TOKYO: TURNING A STOPOVER INTO A SOJOURN

How to Tackle One of the World’s Great Cities With Only Two Full Days
Day One: Hitting Tokyo’s Tourist Highlights

By Karen Rubin

Tokyo is an important gateway into Asia, as well as a hub for international business. Too many travelers merely transit Tokyo – perhaps a bit intimidated by the idea of navigating a vastly different culture, with different language and alphabet and the vastness of a city of 10 million people that makes even New York City seem provincial.

But Tokyo is also one of the world’s great cities, the repository of thousands of years of human history and culture. I found you can turn a stopover into a sojourn – that most special kind of travel adventure that produces a transformative experience – with just a little pre-planning.

Room with a view: Conrad Tokyo, rising from the 28 to 37 floors, provides a stunning view of the Royal Hamarikyu Gardens, Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

I was enroute to Hangzhou, China, an itinerary that compelled an overnight in Tokyo in both directions. Rather than just stay over in a hotel at Narita International Airport, I added a night in each direction, so that I would have one full day to explore Tokyo both coming and going. I did some pre-planning in order to cut down the learning curve and get the most out of each day (see below). My efforts are richly rewarded.

My flight from J. F. Kennedy International on ANA (Air Nippon Airlines) brings back fond memories of the good ol’ days of flying – so gracious, hospitable and immediately put me into the atmosphere of Asia. Just moments after taking off, I feel I am already at my destination, or at least, already starting my trip.

I am in economy class mind you, the service, the food, the personal entertainment systems (I see five movies each way), make the 14-hours, even cramped in a seat, fly by as pleasantly as a 14-hour flight could possibly be.

Even in economy class, we are served two full meals (even wine and beer provided at no charge), plus a snack, and frequent service of drinks – juice, water, green tea and coffee. Before the meal, the flight attendant came by with a hot towel. They make dining an event – with actual silverware. There is even a menu so you can choose a meat or seafood entrée, with a meal that combined Western and Asian treats. There is free wine or beer. For dessert, small containers of Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

You should see Club ANA (Business Class)! Chairs open up to full-length loungers, a down quilt, and First Class is like having your own little studio apartment in the sky – a separated seat opens to a bed and there is a big-screen monitor on its own little desk.

We land at 3:35 in afternoon, local time (11 hours different from New York and across the dateline). First the immigration desk – not at all intimidating. You don’t need a visa to enter Japan for such a short stay; they take your picture and finger print you.

Next stop – picking up baggage and going through Customs. This too is as efficient and as stress-free as can be – they even provide baggage carts for free, making it easy to get around.

Once I clear Customs and Immigration, I go directly to the Friendly Airport-Limousine Bus desk, centrally located as you exit Customs. I am amazed by how efficient this service is. They give me a ticket for a bus that leaves within10 minutes, and I wheel my luggage cart outside to the curb, find the station, and queue up with the other passengers. The ticket costs 3000 yen ($30), with stops at many major hotels (I had checked online at the hotels that I would stay at, the Conrad Hilton and the Tokyo Hilton, and found that both were direct stops). Otherwise, you can take the bus to the downtown Tokyo Airport Central Station where you can get a taxi or take the subway. (You can also get downtown from Narita Airport by train – in any case, mass transit is definitely the way to go.)

Luggage handlers check your luggage; another collects the cart, and as the bus pulls away, the handlers both bow. This, along with the prohibition in the bus against using cell phones because it is inconsiderate of other people, is your first lesson about Japanese culture: politeness still is highly valued.

The secret to conquering Tokyo is to master the subway system. It's also a great way to experience local life: here three ladies dressed in kimonos on their way to graduation (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The next thing you realize is that people drive and walk on the left instead of right, like the British; everything is in kilometers and centigrade; and (significantly) road signs offer English language and numerals.

Downtown Tokyo is about 35 to 40 miles from Narita Airport and the trip can take anywhere from one to two hours, depending upon the time of day. For a new arrival, the comfortable bus (there are lavatories on board) is like a sightseeing trip, providing a pleasant orientation.

Just outside the city, we pass Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, with seven hotels (including the family-focused Hilton Tokyo Bay, an official Disneyland hotel) and a Giant Ferris Wheel. I am surprised at how close it is to the city (Disneyland is easily reached from downtown by the train).

And then we are in downtown Tokyo – modern, vibrant, bustling, tall skyscrapers of glass and steel, eight lane boulevards, colorful neon.

I am still getting my bearings after some 20 hours of traveling when I arrive at the Conrad Tokyo hotel. The lobby is actually located at the 28th floor of a commercial skyscraper and the view of Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge, which you can enjoy from the lounge, takes your breath away.

Mizuki Spa

Within minutes of my arrival, my stopover turns into a true Tokyo “vacation” as I experience one of the unparalleled luxuries of a stay at the Conrad Tokyo – a massage at its Mizuki Spa.

The Mizuki Spa is the largest of its kind in Tokyo and the only one featuring a genuine Hinoki bath – a tub made out of Hinoki cypress which has a rich grain, smooth texture and a subtle scent of cypress. (The Mizuki Spa signature treatment includes a deep soak in the Hinoki bath, a massage using bamboo sticks, and a traditional Japanese Tea ceremony.)

A massage is pleasurable almost by definition, but this takes the experience to another realm: this is in true Japanese style, with special niceties infused with Japanese tradition in the treatments, as well as the atmosphere. I am taken into a waiting room, where water and moon, two of nature’s powerful yet calming symbols, are integrated into the design. A fountain mimics the sound of rain. I sip tea as I choose the scent of the massage oil I prefer.

The magnificent Grand Kaminarimon Gate is one of the most popular attractions in Tokyo (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

I am taken into a darkened room where a bubble bath has already been drawn to a perfect temperature, and soak in pulsating water for 30 minutes, while looking out of a picture window at the lights of the city.

Then the masseuse comes in and works her magic for a full hour, though you lose all sense of time and even forget where you are, you are off somewhere…

It strikes me that Japan must be where massage began because it is so much in tune with the custom, the aesthetics and way of life – being in touch with nature, the elements, the self. (I’m close: like so much of Japan’s culture, massage was imported from China 2,000 years ago).

I am next ushered into a relaxation room with an interior garden, where I am served an orange tea. By now, I feel like my body is mush, and after lingering awhile, I summon the strength to totter back to my room.

Oasis of Calm

The Conrad Tokyo, the luxury brand of Hilton International, is an oasis of calm in a bustling metropolis. It isn’t just being so far above the street – it is the interior design that takes the very best of traditional Japanese art and style and blends it with modern sensibilities and amenities.

Nowhere is ancient and modern blended better than in Japanese design, and nowhere is this better presented than at the Conrad Tokyo.

The hotel, which opened in 2005 and won Conde Nast’s design award in 2006, masterfully incorporates modern and traditional Japanese design aspects – nature is woven into the décor with the use of neutral tones, natural materials like stone and wood and plantings, in the sumi-e brush paintings, and in the collection of distinctive contemporary Japanese art commissioned from 21 of Japan’s leading and artists. And if there is any validity to feng shui – the placement of furnishings to calm the spirit – this would provide the proof. You can’t help but feel calmed just by walking out from the elevator into the lobby.

The effect is to give you a wonderful sense of “place” – a rarity among international luxury hotels especially ones that cater to business travelers, which seem to strive instead, for a more universal, cosmopolitan ambiance.

The 290 guest rooms and suites are spacious – 48 sq. meters at least – and offer 37-inch plasma screen television, satellite channels, DVD players, video on demand, wired and wireless high-speed Internet, wireless phones, mini-bar, tea and coffee maker, iron and ironing board, electronic safe. There is every amenity of a luxury hotel including express pressing, same day and overnight laundry and valet, 24-hour room service, shoeshine, nightly turndown, pre-registration and express check out; and late check in and check out on request.

My room is in the delicate Japanese style, decorated with sumi-e cherry blossom painting, Japanese foliage patterned fabric, softly dimmed light radiating from traditional lantern style lamps, a picture window spanning almost the entire wall with a spectacular view overlooking Tokyo Bay. Also, there is every ergonomic creature comfort imaginable: a relaxation CD, slippers and plush robe, bedside buttons control lights, with an orange dot that stays on so you can find it in dark, a nightlight in the bathroom.

The design of the bathroom turns it into more than a utilitarian space. The bathroom is separated from the main room by a glass wall, covered (as you like) by a full-length wooden blind. This means you can soak in the tub and have a dazzling view of the cityscape. A circular mirror, rimmed by fluorescent light, is reminiscent of a Moon gate. The toilet, in a separate compartment, is a story in itself – a high-tech affair that combines the bidet, a seat that is warmed and a spray that you control. (It is important to note that there are Western-style public toilets throughout the city, many as high-tech and luxurious as this one.)

The Conrad Tokyo is like a resort which happens to be downtown: in addition to the world-class spa, it offers a 25-meter indoor lap pool with Sumi-e motif, a fitness area, gymnasium, sauna and steam rooms; three meeting rooms and two ballrooms; mother-of-pearl wedding chapel (the hotel is immensely popular for weddings).

Mastering the Subway

Volunteer guide Reiko Seyama tells the legend of the Meiji Jinju Shrine (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The next morning, I enjoy a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel before meeting up with a volunteer guide, Reiko Seyama.

This was arranged through the Japanese National Tourist Office in New York to help me prove my theory that you can turn an overnight into a true travel experience, even a city as big and busy as Tokyo. But anyone can join various walking tours of important tourist areas led by volunteer guides (www.tourism.metro.tokyo.jp). My interest in visiting the main attractions of Tokyo have been relayed to Ms. Seyama, and an itinerary has been pre-arranged.

Once we get outside, I am better able to appreciate the Conrad Tokyo’s location in the revitalized Shiodome district, outside the main hustle-bustle of the commercial area. Shiodome is a relatively new and lively area with modern subway and Monorail, connected by pedestrian skywalks – literally across the street from Hamarikyu Gardens, and near the Port of Tokyo that has become a popular place for restaurants and the Water Bus, which can take you to bayside spots along the Sumidagawa River (suijobus.co.jp). The Conrad Tokyo is also a short walk from the famous Ginza district.

The key to making your day in Tokyo productive is getting the hang of the subway system. When you get a first look at the subway map, though, even a New Yorker could be intimidated.

We walk over a series of overpasses and enter the Shinbashi Station for the Yamanote-Line to our first stop, the Meiji Jinju Shrine.

My guide, Reiko Seyama, begins my orientation at the automated ticket machine where we purchase a day-pass on the train. The full-day subway pass costs between $7 and $10, depending upon how much of the system you will use (worst case scenario: you will have to buy an extra ticket for $1.60, if you purchased the cheaper one and have to take a different train).

She points out how the lines have color and letter codes (G for Ginza) and each station has a number. Fortunately, there is English transliteration of the station names on the maps, which are plentiful. Each subway car has an electronic display that shows where you are going, and the announcements are in Japanese and English.

There are wall maps everywhere, with “You are here”. You realize that getting out of the station (the subways are an underground labyrinth) also requires some navigation as well – exits are coded with letters and numbers, so you can figure out which is the best exit to use for where you are going. If all that fails, just ask somebody – point to the place on the map you want to go to. I find that people are so helpful, even if they do not speak English.

Without the help of a guide like Ms. Seyama, you can easily find out (from the JNTO travel guide) what station is nearest to the attraction you want to visit, and then have the hotel concierge “map out” your train route for the day. Most importantly, know the hotel’s train station to return to.

A priest of the Meiji Jinju Shrine (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Traveling to a place so different from your own in language and writing – makes you step back and see your own culture differently. And taking mass transit, immediately immerses you in the society. You notice things – like the custom of lining up for the train, how quiet and how polite people are, how immaculately clean the subway cars are, the cloth-covered seat cushions.

Meiji Jinju Shrine

Our first stop is the Meiji Jinju Shrine, located in the Shibuya district, offering a stunning contrast of traditional with trendy.

Built in 1920 to honor the Emperor and Empress of the Meiji era, the Meiji Jinju Shrine, is set in a magnificent park of 100,000 evergreen trees. The stroll up the gravel paths is intended to give you time to compose your mind. We walk through a tall wooden gate – a barrier against evil spirits – to the sacred space inside.

Before the Meiji period, Japan was governed by feudal lords, Shogun, who kept Japan isolated from the rest of the world and from the 1600s, maintained a 200-year period of peace. But the country paid a price for isolation by lagging behind the West in development. That peaceful isolation was shattered in 1853 when U.S. Admiral Perry, with battleship armed with cannon, forced Japan open to the world. The government weakened and collapsed in 1868.

Emperor Meiji ruled from 1868. He was 16 years old when he came to the throne and until he died at the age of 61, made an effort to modernize Japan. During his lifetime, he established the basis of a modern Japan – its Constitution, education, transportation. The Empress established the Japanese Red Cross and worked for women’s education.

“When he died, the people wanted to commemorate his virtue, and built this shrine,” Ms. Seyama says.

It is the custom for Japanese to visit the Meiji Shrine in the first three days of the New Year – several million people visit throughout the year, but 3 million in just the first three days.

The original shrine was burned in an air raid in World War II and rebuilt in 1958. In that moment, I realize that just about everything in Tokyo that seems ancient is really a re-creation.

We walk under the biggest wooden Torii (gate) of Myojin style in Japan – 12 meters high, 1.2 meters diameter. It was rebuilt in 1975 with Hinoki wood (a Japanese tree) 1500 years old, from Mt. Tandai-San in Taiwan.

Nakamise, a market dating back from the Edo period, leading from the Kaminarei-mon Gate to the Hozomon Gate, lined with 90 store (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

We arrive at Meiji Jinju Shrine, where Ms. Seyama shows me how to do the ritual cleansing of hands and mouth.

She explains that Shinto, the indigenous religion, is based on worship of nature and ancestors – there are some 8 million deities – every element has its own deity – a tree, a mountain – with a guardian spirit to protect it. Buddhism came to Japan from China in the 6th century.

We see a family bringing their newborn baby to be blessed. Children are brought at age 3, 5 and 7, as well, she says.

It is said that Japanese celebrate birth at the Shinto temple; marriage at the church; and the funeral in the Buddhist temple. “We go to Shinto shrine on occasions of this life, the Buddhist temple on occasions of the after-life,” Ms. Seyama says. “Buddhism is about escaping the agonies of this life to reach enlightenment.”

A concession stand sells “wishes” you can purchase to post on a board – and I notice they are in many different languages, and a lot of people wishing to do well on their examinations.

We walk from the Shrine across the busy street to Takeshita Dori – a colorful narrow market filled with popular music, trendy shops and crammed with young people – through a warren of narrow streets to Omote-Sando, a boulevard lined with trees and swank stores like Bulgari and Ralph Lauren.

From here, we walk to the Omote-Sando Station to take the Ginza Line to Asakusa.

As it happens, it is graduation day, and all day long, we see young ladies in traditional kimono.

Taking the subway, you can quickly jump from neighborhood to neighborhood (several excellent tourist guides highlight the important attractions in each district).

Asakusa

We arrive at Asakusa, the central part of downtown and the old town of Tokyo, with charming narrow streets and markets. Here, you can easily imagine you have stepped back in time to ancient Edo. We walk through the magnificent Grand Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate), flanked by the gods of Thunder and Wind, which was rebuilt after a big fire in 1916. Through the gate, I find myself on Nakamise, a festive and colorful market that dates from the Edo period; 90 stall-style shops, where you can get everything from folding fans and souvenirs to local sweets, line the way to the Sensoji Temple.

A woman gets her fortune at the Sensoji Temple (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Sensoji Temple is the oldest in Tokyo. The legend is retold in pictures leading to the shrine: how in the year 628, two fishermen netted the image of the goddess of mercy; the master made a small temple to her. By the 9th century, it was well established as a popular place to come and worship.

We walk through the Hozomon Gate to the Temple, with a massive sandal on the side. The temple was bombed in an air raid in World War II, and the main hall was rebuilt in 1958. (I am getting the idea that 1958 was when Japan finally emerged from the war and was rebuilding.)

The temple is majestic and stunning and the setting is dramatic.

A group of school children are gathered around an enormous incense burner. It is believed that the smoke has healing power, so people stand around the burner, and use their hands to bring in the smoke to prevent illness.

Inside the main hall, you can purchase a fortune. “If it’s good luck, you can take it home; if it is bad luck, you can tie it to a line and get rid of the bad luck.” There are strands of lines with many discarded fortunes.

Just beside the temple is a five-story pagoda; the remains of Buddha are supposedly enshrined in the top.

We walk back through the Nakamise market, and come to a kimono store. Ms. Seyama explains that Japanese still wear kimono at important occasions – christening, festivals, and for “Coming of Age” day, when a girl turns 20 is “coming of age” day. (Another nearby shopping area is Kappabashi Dogugai Street, 800 meters long, and lined with 170 stores.)

It’s lunchtime. There are some lovely traditional restaurants within the market area, but we walk out across Kaminariman Street, we re-emerge to the modern city. Just across the street from Kaminarimon Gate, and next door to Starbucks, we come to Sushi-Sen. This proved a delightful sushi restaurant. We get the lunch “special” – a humongous sampler of an amazing array of sushi and other delights, miso soup (delectable), yellowtail, squid, a bowl with chopped fish and vegetables, a kind of seaweed, egg custard, salad and fruit and tea, all for 980 yen (less than $10). Chef Ito explains that at dinner, the same meal would cost $26 (in the U.S. it would be at least $50). The fish is so fresh – it is actually swimming in tanks before you eat it.

It was at this point that I realize that one of my concerns, the cost of travel in Japan, is unfounded. In fact, as I tally up my expenses, everything is on par, and even cheaper than New York.

We enter at the Otemon Gate, crossing a moat and through the immensely thick walls.

Admission is free to the gardens, but you are issued a plastic ticket that you need to return by the 4:30 p.m. closing (that’s how they know everyone has left).

Also in this area is the Asakusa Entertainment Hall where you can enjoy Rakugo (comic storytelling), Manzai (comic dialogue), Mandan (comic monologue), acrobatics, magic and mimic shows (I have no time this trip; keep in mind for a future visit); the Asakusa Hana-yashiki amusement park (the oldest in Japan, with a feel of old Asakusa and a roller coaster from 1953); and Asahi Breweries (a building that is shaped like a beer glass, with restaurants in side).

A view of Hozomon Gate from the Sensoji Temple, the oldest in Tokyo (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

We were originally going to return to the Conrad Tokyo from Asakusa by the water bus, which would have given me a chance to see the harbor area, but I was really anxious to see the Imperial Palace Gardens, so we take the subway again and are whisked to the Marunouchi district. [In retrospect, a better itinerary might have been to take the waterbus from the Conrad Tokyo to Asakusa, then the train to the Meiji Shrine, and then the train to the Imperial Palace.]

Imperial Palace Gardens

The Imperial Palace is located on the former site of Edo Castle. Built in 1603 and once the family residence of the Tokagawa Shogun, it is the present-day residence of Japan’s Imperial Family (though you would need to get pre-authorized permission to visit, like the White House).

In 1657, the Castle Tower burned down along with 60 percent of Edo City; 100,000 people died. “The Shogun didn’t rebuild the castle town because it was symbol of a turbulent age. Instead, the priority was to help victims and rebuild Edo City, so the tower was never rebuilt.”

Only one watchtower has survived the ages. You see the Doshin Bansho, a guard’s station, which gives you some idea of the architecture of the time. We stroll down Plum Slope – a section of magnificent plum trees, just blossoming, to a garden of trees, each representing each of Japan’s prefectures (like states) and lovely traditional gardens.

After we visit the gardens, my guide Ms. Reiko Seyama leaves, but has suggested a walking route back to the hotel from the Imperial Palace Gardens past the famous Nijubashi bridge – the Double Bridge – that is at the main gate of the Palace, itself, and very popular (for good reason) for photo shoots and through the Ginza.

Walking Tours

The Tokyo tourist office offers guided tours led by volunteers of important tourist areas. There are 10 different walking-tour routes, each two to three hours, such as the Asakusa Route, the “Route to Savor the Atmosphere of Edo”, Japanese Architecture and tour of the Diet Building. They depart at 12:50 p.m. from the Tokyo Tourist Information Center head office at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings, in Shinjuku. You cover the guide’s out-of-pocket expense (transportation and lunch). You need to register about three days in advance (www.tourism.metro.tokyo.jp).

The tourist office also offers wonderful self-guided walking tours of each district, with detailed descriptions of which subway station, how long the walk is to the next site, and describing the attractions, which make it easy to follow.

I walk through the Ginza district, stylish, sophisticated with a “retro-modern” atmosphere, stopping at the Kabuki-za, located in Ginza, where Japan’s classic theater form, Kabuki is staged. I gather information about schedules and purchasing a ticket, for when I return and my next full day in Tokyo.

I am a believer that it is only while walking that you get a real feel for the place – the context, the scale, the rhythm, the people. There are little things that catch eye, like the New York-style Bagel Shop.

People are so gracious, polite and friendly. I don’t hesitate to ask people directions when I get a little disoriented – even people who do not speak English are so patient in trying to guide me.

Nearby Attractions

School kids getting the benefit of the healing powers of the smoke, at the Sensoji Temple (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The Conrad Tokyo, which is at the very bottom of Ginza, is also a short distance from the famous Tsukiji outdoor fish market (like Fulton fish market), the largest wholesale market in the world. It is recommended to get there between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m., (15 minute walk from Conrad Tokyo).

Just across the road from the Conrad Tokyo, the Hamarikyu Gardens was the Royal Hunting Grounds and residence of the Tokugawa Shogun, leader of Samurai Warriors during the Edo Period. It is famous for the Shioiri-no-Ike pond, designed to change with the ebb and flow of the tides and two duck ponds, and the only tidewater ponds still remaining in Tokyo. It offers a sanctuary of traditional Japanese landscaping with a historic teahouse that still serves green tea.

Shiodome has a number of notable attractions – the Tokyo Tower, built in 1958, rises like the Eiffel Tower, 333 meters high, affording views from two observatories. It provides a backdrop to the Zojoji Temple, founded in 1393, which served as the family temple of the Tokugawa shogunate. Taken together, they are the metaphor for Tokyo’s duality of ancient and modern.

Also in the vicinity is the Sumo Museum, a collection of materials related to the history of sumo, including woodblock prints and banzuke (official listings of rank) and ceremonial aprons worn by the great rikishi of the past, and a research center. Also, Sake Plaza, exhibiting 1,000 kinds of sake with five available for tasting.

I put these attractions on my list for a future visit.

Gordon Ramsay Restaurant

Back from my touring about the city, I enjoy one of the Conrad Tokyo’s celebrated restaurants: the Gordon Ramsay (the first Gordon Ramsay restaurant in Asia), which offers a modern French menu, in that famous purple-themed interior, with spectacular views of the city. The atmosphere is sophisticated, cosmopolitan, the service impeccable.

But this isn’t French – not classic or nouveau – that you have ever experienced before. The ingredients are fresher, each flavor distinct, the preparations lighter, purer, less about gravies and thickenings, and altogether more pleasing.

Sjomya Maeda, Gordon Ramsay Chef de Cuisine, has returned to Japan after 10 years outside the country, including three years in London at a Japanese restaurant and two years at New York’s Aquavit.

The famous Nijubashi (Double Bridge) at the entrance to the Imperial Palace (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

“The food concept is from Gordon, the presentation is different – more interesting,” he says. Because of the interest in using the freshest ingredients, that means that some offerings are tweaked or twisted. “It is French to English to Japanese.” Whatever – it is a delight to the palate.

The meal is sensational. For appetizers: pressed Landes foie gras, sauternes and verveine jelly, fig sauce and toasted brioche; Lobster tortellini poached in a light bisque shellfish reduction; herb and prawn risotto, with aged parmesan and lobster glaze. The entrees of roasted breast of duck with braised red cabbage, wild mushroom ravioli, duck and thyme jus and roasted rump of lamb with tomatoes, ratatouille, pommes boulangere and natural jus. The signature dessert is the caramelized apple tart tatin, served with vanilla ice cream. It is beyond words.

The Conrad Tokyo offers a selection of celebrated restaurants: China Blue offers innovative Cantonese cuisine created by Chef Albert Tse, which was awarded a star in the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2008; Kazahana for Japanese cuisine; casual dining at Cerise by Gordon Ramsay; and drinks and entertainment in a lovely TwentyEight Bar & Lounge, where there is live entertainment nightly from 8:30 p.m.

The Conrad Tokyo is one of the Conrad Hotels & Resorts, the contemporary luxury brand of the Hilton Family of Hotels, with 17 award-winning properties in the US Ireland, Belgium, Egypt, Turkey, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and Uruguay as well as Japan. Another seven projects are underway in South America, the Bahamas, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, the Maldives and China (www.ConradHotels.com).

The Conrad Tokyo is located at 1-9-1, Higashi-Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-7337,www.ConradHotels.com.

The night scene of Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge from the 32nd-story room at the Conrad Tokyo. Staying one extra night, you can have the full experience of Tokyo (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The following morning, at 6:30 a.m., I breeze through the Conrad Tokyo’s express checkout and am on my way by cab for the Tokyo Central Air Terminal to link up with the Friendly Airport Limousine Bus (when I checked in to the Conrad Hilton, I found that the earliest bus was at 7:15 a.m., and that would cut too close) to Narita Airport for my 10 a.m. ANA flight to Hangzhou, China. It is hard to believe that I have only had one full day in Tokyo.

Preplanning: Checking with the Japan National Tourist Office site, I learned there were no visa or vaccination requirements to enter Japan. Checking with my cell phone carrier, I found out that I couldn’t adapt it for use in either Japan or China; my best bet was to purchase a calling card at the destination (for the cheapest calling rates to the U.S.), or to take advantage of hotel business centers or Internet cafes. As for local currency, the best bet is to stop off at the ATM at Narita Airport and use your debit card (the fee is about $2); I found you don’t need much local currency, because credit cards work in most instances. The hotel sites provide travel directions (I learned I could take an airport bus or a train rather than a cab), local maps, and even lists of nearby attractions.

The Japan National Tourist Office is located at 1 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 1250 New York, NY 10020, tel. 212-757-5640, visitjapan@jntonyc.org. Its website, www.japantravelinfo.com, offers tools to plan your Tokyo tour, or visit to Kyoto or any other Japanese city. Information on visiting Tokyo is available atwww.tourism.metro.tokyo.jp.

See Also: Day Two-Spanning All the Days of Tokyo’s History

Wednesday, 28 May, 2008

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© 2008 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit us online at www.travelwritersmagazine.com and at www.familytravelnetwork.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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