In the fall of last year I took one of my zaniest trips yet. I flew all the way to Tokyo with two good friends and stayed there for just over 48 hours. It took almost as long to fly there and back as the time I spent in the country. But it was worth every minute.

A Shrine in Tokyo

One of shrines in Tokyo

The trip started out because one of my friends that I’ve known since college happens to work for United Airlines. As part of his benefits, he has buddy passes that he can give to friends and family that lets them fly standby at a deeply discounted rate. So he, another college friend of ours and I thought it would be fun to pick a weekend and go to a foreign country just for the fun of it.

So the first challenge of the trip was to pick a country. First, we were limited to destinations served by United. Since we were all flying standby, we also needed to pick a place that looked like it would have few people flying to it during that particular weekend to increase our odds of getting on in the first place. We really wanted flights that had light loads in business or first class. We all wanted to go to someplace in Europe, like Amsterdam, since the flights would be shorter. Alas, the flight loads to pretty much everywhere in Europe were pretty full- partly due to Oktoberfest that was going on at the time- so Europe was out.

Since we were only going for a weekend, we also needed a destination with lots of flights per day so we could maximize our time at the destination. So places like Dubai that only had one flight a day wasn’t going to work out well. Plus

So Tokyo, with its multiple flights from different hubs, was the winner. We also had Toronto as a backup in case flight loads went up at the last minute. Of course, flying standby meant that nothing was guaranteed. We could very well end up in Toledo or get stranded in Tokyo if something unexpected happened.

Like a monster storm.

In the week leading up to the trip a super typhoon named Melor popped up and was predicted to go right through Japan as we were planning to be there. In the US, the equivalent of a super typhoon is a strong category 4 or 5 hurricane. If the storm caused flights to be cancelled, trying to fly standby becomes a dicey proposition. Not to mention that storm damage could turn the city into a mess.

But since this blog post is titled a weekend in Tokyo and not Toledo, we did make it. Melor ended up barreling right down the center of the country. But it also picked up speed and got out of the way the day before our trip. Plus, the most severe part of the storm missed most of Tokyo and Narita where the international airport was located. For the most part, flights were unaffected by the storm and the city fared well due to the strong building codes Japan has.

For the trip, we decided to fly from Orlando to Washington D.C. and then to Tokyo. The flight loads looked pretty good, especially if we got up early enough to catch the 8am flight out of Orlando. So everyone crashed at my apartment the night before and we started doing some research on where to stay in Japan.

While doing that research, I discovered one of the first of many cultural quirks about Japan. The country is famous for its “capsule hotels”- hotels that are filled with small rooms not much longer and wider than a bed and just tall enough for a person to sit up in. These capsule hotels were originally created for Japanese businessmen who for whatever reason missed the last train out of town and needed a place to stay for the night. Because they were designed for businessmen, women are not allowed in many of these capsule-style hotels. So ladies, if you’re looking for the capsule experience, you’ll need to be sure you’ll be let in first. Plus, couples staying together in a capsule isn’t permitted either (not to mention two people would find the capsule cramped anyway).

My friends and I didn’t go the capsule route, but did find the Hotel Asakusa and Capsule that offered single rooms at a good rate and was located near the subway. So we booked three rooms and called it a night.

Tomorrow- the 13+ hour flight to Tokyo.