It was supposed to be just one night, a stopover. No big deal. I’d spent three glorious weeks with New Zealand, the latest love of my life. I was sad and vulnerable, and there was Tokyo. Shiny. Bright. Exciting. Tokyo was a nothing like New Zealand. In fact, they were complete opposites. Jagged mountaintops were replaced with towering skyscrapers. Millions of sheep were replaced with millions of people. Tokyo was nothing I wanted but everything I needed.
I was taken aback by the bowing and the politeness. And despite the thousands of people scurrying around Narita Airport, it was surprisingly quiet. Library-ish. I purchased our Limousine Bus tickets for the 90-minute ride to Ginza. The minute I stepped outside, the crisp air and warm people curbed my yearning for New Zealand. Precise and on time, my watch could have been set to the bus schedule. Smiles and English greeted me as my luggage was loaded onto the bus. There was no tip necessary; a job well done and thank you were enough.
At 6 pm, the sky was dark, but the horizon was bright with towering buildings still aglow. The bus rolled past Disneyland and the giant Ferris wheel of Pallette Town. We went through tollbooth upon tollbooth before even hitting anything resembling traffic. I knew we must be closing in on the city center as the traffic slowly grew denser. But as I wiped the fogginess away from my window, I couldn’t discern a downtown area. For as far as my eyes could see, buildings stood on their tippy toes as if they were trying to reach the heavens. Freeways became three decks high, and it made me long for the safety of the 174-foot Kawarau Bridge Bungy in Queenstown.
As the traffic slowed to a crawl, I was able to see men and women clad in dark suits still plugging away at work despite it being nearly 7 pm. Apartment buildings were dark and only discernible from office buildings by the clothes stretched and carefully pinned in the tiny outside space available. I wondered what life would be like in Tokyo. I suspected crowded would be a good assumption. New Zealand has a sheep population of 43 million; Tokyo’s metro people population is over 32 million. What a difference a 10 hour flight can make.
The bus’ first stop was the mammoth Tokyo Station, the busiest in Japan. Thousands of Japanese bustled around like dapperly-dressed ants. None were distinguishable; they were all bundled in black trying to get home. Despite the sheer numbers, I noticed a calm, orderly way about them. It was mesmerizing, fascinating, and nothing like home.
The Conrad Hotel, sitting high above the Shiodome, was our hotel and the next stop. Dressed like a North Face advertisement, we fell out of the bus like a couple of clowns at the circus. The bus pulled away, and I noticed a beautiful fountain with glowing “icebergs” floating around. A Maybach, Ferrari, and host of other German and Italian uber-luxe cars pointed the way to the hotel entrance like glittering, diamond-encrusted flags. Where was I? Had I fallen down a glamorous rabbit hole?
Bewildered, I handed my overweight, overstuffed luggage off to the bowing and smiling men who greeted me. They didn’t seem to notice (or pretended not to) that I wasn’t dressed as though I belonged at the lovely five star hotel. Friendly banter was exchanged, and I couldn’t believe that just 70 years before the US was at war with Japan. In fact, it was two days before the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. None of that mattered. I was a guest of the Conrad Hotel, Tokyo, and Japan, and I was treated as such.
Through the modern and well-appointed entry, I was met by the smell of fresh pine. The deconstructed Christmas tree looked as good as it smelled. I wasn’t expecting so many Christmas decorations in a Buddhist country, but appreciated it very much. We were led to a bank of elevators where we were whisked to the 28th floor lobby. Modern art, clean lines, golden tones, and dark wood made for an elegant atmosphere. Through the adjoining bar was a wall of floor to ceiling windows with a spectacular view of the Hamarikyu Gardens. I stared at the glittery lights trying to gain some perspective as to where I was in this megalopolis.
Check in was swift, and we were escorted to our 32nd floor city-view room just as swiftly. With the push of a button blinds were opened and closed, lights were dimmed, and towels were heated. I didn’t care about any of that. I wanted to wash New Zealand and the plane ride off of me and be with the city that so quickly captured my affection. For the next 18 hours I was going to devour all I could of Tokyo.
Was this going to be a fling or the beginning of a beautiful love affair? I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. I was engulfed with butterflies and a feeling that I hadn’t felt since I landed in Auckland just three weeks before.