22 Mar 2018

A whirlwind tour of Japan

I’ve been wanting to visit Japan for a couple of years, so when Japan Airlines invited me to take part in their educational, celebrating their direct flights from Melbourne to Narita, I was very happy!! Our party of six (five agents and our JAL representative) began our three-day exploration of Japan with flights on the new 787 -9 Dreamliner and, as an unexpected bonus, we were all upgraded to premium economy!!

Japan Airlines Premium Economy cabin on the 787 Dreamliner offers a generous seat pitch, its Sky Premium seats recline to 107cms which is at least 7-10cms more than most premium economy seats. There’s a USB port, video input and AC power outlet. As the seats are ‘shell-like’, there is no issue with the seat in-front reclining onto your knees and the recline is definitely good enough to get a decent rest. The entertainment system is quite good, 12.1-inch touch-panel monitor, with a huge number of newly released movies, and original classics.

Japan Airlines offers to upgrade any economy class ticket to premium economy at check-in for $350.00 (Melbourne Tokyo), subject to availability. I guess the only drawback is there is no lounge access, but with extra roomy seats and lots of legroom it is well worth the extra cost!

After landing in Tokyo, we were escorted to our first hotel for the trip, the 5-star Imperial Hotel, Tokyo!! What an incredible hotel with an even better location! Situated in Chiyoda close to the Ginza district, it is an easy 15-minute walk to all the shopping, bars and restaurants. Wow what an eye opener! Great part of town, very lively, safe, clean, organised and busy! From high fashion such as Dior, Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo to Swiss watches and an Aston Martin dealership the Ginza district has it all…you will need your Amex Black here!!!!

That night we had dinner in Ginza, at a traditional Japanese Izakaya, which is a pub in English, mainly frequented by office workers after finishing their working day. There were lots of fish and meat washed down with lots of Sake!!

Day two
Today started with breakfast at The Imperial Viking Sal, the hotels buffet restaurant on the 17th floor that overlooks The Imperial Palace. With stunning views of Tokyo, traditional Japanese food, continental cuisine and four two-hatted chefs making whatever your stomach desires, it was excellent and topped off with the best service, I just couldn’t fault it!!

After an excellent breakfast and several lattes, we braved the zero-degree weather and headed to the train station (best to purchase a Suica card, a prepaid smart card that allows use of most public transport throughout Japan) where we boarded the Monorail that took us across Tokyo Bay to visit the Japan Airlines Operation Control Centre (JAL OCC) at Haneda Airport. We spent the day here with an ‘Access all Areas’ pass….it was really WOW! We were met by our host, who showed us the centres day to day operations keeping JAL aircrafts in the air. It was a very impressive centre controlling over 1000 flights a day, both domestic and international, and managing aircrafts, crew, ground staff, catering and fuel…everything that is needed run an airline is done by JAL’s 200 staff 24/7!

Dinner was a traditional Japanese BBQ with a twist, we cooked our own Wagyu beef on open charcoal fire, what an experience!!

Day three
Today we had some free time, so we visited a Shinto Shrine located in the Asakusa Ward of Tokyo, also known as Sanja-sama (meaning Shrine of the Three Gods) it is one of the most famous Shinto shrines in the city. The shrine honours the three men who founded the Sensō-ji. Asakusa Shrine is part of a larger grouping of sacred buildings in the area.

Afterwards we visited Odaiba, one of Tokyo Bays manmade islands. A popular shopping and large-scale entertainment district, the shopping is similar to Australia’s DFO, it is the go-to place for cruising, dining, shopping and general seaside fun! It also offers a wide selection of Japanese-themed souvenirs, easy to get to, Odaiba has something for everyone.

After some considerable shopping time, we were pleasantly surprised by a total change in the weather, as we were treated to a little snow fall!!! Bonus!!

For our final dinner in Tokyo we were treated to a traditional sushi restaurant and, of course, lots of Sake!!!!

Day four
Sadly, day four arrived and we left the hotel at 7:30am for the airport on the famous Airport Limousine Bus. A great way to get to and from the airport, the bus will pick up from your hotel and you can relax and see the other side of Tokyo. Look out for Disneyland the second resort outside the USA.

After check-in we visited both JAL lounges, both great facilities for business and leisure travellers alike, very tasty food and a relaxing end to a memorable three days in Tokyo.

Tips and things of value
Smoking is banned on the streets, as it represents a danger to other street users!

Taxis are rarely used as the train network is very extensive and user friendly. The Suica card can be purchased from 7-Eleven and other shops and, if you must, it can be used for taxi fares, it’s your pay wave / cash card…and there’s no bank fees!

Would I go back to Tokyo? That’s a big YES, it is such a great city full of interesting things to discover. Modern and fast paced on one hand and, on the other, filled with the wonderful Japanese tradition of respect and service. Next time I will be sure to include other cities to ensure I experience the full essence of this wonderful country.

Finally, Tokyo get 5 stars, and a 10 out of 10