Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Monday, May 05, 2003 05:44:53
Asia Pacific 2003: 8 - From Yokohama
Tuesday, May 3, 2003
The morning's crisis was discovering that housekeeping had thrown out my heavy plastic bag (from a dress shop in Costa Rica, I think) that I had been using to carry things that wouldn't fit into my suitcase, or to carry valuables if I had to check my suitcase on a flight. I asked at reception if they had anything that might replace it, but the whole thing promptly blew out of proportion. Housekeeping was called, urgent discussions were held, and I was not at all sure they understood what I wanted so I retreated.
When I reached my room the phone rang with someone inquiring anxiously if I'd found my bag. Two minutes later the assistant manager of the hotel was at the door. By then I'd loaded a plastic laundry bag with what wouldn't go in the suitcase. I showed him, and said that it would work fine as a replacement bag! By this point I was having visions of maids committing sepeku in the laundry room!
When I reached the front desk the assistant manager came running over with a full size shopping bag, into which he put the laundry bag. He then insisted on personally seeing me to a taxi and loading my goods into the trunk.
A short taxi ride took me to Shin-Osaka Station. It is very organized and easy get around, with many attendants to help anyone who has a problem. At the platform I watched the train ten minutes before mine arrive and depart. Trains here run on time - you really can set your watch by arrivals and departures. On the platform the exact place that each of the sixteen cars will stop is marked, making it easy to be at the right location to board. Seats are generally reserved, with both car and seat number on the ticket. Signboards announce the next train, the number of cars, whether seats are reserved or not and departure time.
The Bullet Train was comfortable, with lots of leg room. The two hour forty-six minute trip was smooth and fast. There was some farmland, and we went through a lot of tunnels in the mountains which gave a glimpse of small towns in the valleys between them, but for the most part it was built up area. There isn't much empty flat land in this part of the country! It was a clear, sunny day and I had a great view of Mt. Fuji as we went past.
I thought of taking the subway to the hotel at Yokohama station from Shin-Yokohama Station, but when I saw the chaos in the station I opted for a taxi. It would be all right if I knew which set of turnstiles to head through, but I had visions of spending time looking, then getting on a train going the wrong way.
Taxis are expense, with the meters starting at 660 yen ($5.65) - however most take credit cards. This morning I watched the taxi meter increase by $1.50 at one long stop light! Taxi drivers all wear suits and ties, but in Yokohama they don't have quite the class of the Osaka taxi drivers, who also wear white gloves!
The Sheraton Yokohama reception area was a zoo, with a long line of people waiting to check in. They have a system like some of the old Costa Rica state banks - a long line of chairs, where you bounce along from chair to chair as you move towards the desk.
I opted for the bar instead of the line up. The bell desk was willing to look after my suitcase as long as there was nothing valuable in it. When I assured them that there was a great deal of value in it, they wanted nothing more to do with it, so I took it to the bar with me. After having a beer, I returned to find the line even longer - more chairs had been added to cope. I dug out my Starwood Gold Card to see if that would help, and the fellow who had initially greeted me said, "Oh, so sorry. I should have asked!" With that I was whisked to a special check in area and assigned my room immediately.
They were not well organized at reception. Registration cards were not previously filled out, so guests filling out forms caused a lot of the delay. There was a battalion of employees to escort guests to their room, but not enough behind the desk.
I once again got bumped up to the 21st floor, where there is a big bed in the room. While this hotel is nice, it is half as luxurious, the room is half the size and the is price half again as much as the Osaka Westin. I was badly spoiled there!
The hotel has lots of high priced restaurants and bars, which were busy. If you want to have a drink or dinner in the 28th floor view restaurant or bar, there is a 1,300 yen cover charge. This is reduced to only 600 yen per person for hotel guests! The view from the room window will do me fine - it overlooks Yokohama Harbour and the harbour bridge.
One nice feature the hotel has is a high speed internet connection available for 1,000 yen (about $8.50) for the length of the stay. It allows me to use my own computer for unlimited internet access using their service provider.
Once settled in I headed across the street to Yokohama Station to do a dry run for catching the train to the ferry for Ogasawara. What a mad house! If this is reduced traffic for Golden Week and because it is a Saturday, I'm willing to give weekdays a miss! The station is huge, with entrances onto two bus depots, four big department stores, miles of shopping arcades, two train platforms and the subway system. There are two areas for taxis, one by each of the bus depots. My room looks down on one. The taxis line up six abreast and there are from 60 to more than 100 taxies at any given moment in that one location.
On the way back to the hotel I took the route under the road instead of the overpass. As the tunnel kept going on the other side so did I. There are shops, restaurants and offices along both sides, and it kept branching out and coming to intersections with other tunnels that all looked the same. I wandered them at random, changing direction on whim. After walking about two miles I decided to surface to see if I could find the hotel. It was right across the street - I'd walked in a giant circle.
A short distance away was a TGI Friday's restaurant, which sounded like a nice break from Oriental food. It was packed - the only seat I could get was at the bar. It was like a TGI Friday's anywhere. Most of the staff spoke pretty good English, and the entire attitude was very upbeat. I had a liter and a half of beer, a rack of ribs, french fries, a large salad and a plate of tacos and salsa for $28. There is no question that if a person stays out of the big hotels and fancy restaurants that eating and drinking here is not as outrageously expensive as the stories would have you believe.
Coming here from Osaka is a bit like leaving the southern hospitality of Atlanta, Georgia for the more brusque attitude of New York City. While everyone is very polite, many people seem to have less time for others than I found in Osaka, and their manner can be more abrupt.
Next morning I spent a fair bit of time getting basics done - everything from laundry and razor cleaning to catching up on email and organizing paperwork. In the afternoon I went off on a hike exploring the residential hills farther afield from the hotel, and taking another shot at the tunnel network. This time I ate at one of many underground restaurants that had displays of their offerings in the window, so I was able to point to a tray of assorted Japanese food. It was a good feed, once again at very reasonable prices.
There are not a lot of tourist attractions in Yokohama, so I opted not to take a tour. On my last full day, though, I decided to go and do some exploring on my own. Yokohama was one of the very first ports in Japan opened to "western" nations for trade in the 1800s, and so is quite historic.
I took the train from Yokohama Station, planning on getting off at a station near where the foreigners used to live during the days when they were permitted only a toe hold in Yokohama for trade purposes. Names such as France-Yama, British House and the large Chinatown persist today. There are also several "Foreign General Cemeteries". I missed the station where I was to get off, so left the train at the next station. This was in the very quiet Yamate district, where I walked a long way down narrow streets lined with businesses, residences and restaurants.
Yamate Park is on a hill. The road and railway burrow under the hill through tunnels, but I had to climb up and over. It turned out that this area was one of the early foreign residential areas - the Catholic church and many older homes are still here. The many gardens and trees along the road, made it a very pretty and tranquil walk.
Out in the quite suburbs people were very friendly and helpful. Some of the people walking down the street would bow "hello" and smile, and when I took out my map to check my location a Japanese lady on a bicycle stopped to ask if she could be of assistance. She confirmed my location before I had to dash across the main road before the light changed.
The other side of the hill was a steep decent to a popular shopping street near the Nakamura River. I walked along until I came to a bridge across the river which led to one of the many gates into Chinatown. It might seem strange to come to Japan to visit Chinatown, but it is really the "don't miss" area of Yokohama. It is huge, with lots of people milling around. The buildings are all in the Chinese style, and it is more of what one would expect from a Chinatown than any I've been in - including in China!
Having skipped breakfast, hunger was setting in, so I found a restaurant with pictures of dim sum food in the window. The term dim sum is not used here, so I wasn't able to ask for it, but the menu had pictures of all the dishes, so the point and order system worked very well. The snack type lunch was delicious and reasonably priced.
I wandered the streets of Chinatown for some time. It is a fascinating area, and I continued to overstuff myself with food from street vendors. A visit to the well done Yokohama Archives of History in the older part of the city gave me a very good insight into life in the days of the early traders. All the displays had full English explanations.
All this learning was thirsty work, so I soon found a pleasant, shaded sidewalk cafe where I could down a cold beer before continuing my long trek. After wandering the shores of the harbour and the rest of the old town, I headed back to the hotel to rest my sore feet and read the paper.
In the evening I once again descended into the tunnel network where more cold beer washed down some BBQ Japanese snacks, before returning to the hotel to try the 28th floor bar. There were few people there, and no cover charge was requested. After a beer my next stop was the sushi bar on the 8th floor, where a few orders of sushi and some saki proved my wisdom in staying out of the hotel to eat. While the service and ambiance were excellent, the bill for a couple of very small containers of saki and three small items of sushi was more than double what I'd spent on all the beer and food I'd had for the entire day!
Tomorrow I'm off first thing by train to the docks to catch the ferry "Ogasawara Maru" for the overnight trip to the island of Ogasawara 1,000 km. south of Tokyo. I have no idea how I will make out with internet there, but will get a dispatch off possible.