Travel tips for Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka

Hand washing/mouth rinsing station at a temple

 

A game developer recently asked me if I had any travel tips for Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Since I recently went on a trip to those three places with my mother and have been to Kyoto twice now for BitSummit, I was able to write up quite a bit of advice. Since I went to the trouble of writing it all out, I figured I’d blog it so I won’t find myself writing it all out twice.

Copy-paste, ho!

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It’s Been Awhile

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve had a busy and stressful couple of months. I’m now on vacation in Florida, halfway around the world from home.

Getting Here

The plane trip was terrible. I bought my tickets from United against my better judgement because they were the cheapest; I’ve never had a problem-free ride with them. This time seals my resolution to never buy tickets from them again. To be fair, some of the problems were thanks to weather, over which they had no control. However, I wouldn’t have been in the places with weather problems if they hadn’t first cancelled my original flight because they had no plane to put us on (it never arrived and they had no backup) and then insisted on getting me on the first flight out instead of just letting me overnight in Tokyo. In Tokyo, I have an old friend who would probably have let me stay at her place. Instead, I ended up having to stay a night in the Newark airport, dehydrated from running around from counter to counter between flights up to that point with no chance to really take care of myself. To top things off, there were almost never service representatives at the United desks, which meant I had to bug one of their partner airlines to get taken care of.

A couple of good things came out of all that, though. One is that I found out that Air Canada has really friendly customer service people, both on and off of their planes. Another is that I met some great people among the other customers. I had some wonderful chats with random people, used my silliness skillz and ability to speak Japanese to help keep some kids occupied while their stressed parents took care of reaccommodation, and sat next to an awesome older gentleman on the first flight I took.

He was a Japanese man who had been living in Canada for a very long time — longer than I’ve lived on this Earth, in fact. His English, therefore, was excellent. He had had an interest in visiting North America from a young age. For his first trip over in 1978, he couldn’t find a flight to the exact place he wanted to go, so it was suggested that he take a flight to Anchorage. From there, he was told, he could easily get a flight down to Seattle. (He didn’t say how much luck he had with that, as our conversation turned other directions, but that would certainly be true today.) Eventually, on a stay in Canada, he met and fell in love with a woman from Taiwan and ended up settling in Canada because the only language they had in common was English. xD

Our topics of discussion varied widely, though I think bilingualism and piano music took up the biggest chunks of our conversation. We learned a few things from each other, though. I now know what the Japanese equivalent of chicken soup is for when you’re sick. He and his wife have hopefully checked out Kyle Landry’s channel on YouTube by now. Talking to him helped keep the flight from getting dull.

I didn’t get all that stressed while I was traveling. I wasn’t doing so hot when I was at the worst part of being dehydrated and hungry with most of the shops closed in Newark, but a very friendly TSA agent pointed me to a Subway in a different terminal and that sandwich and 40 oz. water made everything better.

Anyway, I made it.

I’m spending my first few days with my grandmother, who lives here in Orlando. She’s getting up there in age, and although she’s been able to retain her house with help from friends and family, she has a lot of health problems and can’t maintain the house very well. So I’ve been helping her with cleaning and just keeping her company. Not terribly exciting, but very nice.

Here soon, two friends of mine will arrive from Alaska. When they get here I’ll be transferring from Grandma’s house to the hotel we have reserved. It’s near Disney World, where we will be spending five days of our time here. Madmoose and I are big fans of the Disney theme parks, and are looking forward to having enough time to see all the Disney World parks in one go.

Ragingmoose, Madmoose’s wife and the second person coming to meet me here, is one of those silly people who believes the Disney parks are for kids, so it’s taken us some years to convince her that this big expensive trip is worth it and that she should come. We tried a few years ago, but she said no at the last minute. This time, when we started making our tentative plans, she said that even if she decided not to go (or was unable to because of failure to get time off as a junior employee) that Madmoose could still go without her. That was good to hear, but he and I are both very glad she is coming, too. :D It wouldn’t be as much fun without her.

Aside from spending time at Disney, there will be some more time spent with my locally-located family and some time spent just putzing around Florida. Ragingmoose and I will both have some homework to do, so there is that, too. We have tickets to Arabian Nights and Medieval Times, since neither Ragingmoose nor I have been to any such dinner shows.

On a more personal level, I am looking forward to access to peanut butter, almond butter, beef jerky, and sunflower seeds. As well as not wondering what menus say (or assume you know). I already miss the cleanliness of Japanese airport commodes.

Surprisingly, I also miss the ability to be understood in Japanese. That flight from Toronto to Newark was probably the most dangerous flight I’ve ever taken, those pilots did an amazing job getting us there safely, and I felt like I was unable to express my gratitude properly because the words I would have used in Japanese just don’t exist in English.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-3

avatarMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them seperately, as they were meant to be. And hey, this segment isn’t as long as the others have been. Whee!

On to Kushiro

Originally published on October 16, 2005.

When the alarm went off, I reset it for 4:35. When it went off again, I reset it for 4:40. Then I got up. I did morning things, then went down to the lobby. Before checking out, I got on line and checked some Neopets stuff, as well as sending an e-mail to everyone to say, “Yo, I am alive.” It seemed like my contacts on gmail did not include someone, and it wasn’t until I got to the part about the hotel key card in writing this that I realized that for some reason, Zeal was totally not on there. Sorry, Zeal. m(_ _)m Did Gokuiroth tell you? :s

Anyway, I checked out in time to catch the 5:40 AM shuttle to the airport. No lateness again for me! Everything happened smoothly. The young woman at the ticketing counter seemed to be in training, but there was no slowdown of services. Even if there had been, I would have been fine with it. I usually am fine with new trainees, but even if I wasn’t, the service I had received the day before was so good that I’d have been patient anyway. At one point they informed me that there was a flight change charge. It didn’t surprise me, so I was like, *sigh* “Hai.” Then they told me the charge was 100 yen.

What do they charge you for stuff like that in America? I doubt it’s as low as like 90 cents. That’s a rough equivalent of how much I paid. Delight!

So anyway, I got through that with a pink airline ticket and a Yokoso Japan! ticket envelope. I went straight to my gate — skipping food because I wasn’t all that hungry and I was damned if I was gonna miss this flight — and sat down. I was at the lower domestic gates. And very early.

While waiting for boarding time, I took this picture of a TV that was playing ads for those who waited. In retrospect, I wish the picture I had gotten was of the segment boldly labeled “Space Station TV”, but by the time it came around again I was heavily enmeshed in starting this blog post in notepad.

Airport-Entertainment

Gate, gate, gate, television!

The Japanese domestic boarding seems both less organized and more efficient to me than its American counterpart. See the picture below for how close the “gates” are to one another.

Domestic-Gates

They remind me of the concession stands at a movie theater.

This is, indeed, where boarding passes were collected. But they didn’t start taking people until 15 minutes before the plane’s scheduled departure. When I got through the gate, I got onto another Friendly Airport Limousine. The bus left for the plane 10 minutes before the scheduled departure, completely full of people.

Friendly-Airport-Limosine-2

Couldn’t be friendlier if it waved. Hello!

That took us straight to the plane, a trip of about 2 minutes. There were two doors open on the plane, and thus, two staircases. Somehow, a plane big enough to have three seat sections filled up with everyone stashing their bags with plenty of time to leave on schedule 8 minutes later. None of this, “Now boarding section 3,” crap. Just pure, unadulterated, “All aboard!”

It was a short plane trip, 1 hour and 20 minutes. I’m pretty sure the seats on that Japanese plane were wider than the seats on its American counterparts, since my hips didn’t feel squished for once. No leg room, but it’s Japan, so I expected that. Got work on the blog post in up to… some point. I was gonna remember exactly where so I could tell you, but I’ve forgotten.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-2

avatarMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them seperately, as they were meant to be. They’re still long, though. I’m sorry. I was a noob.

The Hotel

Originally published on October 16, 2005.

One thing which is just flippin’ awesome is the key card I received. American hotel key cards each have a magnetic strip, which is somehow swiped in the door to unlock it. This key card did not have a magnetic strip. The door did not have a place to swipe it. what it did have was a shiny black dot about an inch in diameter above the door handle. When I moved the key card in front of said dot, the door unlocked.

What’s even cooler is that just inside the door was a little fixture on the wall that said, “Please insert card. When I did, the lights turned on.

light_switch

Best light switch ever.

Sweet-tastic. So I plopped my stuff on the bed and looked around. Let’s start with the bathroom.

Hotel-Bathroom-Overview

It’s not uncommon for Japanese hotels to have communal bathrooms only.

It’s a nice bathroom. Removable shower head, like just about every Japanese bathroom has. Sink, toilet — dude, the toilet!

Hotel-Toilet

The sort of thing you hear about and don’t expect to encounter on your first day.

It’s one of the high-tech toilets, complete with bum-washing mechanism. Well, I needed to go to the bathroom anyway. When I sat down, the toilet beeped and the standby indicator started flashing. I’ll tell you what, the idea of a spray of water coming from the toilet to wash your bum is weird, but it works. The water is warm, so there’s no discomfort. The blue setting was aimed too high, but the pink setting (does anyone know what bidet means?) was practically perfect in every way.

OK, toilet aside. Bring on the desk!

Hotel-Desk-1

What’s that handle for?

Hotel-Desk-2

Surprise!

Hotel-Desk-3

Also, a flatscreen TV.

The left side is your average hotel desk stuff. Lamp, tissues, memo paper, phone. It’s made much niftier by the lift up mirror with compartment. The right side, however, is a treasure. That’s one sweet TV. The left-hand remote is for that. The right-hand remote is for a heater or something in the corner — I’m not sure what exactly it does, honestly, because the middle remote was for the air conditioning. Hallelujah!

Embedded in the wall over the bed was the clock/alarm clock and some light switches.

Hotel-Clock-and-Switches

He’s not the king, but he’s still so proper.

There was also a trouser press.

Hotel-Trouser-Press

Ironing boards are SO last country.

At this point, I made a choice. A bath (so longed for), or food and a bit of exploration? Well, I needed food. There was a cafe downstairs, and vending machines on all floors, and I wanted a picture of the fountain across the street… bath would make me sleepy, so exploration.

Pictures! This is what I had seen upon first exiting the elevator on my floor.

Hotel-6th-Floor

Just in case you forgot which elevator button you pressed.

And the vending machine on my floor.

Hotel-Vending-1

Anti-climactic, after all the things you hear/read about Japanese vending machines.

Hmm. Drinks only. Floor 2 is supposed to have a vending room instead of a vending corner. I’ll have to check that out. But first… those fountains!

Green-Fountain

Reminds me of Slimer.

Pretty awesome. I think the building they (there were actually two of these green fountains) were in front of was another hotel, but I wouldn’t swear by that. I took this next picture of my hotel’s foyer on the way back in:

Hotel-Foyer

Step into my hotel, said the Japanese to the Lena.

Both sets of doors slide open; the second set has bars. On the right-hand side of the foyer is an intercom for use between 2:00 and 7:00 for the purpose of obtaining entry. On the left is an umbrella rack.

Hotel-Umbrella-Rack

It wasn’t until much later that I realized how awesome it is to have an umbrella rack like this.

It’s a coin-operated, lock-the-umbrella-in-place umbrella rack. One of the foreign exchange students had told me that the thing that struck her as most weird in Alaska is that no one uses umbrellas. I think I’m gonna find out, on the first rainy day I encounter, that I’ll be surprised by how many people have umbrellas, even though I have warning.

The last leg of my jaunt, the second floor vending room.

Hotel-Vending-2

Yeah… still kinda anti-climactic.

Excellent, there’s food, too. After some deliberation, I decide to grab a random instant noodle bowl — but not before taking a couple of pictures of other things in the room. Like the laundry machines.

Hotel-Laundry

In retrospect, I don’t think I saw dryers outside of hotels the entire time I was in Japan.

And what is (I think) related to fire safety. I saw very similar fixtures at the Narita and Haneda airports.

Hotel-Fire-Alarm

The right-hand compartment has a fire extinguisher in it. I believe the lower left part has a fire hose fixture.

So I returned to my room and contemplated my food.

Food

I hoped, since there was no microwave in evidence, that the directions I had no intention of translating stated that I just needed to add hot water. So I added hot water and prepared, otherwise, for a bath. I turned on the TV at this point, too, watching first a movie (which had a character named Benkei — maybe had a connection to the Tale of the Genji?) then a wacky variety show going over some guy’s best pranks, dating back to at least 1980.

I also discovered that I was having an interesting time with the whole slippers thing. In case you are unaware, the Japanese take their shoes off at the door, donning in their place a pair of slippers. These are worn around the house, unless one needs to use the toilet. At that point, one switches into toilet slippers. That way you don’t go tracking things from the bathroom floor into the rest of the house. Pretty ingenious, actually. (If there’s a room with tatami mat floors, you take your slippers off at the entrance and walk in your socks, but this hotel is a modern hotel with no tatami.) The hotel included free slippers for the room, but I kept accidentally wearing them into the bathroom or slipping them off in the middle of the room for no apparent reason. Oops.

I recalled my food when I went into the bathroom and saw it sitting on the counter. It was not so hot anymore, but the noodles were soft and pliable. I looked at the flavor packet. It had two sections. I poured in the contents of the big section. Then I opened the small section and started pouring that on, but O SNAP! It was schechwan stuff. Didn’t put all of that in there.

It’s at this point that I wish to instate the Taste-O-Meter. It works on a scale of 1-5, as follows:

1 = OMFG, get this out of my mouth!
2 = Somewhat untasty, but edible in a pinch.
3 = It’s food.
4 = Hey, this is pretty good stuff.
5 = I think I shall actively seek this out from now on.

Taste-O-Meter!

Random Green Instant Noodle Bowl: 2
It had some sort of bread on top that complimented the flavor nicely and was easy to eat after soaking up some of the water. The noodles were odd; they didn’t even taste like rice noodles in the states do, so I’m not really sure what they were made of. But it was edible, and I was hungry.

After that I tried to go Japanese style and shower, then take a bath… however, I was so drowsy by the end of the shower that I was afraid I’d fall asleep in the bath and drown (though I’d have at least done so in Japan! :D) so I just went to bed. The bed was harder than I’m used to, obviously made to emulate a futon on a floor. Fortunately for me, I like that. It was shortly after 21:00 at this point. I set the alarm for 4:30 and laid down to sleep. Initially I planned to have the TV on all night, but for once the noise was distracting, so I regretfully turned it off.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Posts 1 & 2

avatarMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

Going, Going…

Originally published on October 2, 2005.

But not quite gone. I am in the San Fransisco airport right now (wishing I had some gatorade). On the first leg of my trip (to Seattle), I was seated next to a lady with an adorable 1.5 year old daughter. Talked to them when we weren’t sleeping. For the second leg, I had an exit seat (Yay! Leg room!) with plenty of room — it was an aisle seat, and there was a guy at the window but no on in between us. I just slept on that flight. I leave here for Tokyo at 11:10 AM Pacific time.

I had some trouble getting on my first plane — I missed boarding by (literally) about 30 seconds. Got transferred to an Alaska Air flight, but lukily for me, my baggage made it to the original plane, so there is no problem there.

Anyway, out of internet time. Talk to you from Japan! :D

Ahahahahaha!

Originally published on October 15, 2005.

I found a computer that will allow me to reach blogger. Now I need picture repository on the ‘net somewhere (the computer doesn’t have Frontpage). Gigantimous blog post soon.