Sunday, June 3, 2012

[Disney][Tourist] Day 17: Total Eclipse of the Heart

Mostly I went with the title for today's entry because this still makes me laugh every time I watch it.

Today's breakfast was, hands down, the most awesome of my life and it made my decision to get the Diamond status challenge, even if it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I knew I wasn't going to meet, completely worth it.

I received a letter from the Park Hyatt concierge the night before letting me know that breakfast would not be available in Girandole as per the previous two days because Tokyo was perfectly positioned to see that day's annular solar eclipse and to celebrate they were having breakfast up in the NY Bar on the 52nd floor. Even better, as a Diamond member I'd be guaranteed priority seating and it would be free.

You mean I get to see an annular eclipse. And I get an awesome breakfast. And I get to do it from the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt? Wow. It was beyond words. The best part was that, right as the full eclipse was about to hit, the sun went behind a cloud. I can't speak Japanese, but even I could tell the room full of murmuring was from disappointment. Then all of a sudden the clouds cleared and the eclipse was completely viewable and ring-like. The room burst into spontaneous applause. Fantastic.

One ring to rule them all; one ring to find them. One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Even the room key at the Park Hyatt is fantastic

Girandole, where breakfast was normally served

After that I should have just gone back to sleep until Day 18 because really how would it compete? I had a few things I still wanted to do in Tokyo - that's a lie, I had a million things I still wanted to do, but a few that I thought accomplishable - but I knew I had to be back at the Park Hyatt by no later than 2 or 2:30. The next five days were scheduled at the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay, over by Tokyo Disney. To get there I needed to haul my massive luggage across Tokyo and that was just not going to be doable anywhere near rush hour.

I left the hotel knowing I had about 6 hours or so. I started by heading into Roppongi. For a long time Roppongi was the seedy pseudo-red lightish district of Tokyo. Then a massive shopping, residential and art development came in called Roppongi Hills and the area suddenly became hip and trendy. It is now the art hub of Tokyo.

The trip to Roppongi proved interesting. Heretofore (hah, I used heretofore in a sentence!) the walk to the Shinjuku Station had been pretty boring. Turns out that's cause it was a weekend. Walking from the Park Hyatt (in the business district) towards the train station before 9 AM on a work day? Taking your life in your hands. It was me swimming against a massive tide of people. Barely did I live to tell the tale.

Sweet merciful crap look at all the people coming my way!

River of Japanese businessmen. Must. Swim. Upstream. To spawn? Eww.

My favorite scene on the walk there was a gentleman wearing a mask with a small part of it torn off so he could smoke at the same time. Hurt my head to think about it.

At one point we all stood at an intersection, no one daring to cross in opposition to the signal despite there clearly being no cars coming. Damn social norms. Well I'm American and I'm loud or something so I said the hell with it and crossed. Apologies, Tokyo.

I was worried when taking this photo that someone would run out from the building and keep hitting me on the head until I finally updated my Adobe products. <3 you Acrobat

I ended up only spending an hour in Roppongi because (a) I had no need for high end shopping, (b) I had other things I wanted to do besides check out the art museums and (c) while it turns out there was a Disney exhibition (who knew?), you had to pay the full fare to go up Tokyo City View and I just wasn't that interested.

I realized that I lacked the necessary directions to get to the place where I had lunch reservations, so I stopped in at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi Hills. They were extremely nice and let me use their business center despite my staying at a different Hyatt property. They didn't even ask for proof. Now that's the Hyatt difference.

Loved this building


OH GOD STAB IT IN THE UNDERBELLY SAM! Wait, I've already made a Lord of the Rings joke in this entry. Well shoot.

Not quite the Eiffel Tower, but frankly it has the benefit of not having the French around

Mickey. Everywhere.

I have no idea what One Piece is but they were everywhere too, and this poster was awesome

I think Diane and I are going to have to have a little chat. Her name is just a tad too close to mine for comfort

This mall was way too nice for me to be in

I wish this place had been open. I might have spent all of my savings there.

I hope their cola tastes better than the Mets play baseball

I wanted to head back to Harajuku so I could try and find Daiso. I could have used the Roppongi station but that would have involved going the wrong way so I could transfer to a different line to come back the right way. Instead I started walking towards a different train station that was on the Harajuku line. The signage was pretty lacking and, for the first time in Tokyo, I felt well and truly lost. It took two different people but eventually someone pointed me in the right direction and I was on my way to Daiso.

Daiso turned out to be worth the trip. Sure the stuff I bought is kitschy; it's the Japanese equivalent of a Dollar Tree crossed with an Oriental Trading Company catalogue, after all. But I came away satisfied. Plus it took all of my willpower not to start dancing (um...swaying arhythmically would be more accurate) in the aisle when "What a Fool Believes" came on.

Apparently after the Tamagotchi fad of the 90's burnt out they sent them all to be turned into donuts. Nifty.

My name is Danny and I'm a Koreaholic. It started with just one Korean now and again. I could quit any time I wanted to. Then one day I woke up naked in some stranger's bathroom just covered in Koreans.

It's the Japanese dollar store!

See, if you make women only train cars because of the pervvy old men who like to grab their asses, doesn't that just make it even easier for those old men who are already apparently impervious to social norms and fear of arrest? Also, everyone ignored these signs. The only time I saw people ignoring signs in Tokyo.

Crap that's a lot of stairs

Oh hey, an escalator. Why yes, Mr. Escalator, I am an American. How could you tell?

Thank you for the flights!

Work at a shrine, get an Isuzu?

Work at a successful shrine, get a BMW

Oh please, I got this covered. This is totally old hat now.

Even the temples have vending machines

Looks more like Bear Rug to me

Lunch was supposed to be at Kaiseki 511, purveyors of authentic Kobe beef. I've had Wagyu beef before from a trusted source - it's the same breed but not raised or certified in Kobe - and it was one of the most delicious things I'd ever tried. Lunch turned out to be a massive disappointment. I don't know if it's because I was a westerner or what, but what they served me was definitely not Kobe. Not A5, not A4, not even A1. It was a fine enough steak but, and it pains me to say this, I could have had that steak at an Outback. Ah well, win some, lose some.

I went into this with so much hope

One step above Outback. So disappointing.

This, on the other hand, was fantastic. It's like a soy foam that you put on the steak.

This is just in here because I love Sweden. Euro 2012!

One of the things I regret not trying.

I was *this* close to buying this poster. But let's be honest, at 30 you can't have Aeris posters any more. I don't make the rules; I just live them.

If you look closely you'll see an electric wheelchair in the display. I know you're wondering why I took a picture of that. Well, it rotates. When it turned around I saw this:

I love you Tokyo

As I made my way back to the Park Hyatt for the last time, I started getting a bit nervous about the journey to Tokyo Disney with my luggage. It turned out to be quite the ordeal. Shuttle bus to Shinjuku. Walking through massive Shinjuku with the luggage. Very full train from Shinjuku to Tokyo station. Looooong walk (about half a mile) from the main station to the Keiyo line. Then from there a train ride to the Disney Resort, a monorail ride to the Sheraton area and then a 5-minute walk to the hotel. Quite the hassle but I made it through in one piece.

It had been a few entries since you saw my crotch. This is me sitting on a train, feeling very self-conscious.

Here's even more of my crap

I checked into the Sheraton and was absolutely floored to find out that they don't have wireless in the rooms. This is Tokyo in 2012, right? The Motel 6 in Orlando has wireless in the rooms now, how does this Sheraton not have it? I kept trying to figure out how that was going to work now that I had no laptop. Looked like I'd be spending a lot of time in the lobby using their wireless signal there.

The Sheraton as a property has its ups and downs. It's a very nice place - very, very family friendly. And it's proximately located to Disney. Takes me no longer than fifteen minutes from the door of the hotel to any where in the TDR. On the downside, see previous comment about wireless. That and the charge for food on-site is even more ridiculous than usual Sheraton charges. But they do have a laundromat and that is worth it's wait in gold by this point in the trip. Here are some Sheraton photos:

Ah, the Sheraton. How the hell do you not have wireless in the rooms?

That's...a pretty sweet view. I've been very fortunate on this trip.

Hidden Mickey? I say yes.

This is *in* the hotel. Pretty sweet, right?

This was the single most disgusting thing I've ever drank. Turns out it's half iced tea (unsweetened) and half black coffee. Gah.

Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay
For the evening's entertainment, I decided to head to Ikspiari, the Tokyo Disney version of the US parks' Downtown Disney. I should warn you that there are two conflicting emotions that are going to permeate the next five days' worth of trip report: awe and bitterness. The awe is rather straight-forward: the Tokyo Disney Resort is just about the crowning accomplishment in human theme park design as of 2012. The bitterness deserves its own paragraph.

You see, Tokyo Disney is not owned by the Disney Corporation. Disney licenses its characters and leases its Imagineers, but the resort is actually owned by the Oriental Land Company. And while they are most assuredly a business and so they care about the bottom-line, they also seem to care a whole lot more about providing an amazing guest experience than the bean counting monolith of profit and income extraction that Disney in the US has become. So going around TDR is basically an exercise in painful reminders of how awesome Disneyland and Disney World could be if Disney were ever to return to being a company that prided itself on perfection and not on maximizing revenue. That is completely unrealistic and if anything I expect the trend towards corner cutting and general crapitude to continue, but visiting TDR is a reminder that it doesn't have to be that way. Lord knows OLC makes a profit here.

Ikspiari is a massive multi-level shopping and dining district. It is fantastically themed, with lots of different zones that reflect some sort of region of the world or "feel". The theming is immersive and  on par with many of the Disney theme parks that I've visited. I went for dinner and was overwhelmed with the options. Sometimes, though, what you really need is a good pizza. This pizza I had proved quite delicious and I felt good about the decision.

Did TDL and HKDL buy these in bulk or something?

Had I seen the picture of this grinning, idiotic old man first I might not have purchased the beverage

First view of Tokyo DisneySea

Welcome to Ikspiari, aka what Downtown Disney could be if it didn't suck so hard

Before heading back to the hotel I went to the equivalent of the TDR Disney Store, Bon Voyage. The building is shaped like a giant suitcase. I actually expected it to be much bigger given that this was the largest Disney store in the Disney-mad country of Japan.

My visit to Bon Voyage taught me one thing that I'd read elsewhere: finding merchandise that says "Tokyo Disney Resort", "Tokyo Disneyland" or "Tokyo DisneySea" is virtually impossible. This will be a continuing theme, but if I saw ten pieces of merchandise across all categories and all parks and stores that actually had the name of the resort or park on it, then that was a lot. So much for my collection of pins, shirts and hats!

Overawed by the coolness that was Ikspiari, I returned to the Sheraton for an early night. Well, for a regular night. They all seem to be early on this trip. I did enjoy watching the lights of the park come on as the sun went down. Tomorrow: Tokyo Disneyland!

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