Piss Alley is where we learned about Hoppy. It’s a low-alcohol, beer-flavored beverage that you pour into a half-glass of shochu. We were at Tori-en, an izakaya, preparing to devour our third plate of karaage (fried chicken). It was a tough day.
We awoke at the Hotel Gracery in Shinjuku (I’ve written about it during a previous visit). I love the idea of staying in a hotel where, every twenty minutes, you hear the roar of Godzilla, who just happens to be peeking over the roof.
This was a two-night jaunt to Tokyo. I’ve been assured that flying 10,000 miles to spend two nights in Tokyo is crazy. But I think it’s crazy not to, especially if you have the opportunity to travel with this guy:
That’s Kanji, aka Kdawg, my cousin. We lounge-hopped for a few hours at LAX and then boarded a direct flight to Tokyo Narita via United Airlines.
lounge hopping: visiting various airport lounges in an effort to optimize the pre-flight experience. (At LAX, we went to the United Club, the Alaska Board Room, and the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge.)
The key to traveling to Tokyo for a two-night stay is simple: maximize your time on the ground, and make the entire trip an experience. Book direct flights, do not check luggage, secure TSA Pre and Global Entry, reserve a hotel near the action, and fly in a premium cabin with lie-flat seats.
I made an effort on the flight not to eat too much, as I prefer to arrive to Tokyo hungry. Once the train deposited us at Shinjuku Station, we walked to the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku, where we learned that I mistakenly booked the wrong room type.
We were supposed to share a room, but I booked a Double when I should’ve booked a Twin. (Apparently, a Double room indicates that two people will stay in one bed. A Twin room indicates that two people will each get their own bed.) I dig deep to summon what Japanese I’ve learned; I must dig even deeper to comprehend the English words that have been translated from Japanese.
Fortunately, this was minutiae in the overall scheme of things. We were in Tokyo, and when in Tokyo, one should eat.
Of course, given the amount of awards that Japanese whiskeys are winning, it seems prudent to enjoy some whiskey tasting while in Tokyo. We went to Shot Bar Zoetrope, where the owner, Atsushi Horigami, not only stocks some of the top Japanese whiskeys, but he also has his own 130-proof concoction, appropriately called Zoetrope.
Tokyo at night is pulsing with lights and sounds, especially in districts with lots of restaurants, bars, shopping, and karaoke, like Shibuya and Shinjuku. Street musicians are not too common, as permits are required, but we caught a glimpse of a guitarist at around midnight:
The next day began at Tori-en, an izakaya, where we discovered Nama Remon Sawa (Fresh Lemon Sour) and Nama Yuzu Sawa (Fresh Grapefruit Sour). Patrons manually extract the juice from their fruit and place the desired amount into their glass of soda water and vodka.
Later, we discovered the previously mentioned Hoppy, a low-alcohol, beer-flavored beverage that you pour into a half-glass of shochu (it’s similar to vodka, sake, or soju . . . but different).
August in Japan brings the heat (and humidity), and these drinks proved refreshing. Of course, we paired the drinks with food.
After two nights, it was time to bid Tokyo adieu. With our carry-ons in tow, we took the train from Shinjuku Station to Narita.
While we could have booked the non-stop from Narita to LAX, we opted to route through SFO, as it gave us an opportunity to try United’s newly configured 777-300. And while we both prefer United’s 787-900, their new Polaris hard product did not disappoint.
After a shower and a shave at the Centurion Lounge, it was time to board our last flight to LAX. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: unlike most of my possessions, these experiences continue to increase in value. They’re fun. Memorable. They bring people closer together.
United Airlines 787-900 LAX-NRT Business Class*
United Airlines 777-300 NRT-SFO Business Class*
United Airlines A320 SFO-LAX First Class*
LAX United Club, Alaska Board Room, Air Canada Maple Leaf**
NRT ANA Lounge**
SFO United Club, Centurion Lounge**
Re-entry hack: Mobile Passport for entry into USA. Since Kanji didn’t have Global Entry, we tried this free app. It does not work at LAX yet, but it is accepted at SFO. It was fast. We didn’t wait in line like the rest of the people.
Hotel: Hotel Gracery Shinjuku (this is a great hotel if you want to be in the thick of things; however, for couple’s trips or family trips, I recommend the Hyatt Regency Shinjuku. If you do stay at the Hotel Gracery, though, reserve a Twin Room if you want a room with two beds, as a Double Room only gets you permission to have a second person in your small, one-bed room.)
Transportation: NEX tickets—roundtrip Narita Airport to Shinjuku Station—4,000 yen apiece (approx $40). Follow the signs at Narita Airport for NEX, and simply go to the ticket office.
Whiskey Tasting: Shot Bar Zoetrope.
Izakayas: Go to Omoide Yokochou (Memory Lane), commonly known as Shouben Yokochou (Piss Alley).
*We did not pay full fare for our flights. If you’re keen to know how to do this, feel free to contact me.
**These lounges were available to us because we met one of the following criteria: Business Class (International) booking, Star Alliance Gold Status, AMEX Platinum Card Member, Priority Pass Member (if you have the AMEX Platinum Card, you also get a Priority Pass). (These are not affiliate links. If you have questions about how to do any of these things, simply contact me.)