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Tokyo for the holidays: An exercise in stamina, sushi and mental acuity

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December 25, 2019, 2:46 pm

Forget taking Prevagen or doing Lumosity or any of those other brain-enhancing gimmicks. If you want to stay nimble in your thought processes late into life, here’s my formula:

Grab a 12-hour direct flight on United Airlines from Denver up and over British Columbia, across the Alaska panhandle and then down along the Aleutian Islands (pretty damn close to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula) and land at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.

In flight, don’t sleep (because it will never really get dark as you head into the endlessly setting sun), but instead try to watch four movies – and make sure one of them is Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson – just to get you ready for the weirdness of Japan.

Then, after leaving Colorado at around noon and arriving a DIA-plus distance from your hotel at around 4 p.m. the next day, try to figure out how to take three separate trains, schlepping too much ski gear, to your waterfront hotel in Tokyo’s Odaiba neighborhood.

Oh, and do all of this with your wife and three equally sleep-deprived kids in tow. That’s what we decided to do for the holidays, and it definitely had all the brain synapses firing on fumes.

Our reward? A room with a view and a balcony in the Tokyo Hilton Odaiba looking out over the main waterfront and port area – and just in time for a Christmas fireworks spectacular that drew a flotilla of booze cruise boats and a big crowd clustered in front of the Vegas New York-New York-style mini Statue of Liberty standing guard over the harbor.

And I do recommend having some teens along to interpret at-times incomprehensible subway maps with good humor – all the while helping you navigate train stations that even at a late hour on a Saturday had a bit of Tokyo subway frantic feel.

Exhausted and hungry, we were also rewarded with the best mall food-court experience ever imagined at the neighboring Aqua City mall. You will not find crappy Panda Express fare there. We’re talking amazing dumplings, potstickers and delicious Ramen bowls – all washed down with refreshing Asahi beer.

The next day, jetlag be damned, we grabbed a quick breakfast buffet feast (not going to recommend the Japanese take on scrambled eggs, but everything else was great) and headed next door to the Mori Building Digital Art Museum, created by the digital-art collective teamLab.

It’s a sprawling exhibit you will literally get lost in. More than 60 installations “test the border between the art and the viewer. The artworks are interactive, responding to touch and movement, and the digital projections can move beyond frames and bring guests inside the pieces.” That’s straight from the museum’s website, but it has to be experienced in person to fully appreciate.

You will emerge into the grey, overcast Tokyo skyscape dazed, disoriented and a bit motion sick from the endless bombardment of sensory intensity. So jump on the nearby Palette Town Giant Sky Wheel – an indescribably massive ferris wheel that slowly cranks you up maybe 400 or 500 feet off the ground.

Because I was with three teen boys, we waited for the glass-bottomed cabin, then immediately felt a sense of regret as we were slowly spun up to staggering heights. At the apex, though, you will truly appreciate just how vast Tokyo is.

Then it was back onto the trains, because we were veterans now and not dragging around ski gear, and because, why not? A couple of stops later we were at the beautiful Tokyo Central Rail Station – a bit of destination unto itself – and within walking distance from our true objective.

That’s right – the Pokemon Mega Center, where all things Pokemon can be had.

First, however, we decided so much Japanese anime weirdness at Christmastime could not be fully appreciated on empty stomachs, and no more mall food, however delicious, this time around. We selected a traditional Tokyo lunch spot with waiting room on the city sidewalk and an insanely authentic experience inside, including a chunk of fish in our warm sake.

After that it was full-on Pokemon immersion and another complex train ride home to the Hilton. That was enough for one day in Tokyo. The next day we would grab a plane out of Haneda International Airport to Sapporo and then onto the deep Japow of Rusutsu, Hokkaido.

This is after all, a ski trip … but more on all of that in my next installment.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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