Made it

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

I've finally reached Shinjuku, the first place in Japan I ever wanted to visit 20 years ago when I first caught the bug. The hotel is beautiful, built only 2 years ago and already the winner of "best hotel of the year" in some travel-website competition. The staff is bilingual and advertises themselves as such, making the hotel ideal for Annie, but they could have put us in an engineering access tube for the elevator shaft and I'd love the place because they spoke to me entirely in Japanese. Of course now I have no idea where anything is.

One of the dangers of deciding it’s more fun to use the local language and not simply stay at the Hyatt in Orlando is that when you walk into your hotel room and the lights don’t turn on, you won’t know why.She probably explained it to me, or it was written on the various signs written in Japanese around the hotel. Either way, when we walked it we hit every switch we could find, only, no lights.

Fortunately, I had my flashlight on me. Once again, this is one of those moments when people often yell at me, asking "Are you crazy?? Why do you carry a flashlight/ducttape/a knife" everywhere???" Usually, this question is asked at a moment that tends to answer the question on its own, like Andrew asking while I am fixing his sunroof on the way to Virginia Beach, or, in this case, standing in a dark hotel room on the other side of the planet. In this case, it revealed that you have to stick your room key in this device for the lights and AC to come on. No leaving everything on all day while we wander around town, I guess....

Still, no mastery of Japanese or the plots to the first 3 seasons of MacGuyver has given me the insight to figure out what this is. The room has a kitchen, microwave, hairdryer, iron, TV, computer set-up, etc. etc. And this. What the heck is it? I have turned it over, shaken it, flipped the handles, and it doesn't do anything. It takes batteries, or it plugs into the wall, but it doesn't open. It has handles on the bottom too, and it can stand on its side. And the hotel thought it such an important amenity to include it at no charge. This is the first time I've stayed at a hotel in Japan, and I'm not trying to be ungrateful, but seriously - what the hell is this thing?

I have no illusions, however, about what this is. I'm just not sure I'm into using it.

Well, at least the place has a person I can talk to, unlike my apartment in Fukuoaka, or was built after the invention of electricity, unlike our place in Kyoto. And it comes with his and her kimonos.

Of course, despite the language differences, this place is incredibly user-friendly. We got to the express train to Shinjuku with no trouble at all after landing in Narita. The train announcements were in English, Japanese, Mandarin, and Korean. The signs clearly marked everything and we could have made it with no language at all, since the pictures were completely clear. Much easier, say, then trying to get from Terminal 7 to Terminal 1 at JFK in Brooklyn.

I realize America isn't designed for foreigners, but shouldn't it at least be user friendly for someone who doesn't actually work at the airport? 3 people told us that the way from Terminal 7 to Terminal 1 was the train, but each decided not to share that the tracks were out of service and the train, in fact, wasn't running that day. After waiting for the train that wasn't coming, some TSA guy getting off his shift told us we had to take the train to Howard freakin' Beach, then get back on the airport train and ride back to the airport the other direction. We'd still be at Kennedy now if not for him. Not that it would have been all that bad - Terminal 1, the foreign carrier terminal, has some of the best Korean food we've had on vacation.