are inspirational and spiritual.)

And, the gravitas of our positions.

And, the robe.  I can’t pull off the robe.

Okay, so maybe it is different.

However, we go out every day, put ourselves out on stage, perform a little to get people’s attention, and hope the things we say will create some sort of positive emotional impact with our audience.

Maybe the biggest difference between a guy with a microphone in a radio studio and a (wo)man standing at a pulpit is that while it takes a special kind of heathen to tell a (wo)man of the cloth they stink, the various ways we’ve given the audience to connect with us in broadcasting makes hurling an insult as simple as whipping out a cell phone and hitting “send.”

I hate to give credit to the existence of trolls by writing a piece about them, but they’re one of those things that any of us who work in the media seem to face.

On Sunday, CTV National News anchor Lisa LaFlamme had one such troll hurl an insult at her on Twitter, and she shut him down (much to the celebration of her followers.)

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My buddy Seth Armstrong at Saskatoon’s Rock 102 FM also had a bout with a text messaging tough guy a few months ago, taking the conversation from the keyboard to the air.

On Wednesday morning, I had one particularly ugly texter try to get my goat as we talked on the show about a number of topics.  It was a pretty lighthearted show, in fact, including the story about the US snowboarder who wanted to take home a whole bunch of stray dogs from Sochi (posing with the puppies for a picture that’ll make his current fans swoon and newcomers go gaga), and the awesome Aurora Borealis display the night before (it was amazing!)

texter

Unlike Lisa or Seth, I left the texts alone.  In fact, we have the luxury of being able to send them to a digital garbage bin – which is where crap like this belongs.  Not because I didn’t have a comeback, but because I’ve grown to believe the best response is no response at all.

Some experts, like digital mastermind Seth Godin, make it a personal rule not to expose themselves to negativity.  In The Icarus Deceptionhe talks about how writers (in particular) look to reviews and blog comments not to determine the economic success of their work, but rather (to their detriment) feed their egos.

…I realized what I was doing with the comments and reviews I was reading.  I would read thirty of them, and twenty-nine would be positive (sometimes extraordinarily so) and one would be a direct hit job, a brutal takedown of who I was and what I was trying to do.  And for the next few days, all that my lizard brain would let me think about was the bad one…

…I was amplifying the negative at the expense of the positive, not to serve any useful function, not to make my writing better, but to destroy it…

…I haven’t sought out and read a review or tweet since.  This is not cowardice; it’s the act of someone who wants to keep writing and is determined to do it for an audience of his choosing.  Shun the nonbelievers…

(Excerpt from Seth Godin’s “The Icarus Deception.”)

Unfortunately, in my line of work, you don’t have to go seeking out the negative.  It gets delivered to the studio in real time – on a big, bright LCD screen.  Like a heckler in a comedy club, they’re right there in front of your face.

Seth Godin’s advice about “shunning the nonbelievers,” is the right tactic.  But, sometimes, you need another tool in your arsenal to get past the negativity staring you in the face.  That’s where I lean on the legendary Dale Carnegie.

In his 1948 book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” Carnegie wrote a piece titled, Nobody Kicks a Dead Dog.  The story is about how roughly two decades earlier, a “boy wonder” had become president of the University of Chicago at the tender age of 30.  Criticism of the young academic came from all sides – and a friend of the boy’s father told the man how shocked he was at the horrible things being said.

“Yes … it was severe, but remember that no one ever kicks a dead dog.”

Yes, and the more important a dog is, the more satisfied people get in kicking him.

When you are kicked and criticized, remember that it is often done because it gives the kicker a feeling of importance. It can often mean that you are accomplishing something and are worthy of attention. Many people get a sense of savage satisfaction out of denouncing those who are well educated, forthright, or functioning in a contributing manner with work, friends, and the task of intimacy…

“…If you get your head above the crowd, you’re going to be criticized. So get used to the idea.”

Make it a rule to do what you can and put up your umbrella to let the rain of criticism drain off of you instead of running down your neck.

(Excerpted from Dale Carnegie’s “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”)

Combining the advice of Godin and Carnegie, I’ve come up with my own personal guidance for dealing with trolls.  Don’t go looking for the negative, and when it lands square in your face, consider the source.  A response might make you feel better, but it achieves nothing in the long run.  Head up, eyes forward, onward.

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.

– Dr. Seuss

In the ultimate example of being handed a heckler and making heckler-ade, I leave you with the hilarious Deepak Sethi.  His takedown of a big mouth at a comedy club in Las Vegas went viral a few weeks ago.  While not my tactic, it is entertaining and fits his craft.  (Note : some may be offended by the language.)

If you’re on my side of the microphone, I’d love to hear how you’ve learned to live with and deal with the texting tough guys and social media sadists.

 

Featured image credit : Shutterstock