On Sunday we arrange to meet Alison and 20+ FlyerTalkers near Imperial Palace for a leisurely walk and viewing (and photographing) of cherry blossoms which were in full bloom. Here are all my pictures, they probably don't need much commentary.
Then of course, there are the endless convenience stores and the amazing and entertaining foods that you can find there - familiar brands with very unfamiliar variants are very common.
Here's a version of "Frosted Flakes" but I guess they were not sweet enough as these are "Maple Waffles" flavor! One thing I've always loved in Japan is that their desserts are a lot less sweet than US desserts - I guess this one is an exception (plus it's not even a dessert!)
Later that evening we headed to Haneda Airport (HND) to meet up with 20 other FTers to take a water tour of Tokyo along with some delicious tempura and beverages. A question that came up was "does this count as a visited airport" since we didn't fly out of it... we did depart from Haneda Pier though...
The boat may have been a bit smaller than I expected, but it was plenty big enough for our group and was a very enjoyable way to spend 2+ hours, even if we didn't get to use the Karaoke machine (I'm still bumming about that!)
We were served a nice meal with drinks and while we had to stay inside while the boat was moving, we stopped near some nice sights and were able to take some pictures.
On Friday we took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. We didn't have much time to make the transfer from the JR train in Shin-Osaka so we couldn't stand in long line at the ticket window or we would miss our train.
While the ticket vending machines all have "English" mode it's not always clear what it's tell you to do - especially on the reserved seating trains where you have to have the fare for the train plus a ticket for reserved seat and the machine allows you to buy one, the other or both.
But it was all worth-while when we switched to the Subway in Tokyo to encounter this amazing ad. I stared at it for a long time trying to figure out if it involved Bacon or bacon. I think it must have been the former, but I'm just not sure.
We made our way to Grand Hyatt in Roppongi where we would stay for the next three days.
Because I'm platinum with Hyatt (recently dropped from Diamond but intent on getting back to the top), we had a nice upgraded room and some goodies waiting for us:
Our plans for the weekend involved some of the activities planned for Flyertalk Japan DO, in particular we would be meeting folks at an izakaya for dinner tonight, Friday night, then going on a dinner cruise on Saturday night and walking through Imperial Palace on Sunday taking in the beautiful Cherry Blossoms.
The izakaya chosen was in Ginza. This is a crazy busy and crowded area of Tokyo at any time, but on Friday night, after work the place is absolutely jam-packed.
It wasn't hard to find the restaurant, thanks to great directions, and we enjoyed a meal of ... lots of stuff with some sixty+ flyertalkers from all over the world.
After dinner we walked around Ginza, taking in sometimes strange sights there:
The day after Kyoto we went to Osaka. Maybe it was the neighborhood we were in, but it seemed that food serving establishments loved to display in very "visible" way what exactly they are serving:
We walked around, had some food, saw some sights...
Nothing too memorable - well, except some strange signs and business names that would never work in the US or any other English speaking country...
On Wednesday we spend the day in Kyoto. It's about an hour by train from where we are staying and we get there a little after 11am.
By the way, this was the first time in as long as I can remember when trains were running late in Japan. I'm sure it happens often enough, I just can't remember the last time that happened.
We had no specific plan, just to take the train, stop by Yodobashi Camera to pick up a SIM card for my phone (which I can't seem to activate because you need a Japanese cell phone to activate it!) walk around, see the sights, get some food and then head back when we're bored or tired.
After shopping we end up at one of the bazzillion shrines in Kyoto - this one just North of Kyoto station.
In addition to gorgeous architectural details, it's full blast cherry blossom season and I keep taking pictures!
We get hungry for lunch and start wandering towards what we think is an area with high food concentration. Strangely, the most common sight in the area we were in were French restaurants. And I mean a lot of them!
Eventually we got to Shinkyogoku area, which offered plenty of unusual sights and food options! We ended up at a BBQ eel place, having unagi over rice, me with egg, Ben without. Then we headed off to Kaleidoscope Museum, which was a lot of fun (sorry, no pictures were allowed).
We finished off the day by having a lovely Kyoto style Kaiseki which you can read about and see here.
This morning we headed off to find a post office or 7-11 (for the ATMs that accept US cards) and then to visit some local sake breweries, maybe do some sampling (Ben) and some picture taking (Asya) and whatever else we happen to come across that looks interesting.
Not only was the weather absolutely beautiful, but the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and made everything look absolutely delightful.
I can see why people like to visit Japan at this time of year!
We quickly found ATM, got cash (because most places in Japan don't take credit cards, even among ones that cater to tourists!) and went to visit three of the half-dozen sake breweries which were within 20-30 minute walk.
I have absolutely no idea what the sign says in this little park/monument, but I know that it has a green leaf on it that looks just like MongoDB green leaf!
After the breweries, we decided we were hungry but couldn't find much around that area, so we hopped on a train to find better lunch options in Kobe. You can see the result on the food page.
We then walked around the part of Kobe between JR Kobe Station and Harbor Front.
We saw this cool building (above) that looked like a church or a hotel, but the sign on it said "Estacion Kobe" - I eventually found lots of pictures of it on the internet but still didn't figure out what it is!
In one of the malls we were walking through there was a fascinating huge part-art part-mechanism of unknown purpose.
And on our way out we saw this, uh, creature. No idea what it was, but it looked comfortable sitting there, so Ben took a seat next to it for a minute.
I had a plan which involved us taking Narita Express train to the the Nozomi Shinkansen (bullet train) to Shin-Osaka from where we would take JR train and a lot train to our hotel: Kobe Bay Sheraton Hotel & Towers. You can see bullet train here going so fast I couldn't get a very good photo of it!
After endless taxiing after landing we almost missed our train. We didn't but unfortunately we didn't have time to get any cash. Japan is one of those funny places where you're expected to pay cash most places.
We were able to buy our train tickets with credit cards, but that only got us as far as Sumiyoshi station in Kobe which was a short ride on the Rokko Liner away from our hotel - there was only one problem - we couldn't buy a ticket for Rokko liner without cash and we were having trouble finding an ATM that took US debit/ATM cards. We ended up spending $20~ on a cab which turned out to be a good thing because otherwise we would never have spotted this little place I snapped a picture of on the way to the hotel (Trains travel on elevated tracks so you don't get the same "up close" view of the local "culture".
A beautiful welcome gift that was waiting for me in the room.
Asiana may not have the best hard product, but their service is fantastic. You can see that the cabin was not very crowded - we were the only two there!
I posted the pictures of our multi-course lunch in the food section of the blog. It was excellent.
After we landed we taxied for literally 25 minutes - I was seriously worried that we would miss the NEX train I was planning on taking which was scheduled to leave well over an hour after our supposedly on-time arrival.
While taxiing around we passed by a fence - if you zoom in on this photo you can see - it says "Down with Narita Airport".
I have no idea what that was all about!
This was not my first time at ICN airport (I think it was my seventh) but this time I noticed that they had banners all over proclaiming that they won "Best Airport in the World" (or some such) for the 8th straight year and I decided to look around and see if I could tell why. And I could.
Other than being clean, having loads of shopping, free relaxation lounges, internet, showers, etc. it was also a very easy airport to navigate due to lots of signage in many languages and extensive guides and maps available - again in your language of choice.
We arrived at Incheon early, partly because we woke up crazy early and partly because there was not much to do at the hotel. And of course, there was Asiana F lounge waiting for us, as we were flying ICN-NRT at 9am and since we got to ICN before 7am, we would have plenty of time for breakfast in the lounge.
The lounge was absolutely gorgeous. The food was excellent, the space was uncrowded and there were lots of amenities - including amazing massage chairs that I can easily see causing someone to miss their flight!