Our Japan Trip

July 2, 2008

Japan Trip Wrap: Back on Home Soil

Filed under: Japan Trip — Andy Mayer @ 5:44 pm

I’m writing now from the President’s Club in Newark Airport’s A Terminal. Our flight from Newark to St. Louis doesn’t leave until 7:35pm EDT tonight, so we still have about another hour here. Per my note last night, body time is 7:26 am on Thursday. It’s been 14.5 hours since we left the hotel at Tokyo Disney Resort and 19.5 hours since I woke up. I can definitely feel it.

The Mayer family was clearly ready to come home by the time we boarded the flight this morning. We definitely need our own beds and, to be honest, some alone time, after being together all this time. I suspect we’ll divide up to various corners of the house tomorrow to get some sanity back. It may sound odd to some of you, but I’d ask you to consider when the last time was that you spent 13 days straight with all members of your family.

I do not want to spend any time philosophizing about Japan or its people or its culture. That’s for the professionals to do. I highly recommend it as a place to visit, for those of you that like international travel and exploring different cultures. The cultural aspects really enthuse me. I did a lot of people-watching over the past two weeks.

Here are a few observations or other things that will stick with me:

  • The ubiquitous drink vending machines. They are everywhere. Prices vary from 150 yen down to 100 yen for the same drink, depending on where the machine is. The price most often seen was 120 yen. We were never without a cold drink for long.
  • The ready-made latte drinks. Both in machines and convenience stores, these pre-mixed iced lattes came in many shapes and sizes. Anytime you want an iced coffee or iced tea, you could easily get it through the same vending machines that dispensed Coke or Fanta. The only options were latte with sugar or black with nothing.
  • Recycling. Japan appears to recycle everything. All (and I mean all) public trash cans have separate slots for plastic, aluminum, and paper. I grabbed the photo from the Internet to show what the trash cans look like.
  • That much said – public trash cans are at a premium. Apparently, it’s paranoia over terrorism. We have trash cans all over the place in the US, yet we had to carry trash with us for a while in Japan.
  • Power toilet seats. I didn’t get up the nerve to “wash and dry” myself. I don’t know if I ever will.
  • Public parking lots that enforce payment. Here’s how this works. You pull into a space and, as you do, a metal barrier raises up either under or behind your car to prevent you from leaving. Only when you deposit the appropriate amount into a nearby machine will the barrier go down. Apparently, the construction costs are quite high, but the lots do run themselves without attendants. The photo at right shows a lot with the barriers that come up under your car.
  • Line management at Disney. The attendants there ask you how many people are in your “party” before your board a ride. If your number doesn’t equal how many people fit in each car, they make sure you understand you’ll have to split up. They hold up the whole line for this. They also hold up entire lines to measure the kids for height-restricted rides. As long as they are measuring one kid, no one else can enter the ride.
  • Plastic food. I wrote about this on Monday. Plastic food is everywhere. At the end of our trip, I was relying on it to determine in which restaurants to eat.
  • Taxi cab protocol. A passenger never opens a taxi door in Japan. The drivers have switches that open and close all doors. Most of them wear gloves, and they are forbidden from turning down fares.
  • The prices. Japan is a very expensive place. Perhaps this is obvious, but it was driven home just last night, when we took the kids to the indoor pool at the Hilton for a late swim. There, the indoor pool is part of the fitness club, which costs $26 per day to use. That $26 more than it costs at most US hotels.
  • The bike riding. Bikes are the standard mode of personal transportation. It’s not unusual to see a woman in business attire, with high heels, riding a bike. The best is when you see a rider with a kid in back and a kid in front holding an umbrella.
  • The hand dryers in the rest rooms. These are the best I’ve ever seen. You stick your hands into a slot and they are buffeted with very high powered air. It’s the first time hand dryers have worked for me. See example at right.

Lastly, there is the nasal intonation made by every person that you meet in a retail store or restaurant or other public area. It’s very hard for me to describe. Imagine if every store clerk, every maitre d’, every kiosk attendant all spoke in the same intonation and pitch. Choose a southern twang and imagine if everyone spoke in that same twang. Towards the end, it got very irritating.

It’s now time to turn back to work. A lot of exciting things happened at ESI while I was away, most notably winning TPharm and the creation of a central, industry-wide e-prescribing hub.

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July 1, 2008

Tokyo Disney Sea

Filed under: Japan Trip — Andy Mayer @ 8:05 am

We spent most of today in Tokyo Disney Sea. The fact that I started to write this post before 9:00pm local time indicates that the day was a bit shorter than yesterday.

Tokyo Disney Sea is part Animal Kingdom, part Disney’s Hollywood Studios and, oddly, part Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. It is divided into 7 “ports:”

  • Mediterranean Harbor – This is the first area you encounter coming in. There are no real rides here, but a lot of shopping and food. It is very reminiscent of Universal’s Portofino Resort in Florida. The globe in the photo is just inside the ticket gate, but just outside the front of Mediterranean Harbor.
  • Mysterious Island – Home to two large rides: Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It is all inside a volcano, which erupted around 7:00pm with fire and smoke. The photo below shows the volcano just beyond Mermaid Lagoon.
  • Mermaid Lagoon – Home to rides for kids, including an underground area called Triton’s Kingdom. Got the Little Mermaid references yet?
  • Arabian Coast – Sinbad, Aladdin, Genie, Jasmine. It has a two-story carousel and a Sinbad ride that is very much like It’s a Small World.
  • Lost River Delta – Home to two large rides as well: Indiana Jones Adventure and Raging Spirits. The first is very much like the Dinosaur ride at Animal Kingdom, same technology with a different story. Raging Spirits is a roller coaster with a 360 degree loop.
  • Port Discovery – Storm Rider is the primary ride here, sort of a larger version of Star Tours or Body Wars. Same idea, bigger room. The story is that you are on a plane flying into the “storm of the century” to diffuse it. As you can imagine, things don’t go smoothly.
  • American Waterfront – Streets of old New York, just like you’d find in Hollywood Studios. Also, it’s also home to Tower of Terror.

Starting with Mediterranean Harbor front-and-center (which has its own Epcot-like fireworks that we didn’t stay for) you make your way from port to port with changing landscapes and viewpoints.

Knowing that Tuesdays are light days in the US parks, we weren’t expecting big crowds, but the lack of crowds at all was a bit surprising. Fast Passes were turned off for most lines. We waited more than 15 minutes only once – for Storm Rider – primarily because the ride broke down in the middle. Everything else was 15 minutes or less. We walked right on Tower of Terror. Try to do that midday at Hollywood Studios.

I think my wife and kids liked the park, but I’m really not too positive. There isn’t a ride at Tokyo Disney Sea that is comparable to Splash Mountain or Space Mountain. Journey to the Center of the Earth has one surprise thrill, but after your first time, you know it’s there. Raging Spirits really wasn’t that exciting. Joey and I noticed it slowed down repeatedly rather than keeping its speed. It doesn’t hold a candle to the Rock N Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios. Indiana Jones was predictable, given the similarity to Dinosaur. Even Tower of Terror was toned down. It didn’t seem to drop as far as in Florida and went up and down only three times. I can honestly say that there wasn’t one ride that I desperately wanted to go on a second time.

That much said — the scenery was spectacular. Disney gets everything right, including fake barnacles on pier posts. The park really is on the water, so you see cruise ships, oil tankers, and other boats in the background. Note the photo with Terror of Tower in the background. That’s looks like a real port. We had no issues getting around. Food was everywhere, at regular Disney prices of course. I think we spent $40 on lunch and another $40 on dinner. We did see sea salt, caramel and strawberry popcorn today. All were quite good.

I’ll also throw into a few photos here of the Disney Monorail. Despite requiring payment to ride, it is really done quite well, with stops at both parks, the hotel row, and the Japan Rail Station that connects Disney with the rest of the country. Disney really makes it very easy. As you can see, both the windows and the handles are shaped like Mickey.

        

Tomorrow we’ll do some Disney shopping in the morning, before heading to the airport just after 1:00pm local Tokyo time. Our flight leaves Narita at 4:35pm, and we arrive in Newark at 4:30pm local time to change planes. We make it to St. Louis at 9:47pm. To put that all in St .Louis time:

  • Wednesday breakfast at 7:00pm Tuesday.
  • Leave for the airport just after 11:00pm Tuesday.
  • Depart from Tokyo at 2:35am Wednesday.
  • Land in Newark at 3:30pm Wednesday.
  • Land in St. Louis at 9:47pm Wednesday.

So – when you are struggling with your “long day” on Tuesday or Wednesday, think of me and smile. Think of the e-mail, voice mail, and meetings waiting for me, and smile again.

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