Tokyo in January is crisp. You don layers to insulate yourself from the cold, but you make sure the layers are quickly removable so that your experience in a restaurant or a train is not synonymous with a sweat lodge.
For this trip, I stayed at the Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo Ikebukuro.
It is located just outside of Ikebukuro Station (follow the signs to Metropolitan Plaza), the non-smoking rooms are legitimate non-smoking rooms, and the price is right. (I paid just under $100 per night.)
Across the street is a MOS Burger and a bakery. Just down the street is a Gorilla Coffee and a ramen chain called Ramen Hidakaya.
When it’s cold, a nice bowl of miso ramen seems to hit the spot. Also, the price tag (500 yen), approximately $4.60, is tough to beat.
Their gyoza (pan-fried dumplings) is also excellent. (Apologies, but I finished both plates before I could take a photo.)
New to this trip was a sumo tournament. Watching this ballet of bulldozers all day could get tiring, but it is an exciting way to spend an afternoon. The tickets sell out, though, as these guys are like rock-stars. So look around online, or consider contacting your hotel’s concierge to find out if there will be a tournament in Tokyo when you visit, and if tickets are still available.
Also new to this trip was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (located across from the Hyatt Shinjuku). The structure is massive, and when you take the elevator to the top, there’s a nice Observation Deck. (There is no cost.)
And if you’re lucky, you’ll be asked by a couple of volunteers if you’d like to learn how to make origami.
Olympic fever is growing in Tokyo, and on the ground floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is a reminder of how many days remain until the opening ceremony for the 2020 Olympics.
I’ve already written about Sol’s Coffee, located in Asakusa-Bashi. If you like good, strong, black pour-over coffee made from beans roasted on the premises, go to Sol’s.
For several days, the weather was excellent. It was chilly, but there was little wind. The sky was big and blue.
And then, on the last day, it snowed.
I sat in a United Airlines 787-900 for 2.5 hours while the de-icing truck attempted to work its magic, the snow continuing to fall. And then it was decided. No more flights will depart Narita tonight. All flights were canceled.
Passengers deplaned, and many were justifiably upset and confused. Where would they sleep?
The airport, for many, became their hotel for the night.
I decided to try my luck by taking the train back to Tokyo, where I sloshed through the snow in hopes of locating the Hotel Gracery Ginza, which I’d booked via Agoda.
It’s important to note that few hotels remained, as people were frantically trying to find a room for the night. But I had a confirmation. In fact, my credit card had already been charged.
But when I arrived to the hotel—fingers numb from the cold, socks wet from the snow—there was a woman crying as she pleaded with the employee manning the front desk. Her reservation (via Agoda) was not being honored. The hotel was fully booked. Agoda made a mistake and should never have confirmed (and accepted payment for) the reservation.
This, of course, helped prime me for the bad news I was about to receive.
There were no rooms available at this hotel, and it would take another two hours before securing one of the last remaining rooms in Tokyo.
Without turning this into an epic novel, I suppose there are two takeaways: first, those with a cool head will prevail. Second, even though Agoda later apologized for a glitch and offered me a refund and a $15 credit toward my next reservation, I’ve no plans to ever use their service again.
Tokyo? See you soon.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.