Trip Report: Japan 2012 – Introduction, Day 1

Okay, let’s bring back the travel in travel hacking and do a trip report. This one is going way back to 2012 and is really the genesis of our little experiment. You see, this was our honeymoon and we spent a lot. A once in a lifetime type trip, really. But it got me to thinking about the possibilities in replicating the experience. Only cheaper. And I think you’ll find our subsequent Japan trips, although shorter in duration, to be equally awesome. But, first, baseline awesome so you understand where we’re coming from.

T had never been to Japan, while I had lived there for a couple of years and knew how to get around. So we planned on hitting some of the major touristed areas: Tokyo, Kyoto (and Nara) and Hakone. Our flight was on US Airways (via United Airlines), coach seats, and entirely unremarkable.

To begin, here is the first page of our itinerary. The complexity and detail of which has only increased on subsequent trips.

Itinerary, Page One – T and Ryan’s Big Japan Adventure 2012.

After grabbing some currency, activating our Rail Passes, and getting Suica subway cards at the airport, we hopped on the Narita Express (N’EX) which took us into Tokyo Station. Here’s us, all hash, but very excited to be in Japan.

Narita Express (N’EX) Train Ride. Image Credit: Ryan.

We then made our way to the next station on the Yamanote and walked to our business hotel, The b Ochanomizu. Again, fairly unremarkable, but it was central to our travels and offered free breakfast.

The b Ochanomizu. Image Credit: Ryan.

You’ll have to excuse our lack of detail (and focus) in our pictures here. We had no idea we were going to be posting a copious review. Know, however, that this is the exact best shot of our very cramped room. To give  you an idea, our closet barely fit our carry-on sized luggage.

The b Ochanomizu, View of the Room. Image Credit: T.

From here, we headed out directly to Bakurou, an izakaya that specializes in one thing: horse meat. Note: this is the only meal that we’ve managed to eat on every single trip back to Japan. Horse is delicious, like a meaty cheese.

5 types of ba-sashi. Image Credit: Ryan.
Karaage horse. With mayonnaise. Image Credit: Ryan.
Grilled horse served with rock salt and wasabi. Image Credit: Ryan.
Horse tartare. Image Credit: Ryan.

Then off to meal two at Taiyo no Tomato (Ra)Men. And dessert. You might notice that Taiyo no Tomato Ramen is unconventional. It’s very, um, Italian in nature, what with tomato and garlic and cheese.

Taiyo no Tomato (Ra)Men. Image Credit: Ryan.
Haagen-Dazs green tea crispy sandwich. Image Credit: Ryan.

And, one last picture in the backstreets of Kanda before heading back to our hotel. We had an early start the next day and needed to get some rest.

T in the backstreets of Kanda. Image Credit: Ryan.

Travel hacking tidbits:

We used exactly one travel card, specifically procured for this trip. And because we didn’t know any better, we got a Capital One VentureOne card, which offered a 20,000 mile bonus to be used towards travel expenditures (equivalent to $200) and 1.25 miles per dollar spent. We got this card because there was no annual fee (which, being newbies, was a big deal, little that we knew) and no foreign transaction fees. So, overall, I think we saved about, let’s say, $300 on this trip and paid for everything else.

Because our goal was to have seamless connectivity with family back home and the Internet, we decided to pay a super-duper amount for International minutes and data with AT&T. Note: at the time, this was a grave and costly error. International plans on the major US carriers have dramatically come down in price, however – something to be covered on a later post.

We bought a 14 Day Japan Rail Pass for the duration of our trip. They are sold in 7, 14, and 21 day increments, and are only available to overseas tourists. The Rail Pass is good for any JR train ride, including the Shinkansen, some buses, ferries, and other modes of transportation. It can bring down your travel costs substantially, especially if you travel often via the Shinkansen. This also deserves a separate post.

When possible, I’m going to link all restaurant mentions to its profile on the Japanese site, Tabelog. This site is like Yelp, only, you know, better.


Questions, Comments or Criticisms?