Japan Korea Trip Report - Japan

May 5th, 2008, 09:18 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Apr 2003
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Japan Korea Trip Report - Japan

Here is my trip report, for what it’s worth! It may not have many worthwhile sightseeing tips etc, as it was more of a trip to see our son and his surroundings, more than a trip to fit in as many sights as possible. My husband had a one-day meeting he needed to attend in Yokohama, and our 24-year-old son is teaching English in South Korea, so it was the perfect opportunity for us to take a vacation. We have been to Japan several times and we both love the country, the people, the food, I guess just about everything but some of the prices! All my knowledge of South Korea prior to the trip was info my son has shared, and the meager trip reports here and a few episodes of MASH. I was trying hard not to make it about comparing Korea to Japan, but it was really hard not to make comparisons seeing as how we started in Japan and then went to Korea. Besides, the geography is very similar, and it is an Asian country with a lot of crossover in their histories. If you are interested in pictures you can go to http://picasaweb.google.com/randygee...ey=-QreadPQGOg

Yokohama – We flew “premiere” class from LAX nonstop to Narita on Korean Air. Didn’t get one of the new bed type of seats but it sure beats flying coach on a long trip. DH is pretty much stuck to pay for bus class because he is 6’6” and on the husky side and it is nearly impossible to sit in coach. The food was really tasty, with choice of Korean or Japanese meals, and the flight attendants were wonderful, almost like they enjoyed their jobs and were glad you spent 3K each on tickets!. They were all lovely, graceful pleasant girls wearing the crisp uniforms with the little “stewardess” type of hats that remind me of the way the attendants dressed when I was a kid and flying was a big deal! I have problems with my ankles ballooning up when I fly so I invested in some medical compression knee hi stockings that were $70.00 but kept me from swelling and didn’t cut into my legs like a cheaper pair I tried.

Upon arrival we took the Narita Express train to Yokohama station and arrived just in time to drag our suitcases through the 5:00 pm throngs at the station. That is the one place and time I think the Japanese kind of slip from their usual pleasant demeanor, but who can blame them? I was doing my best to trail DH through the station with my giant suitcase and overstuffed tote bag, but he often forgets I can’t keep up or cut a swath through the crowd like he can. At least he is easy to follow, standing head and shoulders above the masses, wearing his UCLA ball cap (typical dorky American.) I managed to get on the escalator a few folks behind him but in my rush I forgot about staying to the left so those who want to can pass on the right. By the time I realized my error, my suitcase was wedged in the way and impossible to move. I looked behind me to see several men glaring at me, and I couldn’t even remember, “I’m sorry.” I must admit being a California girl I find the large subway & train stations very intimidating and I think Yokohama station is one of the largest stations in Japan. My other mistake was forgetting where I put my train ticket and not being able to use it to exit the turnstile. Finally DH convinced the subway officer that I wasn’t trying to escape without paying by showing him the receipt for the tickets and he opened a gate and let me out. We somehow forgot to confirm what exit we needed to take to the Sheraton where we were staying and managed to decide on the opposite from what we needed so we got to cross the entire station again!
Before we left DH considered renting a phone in Japan and Korea. Our last trip we used Rentaphone at the suggestion of a Fodorite who was very happy with them and we were not sure about the phone situation in Korea. I read somewhere here that some US phones work in Korea so DH called T-Mobile before we left and explained where we were going. The guy looked up his phone model and said that it had the latest “whatever” technology and that it would work in both countries, as long as roaming was set up in advance. I was in the room gesturing and making faces the entire time to indicate that I thought the guy was wrong but DH knows best and is sure that the guy works for the company and looked everything up so it must be correct. Of course when he turned his phone on at Narita it didn’t work. “I told you so” is on the tip of my tongue but I refrain because at least I can play Bubble Breaker on it when I can’t sleep and I get tired of CNN. DH finally hooked up to Skype on his laptop, which worked really well, which is a good thing because his phone didn’t work in Korea either. He called T-Mobile to complain and the person who answered actually said, “If your cell phone isn’t working, how are you making this call?”

We finally got to the Sheraton and checked into our room on the 26th floor, which had a great view of Yokohama Bay and the city. By Japanese stands it was a large room, with too double beds, no Kings or Queens like most of Japan! The hotel is really conveniently located if you are staying in Yokohama. There is a tunnel that goes directly to the station. The rooms are nice, nothing fabulous as far as décor. The bathroom had a separate shower and tub. I love the Toto washlet’s when I visit, so civilized! Also love the controls for everything in the room being located on the nightstand…even the drapes opened and closed from there. We crashed for a few minutes, and then made our way out to find dinner. We found a little place and even though it lacked plastic food displays or English menus we decided to chance it. It turned out to be Shabu-shabu, which was pretty good, but I was quickly reminded that restaurants in Japan have yet to adopt non-smoking laws and we were sitting between tables of older businessmen who were drinking Sochu and chain smoking.

We had two days to ourselves before DH had the meeting and after reading a report here on Kamakura and talking to a friend who had visited there, we decided to take the train and check it out. It only took about 20 minutes and it was really beautiful and I enjoyed going there very much. I highly recommend it, especially if you are going to Yokohama. I have been to Kyoto and Nara and I think Kamakura was of equal interest and beauty. It has a more country town feel to it, even though it is close to Yokohama and Tokyo. DH’s business associates told us that there are strict building laws enforced there to maintain the old feel of the place. We got off the train in Kitakamura at the suggestion of a trip report here, but didn’t realized how far we needed to walk to make the loop to the Kamakura station to get back home. This would have been okay but DH has been having problems with his knee and he was getting sore. There are many temples and shrines within walking distance or a bus ride. We chose to visit two; one smaller one and one larger one, Kenchoji. One could easily spend an entire day if you wanted to see all of the temples and shrines. Even though we missed the cherry blossom peak there were still some trees with flowers, as well as lots of other flowering plants in bloom. It was a week when lots of Japanese middle schoolers take a trip to see historical sights. I guess the equivalent to kids here going to Washington DC or NYC. I got a huge kick out of the school uniforms and typical goofy teen behavior. We then went to the pedestrian street with shops and restaurants. There were many good shops on the shopping street but no fun with DH who hates to shop. I still managed to find a few choice buys. We also had lunch in a sushi bar with one of the conveyer belts. The prices were reasonable and with the price color coded plates it was easy to keep track of the bill. We wound up at Kamakura station and bought tickets back to Yokohama. I realize on the train that I am developing the ability that all Japanese seem to have of falling asleep on any type of public transportation! Now if I can just get to the next step of knowing when to wake up at the proper destination! That night I encountered more of the school kids at our hotel. I had been shopping in the labyrinth of stores in the subway station and when I came back to the hotel basement there were at least 30 teenage girls roped off waiting for the elevator. As soon as they saw me smile at them they all started waving, yelling hello and giggling, typical behavior of teenage girls worldwide.

I forgot one experience that was pretty funny. DH bought some dress pants right before we left and didn’t find time to take them to the tailor to be hemmed. He threw them in the suitcase hoping he could find somewhere in Yokohama to get them done. We asked the concierge who sent us to a tailor right in the station mall area. As I mentioned DH is a big guy and the pants from the Big and Tall place were something like a 46 waist and super long. The tailor was an older woman who was only about five feet tall. We all laughed when she held the pants up and unfolded them as they turned out to be nearly bigger than she was. Probably the most yardage she had ever seen in a pair of pants! We had to act out everything with much pointing and gesturing because she didn’t speak any English. I kept thinking we were misunderstanding her when she said she could have them ready in an hour! We came back that afternoon for them and they were ready, pressed and hung up all for $15.00!

The next day was kind of rainy so we hung out in Yokohama. We took a cab to the harbor area and looked a garden display competition at Yamashita Park. We walked from there to Chinatown, which is one of the largest Chinatowns in the world. There were lots of shops and Chinese restaurants, which we could not try due being to full from breakfast. We then walked to the Motomachi are where there were lot’s of high end stores and more places to eat. Somehow we wound up eating at a Mos burger, a fast food chain place that was pretty bad. That night it was rainy so we wandered through the subway station mall and found an Italian place to eat. I like the Japanese twist on Italian food. We found that the food was not much more expensive than Southern California as long as we avoided hotel food and the really fancy places. We made the mistake of eating brunch in the hotel the first morning and after paying $28.00 each we stuck to the free breakfast came with our room on the concierge level. It was plenty for me, rolls, breads, cereal, fruit, yogurt, cold cuts and cheese, juice and coffee. I was surprised that our room was only about $280 a night. The lounge level also had free happy hour included.

Friday was DH’s meeting day so I went shopping blissfully free of his bored expressions. me. I love Japanese department stores and there is a Mitsukoshi next door to the station. I am just as happy to look around the food department, as I am to see another temple. I also like looking at the kimono department. I bought some souvenirs and lots of food to take home. This is another great place to get cheap food that is very good. I also love the “combini” stores all over, they have the best frozen confections in the freezer sections. Corn ice cream? YUMMY.

That night DH’s business associates insisted on taking us out to dinner at a great Tempura place near Chinatown. We are very good customers of their company so we are always treated very well. We brought a gift for the president of the company, thanks to those here that gave suggestions. We found out he has a small wine collection so we bought a bottle of good California red wine. Of course I had to carry it in my luggage and I was paranoid it would break and all of my clothing would be ruined. It was boxed with Styrofoam and I made DH wrap it all in multiple layers of plastic wrap. I still had visions of me trying to find ladies plus size clothing in Japan to replace my wardrobe! Oddly I did come across a plus store and Mitsukoshi had a plus department. Sadly Western ways are causing our obesity problems to spread. We had our own private room seated at a Tempura bar on tatami mats, thank god it was the type of seating with a recessed area for your legs because with our age/knees/girth we could not sit on the floor for an entire meal. As is was I felt less than graceful on the way up and down! The chef told us there were three special types of salt to use on the tempura, sea salt, green tea salt and curry salt. I am trying to keep my ankles from swelling and I take blood pressure meds so I put small piles of salt on my plate to look like I am with the program. I notice everyone else has huge mounds of salt. As we make our way through all of the items we are instructed on which salt to use. I went through the motions of salting things and even though I used a minimal amount of salt I was worried I would puff up like a blowfish! It was delicious and I am sure we had many “special” items. We were scheduled to leave for Korea the next day Saturday and they asked us about out plans. We said we would take the train back to the airport. Much Japanese was then spoken and several cell phones came out and minutes later we were told that Mr Yoshi would be picking us up at our hotel and taking us to the airport. We felt bad that some poor guy was giving up his Saturday morning to drive to the airport but they insisted.
Mary2Go is offline  
May 6th, 2008, 07:18 AM
  #2  
emd
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 6,267
I love your report! You have a great travel attitude. Love the phone story and I can just see your 6'6" DH- I traveled thru Japan w/my 6'6" son so I can relate.

I've come close to staying at the Yokohama Sheraton, but got spoiled by the Westin Tokyo and haven't made it to that Sheraton. It is a great use of Starwood points though.

I feel the same way about browsing the shopping in Japan. I find it fascinating. I can relate to your paranois about the wine. I am a size 14 and I can tell you a sad story about what it is like trying on bathing suits at Sports Authority in Japan, I couldn't get them half way up my leg.

I got several good laughs and a ton of good info from your report so far, thanks!
emd is offline  
May 6th, 2008, 07:38 PM
  #3  
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emd,

Thanks, I have used your trip reports in planning my trips! I think you suggested Rentaphone which was great...should have done it again! I am sure the Westin is much nicer but I can't complain about the Yokohama Sheraton especially for logistics.
Mary2Go is offline  
May 7th, 2008, 06:41 PM
  #4  
 
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Great report Mary. We are still debating whether to spend more time in Japan or go to China when we visit Joe in Korea next year. I can't wait to read the rest of your report.

Leslie
hester is offline  
May 8th, 2008, 02:04 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
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Interesting - lookin' forward to more.
SallyCanuck is offline  
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