Milenomics² No Annual Fee Edition Episode 67: Japan 2023 Trip report

We’re back with a chat about Sam’s 2023 summer trip to Japan.  

0:34 Overview: 14 days, spent as follows:

  • 5 nights in Kyoto at Mimaru Apartment hotel. 430 square foot. Not spacious but good for a family of 4.
  • 2 nights in Hiroshima at the Hilton Hiroshima: One bedroom suite booked with points (90k per night). Very new hotel, opened in 2022.
  • 5 Nights Ishigaki island near Yonehara beach. Car rental
  • 2 nights in Tokyo at another Mimaru in their pokemon room
  • Robert’s previous trip report (required listening)

04:37 Travel:

  • JL from LAX nonstop to Kyoto
  • Pickup from the airport (Booked on worked really well
  • Used the “Visit Japan Web” site to generate QR codes before landing. Be sure to make a QR code for each person (for immigration) and one per family for customs.

08:09 Kyoto: Transit was difficult

  • Not easy for us. Lack of numbers and signage really chewed us up. BUSY stations with people who definitely knew what they were doing.
  • Helpful staff–but still difficult to execute train to train transfers
  • Local vs. Express was not well signed.
  • Got easier when we limited ourselves to busses + a single train.
  • Busses in general were easier and better in Kyoto (can see the city as they Drive). Would take a cab directly to the bus stop.

15:51 Universal Studios:

  • Brutal to get to. Issues with kids and trains.
  • But once there, small size and express pass made the day a complete success.
  • Conflicting information about swapping rides–but we were able to swap for different rides than those listed on our express passes (but not different times)
  • Lines are crazy long, express pass is a must.  We bought a 4 ride pass due to height restrictions limiting possible rides, but 7 ride passes were not much more.
  • The Mario Water party parade was fantastic and over the top. Japanese to the max and loved by my kids.
  • Super Mario World is incredible.
  • The kids had a blast, we spent about 6 hours at the park, just enough time in my opinion.
  • Getting home to Kyoto was equally brutal. The train line leaving Universal encountered a full stop due to a train on the loop hitting a passenger.

30:10 Cabs: We took so Many and They Saved Us

  • Combination of lots of walking and young kids meant we needed to use cabs.
  • We were ‘close’ to multiple train stations and bus stops. But the walking before, during and after sightseeing meant cabs were the way we extended days.
  • Uber app worked well in Kyoto/Hiroshima to call cabs. In Tokyo we had to be careful–there was a 300-500 yen pickup fee plus the meter — lots of times the uber black fare was less.
  • Uber black cars are the nicest possible car I’ve ever been in. Loved these in Tokyo.

38:40 Kyoto to Hiroshima with Luggage: Train travel

  • Gion Matsuri in Kyoto made the train station packed.
  • Train runs nearly every 20 minutes. Amazing.
  • Kiosk did not work with CC and I couldn’t get 3 seats together (with luggage access). Pivoted to a desk agent who quickly got us on the next train and split us up.
  • With large size suitcases it is recommended to book a luggage seat. Non-reserved seating is apparently not possible and if you do book non-reserved there’s a 1000 yen fee if your bag is big
  • Meant we were split up, but only for part of the ride.
  • Fast train ride and cell coverage even in tunnerls, but wifi was terrible and completely unusable

45:52 Hiroshima: Not enough time, kids are to young

  • JR Trains to Miyajima vs high speed ferrey, by taking the ferry from Hiroshima Port we saved significant time.
  • Miyajima was loved by the kids for the deer and by us for the hiking and national park.
  • Time is for sale in Japan. This is a great example
  • Peace park was a highlight of the trip as well.
  • Kids were too young for the museum, we had to skip it

Data only SIM saved the day

  • Got two of these from Airalo.
  • Esim, and phones supporting dual eSIM make this a quick way to get online in foreign countries.
  • 5GB, $11.
  • Really was wonderful to be connected everywhere, saved the day many times.
  • Wifi is good but not enough places had it.
  • Ishigaki especially.

Hilton  Hiroshima: Very nice Hotel.

  • Brand new, opened in 2022 (was previously a police station)
  • Lobby:
  • Booked a 1 Bedroom Suite for 90,000 points per night.
  • Had called and emailed prior to arrival but no additional upgrade was offered due to space issues. Hotel was indeed 100% full our second night, with monday being Marine Day in Japan.
  • View from the Living room to the bedroom:
  • Hotel says it is full most weekends with Japanese who come to the city.
  • Full breakfast in either the restaurant or the lounge. Very good, full buffet but lines for things started backing up if you arrived late.
  • Really puts US Hilton properties to shame.
  • Wish I stayed one more night.

52:43 Highlights from Ishigaki island

  • Getting to HIJ airport: Airport Limousine Bus worked out very well.
  • Car Rental: Just worked!
  • The island has a busy southern side, quiet Northern shore and is ringed by reefs
  • All the comforts of mainland Japan are on this island. It really is amazing how the grocery store stocks everything at nearly identical prices to the stores in Kyoto/Tokyo.
  • The beef raised on the island is fantastic. So good we went twice to a local Yakiniku.
  • Beaches were very good–with no waves anywhere on the island the kids were able to swim out very far and I felt they were safe the entire time.
  • Activities we did: lots of snorkeling, glass bottom boat tour of the bay, Traditional Okinawan village, Hike to and swam in a waterfall, Stargazing.
  • Really relaxing island. Wish it was closer.  Can’t replace Hawaii but nice that it is less than 3hrs from Tokyo.
  • Food on the island was varied enough and easy to get to. Times listed when places were open were often completely wrong, but we stumbled on two great restaurants when the places were wanted to go to were closed.
  • Farmer’s market on Ishigaki stocks most tropical fruit but pricing was high still.  The availability is the draw here, but spoiled with CA/Hawaii style fruit and farmer’s markets.

1:06:06 Flight to Toyko

  • Mind-blowing that you can wake up, have a few hours on the beach in Ishigaki and then hop a flight to Toyko and be eating an early dinner there.
  • ANA domestic 787, very full.
  • Short flight time, domestic travel in Japan is interesting, no liquid restrictions, no ID checks, free checked bags.  Like flying in the 90’s here.
  • From the airport we did the monorail to a single JR train.  Worked really well. Plenty of space for luggage on the monorail.

1:17:33 Tokyo Highlights

  • City still seems to wake up late. Breakfast at 7am was a little tough to find, found a great little cafe in Asakusa that opened at 6:30.
  • Lots of shopping.
  • Loved the multi-story department store/malls.
  • Ueno streets had so many great food options, but the area is loud and has smoke/adult themes to be aware of.
  • Shibuya was even busier than Ueno, but with more polish.
  • Checked out Ginza, really amazing how close it is to both of the other districts and just how really sharp looking the streets are there.
  • Ueno Zoo was perfect for my kids 4/8. Animals seem to be out in the mornings, so go early.
  • Line to see the baby pandas was too long for us, so we skipped them and saw their parents instead (no line).
  • Started getting homesick a little.

Travel with kids: how we made it work.

  • Cabs (Uber worked, didi is another)
  • Naps
  • Sugar (Ice cream really, at convenience stores)
  • Food was well received by my kids but options for all kids might be harder

1:24:39 Is a Return Trip in the Cards? Overall thoughts?

  • Yes, but maybe not our next trip
  • Long 14 day trip let us see a lot, but still left a LOT unseen.
  • Would like to wait for my kids to be a bit older to be able to do more

About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *