Monday, April 24, 2006

The best hotel experience EVER

Lordy lordy lord how nice it is to sample a little bit of the posh air once in a while. Yoshiko and I had a fantastic weekend putting around Odaiba and Ginza, with the highlight definitely being the Pacific Meridien Tokyo where we stayed.

We met up at Utsunomiya Eki (which is still under construction by the way... has been for the best part of the last year as far as I can tell) and after grabbing a quick Starbucks pick-me-up we hopped a train heading in to Tokyo... again. Seems I've been heading down to Tokyo a lot lately, something which the hot scalding summer temperatures will no doubt put a stop to. After a quick trip down the Yamanote line, we transferred onto the Yurikamome line, which was pretty cool. The Yurikamome transit system is a relatively new addition to the Tokyo public transit system and serves the waterfront area as well as the island of Odaiba. Two things make this train different... it takes a ride on Tokyo's lovely Rainbow bridge. See if you can guess the second thing by looking at this picture.

That's the front of the train ladies and gents... no drivers! Very nice little ride along the waterfront, then across the bridge and into Odaiba. Here's the little guy passing between the Fuji TV building and the waterfront shopping malls in Odaiba. And it really is little compared to the mega long trains in and around Tokyo, while I will admit to have seen one train smaller once, out in the country side driving up into the mountains for skiing... it was a combined engine\passenger car, with no additional cars.

After dropping our bags off with baggage check at the very impressive Meridien, we headed out to check the area out. First in line was the waterfront with it's nice view of the bridge and of central Tokyo, including the Tokyo tower. The waterfront of course wouldn't be complete without a copy of the Statue of Liberty... right?

All in all, I truly enjoyed Odaiba. Since it is a relatively new construction, built using "land-reclamation" (construction talk for dumping a lot of rock into the ocean and making an island) it is quite spacious and has a different feel than the crammed city just a stone's throw away. Our first official tourist attraction was the Fuji TV building, which houses the studios of one of Japan's largest TV networks. This gnarly ball in the middle of the building is made of Titatnium and includes and observation deck which while overly heated was worth the look.

Here is the view of the bridge, and Tokyo from the observation deck. Too bad the weather wasn't clearer, but I am constantly amazed at the size of Tokyo, with buildings sprawling out into every direction.

After touring some of the studios via a hallway with glass opening every once in a while, we headed on back out into the mean streets of Odaiba in search of some lunch. The side of the Fuji TV building is serviced by a really long escalator covered in glass, and you can just spot our hotel in the upper left corner of this picture, ideal location indeed.

After trading a few emails with my culinary consultant (Alex) we decided to try out Kua Anai, a burger joint from Hawaii which is taking Tokyo by storm, and with good reason! I'm not sure if it's just the fact that I haven't had a decent burger in over a year, mainly since if given the choice I'll hit up a subway or something before a fast food joint, but this pineaple burger was almost the best I've ever had. I was gonna say THE best but The Works in Ottawa puts on a better show. Man was it ever good, especially with a side of onion rings... mmmm.

After a quick trounce in the mall, we decided to head back to the hotel to check in and relax for a bit. This is the Pacific Meridien by the way, the largest hotel in Tokyo, 30 floors on the Odaiba waterfront with panoramic views all 'round.

Since we were getting a discount that Yoshiko won through her company which entitled us to over 50% discount, we weren't expecting much in the way of a view. There is a smaller hotel directly between the Meridien and Tokyo Bay, and we expected to have a view of that, not the bay. However, due to some kind of tie up at the Front Desk which meant that we had to take a seat and wait 5-7 minutes before getting our room key, they upgraded us to a room on the 26th floor overlooking the Bay... how amazing is that! The room was absolutely fantastic, after some thought, it was the single best hotel stay I've ever had, which is saying lots. Since I travelled a bit on Ogilvy Renault's dime while working for them, I was put up in some pretty nice hotels including the Royal York in Toronto... but there really is no comparing the service and quality which came to be standard here during the boom of the 80s. The great service, in English mind you, added to Japan's "no-tipping necessary" policy made for a great time. We spent the remainder of the afternoon lazing about the room enjoying the view and watching the darkness roll in.

We later headed back out for dinner and the rain\clouds had cleared up nicely giving us a great view of the bridge and the city.

We ate at an Asian place called Monsoon cafe, which was quite good. I especially recommend the fresh spring rolls and shrimp toast to anyone dropping on by to the Odaiba or Yokohama location... quite tasty! We then took another little stroll before retiring for the evening.

This morning we woke up and headed down to one of the hotel's restaurants for breakfast, which was included with the room. We had a traditional Japanese breakfast while be waited on personally by the manager who even gave me a little help with how to prepare and eat the rice porridge I ordered. While enjoying breakfast at a window-side seat we even got to see a celebrity with Ai Sugiyama, a Japanese pro-tennis player, grabbing a seat with her mom\coach.

We then proceeded to check out of the hotel and head to Ginza where I wanted to take in a quick Kabuki play at Kabuki-za. Kabuki is a form of Japanese theater which is entirely performed by men. Today's show was about a flute player who, having recently lost his wife, happens to save a female fox and her cubs from being killed by his friend. A short time thereafter her meets Tomone, a woman who is nearly identical to his dead wife, whom he takes home as a substitute. They fall in love, he not knowing that she is in fact one of the fox cubs he saved who has taken human form to help alleviate his suffering. The play evolves quite nicely, and spans the 4 seasons over 5 acts with intricate sets, costumes and makeup. This is definitely something I would check out again some day.

After kabuki, we had lunch at a lovely cafe and walked around the Ginza for a bit before deciding to head on back relatively early. As we arrived at Yurakucho station, we heard an announcement that the Yamanote line, Tokyo's main transit line was shut down. We thought nothing of it since we weren't taking it. HOWEVER, this meant that other trains were quite crowded with commuters. For the first time in my life, I experienced first hand what commuting in Tokyo means. While the guys with the white gloves didn't need to push us in to the trains for the doors to close, this was only because passengers getting onto the train were taking running starts and cramming themselves in themselves. We were all standing around, with no one holding on to any support and yet the wall of bodies around you ensured you weren't going to fall. Quite an interesting experience and yet another reminder of just how lucky we are out here in Utsunomiya, with our 5 minutes' walk to work! We actually managed to detrain at our station and caught a train out this way on which we both got seats after about an hour... not so bad.

Upon arrival, I was lucky enough to be taught how to make Japanese style curry, something I've been eating out of boil-in-a-bag since I came here. Quite simple in the end and our combined culinary effort turned out quite tasty. As the saying goes: "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to make curry, feed him for life." Amen to that!

On a celebratory note, Le Metro, Utsunomiya's newest and hippest restaurant has opened. As a second location owned and operated by the couple at Cafe Praktica, I'm sure this place will be a resounding success. I dropped by this evening after seeing Yoshiko off to say hello, check the place out and offer my congratulations. Praktica will now be manned by the mistress of the house only, while the master moves on to the new place to oversea the operations with a new chef and waitress. We'll be sampling the drinks this Wednesday, and the new chef's food this Saturday evening, picture to come.

Tomorrow morning is Japanese class, which I'm not looking forward to since I missed last week's and will be behind a bit. With any luck, I'll get up early and review Matt's notes and at least have a clue as to what I'm doing.

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Anonymous Smee said...

OK, so here's the thing: Go to a automotive wrecking yard or something and get a steering wheel. Wear your suit, and go to a clothing store and get a pilot/officer style hat. Sit at the front of the train. Whenever you approach a platform with people standing on it, YANK THE WHEEL TOWARDS THEM!! You could freak the passengers out by turning the opposite way of corners too. *LOL*


9:18 AM  
Blogger TommyA said...

I consider Kua Aina the second best burger I have had ANYWHERE. And number one is also in Tokyo, Beckers. Smaller in size compared to Kua Aina, but they make those burgers SO well! They are great!

5:11 PM  

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