Tokyo

After just over a week in Guam, it was time to head to Japan. We would be flying into and out of Narita, spending a few days in Tokyo. and then taking the train to Mount Fuji to check out Fuji-Q Highland.

GUM-NRT

United 873
GUM [Guam] to NRT [Tokyo Narita]
February 24, 2017
Depart: 5:10 PM
Arrive: 7:55 PM
Duration: 3hr45min
Aircraft: 777-200
Seat: 4B

It was only a quick, one-hop flight to Tokyo from Guam. Just like the previous flight, the all Japanese crew was attentive and friendly and always kept our drinks filled.

We boarded in an orderly fashion and made our way to our seats. As expected, an aircraft swap had been announced about a day before departure, replacing the old “Hawaiian” configuration with the new domestic 777 configuration with lay flat business class seats. For this flight, we were in seat 4A and 4B. Not my first choice, but certainly manageable for a flight that I wouldn’t be sleeping on (the light from the galley is quite bright in these seats).

Soon after getting settled in, our flight attendant came by to offer us pre-departure beverages and take our dinner orders. We both selected Champagne, but were sadly told they would only be able to serve sparkling wine on the ground. I assume this was so they didn’t have to pay any duties on the more expensive alcohol. We then were asked to pick our meals. I went with the beef entree and Elizabeth chose the fish.

After a quick taxi to the runway, we were in the air. We were able to snap a few good photos of the island before heading above the clouds.

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Waiting to board our flight on N780UA
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United’s seat map for this aircraft
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Sparkling wine before takeoff
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Beautiful view of Guam on the climb out

As it was just a short hop and not a Polaris flight, the meal service was less extensive. Even so, my entree was fantastic. Although it was a slightly tougher cut, the beef was much juicer than on my Polaris flight from ORD-NRT.

After a quick dinner, I passed the remainder of the time by finishing one of the movies I started on my previous flight.

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Salad and bread with a glass of wine
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I went with the beef option, which was delicious
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Elizabeth decided on the fish

 

Arrival in Tokyo

After arriving at Narita and making it through customs and immigration, we headed downstairs to the train station to catch the Narita Express into the city.

Although there are many ways to get to to the city, the Narita Express is by far the most convenient for travelers coming from the airport. In addition, they offer a discounted round-trip ticket into the city for only 4000 yen (about $35). The only caveat being that since all seats are reserved, you need to know which train you’ll be returning on when you book your ticket.

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Ready to board the N’EX

Upon arriving at Tokyo Station, our hotel was just a short couple blocks away. We decided on the Courtyard Tokyo Station, as it was centrally located and received great reviews from past travelers.

In all honesty, I have never felt so important when checking into a hotel. I’ve had Platinum status with Marriott for the past six months and never have I received the treatment that I did at this place.

The front desk clerk seemed to be anticipating our arrival, as we were the likely the last guests checking in that evening. He had already upgraded our room to the largest in the hotel and provided us with details on every amenity available. He also presented us with a welcome basket of assorted beverages as a thank you for booking with Marriott. In addition, a refrigerator of complimentary drinks was available in the lobby.

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Complimentary beverages
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This room was massive by Tokyo standards
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Definitely no shortage of space in here
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The compact and efficient modular Japanese bathroom
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The most technologically advanced toilet I’ve ever used

The room was very clean and well appointed. Although obviously very Japanese, it had everything you’d expect to find in a standard western hotel. Also, as a nice touch, placed on desk in the room were bags of local sweets and a wrapped Courtyard branded cookie.

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Courtyard Breakfast

After some much needed rest, we went downstairs and checked out the breakfast spread. Unlike back at the U.S. Courtyard hotels, Gold and Platinum members get complimentary breakfast at all Courtyards in Asia I believe.

The Lavarock restaurant had a great selection of hot and cold breakfast foods, both western and Japanese. They also had a kitchen that could whip up waffles, pancakes, spring rolls, noodles, and all varieties of eggs.

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Great variety of breakfast and brunch items
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A nice selection of hot and made to order items from the kitchen
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Fresh cappuccino and a variety of great breakfast items
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Spring rolls and an omelet

 

Dome City and Ginza

Getting around Tokyo was surprisingly easy using the Apple Maps app. After purchasing a Suica Card at Tokyo Station, we were able to pay our train fares and navigate the system with ease. On average, it was about $1.50 with the exchange rate to get anywhere in Tokyo on the subway.

Our first stop was the Dome City Attractions amusement park. Situated next to the Tokyo Dome, the park had a massive roller coaster, a large ferris wheel, and a few small, unique rides. An unlimited ride pass was only 3900 yen, which was roughly $35 with the favorable exchange rate. If you chose not to ride, you could roam the park at no charge.

The Thunder Dolphin coaster was designed by Intamin, the same company who built the famous Millennium Force roller coaster at Cedar Point. Although not as long or as high as the ride at Cedar Point, the urban ride experience made it just about as good.

Another fascinating ride was the Sky Flower, a sort of parachute ride where riders are hoisted in gondolas to the top of a 100+ foot tower and then dropped.

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My wristband and park map
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Waiting our turn to ride the Thunder Dolphin
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Where else can you ride a roller coaster in the middle of a big city?
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The Sky Flower

After spending a couple hours in the park and riding just about everything, we headed over to Ginza to check out the sights and visit an owl cafe.

Ginza had numerous luxurious shops and a couple places that you’d only find in Japan such as a Katana store. We made it down a couple side streets and made it to the owl cafe, where for 2000 yen, you can spend an hour petting the numerous owls living there.

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Checked out a sword shop
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Elizabeth making friends with the owls
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This little fella was my favorite
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Just about everything expensive you’d want to buy is right on this street

After spending some time in Ginza and grabbing dinner, we headed back to check out Dome City at night. The park was even quieter in the evening and had no lines for any of the rides. In addition, all the rides were lit up.

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Awesome view of the city from the top of the ferris wheel
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The roller coaster actually goes through the center of the wheel
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The inside is filled with dozens of disco balls

 

The Imperial Gardens and Tokyo Tower

The next day we met up with one of my high school friends who now lives in Japan and headed a few blocks from our hotel to check out the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace. Almost like central park in New York, the Imperial Gardens surround the Emperor’s residence and provided a nice oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Lots of open space in the middle of Tokyo
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Some of the cherry blossoms were already in boom

After roaming the gardens, we headed over to Tokyo Tower. Along with Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower is one of two large radio towers in the city. It has two observation decks: a lower deck at 150m and an upper deck at 250m. Sadly the upper deck was closed for renovations, but the lower deck had the really cool glass floor.

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Standing at the foot of Tokyo Tower
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Checking out the glass floor

 

Fugu and the Hie-Jinjya Shrine

A trip to Japan wouldn’t be complete with trying some unique and extreme food. I’d been wanting to try fugu for some time and Tokyo was the best place to do it!

If you’re not familiar, fugu is Japanese pufferfish. Each fish contains enough neurotoxin to kill thirty people. It takes at least three years for chefs to learn how to prepare the fish and cut around the toxic bits. Then, as a final exam, the chef has to prepare and eat the dish himself!

We decided on Tora-fugu Tei, a chain of fugu restaurants in Japan. I decided on the fugu sashimi and the rest of the group decided to try other interesting items.

If you’re already familiar with sushi and sashimi, fugu doesn’t really taste much different. The only major difference is that your face will tingle after eating it, which is…interesting.

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Time to try some Fugu
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I went with a plate of traditional Fugu sashimi

After cheating death and finishing our fugu dishes, we headed over to the nearby Hie-Jinjya Shrine to look around.

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Lots of steps
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The entrance to the shrine

 

Dinner and Shibuya Crossing

After a long day of exploring Tokyo, we headed back to the hotel to grab dinner. For Marriott Gold and Platinum members, dinner and drinks were included each evening.

The menu stated “Light Meal”, but it was certainly anything but.

Over the course of the two evenings we had dinner here, I sampled the cheese platter, chicken wings, fish & chips, and a couple cheeseburgers. Plus, I tried the various Japanese whiskies and a couple glasses of sangria. Everything was fantastic.

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The Marriott Rewards menu
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The Marriott Burger
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The Lavarock bar

After grabbing dinner, we headed out to visit the famous Shibuya Crossing. Similar to Times Square in New York City, it’s the busiest intersection in Japan.

Definitely make the visit at night if you go.

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Shibuya Crossing
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Crossing with the sea of people

 

The next morning, we boarded a couple trains and made our way to the foot of Mount Fuji and Fuji-Q Highland.

Stay tuned for the next post.

Happy travels,

Matt

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