2011 Japan Vacation

Vacation update

Unpleasant surprise with a happy ending: yesterday morning, Interplanet Janet was looking at her upcoming flight itineraries, and discovered that our November round-trip flight to Kyoto had somehow become a one-way trip from Japan back to San Francisco.

There were vestigial traces of the actual to-Japan departure date associated with the itinerary, but no flight, and no hints on the site or email notifications. You couldn’t even tell when it had happened. To make sure it wasn’t just her account being messed up, I logged into mine and double-checked. Same thing.

On the phone, they told her that they’d canceled the flight for that day, but they could put us on the previous day’s flight instead, and also adjust her connecting flight from Chicago at no charge.

So, while I’m disturbed that this happened silently and could have horribly screwed up our trip if she hadn’t noticed it, we end up with an extra day in Japan, which doesn’t suck. I couldn’t change the existing hotel reservation, so I booked us for one night right by the airport. We can get our bags shipped from there to the Kyoto hotel, leaving us free to spend the day in Osaka.

Additional bonus: no lengthy train ride after the long flight. If things go smoothly, we can be relaxing in the hotel less than an hour after the plane touches down, with time to unwind before hunting dinner.

The one thing I need to research is what we want to do on our extra day, because it happens to be a national holiday, Labor Thanksgiving Day. My impression is that stores, restaurants, and tourist sites are going to be open but packed. I don’t know if stores that are usually closed on Wednesdays (like much of DenDen Town) will be open, but it’s probably not a good day to try for Osaka Castle or the Duck Tour. Maybe just a day of souvenir-hunting in Namba, Dotombori, and DenDen Town?

Fear of not flying

It’s hard to look forward to a relaxing vacation when the airline keeps silently canceling your outgoing flight. This is the second time my sister has checked her upcoming itineraries and discovered that our flight from San Franciso to Osaka was missing. No notification email, no refund, no hint on the site that we ever booked such a flight, and not much concern from the folks who answer the phones. If the higher-level support rep doesn’t sweeten the deal for us after the second screw, I will be “less than polite” about it.

Our new flight connects through Tokyo, adding three hours to the day. The good news is that a flight to Tokyo is less likely to be canceled, and the domestic leg is JAL.

Grumble. Clearly I should stop using the Brickmuppet Travel Agency, before we get to Kyoto and find our hotel burned down.

This should be fun

By royal request, I have secured reservations for a nice tea ceremony, traditional lunch, and kimono dress-up lesson, after stumbling across the web site of Tondaya. This will be a nice way to relax on our first full day in Kyoto. I can’t trust the extended weather forecasts this far out, but at the moment it looks like there’s only one day with a chance of occasional showers, and “mostly sunny” for the rest of the trip.

In case you were wondering...

…at the present time, One Piece is inescapable in Japan. I was honestly surprised not to run into crossover merchandise of Luffy with Hello Kitty. I’m sure I just missed it in the blur.

One Piece, Two-ply

This was the toilet paper display outside the grocery store near our hotel (Best. Tie-in. Ever). When you get into actual nerdy parts of Kyoto and Osaka, 90% of the merchandise is tied to One Piece, and even otherwise unrelated stores in DenDen Town have a rack or two of the stuff mixed in with the refilled printer cartridges, hand tools, used suits, spy cameras, robot parts, and porn.

Ridiculously good gyoza

Tenka Gyoza, located here in the Dotonbori neighborhood of Osaka. If you can’t read hiragana, it’s basically impossible to find without a picture of the sign and the knowledge that the entrance is in a narrow alley. A restaurant employee less than 60 feet away claimed she’d never heard of the place, but perhaps she was just jealous.

They’re open from 5:30pm to 11:30pm, and serve gyoza, beer, and shochu. It looks like the sort of tiny hole-in-the-wall place that fills up with businessmen who drink heavily, but we were the first customers of the day, and had the place to ourselves. The gyoza are bite-sized, nicely crisped, and incredibly tasty. I think we each had around 50. The woman running the place spoke no English, and the menu was in hand-written kanji that I couldn’t make out reliably, but all you need are three words: “gyoza, omakase, beer”. Oh, and “mo hitotsu” when you realize that you need more.

Their location on Google Maps is precise, but even if you’re using a smartphone with GPS, there’s enough interference to make you unsure of your location. Nellie and I had been shopping separately all day, and navigated separately to the right location, but since she couldn’t read the sign, she circled the block three times until I showed up.

So, assuming that most people I know will be coming up from shops in DenDen Town, let’s start at the Bic Camera on Sennichimae-dori. Cross the street to the north and enter the shopping arcade. Turn left at the third alley, walk about halfway down, and look up for this sign:

Tenka Gyoza entrance

Go in, and take the elevator to the third floor.

"Had a great time, wish we were there."

I’ve barely started looking at the pictures we took, but this makes a decent vacation postcard.


A walk in the park

Toei Studio Park is a very strange place.

Cosplayers at Toei Studio Park, Kyoto

Cherry blossoms in November

Nikizaki Sakura (二季咲桜) trees at the Kyoto Botanical Garden.

Twice-blooming cherry trees at Kyoto Botanical Garden

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”