I was home three nights, and on Tuesday morning, election day in the U.S. (I voted two weeks earlier), I flew to Tokyo. It was my first visit in three years, and I was excited to be on my way. The flight across the Pacific is long, more than 13 hours, but it went fairly quickly. Landed in mid-afternoon, hopped on the Narita Express to central Tokyo, then the Metro north a few stops, then on foot up Hongo Street to my lodging – I was staying at Ryokan Tsutaya, a traditional inn, rather than a conventional hotel. The inn was on a quiet back street and the sign in front was only in Japanese, so finding it was a bit tricky. Once inside, a warm welcome. The clerk spoke little English, but was friendly and explained various things, including the location of the down-the-hall toilet.
My room was larger than I expected and spotlessly clean. There was a futon on the floor, no chairs. Local! And about one-third of the price of the rather fancy hotel where I typically stayed. I took a shower, changed clothes, and ambled back to an internet café close to the Metro. Filled out a registration form and in no time was checking e-mails.
At 6:45, I rode the Metro two stops south and met Wharton classmate John Vandenbrink and his wife Donna. We walked a block to an old-school soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant (in business since the 1880s) they had wanted to try for some years. Food was great. We caught up on families and more. John spent years as an investment banker, and like me now teaches part time, but at only one school. We walked a few hundred meters to a Starbucks-like coffee house for dessert of chocolate cake and cocoa. I headed back to the inn, donned the hotel-provided robe, and went to the basement for a traditional Japanese bath. Before leaving home, I re-learned the ritual and etiquette, basically soap up thoroughly before the bath, which is simply for soaking. I was the only one in the big tub, so there was no risk of touching off an international ruckus! Struggled to keep my eyes open until ten, and slept relatively well – at least until Mark, a longtime friend and our accountant called at 2:51. I flopped a bit, but fell back asleep.
Thursday morning I was out the door before seven, for a good walk around the nearby campus of Tokyo University, back to the Internet café to work my e-mail, then across town to the Shibuya shopping district. Visited, as I always do, the Tokyu Food Show in the basement of the department store of the same name, to ogle the fancy and pricey food (two medium sized tomatoes for $10). Grabbed a Starbucks, hopped on another train over to the Shinjuku commercial area west of downtown, walked around, then headed back to the inn.
Suited up at noon, and rode west to the Waseda University campus. First stop was a wonderful lunch at Rakkyo Brothers, a tiny place that specialized in spicy curry soup from Sapporo on the big northern island of Hokkaido.
My variant had chicken and autumn vegetables, filling and very savory.
At 1:30 I met my host, Ken Grossberg, a friendly and energetic American. We yakked for an hour, and I then delivered two back-to-back talks to MBA students, the latter more of a seminar to just three students in his office. Great fun. We had a nice dinner in a faculty restaurant, walked back to the subway, and I peeled off. I was tired, but not so tired that I couldn’t head to Ginza for a beer at the Lion Beer Hall, a wonderful Art Deco room. Ginza, bright with huge signs, was hopping. Quaffed a beer and headed back to the inn. Took another pre-sleep bath. Though I was the only man in the tub, the inn was noisy with teenagers, presumably in Tokyo for a long weekend. But nothing could keep me awake! The futon was comfy, the room cool (by my choice).
Friday morning I packed up and wheeled out. The front-desk clerk opened the front door for me, bowed, said goodbye and thanked me repeatedly. A very nice place – I would stay there again. First stop was the Internet café, where a good-news e-mail caused a small “whoopee” moment: Linda and I paid off our mortgage. It was a good feeling indeed. Not so good was the homeless kid sleeping in one of the booths of the internet café – John Vandenbrink told me it was a problem.
Had a light breakfast and a coffee and rode the Metro south to the central station, put my suitcase in a locker, and hopped on the train to Yokohama, the port city about 25 miles south of central Tokyo. It was a clear and relatively warm morning. I walked out of the central station, and at first glance Yokohama appeared completely redone. Standing on the harbor, on the Pacific Ocean, gleaming high-rises marched north and south, including Nissan’s world headquarters. The place looked like Miami!
I quickly appreciated the positives of a smaller place. Indeed, it reminded me of my September visit to Long Beach, in the shadow of L.A. Yokohama had much the same feel: slower pace than Tokyo, friendly people (standing in front of a large local map in the train station, an older lady asked, in great English, if I needed help).
The map pointed the way, out of the station and north along the water to the Sea Bass water taxi. It was a little hard to figure out the itinerary from the Sea Bass leaflet and a ticket agent, but I understood that it was a 20-minute cruise. Still, a short ride on salt water on a lovely and relatively warm fall day was tonic. We docked at the location of the original port, a place laden with history: it was here in 1854 that Commodore Perry signed the historic Japanese-American Amity Treaty. A plaque nearby told me that the area subsequently became a center for international relations and world trade after the Port of Yokohama opened in 1859.
The Sea Bass tied up adjacent to the NYK Hikawa Maru, a graceful old steamship that crossed the Pacific to Seattle 254 times from 1930 to 1960. A pleasant green park lined the waterfront. I was in the old center of Yokohama and really liking the place – even more when I ambled into the splendid lobby of the New Grand Hotel, which opened in 1927. The scene along the Bund (which, like Shanghai, is what they call the waterfront) was so pleasant. From the hotel I could see the NYK liner, and imagine a decade of peace before World War II.
I walked along, past the graceful former British consulate, now the city archives. In a park just to the south was a reproduction of a painting (turned lithograph) by Commodore Perry’s fleet artist, W. Heine, depicting the treaty signing ceremony. Onward, past the Kanagawa Prefectural Building, 1928. Down a few blocks to the polychrome brick Kaiko Kinen Yokohama Kaikan (1917), built to commemorate 50th anniversary of port opening. I was walking in the past, and really enjoying it – one seldom gets that sense in Tokyo. And it was great to be in a place that had clearly been planned for more than a century. In Tokyo, things seem just piled on top of another. It was a delightful bit of serendipity.
I hopped the subway three stops, had another big bowl of soup in a sort-of shopping mall above the main Yokohama station, got on the JR train back to Tokyo, and returned to the locker for my suitcase. Okay, full disclosure: it took about ten minutes to find the bank of lockers – the station is huge and on many levels. Took the 2:03 Narita Express back to the airport, checked in for a Japan Airlines flight, and met a couple of old friends, Tim Zandbergen and Hideo Miyabe, senior guys at the airline caterer TFK. We had a nice chat, and I peeled off to the Admirals Club.
I hadn’t been in the club a minute when I ran into a friend and longtime AA colleague, Patrick O’Keeffe. I knew that a bunch of American Airlines people had been in Tokyo for meetings with their Japan Airlines counterparts (both carriers recently received permission to form a joint venture across the Pacific). Patrick invited me into a private room, where I saw three other pals, including AA’s general manager at Narita, Arimizu-san. We had some laughs and a beer, and at 5:30 I zipped to Gate 81 for the flight to Hanoi. My first trip to Vietnam, and I was excited, excited, excited. That’s for the next post.