Hotel JAL City Tamachi Tokyo
Fred and I stayed at Hotel JAL City Tamachi Tokyo for 6 nights. I would never stay here again. This place is pretty far from all the special wards of Tokyo. The room has one redeeming feature, its musical speaker/alarm clock. The lighting is poor; everything was so yellow that my makeup ended up looking streaky in daylight. The water smells as well. The bed is terrible like my own double bed at home, probably good for one sleeper, not two.
On our first night there, Fred wanted izakaya at Jomon Roppongi. This is a dark and no-shoe place. Their seating area is exceptionally cramped and most of their patrons are supposedly foreigners too. Portion is really small and does not justify the price. My favorite dish there is seared Japanese beef, very flavorful. Their drink was good but again very small portion. I took two sips and all that’s left was ice.
Afterward, Fred and I walked around the neighborhood and found the illumination at Roppongi Hills. This area is really pretty, lights adjust from red and yellow to blue and white every 15 minutes or so. The Tokyo Tower is also visible on this street as well.
One of the places I wanted to visit during autumn was Showa Kinen Park. I saw stock photos of the Gingko Avenue and was blown away. Unfortunately, when we arrived, all the trees on Gingko Avenue are dead. The rest of the park is still beautiful though. There were quite a bit of visitors there that day but the park is so large that there’s hardly people getting in our way of photo whoring :D
Fred and I visited Canyon d’Azur – Caretta Illumination that night. There isn’t much to take photos here since it’s a musical illumination.
Tokyo Disney Sea day! I wasn’t impressed. I wore my Uniqlo cotton trench coat and all I can feel post sunset were my disturbingly cold arms. Of all the days spent in Japan, Tokyo Disney Sea was coldest; next to it were the outdoor escalators at Kyoto Station.
There’s so much waiting in lines, and I don’t mean short 5 or 10 min waits, waiting to get on a ride, waiting to eat at a seated restaurant that doesn’t smell like cafeteria pizza, waiting to take photo with one of the Disney characters, etc. There aren’t as many overpriced snack options here unlike Disneyland Anaheim since all they offer here is multitude of popcorn flavors, not my thing. There is one thing I like about this place: the staff. Fred and I looked lost for a bit and a nice Japanese man comes up with translated paper, ready to help us out. The crews working at the Gondola ride were friendly as well. Of course when they make jokes and other Japanese laugh, Fred and I just smiled along….
Since the wait for the seat down restaurants was so long, Fred and I didn’t eat until near closing time. We had to miss the fireworks show on the lake. We ate at Magellan’s, the park’s priciest restaurant. The four course meal comes in set price and Fred just had to get the most expensive… his was better than mine though. I had braised-[insert name] and it was not good. The portions are really small, so we had to fill up on bread and butter.
We went on the Sagano Bamboo Grove & Arashiyama Walking Tour (8900 yen per person) by Sunrise Tour. This tour is cheaper than the one the previous day since it is a walking tour. Price covers the JR pass and tickets to the attractions. I think this tour is overpriced since the distance between each places are so close together. Our first stop is a Zen Buddhism temple called Tenryu-ji. You can actually tour inside the building for 100yen extra but my tour only covers the garden area. It’s very beautiful garden with a large koi pond. I think I would’ve gotten nicer landscape photos if it wasn’t too sunny at the time.
Very close to Tenryu-ji is Sagano Bamboo Grove. This was supposed to be the highlight of the tour. I showed Fred dreamy and tranquil stock photos of this place and we were both really looking forward to it. However it was very crowded. It’s a pretty long path with bamboo on both sides. Bamboo is actually dusty teal up close. I always thought it’s a bright yellow green. This place also has illuminations at night but Fred and I are too chicken haha. Once you’re inside the grove, it’s a lot chillier, scary.
After we exited the Bamboo grove, we walked 10 minutes to Jojakko-ji Temple. This place really impressed me. I’m pretty difficult to please whenever I go on vacation, something always did not exceed my expectation, i.e. why isn’t Puerto Vallarta water beautiful aqua blue like the stock photos? I booked my Japan trip in November because I wanted autumn leaves viewing and this place did just that. The entrance to this temple is filled with maple trees with lateral branches with various shades of yellow, orange, and red leaves. It’s a glorious sight when sunlight shines between each leaves. I’m so glad the one non cloudy day spent in Japan was when I booked this tour haha.
After leaving Jojakko-ji Temple, we hiked down toward Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashiyama. The bridge itself isn’t that impressive but the view is rather nice, probably much nicer if it wasn’t noon at the time. Our booked tour ends here, we’re given the option of leaving with the guide or stay behind, Fred and I opted for the latter since we have nothing else planned for the day.
Fred and I saw a lot of girls in kimono so we searched around for a rental shop. We walked through several streets and finally found Akahime. I pretty much walked in and said kimono rental. The middle aged lady managing the shop speaks no English but we figured things out through hand gestures lol. I wasn’t wearing any tank top underneath so she wrapped the kimono over my sweater and skirt. My hair was too short and too blonde but she made it work anyways haha. It costs 4200 yen total for the kimono and hairdo. The bag, geta (sandals), and tabi (socks) are all included. I was pretty dumb at picking a bag that looks good on its own but clashed splendidly with my kimono.
We wanted good ramen since I’m sick of eating soba. For some reason, ramen is extremely hard to find around Kyoto station exit. Fred and I looked up Ippudo Ramen off TripAdvisor and took the city bus for the first time. We actually found the main entrance of Kyoto Station on the way to the bus station, on our last day no less. Kyoto Station is actually very high tech looking. There are open air escalators taking people very far up.
Ippudo Ramen is located near Shijo Dori, a really big shopping district of Kyoto. It reminded me of San Francisco Union Square. Fred and I went to Takashimaya and Daimaru. They are both nicely decorated department stores. One of them has a gigantic REAL Christmas tree. Diamaru pricing is similar to Nordstrom. Takashimaya on the other hand is for really rich people. Fred and I left after browsing through a couple floors because we couldn’t afford anything there haha.
I convinced Fred to buy a suit in Japan because all Japanese business men we saw wore very well fitted suits. We went to The Suit Company and spent hours in there. There was some language barrier in the beginning but Fred and I used the google translator apps on our phones to type whatever we wanted to say. The sale girl did the same on her iPad. She had to run up and down the stair in her kitten heels finding suits to fit Fred. Things weren’t looking good because if the jacket fit, the pants didn’t and you can’t split up a suit set. I definitely didn’t want to spend money on a suit that Fred isn’t going to wear and we both feel really bad for her so I told the sale girl that we’re going to buy a jacket separately. We finally decided on a blazer and a really nice trench coat for Fred.
Sakura Terrace the Gallery
Fred and I spent 4 nights in Kyoto. We stayed at Sakura Terrace the Gallery. It’s recently opened so everything looks new and modern. It is very close to Kyoto Station. Not as close as staying directly in one of the hotels at the station but very manageable. The room is above average with nice comfy bed. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, free mixed drink daily, onsite restaurant, laundry, and luggage delivery. We ate at the hotel restaurant twice. Their foods were very good and cheap for a classy sit-down restaurant. Fred gets to grate his own wasabi. They also have attached lounge and man-made onsen but I didn’t get to use.
We took the JR shinkansen from Osaka to Kyoto. It was only 1600 yen per person (We purchased the 7-day JR passes for our 13-day stay in Japan so it wasn’t activated at the time). We dropped off our luggage at the hotel and walked around the neighborhood. It was so quiet compared to the bustling night scene we saw in Dotonburi the night before. I was getting bored honestly. Around the block from the hotel is Aeon Mall, we had “all you can eat” shabushabu here. Except it’s really all you can eat veggies and tofu, and their veggie selection is just cabbage. There is a boba shop as well though Tapioca Express quality at most.
I booked 1-Day Kyoto Tour by Sunrise Tours (16100 yen per person). This is a combination of both the morning and afternoon Kyoto tour. We had 2 tour guides. In the morning we went to Ryoanji Temple, Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), and Kyoto Imperial Palace. Lunch was provided by the touring company at a sit down restaurant near Kyoto station. The foods were excellent but portions were so small. Afterward, we meet up with a new tour guide and went to Heian Jingu Shrine, Sanjusangendo Temple, and Kiyomizu-dera Temple. At times, it feel like I’m on a school field trip but I’m glad I booked these tours. Bus transportation is a huge convenience. If we’re left on our own, Fred and I probably go to one attraction and stop there. We actually went during school trips season so we saw a lot of students at these places. Kinkaku-ji Temple and Kiyomizu-dera Temple especially are packed with both tourists and students.
Kyoto Morning Tour
Ryoanji Temple is probably the best places to take autumn photos. I never made it inside the temple because I was busy taking photos of the temple grounds.
Kinkakuji Temple is hyped and there weren’t many photo opportunities. There’s only so many angle of the structure I can capture with my camera lol.
Kyoto Imperial Palace is boring as well. This one really feels like a field trip. Many parts of the palace aren’t open to the public and you can’t roam around as you like. It’s restricting.
Kyoto Afternoon Tour
Japan has two religions, Buddhism and Shintoism. Buddhist related places end with -temple, and Shinto related is –shrine. This is why you need booked tours, without the tour guide I’ll probably use both terms interchangeably lol. The first stop on the Kyoto afternoon tour was Heian Jingu Shrine.
Next stop was Sanjusangendo Temple. This place is famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy (Guan Yin in Chinese). This place is a shoe and camera-free zone. They will seize your camera if you’re caught taking photos. The flooring in this temple is rough with no support. There’s no insulation either. I can’t remember if there were modern light fixtures. The sight of the 1001 statues is pretty cool and scary at the same time.
Our last stop is Kiyomizu-dera Temple. There were over 18 tour buses there that day. It’s a beautiful place but it was too crowded. I wanted to spend more time at the shopping district too. 50 minutes of free time here isn’t enough. You can choose to stay behind but this place look too complex for public transportation so Fred and I left with our tour.