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Trip Report Craig and Jeane Visit Japan - 2013 Trip Report

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By way of introduction, Jeane and I are in our mid to late 50’s and hail from Connecticut. In the past 13 years, our travels have taken us to Thailand, Bali, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam and Bhutan. After traveling to so many 3rd world countries, we decided that we wanted to go to a place that was exotic but where everything “works”. That place turned out to be Japan. After consulting several of the experts on this forum, we found that we would not be able to do the country justice with just one visit and decided to focus on just 3 cities in central Japan: Tokyo, Kanazawa and Kyoto. Our itinerary included 4 nights in Tokyo, 3 nights in Kanazawa, and 5 nights in Kyoto. Since we also wanted to do things that were off the usual tourist track, we added 1 night at a ryokan in Yamashiro Onsen (near Kanazawa) and 1 night at a minshuku on the Noto Peninsula overlooking the Sea of Japan. We also consulted with this forum’s experts on the timing of our trip and decided that by going in late October/early November we would arrive before the touristy koyo (fall foliage season) and enjoy temperatures that were still moderate (mid to high 60’s).

So, after months of delving into the details of travel in Japan, off we went. We purchased our flights early on with miles: Air Canada from Hartford to Toronto to Tokyo in Executive class. We had not flown Air Canada before, but the long flight was comfortable, the food was good, the service was competent and the configuration of the 180 degree lie-flat seats provided more privacy than we have experienced on other airlines in business class. The walk from the domestic terminal to the international terminal in Toronto seemed to go on forever, but once we got through customs (no security check) and arrived at the Air Canada lounge, we were fine. The food in the lounge was very good.

Immigration and customs at Tokyo Narita went by quickly. Currency exchange windows were located right outside - we each exchanged $1,000. After waiting 25 minutes to purchase our Narita Express (N’EX) train tickets and subway pass (SUICA), we had just 5 minutes to make our train to Shinjuku in Tokyo. We managed, with 2 minutes to spare, saving us an hour wait for the next train. Our seats were spacious, clean and comfortable and luggage storage was easy and convenient - a great introduction to Japanese infrastructure. The ride took about an hour and a half. After arriving at Shinjuku station, one of the largest train stations in the world, we still had to find a taxi to get to the hotel. After just one wrong turn, we were pointed to the taxi stand and were on our way to Citadines Shinjuku, our home away from home in Tokyo.

We had come prepared with directions to the hotel written in Japanese so the taxi ride was just 10 minutes. As we approached Citadines, our driver lamented that Japan was about to be hit by twin typhoons...

At check-in, I was handed a package containing the pocket Wifi rental that I had preordered online from Global Advance Communications. It was a great deal. For less than $100, this device would gave me Wifi access for the next 2 weeks pretty much anywhere in Japan. As a back-up, I had also purchased the cheapest international data roaming plan for my iPhone from AT&T. Between the two, I was always able to get on line. Check-in went quickly and we headed to our 3rd floor room. Our room rate for the Citadines was less than $150 per night. But because it was a bargain for Tokyo, there was no one to help us with our bags. Our room however was comfortable, quiet, clean, modern and completely functional. It was even equipped with a small kitchenette. The only drawback was its small size which really didn’t bother us. The location was quite good with convenience stores and restaurants nearby. It was a 5 minute walk to the subway.

Our flight had arrived at 4 pm and by 7 pm we were at the hotel. I had slept quite a bit on the flight but Jeane hadn’t slept at all and wanted to lay down for a while. I went out to the 7-11 next door and picked up a ham sandwich, a bottle of wine and what I hoped was milk for my coffee (it was). I also bought some cheese and crackers for Jeane but she was sound asleep when I returned. The ham sandwich hit the spot and after reading for a while, I also lay down to rest.

We both woke early for our first full day in Japan. Our first priority was to scout out a Western breakfast restaurant recommended by a reviewer on Tripadvisor. It was about a block and a half from the hotel right before a blue footbridge that crosses the main road. The restaurant was on the second floor with steps outside leading up to it. We found it easily and ate there every day except for our last. The menus were in Japanese but the pictures were accurate - eggs, toast, ham etc. All meals came with a small salad. There was also a serving station with coffee, tea, juices and chicken soup - all included in the price of the meal. It cost about $10 for the two of us, compared to about $14 at Citadines for its rather lame buffet.

Our plan was to go slow on the first day, do some walking in the nearby Gyo-en National Garden and learn to use the subway for some shopping. Before we headed out, we ran into Melissa (Florida1) and Doug who were also staying at Citadines and had also just recently arrived. We chatted briefly and agreed that we should all go to the Tokyo GTG a few days later as a group. Jeane and I then walked to Gyo-en. The main gate is in the direction of Shinjuku station and like every other attraction in Japan, there was an entrance fee. The sky was overcast but every once in a while the sun would peek through. It was not ideal for photos but our 2-hour walk around the gardens was quite pleasant, none-the-less. If you go, don’t miss the the recently completed tropical greenhouse.

I had received an e-mail from Lucy (lcuy) with some shopping recommendations, including Takashimaya, the upscale department store. Jeane and I decided to head there, but first we wanted to check out the Bridgeport Museum nearby. We hopped on the subway, using the SUICA cards that we purchased at the airport for passage. The Tokyo subway is really easy to use as long as you can find the correct exit when you leave. I had researched these details beforehand, which made life easier. Once outside, I used my iPhone compass to insure that we were headed in the right direction. There was now a light rain so we were glad that we had scheduled indoor activities for the remainder of the day. The Bridgeport Museum was disappointing. We had expected to see Japanese Impressionist-style artwork but mostly Western Impressionist paintings were on display. Not that it wasn’t quality stuff - Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro were all represented. It was just kind of strange seeing these works in Tokyo.

After leaving the museum, we walked one block to Takashimaya. The store is huge - 8 floors as I recall. We started at the top and worked our way down, admiring the quality of the wares and being greeted by what seemed like every employee in the store. The elevators were attended store employees wearing uniforms and white gloves. The whole scene was truly Japanese. After we had toured the very cool upscale grocery department in the basement, we decided to head to another major department store in Tokyo - Mitsukoshi, 2 subway stops away. The entrance to Mitsukoshi was conveniently located within the subway complex so that we could practically step off the subway car and walk in. Between the two department stores, Jeane purchased some scarves, pins and other accessories. She felt she had done well for her first day. We ended our day with a light Japanese dinner at a modern, spacious cafeteria-style place down the road a ways from Citadines called Meal Muji.

Next: Tokyo, day 2

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