San Francisco and Japan, June 2024

Angela and I recently returned from a trip to Japan with her father and stepmother (Mark and RaeAnn, respectively). A little over a year ago, they mentioned that they were interested in traveling with us post-retirement. We responded that there was no reason to wait and, after consulting with them on their interests, desires, and schedule, decided to journey with them to the Land of the Rising Sun.

We chose Japan because it is an exciting place to visit, especially if you’ve never been to Asia before. The cities are large without being intimidating, the culture is unique, especially from an American perspective, and the foods are different, but familiar in their ingredients.

While I knew the heat would be an issue during the summer, it was abnormally hot and humid throughout our visit. We couldn’t walk outside without immediately being covered in a layer of sweat. In spite of the soaring temperatures, we had a great trip. We visited a host of interesting places and ate a bunch of delicious food, but we most enjoyed the time we spent connecting with a part of our family that we don’t see very often.



Japan continues to be a huge draw for tourists after being one of the last countries to open its borders as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic wound down. As such, business class award flights are difficult to book unless you’re ticketed right when the schedule opens or get lucky with close-in availability.

On top of that, I was looking for more than two tickets on the same flight, increasing the level of difficulty at the time of booking. Luckily, Japan Airlines released four business class award seats on SFO-HND for the date I wanted. To minimize possible issues, we all met in San Francisco for a couple of days before continuing on to Japan (rather than trying to coordinate same day positioning flights).

I prioritized certainty and comfort with our bookings, so I spent a few more points and a little more cash than I normally would. I also made non-ideal redemptions to use small batches of lingering points in one program or another. In the end, creating experiences is what points and miles are for, so I’m happy redeeming them in the way that I did.

Finally, while schedule changes often work in our favor, this trip had several undesireable ones that we couldn’t effectively work around. Our travel companions’ positioning flight from Indianapolis changed from a non-stop to a connecting itinerary with no good alternatives. In addition, Angela and my flight home from Osaka was moved back a day when Japan Airlines randomly canceled the service on our original date of departure. This led to an unplanned extra night in Osaka.

  • Angela & Nicholas
    • 11,374 American Express Membership Rewards points per person after 35% rebate
      • LAS-SFO on AS J
    • 75,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles + 1,981HKD per person
      • SFO-HND on JL J
    • 75,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles + 1,840HKD per person
      • KIX-LAX on JL J
    • 24,200 Delta SkyMiles + 5.60USD per person
      • LAX-LAS on DL J
  • Mark & RaeAnn
    • 638.90USD per person (United TravelBank)
      • IND-DEN on UA J
      • DEN-SFO on UA J
    • 75,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles + 1,981HKD per person
      • SFO-HND on JL J
    • 13,000 Flying Blue Miles + 40.60USD per person
      • ITM-HND on JL J
    • 75,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles + 1,840HKD per person
      • HND-ORD on JL J
    • 258.90USD per person (United TravelBank)
      • ORD-IND on UA J


Luckily, the hotels for our trip were much easier to book than the flights. I used a combination of points and certificates from different programs for all of our stays but one. I used a Delta Stays credit for Mark and RaeAnn’s overnight at Haneda airport.

  • San Francisco
    • Two rooms for two nights at the Grand Hyatt at SFO for 23,000 World of Hyatt Points per night per room
  • Tokyo
    • One room for four nights at the Conrad Tokyo for 95,000 Hilton Honors Points per night
    • One room for four nights at the Conrad Tokyo for one Hilton Honors Free Night Certificate per night
  • Kyoto
    • Two rooms for two nights at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto for 17,000 World of Hyatt Points per night per room
  • Osaka
    • One room for five nights at the Conrad Osaka for 95,000 Hilton Honors Points per night with the fifth night free
    • One room for six nights at the Conrad Osaka for 95,000 Hilton Honors Points per night with the fifth night free
  • Tokyo


We visited a few shrines, temples, and museums that were paid for with cash on the date of the visit. I did not include those in the below list, opting only to identify tickets that were booked in advance of our visit.

June 4, 2024

We headed to the airport after dropping Fitz off at boarding. The journey to San Francisco was pleasant, as is usual for short-haul flights operated by Alaska Airlines.

When we arrived at SFO, we took the AirTrain to the Grand Hyatt at SFO. At check-in, we were upgraded to a top-floor runway view room which came with a pair of binoculars and a plane-spotting guide. I liked the room, the common areas, and the lounge quite a bit.

It is not an excellent choice if your primary goal is to explore the city of San Francisco, mostly because of the cost (using Uber) or time required (using public transit) to get where you want to go. In spite of this, I’m satisfied with my decision to stay at the airport rather than in the city given our particular situation.

Angela and I relaxed in the lounge for a while before moving to the lobby to wait for Mark and RaeAnn to arrive. After they checked in and stored their bags in their room, we set off for the Golden Gate Bridge via Uber.

Alighting at the Golden Gate Bridge Visitor Center, we took some photographs as we made our way to the bridge. Afterwards, we walked halfway across the iconic structure to get a better view of the bay.

Departing the bridge, we headed into the Presidio of San Francisco, walking along several different trails and observing the majesty of the bridge from afar before enjoying the views onto the Gulf of the Farallones.

After exiting the Presidio, we walked to Dragon Beaux for dinner. We sampled a wide variety of items and enjoyed each and every one.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel via Uber.

June 5

Angela and I woke up early and headed to the gym. The gym at the Grand Hyatt at SFO is nicely appointed, with a large stretching area, a solid collection of free weights and weight machines, and a considerable number of cardio machines.

After a delicious breakfast, we took the AirTrain to the BART station and journeyed into the city. Angela and I disembarked before Mark and RaeAnn and transferred to a bus which took us to the de Young museum. For better or worse, we visited during Bouquets to Art 2024, which meant we got see an array of beautiful floral arrangements alongside the art after paying an increased admission fee.

The museum hosts a wide variety of pieces covering many different origins, styles, and mediums. Personally, I enjoyed writing a letter to my brother as part of Lee Mingwei’s Letter Writing Project.

I did not particularly enjoy being told to move by an old woman who wanted to take a picture of a painting with accompanying floral arrangement, but such is life.

We were able to view the entirety of the museum in a couple of hours. Afterwards, we walked to the Bison Paddock inside of Golden Gate Park where we saw three of the majestic animals.

After our walk, we were in the mood for a treat and some coffee. We exited the park and made our way to Andytown Roasters at 800 Great Highway. I was hoping they would have some pastries, but they were all sold out. Luckily for us, they were happy to give us their last remaining baked good, a jalapeno and cheese muffin, for free.

We sat on the patio and enjoyed some great coffee and our free muffin before walking along the boardwalk to Lands End Park. The views from the park were incredible and we loved walking on the trails, occasionally stopping to take pictures.

As we exited the park, we heard from Mark and RaeAnn that they were done with their exploration for the day. We agreed to meet at Ocean Beach and Angela and I made our way there, effectively completing the loop that we’d started a couple of hours earlier.

I was quite hungry at this point and proposed we head to Jenny’s Burgers for dinner before returning to the hotel for the evening. I ordered The Challenger while everyone else ordered the Mushroom Cheeseburger. After your burger is prepared, there is an entire bar of condiments that you can add, if you so choose.

A true hole in the wall restaurant, I absolutely loved my burger and 100% recommend a visit if you’re craving something delicious and filling.

After dinner, we took an Uber back to the hotel where we grabbed dessert in the lounge, discussed our plans for the following morning, and retired for the night.

June 6

Angela and I visited the gym again to burn off some energy in advance of our long flight. After breakfast, we packed up our bags and checked out before heading over to the terminal. As is normal, I brought us to the airport much earlier than was necessary because I always believe that check-in is going to take four times as long as it actually does.

We checked our bags and headed through security. Afterwards, we stopped at the British Airways lounge to while away the time before our flight.

The food options available looked tasty, but I don’t think anyone ate anything given we’d all just had a big breakfast. I enjoyed my sparkling water and coffee, though!

At boarding time, we walked to the gate, doing a couple of loops of the terminal to stretch our legs before sitting down for ten hours. At check-in, the agent was kind enough to assign us seats that stretched across an entire row so we were near each other during the flight.

I loved the seats on this flight. They were spacious and comfortable and the mattress pad provided for all business class passengers was thick and springy. Angela and I both enjoyed the Japanese meal on board. As usual, the Japan Airlines flight attendants were attentive and welcoming.

In addition to the meal after takeoff, I enjoyed the JAL Original Noodle vegetarian ramen. It was quite flavorful – much more so than I expected, to be honest.

June 7

Unfortunately for our traveling party, the flight timing made it very hard for anyone to get any meaningful sleep during the flight. Leaving at noon and landing, ten hours later, in Tokyo in the mid-afternoon doesn’t lend itself to more than a nap.

Regardless, we were excited to be in Tokyo. After deplaning, we headed to the long immigration line. The day before we departed, I filled out immigration and customs forms for our entire traveling party and distributed everyone’s individual QR code to their phone. This made it easy for everyone (other than me, whose passport chip has decided to stop working) to scan their documents and pre-registered paperwork before proceeding into the country.

After collecting our bags, we stopped at the Welcome Suica kiosk to get IC cards for Mark and RaeAnn and then hopped on the train into Tokyo. After a single transfer, we found ourselves at the Conrad Tokyo. Upon arrival, we were directed to the Executive Lounge to complete our check-in. The views from the lounge are impressive as it looks out at Tokyo Bay.

We were all exhausted by the time check-in completed and agreed to stay in for the night, have some light snacks in the lounge, and then get some much-needed rest. At 1930, we retired to our rooms to refresh ourselves and head to bed. Before turning in for the night, I bought tickets to the Tokyo SkyTree observation decks because there is a discount for booking at least one day in advance.

Our rooms at the Conrad Tokyo were spacious and comfortable. We had room to spread out and there was plentiful seating. The bed was firm and comfortable and the shower and bath were lovely.

June 8

Due to jetlag, Angela and I woke up at 0300. After a cup of espresso, we headed to the gym for a workout. The gym at the Conrad Tokyo is nicely appointed with a solid selection of cardio and weightlifting equipment.

We also explored the bath facilities inside of the male and female locker rooms. While we didn’t get a chance to use them during our visit, they seemed very nice and fairly private.

Breakfast started at 0630 and we met Mark and RaeAnn there to formally start the day. I enjoyed each of our morning meals in Tokyo and loved the variety of dishes on offer, both from the buffet and available to order.

For our first day in Tokyo, I put together a list of locations that we could visit at a leisurely pace and would give Mark and RaeAnn a high-level look at some of the most popular sites in the city. So, we set off in hopes of accomplishing that goal.

First, we stopped at the Hama-rikyu Gardens, conveniently located nearby the hotel. After paying a nominal entrance fee, we strolled the grounds and admired the former site of an imperial villa.

Leaving the garden, we walked, without comment, to one of my personal favorite spots in Tokyo, the Godzilla statue in Yurakucho. There, I forced Mark and RaeAnn to pose with the movie monster.

We were close to the Imperial Palace at this point and made our way there after briefly stopping in Hibiya Park.

Approaching the palace area, we walked through the Outer Gardens, where we saw many different groups of joggers, and entered the East Gardens through the Ote-mon Gate. Once inside, we enjoyed the beautiful green space, eventually ending our journey at the Tenshudai. We looked back at the park that we’d just walked through and then stopped for the first of many selfies on this trip.

We exited the gardens and hopped on the metro to take us to Yoyogi Park. Here, we spotted a couple of little dachshunds. I also stopped at a vending machine for the first time to buy a delicious Pocari Sweat to cool myself off.

After leaving Yoyogi Park, we entered the Meiji Jingu park to visit the Meiji Shrine. Lucky for us, there was a wedding ceremony happening while visiting the shrine and we got to see the party process through the area.

We backtracked to exit the park and hopped back on the metro to take us to Asakusa. We walked through several markets on the way to our next destination.

Finally, we arrived at Senso-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo. It is a wondrous site, full of tourists and worshippers alike. While here, we each took a fortune from one of the many kiosks (but not before depositing a donation, first). Angela had a bad fortune and had to tie it to the wire adjoining the kiosk. Mark, RaeAnn, and I were a little bit luckier.

We left the horde of fellow tourists behind and headed to the Tokyo SkyTree on the aptly named Tobu SkyTree Line. After leaving the metro, we walked towards the tower, stopping at 7-11 on the way for Mark and RaeAnn’s first ever onigiri.

We also needed to pose for pictures with the cute Tokyo SkyTree mascots.

After that, we headed inside the tower. We were early for our timed tickets, so we spent a few minutes reading about the history of the area and the SkyTree’s construction.

Before long, though, we were in a high-speed elevator heading for the first of two observation decks. Words don’t really do the experience justice. I was a little skeptical when we first discussed visiting the site, but I’m really glad we ended up going. The views are omni-directional and all-encompassing. The architecture of the building is interesting and unique. I loved our time at the Tokyo SkyTree.

When we finished our visit, we took the metro back in the direction of our hotel, alighting a little early at the Daimon stop. After exiting the station, we walked across the street to Curry House Coco-Ichibanya (one of many thousand locations). We ordered our meal via the tablet at our table and enjoyed a hearty and delicious dinner of Japanese comfort food.

To finish the day of light sightseeing, we returned to the hotel’s lounge for drinks before retiring for the night.

June 9

After enjoying an early morning run, Angela and I met Mark and RaeAnn at breakfast to figure out what each couple would be doing for the day. Angela and I decided to spend the day doing some light shopping while Mark and RaeAnn went to Tokyo Disneyland.

Angela and I walked to a nearby pharmacy and bought a couple of bottles of sunscreen not available in the United States and some heated eye masks that are available, but are double the price at home. We also procured some delicious chocolates that we would later repurchase during our stay in the country.

Afterwards, we visited a couple of large shopping malls in the Ginza area looking for tea diffusers and rice cooker accessories. Having successfully procured both, we returned to the hotel to relax in the lounge and read for a bit.

For dinner, we walked to Sushiro, a popular conveyor belt sushi chain. On the way, we passed The Giant Ghibli Clock. It is stuff like this that makes me love just walking around cities.

The location we visited was on the sixth floor of the Bic Camera building. After signing in at a tablet (with an English option), we waited about twenty minutes before being seated. We were able to easily order a large amount of fresh and tasty fish from a tablet at the table. The quality of the pieces was good (although not exceptional), but the price was amazing. We spent a quarter of the amount we would spend in Las Vegas for the same quality and quantity of fish.

We returned to the hotel and were able to grab some snacks at the tail end of the afternoon tea period before heading to our room and relaxing the remainder of the evening.

June 10

After another delicious and filling breakfast, we walked to teamLAB Borderless, an interactive digital art experience. Angela and I had previously visited the other teamLAB exhibit in Tokyo, teamLAB Planets, but were excited to enjoy the newly renovated and reopened Borderless location.

It is hard to describe the varied exhibits available at teamLAB Borderless and I think it may ruin the experience for others to do so. As such, please enjoy this small selection of photographs from our visit.

After leaving the exhibit, we walked past Tokyo Tower, pausing to take a couple of pictures of the iconic structure.

We briefly stopped at Zojo-ji to appreciate the beautiful architecture.

On our way back to the hotel, we spotted a small trailer selling burgers. Angela and I were both feeling a bit peckish, so we decided to sample their wares. I’m so glad we did – the burger we split was absolutely delicious.

Returning to the hotel, Mark and RaeAnn rested while Angela and I headed to the lounge to read while enjoying coffee and snacks.

Once everyone was ready for dinner, we walked to a nearby Torikizoku location for some delicious grilled meats. This was a continuation of our local Japanese chain restaurant tour on this trip.

We were seated immediately and proceeded to order an incredible amount of food via the convenient tablet at our table. Everything we had was flavorful and delicious. I recommend a visit if you like yakitori.

Returning to the hotel, we once again visited the lounge for some after-dinner drinks, ending our final full day in Tokyo.

June 11

After securing late checkout for one of our rooms, we ate breakfast and then Angela and I moved our bags to Mark and RaeAnn’s room before checking out of ours.

Leaving the hotel, we walked to the Tuskiji Outer Market. This is a tourist staple in Tokyo that Angela and I had never visited. In retrospect, I’m not sure we were missing much.

The prices are definitely inflated, and the area was almost entirely occupied by other Western tourists. That’s not generally the experience I’m looking to have when traveling. There was a lot to see, but most of it was noise.

That being said, I did buy a few pieces of salmon so that Mark and I could eat something at the fish market. Angela, separately, purchased a matcha latte and a sweet potato, both of which she enjoyed.

Craving something a little sweet, I found Sowa, a small shop advertising home made ice cream. We hopped on the metro and made our way there. We all enjoyed a delicious scoop before moving on with our day.

We stopped at the Daiso in Ginza on the way back to the hotel so Mark and RaeAnn could do some light souvenir shopping. Once we arrived at the hotel, we gathered our bags and checked out. We walked to Shimbashi Station where I struggled mightily to find the Ueno-Tokyo Line (eventually discovering it was indicated by JT surrounded by a square). We took the metro to Shinagawa Station where we stopped at a JR ticket office and bought Shinkansen tickets to Kyoto Station.

The train to Kyoto was comfortable and pleasant. When we arrived at Kyoto Station, we decided to walk to our hotel. This may have been a mistake, as you can see the after-effects quite clearly in the following photos:

We were able to check-in immediately upon arrival. To be honest, I was expecting a little more from a hotel that advertises itself as five-stars, especially in comparing it to other five-star hotels in Kyoto. The room was nice, but quite plain and small.

After cooling off for a few minutes, I went to the front desk to ask some questions. Angela and I decided we would meet in the fitness room to check it out before heading to a performance on the lower level of the hotel.

Unfortunately, I followed the front desk’s directions to the fitness room incorrectly and found myself locked out of the hotel’s emergency exits. After panicking for a few moments, I was able to jiggle open one of the exterior doors that was locked from the inside to re-enter the hotel.

I eventually met up with Angela, Mark, and RaeAnn, enjoying a glass of cider while observing a traditional Japanese dance performed by a Maiko.

We were all pretty hungry by this point, so we walked to Donguri for a hearty meal. We ordered a ton of food including a seafood okonomiyaki, a beef okonomiyaki, yakisoba noodles, Kyoto-style udon noodles, salted cucumbers, and gyoza. Angela and I washed it all down with a pair of delicious yuzu ciders.

After dinner, we stopped at 7-11 where Angela and I each bought a doughnut for dessert. While they weren’t exceptional, I enjoyed having a little something sweet before our walk back to the hotel.

June 12

Breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto was middling, although we liked the fact that you could order either a Japanese set or a Western breakfast item. Angela opted for the Japanese set on our first day and enjoyed about half the dishes in the set.

With Mark and RaeAnn on a bus tour for the majority of the day, we set off to see some things that we’d skipped on previous visit to Kyoto, starting with Nishiki Market.

Nishiki Market was slightly less crowded than Tsukiji Market, but was still absolutely crammed with our fellow tourists, including large groups occupying the entire width of the walkway. We tried a few small treats as we made our way through the numerous stalls. First, we tasted a ground sesame coated curry bread, which was quite delicious.

Afterwards, we sampled a delicious custard filled taiyaki. We’ve had taiyaki in Las Vegas, but those are crisp and almost waffle-like in their texture. The one we had at Nishiki Market was soft and fluffy – more like a pancake filled with custard. We both prefer this version of the treat.

We left the market and headed to Eikando Temple. This site is a little less popular than some of the other temples and shrines in Kyoto, and it was a peaceful respite from the crush of tourists in Nishiki Market. The temple is beautiful and the surrounding landscape is lush and vibrant.

For lunch, we decided to try Mos Burger, a Japanese burger chain. Angela and I both ordered the Hokkaido Cheeseburger and, while it wasn’t something we’ll search out in the future, we both agreed it was a very tasty fast food burger.

Craving a bit of dessert, we walked to Pâtisserie Salon de Thé M.S.H, which James and I had visited on our trip last November. We chose to enjoy our treats in their small dining room, which required each of us to order a drink and a cake. I selected a chocolate delicacy alongside a hot Americano, while Angela opted for a strawberry topped sponge cake with a glass of iced tea.

We hopped on a bus and made our way to Maruyama Park. We walked around for a few minutes, but were disappointed to see most of the water features were under maintenance.

Feeling a bit tired from the heat, we decided to return to the hotel. On the way, we stopped at Imo Pi-Pi for some tasty sweet potatoes. I ordered the purple sweet potato ice cream and Angela chose to enjoy the roasted sweet potato with honey butter.

We stopped at a vending machine as we proceeded towards the hotel and bought a bottle of Pineapple Match Match. We do not recommend this at all – it tasted like drinking slightly carbonated suntan lotion.

At the hotel, we rested for a while before hitting the gym and turning in early for the night.

June 13

After breakfast, we relaxed for a bit before packing our bags and checking out. We stored our bags at the front desk before heading to Nishiki Market so Mark and RaeAnn could see the hustle and bustle and try their own taiyaki. I didn’t notice on our first visit to the shop, but it had a nice garden in the back.

Conveniently, the tea ceremony I booked for us was mere blocks away from the market so it was an easy walk as our time approached. We greeted reception and were asked to wait a short while. Eventually, we were asked to remove our shoes and proceed to the kimono dressing room. Angela and RaeAnn were escorted to a different building to change.

Mark and I were both prompted to change into v-neck t-shirts to prevent our collars from being visible when wearing our kimonos. The shirts ran fairly small and the fit can only be described as a tight squeeze. Of course, that gave the elderly Japanese woman assisting me the opportunity to compliment me on my muscles, so I’ll take it.

We were each given the opportunity to select the garments of our choice and, before long, we joined back up for a few pictures in one of the tea house’s gardens.

After everyone registered for our time slot had changed, we were led to a room in the back of the tea house to start the ceremony. Our hostess was a great teacher, walking us through each step of the ceremony and diligently performing each with care. We started with a couple of small desserts, whisked our own matcha tea, and learned a few Japanese words along the way.

We were invited to take more photos in the tea house’s second garden after the ceremony.

Afterwards we changed out of our kimonos (although we were informed we could wear it around Kyoto until 1800) and walked to the nearby train station for the Keihan Main Line. On the way, Angela and I grabbed a couple of onigiri from a corner shop.

We all alighted at Shichijo Station, leaving RaeAnn at the platform while Angela, Mark, and I walked to the hotel to grab our bags. On the way, Angela and I took the opportunity to enjoy the delicious onigiri we’d just purchased.

Returning to Shichijo Station, we hopped back on the Keihan Main Line and took it to the last stop, Yodoyabashi Station in Osaka. From there, it was a ten minute walk to the Conrad Osaka.

After a friendly check-in, we dropped our bags in our rooms before heading up to the lounge for cocktail hour. I love the rooms at the Conrad Osaka. Each of them offers beautiful views of the surrounding city with a firm and comfortable bed and awesome shower.

After having a few snacks in the lounge, RaeAnn retired for the night while Angela, Mark, and I headed out to try Daiki Suisan. After struggling mightily to find the restaurant, we eventually stumbled upon it on a lower level attached to the Osaka Metro.

We were seated immediately and proceeded to order a bunch of delicious seafood. Angela tried whelk, a carnivorous sea snail, for the first time. Mark had a great time at his first sushi restaurant, as you can tell from the following pictures.

On the walk back to the hotel, we got to see the quay nearby the property beautifully lit up.

June 14

We woke up in the morning to a couple of texts and a voicemail from Fitz’s veterinarian (and boarding provider) that he had thrown up a few times and wasn’t eating. This sent Angela and me into a panic as there has never been a single point in Fitz’s life where he hasn’t eaten.

To make a long story short, Angela and I got very little sleep on the next four nights as we were calling the vet for updates between 0030 and 0330 local time to see what was going on. Fitz was eventually diagnosed with pancreatitis, started eating after three worrying days, and is totally back to normal.

Anyways, we made our way to breakfast, worried about our dog, and enjoyed the delicious spread. Personally, I prefer the breakfast at the Conrad Osaka to the one at the Conrad Tokyo, but Angela disagrees.

After breakfast, RaeAnn decided to practice some self-care as she tried to kick a lingering cold. Angela, Mark, and I headed to Kobe to hike to the summit of Mount Maya. We took the Tokaido-Sanyo Line from Osaka-Umeda Station to Sannomiya before transferring to the Seishin-Yamate Line and riding one stop to Shin-Kobe Station.

There, we followed signs for Nunobiki Falls and kept following the trail until we reached the summit. James and I hiked this trail in November when we visited Japan, but it was much more fun this time as we managed to actually stay on the prescribed trail instead of detouring onto a service road.

The hike was fun and a little challenging. It was a lot sweaty as the temperatures soared above 90F and humidity sat around 90%. Likely due to the heat, there were fewer people on the trail compared to November.

Once we reached the top, we decided to take the Maya Ropeway and Maya Cableway to the bottom rather than hiking down hundreds of steep stairs.

Once we reached the base of the mountains, we walked a couple of miles to Maya Station and returned to Osaka Station, walking the rest of the way to the hotel. It was already late afternoon, so we showered and then hit the lounge to peruse the selection of hot dishes available. The braised beef on offer was absolutely delicious.

I warned Mark and RaeAnn not to eat much, though, as I wanted to go out for Ramen. We visited Kamitora Higobashi, a nearby shop that was recommended by the Conrad Osaka’s concierge staff.

Ordering from a digital vending machine, Angela, Mark, and I got the spicy variant. RaeAnn ordered regular broth. Angela, RaeAnn, and I ordered ours with an egg while Mark chose extra noodles (half of which he shared with me) as his add-on. We all ordered the combo so we could try the housemade gyoza.

We waited in line for about ten minutes before being invited inside. I enjoyed the ramen, but wouldn’t say it was exceptional. The gyoza were quite good. It was certainly an easy introduction to ramen shops in Japan, though.

After dinner, we went for a brief stroll along the river before returning to the hotel for some much-needed rest.

June 15

After breakfast, Angela and I walked to the Umeda Sky Building. We have a habit of visiting observation platforms, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint. Both the structure itself and the views from the top were quite nice.

Exiting the Umeda area, we walked to Takamura Wine & Coffee Roasters for a couple of coffees and doughnuts. While the doughnuts were tasty and mochi-like, the coffees were somewhat mediocre. I wouldn’t recommend a visit.

We next visited the Nakanoshima Museum of Art. It features rotating exhibits and a new one featuring items from the Daioji Temple debuted on the date of our visit. Unfortunately, pictures weren’t allowed inside of the galleries, but there were quite a few treasures of Japanese craftsmanship and artistry on display.

After an exhausting few nights worrying about Fitz, we decided to call it a day after our time at the museum. We returned to the hotel for afternoon tea, where we planned the itinerary for one of our upcoming trips. We made use of the fabulous bath in our room before returning to the lounge for some light bites in the evening.

June 16

After filling up to start the day, we set out for Hikone, a town on Lake Biwa. The journey is easy, if a bit long, on a single metro train. After a two hour ride from Osaka Station, we alighted in Hikone and walked to Hikone Castle. Hikone Castle is important as it is one of the oldest largely original-construction castles in Japan.

We purchased tickets for the museum, castle, and adjoining garden. The museum had a number of very interesting and beautiful artifacts, almost all of which were donated by the Ii family.

We climbed a set of stairs to reach the hilltop on which the castle sits. The views from the castle of the surrounding landscape are beautiful and the interior of the castle itself is both interesting and in excellent shape.

Leaving the castle, we walked through the nearby garden that was previously the private lands of the ruling family.

Finally, we walked back to the train station and made our way back to Osaka. When we arrived, we decided to stop at Coco Ichibanya for a filling dinner before heading back to the hotel’s lounge for drinks and dessert.

June 17

On Mark and RaeAnn’s last meaningful day in Japan, we decided to visit the Cup Noodles Factory Museum. There, we were able to “build our own” variety of Cup Noodles, including decorating the cup and selecting both the base broth and four different ingredients.

We also learned about the founder of Cup Noodles, how he came up with the idea, and the various innovations he pioneered over the course of his life.

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped for lunch at Kobe Beef Steak House Wa-Gou. Angela, Mark, and I splurged for the Kobe beef while RaeAnn enjoyed a delicious sirloin from the US. Both the meat and accompaniments were delicious and were well worth the price.

At the hotel, we enjoyed afternoon tea with Mark and RaeAnn before escorting them to the taxi stand and seeing them off to Itami airport to start their journey home.

Angela and I proceeded to the gym where we went for a run before enjoying hot chocolate in the lounge to end the day.

June 18

On our last full day in Osaka, we tried to visit the Osaka National Museum, only to find the galleries are closed due to a water leak. We were able to view nine pieces currently on display in the entry, but only a couple of them stood out.

From there, we decided to do one of our favorite things and just go for a walk around the city to see the sights and sounds from ground-level. Our first stop was Nanba Yasaka-jinja, the so-called lion shrine.

Afterwards, we walked through Shinsekai New World Market and saw Tsutenkaku Tower. The market was vibrant and full of people and the smells of delicious food.

Next, we took a stroll through Tennoji Park, a large greenspace featuring beautiful vistas.

For an afternoon break, we stopped at Melbourne Coffee for a pair of flat whites. They were good, but not as good as those we’ve had in Melbourne, Australia.

We stopped in a pharmacy and bought some more Japanese sunscreen before returning to our hotel. There, we lifted weights, relaxed, and read until it was time for dinner. For our final meal, we visited Coco Ichibanya again, although a different location. Unfortunately, the cutlets at this meal weren’t as good as on previous visits, but it was still a nice way to end our final full day in Osaka.

June 19

Finally catching up on our sleep, we ate a very late breakfast. Afterwards, we packed our bags, headed to the gym for a workout, and returned to our room to freshen up. We checked out at 1300 and headed to the airport even though we knew we’d be relatively early for our flight. To get there, we took the metro to Osaka Station where we purchased tickets for the Haruka Limited Express to Kansai Airport. As on a previous visit, we were lucky enough to ride on the Hello Kitty train.

Once we arrived at the airport, we fetched our boarding passes from a conveniently located kiosk and proceeded through security and immigration before making our way to the Sakura Lounge near Gate 30. The lounge is decent and we enjoyed the dishes on offer, especially the beef curry.

We walked to the gate thirty minutes before boarding, made our way onto the plane, and settled in for the long flight home. Unfortunately, the plane featured Japan Airlines’ SkySuite III seats which we both found to be exceptionally uncomfortable. While we tried to get some rest of the flight, it was nearly impossible given there was no good way to lay down given the width of our shoulders.

At last, we arrived at LAX. We cleared immigration without any delay thanks to Global Entry and then headed outside for a walk around the airport. Without lounge access, we spent some time inside the terminal meandering before settling down to drink some coffee before boarding our flight.

The short hop to Las Vegas on Delta Airlines was pleasant. We retrieved our car and picked up Fitz, finding him happy and healthy (a huge relief after all the trauma of the previous five days).

In the end, and in spite of the stress about Fitz, our travels were fun and exciting. It was great to share Japan with another couple, especially one who was not familiar with much of what they got to experience. We particularly enjoyed the mornings and evenings spent chatting about life and its many complications and paths. This trip will be one we’ll never forget.

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