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Archive for the 'Japan' Category


 The transfer experience by the Four Seasons Marunouchi is the only way to go!  The Train Station from the International Airport is a crazy huge station and very little English. The Four Seasons staff is Over the Top. They take you to and from the hotel and help you get tickets for the train etc. It makes the last night of a trip relaxing instead of hectic. The station is 5 stories deep and miles long in every direction.

Trust me…doing it on your own is not the way to start or end a trip.

Kyoto, Japan An Ancient Beauty

Author: Tamara Starkes

Goldern PavilionKyoto was the imperial capital of Japan from 794 until 1868.  It is one of the few cities in Japan that still has an abundance of ancient buildings.  For example, the Nijo Castle, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kiyomizu-dera (which has a spectacular view of the city), and the Ryōan-ji, famed for its Zen garden. It is important to plan your itinerary prior to arrival because the plethora of sites can be overwhelming.  There is so much to see and do in the Kyoto area, you will need at least a week to explore the city.  I have been to Kyoto twice and have not seen it all!

You may travel to Kyoto via rail or air.  The Tōkaidō Shinkansen provides passenger rail service linking Kyoto with Nagoya and Tokyo (in one direction) and with nearby Osaka and points west (in the other). The trip from Tokyo takes just over two hours. Another way to access Kyoto is via Kansai International Airport in Osaka. The Haruka Express carries passengers from the airport to Kyoto Station in 72 minutes. If you are taking the train, you will have to travel light; there is no place to store large pieces of luggage.  However, the scenery can prove to be rather spectacular.  If the weather is cooperating, you will see Mount FijiMount Fiji en route from Tokyo.  I was able to take a photo that I keep at my desk.  Upon arrival at the Kyoto train station, it is easy to take a taxi to your local hotel.  It’s best to have your hotel name written in Japanese so that you can show it to the driver and prevent confusion.

Visit Kyoto in either the spring or fall for optimal weather—fall for those who are searching for some lovely autumn colors and spring for those who wish to be surrounded by cherry blossoms.  Kyoto is best explored on foot—be sure to check out the Philosopher’s Walk.  It is a 1 ½ mile-long path through north-eastern Kyoto. The walk runs south from Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion) beside an aqueduct to Nyakuoji Shrine and passes several temples en route. Japan National Tourist Organization offers a Kyoto Walks brochure, with information about touring the city on foot.

Kyoto Hotel OkuraI stayed at the Kyoto Hotel Okura in the city center.  Just steps outside of your hotel is the Gion district. The flagstone-paved streets and traditional buildings are where you’re most likely to see geishas.  Unfortunately, you cannot go to a geisha house without a prior introduction.  There are an abundance of small mom-and-pop restaurants in the Gion district as well.  Even if you cannot speak Japanese (and the owners cannot speak English), you’ll be able to communicate by pointing at the plastic food in the window. Some of these restaurants take credit cards, but it is best to have some Yen.  You usually pay at the cash register instead of leaving cash on the table.  Tips are not necessary and tea (bancha) is free of charge.

After all that walking and touring, I would highly suggest that ask your hotel to recommend a local Japanese bathhouse or sentō.  The baths are separated by sex (men go through the blue door, and women through the reddish door—but you can also check with the attendant) and normally have a bathing area, boiler room, and sauna; most also offer massages.  Bring along a large towel for drying, a small towel for washing, and soap.  Some bathhouses sell these items.  Be sure to take off your shoes before entering the bathing area! (just as you would when visiting someone’s home)  It is also important to shower first before relaxing in the baths.  Spending the afternoon at a sentō is a real treat!