Tag Archives: tokyo

Random Thoughts on 2/25/2014

1) American Airlines Executive Platinum status is awesome. I’m already 5/5 on systemwide upgrades, and I’ve cleared all domestic upgrades except for a Monday morning JFK->SFO flight that was booked one week in advance. This is making me want to maintain my ExPlat status more, but it still seems a little silly to me to try to do so.

2) You should always register for mileage promotions, even if you don’t think you’ll satisfy the requirements. I registered for AA’s double miles promotion to Tokyo and Seoul a long time ago, and what do you know, I’m currently in Tokyo and earned double miles on my flight from LAX to NRT. I’ll happily take an extra 10k AA miles, thank you very much.

3) Speaking of Tokyo, I really don’t understand the craze for popcorn here. Some of the longest lines I’ve seen in this city are to buy popcorn.

4) Club Carlson announced their devaluation last week. It could have been much, much worse. In fact, to me, this devaluation is largely a non-issue, since they didn’t really change redemption levels that much, and they didn’t touch the 5x earning on the credit card and free award night on any stay of 2 or more nights. Even at 70k points for the top tier, that’s 14k of spend to get two free nights on the credit card. What other hotel program can you get that kind of bang for your buck? Granted, the hotels maybe aren’t as aspirational, and the hotels are mostly concentrated in Europe, but Club Carlson is a great hotel program for people who don’t stay in hotels much and instead get points from credit cards.

5) I’ve got a trip planned to Vietnam and Cambodia later this year, and I’m trying to figure out how to get from Hanoi to Siem Reap in a reasonable amount of time. I think the answer is to either pay cash for a one-way ticket on Vietnam Airlines (~$240, which is more than I want to pay), or else to transfer some Amex points to Flying Blue to redeem for a one-way award (10k points). Unfortunately, the Flying Blue website isn’t displaying space on any of the Vietnam Airlines flights and instead wants to route me through Guangzhou, which means I’d have to call in to book and deal with the Air France call center and incur a phone booking fee. The phone booking fee and fuel surcharges would also seem to make the points redemption not as good of a deal. Anyone have experience booking on Vietnam Airlines or have an alternative that I haven’t considered?

Tokyo for the New Year: Ushigoro

Austrian Airlines Business Class Chicago to Vienna
Austrian Airlines Business Class Schengen Lounge Vienna
Austrian Airlines Regional Business Class Vienna to Prague
Turkish Airlines Regional Business Class Prague to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Tokyo Narita
Park Hyatt Tokyo
Shinjuku Kuyakushomae Capsule Hotel
Ushigoro
Hilton Narita
Narita-san Shinsho-ji
Swiss Business Class Tokyo Narita to Zurich
Park Hyatt Zurich
Oneworld Lounge Zurich Airport
Swiss Business Lounge Zurich Airport
Austrian Airlines Regional Business Class Zurich to Vienna
Austrian Airlines Business Class Vienna to Chicago


The best meal that I ate in Tokyo–and one of the best meals I ate in 2013–was at a yakiniku restaurant called Ushigoro. This restaurant was recommended to me by my friend Aimal who spent two months working in Tokyo earlier in 2013.

I don’t like making reservations in advance for fancy restaurants during short trips, as I’m never sure what my jet lag will be like and if I’ll want to eat a 2-hour meal at 7pm on the first day I’m in a new city. As a result, I didn’t make reservations for this restaurant until I arrived at the Park Hyatt. Luckily, when the concierge called, there was space available for me that same night at 5pm, provided that I finish my meal by 6:30pm, which I was happy to do.

The restaurant is located in Roppongi, roughly a 10 minute walk from the Roppongi metro station.

Restaurant facade

Restaurant facade

I was the first diner to be seated. At the table was a bib to wear instead of a napkin. I’m not sure if this is a traditional thing, but the food wasn’t messy at all so I’m not sure why they offered a bib.

2013-12-28 16.57.11

They have one waiter who speaks fluent English, and he was quite friendly and willing to explain to me how to eat each course (he also remembered Aimal from his numerous visits). My friend had recommended that I get the most expensive set menu (10,000 yen), which isn’t actually listed in the English menu, so that’s what I went with. As a result, I’m not 100% positive on what I ate at times, so I apologize for mislabeling in advance.

English menu (but not exactly what I ordered)

English menu (but not exactly what I ordered)

I was first served an assortment of kimchi and a small, simply dressed salad. The kimchi wasn’t overly spicy or overly sauced, and it was a great, crunchy, slightly sweet and spicy assortment of vegetables to get my mouth excited for what was to come.

Assorted kimchi and salad

Assorted kimchi and salad

The first three courses of beef were all served raw. From left-to-right, it seemed to be a take on carpaccio, tartare, and sushi. I don’t have much experience eating raw beef, but each of these bites was astounding, with the beef sushi being the best piece of sushi I had in Tokyo (better than the sushi I had at the Tsukiji fish market).

Raw beef three ways

Raw beef three ways

Next up were three different cuts of beef that were grilled by my server. Since each cut was relatively thick, this was done to make sure that I didn’t overcook or undercook the beef myself. There were a couple of garnishes as accompaniments, as well as a healthy serving of freshly grated wasabi. Unlike the fake stuff that’s endemic in the US, this wasabi tasted fresh and subtle. Each cut of meat was cooked perfectly, with a nice sear on the outside and the juiciest, most succulent red meat on the inside. The meat was also well-seasoned, highlighting the incredible flavor of the beef. While it’s clear that this meat had a lot of fat content to be so flavorful, nothing felt fatty.

Three cuts of beef to be grilled

Three cuts of beef to be grilled

Freshly grated wasabi

Freshly grated wasabi

Beef on the grill

Beef on the grill

I was then served a bowl of soup with a meatball. While I’m sure that people who enjoy soup would have liked this more, this was my least favorite course of the night.

Meatball soup

Meatball soup

The next course was a large, thin slice of sirloin grilled by my server and then rolled up and dipped into a delicious ponzu sauce with radish. The meat was tender and yielding to my teeth and yet so full of flavor, which is usually rare to find with beef.

Grilled and rolled sirloin

Grilled and rolled sirloin

The accompaniments for the next round of beef included a teriyaki-like sauce, an egg, and some rice. For this round of meat, I was to grill it myself, and each piece needed only a couple of second per side to be cooked. Again, each cut of meat was immensely flavorful without feeling fatty or too rich, and the accompaniments provided a nice slightly sweet and yolky contrast.

Dipping sauces for the next round of meats

Dipping sauces for the next round of meats

Three cuts of meat to be grilled on your own

Three cuts of meat to be grilled on your own

The last savory dish was a Japanese curry, which was the best Japanese curry I’ve ever had. The curry was complex and flavorful, and each bite made me want to eat another to unravel another layer of flavor.

Special Japanese curry

Special Ushigoro curry

Finally, I had the pudding for dessert, which was creamy and delightful and a great conclusion to the meal.

Pudding for dessert

Pudding for dessert

I have never had beef like I had at Ushigoro. Granted, I generally lean toward vegetarian tendencies, so it’s not like I’m hitting up steakhouses on a weekly basis in the US, but this was by far the best quality and best tasting beef I’ve ever eaten in my life. If all meat in the world tasted this good, I would finally understand why people eat so much meat.

Tokyo for the New Year: Shinjuku Kuyakushomae Capsule Hotel

Austrian Airlines Business Class Chicago to Vienna
Austrian Airlines Business Class Schengen Lounge Vienna
Austrian Airlines Regional Business Class Vienna to Prague
Turkish Airlines Regional Business Class Prague to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Tokyo Narita
Park Hyatt Tokyo
Shinjuku Kuyakushomae Capsule Hotel
Ushigoro
Hilton Narita
Narita-san Shinsho-ji
Swiss Business Class Tokyo Narita to Zurich
Park Hyatt Zurich
Oneworld Lounge Zurich Airport
Swiss Business Lounge Zurich Airport
Austrian Airlines Regional Business Class Zurich to Vienna
Austrian Airlines Business Class Vienna to Chicago


Staying at a capsule hotel is a far cry from the opulence of the Park Hyatt Tokyo, but I am equally as glad that I decided to spend some time at a capsule hotel, as I loved the experience.

The capsule hotel that I chose was in Shinjuku, not far from Golden Gai and Kabuki-cho. It had decent reviews online, and I was able to pre-reserve a capsule for about $30 a night.

Capsule hotel from the outside

Capsule hotel from the outside

Sign for the capsule hotel

Sign for the capsule hotel

For this capsule hotel, it seemed that most of the travelers were young Asian males. Many of them came in groups. The price for a capsule advertised on the sign was 4200 yen per night, which was more expensive than the price that I got online. Even if you’re staying multiple nights, you have to check in and check out each night as you don’t keep the same capsule and you’re not allowed in the capsule area between 10am and 4pm each day. You’re also not allowed to keep anything in their lockers at that time, but people left their suitcases as the reception desk.

Upon entering the capsule hotel on the third floor, I saw numerous lockers for shoes. You take off your shoes at the entrance, put your shoes in a locker, and then trade your shoe locker key for a wristband, which has a key to your locker and the number of your assigned capsule. The locker was large enough to fit a backpack, but not large enough to fit most carry-on suitcases.

Shoe lockers

Shoe lockers

This capsule hotel had a couple of floors, with one floor dedicated to women. There were bathrooms on each floor, but the main bathing area for men was shared on the third floor. The baths are definitely not for the modest as there’s very little privacy. To bathe, there are a number of stools to sit while you shower yourself with a hand shower, and then there are different hot baths you can sit in after you’ve showered. This reminded me a lot of going to a jjimjilbang in Korea.

7th floor map

7th floor map

Capsules

Capsules

The capsule was larger than I thought it was going to be. I’m about 5’9″, and there was plenty of room for me to sit and move around, and it never felt claustrophobic. I don’t know if I’d recommend a capsule hotel for people who are tall, but it was fine for me.

The capsule had a pillow, blanket, and TV. The mattress pad wasn’t great, but it was adequate. There were a couple of channels of Japanese TV, as well as a porn channel if you pressed the button labeled “BAND”. There isn’t a door to the capsule, as the way you close the capsule is to just pull down a shade, but it felt private enough to me.

My capsule

My capsule

Controls

Controls

On the fourth floor, there were some common facilities like a TV room, cafe, laundry, and vending machines. I didn’t spend much time in the common areas, but I imagine that’s where you can socialize with others since the expectation is that the capsule areas are to remain quiet.

Common space

Common space

Laundry machines

Laundry machines

Vending machines

Vending machines

I didn’t have any trouble sleeping in my capsule at night, but the one issue that I had was that people’s alarms would go off very early in the morning like at 4am, which did wake me up. Ear plugs are essential if you’re staying at a capsule hotel (ear plugs are essential to me when I travel anywhere).

Overall, I loved the experience. It felt like one of those only-in-Japan experiences, and it was interesting from the density of the capsules to the shared baths to the check-in. If you’re feeling a little bit adventurous, I would highly recommend a capsule hotel stay. I would definitely stay at a capsule hotel again.

Tokyo for the New Year: Park Hyatt Tokyo

Austrian Airlines Business Class Chicago to Vienna
Austrian Airlines Business Class Schengen Lounge Vienna
Austrian Airlines Regional Business Class Vienna to Prague
Turkish Airlines Regional Business Class Prague to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Tokyo Narita
Park Hyatt Tokyo
Shinjuku Kuyakushomae Capsule Hotel
Ushigoro
Hilton Narita
Narita-san Shinsho-ji
Swiss Business Class Tokyo Narita to Zurich
Park Hyatt Zurich
Oneworld Lounge Zurich Airport
Swiss Business Lounge Zurich Airport
Austrian Airlines Regional Business Class Zurich to Vienna
Austrian Airlines Business Class Vienna to Chicago


From the airport, I took an airport limo bus to the Park Hyatt Tokyo. They have buses that stop in front of the Park Hyatt, and a one-way ticket combined with a one-day metro pass was 3100 yen. The bus ride is long, as Narita is quite far from Tokyo, and the Park Hyatt was the last stop on the bus that I took, so I ended up getting to the hotel about one hour and 45 minutes after the bus left from the airport.

Once I arrived at the hotel, I was immediately welcomed and asked if I was staying at the hotel that night. I said that I was and gave them my name, and then I was whisked up to the 41st floor for check in. As we approached the check-in area, an agent greeted me by name and escorted me to the room since in-room check-in is a Platinum member benefit. I have Platinum status through the Chase Hyatt credit card, and I used one of the free night certificates from the sign-up bonus to pay for my stay.

The Park Hyatt is definitely the nicest hotel that I’ve stayed at. Everything about it feels luxurious, from the incredible views to the prompt service. Every person that I interacted with made me feel welcomed and like nothing I could ask for was too much of a hassle.

Atrium as you get off the elevator

Atrium as you get off the elevator

The room offered plenty of space for myself, with a large and comfortable bed and a spacious bathroom. The toilet was a typical Japanese toilet with heated seats and numerous functions, and I wonder why more countries haven’t adopted heated toilet seats.

Bed

Bed

TV and welcome amenity

TV and welcome amenity

Separate tub and shower

Separate tub and shower

Japanese toilet

Japanese toilet

View from my room

View from my room

After putting down my stuff, I went to the 45th floor to go to the gym, which is actually on the 47th floor. The views from the gym are stunning, and it was one of my favorite parts of the hotel. The gym was actually decently equipped with free weights instead of the typical treadmill/elliptical/hand weights that you find at most hotel gyms, so I was able to get a good workout in, which felt great after sitting on planes and letting my muscles atrophy for the past 2 days.

Swimming pool and gym

Swimming pool and gym

Later that night, I went to the New York Bar to further recreate the “Lost in Translation” experience and listen to live jazz. While there’s normally a 2200 yen cover charge once the jazz starts, this is waived for hotel guests, and there was no pressure by the wait staff to order anything as a hotel guest.

Jazz at the New York Bar

Jazz at the New York Bar

The next morning, I headed back to the gym for a morning swim and some sunrise yoga. Words can’t do this experience any justice.

Sunrise view from my room

Sunrise view from my room

Morning views from the gym

Morning views from the gym

I’m no connoisseur of fine hotels, but the Park Hyatt Tokyo exceeded all of my expectations. The service was superb, everyone that I interacted with was gracious, and the views are incredible. The only drawback to the hotel is the location, as it’s a little isolated, but I didn’t mind taking the shuttle to/from Shinjuku station, and the walk wasn’t bad either. This hotel is expensive, even with points now that it’s a 30k per night category 7 hotel, but it’s definitely an experience worth having.

Random Thoughts on Tokyo

1. Heated toilet seats are amazing. Why don’t we have them in the US?

2. Same with soft-boiled eggs. Or the not-quite-hard-boiled-but-not-runny eggs that are prevalent in ramen shops here.

3. Before coming here, everyone told me that Japan is a nation of cash and very few places accept credit cards. But pretty much every place that I’ve been where I’ve had to pay more than the equivalent of $20 or so has accepted credit cards. Thus, I withdrew way too much cash at the airport.

4. Tokyo can be exceedingly expensive, but I also think it offers great value at the lower end. You can get a fantastic bowl of ramen for less than 1000 yen or even just grab some delicious onigiri from a convenience store for less than 200 yen each, and it’s all ridiculously tasty. Yes, you can eat for cheaper in many other Asian countries, but I haven’t encountered the same quality of food at these prices.

5. Capsule hotels might seem a little strange at first, but I think they’re definitely a good cultural experience, and the one that I stayed at was a more pleasant experience than most hostel experiences I’ve had.

A full trip report will be forthcoming.