ExpertFlyer Hot Topics – Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
There are three things that we’re really into: Green tea, cell phone charms and anime. Who isn’t, right? With our tea supplies running low, we recently sent our blog editor, Lisa Kaslyn, to Japan to replenish our stores – luckily for us, she picked up a few other interesting cultural (and sub-cultural) treasures to share here. In this multi-part series, we’ll get the highlights from her five-day odyssey, beginning in Kyoto and ending in Hakone and Tokyo.
Richard, American Airlines Flight Attendant
When you’re flying for 14 hours, choosing the right carrier becomes especially important. Since this was my first trip to Japan, I did some research and found that American Airlines was the only US carrier that flies direct from New York-JFK into Haneda airport. This was good news. Typically, international flights arrive at Narita, which is much farther from the center of Tokyo. Conveniently, our flight arrived about 20 minutes early and it took about the same amout of time to get from Haneda to my hotel in Tokyo as it would to get from JFK to Grand Central Terminal — about half an hour. That’s less than half the time from Narita. By the way, the service on AA was flawless coming and going. Pictured left is my top notch flight attendant, Richard. Doesn’t he look happy? This was shot just before we landed and I think he was relieved that he didn’t have to listen to my neurotic fears about deep vein thrombosis or if it’s safe to wear rubber-soled shoes on a plane.
We finally arrived at the Shangri-La Tokyo Hotel at around midnight, which was 10am to me. I somehow managed to get enough sleep to get myself energized for our first full day in Japan and the journey to Kyoto. My travel companions and I enjoyed three days in Japan’s original capital city. Here’s a punch list of interesting things to see and do in Kyoto:
The Bullet Train – if you happen to be in Tokyo and you want to get to Kyoto as I did, the Bullet Train is a no-brainer. It’s roughly a 230 mile trip, which would take about 5.5 hours by car. The super high speed Bullet got us there in just over 2.5 hours and it was a lovely ride.
Traditional Tea Ceremony — The act of sitting calmly and observing a tea master at work for us Westerners is sublimely relaxing (I like to compare it to that weird tingly feeling when someone plays with your hair). Our tea master, Yuri, recounted the history of the tea ceremony, which was a peacekeeping practice during the time of the Shogun. In fact, their tearooms were designed with a tiny doorway, which prevented warring leaders from entering with their weapons.
Monko, Incense Making — Who knew that aromatherapy had such an impact on battle-worn warriors or that men and women used uniquely fragrant incense as a signature scent to identify one another? In Kyoto you can experience the ancient art of incense appreciation and the exotic, rare and unexpected olfactory elements that comprise it.
Rickshaw Ride to the Bamboo Forest — Late February and early March is still pretty chilly in Kyoto, but have no fear, your trusty rickshaw driver will wrap you up so you’re warm and cozy — he’ll even throw in a heat pack if you need it. What a fun treat to be whisked around town in this 19th century vehicle. Our driver took us through town and winding side streets until we arrived at the beautiful Bamboo Forest, which was as green as a summer’s day.
Temple of the Golden Pavilion
Temple Time — You can’t visit Japan without touring its temples and Kyoto has some beauties. If you’re pressed for time, there are two that you should see: 1) Kinkakuji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is gorgeous and as one of the most frequently visited Kyoto attractions, has come to symbolize the city. The gardens and aquatic landscape sets off this late 14th century site. The shimmering beauty of this Zen Buddhist temple is characterized by the temple’s top two stories, which are famously covered in gold leaf.
2) At well over 1,000 years old, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple offers outstanding views of the city, particularly from the main hall’s famous veranda. With gardens, waterfall and stunning pagodas, dignitaries are still regularly received at this famous landmark.
Look for Part 2 in our series on Japan where we feature top class places to stay in Kyoto.