If you see a beautiful woman wearing a kimono on the streets of Kyoto, chances are they are a tourist, not a Geisha.
The city of Kyoto, Japan is promoting traditional arts in a variety of ways, including an innovative program to encourage people to dress in kimonos.
The Kyoto Kimono Passportoffers discounts or small gifts to people wearing kimonos at dozens of restaurants, shops, and museums.
At certain times of the year, you can even get free bus and subway rides and reduced taxi fares!
If you love to dress up, this may be the deal for you!
Kimonos and the necessary accessories are available to rent at lots of places in Kyoto. For an extra fee, you can get your hair styled.
With the Kimono Passport in hand, if your outfit becomes disheveled, there are a number of places that will help reassemble your kimono free of charge.
Benefits of the Kyoto Kimono Passport
A list of all of the discounts available with the Kyoto Kimono Passport is available online. The many dozens of places where small discounts or gifts are offered include:
Temples and shrines
Restaurants and cafes
The small gifts might include something like a free postcard, or a hair ornament to go with your kimono rental, or 100 Yen off a museum admission.
The more valuable savings are probably the restaurant discounts. A huge number of commercial establishments in the Kyoto Station participate in the Passport Program.
Your best bet may be the restaurants in the Isetan department store in the train station, which offer ten percent off to patrons wearing kimonos. The Isetan store has a large variety of restaurants in different price ranges, including nine casual ramen shops.
How to Access the Kyoto Kimono Passport
The easiest place for tourists to pick up the passport booklet is in Kyoto Station at the Tourist Information Center.
Alternately, you can just print out a passport card online.
There is also a smart phone app available in the Japan app store.
This year’s Kyoto Kimono Passport is valid from October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016. Some discounts may have a limited validity period, so be sure to check the details of each offer. For instance, the discounts at temples and shrines are only valid during the Autumn months.
It’s a tired cliché to talk about contrasts in the context of travel writing.
But in the case of restrooms in Japan there is a huge contrast between the so-called “Western toilet” versus the “Japanese toilet.”
On the one hand you will find the super high tech Toto washlet toilet seat.
This toilet has a motion sensor that lifts the lid when you approach and a heated seat for comfort. It has a washer for your bottom and and a dryer to boot. You can flush the toilet by waving your hand over a sensor. The toilet seat may even play a recorded flushing sound for modesty purposes.
Restrooms equipped with these toilets are deemed “Western.”
On the other hand, there is the glorified squat toilet.
This is basically a hole in the ground dressed up with a ceramic basin. These toilets are labeled “Japanese toilets.” You can find a good picture of a “Japanese toilet” on the RocketNews 24 website.
The Most Important Advice You’ll Ever Hear About Travel to Japan
Japan is replete with public restrooms. You’ll find clean restrooms in parks, restaurants, museums, department stores, train stations, and on trains.
If you want to avoid “Japanese toilets” here’s what to do:
“Skip the ladies room or the mens room and head for the unisex handicapped restroom.
The handicapped restroom is very likely equipped with a “Western toilet.”
That’s it. This bit of information offered by my sister-in-law was the most valuable piece of advice we received about travel in Japan!
I ignored the guidebook advice, but you don’t have to!
We are just back from a three-week trip to Japan, where we stayed in a variety of hotels ranging from 2.5 star to 5 star properties.
Each of the hotels generously provided a number of travel essentials free of charge.
I can confirm that more likely than not, you don’t need to pack these ten items for a trip to Japan.
How to Lighten Your Load on a Trip to Japan
We stayed in nine different hotels over the course of our three-week trip to Japan. They all provided a standard set of amenities.
Do yourself a favor and leave these items at home:
Pajamas and Bathrobe: Hotels routinely provide fresh pajamas and/or yukatas (cotton kimono-like robes). In hotels with spas, it is de rigueur to walk to the public bath in the yukata and slippers.
Slippers: The Japanese custom is to remove your shoes upon entering a home. The same is true when entering a hotel room. Every hotel on our itinerary provided disposable slippers.
Toothbrush and toothpaste: American hotels don’t generally supply toothbrushes and toothpaste, but we found these items were available in Japanese hotels.
Disposable razor: Not having to pack a razor will shave a few ounces off your load.
Hairbrush and comb: You don’t need to bring a hairbrush or comb, as these are routinely supplied in Japan.
Standard toiletries: As you would expect, hotels provide soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and often body wash.
Sundries: Q-tips, cotton pads, nail files were offered everywhere.
Sewing kit: I came home with at least half a dozen sewing kits. I love these kits because the needles are pre-threaded.
Umbrella: Several hotels offered umbrellas to borrow. Don’t bother packing an umbrella because if it rains, you can buy one at a subway station for about $5.00 and they may be even cheaper at a convenience store. With amazing Japanese efficiency, the coin operated umbrella dispensers in the subway stations are replenished frequently on rainy days.
Flashlight: All hotels provide a flashlight in case of emergencies such as an earthquake.
Other hotel room amenities that we enjoyed included water bottles, a refrigerator, coffee maker, and hot water heater for making tea.
Do you tend to overpack? Even if you forget a few critical items like sunscreen — or run short — most everything you might need is is readily available in Japan.
You’ve got to love the retro/futuristic travel posters published by NASA.
NASA’S Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) has published ten new posters in their “Exoplanet” series.
These awesome graphic posters are “out of this world.”
The new posters can be downloaded for free on the JPL website.
NASA explains their poster series this way:
“As you look through these images of imaginative travel destinations, remember that you can be an architect of the future.”
For instance, the Mars poster:
“imagines a future day when we have achieved our vision of human exploration of Mars and takes a nostalgic look back at the great imagined milestones of Mars exploration that will someday be celebrated as “historic” sites.”
To qualify for the free ride, you must demonstrate that you spent 50,000 yen on a JCB credit card during your visit to Japan. (At the current exchange rate, 50,000 yen is equivalent to about $412.) It would be pretty easy to meet that threshold after spending a few days in Japan.
The regular one-way fare on the airport limo bus is about 3000 yen (about $26).
You can get two free airport limo tickets per JCB card! To get your free tickets toNarita International Airport (NRT), bring your JCB credit card receipts totaling at least 50,000 yen of purchases in Japan (including tax) to JCB PLAZA in Tokyo.
The fine print:
Offer applies for all JCB brand card issuing companies.
JCB cards issued in Japan are not eligible.
Cash advances are excluded.
The offer runs through June 30, 2016.
Get 20 Percent Discount on Airport Limo From Narita (NRT) or Kansai (KIX)
JCB cardholders can also get a discount on the airport limousine busfromTokyo’s Narita airport (NRT)to downtown hotels.
Passengers arriving at Osaka’s Kansai (KIX) airport can get a 20 percent discount on select bus linesfrom the airport.
Just show your JCB credit card when you purchase your bus tickets at the airport.
You can get four tickets at the discount price!
JCB issues several different credit cards in the United States, but they are only available to residents of certain states:
JCB Standard or Mitsuwa JCB Card California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon or Washington
Marukai Premium and Marukai JCB Card (California)
California, Nevada, Oregon or Washington
Marukai Premium and Marukai JCB Card (Hawaii)
Earn up to 3% Cash Back Points with the JCB Card!
The JCB Marukai credit card is an all around great deal because it pays cash back on all purchases, with no limit on how much you can earn. It pays:
1% cash back points on first $1,000 spent yearly
2% cash back points on next $2,000 spent yearly
3% cash back points on over $3,000 spent yearly
That is an outstanding payout for a rewards credit card but it is only available to residents of Hawaii, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
But, what if you don’t have a JCB credit card?
Discover Card Offers 20% Discount on the Airport Limo in Japan!
I loved the hotel. Would I have loved it as much if if it were a paid stay, as opposed to practically free? Probably not. As a certified cheapskate, I get some bizarre pleasure about getting something for nothing. I would not have paid 340 Euro a night to stay there.
But after agonizing about the various Radisson Blu hotels in Paris, I am very glad we selected Le Metropolitan.
Here are a few reasons why:
The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Has a Direct View of the Eiffel Tower
There is nothing more romantic than a room with a view. Our trip to Paris was timed to coincide with Bastille Day. It was a real thrill to witness the fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower from the Place de Mexico, directly in front of our hotel.
The police had barricaded the adjoining streets, so we were in a safe, traffic-free zone. We were away from the crowds, but still had a direct, spot on view of the Eiffel Tower.
We could even catch a view of the Eiffel Tower from our room on the third floor.
The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Doesn’t Feel Like a Chain Hotel
I prefer to stay somewhere that feels local. The Radisson Blu Metropolitan has its own modern Parisian sense of style. It is not a cookie cutter chain hotel. Rather, it is a small property with 38 rooms and 10 suites, designed by French interior designer François Champsaur. The look is elegant, clean and minimalist, with features such as all white bedding, caramel-stained wood and black stone rainfall showers.
The Small Touches at the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan in Paris
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference. There was a Nespresso machine in the room, and the restaurant sent up a pitcher of freshly steamed milk. There was a tiny refrigerator to keep some yogurt or a few drinks cold. Also there was a free bottle of Evian water, and two free macarons were delivered to our room each afternoon. If you are lucky, you will get a couple of bonbons with the turn down service — sweet, marzipan like confections. Oh, and there is free wifi in all the rooms, and a safe in the closet.
The Entire Hotel is Nonsmoking
There is another Club Carlson hotel about two blocks away, the Radisson Blu Le Dokhan’s Hotel Paris Trocadero. It receives high marks on TripAdvisor, and looks charming. We considered that hotel, but the only rooms that were available on points for our dates were smoking rooms. That was unacceptable. At the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitanhotel, all the rooms are nonsmoking.
There’s a Swimming Pool and a Hamman!
There are more than 2,000 hotels in Paris and probably fewer than a few dozen have swimming pools. Le Metropolitan has a small swimming pool in the basement, along with a steam room. The swimming pool is petite, for sure, but there is nothing more refreshing than a dip in the pool after spending the day walking all over Paris. The pool and spa area is quite relaxing, with vintage jazz music piped in. The steam room, or hamman, is lined with bright green glass tiles. I didn’t try it; maybe next time.
The Neighborhood — the Sixteenth Arrondissement
Paris is a city of small neighborhoods, and I am sure most people will say they liked their hotel because the location was great. The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan is in a quiet neighborhood of upscale apartments, professional offices, and embassies.
The nearest Metro station, Trocadero, is exactly one block away.
There are a handful of cafes and casual restaurants, but no nightlife to speak of. The nice thing about being in a residential neighborhood is that there are convenient services nearby.
For instance, there is a laundromat next door. Nothing makes me happier when traveling than a suitcase full of clean clothes.
A few doors down from the laundromat, you can find Androuet (17, rue des Belles Feuilles), which is reputed to be among the finest cheese shops in Paris. If you are overwhelmed by the choices the shopkeeper can guide you.
In Paris, there are contests each year for various baked goods, such as the best lemon tart, or the best baguette. In 2013, Boulangerie des Belles Feuilles (22 rue des Belles Feuilles) was among the top ten bakeries for butter croissants. Yup, we were staying down the street from the best croissants in Paris. The Paris Brest, a ring of choux pastry filled with hazelnut praline was to die for!
There is also a chain bakery, Paul (12 Rue De Belle Feuilles), where you can grab a quick breakfast. Chain bakery or not, they bake all their breads right there. It is located in a modern shopping mall just steps from Le Metropolitan. The mall houses a large Casino supermarket.
The Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, and Trocadero Gardens are all within easy walking distance.
What I Didn’t Like About Le Metropolitan
I am sorry if this is sounding like a puff piece. Perhaps the romance of Paris has contributed to my enthusiasm.
There are some things I didn’t like about the Radisson Blu le Metropolitan. First of all the rooms were small. You expect that in Paris. On both our stays, we were kindly upgraded from “Classic” to “Deluxe” rooms. Nevertheless, the rooms were still very small, with hardly enough room to sit and enjoy a drink or a bite to eat. In the second room where we stayed, the toilet was in a separate room from the sink and the shower — an inconvenient layout. Secondly, the service was adequate but not exceptional. Small requests, such as for a second chair, had to be repeated several times.
This hotel is not for everybody. If you want to be in the center of town, or in an area with more nightlife, this hotel is not for you.
There is a full service bar and restaurant at the Radisson Blu le Metropolitan which we did not try. The restaurant was on the pricy side, but discounts are available.
Finally, the cost of a room here in Club Carlson points has effectively doubled (for holders of the Club Carlson credit card), from 70,000 points for two nights, to 70,000 points for one night.
By the way, this hotel has its own app, with tourist information. You can find it on iTunes.
P.S. Per the request in the comments, here is a picture from the cheese shop.
Our family kind of lives moment to moment. It is hard for us to make long-range plans because we never know what might come up.
Spontanaity has its advantages, though. Sometimes, when you see an opportunity you can to jump on it.
Other times, it can be frustrating because tickets sell out, you can’t get reservations, and you miss out.
We have been saving miles and points for a trip to Japan for several years. Between my husband and myself, and a few strategic credit card applications, we had 300,000 frequent flier miles, enough for two roundtrip business class tickets to Japan.
OMG, My Husband Retired!
My husband retired last fall. I wasn’t really expecting it.
What does “retired” means these days, anyway? I mean, he stopped going to work every day. But, what’s next?
What’s more, our daughter graduated from high school in June. We suddenly have more flexibility than during all those years when we were tied to the school calendar.
So I did exactly what you might expect. I planned a trip. To Japan.
All Dressed Up With 300,000 Points and Nowhere To Go
I am totally conflicted about miles and points.
Sometimes I think they’re a total scam. It seems there is never availability for where you want to go, when you want to go. Or, the only flights available on frequent flier miles follow ridiculous routings.
Both United Airlines and All Nippon Airlines (ANA) fly nonstop from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Tokyo (NRT). You can use United Mileage Plus miles for either airline. It’s a code share thing. Both airlines offer lie-flat seats in business class on this route. But I couldn’t seem to find saver seat availability.
Then, miraculously, I found seats in both directions for travel during peak cherry blossom season! The routing would require an extra 15,000 frequent flier miles apiece.
Suddenly miles and points seem like magic! We’ll be traveling to Japan on United in business class, and returning via ANA in first class! The tickets are costing us 165,000 miles and $37 apiece.
That’s unbelievable! $37 to fly roundtrip to Tokyo in lie flat business class and first class. It kind of renews my faith in this hobby.
This will be our first trip to Asia. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a few things I learned from booking this trip, as well as some deals I’ve run across along the way. I am beyond excited!
If you have any tips on travel in Japan, I’d love if you could share in the comments!