Trip Report: Tokyo and Izu Peninsula

Old Dec 16th, 2006, 08:19 AM
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Trip Report: Tokyo and Izu Peninsula

We traveled in early December for 8 days with our 82 year old grandmother who had never traveled to Japan. We flew United in Economy Plus, and we appreciated the extra legroom. Meals (dinner and snack) were adequate, and flights were uneventful. Upon arrival, we took the airport limo bus to the Keio Plaza Hotel. The bus desk is directly outside of the baggageclaim and customs area, and the Y30,000 trip to Shinjuku took 90 minutes. We generally prefer the faster Narita Express train but the bus was more convenient with our luggage and companion. The Keio Plaza is a huge 1400 room hotel with two wings, main and south towers. The hotel has no comfortable sitting area in the lobby, which is always crowded with tour and business groups. Check in was quick and pleasant.
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 08:48 AM
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We stayed in two types of rooms, both booked at the hotel's website. I joined the hotel's executive club (free) to see if I could get better room rates but found that the club rates were more expensive. However, membership did provide me with complimentary late checkout (3 pm instead of 11 am). The south wing room was furnished in modernish-decor, probably in late 80s, with up-to-date bathroom with the requisite Toto washlet. During our second stay, we were "upgraded" to a deluxe room in the main tower, but that room, though a bit larger and on a higher floor with a view of Tokyo, was decorated in dated and somewhat worn furnishings. The main tower has rooms that have been recently renovated, and those floors look contemporary and new but are much more expensive. All rooms come with yukatas/robes, slippers, dressing area (with a second sink in the south tower rooms), hot water dispenser with complimentary tea and instant coffee, minibar, TV with cable, and bathroom amenities.

The rooms have large windows but they don't open. You rely upon the room's individual A/C and heater for temperature and ventilation. Our rooms were quite warm, even when we turned our system off. The higher floor rooms have great views of the Tokyo city skyline.

The decor of the hotel lobby and rooms are western; they could be in any western city. Surprisingly, there's nothing Japanese about them. Our rooms came with compimentary breakfasts that were served in the hotel's tea lounge off of the front desk. This lounge was decorated in a contemporary Japanese style with a view of a water garden...very beautiful. The buffet was better than adequate with cold foods (cold cuts, cheese, cereal, yogurts, fresh fruits, green salad) and hot foods (egg, meat and potato dishes that varied each day) with a nice selection of baked goods. Coffee, tea and juices were available. This breakfast buffet seemed to be only for guests with rates that included breakfast since the hotel's regular buffet breakfast is served downstairs in the buffet restaurant for Y2650.

Service is adequate but don't expect the personal service of other higher-end Tokyo hotels. The concierges were not welcoming or helpful, but we had been to Tokyo before. The bell desk stored our luggage (free) when we took a 2-night trip to the Izu Peninsula.

The Keio Plaza is located on the "other" west side of Shinjuku train/subway station, across the street from the huge Tokyo Metropolitan complex. It's in the middle of many tall office buildings. But only a block away towards the station are many restaurants and bars with a variety of prices and foods and drinks. The hotel and most of Shinjuku is connected to the station through underground passages with more restaurants and shops. It's a four block walk to the hotel from the station, and there is a moving walkway in both directions. Shinjuku proper is crowded with people, shopping, restaurant and bars including the Kabukicho district. The station has connections to all parts ot Tokyo and Japan with its rail and subway stops, though it is a mass of people with sometimes confusing directions (all in English). When we needed help, we found the station attendants could understand some English and would point us in the right direction. Residents, too, were helpful to us "gaijin" whenever we looked lost!
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 08:59 AM
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We took a Sunrise morning bus tour that stopped at the Meiji shrine, Imperial Palace garden and Asakusa. Generally, we're not bus tour people but it was a pleasant way to introduce Tokyo to our grandmother. We also took a one-day bus tour of Nikko through Sunrise. The Tosho-gu shrine is everything that it's made out to be, and more. It was sleeting on the day we visited but that didn't take away from the beauty of the place. There weren't too many visitors but I can imagine the crowds. The tour also took us to Chuzenji lake and the Kegon Falls. Unfortunately, it was foggy in the area so we couldn't see across the lake. To get to Chuzenji, we drove on the zig-zag road with gorgeous views of the valley. I'd prefer to have spent more time at the Nikko shrines instead of the lake and waterfall visits, but we were on a tour. It was a long day, most of it on a bus (since it's a 2.5 hour ride from Tokyo and back) but we were glad we made the trip to see Nikko.
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 09:00 AM
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Wow, an 82 yr old granmother going to Japan. That's a long air trip for someone that age and is very impressive. My own mother was no longer traveling at that age and my husband's parents stopped traveling out of the U.S. at about that age also, due to health concerns and needing to be close to their doctors, etc.

I think you meant to say 3000 yen for the limo bus.

Your description of the Keio Plaza is very good for anyone ever considering staying there. I am looking forward to more of this report and the Izu peninsula in particular, as I hope to go there. And I hope to hear how the 82 yr old grandma enjoyed the trip and what her impressions were, since she had never been to Japan before.
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 09:23 AM
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We spent two days and nights on the Izu Peninsula. We took the Odoriko Superview train from Shinjuku to Izukyushimoda, a 2.5 hour ride on a train with large windows to view the seaside scenery of the peninsula. There is a faster (and cheaper) way to get to the peninsula using the Shinkansen through Atami, which is what we used on the way back to Tokyo. The Odoriko, though, is a direct train (no transfers). Shimoda is located at the end of the peninsula, and it's claim to fame is that it was the port visited by Perry and first opened to the west. We spend a couple of hours in this port town that is geared for Japanese tourists. There are a couple of sites of interest here, including the temple where Perry signed the treaty opening Japan to the west and a museum containing artifacts about the event and Tojin Okichi who worked with the first American consul. Souvenir shops sold dried fish as gifts ("omiyage"); you see fish hanging everywhere in shops around the town. We probably could have spent more time here but we were excited to go to our first ryokan: Hotel Ikona.

The hotel's minibus picked us up at the train station for the 20 minute ride. Ikona is located in Shimogamo onsen. It consists of several buildings, one dating back more than 200 years (the restaurant). The guest rooms (all Japanese style with private baths and toilets) are in more modern buildings with views of the gardens or hills. The Okami (landlady) is a friendly woman who speaks and understands English pretty well. She was very accommodating to gaigin and wanted to share her love of her property with her guests. That made the visit special. Of course, the main attraction of Ikona for us was the baths. At Ikona, there are 2 large outdoor baths (one for men, a second for women), and two large indoor baths (separate sex) with outdoor baths. There are also two "family" baths that can be used by guests (men and women) that have small outdoor baths. This onsen features water with higher salinity/salt so it tastes salty. At ryokans, your room rate includes dinner and breakfast, both Japanese kaiseki style. Many dishes that featured the area's produce and seafood, cooked and raw. The hotel has a short 30 minute walk in the hillside but this garden seemed to need greater care. But any garden would pale in comparison to what we found at our next ryokan.
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 09:49 AM
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The next day, we took the local train from Shimoda to Izukogen, about 45 minutes away. Izukogen is an interesting place that seems to be a tourist destination for the Japanese. There are many different museums in the town, including a cat museum, jewelry museum, penguin museum, music box museum and the list goes on. We didn't go to any of these but found a "dog forest" where you paid a fee to play with dogs of different breeds. You also could buy puppies that were bred in the park. We found a foot onsen at the train station while we waited for our minibus to take us to Zagyosoh.

Zagyosoh is marketed as a luxury ryokan, and it was on a different level than Ikona. Yes, it cost about US$100 more than Ikona but you saw that everywhere. The gardens at Zagyosoh were simply spectacular. It is located in the middle of a private gated community about 10 minutes from the train station. The ryokan sits on a large parcel of land in midst of what seemed to be second/vacation homes. While you can see other homes through the gardens, you don't notice them because of Zagyosoh's gardens. Everywhere you look in the gardens, you see something beautiful. You wonder what is natural and what was planted or placed and you can't tell. Amazing. The ryokan itself is modern with several 2-story buildings containing less than 20 rooms. All rooms have private baths and toilets. Our second floor room was huge with a sitting area that had an ocean view of the outlying islands. Our bathroom had a large wooden furo with an ocean view! I understand the first floor rooms have a view of the gardens and an outdoor furo. Even the private toilet room had something special...a tall granite block with a small sink and water dripping into it from a wooden spigot! We wondered if it was a piece of art but were told by our hostess that it was to rinse our hands.

There are two outdoor baths at Zagyosho, one situated in a bed of volcanic rock and trees and the other surrounded by granite boulders. The water here made our skin feel softer. There are also 2 indoor baths with garden views. Two "family" wooden baths are available with rooftop views of the ocean.

The ryokan is located about a 7-minute walk from the coastline with spectacular peninsula and volcanic coastline views.

The food and service at Zagyosoh featured more variety and seafood and displayed with an artistic quality. The Okami here visited us during our dinner but she did not speak English as well. That was the only time we saw here, unlike Ikona when we saw her throughout our stay. On the other hand, our room hostess was ever-present to ensure that we enjoyed our stay (and we did).
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 09:58 AM
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Yes, I meant Y3000 for our bus ride from Narita to the Keio Plaza. Our 82 year old grandmother is in great health. She survived the plane ride by walking ever hour. Upon arrival, she went right to bed and was ready to go the next day. She made it through Shinjuku station unscathed, was amazed by the thousands of people in one place at one time, all the time. There was a lot of walking, especially in Nikko, but she took it at her own pace. She even enjoyed the baths at the ryokans and sleeping on the floor Japanese style. We probably overdid it on our last day when we took a day trip to Kawagoe, an hour ride north of Tokyo. It's marketed as "Little Edo" because it contains the only remaining structure from Edo Castle that was moved here in 1600s. There are also 30 kurasukuri warehouse structures dating back to the late 1800s. We would have liked to explore a little more in Kawagoe because it was not touristy yet there were many interesting sights. And the gardens around the castle building are spectacular.
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 10:19 AM
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You seem to have a great time at your 2nd ryokan.

I have found the followings. emd might be interested.

http://www.zagyosoh.com/
Zagyoso's own home page. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have English page. Has many more photos and details than the other sites below.

http://travel.rakuten.co.jp/HOTEL/7554/7554.html
(Booking site Rakuten's Japanese page)

http://web.travel.rakuten.co.jp/port...&f_ptn1=kaigai
(Rakuten's English page. Plein and very few photos.)




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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 12:32 PM
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Thanks for this report Wayne. The Zagyosoh looks like a very nice inn, especially the baths and the food shown in the web site's video!

its nice to get reviews of new places...
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 01:48 PM
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Thanks Wayne. I'm starting to plan a first trip to Japan, and the detail is very useful.
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 02:38 PM
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Wayne:

Thanks for the wonderful report so far. How did you book the Zagyosoh?
Love all the details.

Aloha!
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 02:51 PM
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I found Ikona and booked through The Okami group of ryokans at http://royalaccess.jp/english/ra01/index.shtml. Zagyosoh is also a part of The Okami but I booked it through the Ryokan Collection at www.ryokancollection.com. It's in the luxury ryokan collection.
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 03:05 PM
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Great report! Thank you.

They offer many rate plans on their website and you can see availability on a calendar for each plan...though only in Japanese. http://www.zagyosoh.com/plan.htm Prices range from ¥26,250 per person and up. Although there is a lot of availability directly, rakuten in English shows none.
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Old Dec 16th, 2006, 06:37 PM
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A foot onsen in the train station, how interesting. The only foot onsen I have heard of is the one at Odeo Onsen Monogatari in Tokyo. Did you try the foot onsen?

26250y per person and up...that seems so much to me. I have only paid that much out of my own pocket for a hotel room once in my life (at Mira Costa at Disney Sea, not at a ryokan). I have a hard time thinking about paying that much at a ryokan. But it sounds like it was worth it for you both and for your grandma.

I am taking note of both towns you visited in the Izu area. How did you decide on those two places, and did you look into other places on the peninsula?

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Old Dec 18th, 2006, 02:20 PM
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The foot onsen is located outside of the train station at Izukogen. It is relatively new (like the station) and large enough to sit 10 - 15 people. Yes, we tried it and enjoyed it.

As for the cost of the ryokan, remember that it includes a kaiseki dinner and breakfast served in your room. Meals like those in Tokyo would have easily cost us $150 per person. Yes, $250 per night per person is expensive but it was worthwhile for us. Will we return to Zagyosoh? Perhaps but there are hundreds of other ryokans with onsens to discover...I would appreciate any other Fodorites to share their ryokan and onsen recommendations!

We chose the ryokans first since the onsen was the real purpose of our visit. We were pleased to find out that Shimoda and Izukogen were both destinations worth visiting. I would have liked to spend another day exploring the coastline between Izukogen and Ito.

We reviewed our photos last night and I can't recommend Kawagoe enough. Lovely town with helpful tourist information center at the JR station that provides assistance and maps in English. There is a 4-hour walk around all of the major sites and soba noodle shops near the kurasukuri district. Plan on spending the day there.
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