Crashing Japan
Tour Experience - Flying into Narita

by Bamboo Dong, Sep 18th 2007

Combating jetlag is a skill that only the most seasoned of business travelers have mastered. Thinking that I'd beaten the system by not sleeping the night before my trans-Pacific flight, it was with exhaustion and weariness that I met the sunny faces of my fellow Destination Japan tour members at the Tom Bradley International Airport. I would've killed for a Starbucks, but seeing everyone's excited faces was a close alternative to a good shot of energy.

Aside from my travel companion, the tour guide, and me, there were six other people meeting up at LAX (more will be joining us at Narita)—three had flown in from Florida, two from Arizona, one from Colorado. Half of them had been on tours before—some had gone on the Ninja Experience tour offered by Pop Japan Travel several months earlier, while some went on the PJT's Endless Summer Tour this same time last year. When asked why they chose to go on another tour instead of returning to Japan by himself, one of them answered, “Oh, I've already gone back by myself, but the best thing about tours is that they get you into places that normally you wouldn't have a chance to go.”

It seems that many of the return travelers had another thing in common—the fun they had with this particular tour guide. Formerly with Pop Japan Travel, Earl (who met us at the terminal with a Day-Glo HIS International Tours jacket that could have raised the dead—in a good, helpful, please-don't-get-lost way) is now part of the Destination Japan family. Enthusiastic and energetic, his charisma is the X Factor that some of the tour participants confided was the reason why this time around, they chose Destination Japan over some of its competitors.

If anything, it's clear that HIS made the right choice when it came to booking plane tickets. Singapore Airlines is a pleasure to be on, and believe me, when you're stuck in a cramped Economy seat for half a day, you want to be pampered as much as possible. All the ads on the back of business magazines are right—this is world class service.

There's still about five hours left on this flight since the current time of writing (my plan to sleep the entire flight obviously failed miserably), and already I've been greeted by a steaming hot hand towel, free booze (not just beer and wine, either—we're talking Singapore Slings, nice whiskies, and decent vodka), a gourmet lunch (your choice of a Japanese-style meal or an “international” one, a ridiculous snack selection, and a personal TV service that lets you watch a billion movies and TV programs, and play videogames ranging from Tetris to Super Mario to Pokémon Gold—all included in the price of the ticket. And if any of you happened to read the Crashing Japan article entitled “Getting to Japan,” you'll note that for a $500-800 economy tickets, this is just being spoiled rotten.

Hours later (and another tasty “light meal” down), we arrived at Narita. Before you go and grab your luggage, there's one place you need to stop by first, and that's the port of entry that checks for foreign passports. You'll need to fill out a form with all the relevant information (and if you're declaring anything, you'll need another form) before you can get your passport stamped and go about your merry way. Near the baggage claim carousels are also windows where you can exchange cash for Japanese yen—generally, you'll get a better exchange rate here than if you change your money in the States.

After grabbing our bags and getting tickets for the airport limousine, we had enough time to mill around, check out the various vending machines, and sample those fancy toilets that everyone outside of the country has been raving about for years. The tour fee covers the ticket for the shuttle, but for the sake of reference, I've marked it down in the expense tally.

Nothing is more pleasurable at the end of a long day than stepping into a nice hotel, so it was with great joy that I found myself at the Keio Plaza Hotel. Sleek and sophisticated, this place is pretty nice. Every room has free Ethernet, a flat screen TV, a ridiculous amount of toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair brush, hair ties, powder poufs)… and another one of those great toilets that let you rinse off your bottom after the deed is done.

There was enough time after check-in to go meander about Nishi-Shinjuku and Kabukicho for a couple hours, but frankly, I'm too wiped too talk about either, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow.

For more pictures and commentary on the tour, check out Destination Japan's flashback page.

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