Who’s flying to Japan?!
The flight was very pleasant. Service was superb and thank the caring and quiet ways of the crew I slept most of it until the gradually increasing cabin lights simulating sunrise came on (another amazing feature of the Boeing 787)
Because of this, not many pictures were taken during the flight 😉
Ok, this is how I will be guiding our virtual trip through Japan.
Every two or three days I will be adding a new post titled “Day x – Part x” and a brief description of what we’ll be seeing that day. These posts will have a lot of highly detailed information on every part of the trip, just as if you were there with me.
I will be providing travel tips by adding “Travel TIP” alerts, easily found throughout the content of each post.
I will be pointing out unique and, especially important, Japanese cultural customs to keep in mind for when you come. These will be marked as “Cultural TIP“.
Arrival at Haneda Airport
The arrival at Haneda was not hugely different from many other arrivals I have experienced at other airports around the world. I am normally very observant and a very curious person, but this time, I had fine-tuned my antennae even more to gather as much useful information as possible. The idea was to capture as much details as possible to be conveyed to our prospective clients coming to our retreat.
It all went very smoothly. The main advantage here was that the line for foreign nationals was very short compared to the Japanese nationals. After getting my passport stamped, I proceeded to pick up my luggage, all very well signed and easy to follow. When I got the luggage pickup place, I just waited near the shoot where the luggage comes onto the main conveyor belt, I was not really in a hurry but this is in my business traveler “genes” 🙂
Now, I was very lucky I did because this is where I spotted the first big (huge) difference with any other airports in the world that I visited. An airport attendant came to the luggage carousel to actually “operate” it. She had a panel with buttons, where she started the carousel and then proceeded to catch each piece of luggage with her hands as they slid down from the feeding belt. She would make sure that the luggage would not pile on by placing each piece evenly distributed along the edge of the belt. She would also turn them around, so the handle faced outwards for people to get them off the belt with ease.
What?! you say? so did I. Ok, I was impressed.
After a few pieces of luggage came out, I also noticed that she had a list in her hand, and sporadically would pull out pieces of luggage when she found a match. It turned out that she was unloading the flight crew’s luggage which was eventually collected by flight attendants and pilots from by her side.
I also noticed that smaller bags, or more vulnerable ones made of soft materials, had been placed in hard-plastic containers to protect them as they were transported through the airport luggage system from below.
What?! Ok, I’m starting to get blown away after only a few minutes after I arrived. I then realized that I had arrived at a country where respect for others and their belongings was at the top of the list. Big smile.
Once I got my bags, I proceeded to the main terminal area to pick up the JR Rail Pass and the sim card I had purchased ahead of time.
Travel TIP: A few weeks before you travel, I highly recommend you get a Japan Rail Pass and also renting a sim card for your phone. You will have unlimited train travel and mobile internet access at very reasonable rates.
The JR Pass is valid for 7, 14 or 21 days, and can be activated for the part of the trip you are planning to use it the most. For example, during our retreat you will not be travelling by train at all. Transportation during our outings is included as part of our retreat fee. You would then activate it the day after our retreat ends and you do travel on your own to the different spots in Japan you would like to visit afterward. Please let me know if you have any questions. Visit https://www.jrailpass.com/ for more info.
I am all set now, JR Pass and SIM card in hand. I activated my Rail Pass starting the next morning because its validity is measured in full days not in number of trips, and it was already late in the afternoon. For this reason I paid for the monorail to downtown Tokyo separately, which in fact was quite cheap, regardless of the many zeros you see in the displayed prices in Yens (¥ or 円 as seen written in Japan).
Travel TIP: I had gotten some Japanese Yen cash at the Munich airport before I departed, but you can safely and cheaply exchange cash from machines. There are millions of vending machines in Japan, for pretty much anything, including money exchange. I looked for a bank or a reputable exchange place in the city, but the only way I found to do this away from the airport, was using these specifically designed paper currency exchange machines, which are mostly located inside banks. The rates are very reasonable and nowhere near outrageous as we are used to seeing in ATMs at airports in the west. If you did not exchange cash before you left, you will find this services at the airport in Haneda.
To understand the train ticket machines you definitely need help, especially when you have just arrived. They have attendants standing by that would gladly help you buy your tickets.
Another (Huge) advantage of having a JR Pass. You don’t have to worry about buying train tickets every time you travel, and you will be able to make tighter connections when you change between lines or different types of train services. More tips about train travel will come later.
On the way to downtown Tokyo on the Monorail from Haneda:
This is when another memorable event took place. I was traveling light because I was going to be on the move most of the time. I had just a carryon and a backpack. When you board the monorail, you see an area designed specifically for luggage. It is enclosed with a short railing around it so luggage won’t fall, and it remains secure and out of the way from people getting on and off the train.
When I got on, I saw that the luggage place was full, I just proceeded to lean against one of the poles so I could support myself, keeping my backpack on and placing the carryon between my feet. I then noticed this guy in a suit and tie who got up, picked up some shopping bags from the luggage area, and nodded at me pointing to the space he had just freed for me to put my carryon into. He then sat back down and put his shopping bags on his lap. I placed my carryon in the secure area. Now I could sit down because I only had my backpack which I could put on my lap. I smiled and nodded back at him.
I was amazed, and this was the first of many times that showed me how aware of others Japanese people are, I hadn’t even noticed him sitting there, yet he saw that he could help me, a complete stranger, by freeing a small space in the luggage carrier. Mind blown, yet again. I had only been in this amazing country for less than two hours.
A short train ride and a transfer to another line and I had arrived at the station near my hotel, jetlagged and all I kept “recording” in my brain all the sights and sounds.
Next installment, we will arrive and check in at this very unique Hotel, and will meet some very unexpected staff at the reception desk.
Only in Japan…