On May 9, Ritsuko and I returned from our 2017 Japan Trip. Everything pretty much came together as planned, and aside from both of us coming down with colds in the last week, there were no unpleasant surprises.
At Chicago O'Hare, waiting to board our flight to Tokyo
Flying in economy class for 13 hours is not a pleasant experience, but it was tolerable. This year, we flew on Japan Airlines instead of ANA, on which we have flown on our previous three trips. JAL's widebody 777's are set up with a 3-3-3 seating configuration in the economy cabin as opposed to the 3-4-3 setup on ANA. Also, there is slightly more leg room on JAL. These small differences made for a huge improvement in overall comfort.
Improvements in comfort notwithstanding, by the time that we arrived at Narita, Tokyo International, I felt like I was some kind of creature that had been squeezed out of a tube, and was attempting to regain human form as I slithered into the jetway. Things got better after that. Immigration, customs, and the JR East office were not congested, and we were quickly processed, received our JR Rail Passes, and were on our way to Tokyo via the Narita Express train (NEX).
I'll try to fill in the details on some of the highlights of the trip later, but here is the a broad overview of where we went and where we stayed:
We spent the first night near Tokyo Station across the street from the Yaesu North Entrance at Hotel Ryumeikan Tokyo. We also stayed here on the first night of our 2016 trip. The hotel is secure, clean, and well appointed. Although it might seem rather pricey for the size of room, given the location where most hotels in the area cost double or more, it is a bargain. If you need to depart Tokyo Station early in the morning, the convenience of being across the street from one of the entrances near the Shinkansen platforms is worth the extra expense.
The next morning, we traveled by train to Kagoshima, where we spent seven nights in Kagoshima city at the Silk Inn Kagoshima, about 2 blocks from Kagoshima-Chuo Station. Booking a hotel near the station for seven contiguous nights was a challenge this year. This was our first stay at the Silk Inn, and we were quite happy with the hotel. The location was good, the hotel was clean and quiet, and the staff was excellent. We will definitely stay there again. During our stay in Kagoshima, we traveled by train several times to the north into rural Kagoshima Prefecture, where we got together with several family members. We also visited the newly constructed museum on the East China Sea coast in the town of Hashima that is dedicated to the Satsuma Students and their voyage to England in the 1860's. Another highlight of our stay in the Kagoshima area was a return visit to the Uenohara Jomon Period Archaeological Museum and the Kagoshima Prefecture Archaeology Center in Uenohara.
Bob and Ritsuko with Osaka Castle in the background - May 2017
From Kagoshima, we traveled by Shinkansen to Kyoto, where we spent six nights, staying at the Daiwa Roynet Hotel Kyoto-Hachijoguchi. This was our first time to stay in this hotel, and we were very pleased. It is a well appointed hotel located a couple of blocks south of Kyoto Station, and a block and a half north of the Karasuma Subway Line Kujo Station. The room was large enough so that we were not tripping over one another, and we had adequate space for luggage. The hotel serves a super breakfast buffet every morning that includes Japanese and western breakfast items. Last year, we left Kyoto a couple of weeks before the new Kyoto Rail Museum opened. This year, visiting the rail museum was on my must see/must do list. Our stay in Kyoto was during Golden Week, therefore, with the exception of the Kyoto Rail Museum and Nishiki Market, and other popular shopping areas, we avoided the more popular tourist destinations in order to avoid the crowds, opting instead for sites less visited or more remote.
Mount Fuji viewed from the Shinkansen en route to Tokyo
The last leg of our journey took us back to Tokyo for the last week of our trip. For the third consecutive trip, we stayed in Asakusa near Sensoji Temple at a small residence hotel, B:Conte Asakusa. Ritsuko and I love staying in Asakusa. Although it does get rather crowded at times, especially on holidays, it is a laid back area with a rich history and lot of great small restaurants. We didn't do a lot during this leg of our trip. We visited some familiar haunts, ate some great food, and mostly hung out and relaxed as we prepared for the journey home.
Overall, it was a great trip, and although we just returned, we are already thinking about our next Japan trip, whenever that will be.