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Kathie Nov 21st, 2013 06:53 AM

Kathie’s & Cheryl’s Impressions of Japan
This was our first trip to Japan. We were helped greatly in our planning by fellow Fodorites, especially Hawaiian Traveler, mrwunfl, DonTopaz, KimJapan, mara and Kuranosuke. Our thanks to them all and to all of the other generous Fodorites who answered our questions. You can follow Cheryl’s blog of our trip at The photos on our travel photo website will be up soon – I’ll give a link when they are posted.

Lost in Tokyo.

We anticipated that the flight and getting to our hotel would be easy. We travel somewhere in Asia every November, but all the other times we’d fly into Narita only to have to change planes and have another 6 – 8 hour flight to Bangkok or Singapore. So the one flight seemed very easy. And I expected the jet lag would be less.

Our arrival in Japan was very easy. We had some trouble finding the ATMs in the arrival hall, but got yen and quickly bought our limo bus tickets. The bus trip was 90 minutes to the Hyatt Regency Tokyo. We got there in time to have drinks and canapes in the Regency Club. We both slept pretty well that night.

I didn’t really have a sightseeing agenda in Tokyo, instead, my goal was to get the “vibe” of the city.

Up early, had breakfast in the Club, then took the Hyatt shuttle to Shinjuku Station to purchase all of our train tickets. It seemed like the ticket office should be readily apparent, but it was not. We wandered 15 min or so before we found the JR ticket counter. I had carefully cut and pasted all of the train info from into a document, so even though the ticket agent spoke almost no English, it seemed easy. The man handed us a stack of tickets and I saw they were entirely in Japanese. I asked the man to write what they were for, and he did write the destination on some of the tickets. (I learned later than the tickets could have been printed in English had we known to ask.) Not only were the tickets in Japanese, he had printed the seat tickets and the fare tickets separately – very confusing! We had the concierge at the hotel go through the tickets and write what they were for.

We headed out of the station to find our shuttle bus back to the Hyatt. Even though I had written down the exit number and the number on the sign where the bus stopped, finding it was not easy. There are very few signs in the station in English. We wandered for 15 minutes or so before stumbling across our shuttle stop. I figured we’d have an easier time next time we were in the station. We were both struck by the sheer number of people in the station, all rushing around. We had planned to take our luggage on the trains, but this experience gave us pause.

The new hop-on bus was offering free rides, and we felt that would be a good way to get oriented. So we walked to the Kieo Plaza Hotel, not far from the Hyatt, to catch the bus. With beautiful, sunny weather the double-decker open-air bus ride seemed like an ideal activity. The bus ride is a good way to see a sample of Tokyo’s modern architecture. The first stop was at Roppongi Center. We got off there to wander around and find a place for lunch. The shopping center was like a maze. Even though there was English signage, it was not very helpful. We had a guide to restaurants in the shopping center, but asking people who worked there where a particular restaurant was never got us an answer. While they all wanted to be helpful, they had no idea. We wanted the tempura place, but we knew it was closed in Wednesdays. I am very sensitive to msg, and I have a note written in Japanese saying I cannot eat msg. We stopped at several Japanese places, but all said they could not accommodate me. We chose an Italian place, but when we got inside, the lunches were $50 per person, and they had only one portion of the duck special, the dish we both would have ordered. There was no one else in the restaurant, which also seemed like a bad sign, so we chose to leave. We finally ate at an Indian place, which was ok, but not memorable food.

Of course, once we had eaten, we found many more promising places. We went back to the hop-on bus pick-up/drop off area and waited for our bus. The remaining stops on the route were of no interest to us, but again, we enjoyed the architecture.

Getting back to our hotel turned out to be an ordeal. The hotel had entrances/exits on four different streets and we would walk toward where we thought the Hyatt was from the map, only to find that we seemed to be going the wrong way. We went in circles for a while, then went back and asked the doorman, who got us on the right track. We were relieved to get back to the Hyatt.

We woke up the next morning to rain. In an effort to conquer Shinjuku, went to Shinjuku again to get Suica cards. Oddly enough, we could only find machines for the pasmo cards. We found the JR ticket desk again, and bought them there. I really wanted to use the machines, as I had seen a video on how to buy a personalized Suica Card from a machine.

It was my birthday, so we had lunch at Le Coup Chou, a recommendation from HawaiianTraveler. We took a taxi, as per HT’s instructions. It is located on a walking street, so the taxi driver let us out with a motion as to where he thought it was, and we gamely started looking. After several blocks, we stopped and asked someone who wasn’t sure but sent us off on another street. We asked again, and the man was able to tell us to go down two blocks and over one. Once we got there, it looked to me like the taxi driver was very close, but let us off one street over from where the restaurant was. The restaurant offers a fixed menu at lunch with two options – chicken or fish today. We also ordered a nice half bottle of burgundy. The food was excellent salad/mushroom timbale, then cream of celery soup, then a lovely, lightly sauced chicken breast, followed by coconut custard. Total about 7500 yen (cash only). What a wonderful birthday lunch!

We had a relaxing afternoon at the Hyatt before meeting Don Topaz for drinks at the NY Bar at the Park Hyatt. Great view, great company, a nice finish to my birthday in Tokyo.

Next morning, our goal was the Meiji shrine. We wanted to take the train, in part as practice for Saturday when we take the train to Kanazawa. I asked the concierge if there was a map of Shinjuku station, his reply “Shinjuku station very large, very confusing. No map.” Once we were dropped off, we followed the signs that said JR. Once inside the JR station, we found the platform pretty easily. The platform numbers are clearly marked. The train was crowded, but I’ve seen worse on the skytrain in Bangkok.

The shrine is listed as a one-minute walk from the train station. The guidebook we had said to take exit #2 from the Harajuku station, but we could find no exit numbers. We walked 10 minutes, asked and turned around… it was one minute the other direction. Once inside the gates I breathed a sigh of relief – for the first time since being in Tokyo, I felt like I wasn’t lost. We enjoyed the shrine, gardens and the chrysanthemum display. Walked back down the path, back through the gates to the street, and it didn’t look right. I asked a woman on the street which way to Harajuku station, and she said, “Oh, that is very far, too far to walk, but you can take the train from Yoyogi.” She pointed the way, and we were off. Obviously, we had come out of a different gate then we came in. We successfully negotiated our way out of Shinjuku and to the shuttle stop. The driver this morning pointed out that the stop was next to the Okyu Dept store… if we had only had that instruction previously!

We thought we’d go to the top of the Met Bldg next. I remembered that Bob mentioned they ate at a restaurant in that building. But we discovered the restaurant is a cafeteria. With my need to avoid msg, that was clearly not going to work. Back to the Hyatt, we found the restaurant in the lobby, Caffe, had a lovely lunch. The “Ladies Lunch” included an appetizer/salad bar, foie gras with a mushroom basamic reduction, a choice of entrees, dessert, and coffee or tea for 3000 per person. It was excellent, and I wouldn’t hesitate to eat there again. They had to other options for 1600 and 1900 yen.

Our first experience with the long-distance trains

After our observations of Shinjuku station, we made arrangements for our luggage to be delivered to the machiya house where we are staying in Kanazawa. The cost for two suitcases was just under 3000 yen. So we each took a small carry-on on the train. I was glad we were leaving from Sinjuku on a Saturday – it seemed like it should be less frantic.

Indeed, our last foray through Shinjuku was easier. We had learned from getting lost…again and again. We found the right platform easily. The platforms are clearly marked.

We knew we had just 19 minutes at Omiya to find our next train. Fortunately, the next train was a Shinkansan, and there are clear signs to the Shinkansan. We found our platform and got on the train. The seating is 2/3 and is double decker. I had tried to talk to the ticket agent about what we seats we wanted, but it was not possible. He gave us a window and middle on the side with 3 seats and we were on the lower level, so no view. Space was very tight on this train. We found space for our carry-ons, but I don’t know where we would have put suitcases.

At our next stop we had 11 minutes to make our train. As we got off the train, I looked around and saw no signs that were helpful, no board showing the trains and the platform numbers, etc. I turned and asked a Japanese man behind me where I would find the train to Kanazawa (I had all of the train info printed out) he looked and said follow me, that is where I am going. The next train was an Express Limited – I like these trains much better, more spacious and comfortable. Had we not found someone to help us – and quickly – there is no way we would have made the connection. There is more space on these trains – the woman across the aisle from us had her large suitcase between her knees and the seat in front of her. We resolved to use the luggage delivery service whenever we could.

The Japanese train system is really remarkable. The trains are clean, efficient and they run on time. We read that Japan is trying to sell trains to the US, and have even offered to help with some of the infrastructure costs. I do hope the US will take them up on their offer, as our current rail system doesn’t hold a candle to Japan’s.

hawaiiantraveler Nov 21st, 2013 08:28 AM

OMG what a great start. I can remember doing just what you did on our first foray into Shinjuku Station lol. I wish we were with you two to guide you through but it looks like you came through unscathed and with first hand knowledge lol. I still get lost in there, ask Bob and Karen lol.

The pink vending machines are the only ones that sell SUICA cards. You probably remember now seeing pink vending machines amongst the others, those are the SUICA sellers.

Was Sugitasan at Le Coup when you went? When I told him you were coming to visit he said he had to go back to France for some cooking classes for a month around the time you would be there. Cute little place. Strange, I always use a credit card there but maybe they only do that for dinner?

Yes the Japanese train systems are the best we have been on and we've been on many worldwide. Can't wait to hear the rest of this story.


Craig Nov 21st, 2013 09:08 AM

Great start, Kathie - it is interesting to hear from another first-timer. Anxiously waiting for more...

FromDC Nov 21st, 2013 09:16 AM

Wonderful reading, Kathie, thanks.

thursdaysd Nov 21st, 2013 11:28 AM

Oh good, I've been waiting for this. I managed the train stations fairly well, it was the metro in Tokyo that drove me nuts!

Yes, the US train system is in a sad state, thanks to Congress' apparent desire to get rid of Amtrak altogether. It is not just Japan's system that is so much better, most of western Europe's is too.

Kathie Nov 21st, 2013 01:01 PM

Thanks for reading. Here's more:

Lovely (but very wet) Kanazawa

The last leg of the train trip went though some very pretty countryside. We could see snow-capped mountains from the train.

We arrived in Kanazawa, and Rich (KimJapan’s husband) met us at the train, and we rode together to the machiya, Kikunoya. Kim met us there a bit later. It was a delight to meet Kim, someone I’ve known from Fodors for many years. The machiya is on a walking street near the river. It’s a lovely neighborhood. Having a whole house to ourselves was a real luxury! The house is very traditional with tatami mat floors and a tiny interior courtyard garden. We went out to dinner with Kim, Rich and Teaghan at a Japanese family restaurant.

More about the machiya : You sleep on futons, of course. We found them reasonably comfortable (and I was concerned because of my joint problems). More difficult for us, was the lack of chairs (there are “sit-on-the-floor” chairs). This made working on our computers difficult until I realized that a small table and small back-less bench in the kitchen was the best set-up in the house. This is not the best place for you if you have a bad back. The house is well-equipped and there are clearly labeled instructions for everything. A Japanese breakfast was prepared for us each morning, and the machiya was cleaned daily. Located in a fascinating neighborhood, our biggest regret was that the weather was so bad we never had the chance to just wander the area. Kim is a travel agent and she arranged our stay at Kikunoya. You can contact her at [email protected]

Our sightseeing agenda in Kanazawa was mostly gardens. Unfortunately, the rain did interfere. We saw the gardens that topped our list, but there were more we had wanted to see. Being from Seattle, it’s not often that rain derails our plans when we travel. But the rain was heavy, and the second day was quite cold as well. The second day was forecast to be less rainy, so we did some indoor things the first day.

First day sightseeing: DT Suzuki House – This is a place that I think was better in the rain. There is a mirror pond one overlooks from the meditation room, and the rain made it a fascinating pattern of overlapping ripples. The 21st Century Museum, an excellent modern art museum had a great special exhibit of participatory art. Thanks to Rich who gave us tickets for the special exhibit. We especially enjoyed watching the children interacting with the art. The Museum has a nice restaurant, so we had lunch there. Kanazawa Castle – there were relatively few visitors, so they weren’t running the English language tours. We wandered on our own.

Dinner at Bernard, Kim’s favorite restaurant. Wonderful, multi-course French dinner (with a Japanese accent) and wine for about $200 US, cash only.

Second Day sightseeing: Kenrokuen Garden, our #1 destination in this city, is a lovely garden, one of the best in Japan. Here we saw some fall color, and the pines were trussed up to protect them from heavy snows. Stopped at the Tea House for tea and to get warm and dry briefly. We spent a couple of hours here, but would have spent more time if it hadn’t been so wet and cold. After this we went to Nomura-ke House and Garden; we really enjoyed this exquisite small garden. It was cold enough that I wished I had brought gloves. We had dinner at the Spice Box – excellent, reasonably priced Indian food.

We discussed our train experience with Kim. We decided to upgrade to the Green Car to Kyoto and take our luggage with us, as this is the one train trip where we have no transfers. We planned to send our luggage ahead from Kyoto to Hakone, so stayed with the tickets we had already purchased for that trip. Since we needed to take our luggage with us to Narita, we decided to upgrade to green car for those two legs. Kim took care of it all – and printed our tickets in English! By the way, the train tickets are fully refundable, so were only had to pay the difference in fares between the old tickets and the new ones.

Cheryl now has all the Japan photos up:

Kathie Nov 21st, 2013 01:09 PM

Oh, HT, I forgot to mention that Sugitasan was not at Le Coup Chou when we were there. We still had a wonderful experience.

It is reassuring to hear from others that they felt lost as well. Rich pointed out to me that while we in the West expect north to always be at the top of a map, that is not a mapping convention in Japan, and confuses many Westerners.

I agree, thursdays, that Western Europe's train systems are better than the US, but the Japan Rail system is la creme de la creme as far as we are concerned.

thursdaysd Nov 21st, 2013 01:45 PM

What a pity you had rain in Kanazawa! But great that you got to spend time with the Keefes - I haven't forgotten Kim taking such good care of me when I was limping around Japan.

Hanuman Nov 21st, 2013 02:56 PM

Great report Kathie and Cheryl - beautiful pictures of the foliage!

Craig Nov 21st, 2013 03:05 PM

Nice photos - don't know how Cheryl managed to make the rainy ones look so bright! I am going to get to work on mine this weekend. Cheryl was speedy...

hawaiiantraveler Nov 21st, 2013 03:08 PM

Stunning photos at Arashiyama(Tenruji)gardens. You were indeed lucky. So glad Fujisan showed herself to you. She hid from Bob at her usual first glimpse place at Owakudani and only showed herself when we were halfway down to the pirate ship....we lucked out.


KimJapan Nov 21st, 2013 03:40 PM

What a pleasure to read - and the photos!!! Wow!! It's been all of my pleasure to be able to finally meet so many Fodorites, all of whom have been wonderful!

MaryW Nov 21st, 2013 04:07 PM

Lovely photos and very much enjoying your report.

As always your report is so clear and helpful to anyone planning a trip. And just enjoyable to read for everyone else.

I'm looking forward to the rest.

Kathie Nov 21st, 2013 04:51 PM

Thanks to all of you for your comments on Cheryl's photos. Craig, she has started working on her photos while we are still traveling since she bought the the MacBook Pro with retinal display, so she came home with the photos and her webpage almost finished. She really did get fabulous photos. I'm impressed with how well her train photos came out - clear photos from the train going - what - 90mph? We were lucky to get some very clear weather after the hard rains.

The train trip to Kyoto was very pleasant, especially since we had no transfers. And we had no trouble with the Kyoto station. Really, it was only Shinjuku that was so confusing.

chris45ny Nov 21st, 2013 05:40 PM

Loving your report. Has me thinking about a trip to Japan. I forgot that when my daughter was modeling she lived in Tokyo for several months. I remember her talking about the trains and especially her sunrise climb of Mt. Fuji. That was back in 1991 and when she began to love everything SE Asia. Now she's teaching in China and spends all her school breaks traveling in the area. Her enthusiasm for this area of the world is one of the main reasons for our SE Asia trip.

Since we decided to do this trip I have been accumulating so much great info from this forum and TA. I really enjoy your reports and especially Cheryl's pictures. She is very talented. Looking forward to reading more.

kmkrnn Nov 21st, 2013 07:06 PM

The rain did not hamper Cheryl's photos at all. Beautiful and you did get some great views of Fuji San. The gardens take on a different dimension in the rain, and still lovely and peaceful. It was a great trip for all of us , and unique we could do the same things, but everyone had a different take.

rhkkmk Nov 21st, 2013 07:23 PM

i will go back to the pics shortly, but am enjoying your writing as usual..

THANK GOD FOR MY MAN. we could never have done it without him, and the fabulous linda to correct him when he made a rare error.

kanazawa and hakone were the highlights of this brush with japan trip for me. food and taxi costs were a bit off putting, but we started our trip with full knowledge of that. local neighborhood restaurants offer excellent food at much more reasonable prices we found.

mrwunrfl Nov 21st, 2013 08:44 PM

Getting lost in Shinjuku station is easy. So is getting lost walking from the station to the Hyatt Regency.

Shinjuku station is said to be the busiest train station in the world with over 3.5 million passengers per day. On my first trip to Japan I emerged from the N'Ex into Shinjuku station and I think that at least 3 million of that days passengers were that at that moment. Trying to make sense of the map in the station almost made me cry. I stepped out side to get my bearings and, looking around, realized that I was at the south entrance and so then found my way to Hilton shuttle.

I think a regular car on a Tokaido shinkansen Nozomi might be better than the Joetsu shinkansen Max Toki you were on.

Thanks for staring your posting sooner! Didn't want to wait for the end of the weekend.

An error? Say it aint so Bob. Linda is fabulous.

kmkrnn Nov 21st, 2013 09:39 PM

Photos... Not bad for a brownie hawkeye

Kathie Nov 22nd, 2013 12:34 PM

Koyo in Kyoto

We both describe ourselves as temple fanatics, so we were really looking forward to all of the wonderful temples in Kyoto. For us, this was the heart of our trip to Japan. And we did get to see a lot of temples. Surprising to us both, we found the temple gardens more compelling than the temples themselves.

We opted to take taxis in Kyoto. The buses were absolutely packed, and we would have spent more time in transit than in visiting temples, shrines and gardens. Thus, we spent an average of $50 a day on taxis in Kyoto. The trip to Arashiyama was more, about $70 total. Taxis in Japan are so nice! The cars are all perfectly clean, and have white seat covers. The drivers are all dressed in suits, and no one will cheat you by taking you far out of your way to get a higher fare.

We were fortunate to be in Kyoto near the peak of the koyo. We saw wonderful fall colors everywhere.

Cheryl’s photos offer a complete catalogue of the temples we visited. I simply want to highlight a few of our favorites.

Tenryo-ji, in Arashiyama was our favorite. You can enter this temple complex either from the main street or from the Bamboo Forest. I recommend entering from the Bamboo forest. The fall color there was at its peak, and the lovely reflections in the water intensified the effect. We got there as it opened, which was great, as even an hour later it would have been quite crowded. As we left the complex, we heard the monks chanting, a lovely end to our visit.

Also in Arashiyama we visited the garden estate of a famous actor, Okochi Denjiro, the Okochi-Sanso Villa. This was a lovely garden estate. The admission fee includes tea at the end of your garden walk.

Another favorite of ours was the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. Famous for its thousand vermillion Torii gates, it is a visually arresting sight. It was raining the day we went, I expect it would be even more spectacular in on a sunny day.

We visited Tofuku-ji Temple specifically for the koyo, and the colors were spectacular. This temple was absolutely packed with visitors, who like us, were there to ooh and ah at the fall colors.

We walked the Philosopher’s Path. The gardens around the Ginkakuji Temple (at one end of the path) were really lovely.

The temple next door to the Hyatt, Sanjusangendo Temple, was the one with the most interesting interior that we saw. It contains 1000 gold kannon figures. Of course, no photography was allowed inside so we had to content ourselves with the experience of it without photos.

We met up with Shelley and Jim, fellow Fodorites one evening for dinner. Following HT’s suggestion, we met on the 11th floor of the Kyoto Train station. The station was packed, as there was a of tree-lighting and concert going on so we had to wait to get a seat in a restaurant. We had a fine time talking travel. Getting together with people I “know” from Fodors is always fun.

We stayed at the Hyatt in Kyoto, which was lovely. The people at the concierge desk were always helpful – we had them write our destinations in kanji for us. When we arrived, we were given a certificate that gave us $30 off of dinner in any of the Hyatt dining venues. The certificate could be used again and again, and we used it almost every night. A previous group of Fodorites had a bad experience at Trattoria Sette, but I have to say that both the food and the service were excellent while we were there. We also ate one evening at the Grill, which was also excellent.

All of our nights at the Hyatt Kyoto were free – two free nights for signing up for the credit card, the other four nights free with Hyatt points. Thus, our rate did not include breakfast. The breakfast buffet is quite pricey, but we ordered a la carte for an average of $25 a day for the two of us. We thought that their French Toast was just fabulous.

Marija Nov 22nd, 2013 12:44 PM

I'm enjoying reading about your trip. Thanks.

Mara Nov 22nd, 2013 02:16 PM

Kathie - just finished looking at Cheryl's photos - they are wonderful! What is her method of taking photos from train? When I do that I usually get a reflection of me with the camera. ;-)

Sounds like you really enjoyed your visit - hopefully it will not be your last.

I am impressed with your speed in finishing trip reports and photo albums....I never seem to get mine done....

Craig Nov 22nd, 2013 02:49 PM

Kathie, we felt the same way about the temple gardens. And the taxi drivers - gotta love the white gloves. Don't know how you managed to have breakfast for 2 for $25 at the Kyoto Hyatt. Maybe you just ate light and skipped the orange juice. We like a big breakfast so the buffet worked well for us, in spite of the price.

kalihiwai2 Nov 22nd, 2013 04:30 PM

Thanks for the great photos, they bring back some good memories of places we've been to and ideas for places to visit.
Mara's right about the train photos mine are always kind of blurry
Also thanks for the detailed trip report, great for researching the next trip.

Kathie Nov 22nd, 2013 05:12 PM

Mara and kallihiwai, Cheryl has a couple of tricks to her train photos. She holds the camera lens right against the window, so no reflections. She also uses the a very high shutter speed to keep them from being blurry.

Craig, the way we did the breakfast $25 for two was we each just ordered an entre - the French Toast was 1200 yen, the Eggs Benedict was 1300. That was plenty of food. Neither of us are big fans of orange juice, and Cheryl was willing to forego the coffee. She reminded me that one or two days, she ordered the multi-course "Healthy breakfast" which was 1900 yen (and included coffee).

shelleyk Nov 22nd, 2013 05:23 PM

Hi Kathie-We arrived home several hours ago. I had to check in on your TR, before doing other less interesting things such as unpacking and laundry. It was so nice to finally meet up with you and Cheryl. And as usual, I am loving your TR. I have not had time to check Cheryl's blog and see her photos, but I will when I have the free time to really relax and enjoy them. From other's comments, I know they are really quite good.

Mara Nov 22nd, 2013 06:37 PM

Thanks, Kathie - holding the camera against the window sounds like an excellent idea - and probably she has a very good camera as well....which helps to make her photos so enjoyable...

I'm glad I was able to give you some info for your trip...

When will you return to Japan? Since you were there for koyo you should think about a return trip in sakura season. :)

rhkkmk Nov 22nd, 2013 06:52 PM

i was wondering how c avoided reflections...

great reporting as usual.

BKK is crying without your annual visit...

Kathie Nov 22nd, 2013 07:13 PM

Welcome home, Shelley!

Mara, I will write about our thoughts on a return trip at the end of the report. If you want camera info, I'll ask Cheryl to post it.

Bob, we are crying about no Bangkok this year as well. You know we'll be there next year!

Next up - Hakone!

hawaiiantraveler Nov 23rd, 2013 04:52 AM

Really interested in how u two liked Hakone


Kathie Nov 23rd, 2013 06:36 AM


We sent our luggage ahead to the Hyatt in Hakone. I love how well that works! We had perfect weather as we left Kyoto. We saw Fuji from the train. At Odawara, as we changed trains, we bought our Hakone free passes. The Hakone Tozan train from Hakone-Yumoto was so crowded, and it was swaying and making switchbacks. I started to feel like I was getting sick. So we got off the train a couple of stops early and took a taxi to the Hyatt. I don’t often get motion sickness, but the addition of the very crowded conditions pushed me over the edge.

All of the Hyatts in Japan are lovely, but the Hyatt Hakone is really special. Once we got to the Hyatt and checked in, we immediately left for the Hakone ropeway where the views of Fuji-san were incredible. Cheryl got some great photos! We also took the pirate boat – not memorable and the views of Fuji were not great. The brochure says there are supposed to be great Fuji views from the boat, but the views were only ok – just the top of Fuji behind nearer hills. We have that view from our suite! Unless you have a lot of time, I’d say forget it. We got back to Hyatt after dark. Drinks and dinner in the fireplace room were great.

We like to build in some time to relax – after all, this is supposed to be a vacation. I built in relaxation time by scheduling us for Hakone for our last two nights. I turned in some Hyatt points to get an upgrade to a suite. What a wonderful suite! Cheryl says it’s one of the best suites we have stayed in… and we have stayed in a lot of suites. The living room of the suite had a curved wall of windows facing Fuji, the bedroom is sizeable and there is a sun porch with a table and chairs – perfect for room service breakfast. Every evening, the Hyatt supplies free drinks from 4-7 in the fireplace room, and you can order a light dinner there as well. I love that one of the wine options is champagne! What a great way to end our time in Japan.

And what better way to relax than in an onsen? So our last day was spent relaxing, soaking in the onsen, Cheryl working on her photos and me working on my report. The onsen at the Hyatt is beautiful. I love all of the rough granite on the floors – it feels good to my feet and it isn’t slippery.

When it was time to leave the Hyatt, we took a taxi to the Odawara Station ($50). HT had forewarned us that the Hakone Tozan train is so crowded, that people often have to wait through several trains to get off the mountain… not something you want to do if you are headed to the airport! And given my incoming experience with the train, I wanted a comfortable ride to Odawara. Also, we had luggage with us. No way we could have gotten on that train. We had no difficulty finding our platforms, and found the train rides efficient and enjoyable. The check-in at Narita was very easy and we were soon winging our way home to Seattle, having had a wonderful first trip to Japan.

Next up: some reflection on our first trip to Japan.

Florida1 Nov 23rd, 2013 08:40 AM

Enjoying your report, Kathie! We also liked the gardens at Ginkakuji, although there were what seemed like millions of school groups there. We also enjoyed walking the Philosopher's Path.

Cheryl's photos are magnificent! Does she give lessons? :)

Kathie Nov 23rd, 2013 09:48 AM

Florida, there were school groups at many of the temples we visited in Kyoto. Cheryl wondered if they ever go to classes!

At so many of the gardens in Kyoto, the Camellia Sansaquas were in bloom. I had two put in when I did my landscaping almost 15 years ago now, but they had never bloomed. When we got home, my camellias were in bloom!

gfeibleman Nov 23rd, 2013 10:34 AM

We are just now planning our own first trip to Japan. Probably late October and/or early NOvember. Your report is giving us lots of ideas. Keep it up.

Sue_xx_yy Nov 23rd, 2013 02:37 PM


Thanks for this lovely report. I chuckled to hear of your travails in Shinjuku station. We only got out of that place on our first visit thanks to a $5 compass-keychain I happened to have taken with me on the trip.

For those reading contemplating visiting Kyoto, it is true the buses are crowded. We got round this by using the subway wherever possible - and by using other local trains (e.g. subway to Nijo, walk the short distance from Nijo subway to Nijo train station, train to Arashiyama.) During rush hour in the mornings Shank's pony came in handy, a LOT. In the middle of the day, buses were less crowded.

Checking out a few places using Google street view can help, but Google rarely goes inside buildings or stations. Kathie, if you had had a map of Shinjuku, I doubt it would have helped.

Map doesn't show the millions of people who obscure all those landmarks. And yeah, if one could easily figure out which is the West underground gate, as marked on the map, one wouldn't need the map in the first place. And there's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza...

Sue_xx_yy Nov 23rd, 2013 02:40 PM

WHOA, how'd that happen. Let's try that Shinjuku map again....

Yeah, that's better.

Craig Nov 23rd, 2013 03:13 PM

So kathie, what is the lure of Hakone? While the Hyatt sounded absolutely lovely and I love down time as much as anyone, what made Hakone special? And how do you pronounce it?

Kathie Nov 23rd, 2013 03:59 PM

Sue, I was also able to find the map on the internet, but as you point out, it isn't very helpful. Once we got into the JR part of the station, it was pretty easy. We did a lot of wandering before we got there!

Craig, the view of Fuji is the biggest allure, but the onsen is wonderful too. The scenic ride on the ropeway (which we liked better then the funicular) is wonderful. We weren't as enchanted with the boat ride, but some people would love it. You pronounce the 'e' in Hakone, softer than Ha-ko-nay but close (at least as far as I can tell!). I'm sure there are hiking trails in the area as well.

progol Nov 23rd, 2013 05:22 PM

Have only begun to read the TR, but I took a quick look at the blog. Cheryl's photos are stunning! I can't wait to see more.

Kathie Nov 23rd, 2013 06:14 PM

Reflections on our trip:

Looking back on our experiences, the only train station that was “terminally confusing” was Shinjuku. The only station where we couldn’t immediately find our platform was Echigo-Yuzawa, where we had a mere 11 minutes to change trains and had to rely on the kindness of a fellow passenger to make the connection.

Food was a problem for me. I’m very sensitive to msg, so I must avoid it. I had something written out to show to restaurants, and all of the Japanese restaurants in Roppongi Hills I stopped at turned me away. Kim took us to a place in Kanazawa (it helped that they also avoid msg) and a little place we found in Kanazawa accommodated me. Our concierge called a place in Kyoto, which agreed they could accommodate me, so we did have some Japanese food. But it was harder to find places to accommodate my “no msg” requirement than I expected. Mostly, we ate Italian or French. I was amazed at how many Italian restaurants there were in Japan – and very good Italian food.

I thought food would be more expensive than it was. Restaurant prices are similar to restaurant prices in Seattle, but there is no tipping, and Seattle has a sales tax of almost 10%, so the prices seemed fine to us.

The language was more of a problem than I thought it would be. While most Japanese people have had English in school, most won’t speak it to you, but often understand what you say. The language was a problem mostly because we needed to navigate places that had few or no English signs. Traveling in Europe, even if you don’t speak the local language, you can follow signs because the characters are familiar. Following Kanji signs is different.

Japan is expensive. We knew that going in and did some things to make it more affordable. We used ff miles for free tickets to Japan. We got the Hyatt credit card, which gave us two free nights, and I had a bundle of Hyatt points, so our 6 nights in Kyoto were free, and our upgrade to the suite at Hakone was free. I saved $250 on our Hyatt in Tokyo by pre-paying a couple of weeks ahead. On the other hand, some things we did were more expensive: we chose to take taxis in Kyoto – probably averaged $50 a day, more for Arishiyama $35 each way. That was well worth it to us for efficiency in getting around. Our time was more precious to us than the dollars.

So what about our next trip to Japan? We will have our train tickets printed in English. We’ll use the luggage delivery service whenever we can, book green cars when we need to take luggage along. We will use Hyatt points to pay for some hotels. We will spend plenty of time in Kyoto and we’ll get to Nara next time. And, yes, we will go at sakura time.

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