Our Trip to Japan, June 2011

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Jul 8th, 2011, 06:51 AM
  #1
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Our Trip to Japan, June 2011

Background: My son, who just graduated from high school, and I went to Japan leaving Houston, TX, flying nonstop on Continental Airlines on Sunday, June 5th, arriving in Tokyo Narita on Monday, June 6th. We returned on Tuesday, June 21st, flying non-stop from Tokyo Narita to Houston, TX. My son is an avid bike rider, particularly BMX street riding. Since this was his graduation trip, and we could check two bags for free, he brought his 20” BMX bike along. He packed his bike in a large suitcase (wheels, forks, helmet, pump, toolkit, misc. supplies) and a duffle bag (frame). He rode it while we were Tokyo and Kyoto. We each also had a 19” rolling suitcase. We used the luggage service to ship three bags (bike things and combined luggage with clothing) to Kyoto and then from Kyoto to our hotel in Narita. This way we only had one suitcase going to Hiroshima/Miyajima and up to Koyasan.
Here was our itinerary:
June 6-13, Tokyo. Annex Katsutaro Ryokan, http://www.katsutaro.com/annex_index.html; cost 10,500/yen/night for two; additional cost for hot breakfast 840 yen (we did this one morning only)
June 13-14, Miyajima. Miyajima Morinoyado, http://www.morinoyado.jp/english/index.html; cost 10,710 yen/person with Munemori dinner; sake 840 yen; breakfast 1020 yen/person
June 14-19, Kyoto. B & B Juno, http://www.gotokandk.com/casa.html; cost 5,000 yen/night/person including breakfast
June 19, Koyasan. Shojoshin-in Temple, http://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/d...ojoshinin.htm; cost 22,201 yen total for two including dinner and breakfast
June 20, Narita. Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Narita ANA, http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/CP/...en-_-MAINHOTEL, cost 12,000 yen total for twin bed room

I would highly recommend every place we stayed at. We had Japanese style rooms in all but the Crowne Plaza (we had large twin beds there). Each room was clean, roomy, and comfortable. We slept on the tatami floors using the double futons. If you have a difficult time getting up from the floor this would not be a choice for you, but we slept well each night. I, myself, do not like to sit cross-legged on the floor. And sitting with my legs to the side gets uncomfortable after awhile. We were gone from our rooms throughout the day so this never really was an issue for us. I managed fine, for the most part, sitting on the cushions on the floor, but I have to say I enjoyed sitting in chairs more!! Our B & B in Kyoto did not have a bathroom in our room. We shared a toilet and sink on the 2nd floor and a large shower with a changing room on the first floor. This never posed a problem for us because we only had to share it the first two nights there with a mother and her daughter from NYC. After that, we were the only guests. We are relaxed travelers so I adjusted my shower time in the morning around the mom’s without any problems. Our temple stay in Koyasan had a sink in our room, but there were three toilets just around the corner with an additional sink. The public bathing area was just down the stairs from our room. There were only 5 people total staying there (including us) so, again, sharing the bathing facilities was never an issue. A side note though…my son, being 18, did not want to bathe with other men in the same room! Luckily for him he never had to!

Luggage- We checked the bike bags for both flights. We carried our rolling suitcases with us to Tokyo, and then also checked them on the way home. I was concerned about lugging the extra bike bags to our first stay in Tokyo but the bike is very light weight so we each had our rolling suitcase and I took the duffle bag while my son managed with the large suitcase and his rolling suitcase. While it was more than we normally travel with we managed fine catching the Keisei Skyliner to the Nippori stop, which was then about a 7 minute walk to the Annex Katsutaro. Returning to the airport when leaving was not a problem at all because our hotel shuttle service dropped us off right outside the Continental check-in at the airport.

Airport/Flights- My daughter dropped us off at the airport in Houston and picked us up when we returned. The check-in line was very long in Houston. I think the computers had gone down overnight so they were backed up. My carry-on bag was one of about 15 that were lined up for the drug-sniffing dog to check out. Another dog was in the baggage claim area of the IAH when we returned. Check-in in Tokyo for our return flight was finished in about 10 minutes! We had plenty of time to shop, exchange currency back to U.S. dollars, and to eat a light lunch. Our flights went smoothly and the food was decent. We watched movies going and returning. The flight going was full, but not the return flight. We had non-stop flights so while they were long (13 hours going, 11 returning) we were comfortable. I had an aisle seat and got up frequently to move around.

Money- I had brought Canadian dollars we had left over from a trip to Montreal/Quebec City so I exchanged that in the Narita airport for yen. I used some for our Keisei tickets too. After we checked in we went out strolling through the Yanaka neighborhood and I tried to get money from the 7-Eleven but my debit card did not work there. By then it was after the post offices closed so before we went sightseeing the next morning we went to the post office and withdrew cash from the ATM there. I had talked to our bank before we had left and they raised our daily withdrawal limit to $1,000. So we just went to the post office three times and withdrew large amounts of money from both our accounts. I exchanged leftover, unspent yen, at the Narita airport before flying home. I used cash for everything- places we stayed, meals, snacks, and entrance fees to shrines/temples, etc. I charged our first meal because I did not have cash and our stay at the Crowne Plaza so I could accrue more Priority Club points. Prior to leaving home I, of course, had purchased our plane tickets on charge. I also bought our JR 14-day passes using charge and we bought tickets to see the Seibu Lions vs. the Hanshin Tigers baseball game using charge before leaving home. We never felt unsafe in Japan. I never used a money belt or worried about the amount of money I carried.

Japan is an extremely clean, beautiful, and safe country. We met some very nice people. We found it easy to navigate around the Tokyo area and throughout Japan using our 14-day JR rail passes. We mostly used the JR lines in Tokyo, only using the additional subway lines as needed, otherwise we walked, walked, walked everywhere! In Kyoto we used the buses. While the bus system in Kyoto is very efficient we preferred using the subways in Tokyo.

Highlights of things we did:
Tokyo area: Hibiya Park; walking around the Yanaka area; going to a Japanese junior high school on their Open School Day; Seibu Lions baseball game; Nikko and surrounding countryside; Kamakura; Tokyo Tower view; various shrines and temples; school students asking questions while on their school trips; bike riding (for son and me)

Hiroshima and Miyajima: Peace Memorial Park and museum; deer on Miyajima island; scenery on Miyajima

Kyoto: all the shrines and temples; Nijo Castle; Golden Pavilion; walking the Philosopher’s Path; visit to an international school; Nara and the deer; bike riding for my son

Koyasan: Shojoshin-in Temple lodging and vegetarian meal; Okunoin Cemetery

I am a teacher. I used to teach kindergarten for 9 years and now I teach a special education class in the same elementary school. I love to learn about education in different places. (I also have a strong desire to teach overseas in the near future). Prior to going to Japan I did an Enrichment Cluster for a group of 13 kinder/first grade boys on Japan. This helped me learn more about the country and shared my new knowledge with the students. One of the things I did was to find pen pals for the boys in an international school in Kyoto. The first grade class there invited my son and me to visit their school because they would still be in session. So we did! Also, while in Tokyo we met a very nice Japanese lady who was working in a bakery near our ryokan. She teaches English at her daughter’s school once a week. We talked a while and then she invited me to go with her and her daughter to preview a junior high school. So I did that also! Both of these opportunities were wonderful experiences that I will be able to share with students in my elementary school.

My son’s only complaint is that we were so busy that he didn’t get to ride his bike as often as he would have liked. He rode some evenings outside our ryokan and then twice in Tokyo; once I went with him and videotaped him riding. He really doesn’t like to walk and prefers riding his bike so by the time we got to Kyoto he said he wanted to ride. He spent one afternoon riding while I walked the Philosopher’s Path. We met up at the Starbuck’s by Yasaka Shrine. He had no problems getting around on his bike because everybody rides a bike in Japan! He is always able to find “the perfect spot” to ride. In fact he did that his first time riding in Tokyo, then found it again on Google Earth and took me back there when I rode with him. So for those of you who advised us not to take his bike it worked out fine…he just wishes he had more time to ride.

Another thing, my son got a high fever and diarrhea in Tokyo. This lasted for two days so we, he especially, stayed close to the ryokan. The diarrhea lasted for 2-3 more days but only after he ate. Needless to say he did not want to try a lot of different Japanese foods after he was sick. We ate foods he was familiar and comfortable with. Therefore we had Chinese food, Italian food, Indian food, Mediterranean food; hamburgers, yakitori, tempura, and vegetarian food. We enjoyed everything we tried. We also loved the Japanese bakeries!
kkukura is offline  
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Jul 8th, 2011, 08:34 AM
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Beautifully report with lots of details and information. Your visits to schools will be memorable.
During one of my trips to Japan, I admired the way school children go on public buses, walk around the city unaccompanied by adults and lead a safe life outside their home. And all are so well-mannered.
Also often saw young mothers taking their little 4-5 year old kids on their bikes. Kids all wore uniforms and carried backpacks with school logos. So, it was so interesting to note these everyday details we often do not see in US.
Did you do some great shopping? I love the stuff I bought especially the kimono belt that I redesigned into a gorgeous table runner.
ileen is offline  
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Jul 8th, 2011, 01:46 PM
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Thank you very much for doing this report. I was wondering what happened to you and your son. Glad it all went well with the bike.

Love to use the Takuhaibin(delivery)service in Japan. It makes traveling long distances much more convenient. Lots of first timers to Japan are intimidated by the thought of using a delivery service but as you found out it is snap to use and makes traveling easier as well.

If there is a next trip for you and your son take him out into the country side and visit a small town like Kakunodate. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3601.html
You and he can rent bikes(or bring his and rent yours) near the train station and tour the town and neighboring countryside. We did and it was a fantastic way to see the sights. Most small towns have bike rentals or a shop that does near the train stations. Just ask someone at the station.

Thanks again for taking the time to do this report and welcome home!

Aloha!
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Jul 8th, 2011, 02:39 PM
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kkukura - thanks for reporting back! Your trip sounded great - I stayed at two of the same venues - Annex Katsutaro and Morinoyado so I know they worked well for you and your son!
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Jul 8th, 2011, 03:34 PM
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Thanks for your report. I have bookmarked a couple of the places you stayed - I hope to get back to Japan sometime.
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Jul 8th, 2011, 04:14 PM
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Mara- thank you! I heard about those places from your reports and they were wonderful!
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Jul 8th, 2011, 07:41 PM
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You're welcome, kkukura, but I can't take any credit for trip reports as I've never written one, but I did mention both those inns here at one time or another.....
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