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Travelgirl's Trip of a Lifetime - Japan Excerpt - from Summer 2006

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Apr 27th, 2007, 04:08 PM
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Travelgirl's Trip of a Lifetime - Japan Excerpt - from Summer 2006

Hello. In the summer of 2006, our family of 4 (me, DH, DS1 - aged 13 and DS 2 - aged 11) spent 77 days traveling around Asia and Europe. I wrote a long report titled "Travelgirl's Trip of a Lifetime" and posted it on the Europe board.

I'm going to post each country's section separately now, so the information can be searched by people traveling to a particular country. Happy traveling!

Tokyo

Day 4 – Arrival in Tokyo

We arrive 45 minutes early from London. After deplaning, immigration, etc., we spy a place to buy train tickets. I think the “official” station is one floor down, but we spot this one, so we stop here. They speak English and are very helpful. We need cash to pay for the train into Tokyo. It is about 9900 yen. I also purchase our tickets to Kyoto, for about 48000 yen. They only take cash. I am happy that I’ve ordered Japanese Yen (and Chinese Yuan) from the auto club at home (AAA), but I only have 52000 yen, so we easily get more money using our ATM card from the nearly Citibank machine.

The Narita Express takes about an hour. It is quick and easy and we have no trouble finding our assigned seats. The lady at the ticket booth had explained how to read the train ticket. There is space at the end of the train for luggage storage. Announcements are made in English, even one letting you know when you are 6 km from Tokyo station.

Once at Tokyo station, we follow the signs for Taxi and get in the taxi line. A small car pulls up and we pile in. 3 of our suitcases fit in the trunk. DH, all 6 foot 1 inch of him, sits in the front seat, with the largest suitcase on his lap. The kids and I and our 6 carryon pieces sit in the back seat. I give the driver the name and address of the apartment, written in English. He pulls the car over and thinks about it and looks at a map for about 5 minutes. Finally, I say “American Club”, because the Azabu Towers apartments are near the American Club (thank you to the Fodors poster who told me that piece of information). We start driving. Shortly, he drops us off at an office building. The doorman comes out and points out a large building with “Azabu Towers” written on it, about 2 blocks away. We head down the hill and then try to cut across the American Club parking lot, but it is private, so the nice English-speaking guard gives us a map and we go around, down the hill further and then up another hill. We finally arrive.

Seiko, at the reception desk, checks us in. These are serviced apartments, serving expatriates who generally stay here for several months or more. They change the towels and empty the garbage every day. They do more cleaning every few days. Seiko explains everything to us, shows us around the apartment, demonstrates how to use the 4 remote controls, shows us some restaurants nearby on the map (TGI Fridays, Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc.). She is very sweet. She slips off her shoes and leaves them outside the apartment.

I can recommend the Mansions at Azabu Towers apartments. I booked through www.moveandstay.com. It is located in the Rappongi area, near Akasaku. We have a 3 bedroom, which has 1 king bed and 2 single beds. It is perfect for us and will give us room to spread out and recover from jet lag. The apartment is not fancy and the carpet has some stains on it. It fairly nicely furnished and has everything you could possibly want (CD player, DVD, washer and dryer, microwave, iron, air conditioning). The beds are firm, but not terribly so. DH and I agree that the shower is excellent. The washer and dryer are by GE, in English, and work very quickly. The microwave is in Japanese and we have a bit of trouble figuring it out, even with some written directions in English.

Even though we knew where the McDonalds and Starbucks were , we decided to go to Jidaiya for lunch. This was mentioned in the Time Out Tokyo guide book, which, by the way, we really liked. The man at the front desk called to find out the menu for us and made a reservation and called a taxi and gave the taxi driver a map and told him where we were going. This was all pretty much unsolicited, as we just asked if he knew of the restaurant. He said, “May I call to find the menu? May I make a reservation?”, etc. The staff at Azabu Towers could not have been more helpful or accommodating. Then, the taxi driver was eating candy and offered us all a piece of Japanese hard candy to sample. More important, after 1 unsuccessful attempt, he eventually located the restaurant. It seems very difficult to find anything in Tokyo.

Jidalya has a doorway which is about 4 feet tall. Upon entering, we took off our shoes and left them in the rack by the door. The seating areas were sunk into the floor. The décor is fun. The choices were noodles, chicken or fish. We ordered some of everything and proceeded to enjoy it. Very little English was spoken, beyond noodles, chicken, fish, water. We felt totally out of our element, as we were unsure about the customs. The waitress was very smiley, so it wasn’t uncomfortable. It is just a new experience to realize that you stick out like a sore thumb and are probably doing everything wrong. Anyway, lunch is a very good deal at 880 yen, while dinner runs 5000 yen. DS1 is a very adventurous eater and tries and enjoys most everything. DS2 generally likes the more familiar food, but is game to order chicken and rice and taste a little bit of some new things.

The restaurant called a taxi to take us back to the apartment. While waiting, DS2 and I go into a small grocery store. When we come out, the taxi is there and we all try to get in. But the driver says “No, no”. We realize that he thinks we are trying to poach the cab from the fare he is supposed to be picking up. I point to the restaurant and pantomime a phone call. But we’ve come from the grocery store, so he doesn’t believe we are his fare. Finally, he says the car number, in English, and we say “Yes, yes.” He makes a call, I think to the restaurant, to confirm our story. Finally, we take off.

We spend the rest of the afternoon sleeping. I try to stay up, but when everyone else has been sleeping for a few hours, I finally succumb too. Then, we are all up at 2 am. Changing time zones is difficult for us.


Day 5 – Tokyo

I am embarrassed to admit this to Fodors posters, but we have done two horrible things today. First, we took an organized bus tour. We decided that with one day in Tokyo, it is the only way we would get to see some things. We called in the morning and booked a Sunrise Tour.

The tour would pick us up at the ANA Hotel, which is sort of near where we are staying. As we were short on time, the front desk called us a taxi. They said it would arrive in 10 minutes, but it comes in only 3-4 minutes. We are noticing that every estimate of time turns out to be much longer than the actual time things take. Is this so you will be happily surprised when things happen quickly? Anyway, I’ve run back to the room to get something, so when the cab arrives, DH, DS1 and DS 2 get in and the taxi takes off. They frantically try to tell the driver that they are waiting for another person. He finally stops, halfway down the street. When I come out of the building, I look and look for them and finally see DH waving to me from down the street.

The taxis are very interesting. The seats and seatbacks are covered in spotless white cloths. The doors close automatically, so you have to remember not to slam the door shut when you get out. You are not supposed to tip, as it is considered insulting.

While waiting for the tour at the ANA Hotel, we purchased croissants and pastries from their bakery on the 2nd floor. Delicious! There is a courtyard area directly behind the hotel where we sat and ate the pastries. There were several restaurants facing the courtyard, including Subway.

The tour turned out to be fine. The tour guide was very informative. We visited Tokyo Tower, the oldest Buddhist temple and learned about cultured pearls. We learned that many Japanese are both Shinto and Buddhist, Japan has a very high suicide rate, the average salary in Tokyo is about $52,000 per year (or was it 5200000 yen? how do they manage in this expensive city?). Also, the kids in school are required to learn English and a third language. It used to be that the most popular language was German, followed by French. Now, most kids are taking Chinese. The world is changing.

The tour guide asks if anyone on the bus speaks Spanish, as there is a Spanish couple on the tour and he needs to tell them that they will be dropped off at the temple in the front and they should meet the bus at a different place in the back of the temple. I volunteer and proceed to sort of convey the message. Later, I notice another person on the tour effortlessly talking to the Spanish couple. Why didn’t they volunteer and save me the embarrassment? Oh well, I will be going to Spanish school later in the trip, so this was good practice. Too bad I didn’t go to school before this tour.

After the tour, we wandered around and stopped in a restaurant that had pictures of the food posted outside. It was totally random and I don’t know the name of the restaurant, as it was in Japanese. It was excellent. We all rated it a 10. The kids had chicken on a stick (yakitori, I believe), I had some meat fried and sashimi, and DH had chicken with an egg on top. Everything was really good. No English was spoken. We just pointed to the picture board they brought over.

We walked a while and stopped at a convenience market and bought chocolate snacks to enjoy later and yogurt and juice for tomorrow’s breakfast. Well, I hope it’s juice, as the juice we bought this morning turned out to be iced tea. Then, we hailed a cab on the street. None of the taxi drivers we encountered spoke English. Even with the hotel card written in Japanese, they had trouble finding the place. Once again, I used the magic phrase – American Club. And we got home safely.

DS1 and DS2 have asked me to stop trying to speak Japanese, as it embarrasses them. When I tell this to my friend at home, she says she is glad I can embarrass them in Japan as well as I can embarrass them at home.

We relaxed for the afternoon, slept, did some laundry. Then (please forgive me), we ordered a pizza from Domino’s for dinner. Yes, Domino’s. They delivered it to our door, with a bow. DH went to Ginza for an evening stroll, but the rest of us just wanted to catch up on our sleep. Tomorrow – the train to Kyoto.

Day 6 – Train to Kyoto

As we are going to the train station with all of our luggage, we ask the man at the front desk to arrange a ride which can hold all the bags. He says he will try, but is doubtful. It turns out that he is able to arrange for a minivan. The driver speaks perfect English too. He tells us to try to get seats on the right side of the train, so we can see Mt. Fuji from the window. They are doing construction in front of the train station, so unloading the bags is a bit of a zoo.

While waiting for the train, we purchased lunch to eat on the train. We found a shop selling pastries, such as a sausage wrapped in a bun, cheese and corn pastry, nut bread, etc. We also purchased some sort of sushi stuff (see how knowledgeable I am?) which had various things wrapped in rice and then seaweed, shaped like a cone. Finally, the kids (DS1 is 13 years old and DS 2 is 11 years old) talked us into purchasing bento boxes for them. These turned out to be great, while the sushi stuff was totally nasty (none of us would eat it and we usually like sushi).

On the train, most people had one small carryon piece of luggage. We had our 4 rolling suitcases (carryon size) and 6 carryon pieces. The only place we could find to store luggage is in the overhead rack, which is a narrow shelf with no side rail. I had wondered if we would be conspicuous on this part of the journey. We definitely were. But, c’est le vie. People stared at us but it seemed more out of curiosity than anything else.

The bathrooms on the train were interesting. There were 3: a Western toilet, a Japanese men’s toilet and a Japanese women’s toilet. DS2 found the Japanese toilet interesting, basically just a hole in the ground. I visited the Western toilet and wondered why there were no towels to dry your hands.

As we approached Kyoto, there was an announcement in English. We gathered up all our stuff and were ready at the doors when we pulled into the station. As we exited the train, we just had to walk across the station to our hotel, the Hotel Granvia.

The station is huge and grand. Across from the hotel, there is a series of escalators that goes 11 stories high. You can exit at any level in order to go into Isetan (the huge department store) or one of the many food areas. There is a skywalk across the top of the huge domed glass area. There are probably a hundred different places to eat, or maybe it just seems like there are.

For dinner, we pick the restaurant serving fried pork cutlets. The food is okay. As usual, the service is top-notch. However, while serving us water, the waitress is jostled by someone passing by and spills an entire large glass of ice water on DH’s lap. I see the entire thing happen, see her arm get bumped, the shocked look on her face and the glass beginning to fall, but of course am helpless to stop it. DH is very startled and while I feel sorry for him, the only thing I can do is laugh hysterically as the 2 waitresses and the manager run over and start dabbing at his lap. Luckily, DH is very easygoing and laughs it off too.

After dinner, we stop at Café du Monde for beignets. This is a miniature version of the famous shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans which serves hot square donuts covered in powdered sugar. It is funny to see this in Japan. I order a green tea frappe too.

Later that night, back in the hotel room, we get acquainted with our Japanese toilet. It is a little scary, because whenever you sit down, it seems to roar to life with a humming noise. DH tells me this is the odor masking function. There are a couple of buttons for different kind of sprays. Also, a heated seat. Later, at a public toilet, I also encounter a toilet with a button to make a fake flushing sound, in order to cover up any embarrassing noises one might make.

We like the Hotel Granvia. The location is great. The lobby is very nice. There are about 10 ladies in the lobby, dressed in bellhop uniforms. They nod to the Western tourists and bow deeply to the Japanese tourists. Everyone scurries around, whisking away your luggage or ushering you to a chair.

At check-in, we had a request to make. I had reserved the rooms a long time ago for 17000 yen, but had noticed the price on the web site dropping to 13000 yen for the last few days of our visit, so I asked if we could have the lower rate for our last few days. Initially, no one knew how to deal with this request. Perhaps it was too bold of me to make the request. Finally, the assistant manager told us that in their system, they cannot cancel part of a reservation, but they can end a reservation early. So we made a new reservation over the internet for the last few days and the front desk terminated our original reservation a few days early. The assistant manager was very professional and told us that he would personally ensure that everything was taken care of and that we should not worry about it and should proceed to enjoy our stay. So we did!

From our room, we have a nice view of the city lights. The wired Internet connection is free. The bathroom is very nice, with every toiletry you could imagine, including an individually packaged toothbrush, razor and hairbrush. The bath area has a tub and also a tiled area for showering. The beds are comfortable. We proceed to sleep very well here.

Day 7 – Kyoto – Calligraphy and Cooking Classes

We grab a quick breakfast at Vie de France Bakery in the train station. Then we take a taxi to WAK Japan, which is the Women’s Association of Kyoto. There we meet Yoshiko, who will instruct us on calligraphy. She is dressed in a lovely kimono and she begins by explaining the three types of alphabets on which the Japanese language is based. We choose a symbol from Kanji, which is comprised of symbols that represent an entire word (happiness, harmony, friend, love, heart, etc.). Each symbol is made up of 4-10 brush strokes. Each stroke can stop, trail off, curve up. We feel like kindergartners in art class.

The kids’ symbols are much better than the adults’. Yoshiko says that DH’s strokes indicate that he is kind, DS1’s show he has a straight mind and DS2’s show he has a big mind. Very interesting. We take the pictures with us and will hang them up at home in the US.

We stop at a soba restaurant after class. Absolutely no English is spoken, but they do have an English menu. We all order hot soba soup with tempura. As we are eating (and sweating), I look around and notice that everyone else has ordered cold soba noodles with their tempura. We are given hot tea and water in little shot glasses. The owner is very nice to come over and offer us little forks, but we politely decline. We’re doing pretty well with chopsticks.

We’ve noticed that no one else seems to drink water with their meals. We always ask for water and are usually served a tiny glass. At home we would usually have 2 large glasses of water with our meals. At times, I feel like I am dying of thirst in Japan. After meals, we always buy some bottled water from a shop or one of those ubiquitous vending machines on the street.

It has been rare that we are given napkins with lunch or dinner. We usually receive a wet washcloth or wet-nap before eating. Without a napkin in my lap, I keep feeling like something is missing.

After lunch, we walk toward the subway station. While passing a small fruit store, we decide to take some fruit back to the hotel. The fruit in this store is absolutely beautiful, but very expensive. I don’t know if it would be this expensive in a regular store or if this is a special fruit store. We purchase 4 apples, 4 oranges, 4 bananas and 1 grapefruit for 24800 yen, which is about $22. There is a watermelon for 80000 yen, about $72. A pound of perfect huge grapes is 50000 yen, about $44. We discuss this and decide that we think all this fruit must be imported.

We take the subway back to the hotel. Each stop is numbered, so it is easy to figure out when to get off. The cost for 4 of us on the subway is just slightly less than taking a taxi. Several Fodor’s posters have recommended taking taxis in Kyoto and I think their suggestion is a good one, especially for a family.

Tonight, we have arranged through WAK Japan to have a course in Japanese cooking at someone’s home. Yoshiko will pick us up at the hotel and take us to the teacher’s home. We decide to bring gifts for the teacher and Yoshiko, so we descend into the bowels of the train station to the gourmet food area of the Isetan department store. There, we purchase some Japanese candy. We are offered a sample, so we all try some. DS2 tries his, but his face lets me know that he doesn’t like it at all. It is made of bean paste. We also purchase some chocolates.

At exactly 5 pm, Yoshiko comes for us. We go to the huge lobby and have trouble finding her, making us late (very, very bad in Japan). She has 2 taxis waiting for us, as each taxi can only take 4 people. We arrive at the instructor’s house. Both ladies seem very pleased to receive the gifts and are delighted with the chocolates. We spend the next 2 hours cooking miso soup, sushi, tempura and sautéed spinach. It is a lot of fun. The instructor is delightful. She shows us an area which has been set up to ceremoniously display traditional gifts for her daughter, who is engaged and will be married next month. Each gift represents something and she explains everything to us. We are fascinated by the tradition. Her daughter comes home and we all eat dinner together. It is wonderful to be invited to share and learn about such a different culture.

Day 8 – Kyoto - Day Trip to Hiroshima

We wake to a rainy, gloomy day. In checking the weather, we learn that the forecast is for rain for the next several days. So far, it has rained just about every day of our trip. The temperature is comfortable, around 75-80 or so, but it is wet and humid.

We get money at the post office. I am glad to have found out from Fodor’s posters that this is the best place to get money in Japan. The ATM is easy to use, with instructions in English.

We catch the train at 11:30 am for the approx. 2 hour ride to Hiroshima. It is very convenient today to be staying in the train station. The round trip fare to Hiroshima for the 4 of us is about 77000 yen. This is about $650. Public transportation in Japan is easy and efficient, but it isn’t cheap. We briefly discuss whether we should spend the money for a day trip. Luckily, we decide to go ahead and purchase the tickets. Once on the train, it is nice to be traveling without any luggage, unlike our previous trip from Tokyo.

When we arrive at Hiroshima, we look for the streetcar stop. A man sees us looking at a map and comes over to us. He motions for us to follow him and leads us out of the station and points the way to the streetcar stop. We are appreciative, because we would never have found the stop without some help. At the streetcar office, we ask for a map in English. This helps us to figure out which car to take. You pay 150 yen at the end of the ride, dropping it in the box as you exit. The conductor motions to us to show him our change before dropping it in. He approves and we drop the coins. Each stop is numbered on the map and also on a sign at each stop, so it is easy to know when to get off.

Our first stop is the atomic dome. It is the twisted remains of a building, showing the damage done by the first atomic bomb. It is an iconic image. The people of Hiroshima debated whether to leave it or knock it down, as it served as a painful reminder to many people. They eventually decided that it would remain as a symbol so that no one would forget what happened. Hiroshima became dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons. This park is called the Peace Park.

We wander slowly through the outdoor park. There are several statues. There is a children’s statue, with thousands of folded paper cranes enclosed in glass cases. There is an eternal flame. It is very quiet and a great place for contemplation. And there is so much to contemplate here.

We reach a museum building which is dedicated to the victims, the survivors and their stories. At the end, there are individual kiosks at which to sit and read through stories from various survivors. All 4 of us sit here for about an hour, just reading and reading. It is very moving. Many of the stories are from people who were children or teenagers at the time and tell of where they were, what they saw, how they searched for their missing family members, how they were injured, how they experienced the complete chaos in the aftermath of the bombing, how they survived afterward without their families, etc.

We proceed to the main museum building. The audio tour is very good here. We follow along and read the signs as well. This museum tells the entire story, from the Japanese perspective, of the atomic bomb’s development, the choice of Hiroshima by the US military, the history of Hiroshima, the effect on the people of Hiroshima of the bomb, the aftereffects of radiation, the people’s attempts to promote peace, etc. There are some gruesome pictures of people with radiation burns and some sobering exhibits with people’s charred personal belongings.

The presentation is mostly balanced, at least more than I expected. There is a reference to the mistaken policies of Japan’s government at the time. I wonder about the objectivity and accuracy of a reference to the US needing to use the bomb in order to justify the expense of the Manhattan Project to the public.

I feel a little odd here. It is so ironic to be visiting a city which our country bombed, in a museum dedicated to the events. The Japanese people for the most part either smile at us or ignore us, but I still feel a little unsettled. I feel that a few people are staring at us as if to ask why we are here. There are many Americans here today. It is important for our children to be here, to see and feel the effects of war on real people. We spend 4 hours touring the gardens and museums and I am glad for the experience.

Afterwards, we walk down a shopping street. For block after block, the entire street is covered, making it seem like a huge mall. It is loud and bright and bustling. None of us are shoppers really. At a shop selling all sorts of luggage, backpacks, etc., we buy a very nice canvas bag large enough to hold our foldup umbrellas and a guidebook. We stop and have okonomiyaki, a Hiroshima specialty which is compared to pizza. It is basically two flat crepes, cooked with an egg and stuffed with fillings. We have cabbage, noodles and bacon. Everyone likes theirs, but I don’t care for it at all. But the restaurant is welcoming and it is fun watching the cooks at the counter. And the sake is good.

DS1 has a pedometer which his friend gave it to him as a going-away present. It shows that we have walked 10 miles today.

We drag ourselves back to the train station and unsuccessfully try to exchange our tickets for an earlier train. There is a great shop at the Hiroshima train station, called Jupiter, which sells all sorts of imported foods. We buy a Snickers bar and some Lindt chocolates. Pepperidge Farm milanos and Walker’s shortbread cookies. Then, we catch the 9:05 pm train and get back to our hotel at 11:00 pm. It’s been a long and emotionally draining day.
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Apr 27th, 2007, 04:10 PM
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Day 9 – Kyoto – Walking Tour

Regarding prices: I mentioned the cost of the perfect fruit, which was about $22, because it was such an anomaly. While in Japan, I think you can spend very little or quite a lot on meals. Our simpler meals usually cost around $25 for the 4 of us (pastry/yogurt/sandwich breakfast with juice and coffee at the French bakery, soba lunch). Our larger or fancier meals are usually around $45-60. We don’t visit anywhere very upscale for meals while in Japan. We often have our biggest meal at lunchtime, which is much more economical. I can’t remember the price of a water bottle exactly, but I think it was maybe $1.50 or so?? I found the conversion a little difficult in Japan. I just divided the price by 100 and figured it would be a little less than that.

This morning, we relaxed in the hotel lobby with a continental breakfast consisting of a soy yogurt drink, pastry and tea. This really is a beautiful hotel, with lovely views over the modernistic train station. The service is impeccable. Everyone is very polite and accommodating. There is no problem with any request we make.

At 10:00 am, we go outside to meet up with Johnnie Hillwalker (also known as Hajime Hirooka). He leads a walking tour of Kyoto. I heard about him on Fodor’s and we also picked up a brochure at WAK Japan. The tour is 5+ hours long and costs 2000 yen for the adults, 1000 yen for DS1 (13 years old) and is free for DS2 (11 years old).

I highly recommend this tour. It is given Mon, Wed and Fri, March through November. No reservation is required. The website is: http://web.kyoto-inet.or.jp/people/h-s-love/

Johnny takes us to the Higashi-Honganji Temple, a large Buddhist center. We sit on tatami mats while he tells us about Buddhism. As we leave, a group of people dressed in black enter for a funeral. We move on to the Sho-Seien Garden, where he tells us a bit of history. We see a couple of Shinto shrines along the way and learn about the Shinto religion. We pass a Geisha area, and actually see a Geisha.

We also stop and look into several peoples’ home workshops: prayer beads, tatami mats, pottery, etc. We make a stop at a fan shop and see the workers in the back room painstakingly assembling the fans. Some people on the tour purchase fans, but there is absolutely no pressure to buy. Along the way, we have a brief stop at a teahouse for tea and a pastry. We taste a piece of vegetarian inari sushi (it’s good). I am very surprised when DS2 has a second piece of inari sushi. We do not stop for lunch. The tour ends at 3:30 pm. Amazingly, all 30 or so people continue for the entire tour – no one drops out.

The tour is very enjoyable. We all think Johnnie is cute. He has picked places to speak to us where he is easily visible and easily heard, even with 30 people along. The walking pace is slow and there are often places to sit and rest at the various stops. He has an engaging and humorous way of telling stories.

He tells us that the Buddha to which the Japanese people pray is the one who will take the dead to paradise. Therefore, Buddhism in Japan is focused on death. Shinto-ism is the religion for the living. That is why many Japanese are both Buddhist and Shinto.

He explains that many of the large religious places that tourists visit are maintained by the Japanese government for tourism. No people actually belong to the large tourist sites. The places he is taking us are actively supported by the people who belong to that religion. He takes us to his Shinto shrine. We also go to a cemetery, which is very interesting, but full of mosquitoes. DS2 and I get at least a dozen bites on the ankles.

The handicraft stops were interesting. People were very diligently working on very precise crafts, often while sitting on the floor all day. Johnnie said that most of the young people do not want to continue this lifestyle and are moving away from Kyoto.

Johnnie gave us a detailed map, so we could continue the walk, going into what he said were even more interesting areas of Kyoto. After the tour, we stopped at Azalea for a very late lunch. The setting was okay, but the food was disappointing. DS1 amuses us, though, when he requests the traditional Japanese lunch, while the rest of us order meat or pasta or Thai curry. After lunch, DH decides to continue the walk, using Johnnie’s map. The rest of us take a taxi back to the hotel where we read, work on our Fodor’s postings, etc. In total, we still managed to walk another 10 miles today.

Day 10 – Last Day in Kyoto

We planned to go walking on the Philosopher’s Path today. But when we woke up, we changed plans. We decided to sleep in and relax for the day. We knew that we had several days of aggressive touring ahead of us in Beijing, so one day to decompress would be good at this point. It sounds funny, but we took a day off from our vacation.

We just had one meal today. We went to one of the hotel restaurants, which served a Spanish buffet. Spanish with a Japanese influence is very interesting. It was actually okay though. And it was simple, quick and uncomplicated. Exactly what we felt like today.

DH went off to the hotel pool for a swim. (Are you getting the idea yet that he is much more energetic than the rest of us?) The hotel pool facilities here are for adults only.

The kids and I listened to music in one of our rooms and talked about our trip so far. It was a great time hanging out and being together. We talked about past and current events in Japan, China (our next stop) and the US. DS1 amazed me when I asked whether he felt a particular issue was right or wrong. I realized that he appreciates the subtleties when he said he wasn’t sure, but it was possible that something might be necessary but not right. Hmm, I’ll have to think about that… Sounds like Philosophy 101.

As we neared the end of our stay in Japan, DH and I reflected on our experiences. We felt that we needed to restrain ourselves a bit here, especially our normal noise level. We also found ourselves being more serious and not joking around as much as we usually do, as we were conscious of being conspicuous most of the time. And, we had to modify our attitudes toward time in order to be on time and not disrupt anyone’s schedule.

We found Japan to be a very polite, organized society. In many ways, it is a complete pleasure to travel here. Service is excellent. The people try to be very helpful. Everyone seems trustworthy. You never have to be on guard. Everything is meticulously clean, efficient and extremely well organized.

Finally, we packed up our stuff and got a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, we fly to Beijing.
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Apr 28th, 2007, 12:01 AM
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Thanks - a lovely report, with some very nice detail - much enjoyed!
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Apr 28th, 2007, 07:00 AM
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We just commented on your China trip report, as well.

Thank you for a wonderful trip report. It is very detail oriented and much appreciated!

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Apr 28th, 2007, 09:45 AM
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T-Girl:

Hi...to say that your reports of last summer on Japan and China were very helpful to us would be putting it mildly. I had printed out both country reports and carried them with us to read each evening while in the various cities. Thanks again.

Stu To.
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Apr 28th, 2007, 10:43 AM
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Thank you, janey and withkids.

STU!!! I have been looking for you! I'm dying to hear how your trip went!
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Apr 30th, 2007, 07:36 AM
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travelgirl - Thanks for the report. You brought me right back to Japan, especially back to Kyoto.
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May 2nd, 2007, 06:51 PM
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Travelgirl, do I recall from some posting that you are in the hotel/food business? I am also in that industry - Hilton, Marriott (small hotels not the big variety) plus franchised restaurants. Re Kyoto, where would you suggest for two nites. To give you an example (I think you are a New Yorker) I would prefer the Marriott Marquis to the Plaza because of the activity at nite. In Kyoto you chose the Granvia because of being close to the station. But would you say that is where the night activity and real active location is? You did not spend much time in Tokyo. Why not? And you were at a unusual type place as opposed to a big hotel. Any suggestions there. I am looking at the Conrad or the Hilton there. I enjoyed reading your posts. I will look at your China ones also. We are going to Beijing and Xian and Shanghai from Japan. Hopefully can stay at my brother in law hotels - Hilton and Marriotts - if I can get a deal there. Some times I can but usually not. But still feel more at home at those flags. BTW, where are you heading this year? That was quite a long trip last year.
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May 2nd, 2007, 07:46 PM
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Hi LarryRGV. I think you may have me confused with someone else. I WISH I was in the hotel industry! Anyway, we usually like apartments and hotel-like amenities are not so important to us. We did love the Granvia though. It's location in the train station was wonderful. Not sure about the night life, per se, since we're not into that these days. I'm a New Jersey-an, and I think the Marriot Marquis would be a fun place to stay and it does seem to have an active night scene. Can't really compare to Kyoto, though, as I don't recall an active night scene there, as compared to NYC.

We just passed through Tokyo as we were really headed to Kyoto. We just had 2 weeks plus a few days to spend in Japan and China, so we zero'd in on Kyoto then on to China.

In China, Lee Garden Serviced apartments were similar to Tokyo's serviced apartment. If it is a hotel scene you are looking for, the only real recommendation I would have in China is that we loved the Radisson New World Shanghai 2-bedroom family suite. Again, I didn't really notice the nightlife there. We did go to the Ritz Carlton in Shanghai and it seemed very nice and had lots of activity when we were there.

I hope you have a great time on your trip! We are headed to Austria this summer.
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May 2nd, 2007, 08:01 PM
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Sorry for confusing you with another poster. Have been reading so many posts lately. Have fun in Austria this year. Are you able to take as long a trip as you did to Asia? That was quite a trip. Sounds like you must be working during fall and spring only. Maybe teachers? Anyway good for you and I envy your long trips. Even tho I can take off when I want I get itchy when I am gone more than two weeks. Actually nervous after the first week. We tend to make quick trips. Our trip to Austria was maybe three nights out. And we had a train experience like your taxi one. In Budapest trying to get to Vienna, we walked across several active train rails to get on our train in the station from the wrong side of the train. We really felt like dumb Texans.
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May 2nd, 2007, 08:53 PM
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2 1/2 weeks to Austria this summer.

How long are you going to be in Japan and China? Are you coming from the US?

I'm a consultant, so when one project was winding up I planned the extended trip last summer and didn't start another assignment. DH joined us for 4 weeks and then again for 3 weeks as that was all he could get off.

I'd love to have a job with summers off, but it's not in the cards for either of us.
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May 2nd, 2007, 08:55 PM
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I think it's interesting how some people like short trips and others prefer long trips. Personally, I don't start to relax until the second week, so the longer the better for me. I know lots of people who are itching to get home after a week or so.
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May 3rd, 2007, 06:37 AM
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Our trip is a total of 17 nights out. Right now, 4 in Tokyo, 2 Kyoto (after reading your report and other helpful hints from Hawaiiantraveler and Kim), 3 in Beijing,1 in Xian,3 in Shanghai, 4 in Hong Kong. And yes we are starting trip from the States (Texas). Probably the longest we've been gone at one time. Spain, South America, Israel, Europe were our other long trips over the years (each of those a separate trip). I'm just as happy to stay in US, but it's nice to take other country trips. As I age it just gets harder.
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May 3rd, 2007, 01:14 PM
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I'm only 44, but already it feels a little harder than it did 15 years ago. Japan and China and Hong Kong is a very adventurous trip. I hope you enjoy it. I found it so interesting, not anything like at home.
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May 3rd, 2007, 01:17 PM
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Thanks. good reports. Many people are benefiting from it and I think you are enjoying writing them. good for you.
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May 9th, 2007, 10:28 AM
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tg2:

It's nice to read your reports again, having just returned from both China and Japan. (by the way, I shot a great pic in the Granvia complex...a young lady in full kimono dress, hair piled atop of her pretty head, talking animatedly on cell phone!!

Larry, old boy ...don't give up on travel just yet...the best is yet to come..I'm now 78 and we spent nearly a month in China and Japan. Take heart, and keep on truckin'!!

Stu T.

Stu T.
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May 9th, 2007, 12:31 PM
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Thanks, Stu. You keep having fun. My problem is that as I get closer to 70 I'm having so much fun with my job that I hate taking off for too long at one time. but we take trips often. Just when its to Asia or Europe it has to be long enough to make it worthwhile. I complain, but we do enjoy going. I actually plan on working and traveling well into my 80's. If I stop complaining about the long trips my wife will think I'm sick.
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Mar 27th, 2008, 06:58 PM
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ttt for emd
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