When I first announced
my decision to take a holiday in Tokyo
, there were only forty-six days until departure. While that may be sufficient time to plan a trip in the United States, it felt a little sudden for a trip to the other side of the world. However, I was not particularly concerned about getting along. In fact, I think we did remarkably well all things considered. The two quick mishaps I can recall immediately are a few minor miscommunications and twice exiting the subway car one station too soon.
As time passed, my Mom
—who as you will recall accepted my offer to join me—called me with ideas for places to visit and things to do. Her extensive experience with personal, global travel for pleasure was an invaluable tool in deciding what to do and when. I will admit it was one considering factor in my original invitation! By the time I loaded the car and headed toward Intestate 10 eastbound on Thursday, 13 March 2008, a basic idea of our daily itinerary existed.
First on our list upon arrival was a visit to the monetary exchange booth and the East Japan Railway Company
(JR) office, both conveniently located in the airport terminal. Ahead of those items but after my two and a half hour drive from Tallahassee to Jacksonville
existed the longest two-flight segment of my life. The itinerary was as follows:
Northwest Flight 1581
was scheduled to depart Jacksonville International Airport
(KJAX) at 1205 EDT, flying 827 miles (1331 kilometres) in two hours twenty-seven minutes on a McDonnell Douglas DC 9-30
aircraft where I sat in window seat 18-A
. It was scheduled to arrive at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport
(KDTW) at 1432 EDT. This flight would be followed by Northwest 11
at 1530 EDT, flying 6398 miles (10,296 kilometres) in thirteen hours (!) on a Boeing 747-400
where I sat in window seat 53-K
. It was scheduled to arrive at Narita International Airport
(NRT/RJAA) at 1730 JST on Friday, 14 March 2008 due to travel through the International Date Line
Overall, the flights were uneventful. I was looking forward to taking pictures of the mountainous regions I anticipated flying over, but was quickly disappointed to learn we would likely not fly so north as to penetrate the Arctic Circle
nor pass over the mountains of Siberia
. This information was provided on the in-cabin video system, which consisted of a three-color projector in each cabin section and television monitors in the ceiling above the aisle near the flight attendant galley and toilets.
Not only did it show our flight plan and GPS position en route, but also text data in English and Japanese including (as recorded during flight at 1825 EDT passing north of Calgary
) altitude (31,992 feet / 9751 metres) groundspeed (515 MPH / 829 KPH), headwinds (65 MPH / 104 KPH), outside temperature (-57°F / -49.4°C), distance travelled (1412 miles / 2272 kilometres) and distance remaining (5021 miles / 8080 kilometres).
Of course, the in-flight "entertainment
" took precedence over this useful and interesting up-to-date information so it made brief appearances at the start of the flight, a few times between television sitcoms and Discovery Channel
shows, after the movies and right before and after landing.
Using Google Earth
and aeronautical charts
, I have been able to pin down part of our course to Tokyo and identify the airports we saw from the airplane. In between airports, we saw lots of snow and some pretty impressive mountains. The first image of an airport I captured is of lesser quality (not pictured here), after early surface vistas and before the mountains of Alaska. I was not able to fix the location of this airport. I originally suspected Whitehorse
due to the distance travelled between this photograph and the second airport spotted, but finally ruled it out by satellite image comparison.
The next airport I spotted was next to a smaller city and near some mountains. I have confirmed this location to be Valdez
. The population of 4020 enjoyed a high of 37°F / 2.7° C and a low of 19°F / -7.2°C the day we flew over.
The last and largest airport and city we flew over was Anchorage
. The 282,813 municipal residents comprise more than two-fifths of Alaska's total population. They enjoyed similar weather with a high of 31°F / -0.5°C and low of 21°F / -6.1°C for the day.
Having fixed our location at two US airports, I was able to calculate the mileage and speed. We passed over the Valdez Pioneer Field Airport
(PAVD) at 2117 EDT (1717 AKDT) and came to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport
(PANC) at 2131 EDT (1731 AKDT). At a distance of 108.5 miles, it took us 14 minutes to fly from one to the other at a speed of 465 MPH / 748 KPH or 0.6 Mach.
It was 1758 JST / 0458 EDT on Friday when I passed the "Welcome to Japan" sign (in the article header). We exchanged our money and obtained our JR passes without issue, meeting Steven
in the process. He had graciously agreed to meet us at the airport so we could navigate the intricate and varied subway/train systems of Tokyo with a guide the first time. For the record, I had been up for twenty-two and a half hours at this point and was happy to get to Steven's apartment and to bed.
This is not to say I did not enjoy those initial train rides. From the airport we travelled by subway to Shinjuku Station
, where we transferred to the Odakyu Limited Express
to Machida Station
. Once there we took the Odakyu Electric Railway Odawara Line
where we finally left the train system via the south exit and took a taxi—our first of only two total trips by cab in Japan—to Steven's apartment. After some quick catching-up with Steven and Emma
, a needed night's sleep began. The excitement would have been unmanageable if it were not for my complete exhaustion.
We slept a little longer than anticipated but needed some amount of rest before beginning our week of walking. Heading out by 1030 JST, we planned to visit Tokyo Tower
, Minato City
and surrounding areas. Built into this day was the expectation of some navigational or communication troubles, but we ended up doing quite well I think for our first full day out alone.
Our morning walk from Steven's apartment in Sagamigaoka
to the Odakyu-Sagamihara Station was about fifteen minutes and took us past the local Three-F
convenience store, a school, numerous homes and local businesses and finally the Sagamihara business district. There you could find a Seven & I Holdings Co., Ltd.
department store (the same owners as 7-Eleven
, also present in Tokyo), pachinko
parlors, a great Ramen
noodle joint called Ramen Jiro
and much more. The walk to and from the station would become a daily routine for us.
We got to Tokyo Tower just before 1430 JST to find a long, but organized queue. There was a man with a large sign standing at the end to identify where people should join the queue and two staffing a gate before the ticket booth where only so many people would be permitted through to purchase tickets. Once inside the lobby doors, female staff members in bright blue uniforms guide you to the zigzag rope queue that leads you to the lifts to the main observation level at 492 feet / 150 metres. From there we would purchase tickets to the highest special observatory at 820 feet / 250 metres.
Also down by the queue and entrance area were the tower's character mascots the Noppon Brothers
It turned out to be less clear than we thought, but the panoramas provided were still amazing. Situated in Shiba Park
, Minato, Tokyo Tower was constructed in 1958 and claims to be the world's largest self-supporting steel tower. It is obviously modeled after the Eiffel Tower
but at 1093 feet / 333 metres is 43 feet / 13 metres taller. An added bonus was the ability to walk the outdoor stairs of the tower from the main observation level to the roof of the main building and into a small amusement park at Foot Town
After eating a Japanese pasta dish at Pizza-La Express
and a quick walk through the neighboring Shiba Park, we moved into Minato City and explored the Zojo-ji temple
and Sangedatsu Gate
. Zojo-ji is a Buddhist
temple founded in 1590, but severely damaged and repaired following World War II
. We caught the end of a ceremony being performed by monks complete with chanting, bell ringing and incense.
On our way back to Steven's apartment, we made a detour at Shinjuku Station to walk around that popular area at night. We did not stay out too late for fear of missing the train home. It was a great first day packed with fun, learning experiences and 207 photographs.
Mount Sutro presents
The Japan Trip Series
[ Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six ]
Photo Credit: David July