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Manisha Dec 19th, 2006 07:52 PM

Trip Report (Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto) - Caution very long!
 
My husband and I visited Japan from December 11th through December 18th. We spent 5 nights in Tokyo, one night in Hakone and 2 nights in Kyoto. Here is the trip report. Thanks again to all the Fodorites who helped me out with planning this trip – your suggestions came in handy!

Before I get into the details of our trip report, some general remarks/recommendations that folks might find helpful:

General Observations:

* Language – My husband and I do not know how to read, write or speak Japanese. We know how to say very few Japanese words. But we were able to get by mostly without a problem. I had an English phrase book that I never cracked open. Most people in Tokyo, Kyoto and even Hakone understand basic English phrases and questions. Even if there is a communication gap, we were able to get by with the universal language of hand-gestures!

* Public Transportation – We used the subway in Tokyo and Kyoto and the buses in Kyoto. Very convenient and easy to use. Officers and guards in subway stations very helpful.

* People - People seemed very polite and helpful. We tried not to harass a lot of people on the street when we were lost and tried to address our questions only to guards, officers and the police. But everybody, everybody, everybody responded with a smile and tried their best to help us out. When we asked guards a question about where something was, they often walked with us to show us where it was. One time, we had to climb a lot of stairs in a subway station and we had some luggage. We couldn’t see an escalator and I asked this guard if there was one. He said no and then proceeded to carry my baggage for me up the stairs! I tried to persuade him to not do so, but he insisted!

* People - A couple of times we asked people on the street for directions and once again, they were very helpful. It never ceased to amaze me just how accommodating people were. In the Kyoto buses, you board through the middle door of the bus and exit through the front door of the bus (where the driver sits) so that you pay as you get down. I pressed the stop button to get down since our stop was coming. The driver stopped at our stop, but then we realized that it would take us at least 5-10 mins to get from the back of the bus to the front and we would need to nudge everybody out of the way. It was jam-packed with people and we were at the rear end of the bus. Since we were the only ones getting down at that stop, we did not want to make everyone wait while we made our way to the front. In Chicago, if the bus stops and nobody gets down, the door shuts and the bus moves on. Instead of inconveniencing everybody, we figured we would just get down at the next stop where a lot of people might deboard or at least, we could gradually make our way to the front instead of making everybody wait for us now. However, in Kyoto, the driver waited and did not move. He kept patiently announcing the stop name and waited for us to deboard. Everybody kept looking around to see who pressed the button to deboard. By the sheepish looks on our faces, it was pretty obvious that we were the “culprits”. One chap politely asked us if we wanted to get down and when we nodded, he encouraged us to go ahead. This other lady tapped on my shoulder and asked me something in Japanese. From her hand gestures, I think she was asking if we wanted to get down. I nodded and then shrugged indicating that it was too crowded for us to get down. She encouraged us to go forward and that they would wait. We began to make our way towards the front of the bus and lo and behold! Everybody moved to the left and the right and made space for us! It was like the parting of the red sea. Just a minute ago, the bus was jam-packed and all of a sudden, there was a path to exit. I just kept saying “Thankyou” and “Origato Gosei Mashta” (Thank you very much) as we deboarded!

* Maps - I learned the hard way that you cannot assume that on a map, the upward direction is North. In the US, when you look at a map, you can assume that North is up or there is at least, some place on the map that has an arrow for North. Not the case in Japan – at least not in Tokyo or at least not that I could tell! I got us lost many times because of this :)

* Cleanliness and Fashion - Streets in Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto were extremely clean and well-kept. Everyone seems very meticulous about keeping things clean. Everybody (in Tokyo more so than Kyoto/Hakone) also seems meticulous about dressing well. People follow the latest trends to the minute. Clothes and accessories look well-coordinated and hair looks well-groomed, picked, pruned, coiffed. At the very minimum, clothes and shoes are impeccably clean and spotless. Husband and I looked like bums in sneakers, CK jeans and GAP sweaters! The taxi drivers were dressed better than us. They all wore suits and impossibly white gloves. When we later told our Japanese friends about the taxi drivers’ wardrobe, they very innocently said “Of course” and could not understand why we were so surprised!

Hotels:

Westin Tokyo (Ebisu) – Beautiful hotel. Thanks, emd, for your glowing recommendations. This hotel was truly fabulous. Staff and concierge were very helpful and polite. Rooms were very big with gorgeous view of city and Tokyo Tower. Great comfortable beds. Gym is nice and we got to use it for free because of my husband’s status. I believe the normal fee is 1000 Yen per day. Neighboring Yebisu Garden Complex is very convenient and beautifully decorated with holiday lights.

Park Hotel (Shimbashi) – Room slightly small but staff polite and helpful, all the same. Lobby is beautiful and grand and nice place to hang out. They have live band on weekends. Concierge tried their best to help but did not seem very knowledgeable when asked about transportation to Hakone or Shinkansen trains. Get to use Business Center/Internet for free which is very nice and unheard of at the other hotels we stayed at.

Kansuiro (Hakone) – This was a traditional style Japanese inn in Hakone. mrwunrfl, thanks for your feedback when I was considering ryokans. This turned out to be an absolutely beautiful Ryokan. Room and bathroom was great, had a private hot spring bath in our bathroom which was awesome and our room had a lovely garden view. The outdoor onsen (hot spring) was great. The path to outdoor onsen was surrounded by trees, waterfalls, rocks and made for a great walk. Could hear the beautiful sound of the river from our room. Conveniently close to Hakone Yumoto train station (15-20 mins walk, 5-10 mins taxi ride). Website - http://www.kansuiro.co.jp/eng/ We had the Type B room with supper.

Hyatt Regency (Kyoto) – Great hotel. Nice property and nice rooms. Extremely comfortable bed. Concierge and staff EXTREMELY helpful and took great pains to help us. Chap named Tanaka and girl named Sayuri from the concierge desk very nice, friendly and helpful. All smiles and great sense of humor. Great gym with lots of good equipment. Use of gym is free! Convenient location – buses stop right outside hotel. About $150-$200 a night.

Ginza Tobu Hotel Renaissance (Ginza) – Decent hotel. Rooms and lobby not all that great, bathroom kind of small and dark, but in a nice neighborhood. Main street in Ginza only four blocks away. As Marriot Gold members, we received the free breakfast buffet. It was pretty good for a free breakfast. Normally, it is 2250 Yen per person and I would not pay this much for what we got. No gym but they said that you could work out for free at a neighborhood fitness facility.

Restaurants:

Kakoiya – In Tokyo, our Japanese friends took us to this place, so it is locally recommended. Beautifully decorated restaurant. Great ambience and good food. Everything very tasty. It is close to the Shibuya train station. Every table in the restaurant is in a tiny little enclosure/room. Friends told us that is what Kakoiya means. Website - http://kakoiya.com/

Sushizanmai – In Tokyo, another locally recommended place called Sushizanmai (Means Lots of Sushi). Nice lively joint with tasty sushi. Sushi chefs loudly welcomed and bid farewell to patrons as they were coming and going. In the outer Tsukiji Fish Market and my Japanese friends were telling me that the Sushi there is very very fresh…now that counts for something!

Kanzai – In Tokyo, Spanish Tapas place in Ginza, Tokyo. Great food at a very reasonable price. 3 drinks and 5-6 tapas dishes for 10000 Yen. Nice ambience. Address - 4F Shibuya Bldg., 7-8-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061

Sandwiches - These are not sandwiches like in the US. They are lightly toasted and have 2-3 layers of sandwich bread with various fillings between the layers. Actually, there were a few restaurants in Kyoto Station that sold these and I loved them! I was seeking these everywhere towards the end of the trip. In Kyoto, there is a restaurant by this name (Cafeterie Kafkua) or something similar. It is close to the Y formed by the path upto Ginkakuji and the Philosopher’s walk. Nice casual restaurant that has good sandwiches.

Il Pappalardo – In Kyoto, close to the Hyatt Regency. The concierge recommended this place. We did not actually get to eat here, though. We tried twice – once, we got there at 9:15 pm and their last order was 9:00 pm. The second time, they had a 20 minute way and we were running late for a train.

Now on to our trip report!

Day 1 – Sunday – December 10th:

We flew United Airlines from Chicago to Tokyo (Narita airport). I was warned about flying on United on the forums, but these were free tickets so we took what we got. It was when we got onto the plane that we realized that the reservations assistant at the airport was nice enough to place us in economy plus seats. These were fabulous – lots of leg room and overhead cabin space. Even though the husband and I are not tall folks, we still appreciated all the room that we got! Make sure you ask for these if you are flying United.

We got to Narita at around 3:40 pm. Passport control, baggage claim and customs was a breeze and we were done by about 4:15 pm. Our excitement at being done so quickly was a little dampened when we reached the Airport Limousine bus counter and were told that the next shuttle to our hotel was sold out and we would have to take the one at 5:20 pm. Still, not too bad. Got to our hotel (Westin in Ebisu) at around 7:00 pm or so. Checked in, took a long hot shower and ventured out to the Yebisu Garden Complex for some dinner. This is a beautiful area and was beautifully decorated with Christmas trees and holiday lights. Made for a wonderful little walk. Discovered a cute little Italian restaurant right across from the hotel which was nice. The food was delicious (had the Salmon Carpaccio and crab linguini). Since we were not very hungry (they had stuffed us on the plane), we split one appetizer and one entrée and bill came up to 4200 yen. I had bottled water and later realized this was for 630 yen. Probably a bit too much for the amount of food that we ate. I had read that Japanese food is more reasonable and hubby and I decided to keep that in mind next time.

After dinner, went back to hotel room and collapsed into the wonderful bed. Thankfully, no jet lag and went right off to sleep.

Manisha Dec 19th, 2006 07:56 PM

Day 2 – Monday – Dec 11th:

Generally, we are not big fans of an organized tour and like to explore things on our own. But since we were in a foreign country and were not very familiar with Tokyo, we thought a tour would be a good idea. A lot of Fodorites had recommended Sunrise tours and the hotel recommended the same. We did not want to do the whole day tour as we wanted to spend some time exploring on our own. The morning tour looked nicer than the afternoon tour but for the morning tour, we would need to be up bright and early today and we were not sure if we could manage that with the jet lag and exhaustion. So we decided to take the afternoon tour today.

In the morning, we decided to tackle the subway system to go see the Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine in Harajuku. It was very easy to purchase tickets and maneuver the subway system. The guards, the police, the information office and the people are so helpful that I think help would be easily available. I had also studied the Tokyo Metro map before our trip (I am fascinated by maps) so that made it a little easy.

The Shrine and the park around the shrine was beautiful. There were pamphlets displaying how to appropriately pray (toss in coin, bow twice, clap twice to attract the attention of the Shinto Gods, pray and then bow deeply again). It was interesting to see the worshippers clean their hands and mouth before entering the shrine and to watch them write their prayers/gratitude on the wooden tablets.

After the shrine, we walked around the station and had lunch near the station. I had some sort of Chicken pilaf and husband had Chinese fried rice or something similar. 2 meals and 2 drinks came up to about 1800 yen.

Then we went back to the hotel lobby to picked up by the Sunrise Tour people. The tour itself was nice and I am glad that we decided to do it. Our guide (June) was quite helpful and provided some good information. My only complaint was that when we got to the Asakusa temple, they dropped us off near the temple and pretty much left it to us to figure out how to get to the temple. We tried to follow the other people in our tour group and asked a couple of people along the way. But I would have liked the guide to accompany us to the temple, at least to explain the history of it to us. But no worries – I had a Fodors book that I consulted regularly throughout the trip and read about the temple in the book. The tour covered Seaside Top (panoramic Tokyo view from 40th floor of World Trade Center building), Imperial Palace Plaza, Drive through Ginza, Asakusa Kannon Temple, Nakamise Shopping Street, Sumida River Cruise. For 5300 Yen per person, I would have liked them to cover more than they did. But we were able to cover a lot of stuff in 3.5 hours (it would have taken us much longer to do this) and it was definitely nicer to gain some information from a tour guide than reading from a book.

The tour dropped us off at Hamamatsucho Bus Terminal and we took the subway back to our hotel. After resting for a bit, we headed downstairs to ask the concierge for dinner reservations. Husband was in the mood for French and I wanted to explore the nightlife in Roppongi, so we asked the concierge for a French restaurant in Roppongi. They recommended the French Kitchen in Roppongi Hills. Once we got to Roppongi Hills, we quickly realized what a mammoth place it actually is. We got completely confused and turned around and ended up asking one of the guards where the restaurant (French Kitchen) was, and he walked us to the restaurant. It was so very nice of him! He proceeded to walk us to the Grand Hyatt lobby and indicated that the restaurant was in the hotel. A lot of Fodorites had warned against eating at restaurants in hotels and how they are overpriced for no good reason. So I was wary about eating here. There was another French restaurant at Roppongi Hills that was in the booklet. But it was close to 10:00 pm. The pangs of hunger, fear of restaurants closing and the scary process of navigating ourselves through the massive complex of Roppongi Hills led us to give in and we ended up having dinner at the French Kitchen at the Grand Hyatt. Sorry, Fodorites, for letting you down!

Dinner turned out to be not too bad. The hotel and the restaurant were absolutely beautiful and the food was alright. They also had a live jazz band. We had a glass of wine each, split an appetizer, an entrée, a dessert and the bill came up to about 10,000 Yen. Not as outrageous as I was expecting (considering that most glasses of wine was for 1600 Yen). But still not worth the money since the food was not all that tasty and the portions not big. I think we probably ended up paying more for the beauty/decoration of the restaurant than the taste of the food.

Initially, we had wanted to go to a lounge after dinner for some drinks since I had heard a lot about the nightlife in Roppongi. But we were exhausted from the day, so we headed back to the hotel. When we got back to our hotel room, we realized that the restaurant had actually forgotten to charge us for my glass of wine. So the bill would have been about 11600. I felt a bit guilty about the glass of wine, but its not as if we deliberately tried to con them out of a drink or something. An honest mistake on their part. Husband said that it probably serves them right for highway robbery – lol :)

Day 3 – Tuesday – Dec 12th:

We used my husband’s points to get one night free at the Westin and the second night for half off. We checked out of the Westin today. After depositing our luggage with the hotel, we had breakfast at the hotel. Not the buffet, just the a la carte. But it was very nice. The first time in 2 days that I’d seen a plate with adequate portions of food and the fresh juice was great.

We then headed off to the Kabuki-za theater in Ginza to see an act of a an act of a Kabuki play. The act was 50 minutes along and they had provided us English headphones to follow along. The headphones were great as not only did they provide translation but also background information about the art form, the various gestures of the actors, etc. When I later shared some of the info from the English commentary with my Japanese friends, they jokingly remarked that I had probably understood a lot more about Kabuki and the play than they would ever understand! They said that the next time they go see Kabuki, they would opt for the English headphones as well :) The set was great and the costumes were beautiful. At the end of the act, the entire structure on stage actually collapsed to represent the collapse of the palace in the story.

After that, we headed back towards the Ebisu area and attended a tea ceremony at Happo-en. The Westin had recommended this place because of its beautiful garden and they were absolutely right! The garden was beautiful. The tea ceremony itself was interesting. There was a lady dressed in Kimono who made tea for us and then taught us how to hold the cup (left hand at base, right hand on the side), how to indicate that we are done (a small slurp) and what we need to do when we are done. The price was steep (2100 yen per person) but it was nice to be able to witness/participate in something like this and especially wonderful to explore the garden which was absolutely fabulous. The Fall colors were beautiful and there was a lovely pond and some lovely bonsai trees.

We then went back to the Westin to pick up our baggage and then on to the Park Hotel in Shimbashi to check in. Even though I had read that cabs were expensive in Tokyo, we decided to risk taking a cab from the Westin in Ebisu to the Park Hotel in Shimbashi (near Ginza) because we had our luggage with us. It cost us a hefty 2840 Yen for the 6-8 km ride. The silver lining was that we did not have to tip :) Also, the cab fare scared us enough that we took trains everywhere for the rest of the trip even with our luggage!

That night we met up with some Japanese friends who live in Tokyo. They wanted us to meet them at the Hachiko dog statue outside of Shibuya station. Immediately, I felt like a Tokyo-ite since I had read this is a very popular meeting point amidst locals! They took us to a fabulous restaurant called Kakoiya (see review above).

It was a great time. When we shared our cab story and fare amount with our Japanese friends, they chided us for taking a cab! I told them how all the cars were impeccably spotless and clean and this was a major contrast with Chicago. They said the cars were probably clean because they do not go anywhere – they either sit at home in the garage or are stuck in traffic on the roads – lol!

Manisha Dec 19th, 2006 07:59 PM

Day 4 – Wednesday – Dec 13th:

In the morning, I ventured out to the Tsukiji Fish Market while my hubby caught up on his sleep. Before heading off, I confirmed the directions to the Fish Market with the concierge. When I arrived there, I found the place deserted with not a soul in sight. It looked nothing like the crowded and dangerously busy fish market that was described on the forum and in the travel books. I wandered around for a good 45 minutes before giving up and coming back to the hotel. When I got back to the hotel, I asked the concierge about my strange experience and she mentioned that the Fish Market is closed on some Wednesdays and that most likely, it was closed today. I secretly wished that she had told me about that before I had left the hotel this morning and had asked her for directions. But I suppose I cannot blame her since I had not directly asked her that question. I only know that had it been the concierge at the Westin Ebisu or the Hyatt Regency at Kyoto, they would have been foresighted enough to mention it.

By this point, the husband is awake and we head out to Shinagawa station to buy Shinkansen tickets for Hakone tomorrow. We then head back to Shibuya since we were mesmerized by that place last night. We roam around the jam-packed streets for a bit and then eat lunch at an Indian restaurant called Samrat near the train station. 2 curry sets and 2 drinks later, we have parted with 2500 Yen which is not bad. From Shibuya, we walked to Harajuku.

Once in Harajuku, we made our way to Nitambashi Dori. On our way there, we suddenly hear loud screams coming from some girls on the other side of the street. We walk over to find some kind of movie/TV shooting going on. Some guy in a humongous Chicken suit is buying crepes or something similar for himself and another guy in a Santa cap in a white mini-van and a TV camera is recording all the “action”. There are lots of people (mostly shrieking girls) around taking lots of pictures on their camera phones while the production assistant (?) is frantically requesting people to not take any pictures. Nobody is listening to the poor chap. Even though we have no clue what’s going on, husband gets excited by the commotion and excessive picture taking and decides to take a closer look at what is going on. He gets nearly knocked over by Chicken suit guy and we walk away without a picture. I don’t know why a guy in a Chicken suit was the subject of so much adolescent female attention but it was an interesting experience, all the same!

We walk around a bit in Harajuku and hang out at a coffee shop. Then head back to the hotel to relax. For dinner, we met some more Japanese friends (my friend from college and his wife). They take us to a great Sushi restaurant called SushiZanmai (see review above).

Day 5 – Thursday – Dec 14th:

This morning, we take the Shinkansen train to Hakone and cover the 50 miles distance in 30 minutes flat. Very impressed with the speed. Once we get to Hakone, we deposit our baggage with Kansuiro Ryokan. Then we try to hunt down an ATM that accepts international debit cards since we have only 4000 Yen in cash between the two of us at this point. Word of advice: carry lots of cash since a lot of the ATMs do not accept international debit cards. Once in Hakone, I read in my book that the Post Offices usually have ATMs that accept international debit cards and I curse myself for not paying closer attention to my book! However, our ATM hunt enables us to discover a great walk in Hakone.

We make our way to the post office. Along the way, we stop to admire how very beautiful Hakone is at several places. The fall colors are magnificent. The locals tell us that this year, they are having a late Fall. Very lucky for us as the Maple trees are a radiant red and look absolutely gorgeous. We finally get to the post office and hurrah! It accepts our cards!

I have to say that even though this walk is not mentioned anywhere in the guide books, I think it is one of the most beautiful things to do in Hakone. I think it is probably even more beautiful than the “Hakone circuit” that seems to be very popular and overly touristy at times. The walk from the station to the post office takes you by the river and over a bridge and up and down small roads. It was great!

After we have loaded our pockets with cash, we grab lunch near the station and commence on the circuit. We take the train to Gora and experience the beautiful mountain scenery. Then we take the cable car ride up to Sounzan and another cable car ride to the Volcanic area – I forget the name, sorry. At the volcanic area, we ask a cute old Japanese couple to take a picture of us. While the husband takes the picture, the wife is providing all sorts of suggestions on where we should stand, how we should stand and how he should take the picture! After he takes the picture, she inspects the picture in our digital camera to make sure he did a good job. She reminds me of my grandmother – very sweet!

Normally, the cable car takes tourists to Lake Ashi but we are told today that the cable car is closed and we will have to take a shuttle bus from the volcanic area to Lake Ashi. Once we are at Lake Ashi, we take the boat ride to Hakone-machi. The boat is fancily decorated and makes for an interesting ride. Normally, visitors are able to see Mount Fuji but not today as it is quite hazy. The boat ride is still quite nice as we see mountains all around us. At Hakone-machi, we wander around for a bit, have coffee at a coffee shop and then take the shuttle bus back to Hakone Yumoto Station. We then walk to our Ryokan (Kansuiro) which is only 15 minutes away.

At our Ryokan, we have the most amazing experience. The ryokan and our room is beautiful. For a full hotel review, see above. Our baggage is already in our rooms. The hostess comes in and makes some tea for us. We relax and have some tea. After tea, we explore the ryokan and the outdoor onsen (hot springs). There is a pleasant walk within the ryokan grounds with a waterfall, several little fountains, rocks, trees, etc. We then come back into our rooms, change into our Yukatas (dressing gowns) that they have provided and wait for dinner.
Dinner turns out to be a multi course meal. As soon as we are done with one course, the hostess brings in more food. After the third course, I am wondering how much more there is to go and I think the hostess is getting a bit tired of us exclaiming “wow, more food” and “looks great” every time she walks in with more food. So she opens up this sheet of paper that is on the table (I had previously ignored it because it was all in Japanese). The paper lists all the courses for the dinner. She circles the ones that she has brought for us so far and together all 3 of us (hubby, I, hostess) count how many more to go – at least 6 or 8 more! (I forget whether it was 9 or 11 course meal but it was a lot of food). After that, we pace ourselves and eat a little bit more slowly :) The dinner itself was alright. Since I am not a huge sashimi fan, I could not enjoy those courses as much but it was definitely nice to try a little bit of everything. The cooked fish and sushi was pretty good.

After dinner, we relax for a bit and decide to try out the indoor and outdoor onsens. There is an indoor one that can be reserved for private use. There are also separate male and female indoor and outdoor onsens for public use. After 10:00 pm, the outdoor onsens can be reserved for private use by an individual/couple/family. We could not wait that long and decide to use the indoor one together and the outdoor ones separately. The outdoor ones are much nicer than the indoor one. In the outdoor ones, you can feel the nice cool air and be surrounded by trees, plants and the water pipes. In the indoor one, you have to worry about steamed windows and condensation dropping on your head from the ceiling. But since we try the indoor one first, it was a nice private intro to onsens since neither husband and I were familiar with hot spring bathing prior to this – now we love it!

After a relaxing soak, we dry ourselves and head back to our rooms and go to bed. Because of the long day, great meal and relaxing hot springs, we sleep like babies.

Manisha Dec 19th, 2006 08:04 PM

More to come tomorrow

lina219 Dec 19th, 2006 08:20 PM

great report. can't wait for more.

the friendly people & the excellent service that we experience in Japan makes us totally in love with Japan :-)

gilawi01 Dec 20th, 2006 03:40 AM

Enjoying greatly your detailed trip report. It brings back memories of my trip and experiences of our trip in 2005.

emd Dec 20th, 2006 04:43 AM

Oh what a great pre-Christmas present, Manisha's detailed trip report! I love it!

I am so glad you liked the Westin so much. And thanks for the feedback on the Kyoto Hyatt. Your ryokan in Hakone sounds nicer than the one my daughter and I stayed in (Ichinoyu, about as far from Hakone Yumoto as yours). I have never gone to kabuki but your description w/the English headphones has me more interested now.

Did you have your first night meal that the place right across from Westin that looks like a big French chateau? I have always wodnered about that restaurant as I walk by it.

Keep up the report, this is just great. Myabe someone here will have insight to what the chicken commercial was about.

Sounds like you got the best of two seasons, late fall but also Christmas decorations.

lina, how was your last trip (the mega-Ultraman one at end of summer or Sept.)? I saw a posting from you on japan0guide which led me to go back through posts here to see if I'd missed any posts after you got back. Was it a good trip?


ifeniks Dec 20th, 2006 04:59 AM

Hi Manisha, thank you for the great report. A couple of questions about Hyatt Regency Kyoto and Kansuiro. Are there any coffee places for breakfast and/or cafes and reasonable eateries in the vicinity of HR Kyoto? I read that the disadvantage is there is nothing around the hotel to eat, etc. For Kansuiro: what does the "in room onsen bath" look like - is it just a a regular bath with onsen water? Is it good enough to replace the public bath? How is the building itself - it looks a little bit dark/sad in the pictures. Finally, you are not overly impressed with the food. Was it too exotic? Would you eat it two nights in a row? Thanks!!!

ifeniks Dec 20th, 2006 07:37 AM

Also, Manisha, how did you reserve Kansuiro? I could not get a hold of them and JTB charges 15% to reserve.

hawaiiantraveler Dec 20th, 2006 09:36 AM

Great start! Thank you for all the details......love it!

Looks like you had a wonderful first trip to Japan.

Are you planning a return yet?

Aloha!

Manisha Dec 20th, 2006 03:33 PM

Thanks everybody for your nice comments - I am glad you are all enjoying the trip report so far. I will post the rest of it tonight.

emd - The Kabuki was definitely a treat and I would recommend it. It is very different from the theater we see in the US. It is slower and the sets are not as flashy/sophisticated as the stuff you might see here. But they are beautiful and elegant. As for our first night meal, the Italian restaurant was not actually in that big French chataeu building. I meant to ask the concierge what that was but forgot. It was very beautiful to look at but I could not figure out what was inside!

ifeniks -
"Are there any coffee places for breakfast and/or cafes and reasonable eateries in the vicinity of HR Kyoto? I read that the disadvantage is there is nothing around the hotel to eat, etc."
As for the HR Kyoto, it does seem to be in an area where there is not a huge variety of restaurants. But there are a couple nearby. The hotel itself has an Italian restaurant which is actually not as badly priced as some of the other restaurants in other hotels. When I get back home tonight, I will see how much the meals were and include those in my trip report. There is another Italian place nearby and I think there might be a few more places. The concierge did mention that it is in a more historical area of Kyoto, so not that many places to eat. But the bus literally stops right outside the door and very convenient to take. If you could manage that, I would reco this place because the hotel rooms & services are really good value for money. I think the hotel tries to make up for the fact that there might not be a huge variety of places to eat. I think that at $150-$200 a night, they more than make up for it.

"For Kansuiro: what does the "in room onsen bath" look like - is it just a a regular bath with onsen water? Is it good enough to replace the public bath? How is the building itself - it looks a little bit dark/sad in the pictures."
The in room onsen bath is nice. It is probably meant to fit one person comfortably. It is just such a luxury to have one at your disposal in your private bathroom! You will definitely want to experience the outdoor public bath because it is just beautiful. It is also available for private use after 10:00 pm, if that's what you prefer. The indoor bath is available for private use any time but I definitely recommend the outdoor bath! I did not think that the ryokan was too dark although it does look that way on the website. I was concerned that the Type B room would be too dark, but it was not. I think the darkish look is largely due to the fact that the ryokan is surrounded by trees, etc. But I did not find it sad/gloomy. I will post some of my pics of the bathroom and the ryokan for you to see.

"Finally, you are not overly impressed with the food. Was it too exotic? Would you eat it two nights in a row? "
I don't like Sashimi too much and do not eat it in the US. The first few courses that they served were sashimi and sushi and so those I wasn't too thrilled about. If you like Sashimi, this will not be a problem, I think. But then they served some steamed fish, rice, miso-soup, beef in sauce, etc. and those were pretty tasty. I don't think I could handle it two nights in a row. But there are plenty of restaurants around Hakone Yumoto station (just 15 min walk from ryokan).

"Also, Manisha, how did you reserve Kansuiro? I could not get a hold of them and JTB charges 15% to reserve."
I directly emailed them at [email protected] THey responded promptly to all my emails. Once they did not, I followed up with a second email and they responded promptly.

Let me know if you have any other questions about Kansuiro or anything else.

hawaiiantraveler - aloha! I would definitely like to go back at some point in the future! But would like to go through the other countries on our list first :)

Thanks, all, for reading my trip report. I will post the rest of it soon.



emd Dec 20th, 2006 04:25 PM

Opps, somehow I missed that it was an Italian restaurant that first night. For some reason I read French.

Here is info on that restaurant in Ebisu Place that looks like the French Chateau, from Tokyo Food Page website:

Joel Robuchon, Restaurant (Expensive French). 5424-1347.
Deluxe-level cooking and service in an elaborate castle-like setting. At dinnertime there's a rather extravagant 18-course tasting menu for Y35,000 per person (plus 12% service charge). You'll also find a more casual, "convivial" restaurant downstairs called "La Table de Joel Robuchon," with prix-fixe lunch from Y2800 and dinner from Y5000.

I think your husband would have sprung a leak over those prices, although the more casual restaurant downstairs sounds like a possibility. It does look cool from the outside.

There is a picture of it here:
http://tinyurl.com/ycdx9y

I have one more question about Kansuiro before you go on. Was the onsen in-room bath a modern looking tiled deal or was it a rocky onsen bath (like the one I had right outside my backdoor at Ichinoyu)? What did it look like physically? Did you both fit in it (although a bit cramped maybe)?

The bath I had at Ichinoyu was a rock style open air bath overlooking the river (you could really hear the river), small but sort of L-shaped so my daughter and I both fit in it, not lounging around but we both fit.

I think the Hyatt is a good location esp. for those who are visiting Kyoto for the 1st time and will most certainly want to spend time wandering in the Higashiyama area during the day. But Higashiyama closes up promptly at 6 p.m.- really, everything seems to shutter up and that is it, end of day. As long as you will either be ready to retire (as we were a the end of each day on our first trip to Kyoto) and have dinner at the hotel or one of the few places around there that are open or take a taxi (not pricey in Kyoto) to the central area or Gion for the evening, it is fine. I am really hoping to try out the Hyatt on a future trip, esp. after your review on top of another one someone wrote here soon they opened in spring '06.

Thanks for answering all our questions.



Manisha Dec 20th, 2006 05:35 PM

emd - Thanks for solving the mystery on that French Chateau. Wow - those are steep prices! But hubby does like French food...perhaps on a special occassion :) From the looks of the prices, it would need to be very, very special though!

"Was the onsen in-room bath a modern looking tiled deal or was it a rocky onsen bath (like the one I had right outside my backdoor at Ichinoyu)? What did it look like physically?"
About the in-room onsen at Kansuiro, it was a a modern looking tiled deal. The bathroom had a sink, cupboard, toilet seat. There was a glass door leading to the onsen area (like how in many bathrooms, there is a glass door leading to a shower area). Right next to the onsen, there was a hand-shower, soap, shampoo area. The onsen itself was a tiled hole in the ground (that's the best way to describe it, I suppose!) The water was sourced from a hot spring and I was told it was not recycled. It kept flowing out of the onsen down the side of the bathroom. When I post my pics, that might make more sense.

" Did you both fit in it (although a bit cramped maybe)?"
Hubby and I were able to fit in it although he is 5' 7" and I am 5' 5". But we were able to fit in just barely. So perhaps somebody bigger would only be able to fit in one at a time. It was comfortable for one person.
The outdoor baths were the rocky outdoor baths. I have to say that when considering ryokans, I was really tempted by the in-room rocky bath at Ichinoyu but in the end, gave in to Kansuiro because the ryokan looked nicer. Maybe next time!

Manisha Dec 20th, 2006 05:39 PM

The rest of my trip report -

Day 6 – Friday – Dec 15th:
This morning, we take the Shinkansen train to Kyoto. We try to get seats with D or E in them since emd had suggested that you can see Mount Fuji from that side of the train. But we cannot as all those seats are full. We take the train to Kyoto and arrive in Kyoto 2 hours and 15 minutes later – that train is fast! Seems like a breeze compared to the 11 hour flight to Tokyo 

There is a post office next to Kyoto station so we stock up on cash as we have learnt our lesson by now. There is a line to use the ATMs but it is moving very fast as there are 5-6 ATM machines. When it is our turn, the line attendant points us to an ATM and before we can even ask, she tells us that it accepts International credit cards. Then, as we proceed to the ATM, she runs ahead of us and presses the English button on the ATM machine – like I said before, the people here are so nice!

The Hyatt Regency provides a free taxi service from Kyoto Station to the hotel (although the bus is very convenient too). The taxi service company is called MK VIP. We arrive at the taxi stand (across the road from the Hachijo exit) and they have fancy cars with fancy chaffeurs in smart caps and white gloves. I go inside to find out about the free service. They take my name down and proceed to walk me and my baggage to a cab waiting outside. Meanwhile, husband is outside and is very impressed with the chaffeurs in the smart uniforms. He begins to snap pictures of a chauffeur standing next to a cab. Only he does not realize that this is the cab that we are supposed to take. He is snapping pictures and the chauffeur begins to approach him to lead him to the car. Husband thinks the chauffeur is asking him to stop taking his picture and is puzzled, confused and (I think) a little scared at the same time and puts the camera away! He later realizes that all is good and comes inside the taxi with a sheepish smile, while I have myself a good chuckle.

We reach the hotel and discuss various tour options with the concierge (very helpful and nice chap named Tanaka). We try to book the Sunrise Kyoto one day tour for tomorrow and find out that the morning tour, the afternoon tour and the all day tours are all sold out. I guess it is because it is a Saturday. Word of advice: if your tour falls on a Saturday, book it ahead of time. Since we have to take the evening train back to Tokyo on Sunday, we book the morning tour for Sunday morning and decide to cover as much as we can on our own tomorrow.

We have lunch in the hotel. I know, I know, I should learn my lesson by now about eating in hotel restaurants. :) But we were really hungry and didn’t want to scout around for food. Surprisingly, the meal was pretty decent. The food is tasty with healthy portions, although a little overpriced. I get a pasta dish and a coke; hubby gets a panini sandwich and a juice (I think) and we split a dessert. The total is 4781 Yen. A bit pricey but the portions are good, the food is tasty and our tummies are all filled up. The dessert is excellent – this panicotti concoction that is just divine!

By the time we have lunch and get ready to hit the road it is about 3:30 or so and a lot of the temples are beginning to close. Tanaka recommends that we walk around in the Gion district and take a walk along the Hinami-koji road in the Gion area. He also recommends visiting the Arashiama area where they have lit up the bamboo gardens/forests with lights from Dec 9th to Dec 18th. We are not able to do this tonight or even tomorrow night. But if you go to Kyoto, I would recommend finding out about the lights in this area or any other areas of Kyoto - it looks beautiful in the pictures! This is the one thing I regret that we did not get to see.

As we are getting ready to leave, he asks us to see him when we get back to the hotel tonight and he will help us out with our itinerary for tomorrow since we could not take the all day tour and will have to visit several temples on our own. Very helpful indeed!

We take the subway to the Gion area. This is a challenging task since unlike Tokyo, very few signs are in English. But we somehow manage to find our way. The bus system in Kyoto is definitely much easier to navigate than the subway.

As we get out of the subway station, our first impressions of Kyoto are that it is a very beautiful and quaint city. I had read that it is more traditional than Tokyo, but it also seems to be more charming and beautiful. We also see many women dressed in traditional kimonos.

We walk around a bit in the Gion area and we walk along the Hinami-koji road. This is a lovely street to walk along, especially in the evening after dark (around 6:00 pm or so). The traditional houses on both sides, the lanterns and curtains hanging in the doorway, the tasteful tiny shops kind of help to give an idea of what this street might have looked like a 100 years ago. Very enjoyable walk. At the corner of Hinami-koji and Shijo, (or near that intersection), there is a structure. Initially, we think it was a temple. We hang around for a bit and over the course of the next 20 minutes, we see about 7-8 geishas! We ask the locals if these are real geishas and they reply in the affirmative. Every time one walks by, people are taking pictures and video films. The geishas are not frazzled by any of this tourist attention and walk gracefully into the teahouse. The geishas are very elegant and charming. When I saw the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”, I thought that the white paint and the entire geisha get-up made the actress look kind of different and actually, a little scary. But these real-life geishas are exquisitely beautiful. The entire costume, with the make-up and the hair and everything, makes them look beautiful. They walk so gracefully and hold their heads so elegantly. I couldn’t get enough of them!

After that, we walk around for some more. We walk along Shijo dori until we are at this huge massive intersection with lots of people, lights, sounds, neon signs. It actually reminds me of Tokyo. There is some sort of protest going on. A woman is shrieking a speech into a microphone. Men are representing themselves with signs. Meanwhile, right next to them, a musician is strumming a guitar and playing a tune. Next to him, three sales-girls are yelling out to passers-by to attract attention. Lots of activity! We walk North (I think it was North, by this point in time on the trip, I have given up trying to figure out which way is what) on Kawaramachi Dori. We stop for coffee at a coffee shop.

We keep walking along Kawaramachi-Dori and buy some cute souveniers. This street and all of Gion seem to offer some great souvenir shops where you can buy some pretty interesting and unique trinkets. We have dinner at an Indian restaurant called Kerala on Kawaramachi-Dori. We have a glass of wine, a beer, 2 appetizers, 2 entrees and a dessert. The bill comes up to about $50. Very reasonable for the amount and quality of food. If you like Indian food, you should give this a try! Although we did not get to sit next to the window, there are a couple of tables by the window with a really nice view of the street below.

Day 7 – Saturday – Dec 16th:

This morning, we stop by the Concierge desk to pick up all day bus passes (500 Yen each). These are valid for unlimited bus rides on all bus routes throughout Kyoto for a day. These are a really good deal if you are taking 3 or more bus rides since each ride is 220 Yen. It was really convenient that the hotel sells these. We also found out that the hotel also sells Shinkansen tickets if you let them know at least a day in advance of your departure – what a huge convenience!

We have breakfast in the hotel, not at the Italian restaurant but another restaurant called The Grill. We get 2 combo breakfasts and 2 glasses of juice and the total is 4176 Yen. Once again, a bit pricey but tasty, healthy portions and convenient.

We then walk over to Sanjusangendo Temple which is literally a 2 minute walk from the hotel. This temple is really beautiful. The garden is small but elegant and the 1000 statues inside are just mesmerizing. I cannot believe that they built so many and fit so many of them in the temple. We enjoy reading the tablets in front of the 28 statues/guardians representing different Buddhist gods. It is interesting to read about the connection between these Buddhist and Hindu gods. The giant statue of Kannon is beautiful to look at.

After that, we take the bus to Kiyomizu Temple. We enjoy the walk up from the main street to the temple and buy several souveniers along the way. We see a few geishas here as well, but I am not sure if these are real Geishas since I also see several beauty parlors that offer to dress up tourists as Geishas and I have read that some tourists do so. But I know for sure that the ones we saw yesterday were for real because they were entering a tea house that nobody else was allowed to enter and some locals confirmed that they were geishas. They all look charming, nonetheless. The temple itself is quite beautiful. Does not have much of a garden. But has a nice market area. Also, there is a lovely walk through the forests surrounding the temple.

Then, we take the bus to Gingakuji temple. On the way to the temple, we stop for some more souvenir shopping and some lunch at Cafeterie Kafkua (or something similar…see review above). As a result of all the temple exploration, souvenir shopping and walking, I am starving even after our full breakfast. So I gorge on those yummy sandwiches and the hubby has some pizza.

After lunch, we walk up to Gingakuji Temple. This walk is lined with several souvenir shops and other shops selling ice creams, crepes and the like. The temple garden is simply breathtaking and we feel like we are walking around in a Japanese fairytale. It is the best garden out of all those that I have seen so far (and would see for the rest of the trip) and we joke about how it is so beautiful, that it takes our eyes some time to adjust to that kind of beauty!

After the temple, we proceed on the philosopher’s walk to Nanzenji temple. This is an approximately 2km path along the canal that links Gingakuji and Nanzenji temples. The walk is beautiful as it has a path along the canal and there are a lot of trees, plants, nice homes and coffee shops along the way. We stop for coffee at a quaint coffee shop that has a nice outdoor seating area with heat lamps. Two Japanese couples ask us to take a picture of them. We do so and ask them to take one of us. I had noticed that when taking pictures, a lot of Japanese youngsters make the “V” peace sign or the victory sign with their hands. I don’t know what this means but they gestured me to do the same in this photograph! I oblige them and wonder how I am going to explain this to folks in the US  We walk at a leisurely pace enjoying the beauty around us – the walk is really nice. However, as a result of our leisurely pace, we get to Nanzenji temple after it has already closed. Oh well…

We walk to a bus stop which we think is a bus stop for bus route 100. After waiting for about 10-15 mins, we see bus # 100, although it shows no signs of stopping at our bus stop. Instead, it puts on its right indicator and is getting ready to make a right. Husband and I quickly check the bus stop sign and it has no #100 on it. The bus has stopped to make a right turn (like left turn in the US), so we race ahead to make the right ahead of the bus. We run like crazy and break a pedestrian red light. Even though there is no traffic around, I feel like we are doing something illegal as I have not seen anybody else jaywalking in Kyoto. We arrive at the correct bus stop 20 seconds before the bus gets there (it gets caught up at the light that we blew past). Everybody at the bus stop is grinning at us as they have witnessed us sprinting like crazy to catch a bus which is proceeding at a very harmless relaxed pace!

We get back to the hotel and plan on going to Arashiama this evening. But by the time I finish a quick workout, and get showered and ready, it is close to 7:30 pm and the illumination ends at 8:00 pm. We show up at the concierge desk at 7:30 and ask them if its worth it to make the hike and they tell us no since it will take us 20 mins to get there. The concierge, Sayuri, feels so sorry for us that she is intent on putting together an evening of fun for us. She recommends a restaurant and then a night-club as well (Club Metro). Hubby and I are too tired to shake a leg at a night-club. But her enthusiasm was very sweet! She even says “Let’s go Night Club!” - lol

We go to the Kyoto station to purchase our Shinkansen tickets. Once again, I ask for seats with D or E in them so that we can see Mount Fuji and am told that they are sold out. Since we have been unable to see Mount Fuji this entire trip, I secretly vow to throw all politeness to the wind and look over people’s shoulders on the train from Kyoto to Tokyo. After that, we take the bus back to the area near the hotel so that we can dine at Il Pappalardo but we show up at 9:15 pm and after much apologizing and bowing, they inform us that they take their last order at 9:00 pm. So we end up eating at the Italian restaurant in the hotel again. I don’t mind because the food there is really very good, the prices not that bad and it looks really pretty at night.

At dinner, we have 2 glasses of wine, 2 appetizers, an entrée and two desserts and this amounts to about 7000 Yen. For the amount and quality of food, this is pretty much what we would pay in Chicago as well. For dessert, I get the panicotti (again, it was just too good to pass on) and the husband gets some chocolate cake thing with oranges. Very yummy!

Day 8 – Sunday – Dec 17th:

This morning, we take the cab to the New Miyako hotel where the Sunrise Morning tour will pick us up. I had read a bad review on this forum about the morning tour organized by JTB and had made a note to not sign up for a JTB tour. It is only after I get on the Sunrise morning tour bus that I see the tour is co-sponsored by JTB. I get a bit worried, but the tour actually turned out great. Our tour guide (Kondo) was very informative, knowledgeable, helpful and had a good sense of humor. He even recalled and translated a poem written about Plum Trees to elaborate on the history of a shrine. Very good information. The tour covered Nijo Castle, Kitano Tenmangu (a Shinto shrine), Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), Kyoto Handicraft Center. Ordinarily, the tour covers Imperial Palace instead of Kitano Tenmangu, but since today was a Sunday, the palace was closed. The Kitano Tenmangu was an interesting place. The Shinto shrine is beautiful with elaborate roof work. The visit was made even more interesting with Kondo’s commentary. This is where he recalled and translated the poem about the plum tree and also told us a little bit about Buddhism and Shintoism and the Japanese thoughts on those two religions.

At Nijo castle, Kondo walked us through the main rooms of the castle providing info along the way, at Kitano Tenmangu, he provided history/background and walked us through the shrine grounds and at Kinkakuji, he walked us to the temple and let us explore the garden on our own. Nicely organized, I thought. Once again for 5300 Yen, would have liked them to cover more but it would have taken us more than 3 hours to cover all these sites and the tour guide was truly exceptional. I highly recommend this tour. If you can get on the all day tour, I think that would be really good as well. Even though they cover Sanjusangoden in the all day tour and that was just 2 mins from the hotel, the all day tour also covers Heien shrine, Kiyomizu Temple and provides lunch at the Kyoto Handicraft Center. It covers a lot of things in just 9 hours. This leaves a lot of spare time for you to do exploration on your own and cover the other famous sites in Kyoto.

At Kinkakuji, we did some more souvenir shopping. I am not much of a souvenir shopping person, but I cannot get enough of them in Japan! One thing I noted was that I saw the same souvenir items at multiple places in multiple cities and they were being sold at exactly the same price, even though the venues varied greatly. I saw the same items at the Tokyo Airport souvenir shop, at a booth right outside the Ginkakuji temple in Kyoto and at another place in Kyoto. It was priced at exactly the same amount! This might be an exception, but it helped put my mind at ease that I was not being fleeced as a tourist.

We do not spend much time at the Kyoto Handicraft center, since we have a 2:46 train to catch to Tokyo. The Handicraft center provides a free shuttle every hour on the hour to various hotels. We do not wait for this one and instead, take the public transportation bus to HR Kyoto, collect our bags and take a taxi to the station. Sayuri sees us leaving and comes outside to help us with our baggage and bid us farewell :)

On the train, all plans of peeping over people’s shoulders to see Mount Fuji are forgotten as I get involved first in the view from the side of the train that I am sitting on, then the book that I’m reading and then finally, a nap. It is still pretty hazy to see the mountain anyway. The 2:46 departure train from Kyoto station gets us into Tokyo at 5:05 pm.

We get to the Ginza Tokyo Tobu Renaissance Hotel and check in. The staff seems nice and friendly but the rooms are alright (see review above). The neighborhood, however, is good. After getting ready, we walk along the main street of Ginza and venture into the Mitsukoshi Department Store and the Apple store. We enjoy all the people, lights, sounds, signs in Ginza – it is quite a fun neighborhood to walk around in. Like Chicago’s magnificent mile or NY’s 5th Avenue only ten times bigger, brighter, more stores, more people!

We wander the streets for a little bit and do a little shopping. Not souvenir this time. All hotels that we’ve stayed in (including Kansuiro) have provided Shiseido bathroom products and husband has developed new-found liking for these. So we buy something for him and then eat dinner at a Spanish Tapas restaurant called Kanzai. Food is tasty and reasonable. We found out about it through an English sign on the street and this chap who was handing out Japanese fliers. Apparently, the flier entitled us to a free drink with our dinner and our server informs us of this. I tell her that really, I would have no way of knowing about this deal since I can’t read Japanese. She says “Oh yeah, that’s right. Good point. But I have to be honest.” :)

Day 9 – Monday – Dec 18th:

I am determined to see the Tsukiji Fish Market before I leave Tokyo. I wake up bright and early at 6:30 am to make my trek over there (only 10 mins from our hotel). Husband is inspired by my determination and decides to join me. We walk over to the Fish Market and start wondering how in the world could I have been worried that we might “miss it”! It is very crowded and busy but surprisingly, still very organized and relatively clean (for a fish market). Among Indians (Asian), there is a saying “That place was as noisy as a fish market” or as “dirty as a fish market” or as “disorganized as a fish market”. After experiencing Tsukiji Fish Market, I think we will need to include a disclaimer about Tsukiji! At Tsukiji, we find that areas/sections are organized by type of seafood (fish versus squid/oysters versus shrimp, etc.) and the place is not as dirty as people had warned me (I suppose I have seen dirtier fish markets!) It is fun to walk around and see the different seafood varieties. The octopuses and squids are scary to look at. The huge fish are fascinating (they had heads thrice as big as mine). I feel a little sad when I see the crabs that are still being kept alive, but barely. I think husband takes this as the cue to leave and we leave soon after, even though he can’t get enough of all the seafood around him.

We walk back to the hotel and after getting ready, hit the breakfast buffet which is alright. Good that its free, I would not pay 2250 Yen for it. We then head over to Hama-Rikyu Garden as it is only 10 minutes away from the hotel and the airport limousine bus will pick us up at 12:15 pm. The garden is alright. I think that after seeing the Gingakuji garden, all other gardens pale in comparison. It is nice to walk around in a quiet place nestled in the city. The teahouse and bridges over the lake are quite pretty. Nice garden to see as it is just a 10 minute walk from the hotel and we couldn’t squeeze anything else in. But if we did not have a time limitation, we probably would not go here. After the garden, we walk around Ginza a little bit more. I want to visit the Sony store as I have heard so much about it but we do not have enough time.

We take the 12:15 airport limousine bus to the airport. On the way to the airport, we spot Mount Fuji! It has been eluding us this entire trip and now we can finally see it. After the bus gets a bit closer, we realize that it is not really Mount Fuji but just a bunch of clouds. Oh no…I guess that just means that we will have to come back again in the future to see it!

The flight back to Chicago is uncomfortable as we are placed in the strangest seats in Economy class. Usually, I don’t complain about Economy seats but I think this particular row (41) is uncomfortable because of its positioning (it’s the first row with four seats towards the tail end of the plane. The transition from 5 to 4 throws things off a bit). There is not enough room to get in and out of our seats to go to the bathroom. Everytime we do this, we hit our knee on the seats in front of us. All seats have individual mini TV screens to look at, which is nice. But the ones that we have are not directly in front of us because of the way the seats are positioned. This results in a pain in the neck after 2 hours of movie watching. But at least they play some good movies. And once again, these were free tickets, so I cannot complain too much. But for all of you who are flying a United Boeing, avoid the 41 row altogether!

In summary, we had a great trip. Thanks, again, to all the Fodorites who answered not only my questions, but other folks’ questions and posted their trip reports and helpful recommendations on the site. I cannot count the number of times I have used the Search feature and found tons of useful information! Now that I am back in Chicago, the downtown and Magnificent Mile areas look tiny when I think of Shibuya and Ginza and I remember the ryokan in Hakone, the elegance/charm of Kyoto and most importantly, the warmth, politeness and friendliness of the Japanese! :)

Origato Gosei Mashta for reading my trip report!

lina219 Dec 21st, 2006 01:05 AM

emd,
you must have seen the posting for "Tokyoite and Lina". :-) thanks for remembering me...
the trip was great, the half an hour show at Ultra Festival was entertaining not only for little kids but for adults too. We're just a tad disappointed that both Ultraman Club in Asakusa & Bandai Musuem was closed down. :-(

I am now planning for another trip in summer / autumn 2008, and Manisha's detailed report abt Hakone & Kyoto made me feel that I just need to include Hakone too!

emd Dec 21st, 2006 05:01 AM

lina, I read that Bandai is opening a new museum called "Toytwon Bandai Museum" in Mibu, Tochigi perfecture, next year. Meanwhile, part of the Bandai museum collection has relocated to Bandai Hobby Center in Shizuoka. I saw that info here:
http://jeansnow.net/category/media/anime/page/2/

If you went to the new Tokyo Anime Center in Akihabara, I'd be interested in hearing about that.

Manisha: Sorry you missed Fuji. On a clear day you wouldn't have had to crane your next on the train, it is very visible through those big windows even on the other side of the train. But you had a well planned trip and seem to have not only seen many highlights but also experienced some cultural events (some planned, some unexpected) and had fun. And you seem to have been impressed with the Japanese people, as we have been on both trips. I find them to be generally very friendly and helpful, and they go out of their way for you, even though you are just one tourist in their hotel or city.

I'm looking forward to your pictures, let us know when they are posted. In particular I want to see the in room onsen at Kansuiro, as it sounds really interesting.

I am very impressed that Hyatt Kyoto offers MK as a free taxi service from the station to the hotel. I don't think any other hotel does that, and MK is a good company. Your morning tour sounds good. It would have taken you quite awhile to get to the Golden Pavillion on the bus on your own (and the bus might have been very crowded as it was when we went), and you got around to several places w/good commentary and guide services.

I think it is important when booking a hotel to know what the restaurant options are, and if you book a more remote hotel like the Westin or Hyatt, to make sure they have good in-house restaurants for times when you just don't want to go out again in search of food. It sounds like Hyatt fit the bill in that way for you.

First you see the chicken suit thing in Tokyo, then the protest thing in Kyoto! I am sorry you missed the temple light up. Next time do try to get to that. I had a lovely night at the Hana Touro festival in March 2005 that I will never forget. The temples are really lovely lit up at night. Also, there are several other temples in Higashiyama besides Kiyomisudera that I enjoyed much more than the temples on the Philosopher's Path, and you coudl see those if you get to do a walking tour of Higashiyama next time.

I am very obsessive about airline seating on long flights and I call ahead for seat assignments the day they open up the seating. Seatguru.com and seatexpert.com have been helpful. I see that seatguru has warnings about row 41 on the United WW planes (about the video screens not beign in front of you, having to move your feet around the extra feet anchors, and foot and legroom being limited under the C and G seats due to presence of entertainment equipment box). So next time consider checking those sites and reserving seats based on what they say.

How far ahead did you book your award seats?




angethereader Dec 21st, 2006 05:13 AM

Manisha - great trip report.

I am so glad you loved the gardens at Ginkakuji as much as we did. My DH still says that it's his vision of heaven.


Manisha Dec 22nd, 2006 09:10 AM

emd - Wow, those seating websites are great. Will definitely use in the future. I was reading what they wrote about row 41 and their comments were quite accurate. I booked our award seats about 3 months before we left but I guess I must have picked the wrong seats unknowingly :)

angethereader - glad you liked the trip report. My husband actually took a video of the garden at Ginkakuji. I just replayed it and marvelled at the beauty. I did not notice this the first time, but every little plant/tree/shrub seems hand-picked and put in just the right place!

lina219 - glad you enjoyed the trip report. Let me know if you have any questions about Hakone. Have fun!

emd Dec 22nd, 2006 08:33 PM

Are you posting pictures? I hope so...that would be a nice New Years gift to us all.

Manisha Dec 23rd, 2006 05:06 AM

Will post pics and let you all know. Will try to do so before New Year's :)


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