M & I made a two-week trip to Japan in March/April of 2010.
Thanks to the Global Financial Crisis of 2009, I snagged incredibly cheap seats on Malaysia Airlines (AUD$885 each return) in July of 2009 for March/April 2010. I then spent a good 10 months planning a trip that would introduce Japan to M (who had never been to Japan, let alone anywhere else in Asia before) and would allow me to catch up with old friends and visit a few places that brought back memories. We set a budget of roughly AUD$7000 (including spending money) and I spent much time angsting over hotels, travel routes and the cherry blossom forecast.
Day 1: Perth>KL
Day 2 : Stop-over in KL
Day 3 & 4: Tokyo
Day 5-7: Kyoto
Day 8: Hiroshima/Miyajima
Day 9 & 10: Osaka
Day 11-14: Tokyo
Day 15: Tokyo>Perth
Day 1 & 2
We taxied it to the airport with just a hand-luggage case each to ensure I could bring back maximum stuff from Japan. I had a list a mile long of food, gadgets, books and assorted other stuff I wanted to bring back. I had booked hotels with coin-operated laundry facilities so we could wash every few days and wouldn’t need to take so many clothes – yes, I am that anal.
M had brought a couple of puzzle books to amuse himself, but I was planning on making full use of the in-seat entertainment units:
The flight left late in the afternoon, so it wasn’t long before we were served dinner. I did my usual trick of ordering a vegetarian meal (although sometimes I order a diabetic meal) so that I get my meal before everyone else. Except with Malaysian Airlines it didn’t work and I ended up being served *after* everyone else and only after I’d reminded the cabin attendants several times that I was still waiting for my ‘special meal’.
The vegetarian lasagna was scrummy when I finally got to taste it:
M chose the chicken and I had his couscous and chick pea salad and I gave him my cheese and crackers:
As we were flying along we had a great view of the coast line and were reminded of just how big Western Australia is when you fly for four hours and still haven’t left your state…
I hadn’t planned a stop over in KL, but due to some runway repair work on the original day we were due to leave, our flight to KL was made a day earlier and Malaysian Airlines paid for a night’s accommodation at the Pan Pacific Hotel allowing us to catch our original flight from KL to Tokyo.
I was stressing a bit at having to go through all the hassle of checking-in and clearing security/customs/immigration twice, but it actually turned out to be a nice break in what would have been 15hrs of air travel. I should have also remembered that most countries in Asia are pretty damn lax about that quarantine/customs thing. Unlike Australia where dogs will sniff you, your luggage will be x-rayed and you’ll be forced to wait in ridiculous queues while yet another person is fined for bringing in something they may or may not be edible without declaring it, customs & quarantine at KL appeared to be ‘voluntary’. There was an x-ray machine sitting off to one side with a couple of staff avidly ignoring everyone who passed and that was about it.
After checking in at the Pan Pacific counter that was *inside* customs, we hopped on a complimentary golf buggy and it wound its way through the airport building and to the lobby of the hotel that was connected to the airport.
The lobby of the Pan Pacific was one of those imposing marble pillar constructions and staff here, there and everywhere were waiting to do our bidding. It was one of those hotels that make me feel totally out of my depth because people call you ‘madam’ and obviously tips need to be made. I enjoy hotels much more when I’m left to my own devices without a bell boy taking my luggage to the room and then the long pause while they’re obviously waiting for a tip after they’ve done your bidding.
We arrived at about 11pm at night and were told that we could have the room until 11pm the following night when our flight was due to leave. We headed off to the room and after a thorough inspection of the mini-bar and toiletries in the bathroom we slept.
Next morning we went downstairs for the buffet breakfast. You know you’re in for a treat when there is a whole section of the breakfast selection devoted to cakes, donuts, muffins & pastries:
Of course, before I hoed into the cakes, I also enjoyed the freshly made roti, nasi goreng, omelettes and I had my first-ever turkey bacon! I was so excited. It’s something I’ve heard a lot about but have never been able to purchase in Australia. Not eating red meat does put a limitation on the variety of things you can have for breakfast if you can’t get anything not made from pork.
We hopped on the monorail (after getting ridiculously lost trying to find the station) and went to a couple of shopping centres:
Then we bought ridiculously expensive coffees because I neglected to see the Starbucks hiding behind some other stores:
Then we headed back to the hotel where I enjoyed the lovely bathroom with the very Malaysian hose connected to the side of the toilet:
And I had a bath with the extensive collection of toiletries:
Then we re-packed for our continuing flight to Tokyo.
We arrived bleary-eyed into a rainy, cold Tokyo and that seemed to decide the theme for the whole trip: cold and rainy.
After taking about 30mins to get through immigration which involved having a photo and fingerprints taken, we went to collect our luggage and headed for the JR ticket window for a discount suica train card only available at the airport and limousine bus tickets for our return trip which also came with a free subway ticket if purchased at the airport (did I mention I spent 10mths planning this trip?)
We took the Narita Express to Shinjuku station because I booked us into a hotel right across from the station. The theme for the hotels for the trip was ‘3mins walk to the station is too long!’ so I’d gone for location over space and price. We dropped off our luggage and went downstairs to the Starbucks for coffee until 12pm which was when we were told we could check in (check-in is 3pm but it’s amazing what speaking Japanese will do for the service you receive…)
The Century Southern Tower Hotel is one of the more affordable hotels in the Michelin Hotel guide. I spent several months trolling the internet for a reasonable deal and managed to get a great deal on a Japanese hotel site, Rakuten Travel. I found it really interesting that the same room in the same hotel could be a totally different price depending on what language the website was in. Even on many hotel sites, as soon as you switched the language, the prices changed like magic.
The lobby is on the 21st floor where you can see the double windows and all the guest rooms are on the 22nd floor and up (with the floors below being offices). Our room was on the 31st floor and was a premium room with larger beds and more floor space:
I took one look out the window and though, “Mmmm…Tokyo.”
That’s the Gaien park in the foreground that was supposed to have cherry blossoms in bloom, but thanks to the unseasonably cold & wet weather, the cherry blossoms were late…
Across the train tracks is Takashimya Department store & Kinokuniya Book Store – two places I used to frequent a lot when I lived in Tokyo.
I used to look across at the Century Southern Tower Hotel and think I’d like to stay there one day and I finally did! Woot.
For lunch we decided to wander over to the department store and stroll through their two floors of restaurants. M decided he wanted tempura so into the Takashimaya outlet of Tsunahachi we went. Tsunahachi is a very well-known tempura restaurant with a few hundred years of history, but unfortunately the outlet in Takashimaya lacked the necessary ambience, but it was still yummy.
The lunch menu had three choices, so I chose the saisai zen and M had the okonomi teishoku.
They had slightly different types of tempura, but otherwise were pretty much the same, being served with rice, miso soup and pickles.
My tempura was prawn, lotus root, sweet potato, scallop, green beans, pirella leaf & green pepper (I’d already eaten the scallop by this point..)
We went back to the room for a quick nap and then in the evening we went out for dinner with some old friends of mine.
We chose the restaurant, Uobei (which literally means fish & rice) because of its fabulous fish, rice and their famous ‘dancing prawns’:
A portable gas grill is put on the table and the live prawns are roasted in front you. Once they turn a bright pink you eat them, head, shell and all. Yummo.
After the dancing prawns, a waiter brought out that night’s choice of fish which had been caught locally that morning:
We chose the kinmedai (a type of red sea bream) as it was in season and elected to have half as sashimi:
And the other half as nizuke (simmered in sauce):
The sashimi was divine. M commented that it was probably the best sashimi he had ever had. I have to agree that it was sweet, had a great bite and was superb.
We then took a look at the menu:
And ordered some other delectable nibblies like raw octopus with wasabi:
Dashimaki tamago (omelette with stock):
Some other dishes like cutlets on skewers, charcoal baked chicken with leek and the obligatory numerous alcoholic beverages. I went for my favourite standard, fresh grapefruit chuhai:
After we went back to the hotel and to one of their restaurants for coffee and cake:
M ordered a mango and cherry creation:
While I ordered the creme brulee that was skillfully bruleed by a waiter at our table and served with vanilla ice cream:
Then it was off to bed to prepare for another busy day.
Part 2 to come…