Quick notes (and a giveaway) from the first United DEN-NRT flight

I’m sitting my room in Tokyo now, watching the rain fall and trying to muster the energy to get out and find dinner before collapsing into a deep sleep. The flight was great, though I managed to somehow not actually sleep on board; that was a big mistake. Needless to say, the supposed benefit of feeling more rested after a long flight on the 787 might be lost on me given that.

A full report will be coming eventually but I wanted to share a couple quick highlights, mostly from the pre-flight experience, and also give away some of the souvenirs that I collected as part of the inaugural flight. There was a traditional prayer offered for the success of the partnership and also a traditional drum performance by Denver Taiko; they’re quite impressive. I got a bunch of great photos of the plane and the ceremony and then it was time for the sake toast (it is, after all, tradition) before boarding the flight and heading out for Tokyo.


United gave away a passport holder and deck of cards (who knew they still had those!?) to every passenger. I managed to grab extras and I also have a pair of the sake toast “cups” to go with them. The full set will go to one reader who comments on this post with either your favorite memory of a trip to Tokyo or what you want to see next time you visit Tokyo. If you’re looking for inspiration on things to see next visit there are a bunch of comments in this post which can help you out.

Contest closes 12 noon EDT on Thursday, June 13.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. My favorite memory of Tokyo was discovering beer vending machines on the streets on my first trip there in 1980.

  2. My first trip was just a few months ago, though some may simply call it a layover, since it was only about 16 hours. My favorite part was the perfect-pour Asahi beer machine in the United lounge, and next time I go, I want to see anything that Tokyo has to offer – Narita is kind of boring!

  3. Last visit to Tokyo was a layover at Narita. Had a fun time perusing the airport shops.

  4. I would love to see the Tsukiji Fish Market before it moves to a new location!

  5. The best place was the traditional Meiji temple, and gourmet burgers in Ginza and Asakusa.

  6. Never been before, but would love to eat millions of noodles, visit the fish market, and maybe see a sumo match?

  7. My favorite memory of Tokyo occurred a few months ago, when I decided to step outside my comfort zone and stray away from the traditional hotel. I could have used points and stayed at the park Hyatt, but instead decided to go through the Japanese tourist office and book a stay at a ryokan. The ryokan was very comfortable and provided the true local experience. I was served tradition dinner in my room, slept on the Japanese futon, bathed in the communal hit spring with locals. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and truly appreciated the Japanese hospitality. Although pricey, I recommend everyone that visits Japan spend at least a night on a ryokan!

  8. Seeing the Tsukiji Fish Market in the early morning was a highlight, as well as staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan.

  9. Been on the land of Tokyo 4 times since last year. The night view from the empire building was excellent. Most important, it is FREE of charge. When almost everything costs $$ and is expensive, this is a gem! However, my memory goes to the ciagrette vending machines….

  10. My earliest memories of visits to Tokyo were when I was 8. My dad was stationed outside of Tokyo in the early 70’s. Every Thanksgiving, we went into Tokyo to get new ski gear for the upcoming season. That was followed up by Thanksgiving Dinner at the Sanno Hotel.My last visit to Tokyo was nearly 40 years later in 2008. My favorite memory from that trip was my visit to Tsukiji Fish Market followed up by an amazing sushi breakfast!

  11. One of my favorite memories is actually visiting a Sumo Stable. Amazing how flexible these big men are – and how much abuse they take during a practice session…

  12. I want to find the place (and person) I have read of so often… Jiro Ono, 85, who owns a small sushi restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. That’s where I want to visit!

  13. One of my favorite memories of Tokyo is visiting the Meiji Shrine during the new years festival. It was really interesting to see the various traditions on display (and the crowds were HUGE).

  14. After eating at Sushi Mizutani and Ryguin, my wife picked out dinner and she chose Andy’s Shin Hinomoto, she ordered for the both of us and I ordered Shirako soup to try. She asked what it was and I said ‘just try it’ she did and then I told her what it was…she will never trust me again with food.

  15. My favorite trip to Tokyo was my most recent one that was originally scheduled on the inaugural 787 DEN-NRT flight in April. Because of the delays with the plane, that non-stop flight was postponed until the one you took yesterday however I had already made plans to ski with Dad GadFly in Colorado before the trip. I also had someone flying in from LA to meet me in Japan, so I changed my routing and took the trip on the original dates (on pmUA 777’s).

    While I missed out on the tuna auction (getting there at 5:00AM isn’t early enough anymore), I did get to explore Tokyo, Ginza, Osaka, and Kobe and had an absolutely fantastic time! I can’t wait to go back….hopefully next time, it will be on the 787!

  16. Go to Sukiyabashi Jiro, the Michelin Guide 3-star sushi restaurant which inspired the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi

  17. My favorite Tokyo memory is definitely watching an early AM sumo practice in Ryogoku. It’s something I’ll never forget!

  18. My dad was stationed in Japan when I was young and we visited Tokyo several times. The people are extremely friendly and polite. In fact, my mom accidently left her purse next to a pay phone for two hours and it was still there when we returned.

  19. I think my favorite memory was one trip a few years back during the winter. I was walking around, and it started snowing. There was a little temple with a tiny park area around it, surrounded by highrises. The falling snow obscured the tops of the other buildings and just started settling on the eaves of the temple, and it was just incredibly tranquil and beautiful to stand there and watch it fall and start covering everything up.

  20. Landed in NRT after a flight in from FRA, interminable ride on the limousine bus into town (wanted to try it once, never again) and wandered across the Sumida and encountered the Sumo tournament at Kokugikan. Found some tickets, took seats on the second level, and we settled in to watch a few hours of gargantuan men go at it amidst a huge, raucous crowd of 100% Japanese, not a lick of English to be heard anywhere near me. Got lost and wound up in the basement of the building, and for Y500, had a bowl of delicious chankonabe. Again, not an English-speaker to be found. Felt pretty authentic to me, and one of my favorite impromptu memories of Tokyo.

  21. I want to stay at the Park Hyatt so I can say I was Lost in Translation and ride the subway.

  22. The Cherry blossom from Tokyo Parks like Takaosan, Showa Memorial Park, Koganei Park, Shinjuku Gyoen and Ueno Park. So beautiful!

  23. My favorite memory is seeing a couple of sumo wrestlers walking around the Akihabara district… totally normal to locals but totally new and cool to me.

    What I’d like to see on my next visit is the new Tsukiji market as I probably won’t get there until that has been completed.

  24. Favorite memory of tokyo was visiting my cousin with 2 of my friends after college and just going absolutely crazy eating and drinking every day and night. I’m biased, but one of the best cities in the world.

  25. My favorite memory is my most recent memory. I went to TYO for a quick 24-hour trip in March 2012. I stayed in the same capsule hotel in which you had once stayed. I had been to TYO many times before, but never made it to Tsukiji. I woke up early, got to the fish market…only to find it was closed for a random holiday. I felt like the Griswolds upon arrival at Wallyworld. But then something magical happened. I walked to the Imperial Palace grounds, and had a zen moment. In the early hours, it was as if the city belonged to me alone. It was a great way to see TYO without the hustle and bustle.

  26. I have lived in Japan for half my life (23 years) and everyday reveals something special and no two days are ever the same. What was supposed to be a year after university ended up being half a lifetime with a country that puts a magic spell of hospitality, respect and an eye for detail…I am surprised everyday I am here and thankful for all the opportunities this country has given me. Just take a look and you will always find something new in Japan.

  27. My favorite memory of Japan was enjoying a drink at the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt with my wife – great view! I hope to return before the Tsukiji Fish Market moves!

  28. Tsukiji Fish Market is #1 on the list, along with lots of noodles and a stay at the Park Hyatt!

  29. Favorite memory would be finding a ginger ale flavored kit kat at the grocery store in Tokyo (yes I bought it and ate it!)

  30. I realllly want to go to the auction at the fish market. I have an obsession with markets that needs to be fed!

  31. My favorite thing to do in Tokyo is go see a jazz performance at the Blue Note!

  32. My favorite memory of Tokyo is when we were on a business trip in 2007. During the weekend we were able to visit the Hakune resort area two hours from Tokyo. It is by far the most peaceful and and beautiful place I have ever visited in the world.

  33. My first trip will definitely be this year probably October or November. I want to experience everything!

  34. I really want to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market before it changes location, and then move on to a sushi breakfast nearby!

  35. Yakitori Alley. Sad I missed it last time around. That and one of those robot bars.

  36. I have two favorite memories. One was going to a Sumo tourney, sitting in a ringside “box” being feed traditional Japanese food. And the other was seeing a Kubuki play.

  37. I would love to visit Narita- the airport itself, the amount of planes and different planes should be amazing!

  38. Sitting in the plaza of an office complex that sits kitty corner from the Toyosu station. It was a weekday morning and we sat there drinking coffee from Starbucks and watched all the people scurry to work.

    Another memorable incident – it was here that my wife used the public restroom and pressed what she thought was a button to flush the toilet. As she left the bathroom, office maintenance personnel came running in. She was embarrassed when we deduced that the button must have been an emergency call button! Oops.

  39. I’m going to Tokyo later this year, hoping to see Tsukiji fish market before it moves!

  40. heading to Tokyo in July for the first time. planning on checking out the view from the SkyTree, enjoying various transportation modes and walking around.

  41. This Past November I had the honor of getting to spend 8 hours in Tokyo as we were waiting for our United flight back home to Tampa from Australia. Instead of sitting in the airport for 8 hours we hired a local tour guide to take us on a tour of the area. I can not say strongly enough how just getting out of the airport and exploring the countryside had an impact on me. We met with a local 97 year old man in his home and he talked to us about what it was like growing up in Japan. He discussed the changes he has seen. We saw and got to marvel at the 120 year old Bonsai trees that as he put it “I am the caretaker of”. While Visiting the Fire Temple we actually attended a service to experience and feel a sample of the fascinating Culture and history. At one point we pulled off the side of the road and picket up from an adorable little old lady fresh roasted sweet potatoes. These sweat potatoe “snacks” were the best I had ever had. Summing it up….The 8 hour quick visit is enough to make me want to go back and explore even more! There is so much to see and do and so little time !

  42. I’ve always wanted to visit Tokyo and would love to fly on the Dreamliner! I’ve got to check out Shinshoji Temple if I make it over there.

  43. I want to revisit the ice-cold magic Asahi beer dispensing machine in the RCC at NRT. I was pregnant last time I was there, so let’s just say we have a score to settle!

  44. Would like to see the Tsukiji Fish Market next time I am there. Have onky had a layover there.

  45. I enjoyed ordering food out of a vending machine and taking the ticket into the cafe with really fast service.

  46. never been, but would love to see the Tsukiji Fish Market, its a big deal in my fisherman family

  47. I was in Tokyo over New Year’s and I enjoyed visiting the Meiji Shrine the most—seeing all the crowds, taking in the momentm and starting the new year off memorably.

  48. How about Harajuku shopping area of Tokyo for fun and some new fashion inspirations

  49. I always stay in the Shinjuku area, and I just love the energy and the people. It is also an interesting experience to ride a (crowded) train. Plus, don’t forget the beer pouring machine in the Narita Sky Club.

  50. My favorite memory of NRT was my dinner with a friend at a restaurant in Sendai. While neither of us could read the menu it was a great dinner!

  51. Surprisingly enough one of my favorite memories of Tokyo is sitting in a Japanese only /non-tourist bar sipping cold sake from boxes much like the ones you are going away with officers from the Japanese air self defense force (their Air Force) whole I was a young USAF officer stationed in Japan!

  52. I would really like to go to Tokyo. Period. Never been there, so I cannot share any wisdom.

  53. Love these comments. I’ve never been to Tokyo, but definitely want to go. It’s good to read about real travel experiences rather than sitting in a 5-star hotel and ordering $200 room service and obsessing about upgrades.

  54. I just got back from Tokyo on the ANA 787 Dreamliner from SJC. It was the second flight that re-started in June and was very empty. I went for work, but would like to go back to to Tokyo Towers and ride the bumper pandas!

  55. My favorite memory of Tokyo is getting lost on my way to the hostel by getting off the train to early, finding my way there and then after one night realizing why I hate staying in hostels. After which, I burned some points and checked in to the Conrad Tokyo for the subsequent nights of my stay. Thank you Hilton HHonors points and Diamond status!

  56. My favorite part of my trip to Tokyo back in ’09 was just experiencing the city and how different it is from what I’m used to here in the states. I’m going back this Dec. and I’m looking forward to checking out the new Skytree lookout tower! Wish I could’ve booked a 787 on my trip, but it wasn’t available for the dates of my trip :(.

  57. On my next trip to Tokyo, I’d like to actually see the auction & other public areas of Tsukiji rather than all the off limits area I wandered around when I became lost & turned around.

    1. The winning number in the random draw was 87. Congrats to bk3day. I’ll get shipping info from you shortly; look out for an email.

      Thanks to everyone else for the contributions. Lots of great memories and dreams to read about here.

  58. Spent five days in Tokyo at the end of March (JAPAN DO) and loved every moment. Very special memories of the cherry blossom and the Wagyu beef lunch (thanks paranoiatx). Can’t wait to return.

  59. Taking the kids this summer and they insist on the Ghibli Museum, and this comments section is definitely adding items to our itinerary.

  60. How just from looking at how neat an organized the ramp is in Narita, you know you’re in Japan.

  61. My favorite things were seeing a sumo match and finding an aquarium on the top of a large shopping building. I want to say Sunshine Center or something like that. Been a while since I was there.

  62. I’d love to visit a sento (public bath). I’ve gone to many hot springs, but never a sento. They are such a throwback to past days, and some look quite elaborate in decoration.

  63. I read these blogs because I dream of visiting places that are worldly and advanced so next time I go to Tokyo I want to go to Tokyo

  64. Never been. Would love to see the morning auction at Tsukiji and follow it up with breakfast in the area.

  65. Have not made it to tokyo but have always wanted to see an annual sumo tournament at the Ryogoku Kokugikan

  66. My favorites include – Imperial Palace, Tokyo Disneyland, the town of Kamakura and the Diabutsu, the numerous gardens and temples, and the cherry blossoms.

  67. Ordering teppen-yaki with a Japanese guy who didn’t speak much English. But through lots of gesturing, we had a great conversation about food and his visit to NYC a few years earlier.

  68. Definitely our trip to Tsukiji. On our last day of the trip, had to wake at a ridiculous time to get there. Still didn’t catch the auction, but the food. The food was godly.

  69. I’ve connected at NRT numerous times, but have never left the airport. One of these days…

  70. I want to see sumo wrestling at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall.

  71. Tokyo has always been high on my list of places to visit. Now that the fish market is moving to a new location, I really need to get there soon before the originality of the current market is lost forever. Always enjoy your blog Seth, and can’t wait to see the full trip report!

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  73. I’m going to Tokyo next month for the first time and can’t wait to see the Tsukiji Fish Market.

  74. My favorite memories were actually the two things that most would not think twice about or even be mad at when taking your sister and best friend on a Tokyo vacation. The first was getting into my fancy yet inexpensive hotel and my buddy yelling from the bathroom to tell me the toilet talked and had built in features for heat/water. We laughed bout that the whole trip. The 2nd was trying to leave and not being able to on the full flights so we added a 2nd vaca to Guam as well. Of course all the tourist stuff was great to though, lol

  75. Heading over to Tsukiji Fish Market at 4am then followed up by sushi breakfast nearby. We are planning to go in a week and hopefully we will be able to see a sumo match.

  76. years ago, on a flight to tokyo, while half asleep, a nice lady behind me reminded me of how we are just flying over mt. fuji. boy, it was beautiful, and i plan on visiting tokyo and mt. fuji soon.

  77. I have not had yet had the good fortune to visit Tokyo. But when I do, I’m definitely looking forward to having some sashimi at the Tsukiji Fish Market.

  78. I went this year, and my favorite experience was eating at Tonki’s (which was a weekly experience for my family when we lived in Tokyo when I was young)

  79. I am going to Tokyo again in two weeks! Can’t wait to return to the Hyatt Regency. I love all of Japan, and I especially like travelling within Japan.

  80. I’ve never been to Japan but will be going for the first time in Spring 2014. I’m extremely excited to go to Tsujiki Market and I’m also looking forward to trying Hidemi Sugino (you can tell I love my food), it sounds like his mousse is in another world.

  81. What a great experience that must have been for the first flight. I’ve never been to Asia, but it’s at the top of my list for next trip. I would like to visit a small 700 year old temple and maybe authentic Japanese gardens as well. Tokyo all lit up at night would also be a treat! Glad you enjoyed, an thank you for sharing.

  82. I have never been to Tokyo, so I would like to take a city tour and visit Asakusa Temple the next time I am there.

  83. I’ve only had one trip to Tokyo, and really it wasn’t even a trip to Tokyo. My HKG-SFO-SEA got re-routed HKG-NRT-SEA and that was my first ever trip “through” Tokyo. I made sure to grab some sushi in the airport (it was pricey, but excellent) and some green tea kit kats. I’d love to spend a few days exploring the city, but I’m nervous to do that with no Japanese language experience.

  84. I have only been to the ANA lounge at NRT. Love the sake bar and the self serve beer machines! Hoping to actually explore the city in the future!

  85. My favorite time going to Tokyo was on the AA LAX-NRT flight on the 777-200. I was in First and enjoyed every minute of it (accept the ancient flight attendants). We had headwinds and had to wait for a gate upon arrival but it was still fantastic.

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