Thurs, 2/16/23, Day 11: Narita Express excellence, iPhone fiasco, ANA lounge lunacy, and Tokyo Banana Bananas!

To think that I woke up feeling at ease today 🙂 After I took a shower, we ate the rest of our food (natto, onigiris, cucumber, and tomato) and took a short walk near our hotel to admire the grand Tokyo Bay. We then packed “everything” and took the Yamanote line to Tokyo Station and got on the Narita Express to the airport. Even though we reserved a ticket for the 12:02pm train, we boarded the 11:30am, and when the attendant came to check our tickets, we just let him know. The Narita Express normally costs $23, but it is included on the JR pass.

Checking in went smoothly (they weighed our bags and both were less than 15lbs each. At security, that was when I noticed to my horror that I couldn’t find the iPhone -__- I used the iPad to locate it and it was still at the Intercontinental Tokyo Bay. We called from a pay phone to the hotel and they confirmed that it was there. We’ll have to have them ship it internationally…which negates some of the cost savings that I hold so dear (but shouldn’t). I could have sworn that I hadn’t taken the iPhone out since going to Odaiba the night before and it would have still been in the top compartment of my backpack. This isn’t the worst thing that could have happened, but it does show that I need to be more careful and really look when we are verifying that we have everything before we leave a certain area. 

We then went airport lounge hunting. The first lounge (ANA lounge satellite 4) had permanently closed but Google never updated that. The second lounge (ANA lounge satellite 5) didn’t accept priority pass because they said that it was too congested…sigh, and at this point, I just felt pretty dejected after all that had happened. Thankfully, the third time’s the charm. ANA lounge satellite 2 did accept priority pass. I was at first skeptical of this lounge since the reviews were pretty bad. Those were mostly because PP members couldn’t get in, but they did accept this time! The lounge had ramen, udon, soba, yakisoba, curry and rice, salad, sandwiches, drinks, etc. The noodles could be ordered either via online or at the counter. I got two ramen and one udon while husband got two soba noodles. I was so happy that we finally got ramen and udon noodles on this trip and didn’t even have to pay for them 🙂

We left the lounge around 3:15pm to buy Tokyo Bananas at the duty free shop…and they were sold out 🙁 We tried to check another shop but they were also out. We didn’t want to miss our flight, so we just got Tokyo Banana pies and a bunch of different flavored Kit Kats totaling 5100 yen to finish off our foreign currency. At the end, we didn’t actually have to rush so hard as our flight was delayed and boarding didn’t even start till 4:20pm. Seemed like a lot of things went not as expected today. It wasn’t the worst thing since we didn’t miss our flight and no one got hurt. My friend has said that if a problem can be solved by money, it’s not that bad of a problem. Our trip went a little sideways at the end, but I’m still glad for it…and glad that we will be home soon. In the meantime as I am writing this, the little blessings are that we have a whole row to ourselves again on the flight back and I was able to pack us some food from the lounge. It’ll be 8:30am when we land…back to reality.

Cost: ship iPhone $31 (thankful it wasn’t too expensive) + Duty free items 5100 yen ~$39 = total $70

Wed, 2/15/23, Day 10: Intercontinental Tokyo Bay, Rainbow Bridge, and Odaiba

When we woke up today, white flakes of snow were coming down. It was beautiful, but I am glad that today was a travel day. We had 5 days in Kyoto, but our round trip flight is based in Tokyo. We bought some food at the train platform for 331 yen and took the Shinkansen to Shinagawa station and then took the local JR Yamanote line 3 stops to our hotel: Intercontinental Tokyo Bay. We got this as a free night courtesy of the IHG credit card (free for first year and 150k sign up bonus for $3k spend, then downgraded the card to $0 annual fee). It was a fancy hotel that we probably wouldn’t have stayed in if not for the credit card. Our window had a beautiful view of Tokyo Bay. We checked in around 1:30pm even though check in was supposed to be at 3pm, so I think we interrupted their cleaning schedule 🙁

We went out to explore and walked over the Rainbow Bridge to Daiba Park and had our last dinner at Yoshinoya (again) for 1888 yen. We went to Odaiba Seaside Park where we got another vending machine drink for 140 yen and looked at their Statue of Liberty. We were about to cross the Rainbow Bridge to get back to our hotel, but it closed to pedestrians at 5:30 (it was 5:34). We bought a little more food at the supermarket for 692 yen before taking the monorail for 330 yen each back to our hotel.

Anson still wanted to walk a little more, so we went out and explored a lighted up area before working out at their very small gym (it was just two rooms that they probably tore down the wall in between and put a couple machines and weights in. It wasn’t even on the elevator map and we had to search for it on the 8th floor. Afterwards, I took a bath for the first time in years! It was relaxing and a good way to end the trip for our last night in Japan (ohh, how the next day was much less enjoyable than I expected…)

Cost: train platform food 331 yen, Yoshinoya 1888 yen, vending machine lemon drink 140 yen, supermarket 692 yen, monorail 660 yen = 3711 yen (~$28)

Tues, 2/14/23, Day 9: Nishiki Market, Pig Cafe, and Kiyomizu-Dera

This was the first morning in Kyoto that I did not go to the convenience store to get food for the day. We paid 220 yen each to take the local subway which was not covered by the JR pass to central Kyoto. I made a 10am reservation at Mipig Cafe where these cute little micro pigs just swarmed us and laid down on us for 30 mins. I think they just wanted us for body heat. There were many other animal cafes to choose from and some were probably cheaper, but I wanted to go to a cafe where the animals really wanted to be near you. It may have been a little overpriced at 3520 yen total (~$27) and it didn’t come with a drink as advertised, but I LOVED this!

We then proceeded to Nishiki Market where we got squid on a stick for 200 yen, soy bean cream croquette for 350 yen, tamagoyaki for 450 yen (I was thinking of going to place advertised online, but those sold for 780 yen and I didn’t know how long it had been out), and a beef and potato croquette for 300 yen. We then found a Lawson and got some more food for the day for 903 yen. 

We walked thru Hanamikoji Street to Maruyama Park where it started snowing! This was my first time being in snow fall, and it was beautiful (and cold). We then went over to the Gion District where many people dressed up in kimonos and yakutas and we even spotted a geisha. We paid 400 yen each to go to Kiyomizu-Dera. Being that we went around 2pm, this place was pretty crowded. Near the end, there was a restaurant that served udon/buckwheat noodles and we were able to sit on tatami mats. We shared a buckwheat noodle w/ fried tofu bowl for 800 yen. It was nice to be able to sit down and have something hot.

We ended the night by walking back to the hotel and only went out again (so cold!) to get more food from Lawson (I got another 3pk of natto) and spent 1527 yen. We were debating on whether we wanted to stop in Nagoya tomorrow on the way back to Tokyo, but decided we can just go early back to Tokyo to explore. Our vacation is almost coming to an end!

Cost: Subway 440 yen, Mipig Cafe 3520 yen, Nishiki Market 1300 yen, Lawson 903 yen, Kiyumizu-Dera 800 yen, Soba lunch 800 yen, Lawson 1527 yen = 9290 yen (~$71)

Mon, 2/13/23, Day 8: Conveyor Belt Sushi and Fushimi Inari Taisha

Since we are visiting Japan during the winter time, a thing we have to be mindful of is rain/snow. Thankfully, the only day that it rained a good amount has been on our travel day from Tokyo to Kyoto. I have been constantly checking the weather report. It rained a little in the morning, but it “should” be clear the rest of the day. 

In the morning, we did some much needed laundry (300 yen for washing and 100 yen for drying). I bought 3 onigiris, a sandwich, and natto (yes, I’m a fan!) from Lawson. We had our leftover onigiris and some veggies for breakfast (we wanted to fill up a little so that we didn’t spend too much) before having brunch at Sushi No Musashi at 10:45am. This was our first experience at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. The plates are different colors which indicate the price. Blue with white centers were 160 yen and red with white centers were 257 yen. There were others, but those were too rich for our tastes 🙂 We had 17 plates (14 blue and 3 red) which totaled to 3020 yen (~$23). This is soooo much cheaper than in the states where the cheapest plate is $3.50!

We stayed at the hotel for a few hours. I took advantage of the free coffee at reception while catching up on 2.5 days of blogging. We then headed out on the Nara line to Fushimi Inari and got there around 4pm. We wanted to avoid the crowds and do a night hike…though there were still a good amount of people there. The place was beautiful with the 1000 orange torii leading up to the top. The loop was 2.8 miles, and we of course wanted to complete the whole thing, though I think we made a detour into a residential area where I finally got a drink (Sparkling Peach drink for 100 yen) from the countless vending machines all over Japan. We decided to walk back to the hotel and were able to catch a glimpse of the local areas of Kyoto. We got groceries (they actually accepted card) at KOHYO, and headed back to the hotel. I found out that I got a blister on my right pinky toe =/ tomorrow is gonna be fun…

Cost: Laundry 400 yen, Lawson 1231 yen, Conveyer belt sushi 3020 yen, vending machine drink 100 yen, KOHYO groceries 1034 yen = 5785 yen (~$44.16)

Sun, 2/12/23, Day 7: Nara

I splurged a little at FamilyMart and Lawson 🙂 We left around 11:30am and took the JR Nara line for 45-50 mins to Nara. We passed by a few temples along the way, but the highlight of course were all the deer that roam around. You can buy deer cookies for 200 yen to feed them. The deer near the front don’t really care for the cookies, but the further in we went, the more the deer responded to them. I am so glad I bought the cookies 🙂 I found out that I should probably break them apart and feed them slowly. I even got them to feed out of my hand. They are honestly such gentle creatures. Some people had warned us that they could be aggressive, but I didn’t really see it. When l showed them my hands indicating that I had no more food, they left me alone. This was honestly such a fun experience!

We then hiked up to Mt. Wakakusa where we had a great view of the city. We went to the busy district and bought some freshly made takoyaki: 8 for 400 yen! It was nice to eat something hot after a long cold day. We then got back on the train, headed towards Fushimi Inari for a night hike. The Nara line we took was a rapid line that wasn’t going to make a stop there, so we would have to get off at Uji and take the local Nara line. We then decided to not go when we saw that tomorrow wasn’t going to rain at night, and the place was pretty close to Kyoto. My legs were already so tired, and I knew I wouldn’t enjoy such an iconic place even if we went. Instead, we got back to Kyoto and bought actual vegetables at a supermarket (cash only). We got lettuce, oranges, tomatoes, and a cucumber, and we ate the rest of our convenience store food in the comfort of our cozy (coughcrampedcough) hotel.

Side note: 1. It is considered rude to eat while walking. Usually, people will find a place to sit. If it is near a stall, it’s okay to stand near there to eat 2. It is hard to find trash cans anywhere in the public areas of Japan. We only found one after entering the train station.

Cost: Lawson and FamilyMart 2861 yen, Deer cookies 200 yen, Takoyaki 400 yen, Groceries 879 yen = 4340 yen (~$33.20)

Sat, 2/11/23, Day 6: Arashiyama

I woke up early today (and everyday) and walked to 7-11, Lawson, and FamilyMart to get a variety of food for a day trip to Arashiyama. We left around 9:30am and traveled on the JR San-In line. 

I had wanted us to go earlier so that there would be fewer crowds at the Bamboo Forest. I’m glad we did that! We then hiked up to Arashiyama Park and then had the “great” idea to hike to Mr. Ogura. It rained yesterday, and the trail is not really marked and had eroded over time. A previous hiker had marked the trees with red tape, and thank goodness for that. There were many a time we kicked up a rock and it would go falling down into an endless abyss and I could imagine us doing the same thing. We had to hold on to tree branches/roots to keep from tumbling down the side of the mountain just like the rocks. We lived to tell the tale though! We saw a small Inari Shrine at the top in addition to Mr. Ogura.

As a celebration for not dying, we walked along the Saga Toriimoto Preserved Street which showed the calming rural side of Japan. We paid 500 yen each to enter the Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple where we were able to take many nice pictures of their own bamboo forest and to avoid the crowds at the Arashiyama one. I thought we were going to head back, but we last minute decided to head up to Ayuchaya Hiranoya where I had researched is a Japanese style restaurant with tatami mats. We were served cherry blossom tea and ordered their winter appetizer special consisting of matcha and candied yuzu (only 880 yen!) We had a whole room to ourselves for most of our time, and the couple that came later helped us take some nice pictures to document this great experience!)

We then went to the more busy parts of town by crossing the Togetsu-Kyo Bridge where I bought a strawberry red bean mochi for 250 yen (other places were selling it for 350 yen. The monkey park had already closed (sad), but I think we were able to hear them at times? Wish we had more time here, but after looking at the Kimono Forest, it was time to go. We traveled back on the San-In line and had dinner at Yoshinoya again (this time, using the English menu. Anson had a large sukiyaki with side salad and I had a large beef bowl with miso soup). 

Cost: Convenience store food 2207 yen, temple entrance 1000 yen, Ayuchaya Hiranoya 880 yen, Mochi 250 yen, Yoshinoya 1641 yen, Harves 537 yen = 6515 yen (~$50)

Fri, 2/10/23, Day 5: Taking the Bullet Train to Kyoto

Today was mostly a travel day (and happy it was at it was mostly snowing/ raining all day). We worked out at the gym again before stuffing ourselves at the Hilton breakfast buffet again at the O Lounge (my favorite food there was the salmon salad and I’ve acquired a liking to the Japanese dish, natto: fermented soybeans that are a little slimy). We had late check-out because of gold status and left after noon. 

Our JR pass was activated today, and I had a little trouble on how to use it at first. For the local trains, you do not need a reservation. I didn’t understand that and was trying to book for a few mins at the kiosk. With local trains, you can just use the JR pass to get thru the gate. We took the Keiyo line to Tokyo station and then booked the bullet train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo to Kyoto. There are three types of trains: fast, medium, and slow. With the JR pass, we can’t do the fastest train, so our ride was 2 hr 45 mins (fast would have been 2 hr 15 mins. The train ride was very smooth and our seats spacious. We had a lot of room to put our luggage in front of us and also to tilt our seats back.

We arrived around 4:30-5pm and went to our hotel: Ibis Styles Kyoto Station which was directly in front of the station. Had a little trouble finding the entrance, but I think we’re just bad at finding things. There was a 2000 yen Kyoto accommodation tax we needed to pay for the stay. They provided some small complimentary items at the front of reception and I signed up for their list to get free coffee/tea during our stay. This place has to be the smallest hotel room we’ve ever been in, but it think is a small (literally) price to pay for the convenience.

For dinner, we went to Yoshinoya. We had trouble and were stumbling around with the menu as it was in Japanese (later found out too late that they had an English menu). Compared to the states, I can see how they try to cater to people’s preferences. In the US, they have fried egg rolls and cheesecake. In Japan, they have sukiyaki and miso soup. They also didn’t take credit card so we had to pay with cash.

Later, we walked around the mall right I front of the Kyoto Station and found the conveyor belt sushi place I want to go to on Monday when it will be raining. We also checked out their supermarket where they had a limited selection of fruits and vegetables. We’ll go to a different place in the next couple days to get some much needed healthier food.

Cost: JR pass prepaid $415 on Klook, Kyoto accommodation tax 2000 yen + Yoshinoya dinner 1850 yen = 3850 yen (~$444)

Thurs, 2/9/23, Day 4: DisneySea

Coming to DisneySea was the reason why I booked us at the Hilton Tokyo Bay, and the day has arrived! If it were up to me, I would have wanted to be there at rope drop, but I have to take in to consideration the husband 🙂 We stuffed ourselves at the breakfast buffet again, then took the shuttle to Maihama Station and walked 15 mins to the entrance of DisneySea. I had booked tickets using Klook, and they sent me QR codes that just needed to be scanned at the entrance. After going in, you can scan your passes into the app to book standby passes and entry requests for shows…but I don’t know if it was because we went in late (only an hour) that everything was booked or maybe it wasn’t set up? I had done fast passes when I did Disneyworld, but since the pandemic, things have changed as fast passes have been done away. You of course could pay extra to ride a ride (+10?!?!), but…really?

This place was magnificent to look at. It’s no wonder people say that this park is the best one in the Disney collection. We didn’t do some of the more famous rides like Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania, and Soarin’ partially because the lines were so long, but also cuz we’ve already done those at California Disneyland. We did 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Nemo & Friends SeaRider, Aquatopia, DisneySea Electric Railway, DisneySea Transit Steamer, Big City Vehicles, Raging Spirits, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, and The Magic Lamp Theater. I was sad that we couldn’t ride the Venetian Gondolas because of the wind, but we took a picture on one. Everything was in Japanese, so it wasn’t as easy to understand what was going on.

It seemed like there were a lot of high schoolers there as they were dressed in uniform. I don’t know how the girls in their short skirts were able to stand the cold, and yes, it started getting windy and COLD! I’m glad I brought my heavy jacket, scarf, gloves and hat, but my face and hands were starting to freeze around 5pm. We took rest at a restaurant and ordered a hot oolong tea and clam chowder to warm up while we waited for the night performance “Believe! Sea of Dreams” at 7:40pm. I first was a little reluctant to go because of the cold and being tired from the day and thought we could just watch the show on YouTube. I was a little dejected since we couldn’t watch the other shows that you had to reserve on the app for (will probably find those online)…all of it was either booked or I’m just app illiterate, but I’m glad Anson convinced us to stay. We had a decent viewing point right of the “stage”. The performance was 1/2 long and featured Disney characters from Moana, The Little Mermaid, and Coco. I even got a little teary watching it. There’s a reason why people love Disney and I’m glad there is still a little bit of magic left.

Side note: 1. Does everything in the convenience stores/supermarkets have to be wrapped in plastic? Even fruits and veggies? 2. I love heated toilet seats…

Cost: Prepaid on Klook for DisneySea tickets ~$68 each + Oolong Tea and Clam Chowder 680 yen ($5.23) = $141.23

Wed, 2/8/23, Day 3: Shibuya City and Ikspiari

I thought I wanted to take it easy today? 

Totally suffering from jetlag. Woke up at 2am and have been up ever since. We went to the gym at 6:15am (no music, everyone working out in masks, surprised so many people here so early in the morning), then went to breakfast (complimentary of gold status) at the O Lounge. Breakfast…was…AWESOME! How is this even considered just a breakfast? They had a salad bar, congee, pasta, fish, various breads, pancakes, omelet station, BBQ meatballs, various fruits/drinks, etc. We weren’t hungry at all afterwards, skipped lunch, and still 70% full at dinner.

After a few mistakes, we took the Hilton free shuttle to Maihama station. We were packed like sardines on the bus 🙂 After reaching the station, we decided to just pay for individual fares (though we overpaid by 80 yen/pp) since the SUICA card cost 500 yen and it doesn’t seem like we’ll use it after today as tomorrow is Disneysea and our JR pass activates on Friday. 400 yen to take the Keiyo line to Tokyo station, and then the Yamanote line to Shibuya!

The station took us directly to Shibuya Crossing: the most famous and busiest pedestrian intersection in the world. We explored many of the different shops but spent most of our time at the Hands store (one stop shop full of products unique to Japan) where we played some games and Anson bought a puzzle. We visited the Pokemon Center at Nintendo Tokyo. Anson most of all enjoyed the PARCO outdoor rooftop. Seems like the new buildings are required to have spaces of greenery and was a nice reprieve from the bustling city. I bought a milk tea for 156 yen from a local convenience store (this is gonna be a pattern :), and then went to the JR office to get our JR pass.

We headed back to the Disney area and spent the rest of the night exploring their downtown, Ikspiari, and eating at a family friendly Italian restaurant called Saizeriya (I know…why the heck am I eating at an Italian place in Japan?…but the locals like it and the food was inexpensive). My credit card declined here and we had to pay with cash (1400 yen), but it worked again when we finally found the supermarket to buy wipes and oranges.

Today felt pretty long. I think we feel a little out of our element navigating public transportation and Anson feels a little uncomfortable not always being able to be understood…we’ll get the hang of it in a few days.

Side note: 1. Since it’s a city and buildings have many floors (duh), it took a while to understand that navigating to my starred locations on Google maps might take me to the vicinity, but I’d have to find the building floor the place is on.  2. Is it because no one wants to stand out that everyone is still wearing a mask…even outside? Maybe it’s also cuz of the dense population… Yes, we will conform to the culture out of respect, but it sometimes feels like a bit much…plus my ears are hurting 🙁

Cost: 1400+156+480+480+400+400+1090=4406 yen (~$34)

Tues, 2/7/23, Day 2: Narita airport to Hilton Tokyo Bay

The bad thing about traveling internationally is losing a day before or after the trip. Our flight departed yesterday at 10:10am and we arrived at 2:05pm today, Tuesday. Also, Narita airport is pretty far from Tokyo city center, so today is pretty much going to be another travel day for us. You got to hand it to the Japanese though…they got efficiency down. After we deplaned, we were all herded to complete all 3 different sections: quarantine, immigration, and customs declaration. I filled out the Visit Japan Web form a few days ago and received a form for quarantine and QR codes for the other 2. For quarantine, they just wanted us to show the blue form on our phones, customs was the longest and that still only took about 20 mins (we showed our QR codes and then they took our pictures and fingerprinted us), and customs, they scanned our passports and QR codes and we just clicked okay on the screen.

We had first planned on eating at the airport lounge at Narita, but found out that they are only for departures. We were only able to go to one lounge, the IASS Executive Lounge, and that one only served drinks. It was still a nice reprieve to fill up our water bottle, and drink some orange juice and coffee while Anson finished installing my data SIM card (didn’t know my phone could be sooo fast), but we probably stayed there for less than 10 mins. We went to our first convenience store, Lawson, and got some onigiris, a teriyaki chicken bowl, yakitori stick, and a salad for dinner.

I didn’t know how much time it would take to get thru customs and how long we would be at the lounge, but since it was pretty quick, we decided to take the Disney limousine bus to our hotel as it was the most convenient form of transportation directly to our hotel’s doorsteps. It cost 1900 yen (~$15) each and the last bus was at 4:10pm. If we had taken the Narita express train to Tokyo station and then transfer to the Keiyo line, it would have cost $24/pp.

I used 99k in points for our 3 night stay at Hilton Tokyo Bay near Disney. We’re going to Disneysea the day after tomorrow, but I thought it would be best to have a home base in one place rather than switching hotels in between and we’ll just use public transportation to go into the city tomorrow. Since I have gold status, we were upgraded to a preferred oceanview room overlooking the serene Tokyo bay and get complimentary breakfast (more on that tomorrow…it’s good lol).

We were going to walk 40 mins to downtown Disney and sightsee and get groceries, but decided to take it easy this first night so that we wouldn’t get sick. We explored the hotel (they have a Lawson on the first floor!), had a romantic stroll right near the waterfront, and listened/partially watched the Disneysea night performance from the outside (excited for Thursday!).

Side notes: 1. top notch efficiency in loading us on to the airport bus 2. In the bathroom, heated toilet seat/bidet and section of mirror over the sink that does not become foggy even after showering.

Cost: Lawson 1800 + bus to Disney 3800 = 5600 yen (~$43)