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)

Mon, 2/6/23, Day 1: a Zipair review

We woke up at 6am, called an Uber at 7:45am, was a little apprehensive since Uber wasn’t updating the driver’s status, but he arrived in 9 mins. It’s been 3 years since we’ve used Uber, and from our home to SJC cost $21 now (used to be $13?). Zipair is a low budget airline, and if you go in knowing that, I think it’s pretty smooth. The counter was in the domestic terminal instead of the international. There were a good amount of agents checking us in. There was no automatic online checkin since they weigh your bags at the counter. I thought they would weigh our backpacks since carryons were stated to have to be less than 15lbs, but they didn’t even ask (We’re traveling just with backpacks and no check in baggage…we didn’t bring much clothing since we figured we’re probably going to buy some clothes at Uniqlo…tax free shopping for foreigners!). We don’t have Global Entry (just TSA precheck), so we had to use the regular line for security. Anson of course wanted a pat down since he doesn’t like going thru the naked body scanner…sigh.

The Club SJC airport lounge was directly in front of our gate A15, so it was nice to be able to relax and grab free breakfast before our flight. We specifically got the Capital One Venture X card for zero foreign transaction fees and Priority Pass lounge access. I first was disappointed in the food that was out, but then I found out that there was a QR code at each table where we could order hot food. We got scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, potatoes, yogurt, oatmeal, fruit, blueberry muffins and coffee. Anson says I have no shame, but I packed our leftovers to bring on our flight so that we wouldn’t have to buy food on our flight (again, this is a budget airline so you would have to pay for anything extra like baggage, food, seating, etc). They say that international lounges are much better than American ones. Too bad we forgot to refill our water bottle after security and will have to pay for some on the flight…grr.

We were automatically assigned seats 30A and 30C with 30B, the middle seat, empty. I’m guessing that since the plane is only half full, they assigned it so that we could have the row to ourselves. I was afraid that we’d be separated for the flight, but I guess since we were booked together, they usually keep people together (?) There are many empty rows and some people are just switching to those seats to have a whole row to themselves, but when Anson sat somewhere else, they kicked him out -__-. You can purchase food/goods before your flight and you’ll get your stuff pretty quickly after take off. Afterwards, they open it up for shopping for everyone else. We bought 3 bottles of water for $1.92 each…our own fault 🙂 Note that both my devices (my Samsung Galaxy 8 and IPad Air 2) couldn’t connect to the Wi-Fi (even without connection, they do have a small library of movies and music to stream), but I wasn’t able to order food without Wi-Fi. Anson’s ZTE Axon Mini 7 was able to connect (though spotty at times), so he had to order. At least I downloaded a bunch of movies beforehand. Update 2 hours in…I’m connected! There are outlets at the front of each seat so you don’t have to worry about your bad battery life. The windows don’t have shades, but dimmers! So cool!

Cost: Zipair tickets (this was an amazing price…$469 round trip nonstop from SJC…normally it is over $1000 for one person) $939.22 + 3 bottles of water 750 yen ($5.76) = $944.98

Sun, 2/5/23, 8pm t-minus 12 hours

I woke up at around 4:30am today cuz I’m just too excited to sleep. We went to church today and talked to Emily and Sharon during the break between Sunday Service and Sunday School. We walked to Costco to try to get a price match for my boots, but since it was over 30 days, they would only let me buy a new pair and return my old one (?). We decided not to do it and just eat the $10 difference because that is just such a waste in resources…wouldn’t it make more sense for me to just take back my old shoes instead of me getting a brand new pair? We then went to Great America and took advantage (16th time on the 2023 pass) of the dining pass and ate at the Sierra Creek Lodge. We got a cheeseburger w/ fries. They have a salad bar with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and pickles, and sparkling water. We went on the 3D ride Mass Effect. There was hardly anyone at GA because of the rain, but I kinda like it that way since you don’t have to contend with crowds. Took a nap and then we’ve finished most of our food in the fridge. Gonna go out for a walk and then probably try to sleep by 10pm…we’re gonna have a long day tomorrow 🙂

Sat, 2/4/23, 10pm t-minus 36 hours

Japan is really happening…it’s been a while since we’ve done an international trip. Last time was Barcelona in 2019, then pandemic happened and we’ve mostly only have done road trips or flights to LA. I’m excited yet nervous at the same time. Apprehensive since Japan is known for being more homogenous and not knowing English very well, but we’ll have data and will probably survive using google maps and translate. I bought the JR pass, Disneysea tickets, and a data SIM card. I exchanged $200 to yen, but if we need more, we’ll bring out debit cards to exchange for currency. Anson and I are only going with backpacks and they can only weigh 15lbs if we don’t wanna pay for the carry on. Yes, we’re a little crazy 🙂 but I really believe it’s doable. We probably won’t bring too much clothing besides what we wear on to the plane (granted, I’m planning on wearing 3 pairs of pants), and we’re planning on buying clothes at Uniqlo since they are everywhere and foreigners just need to show their passports to get tax free shopping for goods. I applied for the Capital One Venture X card so that we can have food at the airport lounges before and after our flights.

Thanksgiving, COVID, and holiday cheer!

Like every year, we went down to LA on Thanksgiving day Thursday to avoid traffic that is normally on Wednesday night. Traffic was light and we got to my parents’ place a little after lunch. My mom and I went to Sam Woo BBQ to get our customary chicken and duck (waited 40 mins in line), and at night, we drove them to the Wongs’ house and had both sets of parents there for the first time since at least 2018. The rest of our visit was comprised of going to the Huntington Library, Botanical Gardens, and Art Museum twice; once with my mom and once with Cindy, going to CCAC for church service and getting an impromptu tour of their new and improved A/V control room, eating lunch at The Galleria with Gina and Weber, and hanging out and catching up with Crescentia at a local Starbucks.

When we started coming back on Monday (avoid the bad traffic on Sunday), we started to feel a little congested/coughing/sore throat…I felt like I probably had a sore throat maybe a day or two before too, but when in the car, it started to hit much harder. On Tuesday, we tested negative, and we never had any really severe symptoms, so we thought we had a cold the whole time. We still knew that we shouldn’t be around people, so had to cancel on worship team, Family Fellowship, and choir practice/porridge pop-up (which me and Jean were supposed to be heading up). 

The weird thing was…we didn’t seem to be getting better, so we just thought we should test on more time the following Monday…and tested positive for COVID. This was kind of a shock to us since we didn’t have a fever or loss of taste/smell, etc. Since we did an antigen test, we wanted to make sure, so we did a PCR test on Friday which confirmed our results. It was only on the following Wednesday that I finally tested negative…hooray! I needed to go into work on Thursday to do a small check run and get the mail…and go to Great America to get turkey breast w/ stuffing and pot roast w/ mashed potatoes…hey, I had been cooped up at home for almost 3 weeks…thankful for my company that let me WFH (and also for COVID sick time).

Anson was finally feeling better by Friday…so…we were able to go to Pure’s holiday party! It was located at a sports complex called The Plex in San Jose, which took us 35 mins to get there because of rush hour traffic. They had free buffet dinner consisting of a charcuterie board and all ingredients for various burgers and tacos, free drinks on tap or made to order from a bartender, all you can play arcade games, and roller skating (I liked this a little better than ice staking since I don’t have to curve my feet inwards and it isn’t cold). Like ice skating though, I’m super bad at it and it’s like I’m learning for the first time every time…but I promised Anson that I’d do it…I’m glad we went as the holidays are always a great time for fun and celebration. 

We’ll probably do a zoom dinner with Anson’s parents and my parents at some point since we won’t be going down for Christmas, Aaron’s family might come up for the week to stay at our place, making Anson go to Gen on one of our holiday days off, and of course, Winterfest at Great America (cuz hubby got free annual passes from Blue Board…such a good worker)!