Japan: What we Wore in the Fall

Ok, so what did we pack for 16 days in Japan? The 16 days were spread across Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Okinawa in October. The first 3 cities: average 56-73 degrees during the month of October. Okinawa? The stats say 72-81 during October but … it’s a HOT 81 degrees. High humidity and unrelenting sun make it unbearably warm during the day, if you are out and about trying to see as much as you possibly can. Which is kind of our thing.

So we had to pack for pleasant tourist weather and also a few days of seriously hot and humid weather.

First up: the husband packed every single item of clothing he owns into a bag.

But for me, I spent a long time putting together the perfect trip wardrobe. This list is based off of memory, photographs, and my packing list. I wish I had taken pictures of myself every day, but, alas, I didn’t. So this is close-ish:

Bottoms:
2 pairs of jeans
1 pair of Eddie Bauer travel pants
1 skirt/swimsuit coverup

Tops:
1 blouse
3 3/4 sleeve shirts
5 t-shirts
1 hand-knitted sweater (that required a t-shirt underneath)

Shoes:
Flip-flops (Clarks: so super comfy)
Casual ballet flats + Gekks inside (Clarks again: super comfy)
Ankle boots (Earth: again, super comfy, great support)

Outer:
Hat
Eddie Bauer windbreaker
Multi-way cardigan (Love, love, love this thing)
Travel scarf/dress (Have not yet gone on a trip where I’ve made serious use of it; but I love the multi-use idea of it – I do LOVE this for wearing on the plane, it makes a great wearable blanket, that you can quickly turn into an infinity scarf or cardigan)

Other:
Bathing Suit
Yoga pants (for lounging around the hotels)
Jewelry
Purse (Love, love, love this bag! I love Baggallini bags for their practicality, but this one might be my favorite. This isn’t my favorite color, but I like it well enough: I jump on their site every couple of months to see if they’ve added something more my speed. But still: 8 months later, this is STILL the bag I am using.)

Pinterest Board

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  • Women's Sandstone Soft Shell Jacket | Eddie Bauer

Tokyo: The End of our Adventure

My new tshirt! And a furoshiki full of snacks

Our last day in Tokyo, we rode the Airport Limousine Bus to the Narita airport. It picked us up right in front of our hotel, made a couple of stops to pick up other passengers, and then we were on our way.

At the airport, we spent the last of our cash in gift shops and vending machines. The husband had been considering trying Coolish and he finally took the plunge. And then he was so sad he missed out on 16 days of coolish fun: It’s soft-serve ice cream in a toddler applesauce pouch. So … the presentation leaves a little to be desired, but I understand the actual product is quite delightful.

I loaded up the snacks I wanted easy access to on the plane in my furoshiki, all flipped and folded and knotted up as a bag. And I wore my new shirt!! (First time I washed the shirt … it shrank. A LOT. Turned into a belly shirt. I guess Japanese ladies aren’t generally as tall as I am … so they don’t need shirts as long as I need them? It’s a shame, though, I really loved the color.)

And then we got on a plane and made it home, and were so sad to not be in Japan anymore. But … super happy be back in our not futon-mattress bed. The end!

Tokyo: One Last Day

Frosted flakes!

Our last full day in Tokyo started off with our standard Shinjuku breakfast: cornflakes for me (these guys are frosted, a very nice surprise for the lady who eats butter-sugar-rice), and a protein bar and coke for the husband. I opted out of the breakfast buffet when I booked this last hotel because it was like an extra $20 per person. And, well, I can eat quite well out of a conbini, thank you very much, for less than $20. Maybe not bacon and butter-sugar-rice well, but, ya know, well enough.

On our way out for the day, we bought our Airport Limousine Bus tickets in the lobby of our hotel for the next day. We opted for the bus this time around because our departing flights were out of Narita, which is much further away than Haneda, and a taxi would have been … very expensive. It was incredibly convenient, and they helped us by making sure we picked a bus that would get us to the airport in plenty of time for our flights. With a paper time table. Most technologically advanced country in the world ($3000 robot dogs, man) and they used a paper time table.

This last day was wandering around Shibuya to catch the famous Shibuya crossing (the in-laws saw it in its true madness on Saturday night: in the middle of a Monday, it’s less manic) and to check out some malls. We also wandered around the Shinjuku train station malls, which there seem to be no end of.

Once we were sure we were done with the trains for the day (it was a sad moment, to be sure), we traded in our Suica cards to get our remaining money back. We played around with one of the automated machines for awhile, but couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. As we were struggling, a local stopped and asked us if we needed some help, and walked us to the customer service line. As it turns out, you cannot return your Suica cards to the machines. At customer service, we traded our cards in and got our $15 back or whatever. Not a ton of money, so it wouldn’t have been the worst thing if we hadn’t been able to figure out how to cash them out, but, still, it was nice to get back.

As we were packing up that night, I realized I had no clean shirt to wear the next day. I had lost a shirt to a toiletries mishap on the flight over, and had just figured I’d pick up a t-shirt in my shopping adventures, but I never quite did. “So just wear a dirty one?” I hear you think to yourself. But: one does not simply wear a dirty shirt on a 12 hour flight. That is too much, even for me.

So I did some googling, and found a department store at the more affordable range of the spectrum: Uniqlo. So off we went, across the street from our hotel to … Times Square? Where we ran into a Shake Shack! If we had known that was there, then maybe we wouldn’t have eaten so much Wendy’s First Kitchen! Next time. We’ll know for next time.

So we found the mall, and rode the escalator up and up and up and up till we found Uniqlo. (Seriously, it was on the 12th floor. At like floor 8 I made us get off the escalator and pick up a paper mall-map from a stand, I was beginning to think we were in the wrong building.)

And then we found it! So crazy thing about this store: there are no cashiers. There are rfid tags on all the items. When you check out, you just put all your stuff in a bag, then a machine tells you what you owe, and you pay it. It was magic! A far-cry from the paper time table of busses we saw that morning.

I picked up a beautiful blue t-shirt, we paid for it without talking to or interacting with a soul, and then we were on our way back to packing for the trip home.

The fitbit tells me this was our day of the mostest steps: we passed the 20,000 mark. It was our last day, and we wanted to make the most of it! Besides, we had a 12 hour flight coming up, we could recover on the plane.

Back to Tokyo: Shinjuku

I had grand plans for our last morning in Okinawa: a walk to some gardens (Naha Fukushūen) and a beach (Naminoue Beach), as they were close to our hotel.

But we were just so tired. And so we slept in! Had a late breakfast. Shared a cab with the in-laws to the airport. And thus our Okinawan adventures were over.

We all made it safely to Tokyo. The husband and I were meeting an old exchange student of mine for dinner, so we were too short on time to take the Limousine Bus to our hotel. Luckily for us, it was a domestic flight so we had flown into Haneda airport, much closer to the city. And so we got a taxi! Er, two taxis. We waited a few rounds for a taxi large enough for the four of us, but eventually gave up and took two regular cabs. And then we raced each other to the hotel! (Ok, or maybe we both just eventually made it there.)

We checked into the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, a recommendation from the dad because: the hotel is on the Limousine Bus route, it is affordablish, and it’s in Shinjuku, right near the train station. And again: it’s in Shinjuku!

This was perhaps our smallest room on the trip, and the futoniest of beds. (The mattress was very firm. So very firm. Laying on my side meant my arms fell asleep.) The bed was against one wall, which meant once I was in, I was in for the night! There’s a fridge under that tv, we made good use of that!

This is pulled from their website, but this was our room!! Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku

But the location! The dad was so right about the location: right at the edge of all the Shinjuku action, super close to the train station. Busiest station in the world (millions of people go through it every day. EVERY DAY.) And also it’s a massive mall and has tons of restaurants. And outside it, there is so much shopping, and so many restaurants.

If you want to go to Tokyo but don’t know where to stay, stay in Shinjuku. You’re welcome.

So, anyway, we got all checked in, and met Miyuki with her family in the lobby. I made sure to give her a description of us (me: purple hair; the husband: big guy, red beard), and she spotted us right away.

They had picked out a restaurant for us that matched the husband’s specifications (meat! not fish … not vegetables), The Old Station Bar and Grill. Miyuki ordered family style, and they all (including her 8-year-old daughter) put the husband and I to serious shame with their chopstick skills. But we tried!

Looking at the menu online, I recall that she ordered us the dynamic grill (a giant platter of meat), grilled cheese curry (it was soooo good), neapolitan spaghetti (the husband quite enjoyed it, I was low-gluten at the time so I opted out), and the “Melt! Cheese dumplings!” and simple pepper dumplings (which I totally had, I figured that wasn’t that much wheat? I didn’t die or anything, so it’s fine).

It was all soooo good. I’m so glad we had a local doing the ordering, it made the whole restaurant experience way less scary.

And it was a really fun time! It’d been over 20 years since Miyuki had been my exchange student, and it was fun to catch up. Her English is flawless (thanks to an NPR habit) so it made for easy conversation. If you ever have a local offer to take you out to dinner, do it! They are so accommodating, she really went out of her way to find a place the husband would love. He liked it so much, it was kind of a bummer the rest of our days were too busy to make it back.

They walked us back to our hotel (good thing, too! Shinjuku is a big place) and we bid farewell.

And so started our second round of Tokyo adventures!

Tokyo with Gate 1

Zojoji Temple and Tokyo Tower!

Short on time? Guided tours are a great way to see as much as humanly possible, as quickly as humanly possible, and Gate 1 Travel is a pro at it. I can’t compare them to other tour companies, as they are the only ones we have ever used. One thing I LOVE is that all of their tour guides are local. Seeing Italy? Your Roman tour guide will be accommodating but slightly aloof. England? A tweed jacket every day, seat assignments on the bus, meal stops are quick and comprised of recommendations for pre-made sandwiches. Scotland? Northface jacket and hiking boots, a lot of trust that since the tour group is comprised of adults, people can take care of themselves. Ireland? So much cynicism and distrust of the government.

And in Japan: our Japanese tour guide was very possibly the politest person we have ever met. But also, passive-aggressive and a little rude if you actually knew what she meant. It was hilariously awesome.

But I digress! Our first day with the tour group was a full day of seeing all the things in Tokyo. ALL THE THINGS.

First stop was right next door to the hotel, Zojoji temple. One of the beautiful things on the grounds were the Jizo statues: each statue represents a child who has died. These statues are often adorned with red hats and bibs, and they are protectors of the children who have passed.

Next stop was the imperial palace! Which you can’t get close to at all … so it makes for an odd choice for a tourist stop. Beautiful park and grounds, though. Complete with an ice cream shop! Very reminiscent of the DC mall, now that I think about it. (But no eating while walking in Japan! Also, no ice cream on the bus.)

Then it was back to the bus to head to Asakusa, with the Sensoji temple and Nakamise street. This stop was way worth it! So much so, we made sure the in-laws checked it out later in our trip. The temple was beautiful, and there was a lot of great tourist-shopping on Nakamise street. We only had an hour, so we went with a Conbini lunch.

Next stop, Meiji Shrine!! This one is a serious shrine, massive and beautiful grounds. It was a little bit of a walk from the parking lot to the actual shrine. This one is also well worth it, and a great example of a Shinto shrine (vs. the Buddhist temples we had seen previously.)

In Japan, people follow Buddhist AND Shinto traditions. Our tour guide, Katy, explained that the traditions are so blended, in fact, that the average Japanese person often doesn’t know where one begins and the other ends. She only really learned about the differences in her tour guide training. But quick summary: you get married in a Shinto shrine. Funerals are at Buddhist temples.

Our last stop of the day’s touring took us to another one of Japan’s sacred traditions: shopping! In stark contrast to Nakamise street, Ginza district is very up-scale shopping. We ducked into the Nissan concept store, and also the Sony concept store. Where we saw a $3000 robot dog. A seriously awesome $3000 robot dog. And people were coming in, with their $3000 robot dogs, for $3000 robot dog play dates. Japan, man. Something for everyone.

For dinner, we stopped at a very. fancy. Lawson. And bought pretty much the same stuff we had been buying. Plus, an Olympics 2020 pin! Which … I guess now isn’t going to be a thing … does that make it worth more?

And then it was back to the hotel! Where the husband promptly crashed from exhaustion. Into his twin bed. At 7 pm.

Oh. you. guys. Our twin beds! So our first room at the hotel, I booked through hotels.com. It had a queen or king-sized bed, appropriate for two people. But while we were out and about in Akihabara, they moved our bags to our new room. With two twin beds. Because in Japan: it is more normal for traveling couples to have separate beds. So most hotels are set up that way! We had requested a double bed for all of our accommodations on our tour, but … they are only able to do that when there are rooms available. Which there were not at the Prince Tokyo Hotel.

And so … twin beds. (We had this happen to us before on a guided tour on our 10th anniversary and … it was the best sleep we got that trip. So … separate beds? Not the worst thing …)

So I probably wandered around the hotel, stocked up on snacks at Lawson, and played emoji blitz till I was ready to call it a day.

Tokyo on Our Own

Prince Hotel PJs

The hotels in Japan all seem to come with Pajamas! Yukata, I suppose, but these are like extra long, button-up sleep shirts with 3/4 length sleeves. (Maybe they are full-length sleeves on a non-monkey armed person? Unsure.)

I of course had to try them out! And also there are slippers! They fit size 8 lady feet! They do not fit size 13 man feet.

Also: bidets. I had to work up the courage to try it, but, you guys? I think they are really on to something. They don’t understand how to sell a ticket online because they have been perfecting the bathroom experience.

Also: the hair dryer was incredibly underwhelming. I thought I had come to the land of my hair people (I have twice as much hair as your average human … and each strand is twice as thick … drying my hair is exhausting …) and so I was super excited about the hair dryer sitch. Alas, hotel hair dryers in Japan leave just as much to be desired as the ones in the US.

Breakfast at the Tokyo Prince Hotel? Awesome spread. Western food! Eastern food! Something for everyone at the buffet. So I did what any Asianish-American lady would do: served myself up a bowl of piping hot steamed rice, snagged some butter from the Western toast station, and added some sugar (meant for coffee, I’m sure) from our table. Breakfast butter-sugar rice! (Ok, so probably that has an actual name? I just know it as ‘how I like to eat rice at breakfast.’) Also I loaded up on bacon and fresh fruit. (Tip: fruit is really expensive in Japan. If you have a hotel breakfast buffet, take advantage!)

Y’all, I ate butter-sugar rice every morning we had a breakfast buffet. So good. Also a complete abomination? But so good.

Probably we stopped in the hotel basement Lawson (I LOVED that the hotel had its own Lawson!!) for some bottled water and snacks.

Before we headed out, we swapped out the husband’s sim card for a Japanese one. We had ordered it beforehand and had it shipped to us, just to make things easier. So we had internet and maps and access to google translate everywhere we went! Pretty awesome! And a world of difference from our 5th anniversary trip to Italy where we rented a blackberry so we’d have access to email. EMAIL. No internet. JUST OUR EMAIL. 10 years ago. The world is such a different place, in just 10 years!

Our hotel was a bit of a walk (15 minutes?) to the Hamamatsucho train station, but we had our maps, the weather was perfect, so off we went!

At the station, we struggled with the ticket machine for a bit. From his research, the husband knew we wanted Suica cards, and that we’d start out with $20 on them and add more as we needed it. The menus weren’t super intuitive, but we eventually figured it out and got our cards. (We later learned from another couple on our trip that you can order Suica cards ahead of time and have them shipped to you in the US. Probably for a nice up-charge, but, no fighting with machines!)

So we found the right train, hopped on board, and a few stops later we were in Akihabara. Nerd capital of the world, so, yeah, of course that’s where we started.

First stop was the Mandarake Complex, 8 floors of anime collectibles. Each floor was small, but crowded with … so much. Some of it I recognized, some of it I didn’t. Totoro, that fried egg with a butt, vintage video games, comics, just all completely unnecessary but oh-so-fun stuff! We stopped at a wall of capsule vending machines and found the perfect souvenir. Seriously, this little guy still goes with me everywhere I go.

Next up was Yodobashi Camera. So spacious! Floors and floors of department store goods, not just cameras. Also books, stationery, beauty products, refrigerators, phones, watches … if you want it, they have it.

Lunch at McDonald’s, nothing to write home about there …

And an owl cafe! Not sure why it’s called a ‘cafe’ (they do have a vending machine for drinks?) but they delivered on the owl front!

We rounded out Akihabara with a stop at Don Quijote. If Yodobashi Camera is spacious and classy, Don Quijote is … brash and cluttered? But you have to stop in, it’s like nothing else. The aisles are mazes, the store is floor after floor stacked on top of each other, you never know what you’ll find. It is claustrophobic, but also amazing! Snacks, toiletries, clothes, halloween costumes, toys, they got it!

We snagged some adorable toothbrush covers, they are open-mouthed cats that eat your toothbrush head when it’s packed away in your bag. But also, they eat the bottom of your toothbrush and stand it straight up on the hotel bathroom counter to dry. They are adorable and genius.

My fitbit history tells me that took us over 10 thousand steps, so we likely called it a day and headed back to the hotel to meet our tour group and for our Gate 1 welcome dinner!

We tried everything! Even liked some of it!

Getting to Japan

October the 6th dawned bright and early, after we got on our first leg of the flight to Houston. Very quick hop.

At the Houston airport, we got some yen at a terrible exchange rate. Got breakfast … I seem to recall the first one didn’t work out … we may have eaten two breakfasts? Just pulled up the google maps of the IAH international terminal: Custom Burgers took a really long time and gave us random breakfast sandwiches we didn’t order. So then we headed to Pappasito’s Cantina for breakfast tacos … which I think we quite enjoyed. Google rates Custom Burgers at 1.9 stars vs. Pappasito’s at 4 stars. Checks out.

At any rate, back to the trip: we had premium economy seats! Premium economy on United, so, eh, but the husband wasn’t completely sardined in. The seats were arranged in a 3/3/3 configuration, so we picked D and E in the middle: an aisle and a middle seat. With no one to climb over us, because seat F is also an aisle. (These are important things to consider when on a 12 hour flight.)

Plane food was mediocre. (Seriously, United: other airlines give their premium economy guests the business class food. Just saying.) We arrived in one piece! Yay!

Made it through the checkpoints in our bleary eyed state, found our luggage, then on to find our driver.

Ok, so weird thing about Japan: you don’t book tickets for things on the internet. Like, there’s no e-commerce. Most technologically advanced country in the world, and there’s no e-commerce.

So to get transportation from the airport to our hotel, first I looked at the Airport Limousine Bus, as it came highly recommended by the dad. Their website is … well, not super helpful. They do list some hotels on their site, but apparently not all of them. I asked b2 to take a look at the Japanese version of the site and he confirmed, he did not see my hotel on the list. (Which they TOTALLY cover, I saw their bus at our hotel later. So *shakes fist*.)

Ok, so that was a bust. I then tried to google private car transport in Tokyo and … didn’t really find what I was looking for. I happened upon a message on Trip Advisor recommending this place. Where you enter your ‘massage’ in their contact form.

So … I filled in the form. Expecting a quote? I guess? Got an email back with a confirmation. Also a quote. But a confirmation? And … I never gave them any money. But they promised a driver who would be holding up a sign with my name on it.

I decided to roll with it. Worst-case scenario, there’d be no one there and we’d just get a taxi once we got there. No biggie.

The day before we left, I got another email with our driver’s name. Seemed like it might actually work!

Sure enough, once we were headed out of the airport with our bags, we indeed passed “a low fence where people are waiting. Our drivers & guides wait there also, with the passenger’s name on a board.” Ms. Kisugi was there, in her white gloves and sensible pumps, with my name on a board. And so we followed her to a car.

I had a brief panic that this was some kind of scam, that she’d charge us twice as much once we arrived.

But, nope, we arrived at the hotel, paid her with a credit card, and it was even a few yen cheaper than we were quoted.

So, yes: in Japan, you totally book things via email, and then pay for it later.

Checking in at the Tokyo Prince Hotel was a bit of an adventure. In Japan, people are very polite. But also: there is no customization. No “the customer is always right” philosophy. Our guided tour started at that hotel, and I tried to add on an early arrival through Gate 1, something they usually do. But … not so for this trip. So, eh, I booked my own room through hotels.com, and figured when I checked in, I’d get them to put us in the same room that we’d be in for the guided tour portion.

Not so. They would have none of that. But they did offer to transfer our bags to our new room for us while we were out and about sight-seeing. And so we took that option.

And then, they took us to our room with our bags! Which was a highly confusing affair.

First confusion: Our room had a main door, then a little vestibule? with a door to the bathroom and also a door to the bedroom. I know shoes inside in Asia is a huge no-no, and so I thought perhaps this was where the shoes needed to be removed? But also, the vestibule was tiny, not meant for two Americans and a Japanese lady, so as I paused to ask if I needed to take my shoes off, I really slowed down our progress. Some back and forth later: no, no I did not need to remove my shoes. So I continued into the room, she brought our bags in and explained the tv remote (there’s a language button! To switch all the shows into English? It’s magical!)

Second confusion: the tipping. I tried to tip. She was … embarrassed? Refused the tip. So I apologized, kept the money, she left, and we had the evening to ourselves!

Dinner was from Lawson’s in the basement. Yes, a convenience store. But don’t knock it till you try it! Conbini’s are all the rage, and their food is actually really good. Seriously. You are gonna hear a lot about conbinis.

Surely I forced the husband to stay up till 7 or 8 pm? That’s the typical travel-fight we have: I can sleep on the plane, he never can, we make it to the hotel and I force him to stay up till bed time. He’s always glad the next day, but man, that first night is pretty rough for us, not gonna lie.