For a long time, one of my dreams has been to see the musical "Elisabeth in Japan. One of my favorite musicals, "Elisabeth" has never been performed in an English speaking country, although it has been performed in various countries in Europe as well as in Japan. After premiering in Vienna in 1992, Elisabeth was first performed in Japan in 1996 by Takarazuka, which is an all female troupe that performs musicals as well as original works; the show still remains in their repertory and it is revived periodically. It's also been presented by the Toho company, one of 2 major producers of large scale musicals in Japan. Since I know a little Japanese (and virtually none of the other languages in which it's been performed) and since I have always been a huge theatre geek, it's only natural that I would want to see it performed in Japanese. Both versions have produced a number of CD's, many of which I own and listen to with regularity.
I was more interested in seeing the Toho production, especially because I thought it would be easier to get tickets to this version. (the fact that the male roles are played by men also didn't hurt) While surfing the web in early 2005, I saw that Toho would be presenting Elisabeth in Tokyo in September. At the time, I was still trying to figure out what to do with my vacation time and I hadn't come up with an inspiring idea. I'd already been planning to make another trip to Japan in 2006 or 2007, preferably after Tower of Terror opened in Tokyo Disneysea. But all of a sudden, I was starting to think about accelerating my plans.
I was a bit hesitant to commit to the idea because there wasn't that much new at Tokyo Disney since my last trip in 2002. More importantly, airfare for September was running much higher than I wanted to pay. However, I had come up with target dates and I periodically would plug them into websites to check on airfares. In March I happened to find an airfare which was significantly lower than what I'd been seeing. After making a rough plan to be sure I'd chosen a workable number of days, I booked the airfare and a trip was born.
During each of my previous 2 trips to Japan, I had felt that it worked best to spend half of my time in Tokyo and the other half exploring cities that were new to me. Since the next city that most interested me was Nagasaki, I targeted the Kyushu region for this trip. After researching my options, I determined that the best plan for transportation within Japan would be to fly down to the Kyushu region, use a Kyushu regional railpass for travel there, and then to fly back to Tokyo. The railpass price wasn't a significant savings over buying single tickets, but I figured it would be worth it for convenience. Flying within Japan was not very expensive thanks to the special Welcome Japan fare offered by ANA airlines to foreign travelers.
Since I am a big enough Disney fan to devote a website to my trips, visiting Tokyo Disney would obviously be a priority. After going through many iterations of Tokyo plans, I ended up deciding to stay at the nearby Sheraton Tokyo Bay for 3 nights at the start of my trip, and then at a hotel near Tokyo station for my last 2 nights. I'd given some thought to staying at Disney's Ambassador Hotel, since I love checking out Disney hotels and I'd never been there. But in the end, I decided that it would end up adding too much to my already high budget for accommodations; the Sheraton seemed to be a much better value per Yen spent. As far as the theme parks, I figured I'd focus my attention on them during the initial part of my trip, and then I'd return for a full day at the end so that I could experience the Halloween celebration that started on Sept. 12. Since I'd be arriving on the 4th anniversary of Tokyo Disney Sea, I planned to head straight for that park upon arrival so I could receive one of the medallions that they were giving away to all guests who visited on that day. I'd be arriving late in the day, but I figured a 3 day passport would be my best option.
And what about the musical Elisabeth which was the main catalyst for the trip? Tickets didn't go on sale until early July; by that time I was able to find people in Japan who would order tickets for me for a small fee and I was very excited. However, it sold out before they could get through. Who would think that a musical about an Austrian empress would be so popular in Japan? I was heartbroken when I couldn't get a ticket, but I still thought that if it was meant to be, something would work out. About a week before my trip, I received an email from the people in Japan saying that they had located a ticket, but I needed to I reply right away. The seat was in the 8th row of the mezzanine, which was not a great seat, but at least it would get me into the theatre. Needless to say, I emailed and told them to go ahead with the purchase!
By the time I left, I had tickets to 2 musicals in Tokyo: Elisabeth during the early part of my vacation and Aspects of Love toward the end. I also had a ticket to see Disney's Beauty and the Beast in Fukuoka. For those who may not know me, it is typical for me to see as many shows as I can reasonably fit in when I travel.
I didn't keep a journal during the trip, although I jotted down some notes on the plane home. I have relied on memory when writing this report, and I apologize for any inaccuracies.
Because my flight to Chicago's O'Hare airport was scheduled to depart at 8am Saturday September 3, I had to wake up insanely early. For the first time, I was using a shuttle van service and they'd scheduled a 5am pickup. They were slightly late, but I arrived at the airport in plenty of time.
The flights to Chicago and Japan were mainly uneventful, and I tried to take advantage of the time to catch as much sleep as possible (with the aid of an over the counter sleeping pill that I only use on intercontinental flights). Probably the most interesting occurrence was that I kept waking up when the flight attendants were already a few rows behind me serving food; fortunately, they were great at coming back for me if I turned around and just looked at them. Also, our plane had individual seatback video displays which was pretty neat; I kept mine tuned to the station that showed the flight stats and progress maps. The display alternated between English and Japanese, and reading the names of US cities in Japanese was a great way to practice my Katakana reading skills.
After arriving in Japan about a half hour after our scheduled 2pm arrival time, immigration did not seem to take as long as it had on my previous trip, and I was soon reunited with my purple luggage. I had no problem finding an ATM and withdrawing a decent amount of Japanese currency. I was then faced with a decision on how to get to the Tokyo Disney Resort: there are supposed to be direct buses, but I decided to take the Narita Express train to Tokyo Station and then to transfer to the Keiyo subway line for Maihama. I was familiar with the train route from previous trips, and I experienced a bit of déjà vu when making a reservation on the next train. I was quickly on my way to downtown Tokyo.
After a slight mishap last trip, I was confident that I would have no problems switching to the Keiyo line now that I knew I wouldn't have to buy a new ticket. Unfortunately, I still ended up making a little mistake; this time, I didn't pay enough attention to the electronic boards before going down to the tracks, and I ended up waiting on one track while local trains on another track were coming and going frequently. After about 15 minutes, I realized what was going on and I switched to the other track. I swear, next time I will get this transfer thing done perfectly!
I wasn't sure if I'd need to pay more money when I exited the subway at Maihama, so I inserted my Narita Express ticket into the fare adjustment machine. It immediately spit out a small ticket, so I guess I didn't need to pay any more money. Exiting the JR station, I felt at home and like my vacation had truly begun.
At many points during my trip, I was glad I'd done a good amount of advance research. It was only a few days before I departed that I realized I could go to the 1st floor of the Tokyo Disney Welcome Center to drop off my luggage and thereby streamline the process of getting myself to the parks. Except for a few communications problems (when the guy said "card check", I thought he wanted something from me but it turned out he meant "We will only run an authorization right now, and you can pay at check out"), everything went smoothly. In fact, I was informed that I would be upgraded to the 11th floor! I hoped I'd have the Disney Park view I'd requested, but I didn't want to ask in case the guy checking me in didn't understand. I thought I'd only be able to drop off my luggage, but it turns out that I was able to complete my check in, receive my monorail passes and room key, and also purchase a 3 day Tokyo Disneyland passport.
After taking my purse out from my heavy backpack and filling it with a few essentials, I was off to the parks! It was about 5:30pm and I felt pretty good; I have a history of getting sick when on vacation so I was trying to make a point of pacing myself this time and not pushing myself too hard. Because Sept. 4 happened to be the 4th anniversary of Tokyo Disney Sea, that was where I headed. Just like promised online, I was presented with a commemorative medallion after crossing through the turnstiles. Free Disney stuff? Always a good thing!
Since I didn't know how I'd be feeling, I hadn't really decided on a game plan for approaching the park. If anything, I'd just decided that I wanted to just enjoy the atmosphere and the freedom of my nascent vacation. I was drawn to Journey to the Center of the Earth, which is only natural since it's located in a large volcano at the center of the park; however, the wait time seemed a little long to me so I continued to wander. Indy also had a longer wait than I desired, and at about 6pm I grabbed a FastPass.
Since my last trip in 2002, the only new ride in the park was the small roller coaster Raging Spirits. Despite the fact that it wasn't receiving raves, I was curious to ride it so I headed in that direction. But, wait, it had 80 minute wait posted... No problem- there was a single rider line that reportedly never has more than a 10-15 minute wait. So I figured I could just zip right through and then maybe grab something to eat. Good plan, huh? In theory, yes. There were only about 20 people in front of me. But the line... did. not. move. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration but the movement was extremely slow, and it was especially painful considering I was all pumped up for some Disney action. It seemed like everyone that night came to the park in groups of 2, or possibly 4, so that really didn't leave them needing many single riders when cars sat 2 across. Epcot's Test Track single rider line makes more sense since those cars sit 3 across. In any event, it was at least 45 long minutes before I rode. It was fun, but not really worth that long a wait.
The rest of the night is a bit of a blur. I wandered around a lot checking menus before finally settling on eating salmon and chocolate cake at the Horizon Bay, which is a cafeteria style restaurant. My memory is a little rusty, but I think I recall a CM carrying my tray to a table for me. I ate during the approximate time when BraviSEAmo! was taking place. (approximately 8pm) I wish I'd had a chance to see the show, but reviews weren't that great and I really needed to eat a meal. Speaking of food... I had to get a souvenir container filled with Cappuccino Popcorn before I left the park! It was just as tasty as I'd remembered. Yum!
As far as attractions, I eventually rode JTTCOTE with a moderate wait. Aquatopia was a walk on, so I rode that either before or after dinner. I believe I also made stops at Indiana Jones as well as Sindbad. (I never used my Indy FastPass; I think the standby wait was practically non-existent by the time I returned) In thus doing, I was able to cover all of my "must see" attractions and I figured I could focus on the shows when I returned to the park on Tuesday.
I'd planned to stay at the park until they kicked me out at the 10pm closing time, but I was ready to leave at about 9:30. I took the Monorail to Bayside Station and then chose the lazy option of taking a Resort Cruiser (bus) across the street to the Sheraton. It's close enough to walk, but the bus runs so frequently that I usually chose that option in order to save my energy. Besides, it's cute Disney fun to hear Mickey's voice as you pull away.
I already had my room key, so I just headed directly to the 11th floor. I felt that the hotel's glass elevator was a nice touch. When I got to my room, I immediately noticed that my luggage had already been delivered. I'd expected that I'd need to call the front desk, so that was a nice surprise. The first thing I did was to open the curtains and head out on my balcony to check out the view- I was thrilled that I had indeed been assigned to a room with a Disney Park view, and that I could see both parks. It was a nicer view than the one I'd had from the Hilton in 2002.
Unlike my last trip, I still wasn't dead tired so I took a shower. I'd been expecting an envelope with tickets to 2 of the shows I was scheduled to see, but I hadn't received it so I called guest services. I was a little surprised that they didn't seem to understand me very well when I spoke in English, so I tried asking in Japanese if anyone had sent me a letter. At least I hope that is what I asked- I used a verb from memory that may or may not have meant "to send". In any event, there was no indication that there was any letter waiting for me. Since I didn't want to just sit back and wait until it was too late, I called home and asked my mom to email the people I had been dealing with. I didn't know if the hotel had lost it or if they just hadn't yet sent it.
Since I had a full day available to spend at Tokyo Disneyland the next day, I didn't bother setting my alarm. I fell asleep quite quickly- I think I used ear plugs to block out the noise from the next room. Not long after I'd drifted off, I felt like I was in a fog as I heard a distant ringing sound. It took me at least a minute to realize that I was being awakened by the telephone... and then to determine where in the room the phone was located, and to fumble around for the receiver. By that time, of course, whoever called me had hung up. I stayed awake for a little bit in anticipation of the message waiting indicator starting to blink, but it never did.
Even without an alarm, I woke up bright and early. I'm probably very fortunate to be able to adapt to time changes without too many problems; I'm sure it has something to do with the crazy hours I keep at home. On my way out of my hotel room, I saw that there was an envelope slipped under my door. It seems that the ticket people had faxed me after their unsuccessful attempt to phone me the night before. They'd received my mom's email and they wanted to assure me that the tickets would be delivered on Sept 5. I was glad I'd had her email them, because it would have been difficult if it had turned out that the hotel had misplaced the tickets and I hadn't asked when there was still time.
I arrived at the park at around 8:45, about 15 minutes before it opening. There was a moderate crowd, but really not anything bad at all. I hadn't decided on much in the way of a plan, but I intended to stay until the park closed. Because I wanted to see both parades as well as the shows "One Man's Dream II" and "Minnie Oh! Minnie", my first stop upon entering the park was Guest Services to obtain an English language map and entertainment schedule. There were none sitting out, but a CM promptly brought one to me with a smile.
I didn't take any notes and I have had some troubles reconstructing the chronology of the day, so I am going to choose a thematic approach to describing the day.
At 11am, I caught the first performance of the day of "One Man's Dream II - The Magic Lives On" which is a musical stage show performed in Tomorrowland. As is typical for TDR entertainment, this was a high quality production; it is probably my favorite character production out of the ones I have seen in the Tokyo parks. I particularly liked the opening, which starts with a black and white version of Mickey and Minnie in front of a black and white background. Before long, Mickey presents Minnie with a floral bouquet and the scene blooms into vibrant colors. In addition to the theatricality of the transformation, the opening black and white tableau was a great visual reminder of the history of the Disney legacy.
"Minnie Oh! Minnie" had its first performance scheduled for 12pm, so I headed to Adventureland's Orleans theatre and took an aisle seat. Unfortunately, just minutes before the performance was supposed to begin, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker which obviously seemed to be saying that the show was being cancelled due to weather. It had started to rain, and the entire audience area is out on in the open. Almost the same thing had happened to me on my 2002 trip to TDL, and it made me wonder why they would have built an open air theatre given the Tokyo climate. After all, they took the trouble to make sure that World Bazaar (aka Main St.) was built under cover.
The afternoon parade was also a bust, since it was raining even harder by the time it was supposed to begin. However, when I was in line for an attraction, I heard the song "Singin in the Rain" and looked up to see a passing float which contained Disney characters dressed in rain gear. This rainy day parade in no way made up for the regular parade, but it was still a charming little touch. (And again, another way in which TDL took their frequently rainy weather into account)
Attendance was really light so I didn't have any major waits and I didn't even bother with FastPass.
I made it a point to ride Splash Mountain early because that is one of my favorite Disney attractions ever- a traditional dark ride with lovable characters, fun music, a dash of thrill to make it even more fun. I'm a little nostalgic for the Tokyo version of this ride, since that was the first version of Splash Mountain that I'd ever ridden. As I rode in my log, I noticed that all of the animatronic figures and decorations on the ride looked like they were in excellent shape. However, I was a little sad to make this observation. Why would that make me anything but happy? Well, because it underscored the fact that I've ridden the WDW version at times when it didn't seem as well maintained, and when certain effects had been down (particularly the part where Brer Rabbit hops alongside your log). In Disney parks, attractions should always be in as good shape as TDL's Splash Mountain so that you can take it for granted when they are running smoothly. Since the ride is one of my favorites, I returned again later in the day; by then it was raining, but I figured that I was already wet and so a little more water wouldn't hurt me.
During the afternoon rain, I hit all the indoor Fantasyland attractions including Mickey Mouse Revue, Snow White, Pinocchio, Peter Pan and It's a Small World. They all had very short lines, which wasn't necessarily a good thing; I was beginning to think of the queue areas as havens away from the rain.
I discovered that riding Big Thunder Mountain in the rain was an interesting experience; the rain was hitting me so much that I couldn't pay enough attention to the ride.
A new addition since my last trip to the park, Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters is a Toy Story themed interactive ride in which you shoot at targets. Whenever you hit one, can see your score go up on the display console in your car. It seemed to be an improvement on the WDW version since the targets clearly indicated when they had been hit. I don't recall that happening in WDW; it seemed that I'd see my score go up but I wouldn't really be sure which targets I'd hit.
Other attractions that I visited that day include Pirates of the Caribbean, Winnie The Pooh (I think twice- I was definitely glad to see it again!) and Space Mountain.
I remembered that there was a waffle shop in World Bazaar, so I went there for my first meal of the day and ordered a Mickey waffle with chocolate sauce and an Orange juice. Very cute and yummy!
Wanting to spend some time out of the rain, I ate lunch at Restaurant Hokusai, a sit down Japanese restaurant on the 2nd floor of a building in World Bazaar. I've dined there on each of my trips to TDL. This time, I decided to be a little adventurous by ordering the seasonal special meal set even though I wasn't sure I liked all of the ingredients. It was a great choice; I particularly enjoyed the rice with pumpkin seeds in it. The green tea cake was unusual to my Western sensibilities but it was quite good. It was relaxing to spend time inside eating a somewhat leisurely lunch.
I didn't do much in the way of snacks. At one point, I bought a bottle of something that seemed like cold green tea; it was refreshing and it was also something I couldn't see every day in the US. While glancing through the Japanese version of the park guide, I noticed that it listed the various flavors of popcorn that were available in the parks and where they were sold; this information was not in the English version. All of the flavors were written in Katakana so I was able to read them. I was intrigued that one of the offerings was supposed to be cream soda flavored, and so I sought out the location where it was sold and bought a Buzz Lightyear souvenir bucket of it. It was an interesting taste- very sweet. I enjoyed it, although not as much as the Cappuccino popcorn at TDS.
Late in the afternoon, perhaps around 5-6pm, I started to get very sick of being rained on. I'd already purchased a 500 Yen clear poncho that had helped keep me a little more dry, but I was still feeling a tad miserable. All of the rides were virtually walk ons, which theoretically should have been thrilling to my Disney attraction loving heart. Instead, the emptiness and gray skies seemed to be draining the energy from the park. Typically, I love just strolling around Disney parks and absorbing the atmosphere; I missed that extra spark of magic. Running from ride to ride by yourself gets a little old after awhile, and it didn't seem like the rain was letting up. Although I had enjoyed my day, it just felt like it was the right time to leave.
I figured this would be a great opportunity to check out Ikspiari, a shopping and dining complex that is located between TDL and TDS. I hadn't been able to fit it in to my previous trip. So I took the monorail to Resort Gateway station and headed over there. I knew that there was a Lush cosmetics store within Ikspiari, so my first mission was to find it since I am a huge fan of their products and they don't have many stores even in the US. Although I couldn't read the names of some items since they were written in Kanji, it didn't seem like they had too many things that weren't available in the US. The one thing I noticed was a "World Peace" bath bomb which has been discontinued in the US. Since it was still so early in my trip and since none of the products excited me, I was reluctant to buy anything.
I couldn't resist going into The Gap store at Ikspiari, just to see how it compared to the US stores. They seemed to have some clothes that were the same as the US and others that were different. The biggest change I noticed is that the sizes started one size below the US- the smallest sizes were 00 and XXS as opposed to 0 and XS. I am not sure if the sizing is consistent between countries since I didn't actually try anything on.
Another stop of note within Ikspiari was the supermarket in the basement. I'd heard that Japan had Green Tea Kit Kat candy bars, but I was never able to find them so I guess they were seasonal. Among other things, I bought a Café Latte Kit Kat that proved to be delicious.
After I'd browsed enough at Ikspiari, I returned to the Sheraton. I hadn't really had a chance to explore the hotel, so I walked around a little and ended up buying a couple of things in the bakery.
The rain had let up earlier and I could have returned to the park, but I really felt at peace with the fact that my day there was done. It was also the first chance I really had to just relax since I'd arrived in Japan. While taking it easy in my hotel room, I heard a loud noise and immediately recognized it as the sound of fireworks. I really appreciated having a balcony so that I could stand outside and enjoy the show. Even without hearing any music, it was a magical moment and a really special ending to my first full day in Japan.
Once again, I easily woke up early and I was able to arrive at the park of my choice at around 8:45. This time it was TDS. Since it was already raining, I was lucky to have wandered into a line that was undercover. I knew I had to leave the park early in order to go into Tokyo to see the musical "Elisabeth" and my main goal was to see the Dramatic Disney Sea events.
Again, I will take a thematic approach to describing the day.
The first thing I tried to see was the 9:45 performance Minnie's Wishing Ring. By the time it was scheduled to start, the rain had let up. Apparently, it was too late. A boat arrived carrying characters dressed in rain gear, but even though I couldn't understand the Japanese, I knew it didn't match up with the description of the event was. The characters stayed in the boat and waved, and then after a couple minutes the boat circled and left.
I had better luck with the next show I wanted to see, Mystic Rhythms, which had been a favorite on my 2002 trip. Of course, this show is indoors so rain would never be a factor anyway. I still adore this show, especially the way the acrobatic performers interact with the water onstage. For those who have not seen this show, there is a section where performers who are suspended on wires seem to fly through the air, dip their bodies into a pool of water onstage, and then fly up with water gracefully dripping down from them. Words probably are inadequate to describe the effect, but the show provides many great visual moments and not understanding Japanese was not a barrier to enjoying the performance.
I got into a little trouble during Mystic Rhythms because I figured that I could take a photo with my digital camera as long as I didn't use flash. It was probably the brightness of my viewfinder that was problematic. In any event, the CM was very polite in pointing this out to me, and I put my camera into my backpack for the remainder of the show.
Since I had to leave the park early, the 12pm performance of Wishes was the only one I would be able to make. The rain had stopped by the time I eagerly made my way to the performance area. So I was very disappointed to see that the show was canceled. Yet again, I wondered why they couldn't build undercover arenas to house all of the shows at the Tokyo parks.
I had a very early lunch at Café Portofino, which is a cafeteria style restaurant on Mediterranean harbor. I hadn't eaten breakfast, and I had no qualms about eating Spaghetti Bolognese even though it was before noon. I also ordered a glass of Blood Orange juice- I was a little surprised when I saw that the beverage was red. But, man, did it taste good! I immediately decided I would order it if I ever saw it on a menu again.
For a snack, I couldn't resist the Gelati stand. I ended up getting a cone with a double scoop of Tiramisu and Chocolate. At some point, I purchased a bottled water from a vendor.
I think I only rode 3 attractions, all of which I'd already ridden on Sunday. When I was just about at the front of the line in my first attempt to ride Journey to the Center of the Earth, the ride broke down and everyone had to be evacuated. A nice touch is that, on the way out, the CM's gave everyone a front of the line pass that was good for any ride in the park except Raging Spirits. It wasn't necessary for me to use it due to the low crowd levels, but I still appreciated the gesture. I don't recall receiving anything of the kind when I was evacuated from the TDL Space Mountain line under similar circumstances in 1993, but it's possible I forgot.
Journey was back up and running when I passed by a little later but since was no line, I didn't need to use my pass. There also wasn't any notable line at Indiana Jones, so I figured the front of the line pass would make a fun souvenir. (I didn't go on 20,000 Leagues because I'd felt really claustrophobic on it last trip and I hadn't enjoyed the ride enough that I felt another trip was warranted; in any case, it had no wait when I passed by)
When I went to Raging Spirits, I decided to wait in the regular standby line this time since the single rider line had been so slow on Sunday. This may have been a bad choice since the single rider line was completely empty. In any case, I didn't have that long of a wait although it still seemed like the line moved very slowly.
After sitting down in the roller coaster car and pulling down the safety harness, a CM came by as usual to check that everyone had their harnesses down. Apparently, I had not pulled mine down enough so she lowered it further-right into my legs! I let out a short cry in pain and regretted the fact that I didn't know the Japanese for "Hey, that really hurts!" When I got off the ride, I could see faint red marks in my legs where the harness had dug into them- seriously, I am not joking! Fortunately, they faded quickly and never turned into black and blue bruises. Nonetheless, I was still disturbed that I could see any marks at all.
It was at that point that I decided it was time to leave the park. There wasn't anything else that I was dying to do, and once again the atmosphere seemed a little light on magic. Other than Raging Spirits, I hadn't had a bad time- but I hadn't had an extra special good one either. Plus, I figured it would be nice to shower and relax before my show that night. I must have left around 2pm.
On my way out of the park, I saw some kind of tiny procession featuring what I think is the Muse of Mediterranean Harbor. It was nothing formal, but it was kinda neat to see and at least I was able to leave the park on a brighter note than my Raging Spirits ride.
4. The Rest of the Day/ Elisabeth
Note: If you are only interested in the TDR parts of this report, you may want to skip to the first part of Day 4 and then to Day 12.
If you have no interest in the musical Elisabeth, you may want to just skim some parts of this section.
The weather was very humid during my entire trip, and I was always hot-which was surprising since I am usually cold at home. In any case, a refreshing midday shower before my show was very welcome. The weather had turned sunny while I was in my hotel room, and I thought I heard some faint strains of parade music at some point. It occurred to me that I could have gone to TDL to catch the afternoon parade since the 3rd day of my passport included park hopping privileges, but it made more sense to just shower and relax.
I headed out sometime around 4:30. On the train to Tokyo Station, I'd noticed an ad featuring women dressed in red who looked familiar to me- eventually, I recognized them as ice skaters Fumie Suguri, Shizuka Arakawa and Miki Ando. I don't remember what the ad was for but it was neat to see since I follow the sport of figure skating. I had no problems transferring trains at Tokyo station or finding the theatre; it helped that I'd printed a map of the area around the theatre that I'd found online.
I was planning to just hang out around the theatre, but while I was scouting out locations to take a photograph, I noticed that they were already opening the doors to the lobby. I was bursting with excitement to see the show so I decided to just go into the lobby and spend an hour waiting there for the 6:30 curtain time.
The first thing I did was to check out the souvenir kiosks. I was disappointed that the souvenirs emphasized the Austrian origins of the show; I would have certainly bought a T-shirt that said "Elisabeth" in Katakana if they'd sold one, but the only ones they had said "Elisabeth Das Musical" in Roman letters. Oh, well- it saved me some yen! Besides, I can understand that T-shirts with German on them probably appealed to the Japanese audience for the same reasons that I would have liked one in Japanese.
I was also extremely surprised at the number of European CD's of Elisabeth
that were available at the theatre. I've never seen a foreign language recording at a US theatre. They even had the Hungarian recording, which is rather obscure. Of course, since Elisabeth
is one of my favorite shows, I already owned all the recordings on display. They were also selling the 4 recent Japanese Les Mis
recordings that I wanted, but I didn't think they took credit cards so I figured I'd buy them at Tower Records later on in my trip. All I ended up buying were a souvenir brochure and some opera glasses.
I walked around and looked at other stands selling various types of food and snacks, as well as one that offered such Elisabeth
related items as a 2006 calendar. Eventually, I found myself drifting toward a TV that was displaying a loop of clips relating to other productions that apparently would be coming to that theatre. It was slightly surreal seeing an all Asian cast of Fiddler on the Roof
; I'm sure that if I saw an entire show, the ethnicity of the performers would not be an issue as long as their acting was good. But just seeing a short clip of a song like "L'Chaim", completely out of context, was a little jarring. (I forget the lyrics they used, but they most definitely did not sing the Hebrew word L'Chaim; I think I have a Japanese Fiddler CD somewhere so I will have to check it out sometime)
I couldn't help but be amazed at the overwhelming percentage of women that I saw. If I say that 90% of the audience was female, I think I am being conservative. I also noticed that there were quite a number of women that appeared to come by themselves. Since Elisabeth
starred Maki Ichiro, a performer who had started out with the Takarazuka theatre troupe, I bet it appealed to the loyal female fans of Takarazuka. Takarazuka is a very popular theatre company that performs their own works as well as classic musicals- they are unique because all of the performers are female. It is sort of a reverse version of Kabuki. They were the first company to perform Elisabeth in Japan, and they still revive it fairly often; they had even performed it earlier 2005. In any case, if the performance appealed to Takarazuka fans, that may explain why it had been so difficult to obtain a ticket. I wished they'd had an alternate Elisabeth who was not famous, just so it may have been easier to get tickets to the show itself when she was scheduled to perform. (the website posted the performance schedules of the leads well in advance of when the tickets went on sale) I really didn't care who I saw- I was most interested in seeing how it was staged.
I didn't have a great seat by any means. I was on the 2nd level, about 8 rows back on the side. But I had a clear view of the stage and my opera glasses were helpful for catching performers expressions. I'm usually a bit of a snob about sitting close to the stage, since I like to feel enveloped by the onstage energy. Still, I was ok with where I was sitting- it wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated.
Right before the show started, the ushers walked down the aisle to the front row of the mezzanine and bowed to the audience. They then seemed to repeat something in Japanese as they walked up the aisle. I assume that they were stating the usual instructions regarding things like no flash photography. It was nice that it was done with a personal touch, rather than just a PA announcement. Although I don't think this strategy would be as effective in the US since I am not sure a single person would be able to capture the collective attentions of an entire section of the audience; audiences in the US seem to be much more engaged in conversation until something actually happens onstage or the lights go completely out- even when entr'actes are playing, people are constantly chatting away.
It was very interesting to compare this version of Elisabeth
to the versions I had seen in the Netherlands and in Vienna; there were quite a number of changes. One of the things that I noticed throughout the evening was that the pacing seemed slower. The performance time of acts 1 and 2 combined (not counting intermissions) ran about 18 minutes longer than the Vienna production, even though there was only 1 additional song. The fast pacing of the European productions seemed to sustain a sense of excitement that was sometimes lacking in Japan.
There were quite a number of changes to the show that were very noticeable to me. Some of these were of minor consequence- such as Elisabeth shooting at something during her entrance before "Wie Du", or Young Rudolf studying amid piles of huge, oversized books instead of sitting on his bed during "Mama Wo Bist Du?" Some things were just slightly bizarre to me- such as the audience spontaneously clapping in unison along to "Kitch" which opens act 2. The actor playing Lucheni didn't in any way visually convey a message inviting people to clap. Apparently, the audience was familiar with the show and clapping along to that song must have developed into a tradition.
Some of the more dramatic changes related to Der Tod, the lead male character who personifies Death, and to Elmer, a Hungarian revolutionary character that I'd never even noticed in other versions of the show. Appearing as a more major character in Japan, Elmer is first seen when he tries to shoot at Elisabeth during her first visit to Hungary in act 1. He is also prominent in the café scene, which includes a section in which Der Tod is shown as joining as one of his allies. Yes, that's right- a character who represents Death just walks into a café and no one notices! This was probably the biggest problem with the production- although Der Tod sometimes has to interact with other characters other than Elisabeth, it should be in a way that depicts him as existing on a different plane than the world of the living. (I am thinking in particular when he is disguised as a Doctor in act 2; he speaks to someone but he never truly interacts or reveals his face to anyone besides Elisabeth) Anyway, Elmer continues to be featured throughout the show in a way that I can't remember him being in other productions. I mean, I didn't even know there was a character named Elmer in those productions.
In both European productions I'd seen, Elisabeth's entrance for the act 1 finale is staged to make it appear that she is literally stepping out of a famous portrait. The productions had very different stagings but this moment was handled similarly in both. When the lights come up on her in the middle of the scene after Franz Joseph has given into her ultimatum, she is revealed to be standing within a large picture frame maintaining the exact pose and costume of the portrait; then, after the image has sunk in, she walks out forward (and I think down some stairs) and begins to sing her portion of the song. It's a breathtaking moment. In the Japan production, Elisabeth still entered in the same costume. But the visual lost some of its impact since there was no picture frame surrounding her.
I don't want to sound completely negative because I enjoyed the show on an emotional level, and there was also much that I admired about the production. I particularly liked the opening scene of act 1. The Vienna production opens with an obviously fake Lucheni hanging in mid-air; this production opened with the actor Lucheni actually being suspended in mid air, as if he was hanged. Another effective staging choice was to have the Hapsburgs enter during the opening scene by literally coming out of coffins. At the very end of the opening, Elisabeth is also seen at in an open coffin that is positioned perpendicular to the stage as it is lowered; you can see her entire body in its white nightgown. Although that was interesting visually, it also presented a problem because the actress had to change costumes before the next scene (and she needs to be on stage right at the start of the scene) so they had to have a short blackout; this is just one example of how the pacing was slower than it could have been and how it didn't always sustain momentum.
The performers were very strong- I particularly liked the actor playing Rudolph, as well as the one playing Lucheni. I wasn't quite as impressed with Maki Ichiro as Elisabeth, but I've been fortunate to have seen some amazing actresses in the role- including the absolutely incredible Pia Douwes who originated the role in Vienna in 1992 and who I saw in the Netherlands in 2000. So she had some tough shoes to fill.
All in all, I feel very lucky I was able to see the production. While I may sound negative about certain staging choices, I have to say that it was fascinating to see such a different take on the show. I listen to my Japanese Elisabeth
CD's all the time, and so it was pretty amazing to finally see it performed live, especially since it was the first time I've ever seen the show performed in a language with which I have any familiarity. I'd been working on translating some of the songs in the libretto that came with my Japanese CD's but I'd stopped that effort when it looked like I couldn't get tickets. I wish I'd had time to make more progress translating, but at least it was something.
The audience seemed to really enjoy the show. One thing I noticed at every show I saw is that after the curtain goes down after the curtain calls, the audience will clap in unison as if asking for the actors to appear again. The curtain will be raised again several times, presumably due to the audience response though it is probably planned. Typically, one of the times it is raised, only the leads will appear.
5. After The Show
At about 9:30, when the show was over, I returned to the Sheraton for one last night. By the time I got back, the bakery in the hotel was already closed so I ended up ordering some room service pizza. I am sure that my request for a plain pizza seemed as odd to them as Japanese toppings seemed strange to me- I'm talking things like corn or seafood. Also, Japanese pizza seems to be served with Tabasco sauce on the side which seems peculiar to me. What is the world coming to when I can't even rely on pizza when I need comfort food? In any event, the plain pizza was delivered promptly and it was very satisfying.
I packed up most of my stuff, and wished I could have gone to sleep sooner since I had to get up very early the next morning. I thought I might have to leave plastic souvenir popcorn buckets behind because I didn't think they'd fit into my small suitcases, but here's a tip-they make excellent holders for toiletry items! I carry my toiletries within ziplock bags when I travel, and it was easy to put some of them inside the popcorn containers so that the buckets themselves really didn't take up much extra room.
I was astonished that I didn't have a major problem waking up at an insanely early hour of the morning. It's impossible for me to get myself up at home, but I think I sleep more lightly when I am not in my own bed.
Having seen news reports about a major Typhoon in the Kyushu area of Japan, I'd been concerned about whether my flight to Nagasaki would be affected. From what I gathered, flights had been canceled on Tuesday they were scheduled to be running as usual on Wednesday. I called the ANA toll free number after I got up, and I was relieved that my flight was still scheduled to depart on time.
If there was one thing I learned from this trip, it was never to take transportation options for granted. I'd booked an 8:25am flight from Tokyo to Nagasaki so that I could get to my destination as early as possible. When deciding to book my room at the Sheraton, I really didn't consider investigating specifics of how to get to Haneda airport. Having read that limousine buses operated between Haneda and TDR, I assumed I'd have no problem taking one. It wasn't until fairly late into my planning that I looked at a schedule and noticed that the first scheduled bus didn't even leave the Sheraton until around 8am. I'd held out a faint hope that the information I saw online was inaccurate, but the same information was displayed at the hotel.
So, the limousine bus was out... OK, time to move on to plan B. I could take a couple trains and then transfer in downtown Tokyo to a monorail that runs to Haneda airport. (not to be confused with the Tokyo Disney monorial) It wasn't as easy or convenient as a door-to-door bus, but it was certainly do-able. However, there was still a catch- the Tokyo Disney monorail didn't start operations until sometime after 6am, and JR Maihama station wasn't quite close enough to walk to from my hotel particularly with luggage when it is way to early to have any energy. The only possible solution was to take a taxi. Not surprisingly, there was no one at the checkout counter at 5:15am and it didn't take very long for the bell desk to get me a taxi.
Now, you have to realize that the distance between the Sheraton and the JR station can't be more than 2 miles; it may even be closer to 1 mile. I have always read that Japan is expensive, but this taxi ride was probably my first ever experience of total sticker shock; the ride, which couldn't have been more than 5 minutes, was a whopping 1460 Yen (about $13)! My mind boggled, but there hadn't been any other viable options. After my initial shock, I shrugged it off.
As I transferred from taxi to train to train to monorail, I kept telling myself that this would be the hardest day of the trip and everything would only get easier. Though a bit tiring, there were no major problems getting to the airport or getting to my plane. I grabbed something to eat that the airport- some type of fish wrapped in rice and seaweed.
Transportation continued to be the most interesting aspect of the day when I ended up receiving the "Stupid Gaijin Tourist" fare for traveling by bus from the airport to the mountain town of Unzen. (gaijin is the Japanese word for foreigner) But, hey, let me pose a couple of questions- if you got to the bus stop and saw a machine where you could purchase tickets, you would buy one for the price listed next to your destination, right? And if you asked someone if their bus went to your destination, and they told you to take it and transfer to a 2nd bus, you'd hop right on, wouldn't you?
Well it turns out that the bus system in Japan is set up so that you pay a fare when you exit based upon the zone where you boarded. When you first get on the bus, you take a ticket on which is printed a number corresponding to the current zone. As you are riding, you can see an ever-changing display in the front that shows each of the zones and what the current fare would be from each one. Never having taken a bus in Japan, I had no way to know that this was how the system worked. Even before I gave the driver my ticket on my way out, I was worried that I'd made a mistake. My ticket was was marked with a fare that was way too high for this particular bus. It was fortunate that a Japanese man on the bus had chosen to practice his English by talking to me, since he was able to help me understand what was going on in more detail. Eventually, the bus driver talked to someone in the station, and then came and gave me a receipt that I could use for my next bus. It turned out that adding the fares for the 2 buses separately would have been more than I'd originally paid. So I figure I got a bit of a break for being an ignorant gaijin tourist. I
At any rate, I waited inside a small waiting room in the town of Isahaya for my next bus, but it wasn't long before it arrived and the man in the bus station made sure that I didn't miss it. This bus was much less swanky than the first. Moreover, it was a local bus and every minute or 2 for the entire 1/1.5 hr ride I would hear a ding along with an announcement of the next stop. Since I couldn't sleep with such constant interruptions, I popped in a recording of "Phantom of the Opera" to try to block out the noise as much as possible. The bus was pretty empty and in fact I was the only passenger for much of the ride. I enjoyed some of the coastal scenery during the ride, but I'm subject to motion sickness so I wasn't feeling all that terrific as the bus circled around climbing the mountain on its final ascent into Unzen. When I saw that we were passing my hotel, I clicked a button to indicate that a stop was desired, but I was probably too slow so it didn't stop until the main station. It was only a short walk back, but I was really getting thirsty at the time and it was awfully hot out.
When I arrived at the Unzen Kanko hotel, I was able to register but it was too early to get into my room. The ladies at the front desk asked me if I wanted to have dinner and breakfast at the hotel. My hotel rate was very modest, so I was surprised at the high dinner prices on the menu that they showed me! Some of the options were priced more than my hotel room. To be fair, the dinners consisted of several courses, but I'm really not one for upscale expensive meals. I tried to ask about other restaurants in the town, but I think they thought I was asking if they had another restaurant, so they showed me their a la carte menu. It was still expensive by my standards, but at least it wasn't outrageous and it would be a nice treat. I also signed up for a Japanese style breakfast the next morning.
I spent about an hour and a half walking around Unzen, which is a very small and walkable town atop a mountain. There were very few people out around the town so it was nice and peaceful. Most of my time was spent viewing the jigoku, or hells, for which Unzen is noted. The hells are natural hot spring formations that emit steam and a not-too-unplesant sulfur scent. I was glad that there were signs in English, as well as Japanese, explaining the various hells and the reasons behind their names- each one had its own story. Amid the hells was a monument to Christian martyrs- in the 17th century, Christianity was outlawed in Japan and Christians were tortured by being thrown into the jigoku. One of the reasons I'd most wanted to visit Unzen and Nagasaki is because I'd read an excellent novel that took place during the period when Christianity was outlawed- Silence by Shusaku Endo, which mentioned this torture. (I definitely recommend the book- very engrossing reading!)
After having awakened so insanely early and after having taken 2 trains, 2 buses, a plane, a monorail and an expensive taxi, and after having walked around in the heat for about an hour and a half, it's no wonder I was feeling really fatigued! As soon as it was the official check in time, I returned to the hotel to get my room key and then promptly dozed off on the unusually low bed in my room. When I woke up, it was already about time for dinner.
I ordered some kind of beef entrée for dinner, and it was quite tasty. It was plenty for me- I didn't need a fancy multi-course meal. Most of the tables in the dining room were empty; I assume it is more crowded during the main tourist seasons. There really wasn't anything else for me to do while I ate by myself except to do a little people watching, which is an activity I enjoy. A table that seemed to consist of 2 grown daughters and their mother intrigued me. They seemed to be having a nice time together, possibly celebrating something or just enjoying the equivalent of a "Girls' Weekend Out". Actually, that was the only occupied table within my line of sight, and there was only one other table in use behind me.
After dinner, I spent a quiet night in my room. I finally had a chance to start reading the novel I'd taken with me, The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki, and I immediately was drawn into the story of 4 sisters in pre-WWII Japan. I'd intended for Unzen to be a leisurely change from the quick pace of Tokyo, and it certainly lived up to those expectations.
It was another early morning, although at least I was able to sleep until a more reasonable hour than the previous morning. For a change, I was able to enjoy a proper breakfast since I'd signed up for the Japanese style breakfast option at my hotel. It felt luxurious to be able to sit down for a morning meal and I tried to eat everything that was served. Miso soup and rice are always welcome to me so it was comforting that they were part of my meal. Other foods were not as familiar to me and, since I can be a fussy eater, I figured it was fortunate that I couldn't identify some items since I probably would have balked at trying them if I knew what they were. I ended up liking most of what I tried; however, when I took a bite of one flat, blackish type of fish, the texture didn't seem to agree with me at all and I had to focus hard to avoid the reflex to gag. I really don't know what it was, but it tempered my desire to try any more strange looking foods! Fortunately, I was almost done at that point.
Everyone at the hotel really seemed to go out of their way to be of service; it got to a point where it almost made me feel uncomfortable since I tend to enjoy being independent. While walking upstairs to my room after breakfast, a man stopped me and tried to tell me something. When he couldn't get his point across in Japanese, he told me to stay where I was and he came back with a flyer that he gave me to read. It was the same flyer I'd seen in my room that said something about apologizing for the noise caused by some construction. He wanted to be sure I understood it and was I was ok. I assured him that I was about to check out anyway, so it would not be a problem.
Once I checked out, I walked back to the main bus station to purchase a ticket to downtown Nagasaki and discovered that the next bus would be coming in about a half hour, maybe less. I waited on a bench across the street from the station, and fortunately I didn't make the mistake of getting on an earlier bus that was destined for Nagasaki airport. My bus was a little nicer than the one I'd taken to Unzen the day earlier, but I still had to deal with frequent announcements of upcoming stops during the long ride. And once again, I ended up remaining on the bus past the stop that was closest to my hotel.
When I made my way from Nagasaki Hotel to the Sunroute hotel, I was very glad that my room was available even though it was still before the official check in time. The room was quite small, but it was perfect for my needs. I lingered for a while enjoying the A/C and doing some last minute research on Nagasaki; most importantly, I checked out the location of the tourist office. After heading out, I stopped at the train station since it was on my way. A line of ATM's caught my eye and I figured I'd check if they accepted foreign ATM cards, even though all the guidebooks had warned me that no ATM's in Kyushu would accept my card. I wasn't running that low on cash yet, but I knew I didn't have enough left to last until I returned to Tokyo (although I had Traveler's Checks as a backup). I was glad I checked, I found one that accepted Plus/Cirrus cards and I had no problems withdrawing plenty of money to last me for the rest of my time. I felt triumphant, almost invincible, at achieving something that my guidebook had deemed as impossible, even though that guidebook was 5 years old.
After navigating across the elevated crosswalks, I made my way across a wide street and headed to the tourist office. I was able to pick up a terrific, free Nagasaki that was in English. Of great use to me were the printed instructions on how to use the trams. Armed with that map, I had no problem making my way to Urakami, which is the area that features the atomic bomb sites.
Of all the places I've traveled and all the sites I've seen, I think the most important ones have been the Auschwitz concentration camp and the atomic bomb sites in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I strongly feel that anyone who has the opportunity to visit these sites should seize it, even though they are definitely not traditional vacation fare. Knowing that I am surround by places where such atrocities once occurred makes everything I've ever learned about them seem more real; no matter how many times you read about them in a book, you can't quite feel the same emotion as actually being there. I'm sure I could never come close to imagining the full extent of the darkness and evil of years past, but it is still a poignant experience. In addition to being moved by the exhibits, I always imagine that someone like me must have been standing on the same ground 60+ years ago only to be suddenly thrust into an awful man-made nightmare.
The Atomic Bomb museum was a small but interesting place even though I am not generally a huge fan of museums. The relics of the blast only held a nominal interest for me, and after awhile they seemed to blur into each other. However, reading the stories of the survivors was endlessly powerful and moving. I felt a strong sense of compassion for what the innocent people of Nagasaki endured. As an American, I was surprised not to feel more guilt for what my country had done. But then again, I don't condemn present day Germans for what happened 60 years ago in Europe. After this much time has passed, I feel that all citizens of the world have an equal responsibility for learning from the past, no matter what country they live in.
After taking my time in the museum, I went outside and walked through the hypocenter park and the Peace Park and looked at the various monuments. Invariably, they carried the theme of remembering the past so that it would not be repeated.
Once again, it was very hot outside. While taking a break on a shaded bench in the Peace Park, a young Japanese man, perhaps even a teenager or a college aged student, came up to me and timidly asked me if I spoke English. Between his English and my Japanese, I understood that he wanted to take a photograph of me. That was more than a little weird, but I figured why not. (other than the fact that I was sure I was icky and sweaty!) After snapping my photo with his cell phone, he asked to sit next to me and take a photo with both of us. Since he didn't seem dangerous, I obliged again. I felt flattered but at the same time, it was almost surreal. The most bizarre thing was that he just vanished after taking the 2 photos; he didn't even try to talk to me beyond asking my name. Talk about communication problems- my name is quite unusual so it took me several tries to convince him that I was indeed answering the question he asked. In retrospect, I probably should have made up an easier name. The whole incident was just weird. I'd seen a few other Caucasians during my time in Nagasaki, so I couldn't imagine that it was my race alone that warranted such attention. In any event, hopefully my face won't show up in some altered photos on a Japanese porn site!
After taking the tram back to Nagasaki station, I embarked on a quest to find the Kinkos that my map said was located at the nearby AMU plaza. Normally I am an Internet junkie and I hadn't checked my email yet during the trip. At first, it was refreshing to take a step back from online activities but I was starting to miss it. I walked through AMU plaza several times to no avail. Eventually, I found a sign that listed all the stores in the building and I swore I saw the Katakana for "Kinkos" on an entry for the 1st floor. So I narrowed my focus to that floor. After walking in circles some more, I saw a floor plan that showed that Kinkos was located in back of the supermarket on the rear of the first floor. The one thing I hadn't done was to enter the supermarket. As it turned out, I had to exit the building at the rear of the supermarket and then enter Kinkos through its own private door. It was fortunate I checked my email, because my Inbox contained 2 emails asking me to reconfirm the reservations I'd made in Kagoshima and Tokyo with the Japan Welcome Inn group.
While trying to figure out what I was going to do for dinner, I discovered a shopping complex in the port terminal across from my hotel. I enjoyed browsing through the stores as I eventually made my way up to an upper level that contained several restaurants. After checking out several menus, I ended up eating at an Italian restaurant. After my unsettling experience at breakfast, I was craving something a little less exotic!
After dinner, it was time for another quiet evening of reading my book.
After checking out of my hotel in the morning, I went to store my luggage in a locker at the train station. I needed to exchange my Kyushu Railpass voucher for the actual pass but I discovered that the Joy Road office I needed didn't open until 10. Since the 26 Martyrs Memorial and the Museum of Christianity were nearby, I start out off in that direction. To get there, I had to walk up a steep hill... have I mentioned yet how hot it was in Japan during my trip? I think the heat might have been less bothersome to me if I'd been able to pack enough clothes to change at least twice a day.
The 26 Martyrs Memorial in the front of the museum was erected in memory of 26 Christians who were crucified in 1597. Despite my Jewish heritage, I found the museum to be interesting. Maybe it is precisely because of my religious upbringing that I could identify with the Christians who were tortured in Japan during the time when their religion was outlawed. As I mentioned in Day 5, I had read an excellent novel about that period in Japanese history that piqued my interest in that era. Plus, I was grateful to be out of the sun even though it wasn't that cold inside.
Once I had finished with the museum, I bought something to drink from one of the ubiquitous vending machines on the street and I headed back to the train station. Since it was now after 10am, I was able to obtain my railpass and to make a reservation on a 12:30pm train to Fukuoka. I really should have given myself more time in Nagasaki but when I travel, I tend to be overtaken by the impulse to try to get to my next destination as soon as possible. Perhaps if I hadn't had such a hard time dealing with the heat I would have been more inclined to spend more time exploring Nagasaki. One reason I was eager to get to Fukuoka was because I wouldn't be tempted to spend as much time outdoors exploring various sights.
I only left myself with 2 hours in Nagasaki, so I really didn't have time to do any extensive touring. I took a tram to the shopping district, which mainly consisted of an undercover arcade. I was hungry but I can be very picky about what I eat especially away from home, especially when I don't understand the menus, so none of the places I passed were appealing to me. Finally, I came across a "Mister Donut" store which was such a welcome sight, even though I don't recall ever eating at one previously, that I smiled to myself thinking, only half in jest, "Mister Donut is my friend!" Seriously, it was like someone tossed me a life preserver and saved me from the dilemma of having to figure out where to find something to fill my stomach. I fully enjoyed indulging on my chocolate donut there.
Having left myself plenty of time to get back to the train station, I arrived there early. No problem, I just headed for a quick session at the Kinkos... which was easy now that I knew exactly where to find it!
Upon arriving in Fukuoka, I initially had a difficult time trying to figure out which exit I should use from the train station. Fukuoka is the largest city in Kyushu and the station had exits pointing in various directions. After getting my bearings, I was able to orient myself enough to choose the proper exit. Then, it was about a 10-minute walk to my hotel.
After 2 nights of basic accommodations, it was time to treat myself to some luxury! I was staying at the Grand Hyatt hotel, which is part of the Canal City Shopping Center where I'd be seeing Beauty and the Beast the following night. My check in experience couldn't have been better- the staff seemed to speak better English than at the Sheraton and they gave me a couple coupons for free drinks. I never ended up using the coupons, but they were a nice touch.
My 11th floor room was exquisite- but not in the sense that it was fancy or stuffy; on the contrary, it had a simple, comfortable sophistication. It was modern and Western style, yet it had accents that gave a hint of a Japanese touch. The bathroom was gorgeous, with separate shower and tub areas. It even had a small TV that one could see from the shower! That particular TV didn't have CNN so it wasn't much practical use to me, although I did catch a brief glimpse of a Yankees/ Red Sox baseball game on a Japanese station. The bedroom had a flat screen TV, which did carry CNN. My one tiny quibble was that I'd reserved a room with a queen size bed, but I'd received one with 2 doubles.
From my window, I had a view of the Canal City complex, and I could even catch a glimpse inside the Fukuoka City Theatre lobby. The only drawback to the location was that the music used for the dancing water fountains outside was clearly audible. I didn't have much of an issue when they were playing "Be Our Guest" (in English), but I could have done without hearing "The Heart Will Go On"... or hearing it again... and again. At least they didn't play any music late at night or early in the morning.
After getting settled in my room, I went out to explore the shops in Canal City and to get some snacks at one of the many convenience stores nearby. Canal City had a Lush cosmetics store so I had to stop in there, although I didn't purchase anything. In the large Comme Ci Comme Ca store, I bought 2 small sets of earrings, one of which I wore for the remainder of the trip. While randomly exploring around the area of the hotel, I ended up stumbling upon the Nakasu entertainment district- nothing was happening of course since it was still early. On my way back, I decided to get something different to drink and picked up what I thought was a Fanta Lemon soda. After a sip, I thought it tasted a little odd for lemon... and then I read the Katakana on the bottle and realized it was a Kiwi flavored soda! Coolness. If only it came in a diet version, it would have been perfect.
I felt totally decadent at night as I ordered room service onion soup and spaghetti and then treated myself to a bath using a Lush bath bomb that I'd brought from home. The deep tub in my bathroom was absolutely irresistible. I also watched some CNN, as I did in any of my hotels that carried the station. For most of my trip, all I saw was story after story about the New Orleans flood. I had to assume that everything else in the US was fine.
I enjoyed the luxury of not having anywhere in particular to go to in the morning and took my time getting up. Eventually, I set off to walk to the Tenjin shopping district and its underground shopping complex. Above ground, the streets were lined with shopping centers that are very different than ones I've seen in the US. Each of these buildings would be somewhere around 5-8 floors, with only a few stores on each floor. Moreover, the shops didn't always seem to be much more distinct in space than different departments might be in a US department store.
My main mission was to find the 4 Japanese cast albums of Les Mis that had been released a year or so earlier. When I found a large Tower records occupying more than 1 floor of a shopping center, I figured I'd surely be in luck. Only... not so much. While they carried far more foreign musical CD's than I would ever have expected, they nonetheless did not have the domestic recordings I wanted of a recent large scale musical. I mean, they carried various foreign CD's of Elisabeth (any of which would cause me to faint if I saw them in a US mass market store... heck, even seeing any foreign musical CD's in a US store impresses me), a Korean Phantom of the Opera, what I'd thought was a modest limited release American CD entitled "Broadway's Greatest Phantoms", as well as an assortment of the latest original Broadway cast recordings. I was debating purchasing the Korean Phantom, but it didn't have a price tag on it and I doubted I'd actually listen to it enough to justify the purchase.
I enjoyed passing some time at the Kinokunia bookstore on the top floor of another shopping center. It was a treat to browse through a little section with books and magazines about TDR since you can't find publications about the resort in the US; the magazines had a lot of great photos. I also spent a good deal of time in the English language section, where I perused the large collection of books relating to Japanese history and language study. In the end, I didn't make any purchases although a couple Kanji books that I hadn't seen on amazon.com tempted me.
As raindrops started to lightly fall, I ducked into a department store where I was excited to find counters for the makeup brands I was most interested in, such as Japanese brands Shu Uemura and Inoui ID. I felt a little uncomfortable at all the cosmetics counters, mainly because the salespeople really wanted to be helpful, but I didn't know how to convey to them that I prefer to browse in peace and then to just let someone know when I've already decided on a purchase. Inoui ID is not available anywhere in the US, but I've read raves about their line and so I wanted to try it. After deciding on a modest purchase of one eyeshadow quad, a lipstick and a nail polish, I pointed them out to a saleslady. She motioned for me to sit down, and I got the idea that she was going to apply the items I selected. However, I really don't like anyone to apply makeup on me, and I can't imagine I would enjoy it any more when I can't even speak the language to protest if I don't like something they are doing. So I smiled and made my best effort at saying in Japanese that I just wanted to buy the items. I also picked up a cute, if overpriced, Stila Japan exclusive cosmetic bag, which was useful since one of the ones I cosmetic cases I'd brought with me wasn't working so well. (not that I wore makeup much during the entire trip, anyway- it was way too humid)
I searched out a Kinkos that my guidebook said was nearby and did a fairly quick email/Internet check before taking a subway to the main train station. I waited in a short line at a window so that I could reserve my trains for Kagoshima the following morning.
I walked back to Canal City with the intention of grabbing something to eat at the "Ramen Stadium" that was located in the shopping plaza; I'd read a Canal City guide that boasted that it was the largest collection of the most famous ramen shops under one roof, or something like that. However, when I got there it was just too confusing- remember, I have a hard time being comfortable with restaurants in general when I am traveling. It looked like you had to place your order from vending machines outside the establishment of your choice and then you had to wait in line to be seated. OK, what was wrong with this scenario? 1. I wasn't sure of the system, 2. None of the menus appeared to be in English, 3. How the heck was I to choose from among the various places?! I can be so indecisive.
In the end, I found Italian restaurant on a lower floor that seemed much more "foreigner friendly". While I could tell by the food displays in the window that there would be something I'd like, I was delighted that they had an English language menu to offer me. The menu included a page with options to make your own pasta meal from a number of choices, and I ended up having spaghetti with spinach and bacon (more like ham) in an Asian style soy sauce. It was absolutely delicious. And, hey, it wasn't even a meal that I could easily find back in the US.
After my (very) late lunch, I dashed up to my room to change into my skirt and then it was off to the musical Beauty and the Beast, which was playing within the Canal City complex. I was surprised that the lobby sold souvenir brochures for other Shiki theatre productions (mainly playing in Tokyo) but I just stuck to the one for the show I was seeing. I had hoped to find something cute at the general souvenir booth, but there wasn't anything that grabbed me, so I saved my money. When I took my 3rd row center seat, I was very pleased with the location.
Unlike Elisabeth, this audience contained a more equitable demographic of men, women, and certainly children. One of the things that I'd been most curious about was whether or not Japanese youngsters would be better behaved than their US or UK counterparts. For the most part, they were indeed very quiet and still. However, the little boy and girl next to me seemed to be exceptions. Although they weren't as bad as some adults in NY theatres, it was distracting to me nonetheless when they talked to each other during the show. I found it slightly odd that the adults who accompanied them, presumably their parents, were seated a row behind them instead of next to them.
I'm not sure when I realized it, but sometime during the first act, it dawned on me that I didn't see any evidence of an orchestra. I turned around several times and looked around in hopes of finding some evidence of video monitors depicting an orchestra that was located backstage. Nope. I felt a little gypped at paying Broadway prices for music that apparently was pre-recorded. On the plus side, I guessed that the fact that the music was set in stone kept them from including the pointless song "A Change In Me" which had been inserted in the Broadway production when Toni Braxton (*cringe*) took over.
I have to give the Japanese audience some credit for not laughing at Lefou. The corny, physical humor of Lefou may appeal to American kiddies, but it's always been my least favorite part of the show. Initially, I thought that the absence of laughter at his shtick was a cultural thing, but then I heard laughter at other points during the show. Places where, you know, it was actually funny.
Aside from my major reservation about the lack of a live orchestra, I was impressed with the production. All the performers maintained a very high energy level, which is not always seen in long running Broadway shows. They definitely held my interest even when I couldn't understand exactly what they were saying. I adore the show, and it was fun to see it since it had been a while since the last time I'd seen it in the US.
After the show, I walked around the shops and purchased a World Peace bath bomb at Lush. I went back to my hotel room and treated myself to the 6000 Yen room service sushi platter, for which I had high expectations. I generally like sushi and I figured that if I bought some for that price, in Japan, I would be getting the very best. However, I officially decided that I prefer Americanized versions of sushi. I realize that may make me seem like an unadventurous wuss. And actually, the "normal" looking pieces of sushi were good except for the fact that they had wasabi mixed into them instead of having it on the side. However, I have issues dealing with foods that have... weird... textures to them. I tried, really I did. I was eating one piece and I wasn't having any problems with the taste itself, but the bumpy texture triggered a reflex that wouldn't allow it to stay down. I figured it would just be easier, and less potentially embarrassing, to try to stick more to pasta for the rest of the trip. Especially since I can read usually the menus to some extent when they have Western style dishes, since some of the choices will usually be in the "Katakana" characters that are used for foreign words. I can always get yummy Americanized sushi from a nice little place a mile and a half away from my home.
After dinner, I took another luxurious bath in the wonderful Hyatt bathtub, read some more of my book, and packed.
I woke up early, checked out, and walked to the train station. After my experience with dinner the night before, I was very glad to see a "Mister Donut" at the station. (as mentioned on day 6, "Mister Donut" is my friend!) My breakfast there consisted of 2 yummy varieties of chocolate donuts and a glass of orange juice.
The first of my 2 trains to Kagoshima was a normal train. At Shin Yatsushiro station, everyone walked across the platform and transferred to the Shinkansen (bullet train), which is the fastest type of Japanese train.
Upon exiting Kagoshima Chuo station, my eyes were drawn to the Ferris Wheel that was on top of the AMU Plaza shopping center next door. Since the directions said it was a 7-minute walk to my hotel from Kagoshima station, I decided not to take a tram. The maps showed that I would just have to proceed along the tram line so it seemed fairly straightforward. It didn't concern me too much when I crossed a footbridge that wasn't on the map, because I figured my map wasn't that detailed.
It wasn't until I'd already passed 2 tram stops and I saw an area guide map on the street that I started to realize that perhaps I wasn't as well oriented to the city as I'd thought. Indeed, a man stopped to help me and he confirmed my fears. I really want to know whose bright idea it was to rename "Nishi Kagoshima" station (literally "West Kagoshima") to "Kagoshima Chuo" (which I believe means "Central Kagoshima"). I mean, I understand that the station must have been elevated in importance when the Shinkansen opened. But, seriously, when there is already a station named just "Kagoshima" and when existing guidebooks refer to "Nishi Kagoshima", I maintain that this manner of renaming was a recipe for disaster. In short, I'd assumed I'd been walking from what was labeled "Kagoshima" station on my map, when I'd been walking from what was named "Nishi Kagoshima", a station that was much further from my accommodations.
Despite the heat and my fatigue, I stubbornly continued walking rather than to taking a tram. When I passed the main shopping area, my inner shopper wished my luggage hadn't prohibited me from browsing. I felt like my journey would never end when I finally got to the area of my ryokan and I kept walking around the block several time without seeing it. I was staying at a small, budget Japanese style ryokan which was a member of the Japan Inn Group so it wasn't as easy to find as, say, a large Hyatt.
Finally, I spotted the building I needed. It even had Roman letters on its sign. After opening the screen door and entering the lobby, I got the idea that I was supposed to take off my shoes in and leave them in the entryway. As I checked in, the man behind the counter took out an English map of Kagoshima, marked it up with the places that he thought would be of interest for tourists, and then explained them to me. After taking me on a little tour of the thins I might need around the building, he showed me to my room.
Feel free to think of me as a spoiled princess, but I have to say... the room reeked of mildew. When paying less than $40 a night, I really try not to be picky. I could live with not having a private bathroom. I could even live with the fact that there wasn't anywhere to put my clothes in the shower room so that they wouldn't get wet. (fortunately, the room had great A/C so I didn't have to consider living without that!) However, it is majorly wrong when I decide not to leave my room to go to the bathroom because I fear that the smell would seem so much worse if I went out of the room and re-entered. I am so not exaggerating. Since this place has received excellent reviews online and in guidebooks, I want to chalk up the "eau de mildew" as having something to do with the Typhoon that preceded my arrival in Kyushu.
Aside from the smell, I could have been very happy in the room. In addition to a small area with a couple beat up chairs and a little table, it contained a simple futon atop the tatami mats on the floor, and more than enough space to spread out. No, the room was not thrilling compared to the Hyatt- but it was more than adequate for my purposes (the main purpose being, of course, the desire to save a few yen).
After settling in, the first thing I did was to walk back to the shopping district, where I searched in vain for the CDs I wanted at the local Tower Records. I then walked around in search of food until I found a nice little Italian restaurant on the 2nd floor of the building. Since it was between the standard times for lunch and dinner, I was the only customer. I believe I ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara, which is always a favorite of mine; I don't see it offered much in my area of the US, so I can only order it when in Europe or Japan.
My appetite sated, I decided to take a ferry to Sakurajima island. Sakurajima is a huge, dramatic looking volcano that is located in Kahoshima Bay. Once I got there, however, I didn't really know what to do. I'd already missed the 2 daily bus tours that are offered around the island. I just walked around a little and then took a ferry back to Kagoshima. The experience reminded me of how, in college, we'd take the Staten Island Ferry just to experience its cheap and awesome views of the Statue of Liberty, and then immediately turn around to return to Manhattan.
The aquarium adjacent to the Kagoshima ferry terminal looked nice, but I was really feeling drained. Fortunately, it was a very short walk back to my ryokan. I think I grabbed some snacks at a convenience store on my way. I promptly collapsed into the futon and fell asleep with the lights on, but I woke up later and made a more organized effort at properly preparing to go to bed.
Looking forward to being able to checkout and escape the mildew smell, I woke up early without even needing my alarm. Despite the fact that the ryokan accepted credit cards, I paid cash so that I wouldn't be reminded of the place when my Visa card bill arrived.
My plan for the morning was to take a tram to Kagoshima Chuo train station (now that I knew which train station it was), store my luggage, and then head back to hop a ferry to Sakurajima in order to take the 9:40am bus tour around the island.
That didn't happen. Not even close.
By the time I got to the train station, I was afraid I wouldn't have time to get back to Sakurajima in time. To complicate matters, the lockers required 5 100 Yen coins, which I didn't have. So I decided it would be easier to just take the next train to Miyazaki. When I tried to make a train reservation, the man behind the counter took out a timetable and said something about a bus and a hurricane. It was obvious that the typhoon had affected my train route, but I didn't understand much more than that. I kept repeating "Wakarimasen" which means "I don't understand", but to no avail.
I didn't know what to do, but I found a Baskin Robbins on the ground floor of the station and I enjoyed a chocolate cookie flavored ice cream cone. When things get tough, the tough eat chocolate. ;) I might have considered reworking my itinerary and just skipping Miyazaki if it weren't for the fact that I had already purchased a plane ticket from Miyazaki to Tokyo. It crossed my mind to call ANA airlines and ask if I could change to the next flight out of Kagoshima instead, but I didn't want to be a quitter.
Eventually, I got the bright idea to go to the tourist desk and ask if anyone there spoke English. They did- yay! The nice lady explained to me that because of the typhoon, everyone had to take shuttle buses for a portion of the Kagoshima to Miyazaki route. She even went so far as to draw me a map. She rocked.
In any event, a train ride that was supposed to take 2 hours ended up taking nearly double that. The main delay was caused by the fact that there was about a half hour wait for the bus after we got off the train. I'd really like to thank the man who forced me to stand in the baking hot sun when there was still plenty of time to wait. Except no, not really. After making a show of standing where he led me, I moved back to the shady area that was more tolerable.
I guess it was interesting to take the bus through several rural stations; it was certainly different. Seeing some downed trees and other evidence of damage by the typhoon reassured me that there was a good reason why the trains still were not operational in that area. Once we arrived at Tano station (whose name I remember because of the Tano Lutz made famous by figure skater Brian Boitano... wonder what he'd do in this situation... Heh), we transferred to the dinkiest local train I'd ever seen in Japan. Fortunately, it was a short ride. Still, it had been a pretty dreary day so far... I had to laugh at myself for thinking that everything would go so smoothly once I got through Day 4 (Tokyo to Unzen) with little problem.
The tourist desk at Miyazaki station was helpful in pointing me in the direction to catch the local bus to my hotel. Miyazaki marked a return to luxurious accommodations as I had reservations at the Sheraton Grande Ocean Resort, a gorgeous high rise on the Hyuga Sea. When I'd checked the rates on the Sheraton website, they were not within my budget; however, I found a much better rate on the website for Seagaia. The price was quite a great value, especially since breakfast was included. So the moral is that it always pays to check around!
After a half hour on the bus, I arrived at the hotel. Wow. I felt spoiled walking into the plush lobby area. I think 3 different people were involved in moving my luggage from the front door to my hotel room. (I could have easily carried it myself, of course, but this was the kind of place where they don't really let you do that) Everyone was very friendly and their English was quite good.
I was assigned to a non-smoking room on the 28th floor of the 43-floor hotel. When the bellman opened the door to my room, I marveled at the fact that there was a private interior corridor to get to the bedroom area. I immediately was drawn to the windows, since the website had promised that all rooms had views of the ocean. Gorgeous! I could gaze out at the tranquil blues of the ocean and sky even when sitting on my bed.
I didn't really feel like going back to downtown Miyazaki, so when I got hungry, I explored the restaurants at the hotel. The Pine Terrace restaurant looked nice and not too expensive. The friendly maître d' sat me at a table with a view of the pool area which many people seemed to be readying for a private party. I eagerly ordered the Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese pizza which sounded delicious. However, I learned an important lesson- unlike in the US, apparently Japanese menus don't list all the ingredients in each dish. Though not mentioned on the menu, my pizza came with peppers and onions, both of which can bother my stomach. I ended up scraping these off of most of the pizza, although that had the undesired side effect of removing the cheese as well. It was still an ok meal, just not quite what I was expecting.
I enjoyed spending a quiet night in my room, mainly reading my book. Need I mention that I was particularly appreciative being in a room without even the slightest hint of a mildew smell?
My first stop of the morning was the Pine Terrace restaurant where I could use the breakfast tickets that I'd been given at check in. I'd been expecting a modest breakfast, but it turned out that I was entitled to a huge buffet full of both Japanese and Western items. I couldn't resist a bowl of miso soup from the Japanese buffet. Moving on to the American items, I also picked up some bacon, which was ok, and a waffle that looked enticing but which tasted funny. At a station where chefs created omelettes while you waited, I ordered a delicious ham and cheese omelette. However, I was most excited to see the chocolate corn flakes cereal, which was also my favorite item out of all the options. LOL, I'm so pathetic sometimes. It was really an incredible buffet and I'm not sure I ever even saw all of it; too bad I am not really interested in large or exotic breakfasts.
When I'd planned my trip, I figured it would be easy to head back to downtown Miyazaki. I didn't realize until I'd checked in that buses between my hotel and Miyazaki only ran once an hour. I would probably have been better off spending some time at the Ocean Dome, the huge indoor water park that was located right next-door to my hotel. However, I couldn't find a bathing suit in my apartment when I was packing, so that wasn't an option. (It's hard enough finding a decent bathing suit in US sizes; I didn't even want to try to find one in a foreign country)
So, I watched some CNN and then took the next scheduled public transit bus back to Miyazaki station. My goal for the day was to take a side trip to the city of Udo, which my guidebook said was 1 hr 20 minutes away by bus. Udo Shrine is located on a cliff, and it looked quite dramatic and beautiful in all the pictures I'd seen. When I found the Miyazaki bus station, I looked around and all of the information I saw was posted only in Kanji- not even in Hiragana- so it was of no use to me. Since I am not very confident in my Japanese abilities, it took me a while to get up the nerve to ask the lady at the counter about getting a ticket to Udo. Based on what I gathered from her Japanese response, the bus wasn't able to make it all the way to the shrine due to the recent typhoon and so I'd have to walk 30 minutes from the bus to get there. While it was probably my only chance to ever see the shrine, and while it was the only site in the area that truly interested me, it wasn't a "must see" thing. Once again, it was hot and sunny-and the thought of walking 30 minutes in unknown terrain just didn't sound terribly appealing.
Instead, I walked around the shopping area downtown. It's a small city, so that really didn't take me very long. I went back to the train station and pondered my options for the day. I thought of taking the train 1 stop to view a local shrine, even though it didn't look extraordinary. However, I was surprised that the trains didn't run very frequently; if I could have hopped on one and been there in 5 minutes, I would have done that.
What I really wanted to do was to check email. As I was wandering aimlessly around the station, a deus ex machina appeared in the form of a young Australian man who had come to Miyazaki in search of work. He struck up a conversation with me and when I asked if he knew an internet café, he pointed me in the right direction.
After a brief interlude of websurfing, I still had a dilemma regarding how to spend the rest of my day. I felt that I should make an effort to be a good little tourist and see some noteworthy sites. On the other hand, the thought of sitting in my nice air-conditioned hotel room and finishing my book was much more tempting. (I had about 200 pages left, iirc) Eventually, I had an epiphany and decided that it was my vacation and I should do what I want to do, not what guidebooks or anyone else made me think I ought to do. I was reminded of the scene in the Disney theme park show, Fantasmic!, where Mickey says "This is MY dream" and then proceeds to create a happy ending by conquering all the villains that had turned his dream into a nightmare. In a similar manner, I felt I'd be happiest by taking control of my day and shaping it as I wished.
So I took the next bus back to my hotel, and I spent the remainder of the day in my hotel room being delightfully lazy. I indeed finished my book, taking a break from reading to order some spaghetti from room service. It may sound like a waste, but I paid for the hotel room so I might as well use it to the fullest. Besides, it was good to relax since I was heading back to Tokyo the next morning and I knew I'd be running around a lot once I got there.
I was surprisingly thrilled to be heading back to Tokyo. During my 2 previous trips to Japan, TDR had been the only thing that I'd really liked in Tokyo. In addition to having memories of a couple of unfortunate experiences that really weren't connected to the city itself, I had always associated Tokyo with adjectives such as "overwhelming" and "crowded". However, after the transportation issues of the past few days, I couldn't wait to be back in a city with a subway. Plus, I don't know if it's because I am older, but during this trip I really enjoyed the excitement of the city instead of feeling overwhelmed.
First order of business was another trip to the breakfast buffet. I felt a little icky that morning, and so I helped myself to mellow foods such as miso soup and rice. Again, I couldn't resist the chocolate corn flakes cereal. A number of the people at the restaurant that morning seemed to be golfers; there was apparently a big course nearby.
The earliest bus to Miyazaki airport from my hotel was scheduled to arrive at the airport at about 8:51 am and my flight was scheduled for 9:40. I wasn't sure if that would give me enough time, but I really didn't want to pay for a cab. Besides, I figured the airport must be small. It was odd to be the only one on the bus for the entire journey- no one else got on or off. I guess it really wouldn't make sense for the buses to run more frequently if they were so sparsely used.
It turns out that I made an excellent decision in taking the bus. When I was checking in at the ANA desk, the agent went to great lengths to tell me that my airplane was postponed until 10:00am. It was funny to me that they made such a fuss over what was, to me, a very minor delay. There were periodic announcements over the airport PA system and everything. In the US, a 20-minute delay is nothing... gotta love American transit.
One more thing I want to mention about my domestic flights- both times, I had to go to one counter to check in and obtain my boarding pass, and then to another to check my bags. I never had many people in front of me at any of the lines so it wasn't a hassle. It was just different.
After I was all set, I spent some time at one of the drugstores that sold souvenirs. I bought a couple small presents, and also took advantage of the lack of crowds to ponder the display of Majolica Majorca cosmetics. Majolica Majorca is a Japanese drugstore cosmetics line that I've seen praised; I'd seen it in a few stores earlier in my trip but they always seemed crowded. I decided on 2 eye shadows, a lipstick, a lipgloss and a nailpolish.
The most memorable part of my flight to Tokyo was a feature that I called "Plane Cam". As we started taxiing up the runway for takeoff, I noticed that the video screen at the front of the cabin made it appear like you were looking straight at the runway. As the images continued to mirror the plane's activity, I quickly concluded that there must have been a camera mounted somewhere on the front/bottom of the plane's nose. "Plane Cam" was oddly interesting as we climbed to our cruising altitude. However, when it only displayed the ocean below, it reminded me of the feeling of walking on a glass floor while high in the air. I can get a little freaked about heights, so it was not a very pleasant feeling. Fortunately, they turned off the display soon after we reached our cruising altitude, and in its place they displayed maps showing our progress. "Plane Cam" returned just in time for landing- and it was actually pretty cool to be able to see the landing runway in advance of when we touched down.
As we were descending into Tokyo, I kept my eyes glued to the window to see if I could spot Tokyo Disney, or any other familiar landmarks. As I was scanning the view, my eyes suddenly caught a cluster of hotels that seemed to be in the formation of the TDR Official Hotels. Only then did I realize that I had an absolutely amazing, clear view of the parks! How sad is it that I noticed the hotels before the Cinderella Castle or Mount Prometheus?! The orange accents that I spotted in TDL made me even more excited about seeing the Halloween celebration there the next day.
Once we landed, I had no trouble taking the Tokyo monorail to Hamamatsucho station and then transferring to the Yamonote line for Tokyo station. Since Hamamatsucho also happened to be the station nearest to the theatre where I'd be seeing Aspects of Love that night, I tried to scope out the location of the theatre. I saw a large "Lion King" poster and figured that must be the place, since there were 3 theatres in the complex.
As I was heading for the Yaesu North exit of Tokyo Station, I hoped I'd run into the Kinko's that I'd seen in the station during my previous trip. Turns out that it was right near my exit- very convenient! Since it was still a little early for checking in, I spent a few minutes checking email and Internet.
Speaking of convenient- my hotel, a Japanese Inn Group member named Hotel Yaesu Ryumeikan, was just a hop, skip and a jump away from Tokyo Station. Having an AM/PM convenience store next door was also fortunate. I was able to check in right away, and I was thrilled with the room. No, it was no Sheraton- but it was an excellent value for the price. The door from the hallway opened into a seating area with couches, tables and even a fridge. To the left was a separate tatami room with a table on the floor; this was also where the futon would be arranged later on. Past that room, was a doorway into an area with a sink and a mirror to which were attached a separate shower room and a separate toilet room. "Wow," I thought to myself, "It's like a freaking suite!"
The room wasn't perfect- it was hot when I checked in, and I had a little difficulty getting the 2 A/C units working to my satisfaction. It never felt truly cold, but it was sufficiently comfortable after I turned the temperature down. Also, they didn't have non-smoking rooms and I thought I might have detected a few remnants of a smoke smell. But overall, I was very satisfied.
After getting comfortable in my room and changing for the show, I headed to the Italian restaurant adjacent to the lobby for a late lunch. I think I ordered the spaghetti carbonara. Because of the odd hour, there were very few people in the restaurant.
After eating, I headed out to do some shopping. My first destination was the Takarazuka theatre where I was hoping to find DVD's of their productions of Elisabeth. I'd researched the theatre's location when I was at Kinko's earlier in the day and it turned out to be located at the same subway stop as the Imperial Theatre, where I'd seen Elisabeth on day 3. The map I'd sketched by hand was really rough, to put it kindly, and I ended up having a little bit of a difficult time finding the place. But no matter- I was very lucky to stumble across a Tokyo Disney ticket counter where I was able to purchase an advanced TDL ticket for the next morning. I tried to tell the lady behind my counter that I really didn't need the TDR brochures she was giving me, but she gave them to me anyway; I had a hard time fitting them into my small purse.
After finally locating the Takarazuka theatre, I was disappointed to see that it was closed. I remembered reading that there was a store across from the theatre, but I couldn't recall any specifics as to the name or exact location. After circling the theatre several times and entering every shopping complex I could find in the vicinity, I decided I'd need to return on Friday after doing some additional Internet research.
My next stop was Shibuya, which held the promise of a huge Tower Records store. I easily found the store but, alas, they too didn't carry the Japanese Les Mis CD's that I'd been seeking. I was surer than ever that I wouldn't find them in any stores, but I checked the nearby HMV just in case; I wasn't surprised at my lack of success.
On my way across the street to return to Shibuya station, a Japanese lady inadvertently kicked me in exactly the spot where I was wearing a bandaid to cover a spot where my sandal strap had cut into my foot. I couldn't help uttering a stunned "ouch" and glaring at her a little. She came up to me to say something, but I couldn't understand it at all. It may have been an apology, I don't know. I just pointed out my bandaid in an effort to try to convey the fact my reaction had stemmed from the fact that foot had already been hurting.
After buying my ticket from the automated machine, I was approached by an American woman who was confused about whether the mention of "Tokyo" on the subway map was the same thing as "Tokyo Station". I've had many strangers help me out on my trips to Japan and I was glad to have the opportunity to return the favor. Plus, it was nice to have a short conversation without having to worry about whether the person with whom I was conversing would understand me.
I don't think I took the most direct route from Hamamatsucho station, but I managed to find my way to the theatre in plenty of time for the 6:30pm performance Aspects of Love. Once again, the audience was predominantly female, though not as overwhelmingly so as Elisabeth had been. It was a small theatre, and I had a great view from my 8th row seat even though I was on the side.
"Aspects of Love" is a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber which opened on Broadway in 1990 and which has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Having not had an opportunity to see Aspects of Love performed anywhere in over a decade, I was glad to be able to catch this production. I've always adored the lyrical score; I get so caught up in the music that I can overlook the fact that the plot is rather silly. Even with weak language skills, I could tell that some of the comments I overheard at intermission echoed opnions that I'd heard from English speaking audiences. In particular, I kept hearing incredulous reactions to the fact that the leading male character, Alex, was only 17 years old in the opening scenes when he first gets involved with the leading female character, Rose, who is an adult.
Unlike Beauty and the Beast, this production had a different director and totally different staging than the UK/US productions I'd seen. For the most part, I thought they did the best they could with the weak storyline. However, there are a few things that I didn't like. It should probably go without saying that I was disappointed that, like Beauty and the Beast, there was no live orchestra. Also, the fact that they had the same adult actress playing the character of Jenny at ages 12 and 15 just did not work for me at all. (in other productions, 2 separate actresses have played the roles, and at the very least the 12 year old was played by a child actor) it's hard to suspend belief enough to see the innocence of a 12 year old character when she is being played by an adult, especially in a show which asks the audience to believe that the leading male character only develops a sexual attraction for her once she has matured into a 15 year old. Interactions between the supposedly 12 year old character and the grown men playing her father and her future love interest seemed a little creepy. The actress was a little more successful playing the 15-year-old character, but she still seemed too mature for me to ever believe she was 15. I don't blame the actress; I think she was given an impossible task. (it's easier to suspend disbelief when an adult plays a teenager if there are no romantic scenes involved, or if they are playing a character who is only a teenager during a few scenes early in the show before aging to be closer to the actor's age)
One of the oddest staging choices was that the circus motif in act 2 oddly continued beyond the scene in which the main characters attend a circus performance. For the next couple scenes, clowns from that scene stayed onstage, almost as if they were in some way manipulating the action. That in itself may have been a more interesting directing choice if it had somehow related in any way to a larger, overall concept for the show. However, that was not the case and so it just seemed a little random and out of place. I will say that the circus scene itself was very interesting, with more happening than I recall in other versions.
There were a couple textual changes that I wondered about. I'm pretty sure that the Broadway/UK productions began with Alex singing "Love Changes Everything" but this one began with an awkward brief overture of sorts. Additionally, the version of "She'd Be Far Better Off With You" that they used seemed to be the version that had been performed in the UK prior to the changes made for the Broadway production. (the changed version included a favorite line of mine that goes something like "there must be someone here who knows who goes with who")
The actors I saw playing the 3 main parts (Rose/Alex/George) were the same actors that were on the 1999 Japanese Aspects of Love CD that I own, and the 2 main leads in particular were very good. While the man playing Alex did not quite possess the vocal strength of Michael Ball (who had originated the role in London and New York), he sounded good and he was able to convey his character's growth; he couldn't quite pass for 17, but at least he created a character with the youthfulness and charm that one might associate with a man of that age.
After the show, I followed some people and I was therefore able to take a more direct route to Hamamatsucho station. While walking there, I could see the Tokyo Tower illuminated in the distance. Berfore returning to my hotel, I stopped by the next-door AM/PM for some snacks and a large bottle of Pocari Sweat.
OK, kiddies, I am not even going to bother trying to create suspense- this was the all-out, magical Disney day that had eluded me earlier in my trip. Sit down, relax, please stand clear of the doors, and enjoy the ride...
Commuting from my hotel to TDR in the morning obviously wasn't as convenient as staying at the Sheraton, but it wasn't too bad. I ended up arriving at around 8:45, which is approximately the same time I'd arrived during days 2 and 3. I was hoping that the crowds on the train were not an indication that it would be significantly more crowded as compared to the previous week, but it was clear that the lines at the gates were much longer than they'd been. I was glad I already had my ticket in hand since I'd chanced upon a place to purchase my ticket in downtown Tokyo the previous afternoon.
Directly in front of me in line were a man, woman, and their loudly screaming young son. The closer we got to the turnstiles, the more their son screamed and tried to cling to the ground as if he had some desperate fear of turnstiles. If you saw him out of context, you would never imagine that he was being led to the Kingdom of Dreams and Magic. His parents obviously didn't look pleased but I was surprised they continued to drag him along. I understand that the entrance line was long and the parents probably didn't want to lose their places... but... well... I just hope the kid doesn't end up scarred for life or anything. (Although an adult who trembles in fear any time he sees a vision of Mickey Mouse would probably be an interesting sight.) Anyway, any kid who screams bloody murder when his parents take him to a Disney park... just doesn't deserve to go to that park.
After entering the park at around 9:15, I headed to City Hall to pick up an English language entertainment schedule. You may recall that on previous days, a CM went into the back room to fetch one for me; this time, there was a CM who had a bunch of English language maps handy. I took that as a sign that they expected larger crowds because of the improved weather as well as the Halloween event that had started on the 12th.
I was a woman on a mission- my objective was to hit the Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare as soon as possible either to enter the standby line or, if it was already too long, to grab a FastPass. I'd never seen a holiday themed attraction and I'd been curious to do so for a long time. (note- there is also a Christmas themed version of It's Small World at Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland) As I walked briskly toward the castle, cute Halloween decorations beckoned at me to stray from my path. I was tempted to join the other guests who were capturing Kodak moments. However, I reminded myself that I could always return later; in fact, soaking up the holiday atmosphere would be an excellent way to spend the afternoon hours when the crowds would be at their peak. Like a robot that couldn't be moved by the displays, I marched on in the direction of Fantasyland.
Once I arrived at the Haunted Mansion, I was pleased that the standby line was still short. Even better, I was able to get into the initial entrance room much more quickly than the posted 20 minute wait. I hadn't really known what to expect, but, WOW, it really blew me away! The holiday theming wasn't just on the order of a few banners slapped around; the entire attraction, down to the soundtrack, had been rethought. Even the paintings in the stretch room had been changed to suit the theme. Moreover, it wasn't just change for change's sake- the Mansion was still a wonderful, coherent attraction. I was very glad that I'd recently purchased a cheap VHS copy of the movie "The Nightmare Before Christmas" so that I had some context for the changes. The highest compliment I can give is that seeing an old favorite now inhabited by Jack Skellington, Sally, Zero, etc. made me smile from deep inside. It was a true stroke of Disney magic.
My main mission accomplished, I was finally able to slow down and breathe. I lingered outside a to take in the decorative touches on the exterior of the Haunted Mansion; already the posted wait time had increased to 40 minutes. Craving more smiles, I headed straight to my Laughing Place, namely the nearby Splash Mountain. Still very early in the day, it too had only a short wait. After I was done riding, I noticed that a walkaround Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear standing in the path between the ride and Fantasyland. I didn't see any formal lines to take photos with them; it was just like my vague memories of the "old days" at WDW where people just stood around and politely took turns. (much more magical than waiting in an organized line!) Since the ride is one of my favorites, I couldn't resist the urge to have my photo taken with Brer Rabbit. I didn't see an obvious CM working as a handler for the character so I was going to try to take the photo myself by turning my camera around... but just like magic, a CM popped out and offered to take the photo herself.
At some point in the morning, I returned to my old favorite waffle store for another Mickey Waffle with chocolate sauce and an orange juice- the perfect TDR breakfast! I also bought some presents for 2 very special little girls whom I love dearly. All of the Halloween souvenirs were so adorable that I had to defer some of my decisions until later in the day. I hadn't bought any souvenirs at the park on my visits the previous week. However, the combination of the knowledge that it was my last full day of vacation and that it was such an awesome Disney day proved to be slightly lethal to my wallet.
My main priority for the remainder of the day was to be sure I could fit in the 3 parades and 1 show that I wanted to see. For some reason, I'd expected that the Halloween parade would replace the regular afternoon parade. However, in actuality, the Halloween parade would be performed twice in addition to the regular afternoon and evening parades. Color me impressed!
About a half hour before the 11:50am performance of "Disney's Halloween Parade", I claimed a shaded spot near the hub in Westernland. Since I was by myself, it was easy for me to fit into a small space in the front row of spectators. Before the parade began, CM's taught the audience the hand movements for the "dance" so that everyone would be prepared to join in when the parade paused and went into show mode. Soon after the first floats passed me, they stopped and the interactive portion began. Small children were called out to join the performers, and most of the crowd joined in with the dance that they'd recently learned. At the end of the audience participation mode, a female parade member in front of me inflated a balloon which eventually popped and filled the air with orange, jack-o-lantern shaped confetti- that was a very neat touch!. Since it had paused so early on, I expected the parade to make several more stops at it passed by, but that isn't how things work. The parade stops once for show mode, and the floats you see at the time are dependent on where you are sitting
The parade was a little shorter than I'd expected, but it was a lot of fun. There's nothing like a Disney parade to really make you feel like you are part of a large-scale magical block party. I was almost in tears beforehand in joyous anticipation... and I hoped the Japanese guests wouldn't see me and think I was a silly gaijin to be crying instead of laughing. Trust me, I was smiling on the inside.
Next on my list of "must see" entertainment was "Minnie Oh! Minnie", which had been rained out earlier on my trip. No such problems this bright, sunny day! I don't know what I expected from it- I guess I thought it would be a cute little show that was heavily character based. However, it human performers seemed to be the primary features, and the characters served as delightful accents. It was a lot of fun- bright colors, Latin rhythms, and an endless supply of energy. I still am not thrilled with the outdoor theatre itself, especially since the seating is not raked. But the show itself was well worth seeing.
Toward the end of the show, I saw a mother rushing out with her small child whose head appeared to be gushing blood; I assume the child fell down and hit their head on the cement, perhaps during the segment when the audience got up to dance with the performers. At any rate, that was a downer, and I really hope the child was ok. I'm sure the TDR has an excellent first aid team.
My 2nd parade of the day was the 3pm showing of "Disney's Dreams on Parade" which I caught towards the end of its route, near Toontown. I tried to squeeze into a space in the front, but I ended up sitting just behind a stroller and that was just about as good. This parade was a classic Disney parade, full of everyone's favorite characters. Like the Halloween parade, it stopped once for audience participation; this time, I was sitting at a spot where I saw approximately the middle of the parade when it paused. At the end of the show mode, a whimsical touch was that the air along the parade route was overflowing with bubbles.
The FastPass system helped me to be able to squeeze in a couple top rides during the afternoon without having to miss out on the parades. I rode Pooh with a FastPass just before "Disney's Dreams on Parade"; after the parade, I returned to the Holiday Haunted Mansion for my 2nd ride of the day. I don't think I would have had time to wait for either attraction during the peak afternoon hours without missing the parades if it hadn't been for FastPass.
At some point during the day, I took a ride on the "Jungle Cruise". The cruise loses something when you aren't fluent in the language of your guide, but it's still fun. Plus, my guide was very animated, and I often enjoyed watching him even when I didn't know what he was saying.
Another attraction with a language barrier was the Castle Tour, which I visited at some point in the afternoon or early evening. Fortunately, the basic themes of the tour made clear visually. If you're at all familiar with Disney, you can immediately recognize the "Good vs. Evil" and the "something's gone wrong" themes that frequently pop up in Disney attractions and entertainment. Plus, unlike the Jungle Cruise, the tour doesn't rely on humor- so I never had to contend with the awkward feeling that I was missing the joke. Someday, I would love to understand the narration since this is an attraction that so far has not been duplicated in any other Disney parks.
After the 2nd parade, I decided it was time for a late lunch. After wandering around and studying various menus, I decided on the Sweetheart Café. It was an odd time for a meal so I was surprised there was a line to get in. Fortunately, it was a very short line and I was probably seated within 5 minutes. I ordered Spaghetti Bolognese, garlic bread, and blood orange juice. The waiter went to great lengths to make sure I knew that the blood orange juice was red in color. I assured him that I was ok with that. Actually, I'd been excited to see blood orange juice on the menu because I'd really enjoyed that beverage at TDS the previous week.
After my meal, it was time for more shopping in World Bazaar- by this time, the stores were getting more crowded than earlier in the day. I also visited the Disney Gallery, which is on the 2nd floor of one of the World Bazaar buildings. The current exhibit topic was animals in Disney animation, and it was a cute diversion.
Back in attraction mode, I went on Space Mountain for my first time of the day when I noticed that the standby wait wasn't very long. I realized that I hadn't even stepped foot into Toontown all trip, so I made a point to head in that direction to ride Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin. I probably waited in a line that was longer than the ride merited (iirc, it was a 25 minute wait) but it wasn't too bad.
Big Thunder Mountain still had a long standby line, so I got a FastPass to use later in the evening. I wasn't sure if I should get one since it meant I wouldn't be able to get one for any other rides (such as Haunted Mansion or Pooh), but my instincts told me it was the right thing to do.
About 45 minutes to an hour before parade time, I searched for a spot to watch the 7:30pm nighttime Dreamlights parade. I decided to watch from across the Haunted Mansion so that I could see the parade as it first came out from backstage; that meant it would end sooner than at locations further on in the route, and I'd therefore have more time available after the parade before the park closed. I was able to get a spot in the front, just behind the ropes; unfortunately, this meant that rope sometimes crept into my photographs.
Dreamlights is based on the Main Street Electrical Parade that originated within the US Disney parks; the current Tokyo version includes extra floats (depicting more recent movies) and it probably uses improved technology as well. I'd had great memories of seeing Dreamlights twice on my previous trip, and it was wonderful to see it again. If a daytime Disney parade can set the tone for the day, a nighttime parade sure can put an exclamation mark at the end. I'm an evening person to begin with, and seeing all the colorful lights twinkling against the background of the dark evening sky, while listening to the bouncy Electrical Parade theme music... well, it makes me feel like I am just getting started!
And, indeed, there was still plenty left to do. While I'd waiting for the parade, I had noticed the posted wait time for Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare plunging further and further. As the parade ended, I was able to ride for my 3rd time of the day with only a minimal wait. I've noticed in general that right around the evening parade is truly a great time to try to ride some of the more popular TDL attractions without much of a standby wait.
After that, it was time for an encore ride on Splash Mountain, which also had a very short line. It was 8:30pm when I boarded my log and so I'd expected that I might be able to catch a glimpse of the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks while I was riding, but that didn't happen. No matter. From Splash, I headed toward Big Thunder Mountain to make use of my FastPass. I was glad I'd gotten once since the standby line was still posted at 45 minutes, and there was practically no wait on the FP line. It was much more fun riding BTMRR this time then when it had been raining on me the previous week! Plus, I've always been partial to riding it at night.
I next headed to Pooh, which I figured would be a fitting ending to my day at the parks. Pooh is such a fun and happy ride. It's much more interesting than the US Pooh themed rides since it's not a standard dark ride where you follow a track on the floor.
When I got off, I realized that I hadn't yet ridden Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, so I headed in that direction thinking that would be my last ride. The standby line was moving pretty slowly, but it was worth riding again.
As I was walking through Tomorrowland after exiting from Buzz Lightyear, I saw that Space Mountain was still open with no line. Well, now, how could I resist that opportunity? I arrived in just about the nick of time. As I was in the boarding area, I saw a CM come in to indicate that the line was now closed; at that point, there were not many people behind me.
I was sad that my TDL experience, along with my vacation, was drawing to a close. I planned to buy some CD's and DVD's in The Storybook Store on World Bazaar on my way out but they wouldn't let me in since it was after 10pm. I was a little surprised since I recall being able to shop on Main Street in WDW until well after the park had officially closed.
As I've said before, this was an all out magical Disney day. It was my first time seeing one of the special TDR events but hopefully it won't be my last. One of the true marks of the successful Halloween theme was that I entered the park with my mind firmly in summer vacation mode, but by the end of the day, I was ready for fall. I spent a lot of the day, walking around and enjoying the whimsical Halloween decorations. Each time I discovered a newly decorated area, it felt like I was unwrapping a new present. I never knew where I'd come across another Halloween display- it truly gave me a fresh perspective on the park.
In addition to the visual touches, there were several times I came across CM's who were handing out little wrapped candies to anyone who greeted them by saying "Trick or Treat". I don't know if that could work in the US parks, but I didn't see any pushing or shoving or overwhelming the CM's. I was truly impressed with the extensive detail that was used in the Halloween event; it certainly helped to sustain a magical feeling throughout the park.
In addition to enjoying the special Halloween theming, my day was enhanced by the fact that the park seemed to have a perfect number of guests. There weren't so few people that it seemed too empty like it had on the previous weeks; there were just enough to feel like it was a party, without getting to the point where lines got out of hand. As I turned back for a last glimpse of the decorations before exiting the park, I was sad that the magic of Disney couldn't extend to creating a day that would never end. But I promised myself I'd be back.
The platform at JR Maihama station was very crowded but it wasn't long before a train came. I'd planned to check the Internet at Kinkos from Tokyo Station but, surprisingly to me, it was already closed. I thought Kinkos operated 24/7?! Instead, I scoped out the locations of lockers so that I could store my luggage after I checked out the next morning.
While in the station, I stopped at a convenience store to purchase a beverage and some snacks. My purchase came to somewhere around 600 Yen, so I handed the clerk a 1000 Yen bill which, to me, seemed reasonable. Only for some reason, she wanted me to give her the exact change (i.e. if it was 663 Yen, she wanted the 63 Yen) So I took out some of my change and I had the amount she wanted. Then she started to reach into my change purse to search out exact change for the entire order (i.e. 600 more yen)! Ummm... excuse me?!? I'm not so dense that I can't understand your currency after being in the country for 2 weeks; I was purposely saving my 100 Yen coins so I could use them for lockers the next day. Way for her to be patronizing! But, since this was a Disney day, my story has a happy ending. Or at least an ironic one. ;) After all that, she handed me some coins as well as 4 1000 Yen bills. (remember- I'd originally started by handing her a single 1000 Yen bill) Since she'd been treating me like I was stupid, I was half wondering if I hadn't accidentally given her a 5000 Yen bill. But as soon as she looked down at the bill in front of her, I could tell from her facial expression that I hadn't.
Then the fun started. Since, you know, I'm just a stupid gaijin and all, she couldn't just ask me for the money. Shutting down the line, she started telling everyone behind me to go to another register. Obviously stressed, she appeared to be searching for someone else. Finally, when she couldn't find anyone, she held out a 5000 Yen bill in one hand and a 1000 Yen bill in the other and asked me which I had given her. Just when I thought she couldn't treat me like I was any more of an idiot, she proved me wrong. I honestly pointed to the 1000 Yen and somehow maybe she realized that I knew what was going on, as I handed her back the 4 bills she'd given me.
I may not be a nice person, but it sure was satisfying to see her make such a big honking mistake after she had been treating me like I was someone who lacked a brain. Ah, karma... ;)
When I got back to my hotel room, I was too tired to pack so I left that for the next morning since my flight home wasn't until 6pm.
I have to take a moment to extol the virtues of Japanese White Chocolate Kit Kat candy bars. The first time I saw one at a store, I passed right by since I've seen White Chocolate Kit Kats in the US. But when I saw it again, I noticed that it had Maple Syrup, an ingredient that definitely not is in the US versions. It was a totally delicious treat, and I regret not taking any extras home with me. I felt that the presence of maple syrup made this Kit Kat an appropriate breakfast item for my last morning.
It took me about 2 hours to take a shower, eat my Kit Kat, and pack/re-organize my bags for the flight home. After checking out, I headed to Tokyo station. My plan to store my luggage was slightly thwarted when it appeared that all the 500 Yen lockers were taken. However, I was able to walk down to the South Yaesu exit area and use a 400 Yen locker for my rolling suitcase and backpack and a 300 Yen locker for my small duffle. 200 Yen extra wasn't anything to worry about in the grand scheme of what I was paying for the vacation.
I made use of Kinkos to try to do research on the items I wanted to purchase. I found the name of the store where Takarazuka items were sold so that I would hopefully be more successful than on my initial attempt to find their Elisabeth DVD's. I also looked for information on the 4 Japanese Les Mis recordings from last year, and it appeared that they were only available at the Imperial theatre.
I arrived at Yurakucho station just before 11am. I'd hoped to start out earlier, but it turns out to be a good thing that I ran late because it turned out that the Chantier shopping center across from the Takarazuka theatre didn't open until 11. As I reached the shopping center, I noticed that there were a lot of Japanese women sitting and standing along both sides of the street in front of the Takarazuka theatre entrance. Some of these women appeared to be wearing matching blazers. I guessed correctly that these were groups who were waiting for the Takarazuka performers on their way inside the theatre. It was interesting to observe the behavior of Japanese theatre fans, since I am so familiar with American habits. (note: I do not assume that Takarazuka fans are typical of all Japanese theatre fans, since Takarazuka fills a very specific niche)
I'd gone into Chantier 2 days earlier, but I had just poked around the main floor and I hadn't known the store name I was looking for at the time. Thanks to my Katakana reading skills, I was able to locate the store's name, "Quatre Reves", on the directory sign- it was one level down from the main entrance. Right smack in the front of the store was a display of Elisabeth items- DVD's, CD's, etc. They even had "Elisabeth" Bath Essence in one of the aisles. I was so excited to find the DVD's that I'd wanted to purchase. Since they were extremely expensive, I limited myself to 2: the most recent one from 2005, and the earliest one from 1996 which featured Maki Ichio, whom I'd just seen as Elisabeth, playing the role of Der Tod (Death). I couldn't wait to be able to watch them!
I walked by the Imperial Theatre, but I decided not to ask if there was a way that I could buy the Japanese Les Mis CD's. I figured that I really didn't need them. Plus, it might get complicated to try to ask about them, especially since I could only pay via credit card. Since my main goal for the day had been achieved, I decided to walk in the direction of Ginza and to try to walk back to Tokyo station.
On my way to the Ginza area, I happened upon a HMV store, where I was lucky enough to find the 2 TDR 20th anniversary DVD's that I'd hoped to purchase on my way out of TDL the previous night. I also bought a 20th anniversary 2 CD set. I considered buying some Japanese Disney DVD's but decided that they were too expensive. I would probably have purchased BatB or Little Mermaid if they were available, despite the price, since they are my favorites. Curiously, I could not find a musical soundtrack section in this HMV, but I'd already come to peace with the fact that no Japanese Les Mis CDs would be coming home with me.
During my pleasant walk to Tokyo station, I stopped to look around in the cosmetics section whenever I passed a department store. I didn't buy anything, but it was fun to look around. At the station, I enjoyed a sit down lunch of Spaghetti Bolognese in one of the restaurants. Soon enough, it was time to board the Narita Express to the airport- I'd made my reservation the previous morning on my way to TDL since I'd noticed that there had not been a line at the reservation counter.
I'd planned to do some shopping in the stores at the airport, but I ended up not having much time at all after I checked in for my flight. I bought a couple quick things, including a bottle of water and a bottle of Pocari Sweat for the plane ride. (having a bottle of water is so much more convenient than waiting for flight attendants to provide beverage service; plus, the bottle can be conveniently stowed in the seatback in front of me) And just like that, my trip was over and I was headed onto a plane. I hadn't been able to use up all of my Yen, but I figure I can store them in a safe place for my next trip.
For some reason, my seat on the plane to Dallas/Fort Worth had been switched from 22A to 25A. I didn't give it any thought until I noticed that the lady in 25B was sniffling and sneezing. I didn't have to be a psychic to accurately predict that I would be sick when I got home. I finally cracked open my journal on the flight, and I realized I'd already forgotten a number of details from early in the trip; eventually, I gave up writing in favor of listening to my MiniDiscs.
I had a 4 hour layover in Dallas/Fort Worth, which was nice since it meant that I didn't have to be at all stressed about making my connecting flight. It was a Friday, so I had no reason to care what time I arrived home. I was glad to buy some American snacks, such as Nutter Butters and Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies. The flight home was uneventful, and I was a little too excited to see Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper in the vending machines near the baggage claim area. The shuttle promptly picked me up only a few minutes after I called them. The best part of going home was reuniting with my cat Belle, who probably missed me even more than I'd missed her; for days, she was my little white shadow, sweetly following me around my apartment. I was awake enough to stay up late watching act 1 of one of my brand new Elisabeth DVD's.
My last day in TDL was by far the highlight of my time in the Tokyo Disney Resort, mainly because of the Halloween event and the improved weather. I discovered that while empty parks may make for shorter lines, moderate crowds make the day more fun. However, there was certainly much to enjoy even on the earlier days. In many ways, TDR reminds me of my childhood WDW memories in ways that the US parks sometimes don't- I love that the parks have always been open until 10pm when I've been there, the CM's have great attitudes, and everything seems to be impeccably maintained. Moreover, I'd love to see any other special events at TDR.
- Lines are really short in TDL around the time of the evening parade, right before closing, and right after opening.
- Be sure to get an English language guidebook at City Hall/ Guest Services so that you can also have an English language entertainment schedule. Parades and shows are well worth seeing.
- Don't count on being able to walk into World Bazaar stores after the posted closing time for the park.
- Souvenir popcorn buckets make excellent containers for toiletry items and probably for other small items as well; finding such a use makes them more practical to pack.
- If you are up for it, heading to the parks as soon as you arrive in Japan is a great way to resist the temptation to go to sleep at an hour that is very early on the Tokyo clock. The sooner you try to get used to local time, the easier it will be for you to adjust.
- If you are staying at the Sheraton and you want to get to the parks as soon as possible, definitely check in at the lower level of the Welcome Center in Ikspiari.
- In case you want to get some basic food outside of the parks, there's a grocery store in the basement of Ikspiari and a convenience store near the entrance to JR Maihama train station.
- Taking a cab from an official hotel to JR Maihama is ridiculously expensive, so don't do it unless you have no other viable options. (I assume this applies to all taxis in Tokyo)
For a theatre fan like myself, it was well worth checking out some Japanese shows. I have some reservations about the fact that the Shiki theatre productions are performed to recorded orchestra tracks, but everything else about Beauty and the Beast
and Aspects of Love
were first rate. Not surprisingly, Elisabeth
was my favorite of the 3 shows I saw- I may have had some quibbles with it, but it was very interesting and well worth seeing.
Within Tokyo Disney, I didn't have any problems although the people I encountered had far from perfect English. If you want to go anywhere beyond the most popular tourist sites or to more obscure cities, then the more Japanese you know, the better off you will be. The ability to read Katakana and the modest language skills I'd retained from my college Japanese classes were very useful to me. I can only imagine that I would have had even better experiences if I had greater abilities in Japanese.
I booked a variety of accommodations, ranging from cheap to luxurious. My most expensive hotel was 18,000 Yen a night which isn't bad at all compared to prices in NY or even to deluxe hotels in WDW. I was very happy with all but one of my accommodations- I felt they met or exceeded my expectations. The one exception was the ryokan in which my room smelled horribly mildewy; but that was only one night so it wasn't too bad. I would definitely return to the Sheraton next time I go to TDR, especially if I can get a fantastic rate again.
I am a very picky eater, so it is hard for me when I go to foreign countries and I can't read the menus. Although I didn't have much success trying to eat local foods, I was ok with eating spaghetti a lot- I knew what to expect from it, and it wasn't very expensive. As far as snacking, you can't go wrong with flavored Kit Kats. Pocari Sweat is a refreshing beverage, as is Aquarius. (I had a slight preference for Pocari Sweat) Fanta Kiwi Soda is something I probably would have bought more often if I drank non-diet soda with any frequency.
I planned and arranged everything myself. The Internet was an invaluable tool for researching accommodations and finding the best prices for them, as well as for finding out what musicals would be playing. Researching the trip was almost as fun as the trip itself- and my research helped me find useful options such as the Visit Japan airfare. Also, I was glad I'd had the idea to print out maps I'd seen on various webpages of how to get to the theatres and hotels.
Last trip, I had a huge suitcase and that hadn't worked out too well for me. This time, I had absolutely no problems using a small (carry-on sized) rolling suitcase and a matching stackable duffle, as well as a small backpack. I also made a conscious effort not to buy many large/heavy souvenirs, particularly early in my trip. The icing on the cake was that my purple bags and hot pink backpack were totally cute. :)
This was my first trip with my new digital camera and I don't know how I ever lived without one.
My biggest surprise of the trip was how much I enjoyed Tokyo itself, since it had been far from a highlight of previous trips. In fact, I currently think that my next trip will be limited to Tokyo. Instead of running around, it would be more relaxing to stay at the Sheraton for a full week, and to commute downtown periodically for shopping/theatre/sightseeing/etc.
That isn't to say that I regretted going to Kyushu, although I do wish I'd been able to go there when the temperature had felt more conducive to sightseeing. Nagasaki itself was definitely worth the trip, and I wish I'd had more time to spend there.
All in all, it was a successful and enjoyable trip. I accomplished most of what I set out to do, without any really bad experiences. I didn't spend more than I could afford, which is also a good thing. Japan was probably the best choice of the options I'd considered for vacations this year, so I am definitely glad I went.