Saturday April 13, 2013
We landed on time at 10:30PM. Due to the recent H1N1 outbreak in China all passengers disembarking were required to walk by a thermal camera that measures body temperatures and sequesters those with fevers. Heneda is a lot closer to the Tokyo city center than Narita so I would recommend booking your flights through Heneda if feasible. We had a direct fight from LAX to Heneda on Delta. Once we were through customs we got on the Tokyo Monorail to Hamamatsucho. We had intended to transfer onto the Daimon subway, but unfortunately it was just past midnight and the subway was “finished” for the night. Instead we got into a cab to Tokyo Conrad for seven dollars and checked-in. The concierge had us sign-off on the restaurant cancellation policies, which basically stipulated that if we didn’t show up at any of the 13 restaurants they booked for us we would get charged 100% of the meal cost. Made it to all of them. He also handed us individual envelopes for each reservation that contained the name, map and a picture of the outside that was useful if you needed to direct taxi drivers to the location.
A couple points on taxi in Tokyo. It has a bad reputation for cost. If you can take subway, by all means use it. But sometimes you’ll want a taxi, whether because of time or you’re just tired or your destination is hard to find. The taxi minimum is about $7 for the first 2 km (1.2 mi) and the ones we took ranged between $7 and $30, with the majority around $10. Most drivers speak limited English, so have the address in Japanese on paper or on your phone. They may not understand your Japanese accent, so a picture of the sight you are visiting also works.
Phones in Japan
Get a phone that works in Japan. We got an Iphone that worked in Japan before we left. If that’s not an option for you, rent one at the airport or in the city. I believe Frommer’s lists some options.
Japan leads the world in technology, it has a public transportation system that is rivaled by none, it produces the most reliable automobiles, yet it apparently boasts an address system that can only be decoded by ancient philosophers. Well it didn’t take long to find out how difficult it is to find a specific address.
First stop was 20 minutes away. Since the subway was closed, we grabbed another taxi to Ginza. We were looking for an izakaya named Minabi, but what we got was our first colorful lesson in Tokyo’s difficult address system. The cab drivers pointed across the street to our destination. We headed across the street and no luck. Keep in mind this isn’t Los Angeles, each address has many level and at each level you can have multiple businesses. Luckily there was a hotel concierge next door and he instructed us that it was across the street. We went to that restaurant and they informed us that it was across the street. You get the idea. We finally found it after about 20 minutes. The cab driver had the right address, the entrance however was in the rear of the building, so you had to walk around the block to find it. Regardless, once we finally got there it was closed.
Our best advice would be to have a working phone in Japan, have pictures of your attractions printed out, have names of places in Japanese, walk into a nearby hotel for help and have the phone numbers. Taxis or people are willing to call for you and Tokyo feels so much safer than any other major city we’ve been to.
Random Ramen Place
near Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, ８丁目３−１１ 和恒ビル
We found a random ramen restaurant that was still open and approached the kiosk to order. It was all in Japanese, but luckily the pictures were in English. It still took a couple minutes to figure out because you need to place money in the machine before ordering. Eventually we chose some Gyozas, a tofu dish and a ramen. The Gyozas were above average although I would have liked some more seasoning in the meat. And so began the week long on-slot of dishes that are better than anything you can get in the US. The tofu was so much softer than what we were accustomed to. It came with a spicy chili sauce and some white rice. The ramen came out last. On a Chowhound post about ramen, somebody said that you could just walk into any Japanese ramen place and it will be 100 times better than anything in the US and that proved to be true. The broth was rich, the vegetables were crisp and it included the soft egg that we had been yearning to try. This was an upbeat start to our trip and we walked back to the hotel.