New Year's In Japan
I'm off to Japan for New Year's. This trip means a lot to me because Japan was why I got so heavily involved in miles and points three years ago. I remember looking at flight prices and thinking there has to be a cheaper way to fly there. How things change; to finally make it happen means a lot.
I'll be heading to Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto - a classic two-week Japanese experience for a first-time visit.
Flying in the winter is not fun, given unexpected delays that might ruin a trip, so you should always plan a backup.
My main plan is to hop on United's early morning flight to San Francisco and then JAL business class westward to Tokyo, booked with Alaska miles.
This is preferred because the United flight was booked via Air Canada. An Air Canada ticket gives me valuable SQD, and I'll make the threshold for another Priority Reward, saving me from doing a quick SQD run.
I also look forward to giving JAL's Apex Sky Suite another try on an overnight flight. I could have been more impressed with the seat when I flew it last. I didn't like the claustrophobic feeling and narrow shoulder room. As opposed to reverse herringbone seats, you have to scoot on your knees to get into bed.
Self-connections are risky during the best times, but in the winter, when the weather might make a mess of things, it only worsens. As a backup, I have an ANA business class flight booked out of YVR on the same day.
Plus, given their uncertain future, I would rather spend the 70 thousand Alaska miles instead of Aeroplan.
I'll stay in Tokyo for four nights in the UNPLAN Shinjuku. I'm a fan of hostels as a way to meet people. And when in Japan, it's an excellent time to try a 104-person capsule hotel.
UNPLAN is a 10-minute walk from the bustling Shinjuku station, a good departure for a busy four days in Tokyo.
In Japan, there is little focus on celebrating the new year, like in North American cultures. Instead, it's a time to spend with family. Historically, Shibuya crossing, the busiest crossing in the world, closed to cars and turned into a quasi-street party. Unfortunately, the plans are canceled this year.
As a result, this is an excellent time to have Hatsumode - the first visit to a shrine to pray in Shintoism. Traditionally done within the first three days of the new year, many people visit just after midnight on New Year's day.
It's an early start the next day, and I'll be flying to Osaka, ITM, from Haneda, on JAL. I booked this for 7,500 Avios and planned to pay a nominal fee (usually around $10) to upgrade to "Class J" - a 2-3-2 Premium Economyesque seat. Most domestic flights - at least those on JAL or ANA have last-minute upgrades for this nominal fee.
It's important to know that this short flight could have been booked under the same ticket from SFO-HND because Alaska allows stopovers on one-way bounds. Don't forget, like me.
In Osaka, it's another hostel: The Stay Osaka. It's centrally located, only a 15-minute walk from Dotonburi.
There are many closures on New Year's and immediately after. Unfortunately, many tourist locations in Osaka are closed during my stay. As a result, I've replaced one day in Osaka with a day trip to Nara. I'm especially looking forward to Nara's deer park, where over 1000 deer are considered "messengers of the Gods" and roam freely.
You can even buy crackers for around $1 and feed them to the deer.
From Osaka, it's off to Kyoto on the Keihan Main line. While common wisdom would be to take the JR Shinkansen from Osaka, many lines go to Kyoto. In my case, the station on the Keihan line is only 5 minutes from my hotel, as opposed to the 45 minutes that JR Kyoto would be.
I'll stay in the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, a hotel on my list for years, for my time in Kyoto.
My expectations are high - the Ritz Kyoto is said to be the best Bonvoy hotel in the program. As the program boasts over 7500 hotels, this is quite an achievement, and I am excited.
After four days in Kyoto, it's, unfortunately, time to head home. Flying out of Narita means an early morning Shinkansen ride to Tokyo Station, where I will pick up the Narita Express.
This train is the only time I'll take a Shinkansen during my trip. Here's a handy calculator to see if buying a JR Pass makes sense.
I'll be routing via LAX on ANA's First Class, a route I flew earlier this year. This time, I'll be on their older first-class product, The Square. I won't have the luxuries of a 42-inch 4K screen or sliding door for privacy, but I will have access to Krug champagne and a delicious Michelin-starred menu.
Time to go to Japan!