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January 4, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                         Tokyo to Toronto

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I hope you had a great 2005, and will have an even a better 2006. 2005 was an incredible travel year for me. I spanned the globe several times, flying on 24 different carriers. I was fortunate to travel to Europe four separate times (my brother Frank’s wedding was the most notable). In Europe I visited, England, Ireland, France, Italy, Switzerland and Iceland. Other trips took me to Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Japan, Australia, Fiji, and all over the U.S. One of my 2006 goals is to travel to at least 10 countries I have never been to (I know, I’m aiming high), and share my stories with you. I’ve also been working diligently, redesigning the newsletter to make it more attractive – we now have photos down the right side. It looks so much better, we’ve gone back and reformatted some of our most popular newsletters -- so be sure to check out our new and improved Newsletter and Video Archive section. Thanks for logging on, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

From Kyoto I made my way up to Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Japan Airlines. When I saw on my boarding pass I was assigned to seat 82C I thought, “Holy cow! I didn’t know a plane had that many rows.” I figured I’d be sitting near, if not on, the aft toilet. Fortunately, it turns out JAL numbers its domestic route rows strangely. 82C turned out to be the second row of this 747 -- in First Class. Yeah, Baby!

Haneda is Tokyo’s domestic airport (though there are international flights to and from Korea). What’s great is the location – it’s so much closer to downtown then Narita. A taxi takes only 30 minutes to central Tokyo – it’s 90 minutes from Narita.

I was excited to be in Tokyo and thrilled to learn that Tokyo really isn’t as expensive as I had heard. I always wanted to spend time there, but I’m not even going to attempt to write about it in-depth. You need at least a full week to get a good feel for the city, and I was there for only a few days. Another problem was that I was there during peak hay fever season. My allergies were killing me -- so much that I didn’t want to go outside much. I wasn’t the only one suffering, either. On my first day there I was walking the busy streets with a couple of Japanese friends from college, when my allergies kicked in. I asked if they had a tissue; to my surprise, they did. They handed me a travel-size packet. The back caught my eye --it was an advertisement. They explained that in Tokyo, instead of marketers handing out simple flyers like in NYC, they make them more appealing by putting ads inside small packets of tissues. Is that ingenious or what?

I was staying at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel, a massive property with over 3600 guest rooms in four connecting towers. The hotel is in Shinagawa, an up-and- coming area of Tokyo that is perfect for travelers on business (as well as tourists and people with bad allergies). That’s because they have everything you need in a hotel: high-speed internet (1,580 yen = $13.40 per day); plenty of shops and restaurants (including a food court); a 10-screen multiplex theater; an IMAX theatre; aquarium; cabaret; bowling lanes; indoor swimming pool; indoor tennis courts; indoor golf center, and a pharmacy. TIP: Instead of trying to figure out (by translating) which drugstore medication is for you, pack your own goods before leaving home. (I kicked myself for forgetting my Claritin).

What was cool about the hotel was their technology for conserving energy and saving money. The first seven floors of the Executive tower had escalators (as well as elevators). When there was no one around the escalators appeared to be out of order (they weren’t moving). But as soon as someone got close, they start to move – just like sliding doors. The automatic lighting in the room is another bright idea. Americans could sure learn some tricks from the Japanese. Shinagawa Prince Hotel, 10-30, Takanawa 4-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo; tel.: 81-3-3440-1111.

My comfortable room was on the 26th floor, with a great view of Tokyo. However, I wasn’t too excited about being so high up – Japan is the most earthquake-prone place in the world. I should’ve guessed that my thoughts would jinx me, because the following day as I was watching “Lost in Translation” in bed (I still was not feeling well), you guessed it: a shaker came, and it was BIG. I sprang out of bed like someone had thrown on me a bucketful of ice cold water and poisonous snakes. My heart sank to my toes, and I thought my time on earth had come to an end. Thank God it was only a 5.1 -- and that these ingenious Japanese built their buildings for this kind of action. When I went downstairs to see if everything was alright, I realized no one even flinched or made a big deal of it. In fact, there was only a short clip about the quake on the news.

Another great asset about the hotel is its proximity to the Shinagawa Station. It’s across the street from this major transportation hub, filled with stores and restaurants where passengers can take 187-mph bullet trains (called shinkansen) or the Tokyo Metro (eight subway lines in the heart of Tokyo). I took the subway a few times. It’s easy (as long as you get detailed instructions, or have a local showing you the ropes), safe, reliable, and seems wider than the carriages I’m used to riding in NYC, Paris and London.

My first stop on the subway was Tokyo Station (7 kilometers south). Tokyo Station is also a major railway terminal, but what makes it so special is the red brick building originally constructed in the Meiji Period (1868-1912). The architecture alone makes it much more than a transportation center. It’s an attraction itself, and includes an art gallery, department store and hotel.

A short walk from Tokyo Station is Kokyo the former Edo Castle that used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun (he ruled Japan from 1603 until 1867). In 1868 the country's capital and Imperial Residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. Today the castle (called Kokyo) is where the Emperor lives. This Japanese imperial palace was built in 1888. It was destroyed during World War II, but rebuilt in 1968 in the same style. Much of the palace is off limits, but the east gardens are a wonderful place to spend a lazy afternoon walking around.

That night I met up with another friend, Brian. He showed me around other parts of Tokyo and the Shibuya district -- one of Tokyo's trendiest. It’s known for its great shopping, and at night felt a lot like Paris or NYC. For dinner we tried a new Brazilian place (in Tokyo you can get any kind of food, not just Japanese) called Tucano’s. It’s a typical charruscaria, where diners can get all they can eat for 4,000 yen ($34). Make sure to go with an empty stomach. And don’t fill up on the salad bar, because every few minutes friendly Brazilian waiters come by the table with perfectly cooked meats. After the 14th round I threw in the towel. Brian didn’t quit until the 18th round. Tucano’s, Shibuya Fhontis Bld.B1 2-23-12 Dogenzaka Shibuya-ku; tel.: 03-5784-2661.

Another great place for dinner is Gonpachi, located in Ginza. I went to this replica of a traditional Japanese warehouse with a couple of friends. They recommended we sit on the second floor. That way, we could look down on the first-floor diners. The exposed wooden beams and dim lighting gave this place a unique atmosphere, and to top it off the food was delicious. No wonder why there was a really long wait. Afterwards, we walked off our dinner by heading to Roppongi Hills. Roppongi is a section of Tokyo, and the Roppongi Hills is a mega-development. This 27-acre area is a favorite among Westerners, featuring all kinds of restaurants, shops, museums, cinemas, clubs, hotels, residences, office space, gardens, parks -- even a TV studio. The most famous building is the 54-story Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. It’s got luxury shops, apartments, a Grand Hyatt hotel, and a sky deck on the 52nd floor. It’s definitely worth exploring.

The time to leave Japan could not have come any sooner. All I wanted was to arrive in L.A. and lie down (when I’m not feeling well, the only place I want to be is home sweet home). Fortunately, my trip back on JAL was as painless as the flight over (here’s that story). To get to Narita Airport I took the cheapest mode of transportation possible: a 2-hour airport limousine bus (it stops at a few hotels) for 3,000 Yen = $25.50. That’s so much cheaper than a 20,000 yen ($170) taxi!

I wasn’t home for long though, because I had to travel to Toronto to tape a couple of “Call For Help” shows on G4techTV (it’s a tech show that can be seen throughout Canada, Australia and the U.S.). The shows air this month on cable, so be sure to tune in. I love going to their studios, because the crew and hosts (Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur) make it so much fun.

I flew America West to Toronto, via Phoenix. From the airport to downtown takes 30 minutes (without traffic). A taxi costs around $35 Canadian ($30 USD), while an hour on the airport bus that departs every 20 to 30 minutes costs $16.45 Canadian ($14.25 USD) one way, $28.35 ($24.50 USD) roundtrip. As with everything else, tickets can be purchased in either US or Canadian dollars (but if you use American dollars, be prepared to get change in Canadian). If you travel with at least two other people, it’s cheaper and more convenient to take a taxi. Airport Express: tel.: 905-564-3232.

My trip was last minute, and I booked the cheapest 3-star hotel I could find. That was The Best Western Primrose. I found a $77 deal on Hotwire, but of course I first went through and used our excellent search engines. It searches many online travel providers after you input your city and dates just once. You should use them too, because it saves you money -- and we get a small commission.

Unfortunately, the hotel wasn’t one of the eight hotels that airport buses stop at. I spent 10 minutes walking four long blocks in the freezing cold and snow. The hotel neighborhood wasn’t too good, and I was kicking myself for not spending a little bit more money. The hotel was old, the elevators were painfully slow, my room was depressing, and when the water was turned on the pipes from the room above sounded like a barking dog. The good news is, the room was huge, and when I turned on all the lights it became more cheerful. It also had a mini-kitchen, a clean bathroom, a good heater, and free wireless internet.

What’s crazy is that when I got on the elevator and thought about what floor I was on (11th), I almost went back to the front desk to see if they had any non-smoking rooms on a lower floor. It was an old building, and if (God forbid) a fire broke out the rescue ladders wouldn’t reach me (they only go up seven floors). Well, you guessed it. I jinxed myself again, because in the middle of an incredible dream -- and a couple of hours before I needed to get up -- I heard a bell ringing. The bell got louder and louder, and then over the loudspeaker I heard: “ATTENTION! ATTENTION! We are investigating an alarm on the 8th floor. We need floors 7,8 and 9 to evacuate, and all others standby.” I jumped out of bed like I was Superman, and threw on all my clothes (including my winter hat) in one motion. I was ready to bolt down the stairwell. Fortunately it was a false alarm, because Superman forgot to put on his pants and boxers. That would've been an ugly scene.

I learned a few things, though: Always locate the emergency exit when you arrive, keep your clothes and shoes near your bed, and if you start to jinx yourself – don’t! The Primrose Best Western Hotel, 111 Carlton Street, Toronto; tel: 416-977-8000.

Next week we make our way to somewhere hot and sunny!

Happy New Year!
Johnny Jet

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Pictures From

The Trip


Haneda Airport


Johnny Jet



Haneda Airport


Handing Out Tissues


Hotel Theatre






View From Room



Tokyo Station



Former Edo Castle




Tucano’s Waiter


Narita Security






Call For Help Hosts


Primrose Hotel Room



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  • Great newsletter. Looks relaxing. F.D. - South Norwalk, CT
  • Just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed the Kyoto piece and the layout is grest, with the resources and photos down the side. The video was excellent, you are really getting good at this stuff. Marcus T - Florida
  • I like the new thumbnails for the photos. That's one of the hardest parts about quickly reading your emails- looking at all the photos. I was turned on to Japan after taking Modern Asia in College. The culture seems so rich and colorful, which is candy for the eyes of a romantic. Joe S – Anchorage, AK
  • This is even better than last week! The next big trip Andy takes me on will HAVE to be to Japan. I think your persimmon "thingy" was fab. A.B. – Atlanta, GA
  • The photos make us want to go too! Thanks for the video & photos & do a terrific job... a traveler wannabe (well, we've been to all the continents but there are LOTS of other places I want to visit!) Mary G -
  • What do I think of your Newletter - I LOVE IT! MORE - MORE PLEASE. Deanna C. Jolly, Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Love the format. You rock. Pamela J – New Jersey
  • I can always count on going back a couple of editions and refer people to good eats or good places to visit with your site. Ken P – San Diego, CA
  • It was informative and funny! I definitely enjoyed it, sorry I missed others! Information like this is very helpful....keep them coming and thanks. Donna Vaughn - Saluda, Virginia
  • I really loved your trip to Japan newsletter. I was reminded of my several trips there. I also experienced the special toilet at one of the company's rest room where my husband visited on a business trip. He speaks Japanese and we got around very well. Once (well, more than once) I became lost while going shopping and stopped to ask directions to my hotel (I carried a card with the name on it) and the shop found someone who spoke a little English and they pointed in the direction. When I left someone on a bicycle was following me -- just to make sure I didn't' get lost again! I love Japan and found the people very friendly and helpful. I have many beautiful Japanese kimonos -- one red heavy silk wedding one on the wall of my "Japanese room." I have a large collection of non-wedding ones that I wear as jackets or dresses. As for taking shoes off before entering -- I've done that for years in my own home. You would be surprised how clean your house is when you do not wear shoes inside -- just slippers. I had great fun shopping at Akihabara -- the electronics area of Tokyo. I was very fond of the Japanese baths. Thanks for your wonderful story. Naoma Foreman Phoenix, Arizona
  • I always enjoy your newsletters and really enjoyed the Kyoto edition. I've been to Kyoto twice and it's one of my favorite cities, so your column made me relive many moments there, including the climb up Teapot Lane. Seems you didn't make it to Nara? I'm surprised. Only about a half hour from Kyoto. Nara Park is one of the most spectacular. We stayed at the Nara Hotel which is the first western style hotel built in Japan. Built in the 1920's, it's a fabulous fusion of art deco and Japanese style. One thing you wrote I must admit tweaked me the wrong way. When you said that "Geisha's are no longer associated with prostitution". Well, I'm disappointed that you weren't aware that Geisha was NEVER associated w/ prostitution. Japan has their share of prostitutes, just like any other country. But to use Geisha and prostitute together in the same sentence really slanders the work, training and lifetime devotion that goes into becoming a Geisha. Sure, some ignorant Americans may associate the two, but I'd hope you be above talking to the LCD (lowest common denominator) of the poorly traveled, poorly educated ignorant part of American society. Candice S - NYC
  • Saw you today for the first time on Call for Help via satelite here in Florida. Went to your website and for whatever reason went to My Mom first. Don't know you or your Mom but what a beautiful tribute. I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face. Maybe she will meet my Mom in heaven and compare notes on their trips. I will know see what wonderful tips you have for trotting around the globe. Come to Kincardine to see the most beautiful sunsets in the world over Lake Huron! Kind regards Laura H - Kincardine ON.
  • I have enjoyed all the newsletters, but the one on Torino I loved! Perhaps it is because it fed all my pent up desires to go to Italy, but I loved it and especially loved the pictures chosen.
  • What a wonderful hour I've just spent reading your Venezia story and rediscovering the most wonderful city in the world. Your article is so comprehensive and is written so vividly that I think it's the best Venice report I've ever read. Barbara Spizzirri - Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

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