I'm not sure, dear reader, if by insisting on any other carrier than Air France, I shot myself in the foot or made a complete fool of myself. One or the other applies, though which, I'm yet to decide. The vile and disorganised French airline could have taken us to Tokyo and back with a far more streamlined itinerary than Lufthansa, but considering the frogs' past record, I put my foot down. No way was I taking off for France.
On a trip to Paris in the 1990s, Air France lost my luggage, their check-in staff treated me with contempt, a member of their cabin crew spilled hot coffee on my head (yes - my HEAD!) and I found a tissue loaded in snot in the seat pocket infront of me.
Furthermore, I find difficulty in supporting anything with links to a country I often find myself at odds with politically, whether it be the anarchic burning of live British sheep in their ports or the testing of nuclear weapons in the pacific ocean.
Air France might have cleaned up their act in the fifteen years or so since I last used them, but they still fund the machinery of a government which I detest and I wonder if my prospective enjoyment of an eleven hour flight was a worthy sacrifice. Yes, I know, I'm shallow. I am. And if I'd known how awfully Lufthansa were going to be, I'd have willingly funded a French company and the French regime. Clearly, I'm a selfish little cunt with no conscience.
I'm sure my first day in Japan on previous trips was not such a blur as on this last holiday. I felt utterly detached from reality and in some kind of dream-like state. Nightmare-like state, even.
Having left the airport limosine bus, we were greeted at the root of the Shinjuku Park Tower by Park Hyatt staff who whisked our luggage away and escorted us to reception. I felt totally supported, Mothered, even, by the hotel staff. I'm sure, if I'd put one of those trust exercises modern employers' training programmes are so keen on into practice, falling backwards would have resulted in me being caught in the arms of a member of staff.
A lift took us approximately two thirds up the Shinjuku Tower to a coffee lounge with impressive views over the city of Tokyo. From there, we walked, still accompanied by charmingly camp hotel staff to one of four reception desks. En route, I realised I'd left my hat on the bus. My heart sank. After the completion of a registration card, a note of passport numbers and credit card sweep, we were then told, our arrival being so early in the day, that our room was not yet ready, but would be by 13:00.
A brief visit to the locale was, then, in order. Eating in a British train station would be something to be sneered at. But not in Japan. They almost always double up as huge shopping complexes with restaurants and food areas. Eating is always a delight in the land of the rising sun, whether it be Okonomiyaki down a back alley or a banquet in a five star hotel. Our first Japanese meal of 2007 did not disappoint. Almost exclusively vegetarian in the UK, I become a ravenous carnivore in Japan and devour all kinds of delicacies with ardour. Prawn katsu was the order of the day, served with miso soup, barley rice, cabbage salad (it tastes much better than it sounds), Japanese pickles and chilled green tea.
The meal eaten, the time almost one o'clock, we returned to the hotel, window shopping on the way and with the next day and breakfast in mind, keeping an eye out for a bakery/café.
Back to our base... A lady at reception was very sad to learn of the loss of my hat. Her expression was a picture, as if I'd just told her that her Mother had committed hara-kiri. She promised to do her personal best to get my hat back for me after which we were escorted by another member of staff to our room on the forty ninth floor. It was beautiful. The room itself was as large as the entire ground floor area of my home here in Edinburgh, the bathroom as big as the first floor of my house. The beds were beautiful, sumptuous, comfortable and came with the largest and fluffiest pillows. I adore comfort, especially in bed. If the view from the coffee lounge was impressive, a similar vista as seen from room 4909 blew my tiny mind. I spent quite some time looking out onto Tokyo, almost transfixed, hypnotised, before coming to and exploring the bathroom.
I adore Japanese bathroom facilities and was not let down at the Park Hyatt. A walk in shower, huge basin and a bath so deep, the water came up to my waist on standing inside it. Oh, and a telly overhead enabling me to watch BBC World while soaking! A room within the bathroom housed the pinnacle of aquatic entertainment, a Japanese Toto washlet toilet with air-freshener, heated seat, bumwash and warm air dryer! I was sure, the hotel staff being so attentive, that if I'd used the telephone housed directly next to the toilet itself, someone, immediately upon request, would have come to wipe my bottom. But no need! I didn't even have to touch myself, a visit to the crapper being totally automated! Heaven - and something Uncle Harvey would have died for!
A brief lie down on one of the double beds was a mistake. I could feel my eyes rolling back into my head and sleep taking ahold of me. A shower, a change of clothes and a trip back out into Tokyo, specifically the metropolitan government/municipal buildings for the views they afford of the city. Why, with our room on the forty ninth floor of the Shinjuku Tower, we chose to go there, I'm not sure, but I blame our state of fatigue and excitement.
The Japanese idea of security checks is, with their penchant for good manners; being polite and relative lack of terrorist experience considered, still bizarre. Before entering the lift for the top of the municipal buildings, our bags were examined. I say examined, a very zany man in blue uniform and cap gestured to me to open my bag. He took, I'm sure, only for the sake of appearances, the briefest look inside my camera case. He did not wish to see if anything was hidden beneath the camera itself or, indeed, if the camera was actually a camera. The Japanese are either very trusting in these respects or blissfully ignorant. Either way, it's a welcome departure from the suspicious police state I'm used to.
From the municipal buildings, we took a walk around Shinjuku, trying to familiarise ourselves with what would be our home turf for the next few days. On finding a public telephone, we called Alan and Junya's house. Alan was still at work, but Junya was home. Ian confirmed our meeting for the next day. Hungry and tired, we crawled back to the Shinjuku railway station and shopping centre, stopping en route for a photo opportunity on a pedestrian bridge. While snapping the Shinjuku Tower, the bridge began to bounce. Looking for and not finding the jumping elephant, I wondered if I'd just experienced my first earthquake. Subsequently, Alan could find no reports of seismic activity, though I have convinced myself that, for the first time in my life, I felt the earth move under my feet, though the sky did not tumble down, Carole King fans.
Back in the Shinjuku railway station and shopping centre, Phyllis and I indulged in our first sushi meal of the trip, washed down with sake. Our oishii comment was greeted with a surprised smile by restaurant staff.
"Come on, I'm knackered. I want to go to bed," said Minge.
Back at the hotel, I stayed awake long enough to take another shower before climbing into bed at around eight o'clock. Why, I'm not sure, but with Fuck Me Pumps on my mind, I drifted off to sleep within seconds.
The bed seemed to envelop me. So soft. Neither hot nor cold, but warm and verging on ecstasy, I slept through until three or four in the morning. Turning from one side to another, I immediately went back to sleep, relaxed, looking forward to breakfast.