A One Night Stand with Tokyo

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.


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  • Frank DiCesare
    December 11, 2011

    Great piece, Leah. But your math is a little off. The 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack was remembered last week. We were at war with Vietnam 40 years ago, not Japan.

    • Leah Travels
      December 11, 2011

      Thanks you! Math never was my strong suit, much to my math teacher mom’s dismay. It’s been corrected.

  • Tonya McAlpin Artzer via Facebook
    December 11, 2011

    I’d just like to walk in like Uma Thurman to the fictional place where Hanso made her “Japanese Steel” sword in “Kill Bill”….I know it sounds corny, but oh well.

  • Leah Travels via Facebook
    December 11, 2011

    Can you believe I’ve never see that movie? I just might have to now.

  • The Spain Scoop via Facebook
    December 12, 2011

    Do you think he’ll call?

  • Leah Travels via Facebook
    December 12, 2011

    The Spain Scoop Gosh, I sure hope so! I will be devastated if he doesn’t! 😉

  • Ahhhh I need to get back there!!!

    • Leah Travels
      December 13, 2011

      Isn’t it just such a neat place? I can’t wait to see and learn more.

  • Scott @ Alaska Cruise Advisor
    December 14, 2011

    Wow, reading this makes me yearn so badly to visit Tokyo now! Too bad I’m too broke for such an endeavor!

    • Leah Travels
      December 16, 2011

      I hear ya! It can be a very expensive place to visit, but I don’t think it has to be. In general, the bus tickets, food, and coffee were equivalent to what I would pay in the US. I’m definitely going to save up to get back. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what Tokyo (and Japan) has to offer.

  • Erin
    December 21, 2011

    Glad to hear you fell for Tokyo! It must have been a shock after New Zealand though! SO many people in Tokyo.

    • Leah Travels
      December 21, 2011

      Oh my, you are so right…so many people! I live in Houston, but our people are spread out. Tokyo made Houston look like a town and New Zealand look like a village. As opposite as Tokyo and New Zealand are, I loved them both for vastly different reasons. Hey, it takes all kinds. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  • Mary@The World Is A Book
    December 23, 2011

    I started missing Tokyo again after reading your post. We were only there for a week last summer so yearning to go back and explore more of Japan. I liked reading your impressions on the organized chaos of Tokyo Station and the politeness of the Japanese. We had the best customer service ever all over Tokyo. Sorry your visit was short but looks like a return trip is in order.

    • Leah Travels
      December 23, 2011

      I’m so glad to know that my impressions of Tokyo are right on. A day doesn’t usually give one time to come to such a conclusion. And yes, a return trip is in order. There are so many things I didn’t get to see and do. What were your favorite parts of your Tokyo trip? I need to start planning my return. 🙂


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