Forget Tokyo’s Robot Cafe; Kyoto has Roberoids!

GEAR Show in Kyoto
GEAR Show in Kyoto — Circus arts at their best

You’ve probably heard the hype about the Tokyo Robot Cafe, but did you know that Kyoto has real life Roberoids?

The Roberoids are stars of the GEAR Show, running at Kyoto’s Art Complex 1928. 

These robots perform mime, magic, juggling, and break dancing.

Art Complex 1928, Kyoto
Art Complex 1928, Kyoto

Their skills are showcased in a non-verbal performance with a story line that pulls at the heartstrings.  The show is very entertaining with lots of incredible special effects.

The production values are amazing.  The technical wizardry reminded me of the Broadway production of the The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime.

The GEAR show has been running for several years straight with a rotating cast.

The theatre is in a cool art deco building in downtown Kyoto.

Tickets are discounted if you order online in advance.  Also, you get a ticket discount any time during your birthday month.

But don’t take my word for it.  You can read all the rave reviews on TripAdvisor!

 

Wear a Kimono — Get Discounts!

2016 Kimono Passport
Wear a kimono in Kyoto!

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 Passport offers 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

2016 Kyoto Kimono Passport
2016 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
  • Kimono rentals
  • Museums
  • Restaurants and cafes
  • Shopping
  • Experiences
  • Historic Sites
  • Hotels

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

2016 Kyoto Kimono Passport
2016 Kyoto Kimono Passport App

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.  

 

Know Before You Go (in Japan)

Japanese restroom pictogramIt’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.”

Kyoto's bathroom instructions
City of Kyoto’s bathroom instructions

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!

Ten Things You Don’t Have to Pack for Japan Travel

Travel light to Japan
Travel light to 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.

Which Credit Card Gets You A Free Limo Ride to the Airport in Tokyo?

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 3.45.44 PM
Get a free ride to Narita airport!

One of the biggest ancillary expenses of air travel is ground transportation to and from the airport.

In Tokyo, if you are a foreign JCB credit cardholder, you can get a free ride on the airport limousine bus from downtown hotels to Tokyo’s Narita (NRT) airport.

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).

How to Get a Free Ride To Narita Airport

The airport limo service picks up at major hotels in Tokyo.

You can get two free airport limo tickets per JCB card!  To get your free tickets to Narita 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 bus from Tokyo’s Narita airport (NRT) to downtown hotels.

Passengers arriving at Osaka’s Kansai (KIX) airport can get a 20 percent discount on select bus lines from the airport.

JCB Discounts on Airport Limo in Japan
JCB Discounts on Airport Limo in Japan

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:

  1. JCB Standard or Mitsuwa JCB Card
    California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon or Washington
  2. Marukai Premium and Marukai JCB Card (California)
    California, Nevada, Oregon or Washington
  3. Marukai Premium and Marukai JCB Card (Hawaii)
    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!

Discover card airport limo discount in Japan
Look for these signs at the airport ticket counters.

Discover card members save 20 percent off one-way airport limousine bus tickets when using their Discover card at the Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT) and Kansai International Airport (KIX) limousine ticket counters.

You can get up to three discount tickets at a time!

The Discover card offer runs through March 31, 2016.

I Just Blew All My Points for a Trip to Japan

Springtime in Japan, how perfect!
Springtime in Japan, how perfect!

I have been dreaming about a trip to Japan for a long time.

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!

Foreign Visitors Can Fly Anywhere in Japan for $100

Experience Japan Fare
Experience Japan Fare: Fly Anywhere for $106

Japan is a nation of islands with great geographic diversity — from the snow capped peaks of Hokkaido to the tropical beaches of Okinawa.

While much of the country is connected via high speed rail, if you are short on time or want to visit more far-flung regions, you may be interested in one of the many discount airfares available to foreign visitors.

Increased competition by discount airlines in Japan have led to an array of discount offers on domestic routes:

  1. Experience Japan Fare
  2. One World Yokoso Visit Japan Fare
  3. Japan Airlines Welcome to Japan Fare
  4. Star Alliance Japan Airpass
  5. ANA Visit Japan Fare

The most flexible of these is the Experience Japan Fare.  You can purchase tickets while in Japan allowing for more spontaneity, and there are no blackout dates.

The major downsides of the Experience Japan Fare are that tickets must be purchased 3 days in advance and are non-changeable and nonrefundable.

The Experience Japan Fare:  Up to 75% off Domestic Airfares

All Nippon Airlines (ANA) offers the Experience Japan Fare to international visitors to Japan.  You can fly anywhere in Japan for 10,800 Japanese Yen, including taxes and fees.  At today’s exchange rate (June 24, 2014) that’s $106 US dollars.

This is a gigantic bargain!  For instance, the regular one-way fare between Tokyo and Okinawa is 46,000 Yen.  The Experience Japan Fare at 10,800 Yen is more than 75 percent off!

Eligibility for the Experience Japan Fare

Experience Japan Fare
Experience Japan Fare

The Experience Japan Fare   is meant for visitors to the country.  There are  three conditions to be eligible for the fare:  You must:

  • reside outside of Japan;
  • hold a passport issued by a country other than Japan; and
  • have an international ticket from any airline to and from Japan.

How to Fly Anywhere Within Japan for $100

The Experience Japan Fare of 10,800 JPY per flight (this includes the 800 JPY tax) is good for tickets issued from April 1, 2014 until October 25, 2014.

There are some rules to keep in mind:

  • Reservations must be made at least 3 days prior to the departure date.
  • Tickets can be purchased up to 14 days before departure.
  • There is no limit on the number of segments you may fly.
  • Seats are limited and may not be available on all days or on all flights.
  • You will accrual frequent flyer miles.
  • One checked bag is included in the fare.
  • No changes and no refunds allowed.

Please note this important caution:  There may be instances where it may cost less to include all Japan domestic flights within your international flight discount fare if you are connecting to/from an ANA international flight.

Further information on fare conditions is available online.

Other Airlines Offer Special Fares for Foreign Visitors to Japan

There are several other discount fares with comparable prices.

One World Yokoso Visit Japan Fare

To be eligible for the One World Yokoso Visit Japan Fare, travel to Japan must be a carrier in the One World Alliance and tickets must be purchased before arrival in Japan.

oneworld Yokoso/Visit Japan Fare.
One World Yokoso Visit Japan Fare

One World includes JAL, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Qantas and several other airlines.

Tickets cost 10,800 Yen and are valid for two months.

Blackout periods apply:

Continue reading —>

Easiest DIY Birthday Party for Little Travelers? Japanese Origami!

Origami Party Time
Origami Party Time, by Florence Temko

When our daughter was seven or eight we spent several days in San Francisco.

The city is perfect for a family vacation because there is tons of fun stuff for kids.

We spent a full day at Exploratorium, visited the penguins at the California Academy of Sciences, saw the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, boarded ships at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Parkand played the games at Musee Mechanique at Fisherman’s Wharf.   

We stayed in a wonderful old hotel in the heart of San Francisco that we got on Priceline for $32 a night.

Our hotel was several blocks from Japantown, and we ventured there a couple of times for sushi and sukiyaki.  Japantown in San Francisco is much less touristy than Chinatown.  

Dinner in Japantown
My Family in Japantown

There is a mall, the Japan Center, with a large bookstore, many restaurants, some boutiques, and a discount store with imported goods.  The surrounding area is several blocks of residences, restaurants, and the Miyako hotel, as well as a Japanese market, a hardware store, and other shops.  

This is the neighborhood to shop for manga and Hello Kitty merchandise!

One of the shops we visited was a stationery store, The Paper Tree,  that had a large selection of origami papers and books.  The Paper Tree is a family business, and the owner’s daughters are origami artists.

Origami Stars
Origami Stars

We must have spent two hours in that shop.

They sell origami books and all manner of origami paper, including the beautiful handmade washi paper.  One of the daughters showed us how to fold tiny origami stars from paper strips, and we picked up some beautiful origami paper and stationery to bring home.

A DIY Japanese Origami Birthday Party

When it came time to plan our daughter’s birthday party, she chose a Japanese theme.

Fishing4Deals is a travel and bargain blog but one of my most popular posts ever was the article I wrote about how to host a DIY birthday party with an airplane theme.

Travel was a common thread in many of the home birthday parties we organized for our daughter — so I thought I would share a party plan for a DIY Japanese Origami party.

Koi windsock
Koi windsock

All of our DIY birthday parties followed the same basic plan, but this birthday party was the easiest ever.  No fuss, no muss, and very little expense — just a few packs of origami paper!

Here is an easy ten-step guide to planning an over-the-top Japanese origami birthday party. You can pick and choose from these ideas and adapt the party depending on the age of your child.

Continue reading —>

What Hotel Chain Has the Most Properties in Japan?

Choice Hotel Locations in Japan
Choice Hotel Locations in Japan

I know what you’re thinking.  Why would you go to Japan to stay in an American chain hotel?

Japan has capsule hotels, love hotels, and traditional Ryokan inns.

So why in the world would you want to stay in an American chain hotel?

Two words:  free nights.

I’ve read so many reviews from points and miles bloggers who have stayed at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo with “two free nights” they got from their Chase Hyatt credit card.  That place seems a bit over-blogged.

What about the Imperial Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright?  Now that’s a place I would like to stay (though I never would, because I am too cheap.)

One reason you might choose a franchised hotel might be to economize.  If you could earn free nights by accumulating points, that could cut the costs of your vacation.  I’ve written before about how we are planning a rail-based trip, and that hotels near train stations would be ideal.

My guidebook, Japan by Rail, mentions a number of Choice Hotels that are directly across from railroad stations, and many others that are a ten minute walk away.  

With all the hype about the Park Hyatt Tokyo, I thought I would take a look at other chain hotels that you can stay at for points, and how many properties they each have in Japan.  The search tool at AwardMapper.com was tremendously helpful in this regard.

Here’s what I found:

Club Carlson:         1

Japanese Breakfast at Choice Hotel
Japanese Breakfast at Choice Hotel

Hilton:                    8

Accor Hotels:       10

Hyatt                     10

IHG:                      11

Marriott:              14

Best Western:     15

Starwood:            15

Choice:                47

Choice Hotels Has More Hotels in Japan Than Any Other U.S. Chain

Are you surprised?  Choice Hotels has four times as many properties in Japan as Hyatt does., and three times as many as the nearest competitors, Starwood and Best Western.  Apparently, Choice has a ton of properties in Scandinavia, too.

To be sure the Comfort Inn is no Park Hyatt.  The Japanese Comfort Inns all look like 2 star hotels that cater to business people.  The rooms are quite small; but hey, this is Japan, you’d expect small rooms.  The prices are reasonable, as are the points redemptions.  For 38 of the 47 hotels, you need 8,000 points for a free night.  What makes these hotels especially convenient is the free breakfast, free wifi, guest laundry, and small business center.

Get 32,000 Bonus Points with the Choice Privileges Visa Card Equal 4 Free Nights

Choice Privileges Credit Card Bonus Points
Choice Privileges Credit Card Bonus Points

How can you get 8,000 points?

The easiest way is by opening The Choice Privileges® Visa® Card.  This is a no annual fee travel rewards credit card that pays 8,000 points after your first purchase, and 24,000 points after a one night stay at a Choice Privileges location.  That’s enough for four free nights at most Comfort Inns in Japan.

Here’s the thing:  you can burn Choice Privileges points at hotels in Japan, but you will not earn points for your paid stays.

This is the points earning structure for The Choice Privileges® Visa® Card:  
  • 15 per eligible $1 spent at over 4,200 Choice Privileges locations
  • 5 points per eligible $1 on additional Choice Privileges points or Choice Hotels gift card purchases
  • 2 points per eligible $1 spent on everyday purchases
Cardmembers will get Automatic Elite Gold Status, which offers:
  • Ability to book free nights 50 days in advance instead of 30 days
  • Every time you earn points for eligible stays, Choice Privileges gives you a 10% point bonus

To be sure there are more generous offers available, but those are usually for cards with a high annual fee.

The Choice Privileges® Visa® Card has no annual fee, not in the first year, nor in any subsequent year.  A card with no annual fee is one that you can hold for years and years, which will improve one of the important components of your credit score, the average age of your accounts.

What are the Limitations?

Comfort Hotel Japan
Comfort Inn Japan

There are some limitations. Your first paid stay must be in a U.S. participating hotel.

You will earn only 10 points per dollar at the lower end Choice properties:  MainStay Suites®, Suburban Extended Stay®, Econo Lodge® and Rodeway Inn®.

“Eligible stays”exclude discounted rates or stays booked through third parties.

You do not earn points for stays in these countries:  Brazil, China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, India, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden and including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

See www.choiceprivileges.com for details.

Comfort Inns (part of Choice Hotels) in Japan

Here’s the list of Choice properties in Japan, all Comfort Inns, where you can stay for 8,000 points a night.

Continue reading —>

Japan Dreaming: Save 25% on United Saver Awards to Japan

United Airlines is offering a 25 percent discount on award tickets to Japan, just in time for the cherry blossom season and festivals.

This is the bargain of the century!

Round-trip coach tickets for nonstop flights from Washington, DC to Tokyo price out at over $2,000 in April 2014, but can be had 52,500 miles with this sale!

The regular “saver” award price is 70,000 Mileage Plus miles.

What’s more, there is plenty of availability for Dulles International Airport (IAD) in both directions!

Saver Award Space From NRT to IAD
Saver Award Space from IAD to NRT
Saver Award Space From NRT to IAD
Saver Award Space From NRT to IAD

I did not check availability for other departure cities — but the offer is good for travel from the mainland U.S. and Canada.

The offer is valid for coach tickets purchased by April 17, 2014, for travel between April 1 and April 30, 2014.

A sample itinerary I checked priced out to 52,500 miles plus $120.50 in taxes for a roundtrip ticket, or $2,480 in cash.

That means that you could get enough miles for a roundtrip ticket to Japan just by opening a single credit card and meeting the minimum spend requirement.  That’s extraordinary if you think about it!

Here’s the link to the full Terms & Conditions.