Because all the world is a stage...
Reviewed by Jennifer Herlein
I think you can tell a lot about what kind of experience awaits you in a new city from the way the inaugural journey from the airport to your hotel goes. In recent years I've had chaotic and in-your-face (Marrakech) and frightening yet breathtaking (Sao Paulo). In Tokyo, efficient and respectful is how our voyage into the city went and I was enamored with it within an hour.
Our flight landed a bit early at the Tokyo Narita airport and within 30 minutes, we had cleared customs, found the Airport Limousine Bus kiosque (which you just about run into after passing through customs) and made it onto a bus that was leaving in 10 minutes. The kiosque and bus stops are very well marked and there are 3 employees at each stop (who greet you with a smile and bow at the bus as it leaves) who make sure that you're heading in the right direction. It was so easy it almost felt too good to be true. We went between the N'EX train and the Airport Limousine Bus (both options were around the same price - ¥3000 ($38)) as our mode of transportation to get us into Tokyo but given that the bus offers door-to-door service between Narita and our hotel, the Cerulean Tower Tokyo Hotel in Shibuya, it seemed like the way to go after a 13 hour flight. The thought of schlepping my (overly stuffed) suitcase through the train stations in Tokyo at that moment was more than I could bear. An 80 minute bus ride later, we were checked into our room on the 20th floor. I'm pretty sure my bag weighed more than the porter who insisted on getting it to our room and situated in the fancy closet, which only confirmed that the bus was the right choice for us.
Our northwest corner room gave us a pretty good sense of how sprawling Tokyo is - it's amazing! Sunset was approaching so we decided to grab a drink at the bar in our hotel, which is on the 40th floor. It has a fabulous view of the sunset but more importantly of the mindboggling Shibuya crossing, which is said to be the busiest intersection in the world. My go to is red wine but when in Japan, do as the locals - I opted for a junmai sake.
Feeling confident and adventurous after how smoothly our first few hours had gone, we ventured out into Shibuya to check out a ramen restaurant Scott had read about, Suzuran. We'd become such experts on the area after staring out the windows from up on high that we didn't take a map or a guidebook. We walked in circles, realized that the majority of the restaurants in this area only have their names and menus in Japanese and started crashing fast. Since common sense had failed us, we opted for technology and pulled up a picture of the front of the restaurant we were on the hunt for. The good news was that it was a half block away. The bad news was that when we got there, it was closed.
More wandering ensued and we finally worked up the courage to go into one of the small (15 seats or so) restaurants. The host (who spoke no English) greeted us much more warmly than he should have in retrospect and pointed to a vending machine type apparatus. Apparently you order your meal and pay at the vending machine and receive a ticket, which is given to the chef. There are no categories or pictures - just words in Japanese. Scott didn't mind this idea but I'm a pescetarian and in my jetlagged fog and overly confident state of mind, had completely forgotten to bring this information in Japanese along with us. We tried to communicate this through nonsensical gestures (if we'd been playing charades, the top guesses probably would have been a fish swimming and a human getting its throat cut) but it clearly wasn't really going anywhere. We left and went to a non-vending machine restaurant, which we later learned is called Pork and Sausages. Scott blindly pointed at the menu and ended up very happy (as a non-meat eater, I would describe it as a sausage-looking tube with green bits sitting on sizzling sprouts and onions). The chef kindly offered me some steamed broccoli and carrots in a cute little Staub pot. All of this wandering and gesticulating kept us up until 9:30pm local time - perfect!