A visit to Tokyo is, to me, incomplete without a stop at The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, better known as Tsukiji Market. Early mornings in the market are packed with people (employees, shoppers and tourists alike) and the energy and action is hard to match. Or you could be like me and accidentally end up in the market on a day it is closed. Whoopsie.
My only morning in Tokyo on my most recent visit was a Wednesday and the market is closed on Wednesdays in the summer. It was not at all what I had planned for. The stalls were all empty. The doors to the shops just outside the market were all closed. And it was awesome.
The emptiness was eerie in many ways. The stalls were, for the most part, ready to go except for their daily supply of fish. But other supplies were out and prepped for the employees. It had an apocalyptic feel in some ways, though it really wasn’t a bad thing.
Plus, I got to see some awesome art on the doors of a couple of the shops.
Don’t get me wrong – I would have rather that the market was open during my time there. But the closed version was pretty cool, too. Definitely an experience that most people don’t get to have.
My biggest complaint is that the breakfast sushi is much better on market days, though at least I wasn’t waiting in line to get mine.
Certainly not what I planned for, but also not the worst market visit I’ve ever had. Such is the fun which comes when traveling without too much planning.
More photos from the visit on Facebook or Google+.
In all my prior visits to Tokyo I somehow managed to never visit the Akihabara neighborhood. I’m not entirely sure why; after all, I’m a fan of electronics and random markets, preferably with small, crowded alleys full of random stuff. And Akihabara has plenty of all that stuff, plus lots of other shops to explore. Fortunately, my most recent trip gave me the opportunity to right this wrong.
We didn’t stray too far from the train station in exploring the area. Part of that was trying to not get lost (I did have a flight to catch not too much later) but much of it was because we didn’t need to in order to explore pretty much all the neighborhood has to offer. Right next to the train station is the warren of tiny shops, creating a maze of diodes, transistors, switches and just about everything else electronics junkies could want. Think of it like a super-sized version of the back section of a Radio Shack. There is one of everything there, including a lot of things you probably didn’t even know you needed. It took a lot of self control but I managed to not buy anything as I toured.
After the market area we aimed for Super Potato, one of the more famous shops in the neighborhood.
Super Potato is packed floor-to-ceiling with classic gaming goods. It is a chain of stores but the Akihabara location is the most famous and, once you find it and ride the elevator up to find the shop, it is pretty easy to understand why. The store covers three floors, all crammed with vintage goods. We started at the top and worked our way down; floor number 5 was the arcade. The dozen or so machines in the room leave it too small be a top-notch arcade. Unless, of course, playing 80s and 90s-era games is your thing. Here it is all about the vintage, not modern games. For a couple of minutes we played Varth, a 1992 game I’d never seen before with a decidedly 8-bit feel.
The lower floors are where the shopping really happens, whether it be for games, consoles or merchandise. There was a stack of 30+ GameCubes tucked in one corner. The shelves were filled with cartridges for everything from the Nintendo Family Computer (known as the original NES in the USA) to GameBoy to Nintendo 64, with plenty of other systems and eras mixed in. They had consoles for sale, too. I think a working GameBoy was going for JPY 7900, around $80. It seems that just about anything game related which was ever sold in Japan is available on floors three and four of the shop. Thousands of titles stocked the shelves; each game looking for a new home.
After visiting Super Potato it was on to the Hirose Entertainment Yard, known by the acronym HEY. This was another multi-story affair but quite a different experience from Super Potato. The floors were much larger and there was virtually nothing retail about the place; it was all about the modern games and the people who play them. Many of the guides we read suggested that HEY was one of the sites where we could find locals who are expert gamers. We went searching for such, in addition to dropping more than a couple of our own JPY100 (~$1) coins into the machines.
It was roughly noon on a Wednesday; that’s probably not prime gaming hours, but we found a few guys playing at HEY. Watching them was impressive. They barely moved, intently focused on the screen with their eyes darting back and forth but their bodies perfectly still. Their fingers tapped away at the buttons and the joystick moved but barely any other motion. It was somewhat surreal. Compare that to our play, where body english was a big part of our efforts. Then again, these guys got a lot more play time for their Yen so maybe there is something to it.
And then, alas, it was time for me to head off to the airport. Like many of my trips this was a quick one and I didn’t have time to explore more. No maid café nor cat café visit this time around; maybe next time. Also on the list for next time is a visit to the animation museum in the neighborhood. I actually really want to see that, unlike the cafés.
Here are some of the resources I used in researching the visit:
I’m sitting my room in Tokyo now, watching the rain fall and trying to muster the energy to get out and find dinner before collapsing into a deep sleep. The flight was great, though I managed to somehow not actually sleep on board; that was a big mistake. Needless to say, the supposed benefit of feeling more rested after a long flight on the 787 might be lost on me given that.
A full report will be coming eventually but I wanted to share a couple quick highlights, mostly from the pre-flight experience, and also give away some of the souvenirs that I collected as part of the inaugural flight. There was a traditional prayer offered for the success of the partnership and also a traditional drum performance by Denver Taiko; they’re quite impressive. I got a bunch of great photos of the plane and the ceremony and then it was time for the sake toast (it is, after all, tradition) before boarding the flight and heading out for Tokyo.
United gave away a passport holder and deck of cards (who knew they still had those!?) to every passenger. I managed to grab extras and I also have a pair of the sake toast "cups" to go with them. The full set will go to one reader who comments on this post with either your favorite memory of a trip to Tokyo or what you want to see next time you visit Tokyo. If you’re looking for inspiration on things to see next visit there are a bunch of comments in this post which can help you out.
Contest closes 12 noon EDT on Thursday, June 13.
What the hell was I thinking? Sure the allure of cheap PQMs and low fares got to me but I should have known that trying to cram nearly 15,000 flight miles – with the longest segment just below 2,500 – into just over 60 hours was a bad idea. I have flown similar trips before but none of them involved three consecutive nights on domestic redeye flights. That was just stupid.
Getting ready for departure from IAD
The fun all started when a crop of $140-ish round-trip fares popped up between Philadelphia and San Diego. I bought a lot of them. That’s a pretty solid price for elite qualifying and the award points are always good to have, too. Plus I figured that a few hours of quiet time to read, write and nap would be useful. I made sure that I didn’t have to start too early from Philadelphia and even managed to work in some variety in my routings so I wouldn’t see the same airports over and over again. Some of that fell apart due to delays and sometimes because I chose to change some of flights. And the flying was, overall, really quite reasonable. I met some nice people along the way and did, in fact, get most of the reading and writing I wanted to do in. But those silly domestic redeye flights.
Sunset as we approached the west coast one night
I slept pretty much wheels up to down on all three flights. Strangely the third – when I was the most tired – is the one where I slept the least. Part of that may have been that the FAs chose to make the full set of announcements about snack boxes for sale and the pilots gave a detailed briefing of the weather at Newark, both well after takeoff. Part of it may have been that I was just exhausted. Even if I did sleep the entire flight that was roughly 4 hours each night. And it was sleeping on an airplane, not the most comfortable option out there. I did sleep more on some of the other flights, which certainly helped. And I managed to get a shower in the Lufthansa lounge in Dulles on both Sunday and Monday; that was huge for me. But by the time I got to my apartment around 6:30 this morning I was pretty much beat. Even a couple short naps today haven’t fully reset my body clock.
Another sunset shot
As for the trip, here are the final stats…
Routing as flown (it was initially booked rather differently): EWR-SAN-IAD-PHL-IAD-SAN-IAD-PHL-IAD-SAN-EWR for 14,401 flight miles on 10 segments. There was also a train ride from Philly to Newark at either end of the reservation.
PQMs earned: With 500 mile minimums I should net 15,862 PQMs from the trip. At least one and possibly two of the rebookings along the way were into Y or B fares meaning the PQM earning may reach as high as 18,500ish.
RDMs earned: Similar to above, I should be somewhere between 31,500 and 35,000 RDMs for the trip. That’s taking in to account the Y/B bonus and 1K bonus earning.
Upgrades: I was upgraded on only 3 of the 6 transcon flights, two redeyes and one westbound. Considering the last minute changes to the reservations I’m not all that surprised. The PHL-IAD flights didn’t offer upgrades (ERJ-145) but I was in row 12 on all of them, two had 12C with 12B empty next to me.
I only left the airport once, for dinner in San Diego. I was outside of security for less than 3 hours in total during the 60 hours of travel (and really the 60 is longer given that I was inside ~3 hours before I left Newark on the first flight). I visited lounges in Philly (AA/BA, US A West and US B/C) and Dulles (Lufthansa 2x) during the trip.
Sunrise at Newark this morning with the Manhattan skyline in the background
The good news is that I got most of what I needed to do today done anyways and I should be able to sleep a full night tonight, hopefully resetting my internal clock completely. The bad news is that I have two more similar trips planned. Apparently the siren call of the miles is one I have trouble ignoring.
Yesterday I shared an example of using the same-day change options from United to make my travel a bit better. I’m basically doing the same trip three consecutive days now so I figured I’d try again on day two, maybe making things better again. This time I was looking for more miles, not more time, and I figured that the less direct routings via Chicago or Houston would likely do better for me. Just looking at the map it seems quite obvious that the IAD connection is the shortest:
And it is true; the IAD connection comes to 2388 total miles while ORD is 2401 and IAH is 2628. And yet the IAD connection was still my best choice. That pesky 500 mile minimum credit for elites got in the way. The total miles I’d earn for the ORD and IAH routings would not change; both segments are on each itinerary are longer than 500 miles. But the Philly-Dulles segment is only 135 miles in the air. With the 500 mile minimum credit for that segment added in the routing credits a total of 2753 miles, 125 more than the IAH option.
Sure, 125 miles one way or the other isn’t a huge deal. But in this case I decided it wasn’t worth bothering with even trying to tinker with the routing.
I’m in the midst of a reasonably ridiculous mileage run this weekend, flying between Philadelphia and San Diego a few times over 72 hours. The originally booked flights were reasonable enough but, thanks to schedule changes and such the connection in San Diego – less than an hour between the arrival and departure which required switching from the commuter terminal to the regular terminal – became rather concerning to me. A quick call to the United reservations line had me switched from Newark-Los Angeles-San Diego to Newark-Chicago-San Diego. With a slightly longer layover in San Diego and no terminal change required I was much happier. Plus, about 15 minutes after making the change the upgrade on the Chicago-San Diego segment cleared (Newark-LA wasn’t going to happen) so that a win all around.
On the day of travel I thought things were going pretty well right up until my Amtrak ride from Philadelphia to Newark got delayed. That delay wasn’t enough to really mess me up but it was enough that I called to double-check my connections. At one point during that conversation the agent mentioned that they had a note in their system to expect delays in the Chicago area later Saturday afternoon. That wouldn’t be good at all.
Once I got to Newark I played around with trying to get on the earlier flight to Chicago; SDC worked perfectly except that the new flight started a rolling mechanical delay as soon as I was confirmed on it. I switched back and forth between the two flights a few times before deciding that neither really seemed like a good idea. Both were taking delays and my sub-60 minute connection in Chicago seemed suspect. I changed again, this time to the non-stop from Newark to San Diego. Yes, I gave up the upgrade but I had a bulkhead window seat which is just fine for me. Plus, no more worries about connections.
The thunderstorms causing problems in Chicago topped out around FL350; we detoured far south of them en route to SAN
Ultimately the Newark-Chicago flight ended up ~30 minutes late which likely would’ve blown my connection in Chicago, except that the Chicago-San Diego flight was delayed, too, thanks to the storms the agent had mentioned to me. Listening to Channel 9 as we flew through the region I heard at least one plane divert and discussion from several others about hour-long holding patterns, major storms and long delays. The second delay meant I would’ve actually made the Chicago-San Diego flight, though that still would have ended badly for me. It was so delayed that I would have lost in my original goal – making the connection in San Diego. The inbound from Chicago landed in the other terminal at SAN about 15 minutes before the scheduled departure on SAN-IAD and we closed the door a couple minutes early. I almost certainly would have missed that flight.
So, yeah, I gave up around 500 miles by changing the routing from the original LAX connection. And I gave up a first class seat when I switched to the non-stop (I finished as #1 on the waitlist for EWR-SAN). But I actually got where I was going in time to catch my next flight. And, as an added bonus, I had enough time to leave the airport for a few hours and grab some dinner. That’s always a win.
And, in case anyone is wondering, I do occasionally fly trips as originally booked. Just not all that often. What fun would that be??
What are your best Memorial Day memories? For me, the holiday has, more than not, involved travel. Growing up it wasn’t extensive travel – usually just an hour and a half ride over to the beach – while in recent years the adventures have become a bit more involved. But most of my Memorial Day travel memories haven’t actually been about Memorial Day. Several other trips have been about memorials, however. It turns out those are actually some of my most poignant memories. Here are a few of my favorites.
It took me half a dozen or more visits to Honolulu before I finally put together the logistics of visiting the Pearl Harbor memorial. That was a mistake on my part. The site is incredible in many ways. I was happy to see the memorial, to see the memory of the fallen soldiers so lovingly cared for. Still, it was an incredibly emotional few hours.
I’m arguably more impressed by the memorials maintained on foreign soil than those in the USA. The logistical challenges are greater and they aren’t quite so "in your face" such that it would be easier to forget about them. Fortunately, however, that isn’t how it actually happened. The memorial in Carthage, Tunisia ended up being one of the highlights of our visit to the region, even if we only spent a couple hours of our trip there. More than 6,500 soldiers are memorialized at the site; over 3,700 of them in name only as their bodies were never located.
Not every war memorial is about US soldiers. And while it is an American holiday I think that the other memorials are still worth remembering. Hiroshima was probably the most gut-wrenching site I’ve ever visited. It took me longer than I expected to get over it that day enough to be functional and I certainly haven’t gotten over it completely in any way. It is somewhat comforting to me that the city has become one of the greatest proponents for peaceful resolution to conflicts, rising out of the shadows of such tremendous destruction. But there is a long way yet to go on that front.
The Taukkyan War Cemetery, Myanmar
On the road between Yangon and Bago (on the way to Mt. Kyaiktiyo) Sits the Taukkyan War Cemetery. The site is a memorial to more than 33,000 soldiers of the British Commonwealth who died during the Second World War. The vast majority are remembered in name only on the pillars in the main structure; there are just over 6,400 grave markers on the site. Similar to the US cemetery in Carthage there are a few soldiers recognized for exceptional bravery, in this case via the Victorian Cross. And, in a nod to the broad mix of cultures represented the memorial has English, Hindi,Urdu, Gurmukhi and Burmese languages in the central monument.
I know there are other memorial sites I’ve visited. There was a monument in Perth on my most recent trip, the formal monuments in Washington, DC and a cemetery on the southern side of Hong Kong Island, also from the WWII era. Each brings out different emotions but the overriding feeling is quite clear. So man have died fighting these wars over the years, often far from home. They all deserve to be remembered, more than just on Memorial Day. And in their memory, perhaps, a commitment to fighting less wouldn’t be so bad.
By my rough calculations I should be about 500 miles off the western coast of Chile right now, happily ensconced in a LAN business class seat next to my wife as we wend our way to Easter Island for the Memorial Day Weekend holiday. Alas, instead I’m sitting on my couch at home having just cancelled the last bits of the trip. Being healthy is far more important that going on the trip so we’re focused on that. But I’m also not going to simply throw away the trip completely. There was a decent amount of work to be done to unwind all the bits I had assembled.
Our trip consisted of two separate reservations. One was the American Airlines sale fare from NYC to Chile for ~$950 in business class. I booked that as an open-jaw into Easter Island and out of Santiago so that we could see both. I added on an award via British Airways Avios from Easter Island to Santiago.
For the AA ticket I did what I’d normally do on a non-refundable trip where I need to make a change; I called and begged. OK, not quite that bad, but that’s basically what I did. Alas, the agent reviewing the record stood firm and even with a doctor’s order not to fly the $200 change fee plus fare difference was going to stand. Don’t get me wrong – I still am coming out ahead in the long run paying the fee versus buying travel insurance given how many tickets I buy – but I was a bit miffed that even with a doctor saying she couldn’t fly there was no waiver of the fee. And so I did what seemingly everyone else does when "wronged" by a company. I got passive aggressive on Twitter.
The @AmericanAir team took a look at the record and after a handful of DMs eventually agreed to waive the $200 change fee for us. I’m calling that a win. Honestly, I couldn’t expect them to honor the fare, too, particularly given that I had partner segments in there. I would’ve preferred that, obviously, but I’l take what I can get.
For the second flight it was a bit easier to manage. The Avios reservation has a published cancellation fee schedule ($40/ticket) and I figured that was a reasonably small penalty for getting our 25,000 Avios/ticket refunded. The BA website actually made the cancellation process pretty easy. A few clicks and I was done:
As an added bonus, I actually wasn’t charged the $40/ticket to cancel. I had only paid $13.42 in taxes on each ticket and the refund process had me forfeit that portion of the refund but didn’t charge me anything extra. It seems that their refund process (at least online) doesn’t have the means to initiate a charge as part of the transaction. So if the taxes/fees are lower than the threshold that’s all you pay. It actually makes Avios even more valuable for domestic US trips now, in my opinion; refunds are essentially free.
It turns out that my procrastination in booking a hotel for Santiago worked out in our favor; I hadn’t booked one yet so there was nothing to cancel there. For Easter Island, on the other hand, my 4-night booking at Inaki Uhi was complete and I was past the refundable cut-off point for the booking. Fortunately I had been in communication with the proprietor via email and after I explained the situation he was graciously willing to waive the penalty. I do expect that we will eventually make our way to Easter Island and I fully intend to stay as his property when we do; that he was willing to waive this only reinforces that plan to me.
Again with the procrastination bit…there really wasn’t anything else to cancel or change. No rental cars, tours or similar. Turns out I don’t usually book many of those things when I’m traveling anyways.
And so I’m sitting here, wondering what to do with ~$950 each in American Airlines credit. There are plenty of options, obviously. None are going to be as awesome a deal as Easter Island in business class but certainly we can still have some fun. Maybe Brazil, Central America or diving in the Caribbean. Using AA to Aruba and then hopping to Bonaire and Curacao, too, has been on my list for a while so maybe that’ll be part of or plans for this summer. Roatan, Honduras has also been on the list for a while but that’s Saturday-only service and I’m not sure I want to be in one place that long. Or maybe I’ll just make a couple mileage runs out of it, hopping around for no particular reason. That’s not too likely (especially as my wife certainly wouldn’t appreciate it) but it is an option.
Ultimately the lesson here – at least for me – is that the plans may have changed from what I initially expected them to be, but we didn’t really lose much in the process. In hard costs I’m out $26.84. I think I can handle that. Even if American has stood their ground the total would be $426.84; still not horrible considering our annual travel budget.
What would you do with $950 in credit from American? Where would you go?
Yes, 37E is a middle seat. Yes, it also happens to be in the last row of the United Airlines A320, which means limited recline. In just about every situation it is the least desirable seat on that plane (though I’d say 37B is worse because of the lav on that side, but only by a small margin). It is simply not where you want to be sitting. And yet I was incredibly happy to be there.
Do you want to sit here??
I was on my way home from Colorado and really wanted to get home in time for a reasonable dinner at home. Alas, the flight which let me do that meant a 28 minute connection in Denver and – not surprisingly – they don’t let you book those normally. So I booked the cruddy connection and planned to just run for it when I made it to Denver. Of course, when booking the cruddy connection I didn’t actually mean to book the REALLY bad one which would get me home near midnight but apparently that’s what I actually did. All of a sudden this SDC/standby game became much more important for my sanity. We landed on time into Denver and I checked the flight on mobile.united.com and it said seats were available. I was off to the races, from B69 to B37 (about half a mile, at altitude with a rocking hangover and people to dodge).
I made it to the new gate at T-12 minutes, and that’s when the agent told me there were no more seats available. Ughhh. The cutoff for passengers to be on-board is T-10 minutes and there were two not yet on-board so I had a chance. She added me to the list and told me I was first in line. They paged the passengers again and one showed up. Then the other showed up. Not good news for me. Except that apparently one of the passengers was intent on playing shenanigans.
It seems that one of the two was a non-rev, looking to fly on her pass benefits. She gave her name to the agent and a BP was printed and then, as the passenger was getting on board, the agent called out to stop the boarding. Apparently there were two people on the flight with the same name, one male and one female, and the non-rev accidentally got the paid guy’s BP. I’m not 100% certain that they were playing games with refundable bookings and trying to block a seat for the non-rev, but it sure seemed that way to me. Either way, it was now T-10 and the one passenger hadn’t shown up. The gate agent printed my new boarding pass and I was off down the jetway as the last passenger to be loaded on the flight.
View from all the way down the back of the plane
So, yeah, not the most comfortable place to spend 3.5 hours, but I got home in time for a late dinner and I even managed to sleep a bit in that middle seat with limited recline. I’m not going out of my way to choose it again for next time, but it turns out I survived just fine.
This is the room where I sat for an hour, more or less stuck while waiting to figure out if I’d get out of Yangon. No passport (the agents took it from me), no refreshments and no idea how long I was going to be there or if the agents actually understood what I was doing. Not the most relaxing hour of my life, to say the least. And just getting to that point wasn’t so easy.
I did my research before the trip regarding the transit process at RGN and I was pretty sure that I didn’t need a visa. Alas, the Thai Airways check-in agent at BKK had a different view of the situation. She started flipping through my passport, looking for my visa. I knew there wasn’t one there and told her such. At that point she was pretty much ready to send me away; I was not happy. Her version of the rules said transit without visa was only valid if remaining on the same plane passing through RGN; changing planes was not valid. I protested strongly (even though I wasn’t actually 100% certain I was correct) and she walked away from the counter, carrying my passport with her. About 15 minutes later – mostly spent by me pacing back and forth in the premium check-in area trying to figure out how I was going to save the trip – she came back to the counter and started printing boarding passes. I’m not entirely sure where she went or what she saw or why she changed her mind. But she did. I won’t look that gift-horse in the mouth.
A few hours later, following what will likely be my last flight on an Airbus A300 (yes, I booked the itinerary to get that), we arrived in Yangon and it was time for the part of the transit which I expected to be more stressful. I saw the sign for transit passengers as I walked off the plane so I headed towards that door rather than to the regular immigration queue. That freaked them out quite a bit.
Pretty soon I had three agents crowded around, trying to usher me towards the regular immigration queues. I had a printout of my onward itinerary and kept pointing out the flight details, hoping they’d figure it out. After 15 or so minutes I was escorted back towards the gates, through the gate lounge and backwards through the security check-point. The agent escorted me into a room labeled “International Transit” which is, I’m pretty sure, mostly used for storage.
The agent took my itinerary printout, my passport and my inbound boarding pass and walked away, asking me to wait in the lounge. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Having someone walk away with my passport is never something I’m happy about. Sitting in this room with no facilities other than the few chairs for an hour, waiting for the agent to come back with my passport had me rather frazzled. Turns out I’m not all that good at sitting still with no distractions.
Ultimately they returned with the boarding passes and escorted me to the Royal Jade lounge (not really all that great, but better than sitting in the other room on my own) to wait for my flight.
In the end the transit wasn’t all that bad. Not without some stress along the way and Myanmar is going to remain low on my list of desired transit countries given an option, but I eventually made my way on to Singapore and beyond.
More stories from the trip here.