Category Archives: Japan

Japan Trip Report February 2011

Japan Trip Report
In February 2011, I went to Japan for Japan Luxury Travel forum. This is a networking event for  overseas buyers and the press invited by Japanese government. It is organized
by Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Travel Industry. From their website,, they are trying to promote Japan travel.  As they say,

” There are countless exquisite  “Japan” contents found throughout the country, such as crafts with a  long-established tradition, performing arts, culture, gastronomy, advanced
environmental technology, modern arts, architecture, and many more. To increase  awareness and familiarity with Japan as a destination for international
affluent travelers”.

February 14.

JLTF organizers booked me on CO flight from Tampa through Houston
to Tokyo. I liked Houston airport since connection are very well thought over.
I arrived terminal gate 7 and next flight to Tokyo was on gate 7 in CO
terminal. I had small breakfast and spend next 2 hrs in Continental president
club. I selected a isle seat which now CO selling for $179! Good thing my AMEX
covers incidentals for  airlines
expenses. It was worth it, though. Lots of space to get up and stretch and no
seats in front of you. Long flight 16 hrs. Food was OK. Japanese dinner,  then followed by cheeseburger snack 🙂 .
Unlike other airlines in international flights, Continental does not offer
wine. Arrival was on time and Tokyo airport is well organized. I remember a
nightmare 2 years ago when it was swine flu and the health officials made to
sit us on the plane 1 hr before they allowed us to exit plane. This time it was
a breeze.

After  checking through passport control, got my luggage quickly and the driver was  waiting for me with the sign. Like Japanese taxis, the car had white lace  covers and driver was in white gloves. I was probably alone from the group on  this flight. It took 1 hour  to get to
hotel so I slept in the car too. The weather  was mix of rain and snow sleet.

Okura hotel is very nice, . It is member of Leading hotels  of the world. Japanese decor. Very nice functional room, Toto toilets with  washing equipment  – standard in hotel.

I had a voucher for dinner at hotel restaurant so I went to Terrace restaurant  and had light meal – chicken rice with omelet on top and melted cheese and corn  soup.

Back to room, prepared for tomorrow day of touring and meeting group and  organizers.

I looked at the group list and welcome package which was waiting for me in my room. The group demographic was quite interesting.  I was under impressions they wanted to  showcase Japan to Americans but I am pleasantly surprised when I saw the list  of 15 travel professionals and 5 journalists, it was international. The  official language of the conference is English.

The  group list showed:  2 people from Russia,  3 from France, 3 from USA, 1 from Canada, 1 from Taiwan, 1 from China  (interesting that they separated markets from China and Taiwan), 1 from Spain,  2 from Singapore, 1 from South Korea, 1 from India, 1 from Indonesia, 3 from

I  looked forward meeting everyone tomorrow, anticipating good networking  opportunity.

February 15.

Next morning, I went for breakfast for Cafe Camelia. Okura hotel has 3 restaurants which are serving breakfast:
Camelia, Terrace and Japanese Yumazato. Since I had dinner yesterday at  Terrace, I decided to try another restaurant Camelia in South Wing. It took a  while to get there but in all lobbies there are plenty of young women in kimono  directing you to right place. The buffet was international. I love to sample  different foods so I had a mix or Japanese and Western cuisine. Some  interesting food included poached egg in light sauce custard, Burdock salad (I  do not know what burdock is but it tasted like crunchy horseradish). I also  tried gnocchi with mushrooms in tomato sauce, miso soup with tamiko small  mushrooms. The fruit table included interesting item – apple tea. It is not  like apple tea in Turkey which tastes like cider, this one is steeped apple  compote and very strong taste but very good. It is being drank in small cups  like espresso. It did not look like it had caffeine though. It also had pieces  of apple in it. That became my favorite drink for the week. There was also  poached fruit in syrup and delicious light pastries. Great Variety. Hotel  supplied newspaper so I had something to browse with breakfast.

I lingered enough until I needed to  go to lobby to meet my group. We made introductions and the guide directed us  to the bus. We were supposed to leave at 10am but were delayed for another 15  minutes.   Very unusual for Japan. Finally two  guys rushed into the bus and they looked at our unfriendly places and  apologized: “Sorry, we are French”. Interesting introduction. We were  finally on the way to the center to start our sightseeing and our guide Sue  told us about the country, politics, city and customs. We learned about life in  Tokyo. I’ve seen in my previous visit Shinjuki – the busiest station which  handles 3M people per day and they employ “pushers” to pack people in  the cars. What I did not know, Sue explained that people were packed as  sardines and they caused sexual harassment of women so government came up with  cars which are only for women so they can commute in peace. Very clever.

We’ve learned few Japanese phrases:  “Domo” – thank you. This is in addition to “Arigato” which  I knew before, but there is also “Arigato Vazaymos” – thank you very  much!

We’ve learned how to bow and most  important, to keep distance so you will not bump into somebody forehead. Small  bow for regular greeting, lower bow for superiors in the office or parents, 90  degrees bow to emperor (whom we did not plan to see), or, also, Sue told us –
for men who come home guilty to their wife’s or girlfriends but in this case,  they are supposed to complement bow with small gift. Japanese people prefer  small expensive things. We also learned that Kyoto was old capital until 1868  and after that Tokyo became new capital and this is what it means in writing –   “New Capital”.

Religion in Japan is both Buddhism and  Shinto. Shinto is the faith of Japanese people and is very old . Shinto does  not have a founder nor does it have sacred scriptures like the sutras or the  bible. Propaganda and preaching are not common either, because Shinto is deeply
rooted in the Japanese people and traditions.  “Shinto gods” are called kaki. They  are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to  life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility. Humans become  kaki after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral kaki. The kaki  of extraordinary people are even enshrined at some shrines. The Sun Goddess Amateurish  is considered Shinto’s most important kaki.

As for Buddhism, people are get incarnated. I  would want to believe in Buddhism because it will be easier to die. If you’ve  been good in your life, in next life you will become someone better (a bird,  etc). But if you did not lead a good life, you might become an awful creature,
for example, cockroach. So people try to lead righteous life.

We passed a Sky Tree,  which is a tall tower is being constructed.  It is Japanese answer to Eiffel Tower. It is the tallest building in Tokyo and  when it will be completed in 2013, it will be 634m or 2080 ft. It will be the  tallest building in the world.

We also admired Japanese toilets which have  warm seats and wash your bottom, also provide music or other noise and  deodorization. It is the great invention in the world, and now are being  available in USA under Toto brand. Sue told us however that before it was not
possible to use Toto in USA because our water is hard and it clogged pipes but
right now with new technology, it is working. I personally know someone in USA who
bought Toto toilet.

Anyway, we approached to our first  destination which was a Cut Glass Studio / which uses unique  technique to produce beautifully designed glassware. It reminded me Bohemian  glass in Prague. There also was show room with items for sale but they were  expensive. I seem to be having problems with converting JPY into USD and I was  making mistake with one zero. I thought that small cup was $5 but it was $50!
So I passed on that. We walked afterwards to our bus. It was nice residential
neighborhood with park and dogwood trees, shrines and small alleys. Everything
was very clean. Dogwood trees, we were told, were gift from USA and Japan gave
to USA instead Cherry trees. Both trees blossom in April so it is a good time  to visit both Washington and Japan .

Next stop was to drive to theater for Geisha  performance. Usually Geishas perform in the evening but JLTF tour organizers  arranged special meeting with them. Before we got there, Su explained to us  about Geishas. I’ve read “Memoirs of Geisha” before and actually am  thinking about to create a tour following the steps of heroine of that book in  Kyoto. Unlike what people think about them in USA, Geisha is not courtesan but  musician, female artist and performer. They were specific heavy makeup, play shamisen  (national musical instrument) . Geishas cannot be married and can be any age.  Geisha’s apprentice called Maiko.

So we arrive to the theater and we were taken  to the theater and met geishas. They performed a song for us. One was a player  and 3 others danced. They use a lot’s of signed language but the song mostly  means love. Here is the video.
After performance, we were shown the game  which involved to tap the object in music rhythm. Few of us including myself,  went to the stage and played game. Then we asked questions and geishas answered  about their work. It was very interesting. Afterwards we were scheduled to
Asakusa – traditional center of Tokyo on rickshaws and geishas went with us. We
paired 2 people in each rickshaw and went. In Asakusa, we saw temples and
shrines and stroll through main street. Obviously, geishas never walk during
the day in public, because it created a lot’s of interested to our little group
and many tourist and Japanese tried to take pictures of “Our  geishas”  we felt very possessive of  them. We did take great pictures though with geishas. Afterwards, Su said that
Geishas need to leave and our budget is only to have geishas for few hours and
we reluctantly bid geishas goodbye. It was great activity.

Next, we went for lunch in to  Omotesando-Uka-tej restaurant  which is one Michelin star restaurant.

As for Japanese food, unlike most Americans  think, sushi is not the main food in Japan. Probably because it is too  expensive. Japanese eat a lot’s of fish and seafood, noodles, and not too much  meat. In ancient times, Buddhism prohibited to eat 4 legged animals, but in  modern times, Japanese introduced beef to their diet. Their steaks are not  thick as ours (and smaller, but again, any steak would be smaller than American  steak). They also like to eat it sweetened so most steak are thin and cooked  with some teriyaki or soy sauce. Sukiyaki is simmered beef in soy sauce cooked  on the pot on the table with vegetables and noodles. Shabu-Shabu is also beef  thinly sliced and cooked in the broth like fondue. Shabu-Shabu means  swish-swish in Japanese which represent noise of cooking. The beef is specially  bred, expensive and called Kobe beef. But they eat very little of meat.

Japanese have very healthy diet and generally  enjoy long life , average men live 80 years and women 85. They eat a lot’s of soybean  in their diet (tofu, desserts), soy milk. It has some ingredient which is  healthy and prevents osteoporosis.

The restaurant was beautiful and lunch was  delicious. It was set tenderloin lunch menu and started with appetizers  (shrimps and in salad). Then it was roasted bamboo. Like our artichokes, the  top was chewy and not edible but the bottom stalk was delicious. We were told
that each portion of bamboo increases life for 75 days 🙂 . Then it followed  with Shellfish Cream soup which only had a delicate hint of seafood. The beef  (something like filegh mignon small steaks) were seared on the table top which  we call hibachi (no fires, throwing shrimp in patrons mouth, etc ). Then he  seared potatoes and served everybody according to the degree of cooking. I love  my beef rare.

Desert was well prepared but nothing unusual,  more like angel food cake with cream and strawberries. But it was delicious.  Since we had journalists in our group, many were taking photos of the food and  writing descriptions. One Australian lady did not eat desserts so I became her   friend 🙂 .

After lunch, we met another guide who was an  architect and professor of university to talk to us about modern architecture.  He explained the neighborhood which is considered Tokyo Fifth Avenue. But the  difference is that Omotensando is built by famous Japanese and world Architects  and  is influenced by designers stores to  build buildings reflecting their couture fashion. It is really sleek and  futuristic. For example, Louis Vuitton store was inspired by famous Louis  Vuitton trunk, Christian Dior looked like it was covered with curtains, there
are no mirrors inside, but screens who take video of people and project them on
the large wall screen. This and changing lights supposed to create a dramatic  effects in the evening.

I loved this tour but unfortunately we only  had 1 hr. The architect was very upset and said it is not possible to  convey the architecture in one hour. We also visited one modern gallery with
contemporary statues which move. It did not do anything to me since I am not  that much imaginative to accept modern art but other people in the group said  the movement hypnotized them. In any case, the city is and intriguing mix of  traditional ancient blended with contemporary/futuristic.  They are probably 20 years ahead of us in  technology.

Our next stop was to attend a private Nezu
museum  , which is owned by president of Tobu
Railway, Nezu Kaichiro family. It contained traditional art and painting. It  was amazing to see such fine details of the painting. Afterwards, we went back  to hotel. It was a long sightseeing day but we saw a lot.

We came back to hotel to change and attended
official JLTF reception hosted by Japanese government. We learned how to toast  (“Kampai!”) and talked to officials, hotel representatives and  Japanese suppliers.

So we retired for a long day, had a good time  and spent good day together as a group.

February 16

Today is working day for travel buyers and  sightseeing for media professionals. Media professionals went to visit  Roppongi, National art center, and see some department stores.

I had breakfast in Japanese restaurant and  they brought me whole tray of Japanese food. It was good but some of the dishes  I did not understand and I did not know how to eat so I was watching locals. It  was delicious though whatever it was.

Our trade show started at 10am. I went about  15 min earlier only to discover that I went to wrong meeting building. I walked  into conference room and some people handed me some material in Japanese. I did  not notice my familiar people. I tried to explain what meeting I am for and  they could not understand but bowed graciously and said something in Japanese.
I finally thought to show my trade event info which had some Japanese writing
and they called someone and explained to me that I need to go to another south
building same conference room. We bowed and parted, I returned Japanese
materials and rushed across hotel. Fortunately there are a lot’s of employees ,
mostly young attractive women in kimonos whose responsibility is just to stand
in the lobby and direct guests. Very nice feature. I do not know how much they
are paid but the woman in our group who is Japanese explained to me that there
is very low unemployment in Japan because they use so many people for
supplemental activities which are probably unheard in USA. But it was very
helpful, she took me to the elevator, pushed button for me, bowed, and I rushed
through connecting hallway to the right building. Other people also got lost so
JLTF organizer said we will have to start 15 min later and she did not sound
happy. French guys again appeared late, but what’s new!

Anyway, tradeshow was the highlight of my  trip (of course, after sightseeing and food!), since I would never had an  opportunity to meet so many incoming destination management companies in one  place. True, I attended other luxury travel forum just few months before in
Cannes, but this one was only for one country! I found a lot’s about geography,
attractions, hotels and other interesting accommodations and sightseeing.

I came with misconception that Japan is  expensive. In fact, I had a trouble to plan my own trip 2 years ago. But now I  learned that there are different ways to put together itineraries, from luxury  private tour with a driver, guide, sightseeing, helicopter charters, and
special cultural experiences, to more on budget side like walking tour and  using public transportation,  and even  booking people into local group tours. And, local incoming operators were  offering us good wholesale rates, so I am getting exciting about planning and
selling Japanese trips. There is also city passes which tourist can but in
advance and airport bus delivers to the center, so there are ways to make a
trip affordable. I would recommend a private guide though, even in Tokyo, while
you can many signs in English, still hard to understand basics in stores and

As for accommodations, I was for a treat.
We’ve met hotel suppliers from luxury hotel Okura and Royal Park  (where we stayed), to traditional country  inns Ryokans (we will be going there tomorrow), and even traditional townhouses  in Kyoto, which can house a family or few couples, and bring out the beauty of
traditional Kyoto living.

Interesting sightseeing included but not  limited

1. Helicopter sightseeing for example:
•·      full  day tour from Tokyo, 1hr 20 min flight over Mt. Fuji, 5 hr stay at Hakone, and  35 min flight from Hakone back to Tokyo.
•·       One  day charter to Nikko
•·       Fly  from Tokyo to Sapporo 30 min, ski at Ski Resort and fly back.
•·       Night  helicopter sightseeing

2. Special performance by Kabuki Actors or  Geishas

3. Cultural experiences:
•·       tea  ceremony
•·       Ekibana  (flower arrangements)
•·       Japanese  style wedding ceremony
•·       Japanese  calligraphy
•·       Visit  with Sumo wrestlers
•·       Japanese  cooking
•·       Hot  springs (Ones)

4. Sports
•·       Private  golf with view of Mt .Fuji (or regular golf)
•·       Hiking  Mt. Fuji
•·       Skiing

5. Spa and wellness

I also met representative of beach resorts in  Okinawa which has tropical climate and is a good time to rest after touring the  country. There were also representatives of my  favorite chain – Small Luxury Hotels which had really nice properties in Kyoto.

So it was good and productive day. We also  had lunch with Japan Airline rep and he told us now there are some  international flights into Haneda from some US and European cities, so it is  more flights and Haneda is closer.

After show we went for dinner using our  voucher for hotel’s restaurant. We went for Chinese restaurant. Some dishes  were good but I chose fried chicken and it was not that excellent like the  rest. Afterwards myself and two Australians went to Roppongi to see nightlife
district. It was lovely. They had skating ring there. Also there were many bars
and restaurants catering to Western tourists. We saw beautiful display of fruit
in the stores. Few of the blocks however looked very seedy – it was first place
in Tokyo I was a bit apprehensive. Few days later we talked to hotel manager
and he said he does not let his daughter going there. So one must be careful
there. Not that dangerous like in other cities though.

The Journalists group reported that had a  good time as well during the day tour. They went to some small restaurant where  husband and wife owners served them delicious food. Some men however complained  that there was too much shopping!

February 17.

I had breakfast at Terrace restaurant  with other people. It has beautiful view of
tranquil garden. The food was buffet with mix of Japanese and Western
specialties, very good. They even served champagne.

After breakfast we’ve met with Okura hotel  manager for an inspection tour. We visited different rooms and suites including  presidential suite and imperial suite where president Clinton stayed and Indian  Prime Minister (was item of interest to Indian member of our group). It is a  really nice hotel even for regular rooms. We stayed in superior rooms.

After inspection, we had time for lunch or  take out and packed to leave for one overnight to go to Izu – countryside. We  were told to leave our luggage in a room, pack overnight bag and luggage will  be transferred to next Tokyo hotel. It was very convenient so we would not drag
larger suitcase. While I was getting my takeout lunch, I notice luggage shop  next door and I splurge with a small cute 4 wheel drive carryon. I just could  not pass it. I spend many time in airports traveling and this would be perfect.  I still felt guilty spending a lots of money on large suitcase but when I went  out, I met a french guy and he looked at it and declared that brand means famous french designer so I bought a cool thing! I enjoyed it a lot, it was a
breeze to wheel it in airports.

Anyway, we were off to our next destination – Izu/Shuzenji. Izu Peninsula is located in Shizuoka, it is a famous hot spring resort area. It is one of the most popular domestic and foreign tourist not far (2.5 hrs) from Tokyo. The president of Ryokan collection. Mr. Hiroki Fukunaga, whom we met previous day, stayed overnight at hotel and was going with us for 2
days. He also had guide/translator so on the way, they explained to us about Izu and hot springs and ryokans. We were looking forward to experience authentic Japanese inn and hot springs.

On the way we ate and had some sake, so there was an impromptu concert from French, Indian and international songs. We also stopped at rest area and even rest area was an adventure – so much different food, shopping. There even was electric charge station for the car and I took
photo of the car being charged! It is indeed a futuristic country. We tried to figure out what we bought to eat and came to the bus and shared it. Interesting, there was a donut shop called New York donut and tasted like our donut :-). After eating, we talked or napped. In few hours, we arrived to Shunzenu.

Since Ryokans are small, we were split in 3 properties and it was planned to inspect them all. First stop was Ryokan in town, traditional Japanese, Yagyu-no-Sho,
which breathtaking scenery set within bamboo forest. The owners husband and wife team met us and proudly showed around. Many rooms had private onsen (hot spring bath). One suite had also pond with beautiful fish. All rooms are set up so you do not see neighbors when you
look at the window. It is very serene and tranquil. The beds are futons which
are taken in and then taken away. Chairs are low so you seat on the floor.

We bid goodbye to our 5 members of the group and continued to second ryokan, Asaba

We dropped off other members there, we will come to inspect it tomorrow. It was in the center of town. We finally arrived to ours which is called
Arcana,  which was the largest of 3, we had about 7
people stayed there. Our Ryokan was actually not traditional but contemporary
and westernized and more resembled luxury french auberge. Therefore there was
not futon bed, but western beds in the room. But it also had private hot spring
tub on the deck. It had wi-fi (free), and came with pajamas (Yukata, very
comfortable soft cotton). No TV, means relaxation. The wall was glass and it
was dark but I could hear some waterfalls outside.

We were told to come to dinner at 7 and I went to enjoy hot spa.

Dinner was French with about 10 courses, very creative. We were seating at the table kind of counter facing the chefs. It was interesting experience. Unfortunately my camera was charging so  could not take pictures . It was beautifully presented. One of the dishes was a
composition of vegetables created from miniscule cut vegetables – raw, marinated, dried and cooked. It was 60 of them! The vegetables were drizzled with kind of balsamic vinegar sauce and below was something dark like chocolate. When we finished, the waiter removed
glass flat holder where vegetables rested on the plate and below under the
holder was soil – dirt… He explained to us it is part of composition so we
would not think to it! This was incredible. The dinner was long affair for 3
hours and was a feast to the eyes and palate.

We talked, and after dinner did not want to leave, so there were songs again. It is a lots of singing in our group! Finally we split going to bed. I fell asleep immediately. I woke up early (still leftovers of jet lag) and used the time to sit in hot springs.

It is a great experience. In 45F degree weather, step out of shower outside on the deck and sink in onsen (hot tub) of mineral water. If the water too hot, you can add cold water from the tap. When I got too hot, I sat on the edge and it was not cold at all . The body heats
up. The skin felt very good afterwards.

Onsen is a part of Japanese experience and life. In most places, it is public bath and people take it naked. Therefore public baths are separate men and women. Some expensive inns like ours had private bath so it is possible for a person or a couple to enjoy it in privacy.
Some luxury inns also have private rooms in ryokans for couples. I personally
love hot springs and wherever I travel, I never miss an opportunity (Czech
Republic, Hungary, Germany, USA, etc).  If you ever will have an opportunity, I urge you to try it in Japan.  It is very enjoyable.

February 18.

In the morning, after taking onsen bath and then shower, I went for breakfast.  Same
chef did not disappoint. It was a tray with same different samples of toy food
to play. They explained to us and then brought the picture of description of
food on the tray. It was so much fun.  After breakfast the rest of group arrived to inspect our ryokan and we went to pack and take carryons to the bus. Our next stop was to go into town to see the temple and inspect Asaba Ryokan. The temple was as other temples we’ve seen in Tokyo but it was a private visit and also they opened a door in the back to show
beautiful rock and pond gardens. It was very relaxing. We also see preparations
for dolls festival when all girls and women bring their dolls on display and it
was beautiful collection. Afterwards we inspected another Ryokan (second) where
part of our group stayed. It was also part of Relais and Chateaux and it was
beautiful and serene.

Another feature of Ryokan, is that the concept is to serve delicious traditional food. It was designed as destination restaurant with hot springs (most of them). So they serve delicious multi-course dinner (kaiseki) and breakfast in the morning and guests do not have to leave,
they eat, rest, sleep and leave rejuvenated. We very much enjoyed this
experience, even though our dinner was french, but most ryokans serve Japanese
kaiseki dinner. I highly recommend just to spend one or few nights there for
this special experience.

After inspection of Asaba, we went to town for short time, but shopping was not interesting. We also had soba noodles lunch in local place and then went to our bus for ride home.  Weather permitting, there was planned stop in one place to get a good photo of Mt. Fuji, but unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. We stopped again for snacks at rest area on highway and slept the rest of the trip. We arrived Tokyo to next hotel Royal Park hotel around

That was last day in Tokyo and the trip and the last impression should be the best. And it was! On arrival Royal Park team was meeting us at the entrance. By this time, we understood, it is a custom to get out and meet guest – anywhere – at hotels, stores at the opening. Very
welcome tradition. Makes you feel great and welcome. On Tuesday trade show,
they told us that we are booked in executive floor with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, separate
check-in, fitness center access and internet. So they took us to the executive
floor to check-in. We had cocktails and then we went for inspection. They broke
us into 3 groups by region (Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific). Journalists
also went with us. The hotel is also 5*, not that fancy as Okura and different
type, kind of low key, but I liked it a lot. It is much better value. For Okura
price, you can get better room category like executive floor and have a lot’s
of features included. It is also located in very nice interesting neighborhood
while Okura was a bit isolated next to American embassy. The airport bus comes
right to the hotel and the staff comes to pick up your luggage, so it is a big
plus. IN addition, the metro station right in the basement of hotel, so if it
rains, you do not even need to go outside. It is very convenient location and a
lot’s of traditional shops, restaurants and shrines within walking distance. We
had a party afterwards and thanked the hotel management for making us so much
welcome. The food at the party also was great.

My luggage was in the room which was transferred from Okura. Interesting observation: I brought 2 “extra pairs ” of my old shoes to wear them once and leave in the country. That’s
was I usually do with my old comfortable clothes – I am disposing it eventually  all around the world. It frees space in suitcase for new purchases. In Okura, I  left two pairs of shoes in the room. outside of my suitcase. But they were  thought as forgotten items, packed in separate bag and delivered to Royal Park.  This is first time my disposed items followed me. I left them in second hotel  and wrote on them that these I am not taking with me. Another thing which sets
apart Japan and Okura hotel employees.

After party, we said goodbye to some members  of our group. We split in parts, some of us went to Roppongi, I needed to  finish my shopping and went together with Korean and Indonesian women to the stores.  We arrived to Mitsukoshi department store but unfortunately it just closed at  8pm. We also walked into some book stores. The girls still bought some staff in
supermarket but I decided will go alone tomorrow last day since I had a

After that I packed and went to bed. The room  was somewhat a small suite and they had in each room a computer! When I was  hungry, I went downstairs to take out dinner with my voucher coupon provided by  JLTF. I love this hotel, the employees were so friendly and happy!

February 19.

My flight was at 5pm, so I had morning. I  enjoyed good location of hotel so I went out to walk, visited park, stopped in  some stores, got some small souvenirs. It is a pricey country, but quality is  so good.

I saw a baseball team practice and asked to  take their picture and the boys posed for me.

I came back to hotel, finished packing and  went to check out in executive lounge with some tea and pastries. Then I went  to the lobby and the car was already waiting (15 min earlier). So I went to the  airport, 1 hr drive again. At check-in I was happy to find out that my upgrade
request was granted so I was flying back in first class. I went to executive
lounge to use internet and again get some snacks (better food then in Houston).
But the lounge was crowded. Probably Narita is busy airport. I also did my last
minute shopping in the airport store and honestly, it was the most convenient
shopping because there were explanations in English and many salesladies to
explain things. I completed my shopping and was on time to board. The flight
was very comfortable, the first class seats decline 180 degrees into flat bed
and there are some additional lights to read. I do not remember when I slept so
much, and I arrived Houston refreshed. Again, Houston was very orderly and
pleasant airport (much better than NY and Chicago). I rechecked my suitcase at
customs, went through passport control, spent 30 min in Houston lounge, checked
again my messages, made some calls and flight to Tampa was on time and
uneventful. First class to Tampa is not worth it but since they upgraded me on
both, that was fine. It is just seats are wider but they do not recline much.
They served chicken salad and drinks but I did not want to drink. I slept a bit
more and arrived home town. All flights to Japan were on time so it was a good

So it concluded my trip to Japan.

Final thoughts.

This was my second visit to Japan and it keeps  amazing me.  It is so exotic, Unlike  Europe and Americas. Unlike other Asian countries, it is civilized, cultured,  clean. It might sound expensive, but there are ways to do it at reasonable  cost. Some cities are less expensive than others. Public transportation is  excellent.

But the value delivered for you is excellent.
You are guaranteed to get great food, service and clean environment. The simple  things like landscaping, rock gardens, hot springs, serenity will calm you down.  People are polite and going out of the way to help even if they do not speak  English. Service is out of the world. They employ many people just to help you  get you around at hotels! The service at hotels was excellent. Cultural experiences are unique. Nowhere else you see Geishas, Sumo Wrestlers, Beautiful flower and fruit arrangements, Green tea ceremony, Onsen experience, art.  Even toilets are unique! As for technophiles, I felt that their gadgets are ahead of us about 20 years. That’s why my phone probably did not work in Japan!  Anime is another part of Japanese culture.

I would definitely will come back to see more. I fell in love with Japan.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Government of Japan and JLTF forum to give me this special opportunity to see and experience their country as their guest.

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