I made my latest business trip to Japan this past week and while some things change, some things never change. I might sound like a broken record from my previous trip-recap blogs but some things that never change, and which I totally admire, is the courtesy of the Japanese people. Second is the absolute efficiency with which everything works. Trains and bus schedules are often ‘on-time’ and a delay is extremely rare. Delays in transportation are exceptions to the rule where as I’m accustomed to just the opposite and actually plan for delays any longer. Being on-time is critical in Japan especially because an overwhelming number of citizens and foreigners use the state-of-the-art railroad system.
All Aboard the Narita Express!
A shining example of how to travel in train luxury is taking a ride on the Narita Express. For this particular trip a majority of our time was spent in Yokohama. So to get to Yokohama from the Narita airport, which is located in the Tokyo area, the best way is to purchase a 3,980 Yen (roughly $40 USD) ticket on the Narita Express. While most trains that are used in Japan are nice and clean I would say the general cosmetic look is similar to a subway train you see in most movies, or might have experienced for yourself. The Narita Express, however, is the equivalent of First Class air travel but only on rails instead of in the air. The trains themselves have a modern, beautiful technical-looking exterior as seen above in the photo. As added bonuses the assigned-seats are luxurious, they recline and have plenty of room. And, although I didn’t have the need to visit the ‘facilities’ (a.k.a. restroom) on my Narita Express rides this trip I grabbed a photo from the internet below and I might have to find some excuse next time because these facilities are bigger than the restroom in my home! (see photo below)
I landed at Narita Airport Terminal 2 and the travel time via the Narita Express to Yokohama is roughly 1 ½ hours. You’d think that after 15 hours of air travel that an additional 1 ½ hours would be torture but it’s actually not too bad.
A variety of factors come into play here and other customer service oriented service providers should take note! First, as I mentioned above, the trains are on-time. Second, they are neat, clean and comfortable. I neglected to mention that the train also offers WiFi access and has a food/drink cart service just exactly like the airlines provide. Lastly, the train stops at only a few stations for a short amount of time along the route which makes the overall experience very nice.
After a full day of travel I finally arrive at the hotel. Like the rest of Japan, the hotel was gorgeous. I was surprised to find it fully decorated with Christmas spirit. The inside of the hotel had a huge tree decorated with all sorts of beautiful ornaments. There was another tree inside where people making donations to charity. Everyone was encouraged to make their own origami cranes and hang them on the charity-tree display in the lobby of the hotel. Also, outside of the hotel they had some fantastic snowman and other flashy lights as seen below.
We arrived at the hotel late and it was dark. My room was on the 19th floor so when I got to my room initially and looked out on the city of Yokohama it was quite awesome but I couldn’t see anything too far in the distance due to the darkness. However, in the morning daylight I again looked out my window and saw the most incredible sight as seen in the photo below with the large orange and white tower. In the background I could clearly see Mt. Fuji which is somewhere I have always wanted to visit. So, although I was still many miles away and I could not realistically visit Mt. Fuji on this particular trip I found it a privilege to at least be close enough to witness this wonderful site in person. Can you see it in the photo?
Tsukiji Fish Market
After a full day of travel and waking up to such a wonderful view outside of my hotel room window, what else would you expect other than explore more of what the great country of Japan has to offer? One of my colleagues had made a reservation for lunch at the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, the Tsukiji Fish Market. I had been there once before and I was very excited to return because I enjoyed my first experience so much. You can read more about Tsukiji Fish Market here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsukiji_fish_market. Basically, for me at least, Tsukiji is the epitome of incredible efficiency.
What happens is nightly the Tokyo-based fishing fleet heads out in the Pacific Ocean to catch all sorts of seafood. The fleet returns daily around 3-4am to unload their catch to a massive air-conditioned warehouse where they display and auction their catch to highest bidders. As seen below in these photos the tuna, especially, gain a lot of attention and demand high prices. Some of these tuna are hundreds of pounds and cost tens-of-thousands of dollars. Once a winning bidder is determined then the fish are immediately the bidders property and they send in their own group of people to claim the fish and move it on to the next phase. Sometimes a restaurant within the Tsukiji Market is the winning bidder and the tuna would be transported just a few hundred feet to their establishment within The Market where it would be processed and delivered on the menu. Can you imagine what a delight it is to have this level of fresh tuna first thing in the morning? It simply can’t be beat!
However, and more often, the fish (including Tuna) from The Market is packed up on ice and shipped all over the world to other destinations. What I find absolutely incredible is the amazing food supply-chain of ‘in-the-wild’ to ‘eating’ that is clear at Tsukiji. In other words a tuna, for example, can go from early morning in the ocean in Japanese waters to the finest/fanciest dinner in San Francisco within 24 hours. It’s simply a remarkable experience and I would highly suggest an adventure at the Tsukiji Fish Market if you ever have a chance to visit the Tokyo area.
Japan never disappoints
In the end I cannot express, again, how much I am impressed by the Japanese culture. They are simply terrific people, so helpful and most considerate. They are not a perfect society but I feel such a renewed sense of optimism for the future every time I visit. I can only hope that the western culture of independence spirit and the Japanese culture of teamwork and effort can continue to find a happy-medium where everyone can experience the best of each culture. It’s really a beautiful balance that we should all be able to experience. I count myself as one of the lucky one’s that has experienced this first-hand. I can only hope everyone reading this message has such a terrific opportunity to visit, and genuinely feel, the terrific Japanese spirit.
Sayōnara Japan – Until next time.