James and I recently returned from a trip to Japan which included stays in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. During our time together, we deepened our connection to one another and broadened our understanding of each other’s life.
While I’ve visited Japan several times, this was all new to James. I tried to make sure we hit the highlights so that his experience in the country would be a memorable one. We pounded the pavement while chatting, visited art exhibits and museums, (mostly) successfully navigated the sometimes-confusing transit system, triumphed over the fact that vegetarian cuisine is rare in Japan, and finished our trip by climbing a mountain.
The first question that probably comes to mind is “why Japan?” The answer is relatively straightforward. When it came time to plan a trip for James’s thirty-fifth birthday, I asked him where in the world he’d like to go if he had nothing holding him back. His response was either Japan or Italy and, given that Japan was still closed due to the pandemic, I booked us a trip to Italy.
When it came time to plan our second brotherly journey, I knew where we’d be headed. Of course, we ended up going to London together in the meantime, but this trip was planned before that one.
Travel to Japan from the United States has been extremely popular since the reopening of the country to foreigners in 2022. As such, I booked our initial itinerary almost a year in advance. As with most of our recent travel, though, I made a few changes as the trip approached. Originally, I thought we would visit Tokyo, Nikko National Park, and Osaka, enamored by the idea of hiking in the mountains in between visiting the two major cities.
As I looked into things, though, it became clear that this itinerary was going to be much harder to pull off than I originally expected. The journey to Nikko National Park would include a long-distance train and a long-distance bus and Nikko is, essentially, in the opposite direction of Osaka from Tokyo – the journey would involve a lot of backtracking.
In the end, I decided we’d be best off acting like typical tourists and visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. This is an easy itinerary for a first-time traveler to Japan and likely what I should have started with when determining what to do with James.
Award flights to Japan are tough to book and getting tougher unless you’re willing to gamble with close-in availability. It feels like everyone, for good reason, wants to visit the land of the rising sun. I booked our flights on the day that the schedule opened and figured that I could make changes if better options opened up.
Unfortunately, in the eleven months between our booking and travel, our return flights to the United States were involuntarily downgraded from First Class to Business Class and a convoluted itinerary that was kind of odd, but probably worth it, became frustrating to contemplate. While on the trip, I rebooked James and myself on single-stop flights for our separate journeys home while canceling our previously booked flights.
- 60,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles + 18.10USD
- SEA-LAX on AS Y
- LAX-HND on JL J
- 52,500 Virgin Atlantic Points + 269.00USD
- KIX-HND on NH Y
- HND-SEA on NH J
- 60,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles + 18.10USD
- 60,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles + 23.70USD
- LAS-LAX on AS J
- LAX-HND on JL J
- 100,000 United Airlines MileagePlus Miles + 50.80USD
- KIX-SFO on UA J
- SFO-LAS on UA Y
- 60,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles + 23.70USD
Picking hotels for this trip was easy. I knew that we’d be spending a majority of our time outside of the hotel in Tokyo and that we’d be jet-lagged for the first day or two. It didn’t make sense to book anything extravagant given these constraints. I chose the Hyatt Regency Tokyo because, based on a previous stay, I knew that it was a comfortable hotel in a great location with easy access to everything I had planned.
For Kyoto, the Ritz-Carlton is one of my favorite properties in the whole world. As soon as I decided that we’d be staying a couple of nights in the city, I knew exactly where I wanted us to be.
Never having stayed in Osaka, I didn’t have any first-hand experience with the available hotels. However, several of my acquaintances stayed at the Conrad Osaka this year and gushed about the property. Given the eight Free Night Certificates I possessed that were scheduled to expire at the end of the year, I knew it was the right place for us.
- Two rooms for four nights at the Hyatt Regency Tokyo for 15,750 World of Hyatt points per room per night
- Two rooms for two nights at the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto for 96,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per room per night
- Two rooms for four nights at the Conrad Osaka for one Hilton Honors Free Night Certificate per room per night
November 4, 2023
I woke up early and, after a couple of cups of coffee, Angela drove me to the airport and dropped me off twenty minutes in advance of the boarding time for my flight to Los Angeles. Like usual, the TSA preCheck line was empty apart from a few people who didn’t understand what TSA preCheck is.
After boarding and taking my seat, a gate agent walked on board and asked if I’d like to move to first class. With this welcome surprise, I set off from my home city. By this time, James had already left Seattle and was on his way to Los Angeles as well.
Arriving at LAX, I checked James’s flight status and hunkered down at his arrival gate to await his disembarkation. We made our way to the Tom Bradley International Terminal and entered the Qantas First Class Lounge courtesy of my American Airlines status.
Because we arrived at the lounge right before lunch started, we were able to sample both breakfast and lunch. For breakfast, we both chose avocado toast with poached eggs. For lunch, I opted for the salt & pepper squid followed by a minute steak while James chose to order the two vegetarian options, a bowl of minestrone soup and some type of eggplant dish. The waiter warned James against the eggplant, telling him it was terrible, but James decided to give it a try anyways. Later on, he’d agree with our waiter’s conclusion.
After our meals, we headed to the main seating area, watched Notre Dame get beat by Clemson, ordered a couple coffees, and split a delicious baked rice dessert. An hour ahead of our flight, we decided to leave the lounge and go for a walk around the terminal to stretch our legs and get paper boarding passes.
We boarded on time, made our way to our very comfortable seats, and got settled in. I changed into shorts and a sleeveless shirt for the flight since Japan Airlines is notorious for their warm cabins. Per usual, the plane was absolutely sweltering before the flight. The temperature dropped a bit once we were in the air, but there’s no way that I would have been able to sleep if I wore my regular pajamas.
The flight was very pleasant with a comfortable seat and excellent service. I preordered James a vegetarian meal, which he enjoyed, and I selected the Japanese meal for myself, which I loved.
After dinner, I laid down the thick mattress pad, put on my headphones and eye mask, and was able to get about four-and-a-half hours of sleep over the course of the next seven hours. Japan Airlines’ seats are very comfortable and spacious, so the lack of sleep was more a consequence of timing then anything else.
About two hours before landing, I requested a bowl of ramen and some ice cream before service stopped. The ramen was delicious, and the ice cream was soft and refreshing.
After landing, we made our way to immigration. I assumed the process would be as quick and easy as it was in February when Angela and I entered Japan, especially because I prefilled the disembarkation and customs forms for both James and me. This assumption ended up being very wrong.
We waited in the immigration line for over an hour before entering Japan and then had to wait in the customs area for about half an hour between scanning our electronic registration, finding a customs officer when my passport proved unreadable by the machine, and waiting in line to do manual processing.
We finally made it to the arrivals area where we walked to the train ticket kiosks. Unfortunately, we were greeted with a fifty-person long line to buy Welcome Suica cards for our time in Japan. While James waited in the line for the kiosk, I stopped at a nearby ATM to withdraw enough cash for our first few days.
After procuring our IC cards, we walked to the Keikyu Main Line platform. Once the train arrived, we rode it to the Daimon stop where we transferred to the Oedo line, eventually disembarking at Tochomae Station. From there, it took two minutes to walk to the Hyatt Regency Tokyo.
Check-in was quick and efficient, and we were off to our rooms without delay. I continue to think that this particular property is an excellent value given the spacious rooms, comfortable beds, solid club lounge, and location.
James and I spent a short time chatting about our plan for the following day before saying good night and heading to sleep.
I woke up early and headed to the gym for a quick workout. Unfortunately, the fitness room has a minimal footprint with fairly light dumbbells. To exacerbate matters, there were already five other people in the fitness room at 0530, leading to it feeling even more cramped. I did what I could without stepping on anyone’s toes before returning to my room to shower.
At 0730, I met James for breakfast in the Regency Lounge. The lounge breakfast is decent, but not particularly special. There is a small spread of Japanese and Western items, a coffee machine, a few juices, and still and sparkling water. While not quite as extravagant as recent hotel breakfasts we’ve shared, we were both able to eat our fill.
After breakfast, I decided to buy tickets to teamLab Planets. I’d checked for available tickets upon waking up and was surprised to see that every time showed sold out except for three tickets at 1730. When I checked again after breakfast, we had our pick of any time for the day. We chose entry between 1430 and 1500, in the middle of the afternoon, so we could slowly make our way through Tokyo on the way to the exhibition.
Our first stop was Shinjuku Chuo Park, which we passed through as we exited the hotel. We stopped for a brief moment to admire some turtles hanging out in a water feature in the middle of the park and then walked right past a building with a huge turtle mural.
Next, we visited Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine. We walked nearly the entire circumference of the park, visited the shrine in the interior, and took plenty of pictures.
On the way out of the park, we were lucky enough to see a display of bonsai dioramas.
After exiting the park, we made our way to the famous Shibuya Crossing. Somewhat analogous to New York City’s Times Square, this is an extremely busy intersection that is consistently packed with pedestrian traffic.
Leaving the hustle and bustle of Shibuya, we made our way across the city to something that Angela had surprised me with on our first visit, a statue of Godzilla prominently displayed in the middle of a plaza. On the way, we passed by a moody cemetery and a quirky dinosaur statue. I enjoy the traditional nature of the headstones contrasted with the modern city behind them.
Paying forward the experience that Angela provided me with to James was a real treat. I think his pose with the monster may have been even better than mine.
Finally, we headed towards teamLab Planets. Walking through the Ginza area, we stopped at a Starbucks to pick up some light refreshments, sat on a nearby park bench, and enjoyed the first of many deep conversations.
After finishing our drinks, we walked the rest of the way to our destination and queued for entry. The exhibition was great, not having changed much since Angela and I visited it the first time. James really enjoyed the various pieces, as I suspected he would, and we both got to experience the hanging orchid garden for the first time.
After our visit, we ate dinner at Vegan Ramen UZU Tokyo, conveniently located directly outside of teamLab Planets. The ramen was light and flavorful with well-cooked noodles and a tasty broth. It also included cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and a saffron topper. I was a little skeptical before our meal, but I was pleasantly surprised by the dish and enjoyed the lingering flavor after we had finished.
We walked to a nearby subway station to take transit back to our hotel. After depositing our things in our rooms, we stopped by the Regency Lounge for a couple of hours for drinks and dessert. This became an evening staple for us as it gave us an opportunity to process the day, talk about the vagaries of life, and discuss our plans for the following day.
Again, we started the day with a quick workout before breakfast at the lounge. Immediately afterwards, we hopped on the train to the Tokyo National Museum where we spent the majority of the day. Unfortunately, we got on the train in the wrong direction initially, so we had to exit at Shimbashi Station and switch tracks before making our way to the correct stop.
We eventually made it where we needed to be, bought our entry tickets, and enjoyed exploring the Japanese Gallery from 1000 to 1430. There are so many interesting artifacts from the history of Japan on display and I feel like the collection is carefully curated to provide a sample of the best of Japanese history.
I was feeling a bit low-energy and grabbed a Mitsuya Cider so that I could make it through the rest of the afternoon. I was surprised to find that the drink was more like a lemon-lime soft drink than a cider. I finished it off while we relaxed in the museum’s courtyard.
Once I’d finished my cider, we entered the Asian Gallery and perused the artifacts, most from China, for the remainder of the day. I particularly enjoyed the fortune telling exhibit where you could shake up animal bones to divine your luck. We didn’t leave until the building was closing.
After leaving the museum, we took the train from Ueno Station to Tokyo Station to visit Tokyo Station Ramen Street, an area of the station that hosts a number of different ramen shops.
In my search for vegetarian friendly restaurants, I came across Soranoiro. It is located on the aforementioned Ramen Street and serves a vegan ramen alongside more traditional dishes. I ordered the house special shoyu ramen with pork and chicken while James ordered the vegan ramen. He enjoyed his dish while I found mine to be a bit middling. I was happy to polish it off, though, given how hungry I was.
We made our way back to the hotel, visited the Regency Lounge for an hour, and called it a night.
After waking up, I saw that award availability had opened for a one-stop itinerary to Seattle that would be a marked improvement over James’s current flight home. I called Virgin Atlantic to make a booking on his behalf. After detailing what I was looking for, the agent confirmed the flights were available and ticketed James’s new return. I had been stalking this availability for weeks, and was happy that my diligence paid off.
I was ready for a workout and breakfast, so I met James at the gym before heading to the Regency Lounge to grab a bite. After breakfast, we walked across the street to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to visit one of the observation decks. There was a short line that moved fairly quickly, and we made it to the top in less than half-an-hour. It seems like the North Observatory is currently closed, so we visited the South Observatory for an hour admiring the views, including of Mount Fuji, and enjoying the sounds of strangers playing the piano.
After finishing our visit, we headed for Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. We spent two hours walking around the park, taking in the beautiful views on a beautiful day. For me, one of the best things about the area is the sense of tranquility mixed with the knowledge that you’re in the middle of a huge, modern city. This is readily evidenced by the skyscrapers poking out above the trees as you walk down the tree-lined paths.
We left the garden and stopped at 7-Eleven for James’s first Japanese snack. Onigiri are my go-to for on-the-go nutrition. James opted for kelp and soy sauce while I chose salmon and salt. One of the best things about sightseeing in Japanese cities is the availability of relatively healthy and cheap snacks like this.
Continuing on, we visited the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace where we toured the Edo castle ruins, various defensive structures, and an orchard that contains trees producing unique varieties of Japanese fruits.
Leaving the Imperial Palace, we walked to Nihombashi Station and hopped on a train to Senso-ji. Here, we admired one of the most famous and longest-lived temples in Japan. James also received a good fortune during our time at the temple, counteracting the bad fortune he received from rolling goat bones the previous day.
Before leaving the temple, I looked for a vegetarian friendly place for us to eat dinner. Luckily, a blog that I found mentioned that CoCo Ichibanya, a popular curry chain in Japan, offered a vegetarian curry. With a location five minutes from our hotel, it seemed perfect for the end of a long day of tourism.
We took the train back to Tochomae Station and walked a few minutes to the restaurant. We were prompted to take a seat wherever we pleased and then were able to order using an English language menu on our phones. James ordered 400g of rice, vegetarian curry sauce, mushrooms, and vegetable mix. I opted for 400g of rice, pork curry sauce, a fried chicken cutlet, and two eggs. On later visits we’d up the spice level a single level above the standard.
The meal was cheap, delicious, and filling. Over the course of the trip, we visited the chain two more time because of how much we liked it. After dinner, we made our way to the lounge for our nightly drinks and conversation.
When I woke up, I saw that new award availability had opened up for flights to Las Vegas. I spent about twenty minutes making the change before joining James in the gym. We got a good workout in before breakfast. Afterwards, we packed up and checked out.
We walked to Shinjuku Station and took the Yamanote Line to Shinagawa Station. Once we arrived, we walked to the JR East ticket office and purchased reserved seat tickets for the Nozomi Shinkansen to Kyoto.
During the two hour and fifteen minute train ride, we occupied ourselves reading and stayed mostly silent to be considerate to our row-mate. We arrived at Kyoto Station at 1416 and made our way to the metro. To get to our hotel, we took the Karasuma Lina to the Tozai Line and alighted about 500m from the property. After a short walk, we were cheerfully greeted and led to the check-in area.
Our rooms were immediately available to us after check-in, and they were just as gorgeous as on my and Angela’s previous stay at the property. In fact, I was upgraded to a river view room on this trip, which I absolutely loved.
With a lot of things to do, and not a ton of time in Kyoto, we set off immediately for Kinkaku-ji and the Golden Pavilion. We reached the temple via bus. Unfortunately, we had to take two buses because the first bus we boarded was headed to the wrong temple, Gingaku-ji. Once I realized my mistake, we hopped off that one and boarded the correct one a few minutes later.
We arrived at Kinkaku-ji at 1620 right as the daylight started to fade. Given the location closes at 1700, we made it just in time. We spent a few minutes admiring the Golden Pavilion and taking pictures before walking through the rest of the site.
Upon leaving Kinkaku-ji, we decided to head to dinner at Donguri, a restaurant that Angela and I visited in February when we were in Kyoto. On the way, I directed us through the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, which I expected to be much more well-lit than it was. The walk wasn’t all bad, though, as I was able to grab a somewhat artsy picture. After passing through the garden, we briefly transited Nishiki Market, which was super lively.
Donguri was just as good as I remembered. I love the delicious savory pancakes and James enjoyed the fact that there were vegetarian options for him.
We felt re-energized after dinner and decided to visit Fushimi Inari-taisha in the dark to avoid the crowds. We walked to the nearest Keihan Main Line stop and transited down to Fushimi-Inari Station. From there, we walked the few minutes to the shrine area. We took a few pictures before continuing on to climb through the hundreds of torii gates to the top of Mount Inari.
We exited the mountain down a set of stairs that bypassed the shrine area, returned to the train station, and took the Keihan Main Line north towards the hotel. We walked the short distance to the property and retired for some well-earned slumber.
When we woke up, it was raining quite hard so we decided to have a slower morning than usual, hoping the rain would die down a bit. At breakfast, the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto has done away with the breakfast buffet in favor of full a la carte service. Fortunately, you can order as much as you want. My opinion that this property serves the best French toast in the entire world was not diminished one bit on this visit.
James and I each ordered the breakfast appetizer, consisting of a variety of small and delicious dishes, an egg dish, and several servings of French toast. In addition, we each enjoyed a few cappuccinos.
Housekeeping was in our rooms when we returned to them after breakfast. Not wanting to be in their way, we visited the gym for about half an hour before relaxing in the lobby to let the rain continue to dissipate prior to setting out for the day. The gym is well-equipped and a delight to use.
We eventually left the hotel around 1015 and walked to Nanzen-ji. We explored the grounds outside before continuing into the temple to view the famous sliding doors, each a work of art in its own right.
Leaving the temple, we walked the Philosopher’s Path up to Gingaku-ji. It was certainly much more lively than when Angela and I walked it in February when all the trees were dormant.
It started to rain quite hard again when we arrived at Gingaku-ji, but we still enjoyed our time at the temple.
We were in the mood for some food after spending time at the temple, so we stopped under a shop’s awning while I looked for a vegetarian restaurant that was open. We decided to visit Ramen Towzen for a late lunch. We set off on a fifty-minute walk through the rain to the restaurant. The location is inside of a neighborhood, between two adjoining houses, tucked behind a narrow entryway.
To be quite frank, I was getting quite sick of the weather and wasn’t looking forward to a vegan meal when all I wanted was something rich and hearty. Given that, I was blown away by the meal we had and think it might have been my personal favorite from our trip. You’re not supposed to take photos inside, but I didn’t realize that until after I’d snapped a shot of the menu. James ordered the Musashi ramen while I chose the Tantan ramen. Each of us were quite happy with our choice.
The rain had stopped completely when we left our delicious lunch, so we walked back to the hotel through a string of neighborhoods, eventually following a path along the river. We stopped a couple of times to take pictures.
After changing out of our wet clothes and relaxing for a little bit, we walked to Pâtisserie Salon de thé m.s.h for dessert. Again, this little shop is tucked down a narrow entry from a side road, making it easy to miss.
On the way back to the hotel, we grabbed a couple of onigiri and a bottle of wine to enjoy before our sweets. When we returned to our rooms, James found that he’d been gifted a set of five Pierre Hermes macarons from Pink, the guest experience manager we interacted with at check-in and throughout our stay. We ate them later on, and I can confirm they were absolutely delicious.
Our onigiri were tasty, but the real stars of the evening were the delicious desserts we procured from the patisserie. We definitely recommend a stop there if you’re in Kyoto.
After a solid workout and a delicious breakfast, James and I visited the pool and sauna to relax before leaving Kyoto. We asked to borrow swimming shorts so that we didn’t have to pack wet clothes in our suitcase for the journey we were taking to Osaka later in the day.
We enjoyed both the pool, wet sauna, and dry sauna. Personally, I found the dry sauna the most enjoyable, but also liked our time in the pool because the temperature was close to a tepid bath, which I consider to be the perfect indoor pool temperature.
We packed up, showered, and checked out prior to enjoying the free art tour that the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto offers. The hotel is akin to an art museum in many ways, with a variety of pieces across several different mediums. I think that anyone who visits should take advantage of the art tour, if possible.
We grabbed our bags from the hotel’s exit before departing for the train to head to Nara for the afternoon. Unfortunately, I made our single biggest set of transit miscues on this journey. We accidentally hopped off our first train a station early, had to backtrack to Kyoto Station, and eventually purchased tickets on the Kintetsu Line’s Limited Express to Kintetsu-Nara station. Conveniently, this train arrives at a station a few blocks from Nara Park, but we definitely wasted a bit of time getting around. It wasn’t all for naught, though, as we got to enjoy a cup of coffee at Kyoto Station while we waited.
At Kintetsu-Nara Station, we stored our luggage in a pair of coin lockers before setting off for the park. Even at the station, they really play up the deer that you’re almost certainly there to see.
On the way, we purchased two packages of deer crackers for 400JPY total so we’d have something to offer the friendly critters.
Once we arrived at Nara Park, we immediately saw and interacted with several deer. These interactions continued throughout our time in Nara as we progressed further into the park. Everything was going well until James irritated an aggressive male with antlers who ended up stabbing him right in the backside. Fortunately, James was able to assert dominance after recognizing the bad behavior.
We spent a couple of hours in the park before returning to the train station. From there, we took the Kintetsu Line to Osaka-Namba Station, transferred to the Yoshibitso Line, and disembarked at Higobashi Station, located directly underneath the Conrad Osaka.
When we entered the Conrad, we were greeted on the ground floor and to the lobby, located on the fortieth floor. Reaching the lobby, we were greeted by name and led to the check-in desk where our reservations were processed quickly and efficiently. Our rooms were lovely and the overall experience of staying at the Conrad Osaka was wonderful. We would recommend this hotel to everyone who can reasonably stay there.
We were feeling quite tired so we took the easy route for dinner and headed to a nearby CoCo Ichibanya for a cheap and familiar meal.
After dinner, we stopped at Lawson for a bottle of wine before returning to the hotel and visited the Executive Lounge where we enjoyed beautiful views and some delicious drinks and treats. When the lounge closed, we retired to my room to chat for an hour before grabbing some much needed rest.
Our first stop the following morning was the Conrad’s well-equipped gym. With dummbells up to 40kg and plenty of space to move around, it is hard to find any fault at all. We loved working out at the Conrad and, personally, I think it is one of the finest hotel gyms I’ve encountered at a major city property.
After our workout, we indulged ourselves at the incredible breakfast buffet. With egg dishes available a la carte and an amazing variety of delicious items on the buffet, there is something for everyone. I enjoyed dim sum, roast beef, braised pork belly, yakisoba, and various pastries.
We spent the day in Osaka and started by walking to Osaka Castle. There, we explored the grounds before queuing to buy tickets. While the queue was long, we were inside within half-an-hour and enjoyed the exhibits on the history of Osaka Castle and the Toyotomi and Tokugawa shogunates.
From the castle, we walked to a nearby train station and transited to Sumiyoshi-taisha. Walking around the shrine, we admired the Japanese architecture. This particular shrine is special because it lacks many of the Chinese and Korean influences that were introduced to Japan after 900CE.
We walked through a few random neighborhoods on the way back to the Yotsubashi Line. After transiting to the hotel, we stopped in the Executive Lounge for a cup of coffee before setting off for dinner at Paprika Shokudo, a restaurant recommended to us by the Conrad’s concierge.
We were seated at the bar adjacent to the kitchen as it was the only place left in the restaurant for those without bookings. I ordered the vegan karaage and James opted for the sweet and sour vegan pork. We both ordered miso soup to accompany our entrees. I enjoyed my dish quite a bit and James absolutely loved his. I wouldn’t specifically recommend this restaurant unless you have dietary restrictions, but the food was quite good and the service was amenable.
After dinner, we returned to the Executive Lounge for drinks and desserts, chatting for a few hours before heading to bed.
After some time in the gym and another delicious breakfast, we walked to Osaka Station, took the metro to Shin-Osaka Station, and purchased Shinkansen tickets to Hiroshima. The ride is a pleasant hour and fifteen minutes. Once in Hiroshima, we started our exploration by walking to the famed Atomic Bomb Dome. We spent a bit of time looking at the building and contemplating the nature of its conservation and what it can say to the world.
From there, we wandered the rest of the Hiroshima Peace Park, taking in the various monuments while thinking about the victims of the first atomic bomb used against other human beings.
We decided to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and joined the three-hundred person long line to enter. Luckily, the queue moved much more quickly than we initially expected and we were inside the museum within a reasonable amount of time. To be honest, this is a museum where it is hard to take in everything. The stories are all so sad and it becomes somewhat numbing when you’re reading about yet another person who suffered and died due to radiation illness that no one understood. Out of respect for the victims, though, I read every single sign in the museum to truly absorb the tragedy of the event.
In addition to the individual stories of victims and a recounting of the day of the bombing, the museum tells the story of the development of the atomic bomb. This is somewhat remedial content for most Americans, I think, but is still valuable to have so people can understand the effort that went into its construction and the context of its use in order to better debate the morality of it. The only thing I wish was present is a comparison between the death toll of the atomic bombing and that of the firebombing of Tokyo. Many people do not even think of the latter event even though it was on par with the events in Hiroshima when it comes to human suffering.
After leaving the museum, we retraced our steps to Hiroshima Station and secured tickets back to Osaka. While I purchased tickets, James grabbed us some coffee to enjoy on the train (and to keep us awake after an emotionally draining afternoon). I think a visit to Hiroshima is far from enjoyable given the reason most people travel there, but it is a necessary and somber reminder of the travesties that humans can inflict upon one another.
Once we arrived in Osaka, we walked to a CoCo Ichibanya near Shin-Osaka Station given it was late and most places were closed or closing.
We hopped on the metro to return to the hotel, stopped at a nearby 7-Eleven so I could buy some doughnuts for dessert, and chatted in my room for a couple of hours about the futility of war and the various moralistic and practical debates that people have made regarding the bombing of Hiroshima.
I had planned a hike for our last full day in Japan, with a journey up the mountain by foot and a journey down by cable car. When I woke up, though, I found the cable car was not operating and proceeded to worry whether we’d be able to finish our hike before the sun set. All the blog posts that I read about Mount Maya, our destination, said to expect a three-to-five hour hike to the summit and about the same amount of time on the way down.
I consulted with James after breakfast and we decided to go for it anyways. We took the train to Shin-Kobe station, where the trail to the summit starts, and headed up the mountain. We stayed on the trail until after the first waterfall where we made a wrong turn and ended up walking up a steep winding road rather than ascending on a more gently graded forest trail. Eventually, the road rejoined the trail. I didn’t feel too bad because we definitely were not the only people who were confused by the trail maps as many Japanese seemed to get lost alongside us.
Once we reentered the trail, we hiked upwards until we came upon a sign directing us up to the summit. Unfortunately, we assumed we came from a different direction than we actually did so we ended up making a wrong turn and hiking half-a-mile in the wrong direction. We came upon another sign, realized our mistake, and retraced our steps up the mountain for half-a-mile before heading in the right direction.
The hike was challenging at times and certainly not for everyone, but even with a one-mile cumulative detour, it only took us two hours and forty-five minutes to reach the summit.
Once we reached the top of the mountain, we were overjoyed by our decision to head to Kobe for the hike. The vistas from the summit are beautiful, and the day was so clear that we could see from one end of Kobe across Osaka Bay to much of Osaka.
We walked down Mount Maya along the path of the cable car that takes people to the summit. This trail starts with an extremely steep set of stairs before continuing through the forest, exiting into a residential neighborhood. We walked to Maya Station and took the train back to Osaka.
There, we visited Imakoko Kitchen Merrymomo for dinner. After being greeted by the restaurant’s host dog, James chose the vegetarian set dinner while I opted for the dinner with a meat entree. Each consisted of an array of Japanese side dishes and a substantial main. James enjoyed a potato patty while my main was a fried chicken cutlet. Each of the dishes was tasty and we would definitely recommend dinner here if you’re traveling with a vegetarian.
We returned to the hotel to rest our feet from a 30,000 step day and reflect on our trip both in the lounge and after retiring to my room to chat. Before long, it was off to bed for some much needed sleep.
We decided to take it easy on our last morning in Osaka. After a quick workout, we visited the pool and spa facilities. At the Conrad Osaka, visible tattoos need to be covered up. Again, we borrowed swim trunks and James was given a cover-up for his upper body. The pool was a nice temperature and Olympic sized. The spa facilities are large and gender separated, residing inside of the changing rooms.
After breakfast, we packed up and checked out at 1100. After checking James in for his flight, we headed outside of the terminal to use up the balances on our Suica cards at the Family Mart. We sat at a nearby picnic table and enjoyed our last onigiri before parting ways.
I watched James pass through security before heading to international departures, clearing the security and immigration checks, and heading to the ANA Business Lounge. It was pleasant enough, but got quite crowded as the afternoon progressed.
Before long, it was time for me to board my United flight to San Francisco. I chose to skip meal service and get some sleep so that I was well-rested when I landed in the United States. I passed through the Global Entry checkpoint after disembarking and headed for the Centurion Lounge to grab a bite to eat in advance of my flight to Las Vegas. Two hours later, I arrived at my home airport where Angela was waiting to pick me up.
Thus, another trip with my brother was in the past. We had a fantastic time in Japan and enjoyed every moment we spent together. We relished the time to chat, both throughout the day as we adventured and at night during down time. I’m looking forward to our next trip and would encourage anyone in a similar situation as us to pursue this type of adventure with your sibling. The dedicated time together allowed us to connect more than it is possible to do over the phone or via text and that means a lot to both of us.