"Moshi moshi". I step off the plane and clear the refreshingly friendly Japanese immigration control, amongst Japanese donning clinical face masks, and sharply attired businessmen spilling into the Starbucks equipped arrivals hall of Narita airport. I watch them answer their unfamiliar brands of mobile phone with "moshi moshi"; it's evident that Tokyo is going to be different, but yet familiar.
The unmistakably welcoming hospitality of Japan is perhaps the main principle of this country that feeds my adoration for Tokyo. I have yet to purchase so much as a chocolate bar that wasn't delivered with a bow, and a very sincere looking smile. This is true of pretty much every transaction, even when I ask where to find the toilet in the labyrinthine Tokyo metro. This custom doesn't seem to be particularly bonded to either the older or younger generation. It sticks throughout.
After a lengthy but very comfortable transfer from Narita to central Tokyo with 'Limousine Bus', filled largely with western business types, I arrive at my hotel, The Grand Prince Akasaka. The hotel towers above the city with thirty plus floors, with its impressive and uniquely angular architecture designed by Kenzo Tange. Situated close to the National Diet building, and other Japanese governmental abodes, the hotel appeared mostly occupied by politicians and business men. The Grand Prince is now doomed for demolition, for reasons completely beyond me - with its humbly appointed rooms, space age toilets that require a degree to operate, iconic appearance and stunning lobby, although it's currently being used as a shelter for displaced earthquake victims.
Although this hotel will soon be no more, I wouldn’t condemn the other Akasaka area hotels, with relatively cheaper prices due to distance from tourist areas, but yet with great accessibility to Nagatacho metro station, an easy starting point for the metro.
A quick stroll down the nearest street at Akasakamitsuke reveals a combination of 'cultural' paraphernalia; a flurry of stereotypical Tokyo arcades, and more mysterious 'Japanese Only' establishments, and also familiar brands - Subway, and a McDonalds.
Out of hunger, desperation and disorientating but expected jetlag, I am ashamedly driven into McDonalds. Plastic seats, universally identical uniforms, and equally universal (and admittedly appealing) fast food smells. At first glance this is exactly the same as any other McDonalds. Why did I even entertain the thought?
Shuffling forward with crowds of lunch-hungry 'salarymen', or Japanese businessmen, I have a gander at the overhead menu - it begins to transcend the McDonalds norm. 'Teriyaki Mac Burger', 'Juicy Chicken Akatougarashi', 'Ebi Filet-O', 'Koroke Burger' and 'Mac Pork'.
Of course the 'Big Mac' is still on offer, but it's not just the extra sandwich options which set the Japanese counterpart, apart. I am curious to know what a 'McSmile' is, listed on the menu as costing a questionable '¥0'. In my much less than perfect attempt at the Japanese language I point to this on the pristine countertop menu and ask. “O kudasai?” The immaculately appointed staff member simply nods at me in acknowledgement, and smiles. What I have asked for is a smile. Something so connected to the Japanese people as outstanding service has permeated into such a large corporation as McDonalds, and resulted in this unique little gem being added to the menu!