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TRIP REPORT: Just returned from first visit to Japan!

TRIP REPORT: Just returned from first visit to Japan!

Dec 1st, 2015, 01:16 PM
  #41  
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 2,309
Loved your report on Kamakura and your ryokan stay sounds wonderful. You have my mouth watering with the menu.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2015, 02:09 PM
  #42  
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
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rachill_az,
Wonderful detailed trip report.
It brings back some great similar memories.
I think you hit on a good Tokyo tip.
Check Tokyo Big Sight's web page to see what's on.
http://www.bigsight.jp/english/
A few years ago we attended the bi annual Design Festa show of arts and crafts and it was amazing.
Thanks again for sharing
kalihiwai2 is offline  
Dec 8th, 2015, 02:49 PM
  #43  
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Thank you all for reading and for the great feedback!
rachill_az is offline  
Dec 8th, 2015, 02:49 PM
  #44  
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November 11 – Kawaguchiko and Kyoto

I had read somewhere that the likelihood of seeing Mount Fuji increases in the early morning and towards the evening. Since we had such foggy weather the day before, I woke up before sunrise to get my chance at seeing the famous Fujisan. As the sun started to rise I could just make out the outlines of the perfectly symmetrical mountain. I excitedly woke my husband up and we waited in our private outdoor onsen on the patio for daybreak.

We ended up getting an amazing 45 minute view of Fujisan before the mountain slipped back behind the clouds. I was so happy to have gotten such a magnificent view of the iconic mountain with its snowcapped peak. It was beautiful. With Mount Fuji checked off the bucket list, we headed downstairs for breakfast.

We had the option of ordering either a Japanese breakfast or a Western breakfast. We decided to order one of each just in case the Japanese breakfast was too out of our comfort zone. I ended up eating most of the western breakfast which included delicious pastries, fruit, soup, and scrambled eggs. My husband was very pleased with the Japanese breakfast, and although we couldn’t identify many of the courses, he definitely enjoyed it.

After breakfast we retreated back to our beautiful room to enjoy our last few hours of the ryokan before checking out at 10am. The hotel shuttle escorted us to the train station where we took a train to Yokohama to catch a bullet train to Kyoto, which we pre-reserved tickets for. The bullet train was very nice and comfortable however I did feel a little motion sickness. I think the speed of train caused me to get a bit nauseous so I took some Dramamine and slept for most of the ride.

We arrived at the Kyoto station around 6pm and waved down a taxi to take us to our hotel. We relied heavily on taxis while we were in Kyoto and it was very convenient and not too expensive (except for our taxi ride to Arashiyama). I handed our driver, who was wearing a suit and white gloves, a map that I had printed out of our hotel. We were headed to 9 Hours Kyoto Capsule. I had read about capsule hotels and it seemed so interesting and foreign to me that I wanted to try it for one night. I figured since we were getting into Kyoto late, that our first night in Kyoto would be the best option to try a capsule hotel.

Our taxi driver dropped us off at the front of 9 Hours Kyoto. We walked into a very futuristic looking space that was decorated in all white. We were each given a pod number, a shoe locker key, storage locker key, and 9h slippers. We took our shoes off, storing them in the first floor shoe lockers, and slipped on our slippers. Large luggage was also stored in a designated area on the first floor, so we grabbed just a few items (change of clothes, toiletries, and electronics) and headed up to check out our pods. Males and females are separated on different floors of the hotel, with women being on floors 2-4 and men on floors 5-7. There were also separate elevators for men and women that went to the gender specific floors. My husband and I agreed to meet back in the lobby in 1 hour. We went our separate ways - I got on the female elevator and he got on the male elevator. My first stop was the locker room on floor 2 which was very clean and sleek. I found my locker which had a sleeping gown and toothbrush/toothpaste inside. I left those there for now and dropped off some of my things. The locker room had bathrooms, sinks, and showers too. Next, I took the elevator up to floor 3 to look for my pod. This floor was also very futuristic and just like the photos of 9h online. There were rows of little pods about 25 wide and stacked 2 tall. My pod was at the very end of the line and on the bottom row. I crawled in and to my surprise, my pod was a little bigger than I was expecting it to be (I had imagined something like a coffin!). The pod was about 4 feet wide, by 4 feet tall, by 9 feet long. It included a couple of usb charging ports and an ambient sleep system, which helps to gradually wake you up. I was very pleased with the cleanliness of the pod and how new it seemed. Back down to the locker room to change my clothes and freshen up before meeting back up with my husband in the lobby/lounge area.

We were starving, only having eaten snacks on the bullet train for lunch. 9h was really well located to a main shopping street with tons of restaurants. I was starting to come down with a cold and was in the mood for some comfort food so we google mapped the closest ramen restaurant. We found one just a few minutes away – there was one couple on a waiting list in front of us, so we were handed a wooden paddle with the number 2 on it and asked to wait outside (it was a rather tiny restaurant). We ended up waiting about 30 minutes before being called in, and by then there were at least 10 other groups waiting behind us (we definitely got there at the right time!). We sat up at the counter and each ordered a bowl of ramen and shared and order of dumplings. It was fun to sit at the counter and watch the action of the kitchen. The ramen here was not as good as our first bowl of ramen in Akihabara, Tokyo – but it was still delicious and exactly what I needed.

We walked around the shopping streets for a little bit, but most stores were starting to close up at this time. We were both pretty tired from traveling all day so we decided to head back to 9h and call it a night.

Because we were sleeping separately that evening and wifi didn’t work great in the pods, we had to come up with a plan to meet the next morning. We agreed on a time and made our way to our separate pods. The pods were by no means sound proof – they only had a curtain to pull down for privacy. Luckily I had ear plugs which really helped. The “mattress” (it was really just a foam pad) was not the most comfortable and the pillow was very thin. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep but I did get some rest and it was such a fun experience.

In the morning, I met up with my husband in the lobby and asked how he liked the pod experience – he hated it! He mentioned that he was also on the bottom pod and the person in the pod above him got in and out of his pod at least every hour throughout the night, making it impossible to fall asleep (my husband didn’t have ear plugs with him). When I asked if he was at least glad to have experienced a pod hotel he said he would have rather not had the experience at all. I on the other had really enjoyed it, but would not want to stay longer than 1 night. My recommendation if you decide to try and capsule hotel – do not have high expectations for a comfortable night and bring ear plugs! For me it was a fun experience that I am glad to have had.
rachill_az is offline  
Dec 8th, 2015, 02:57 PM
  #45  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
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Thanks very much for the info on the capsule hotel, so I don't need to try it myself. Sounds too noisy for me.
thursdaysd is offline  
Dec 8th, 2015, 05:00 PM
  #46  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
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What a really interesting experience! I, too, do not need to try it myself, but I really enjoyed hearing about it. Thanks for taking one for the team!!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Dec 8th, 2015, 05:14 PM
  #47  
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thursdaysd and russ_in_LA - I'm glad you found my capsule hotel experience enjoyable to read! Yes, it definitely isn't for everyone! And I don't feel the need to ever do it again, but it has been so much fun telling everyone back home about the experience and seeing their reactions to sleeping in a tiny pod!!
rachill_az is offline  
Dec 8th, 2015, 05:40 PM
  #48  
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
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Thanks for sharing your experience with the capsule hotel. While I personally would not think about staying in one, I've been curious about what it's like.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 8th, 2015, 06:17 PM
  #49  
 
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The only other people I know who have stayed at a capsule hotel were those who missed the last train home. That is an experience you will get to retell for a long time, your husband too!

Like others here I wouldn't stay in one, but enjoyed reading your report about it.
curiousgeo is online now  
Dec 8th, 2015, 06:38 PM
  #50  
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
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I'm envisioning your capsule hotel as part hostel, part bunk bed and as you alluded to, part coffin. I'm with the others-enjoyed reading about your experience but I'll stick with nice hotels and ryokans on my return trip in 2017.
MinnBeef is offline  
Dec 8th, 2015, 08:29 PM
  #51  
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
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Great capsule hotel story
Takeaway tip....
Always ask for the top capsule and bring earplugs
kalihiwai2 is offline  
Dec 9th, 2015, 01:16 PM
  #52  
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November 12 – Kyoto

After a very interesting night at the 9 Hours Kyoto capsule hotel, we were excited to be checking into TripAdvisor’s #1 rated hotel in Kyoto, Hotel Mume. But we couldn’t check in until 3pm, so our plan was to leave our luggage at the capsule hotel for the day and explore Southern Higashiyama.

When we stayed at hotels that did not offer breakfast, we found this meal to be the most difficult of the day. Maybe we weren’t looking for breakfast restaurants hard enough, but even the bakeries that we saw did not open until at least 9am. We like to get started early and it was a challenge finding breakfast when it was not included at our hotel stay. Luckily, there was a FamilyMart just down the street from 9h – we found some packaged waffles and pancakes. Convenience store packaged pancakes and waffles was definitely a strange concept to us, but they were surprisingly very fresh and delicious. The pancakes even had a layer of butter and syrup perfectly spread between the short pancake stack. This breakfast was convenient and cheap, so we were happy!

I had pre-planned our route for the day. We would take a taxi to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, then take a walk down the Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka preserved streets, stopping at Yasaka Shrine, before heading to the Nishiki Market and back to grab our luggage at 9h. I used google maps to plan the 2.5 mile route from Kiyomizu-dera back to 9h.

I forgot to mention this in previous posts, but now seems like a good time to talk about it – we pre-ordered a pocket wifi from eConnect Japan online before our trip. We knew that we were going to need wifi to use Goggle Maps while we were out and about during the day. We ordered the WiFi-To-Go 4G for 12 Days and it cost us about $70. It worked perfectly for our entire trip. We had the device shipped to our first hotel, Park Hotel Tokyo, and it was there waiting for us when we checked in. We had constant internet access for our entire trip, which was especially useful for train routes and walking routes (we used Google Maps solely and never had a problem). The battery lasted the whole day, even with an iPad and two iPhones constantly connected to it. I would highly recommend getting something like this - it was invaluable.

Our taxi driver dropped us off at the base of the shopping streets that lead up to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It was about a quarter mile of uphill walking but the countless shops lining the street made it a pleasant walk. We decided to come back after the temple visit for souvenir shopping so we wouldn’t have to carry any shopping bags around the temple with us.

As we approached Kiyomizu-dera I noticed that it was definitely the largest temple we had seen yet. The multi-tiered, bright orange pagoda stood out beautifully against the blue sky and scenic mountain backdrop. The temple complex was very busy, even at 9am. We made our way up to the main hall and enjoyed the panoramic view of Kyoto city from the wooden stage. Although it was only mid-November, the wooded hills near the temple were already swimming in fall colors.

I had read about the Otowa waterfall, which runs through the temple grounds. The water is divided into three separate streams, each having a different benefit; longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. Visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from the streams, but drinking from all three is considered greedy. As we peered over the edge of the wooden stage, we could see the Otowa waterfall and it’s three streams below. We headed down and got in line for the water drinking ritual. I love things with meaning and history and I was excited to partake in this custom. There were a lot of school children in line with us, waiting to take a sip from the famed waterfall. I realized that I had no idea which of the three streams was designated to “longevity”, “success at school” and “fortunate love life.” I really wanted to drink from the “love” stream and my husband wanted to drink from the “longevity” stream. I decided I would try and ask the students and I pointed to the waterfalls asking “long life?” – the children smiled and giggled and pointed in order from left to right (if you are facing the water fall) “long life, love, school.” We repeated back to them as we pointed this time “long life, love, school?” – the children giggled some more and nodded yes. It was very fun participating as everyone around us was very excited to take a drink from the waterfall – this was one of my favorite temple experiences.

We spent some more time exploring the rest of the temple grounds and admiring the fall colors before making our way back down the shopping streets and the preserved streets. We bought a lot of souvenirs here including a sake set, a beautiful hand-painted Japanese fan, and a couple of daruma dolls. The streets were jam-packed and we were starting to get hungry, so we found a meat bun restaurant to escape the crowds. I had never tried a Japanese meat bun but it was very delicious and just the right size for a pre-lunch snack.

Once we rested our feet a bit and finished our meat buns, we Google Mapped directions to Yasaka Shrine. It was only about a 10-15 minute walk away. We only spent a few minutes at this shrine before noticing an adjoining park and decided to spend our time there instead of at the shrine. The park we visited was Maruyama Park and it was so charming. I had a preconceived notion that a park and garden were the same thing, but I quickly realized that they had a different purpose. Rikugien Garden that we visited in Tokyo had a specific walking path and viewing areas – more like a museum where you review and admire works of art. When we got to Maruyama Park I noticed that there were families relaxing on picnic blankets and children running about having fun. When I look back now, I don’t know why I thought a park and a garden were the same thing – maybe it is because we don’t have gardens where I am from.

We found an open bench under a willow tree next to a koy pond and took a seat. We spent a while people watching and relaxing. There was a nearby food stand selling ice cream and a few other goodies so I wandered over to check it out. I saw the lady in the window making some sort of grapefruit drink where she de-pulped a whole grapefruit, used a milkshake blender to puree the inside fruit of the grapefruit, and then turned the grapefruit upside down into a cup filled with shaved ice. This looked interesting to me so I decided to order one along with a soft serve green tea ice cream cone (I had wanted to try some green tea ice cream since we arrived in Kyoto!).

The grapefruit ice drink was refreshing; it was fun to try something new. The green tea ice cream was better than I imagined and didn’t have that bitter taste that macha can have. It was creamy and delicious – my husband described it as some of the best ice cream he’s ever had! We were really enjoying our time at the park, so we decided to grab some lunch at the food stand and stay for a while longer. There were quite a few young Japanese girls dressed in traditional kimonos having professional photographs taken around the park. I assumed they were having something like what we in the US call “senior school photos”? Regardless, I’m sure the photos turned out amazing with the beautiful colors of fall for their background.

We decided to skip the Nishiki market on our way back to pick up our luggage at 9h Capsule Hotel, as we had stayed longer than expected at the park and it was time to check-in at Hotel Mume.

I found Hotel Mume on TripAdvisor, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, I started researching for our Japan trip over a year in advance. In reviews on TripAdvisor, I read that Hotel Mume’s 8 rooms book up very quickly during the autumn color season and the cherry blossom season. From the pictures online, I knew I wanted to stay in Hotel Mume’s only suite (Why not? This was a dream trip for us!) so I knew I had to secure our booking as soon as the rooms opened up online. I booked 3 nights in the Flower Suite for November 12th, 13th, and 14th in mid-January (about 10 months prior to our trip). I’m glad I was so diligent about it because when I checked back online a few months later to look at Hotel Mume’s availability, they were sold out for that weekend already!

The next day after booking, someone at Hotel Mume reached out to me personally to confirm our booking, give us hotel directions, ask about our preferences, and recommend restaurants and things to do. Over the course of 10 months they helped answer many of my questions and also made dinner reservations for each night of our stay. When we arrived at the hotel, the staff was just as kind and helpful as they had been through email. We used luggage forwarding service for our two large bags from Park Hotel Tokyo to Hotel Mume, and they already had our bags in our room for us. We checked-in, were treated to tea, coffee, and snacks in the dining area, and then were escorted to our room where someone showed us all of the suite’s amenities. The room was beautiful – we had a seating area with table and chairs, Japanese futons on a tatami mat surrounded by bamboo screens, a gorgeous bathroom with clawfoot bathtub, and a balcony overlooking the Shirakawa River below and Higashiyama Mountains in the distance. It was decorated traditionally while still staying very modern.

We took a nap before walking to Hiro (a Japanese BBQ restaurant) just a few minutes away from our hotel for dinner. Hotel Mume reserved a private room at Hiro for us and gave us a printed map of how to find the restaurant as well as a photo of what the restaurant looked like from the outside (making it much easier to find). Before we were shown to our private room we had to remove our shoes. The room was small and intimate, our table had a round grill in the middle of it and there was a sunken area below the table for us to put our feet. We were given an English menu with pictures. We decided to order a la carte and try a few different things. We started with a chef’s sampler which included 4 different cuts of kobe beef and a side of rice. A few minutes later a beautiful plate of raw kobe beef was delivered to our room. We put the first few pieces of beef on the grill and totally overcooked it, not realizing how hot the grill was and how fast the beef would cook. After learning this, we were more careful about grilling the remaining pieces of beef. Everything was delicious.

We finished the sampler pretty quickly and were still very hungry. We weren’t sure what to do next. We didn’t know if someone was coming back to our private room. We waited for a while and then noticed a phone hanging on the wall in the corner. We decided to pick up the phone and someone answered in Japanese – I had no idea what they were saying and when I replied they had no idea what I was saying! It was quite funny, and I just said very nicely -“more food.” I think they understood this and our waitress was back very quickly to take our additional order of another sampler and a prime rib plate. We thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the meal and when we finished, we again found ourselves unsure of what to do next. Do we pay at the front? Do we wait for the check? We had no idea. As we awkwardly waited, my husband was fumbling around with some things on the table and noticed a button. He pushed the button and immediately our waitress came back to the room – when she opened the door, I noticed a light on the outside of the room that lit up. This button must be how you notify your server that you need assistance. Anyway, we asked for the check (it was quite expensive, but worth it in my opinion) and headed back to Hotel Mume for the rest of the evening.
rachill_az is offline  
Dec 9th, 2015, 03:01 PM
  #53  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 600
You're making me homesick for Kyoto and Hotel Mume! Really enjoying the report. Thanks for all the detail. Love it!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Dec 9th, 2015, 03:21 PM
  #54  
 
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 1,084
Rachill_az, still enjoying your trip report. Reading about your night at the Capsule Hotel makes me glad I decided against staying in one for my upcoming trip. Glad you enjoyed the experience though. Looking forward to reading more.

jdc
jdc26 is offline  
Dec 9th, 2015, 03:32 PM
  #55  
 
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I really enjoyed following along on your day in Kyoto. Brings back so many pleasant memories for me.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 9th, 2015, 06:05 PM
  #56  
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
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I LOVED Hotel Mume!! When I go back to Japan for my own second trip, I really hope to be able to stay there again. In a country full of kind people, they were at the top of the list!

Love Kiyomizu-dera also. But I didn't make it down to the waterfall. Will have to do that on my next trip as well.

Really enjoying your report, Rachill.
MinnBeef is offline  
Dec 9th, 2015, 06:07 PM
  #57  
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
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PS-really glad to see you were able to spot Fuji-san while you were at Kawaguchiko. Along with the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and of course the Eiffel Tower, it's one of the most jaw dropping things I have ever seen. I could have stared at it forever!
MinnBeef is offline  
Dec 9th, 2015, 06:34 PM
  #58  
 
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Rachel_az, thanks for sharing your trip to Japan. We had many similar experiences and your report brings back those pleasant memories. Like you, we were really impressed with the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and the interesting path with shops leading up to it. We look forward to your ongoing experiences.
tomarkot is offline  
Dec 10th, 2015, 01:51 PM
  #59  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 321
Excellent detail - so very helpful. Looking forward to learning more.
tjhome1 is offline  
Dec 10th, 2015, 02:24 PM
  #60  
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russ_in_LA and MinnBeef - After finding Hotel Mume on TripAdvisor and reading both of your comments/experiences in this forum, I was sold! So happy that I was able to stay there for 3 nights. Perfect location, amazing people, great attention to detail, and top of the line service. I love staying in smaller "boutique" hotels when I can! If I manage to make a trip back to Kyoto I wouldn't stay anywhere else!

I'm happy to be bringing back great memories for many of you! As I continue to write these reports and am remembering the details of our trip, I am starting to miss Japan more and more It is truly an adventure that I will never forget.

Coming Soon...
November 13 – Kyoto: Arashiyama - Monkey Park, Togetsukyo Bridge, Tenryuji Temple, bamboo groves,
Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street, Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple, Pontocho Alley, and Shabu-Shabu dinner!
rachill_az is offline  

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