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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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