Sunday, September 24, 2023

Japan 2023 ✈ Journey to Japan

We had originally planned to visit Japan in June 2020. Over the last 3 years, we had cancelled and rebooked this trip multiple times as Japan was one of the last few countries to reopen its borders to tourism post-Covid. After waiting for 3 years, we were glad to finally make this trip happen this year! This trip has been 3 years in the making and I must say Japan certainly lived up to our anticipation!

Trip Planning
This Japan trip was certainly one that took the longest to plan coz we had started planning and booking this trip since October 2019. The best part of our 'original' planned trip was flying on the amazing JAL First Class. We had only flown in economy prior to this and since I had a good amount of Alaska miles, we decided to 'splurge' on a fancy First Class flight on this trip.

We had our First Class flights ticketed for 3 times (June 2020, Dec 2020, May 2022), but had to cancel all of them (thanks Covid). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any First Class availability this time around and even worse, Alaska Airlines devalued the award redemptions for JAL in March 2023, so our hopes of traveling JAL First Class were gone. :( 

We had our rough itinerary planned out previously, so we only had to finalize the flights and accommodation. I used points and miles for our flights and accommodation on this trip. We had to book 2 different return tickets as I was continuing my journey to Malaysia while hubby was returning to the US after the trip. Even though we didn't get to fly First Class, we booked a Business Class flight for hubby on his return trip.

As for our accommodation, we kept it simple and decided to stay in 1 hotel throughout the trip. I was able to book 6 nights at the Holiday Inn Express Osaka Midosuji for only 63,000 IHG points in total using the IHG 4th night free benefit, which was pretty good. 

15-16 Apr 2023 (Sat-Sun): Huntsville - Dallas - Los Angeles - Osaka Kansai

Started our day early and took Uber to the airport at 4am. Once again, this was not a 'pack light' trip as I was contunuing my journey to Malaysia for a month after Japan. Maximized the 50lb weight allowance for the bag I was bringing to Malaysia with gifts. Both luggages also had a carry-on size luggage hidden inside for extra space if needed. 

Hubby's flight reservation was all the way through to Osaka but my flight reservation was split in two with a break in LA. My initial thought was to check in both bags under hubby's name so that I don't have to waste time retrieving mine in LA in case of flight delay. However, I mistaken that all flights to Asia allow 2 check-in baggages. Hubby could only check-in one bag so I had no choice but to retrieve my bag in LA and recheck it.

First 2 legs of our flights from Huntsville-Dallas-LA were on time and uneventful, which was great. My biggest worry about connecting on 2 separate tickets was flight delay on the first 2 flights. Our transit time in LA was 4 hours so we built in some buffer as well. Thankfully, everything went smoothly, definitely a good start for our trip.

Arrived LAX on time at 10.30am. Hubby walked from Terminal 4 to the international terminal via airside connectors, while I quickly headed to baggage claim to retrieve my luggage. I got my luggage at 10.45am (thanks to priority baggage handling with my AA Platinum Pro), then walked 10 minutes to the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

 Everything went smoothly and I made it to the JAL check in counter at 10.55am, with 3.5 hours to spare before our flight at 2.25am. The JAL counter was quite empty and even though I was traveling in economy, I was able to use the JAL First Class check-in counter with my oneworld emerald status. I completed my check-in within 3 minutes...Japanese efficiency at its best! I received my boarding pass with a F Class Lounge sticker (for First Class lounge access) and my check-in luggage was also tagged with First Class (for priority baggage hadling). Gotta love these oneworld emerald benefits! I was surprised that there was no line at all at the TSA pre-check lane, especially for LAX international airport!

After clearing security at 11.15am, I met up with hubby at the Qantas First Lounge on the 5th floor. This lounge can be accessed by oneworld emerald members traveling in any cabin or passengers traveling in oneworld international first class. The JAL staff at check-in informed me that I could access this lounge with my oneworld and provided a map of where the lounge is located. I was also allowed to bring one guest. =) 

The lounge was pretty empty when we were there. It is quite spacious (for US lounge standards), with plenty of seats, including some seats overlooking the airport concourse. There was shower facilities at this lounge but we didn't use it.

Several drink stations around the lounge with self-serve wines and coffee/tea.

Unlike most lounges where the food are served buffet style, the Qantas First Lounge has an a la carte restaurant with table service. They were still serving the breakfast menu when we arrived at 11.15am, so we were able to order from both the breakfast and lunch menu while we were there. The lunch menu started at 12pm.

For breakfast, I ordered the Avocado toast, cappucino and champagne, while hubby ordered granola, bread and Boston lager. For lunch, I ordered the seared Baja bass with herb salad and the signature salt and pepper squid, while hubby ordered the classic beef cheesburger and salad. The food and drinks were great and we spent all our time in the lounge slowly enjoying the food! Felt like we went to a restaurant instead of a!

After spending 2.5 hours 'feasting' in the lounge, we headed over to the gate at 1.55pm. Boarding started on time at 2pm. Even though I had group 1 priority boarding, we intentionally waited to board last. Once again, I was impressed by Japanese efficiency as boarding was completed within 10 minutes!

The flight was about 50-60% full so there was plenty of space for this 12.5 hours flight from LA - Osaka KIX. My seat selection strategy was 'partially successful' as I was hoping to get a row of 4+2 to ourselves. However, a Japanese guy was sitting on the other aisle seat in my row so I asked if he'd switch seat with hubby so that we could have a whole middle row of 4 to ourselves, while he'd have the row of 2 to himself...that's a win win. =) 

The benefit of getting a whole row of 4 to ourselves...I get to make myself comfortable and made own economy 'lie-flat' seat. =P Even though we were bummed that we didn't get to experience JAL First Class on this trip, I was happy with my economy 'lie-flat' seat and saved my miles for another free trip instead.

Another benefit of traveling economy, I could dress more casually/comfortably without having to 'dress nicer' for premium cabins. Btw, JAL's airplane lavatory has a bidet.

2 meals were served on our flight. I chose the hashed beef with steam rice for my first meal, and bacon & asparagus fried rice for my pre-arrival meal.

Thanks to my 'lie flat' seat, I was able to sleep for about 6 hours. Whitney Houston movie marathon on the flight with "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" and "The Bodyguard".

Arrived Osaka Kansai ariport at 7.15am, 20 minutes behind schedule. At the time of our trip (April 2023), we were still required to fill out our arrival and vaccination information. We had all our information filled out before arrival and had our QR codes ready, which enabled us to get through immigration within 10 minutes after deplaning, and got our luggages by 7.45pm. Sooo efficient and fast!!

It was about 8pm when we got to the Nankai train station at the airport. It costs ¥1,120 ($8.50) per person for the train and subway from Kansai airport to our hotel. To make it easy to travel around Japan, I added Suica transit card on Apple Pay and reloaded it with credit card before arriving Japan. As such, our Suica cards were ready for use upon arrival and we didn't have to worry about withdrawing cash at the atm to purchase the tickets. The best part about using Apple Pay is the ability to reload using credit card, whereas you can only use cash to reload if you have the physical card.

It took about an hour to get to our hotel...47 min from Kansai airport to Namba station via Nankai line, transferred to the subway at Namba station, 4 min from Namba station to Hommachi station via Midosuji Line, and a 6 min walk to our hotel. We couldn't figure out where the elevator at Hommachi station was so we carried our luggages up the stairs. =.=

Finally made it to our hotel, Holiday Inn Express Osaka City Centre - Midosuji, at 9.15pm. Check-in was pretty quick. We booked 6 nights here for 63,000 IHG points.

Our room (2114) was at the highest floor.

Like many hotels in Japan, the room was not big, but it was equipped with everything we needed. The design of the room was well thought out to optimize the limited space. There was a queen bed, a desk to put our random stuffs, place to hang our clothes, and extra space under the bed for luggages.

The room was equipped with a fridge, air purifier, kettle with complimentary coffee and tea, bottled water, clock by the bed, usb/power plugs above the bed, slippers/shoe horns.

The bathroom had a separate walk-in shower with fancy shower heads. It was so fancy it required instructions to! Toto toilet bowl (of course), and I liked the toilet paper holder with space to put our phones lol! There were also 2 sets of pajamas in the bathroom, which is pretty standard for all Japanese hotels. 

We had fun posing with the pajamas. It was comfortable and we wore it every night. =)

It was already 9.45pm by the time we settled in so we decided to walk over to the nearby 7-11 to grab some food for dinner. There were so many food options to choose from...noodles, bento set, rice rolls, sandwiches, salads, etc. We bought some sandwiches, rice rolls, and some drinks for our first dinner in Japan.

Convenient stores in Japan are awesome. They have all sorts of beverages and snacks.

That's a wrap of our 24-hours journey from US to Japan. In the next post, we'll be exploring a few places outside of Osaka city for our day 1 in Japan.

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