Watching Kyoto Wake Up

Kyoto Arcade, Early Morning

Just Me and the Pigeons, Kyoto

I’m not a morning person. I mean, I am really not a morning person. With a long history as a thespian starting back in high school, my idea of a great schedule is going to sleep at 2 am and waking up 9 am at the earliest.

That said, I rarely keep such late hours when I’m traveling. I often wake up to catch the morning light for photography. And, when I’m in a city, I like to watch the city wake up.  My husband, who is a morning person, taught me this long ago on a trip to Venice.  Our first trip there was way back in the late 1980s, and, as usual, Venice was overcrowded with tourists. My husband liked to get up early each morning of our stay to walk the deserted streets and watch Venice come to life.  He exorted me to join him one morning to see how it was for myself.  Sick of all the throngs of tourists, I joined him, and it was a wonderful, eye-opening experience.

Ever since, I like to wake up early when traveling and walk the streets of a town or city as it wipes the sleep off and wakes up. I did just that in Kyoto this morning (second morning that I’ve done it this trip; I’m with a small group of lovely people, but walking alone to “get coffee” is my me-time). I enjoyed watching merchants opening their shops, people rushing to work, and bike ladies (and gentlemen) whizzing by with purpose on their bikes. The beginning and end of my walk was the Royal Park Hotel in Central Kyoto, near the Teramachi shopping mall.

Doutor Coffee Shop Kyoto

Doutor Coffee Kyoto

I actually do get coffee on these walks as well. Japanese hotel buffet machine-coffee is just OK, and why settle for just OK coffee when traveling?  My go-to chain coffee shops in Japan are Dotour and Tully’s.  Dotour opens pretty early, and that is where I got a lovely cappucino on my first walk. This morning, I wanted to try the local Ogawa coffee shop that my guide had recommended.  I arrived at 8am, only to find that it wasn’t open until 9am!  Who opens a coffee shop so late? Evidently the Japanese do, since they seem to enjoy tea in the morning and then coffee later in the day.

I can pretty much confirm this hypothesis (about coffee being a later-thing in Japan) since I then went to the Kyoto Starbucks by the Kamo River and the Sanjo Bridge.  If you’ve Continue reading

Lovely Kyoto in Winter

Crowds in Kyoto

Crowds in Kyoto

I have been to Kyoto previously in Summer, Fall and Spring. This is my first time here in the Winter; the weather is high 30s to high 50s, which with a good coat is not bad at all. I greatly prefer it to the damp and muggy Kyoto Summers.

I have lots of places, events and experiences to share with everyone from this trip, but it is hard to find time to blog when you are with a group. It is a small group (17 including the tour operators and experts) but a group nonetheless, and it is very hard to get a moment alone to write. Or, really, to want to write, because there is so much to do and so many people to enjoy being with! Not to mention that we have truly had a busy and eventful trip with minimal down time!  I have had the time (and the WiFi thanks to my mobile WiFi unit) to post some Instagram photos and micro blogging while on the road (which has been great).

After my quiet moment in Wakayama, we attended the marvelous Hina Matsui (Girl’s Day) ceremony at the Awashima Jinja Temple.  This wonderful, unique temple ceremony involves filling and then floating three boats of dolls into the ocean in Kada. We then traveled to Kyoto where I am now. Kyoto, with it’s 1000 shrines ad temples, great shopping and endless restaurants has, as always, been marvelous. Sadly, Winter has not lessened the huge crowds of tourists. We were at Kiyomizu-dera temple yesterday and it was wall-to-wall people walking up to the gate area of the temple.  The throngs of tourists include groups of Chinese tourists all dressed up in Kimonos and Hakamas. We also visited the Kyoto National Museum and were very honored to later get a private showing of a Gosho Ningyo artisan’s home, collection and workshop. A Ningyo is a doll; my niche tour group are all avid antique doll experts and collectors.

After all this, I should mention the very fun conveyor belt sushi restaurant dinner (6 plates of sushi, a small beer and some green tea ice cream for under 2000 yen! Then talking to my roomate and dear friend Julie and falling into bed; so basically on the go from 8 in the morning to 11 at night.

Ok my bus leaves in 10 minutes…but you can read more about my time in Kyoto in my new blog post, Watching Kyoto Wake Up 

A Quiet Moment in Wakayama

My Japan trip so far has been a wonderful whirlwind! I am currently in Wakayama, which is a small city of about 396,000, in an area bordering Osaka Prefecture.

Mt. Fuji from the Shinkansen

Mt. Fuji from the Shinkansen

We are here for Hinamatsuri, the Girl’s Day Festival. Much more about this later. Today we are going to explore the Awashima Shrine before the crowds descend tomorrow. It’s a rainy day, and since I am with a small tour group of about 14 people, I have an unusual hour alone to blog. I have this hour alone because most of our group has already taken off for a train ride then a half hour walk to the shrine. As many of you know, I travel in spite of my Rheumatoid Arthritis. So, as I often have to do when traveling during an RA flare-up, I’m swallowing my pride and taking a taxi with a 91 year old woman and another disabled member of our group. That’s the thing about traveling with a disability…you really have to be honest with yourself and others. There is no point in putting on a brave face if you are going to slow the group down or slow yourself down by over-exertion in the middle of a long trip.

Me, at hotel in Wakayama

Me, at hotel in Wakayama

So here I at at the Hotel Granvia Wakayama, by way of the Shinkansen, a stop at an incredible antique Ningyo (antique doll) museum exhibit in Nagoya, and then a 4 hour bus ride. We are coming from the incredibly luxurious Capitol Hotel Tokyu in Tokyo; we are adjusting to our current more workman-like hotel, which is actually quite nice for a small Japanese city. Quiet, right at the train station (which I absolutely love; so many restaurants and places to shop at Japanese train stations!), clean and good water pressure in the shower. What more do you really need? Plus they served us a lovely kaiseki dinner last night and a very complete buffet breakfast this morning.

Ok, I am off to today’s adventure! Hope the rain isn’t too fierce, and I hope to bring you back some fabuous images of the Awashima shrine!

PS: I saw Mt. Fuji from the Shinkansen yesterday. I mean, really saw it; got some great pictures. Evidently this is only possible about 50 days per year so luck was with us!

How Scalping Tickets to Takarazuka Can Be A Fine Cultural Experience

Takarazuka Grand Hotel Program

Takrazuka Grand Hotel Program

Thanks to burning the candle at both ends, plus a heavy dose of prednisone-induced insomnia, I’ve been on my trip to Japan for three days now and a bit behind on the blogging. Blogging while sleepy is a bit like blogging while driving…you can do it but should you do it?…

Well, I’m just going to plunge in, if my heavy eyelids close in the middle, hopefully my forehead will hit the “publish” key as I hit the pillows.

My first day in Tokyo was to be a get-over-jetlag day.  Then my daughter asked me to get her some Takarazuka DVDs  for her thesis research, and then I decided since I was going to the Takarazuka Theater in Tokyo, well why wouldn’t I want to see a show? Only problem was that the show, Grand Hotel, was completely sold out. Of course, that is a problem only if you mind a little cultural adventure. I don’t, and so I consulted with my daughter to see if there was any way I could still see the show.  There was, she said…if I didn’t mind trying to buy scalped ticket with my non-existant Japanese language skills.

For those not familiar, The Takarazuka Revue is a Japanese all-female musical theater troupe.  Women play all roles in lavish, Broadway-style productions of Western-style musicals. Started in 1914, Takarazuka is a sort-of counter to the all-male Kabuki theater. There is generally a play, an intermission, and then a Vegas-style musical review.

Back to my Takarazuka scalping and theater experience. Getting to the Takarazuka theater was quite easy from my hotel…only 2 stops on the subway.  I got to the theater and thought I’d take a lark and ask if there were any tickets at Continue reading

Is That Mt. Fuji?

Good morning from Tokyo! I have had the most pleasant (if jet-lagged) first night and morning possible in Tokyo.

Mobile WiFi HotSpot I Rented at Narita Airport

Mobile WiFi HotSpot Rental, Narita

I arrived last night just a smidge late due to the snow and ice in Denver. I think I got through passport control, baggage claim and customs in a record 15 minutes flat! Waiting to greet me when I got off the plane was Mr. Alan Scott Pate himself. Alan is the foremost American expert on Japanese dolls, and he is the creator and leader of our small-group tour. Big kudos to Alan and his team at HE Travel for meeting every single one of tour participants at the airports as we have arrived. In case you missed it (or I forgot to mention?) I am in Japan with a group that will be focusing on Japanese dolls…it is possible that some of my travel readers don’t know that I’ve been writing about and photographing dolls for many years, and hence this tour.

The most amazing thing about Alan greeting me at the airport (besides how wonderful it is to see a familiar face upon arrival far away from home) was that Alan helped me rent a mobile wi-fi hotspot for my trip. These little wonders are about 1/2 the size of my iPhone 6S+, and will keep me wi-fi connected for my entire trip; I believe the cost was just under $100 for the 12 days. For all the times I’ve been traveling to Japan, I can’t believe I didn’t know about this! I can now blog and social media from anywhere.

View, Capitol Hotel Tokyu

Sunrise view from my room, Capitol Hotel Tokyu

It was also wonderful to have Alan take me to the handy airport shuttle which goes directly to my hotel (just 1 other stop before). If you’ve ever taken an shuttle from Narita, there are just so many of them and getting on the right one can confuse the jet-lagged mind. The shuttle was very reasonably priced; under $30 US.

I arrived at the Capitol Hotel Tokyu (in the Akasaka area of Tokyo) just before 8pm. I opened the door and the view of Tokyo from my room took my breath away. Even as tired as I was, I was taking photos almost immediately. I was too tired to go out to dinner, so I had a quick room-service curry and was in bed by 10pm. Continue reading

Ruminations Above The Aleutian Islands in Polaris Business Class

How many times on this planet does one find oneself flying over the Aleutian Islands? Not many for most of us, including me, and hence my blog title today. Turns out if you leave from Denver for Japan instead of from San Francisco or Los Angeles, your route takes you over Vancouver, skims Alaska and then goes right over the Aleutian Islands! Just like Sarah Palin I can wave to Russia today.

Denver Airport

Denver airport

I’ve had a very pleasant day flying to Japan so far. At this very moment, I am literally over the Aleutian Islands, with about 5 hours to go on my 12 hour flight. Well, the day has been MOSTLY pleasant except for having to wake up at 3:40am to catch the Courtyard Marriott Natomas airport shuttle to make my 5:25am flight. The shuttle times were 4 or 5am, so I didn’t have much of a choice; I only had about 25 minutes time at the gate before boarding my flight to Denver. And am I the only one who sort-of sleeps with one-eye open before an early morning flight because your subconscious thinks you’ll miss the flight otherwise?

Polaris bedding

Polaris bedding

I’m sure you are wondering why I am flying backwards to Denver to go to Japan. Well, my circuitous route got me an unbelievable deal on a Business Class ticket for the trip (less than 1/2 the usual price). I am lucky to fly business a fair amount of the time thanks to miles, upgrades, and searching out discounted fares. With my Rheumatoid Arthritis, a good flight with my legs up and room to stretch can mean the difference between a painful first few days of a trip or not, so this is a good thing. I couldn’t find a discounted business fare to Jerusalem for the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange Continue reading

A Family Trip In Osaka

Arcade in Osaka

Arcade in Osaka

Finally a quiet moment on my trip. I haven’t blogged much (other than micro-blogging on Instagram) since this Japan trip is a family trip and the first time in probably 6 years that my family has been on a trip all together, just the four of us (me, Mr. Travelholic, Son Travelholic and Daughter Travelholic). So spending time together has been the major priority. We have also kept incredibly busy, visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Arima, Hiroshima/Miyajima and Osaka in just 9 days. The trip would have been much better paced if we could have had 2 extra days, but Daughter Travelholic had to get back to classes and Son Travelholic had to get back to work on Monday.

We have also walked and walked and walked this trip which is common in Japan; we have easily walked over 14,000 steps each day which is about 6 miles; today I have walked 16,218 steps or 6.84 miles and we are going out to roam the Continue reading

Flying All Nippon Airways to Japan for the First Time

United Club at SFO

United Club at SFO

My kids have already departed from Boston and Mr. Travelholic and I are ensconsed in the United Club at SFO awaiting the beginning of our trip to Japan. We are here a million hours early because of that one time I gave myself 6 hours to get to SFO from my home (normally a 3.5 hour drive) and nearly missed my flight due to Bay Bridge traffic. Of course today there was no traffic and we have nearly 4 hours now to wait till our plane departs for LAX, and then to Haneda on the red eye.

You might ask why we are going from SFO to LAX and then to Haneda, and then why on an awful redeye. Well, we were able to get 1/2 price Business Class tickets by picking this route, and since putting my legs flat vs not for 12 hours help the rheumatoid arthritis affected knee joints immensely, this is the route we have picked. The difference between flat legs vs bent legs for that long can mean hitting the ground running vs. a slow and painful start to an international trip.

As for the redeye, we get into Tokyo at a godwaful 5am arrival time. Mr. Travelholic sleeps great on planes and is already plotting his day in Tokyo. I never sleep on planes and look at all such plans with great trepidation.

We are taking All Nippon Airways (“ANA”) for the first time internationally. This is exciting because we always take Continue reading

Some Fantastic Low Airfares Are Available Right Now to Japan from the US


Garden in Kyoto, Japan (c) 2015 Denise Van Patten

So today I was booking Daughter Travelholic’s and Son Travelholic’s tickets to Japan in November from the East coast of the United States, and I couldn’t believe how cheap the flights were on United, using All Nippon Airways (ANA)! The flights were $533 each way in Economy to Haneda (HND) on ANA.  With taxes and fees the round trips were only $1,200 which is significantly cheaper than usual. These fares count as a super discounted fare so of course no refunds or changes and also no Mileage Plus accrual on the ANA portions, but at those prices, who cares?

Anyway, if you have been thinking about visiting Japan and looking for a low fare, here’s your chance! Japan in the Fall is absolutely gorgeous, and the weather is fantastic too…so much better (for me) than summer, which is so hot. Plus if you are lucky you’ll catch the fall colors (which are legendary around Kyoto).  We are going at the end of November, and the Christmas decorations at the large stores and modern shopping areas are quite fun too, especially if you are crazy about Christmas like me.