Check out from My Stays was effortless and we made the short walk to the station stopping off at Donq to pick up some breakfast to take on to the shinkansen with us.
Train: Kagayaki 506 Kanazawa to Tokyo
Depart Kanazawa Station: 08:48
Arrive Tokyo Station: 11:20
Seats: Car 5, Seats 16D &16E
Train: E7 Series Shinkansen Maximum Speed 160mph (260 km/h)
It was a calm and straightforward two and a half hour journey to Tokyo Station. The scenery was great and I enjoyed my curry pan and sweet potato pan (not what I thought they would be – I was hoping for strawberry and chocolate), the coffee was not bad either.
We arrived on time and took the Marunouchi Line to Akasaka-Mitsuke. From there it was a short walk to the impressive tower where our hotel for the night, Prince Gallery Tokyo was located.
Hotel: Prince Gallery, Tokyo
Room: Grand Deluxe Corner King (Club Room)
Status: Bonvoy Gold
We sped up to the top floor lobby and whilst I was getting us checked in Anne-So was invited to take a seat in the lobby where she could enjoy the panoramic views across Tokyo. Check in was straightforward but took a little while as we were early and the hotel had kindly upgraded us from the Club Deluxe room we had booked to a Grand Deluxe Corner room which was about 50% bigger and worth a fair bit more.
We were allowed to wait in the lounge and have a drink whilst the finishing touches were being applied to our room. Tired from the journey we opted for soft drinks on this occasion though we could have gone for champagne. Yet again the hotel staff were surprised that we’d already been all over Japan rather than just Tokyo/Kyoto. I commented that it was nice to have a view of the Tokyo Tower after our first hotel had great views of the Skytree. I was politely corrected and shown that I was looking out the wrong window as Prince Gallery also had excellent Skytree views.
The club lounge was small and well-appointed with plenty of seating including some with the amazing city views. There was also a small food and drink area but at this hour only a small selection of snacks were out, including some rather addictive chocolates. We were soon advised that our room was ready and a few minutes later we headed off. Once again we were not disappointed. As we walked down the entry corridor the blinds were automatically rising to reveal a spectacular view of Tokyo. The room was huge and in other hotels could easily have passed for a junior suite thanks to a generous living area with lots of seating space to enjoy those wonderful views. The bathroom was well appointed, though had only one sink. Storage space in the room was also excellent. A small welcome amenity of some biscuits and Japanese sweets had been prepared for us.
Our plan for the afternoon was to head to the Meiji shrine and Yoyogi park area, perhaps grab a spot of lunch and then spend some time in Harajuku. We left the hotel and got back on the metro, this time leaving via the shopping centre attached to the lower floors of the building where our hotel was housed, making a note of potential dining options for the evening. About half an hour later we arrived at the park that houses the shrine.
Filled with tall shady trees it was a welcome relief from the heat. After a short walk we found the main shrine and lucked out as there was a wedding procession. There is always something nice about seeing two different cultures and backgrounds coming together and we enjoyed spying on the procession for a little while.
Next it was time to do a little something for ourselves and after a couple of attempts we finally managed to find some kindly souls to take our picture in front of the famous husband and wife trees.
After that we left some well wishes on an Ema at the shrine and picked up some omamori for our newly married friends for good luck. We loved the sense of calm that surrounded the shrine, even if the shrine area itself was quite busy.
We walked out of the park and almost immediately found ourselves at Takeshita Street which felt like the worst of Carnaby Street meets the worst of Camden Town. It was overflowing with tourists, tourist shops, tourist food and some dubious tourist attractions.
However, as we headed further along into Harajuku and in particular Omotesando we really enjoyed ourselves. Sadly today it was my turn to get the Tokyo tummy which did slightly ruin the buzz. This part of Harajuku reminded us of the best parts of San Francisco and New York and for me that also meant some amazing shopping opportunities without the awful lines you see in London. Sadly with the amount of money we had spent on the trip there was little left for purchasing which meant that most of the shopping was of the window variety. I was in need of a new hat and that would have to do. Having a slightly large head can make hat shopping a challenge but after trying just about everywhere the BAPE Store in Harajuku came to my rescue and I finally found something that fitted perfectly. Service was strictly excellent or awful depending on your likelihood to purchase an item, however big or small. I will make a confession here, next Japan trip if I’m not too old and if I can’t good a good deal on flights and hotels with miles and points, (which other than our two nights in Kyoto was the case here) I would sacrifice what we could have spent on the business class flights and 5 star hotels on food and clothes shopping. I think that rule might only apply in Japan!
We enjoyed a leisurely evening walk back to the hotel past the Akasaka Palace and the Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin Shrine which put us in a really good mood which was just perfect as it was a shrine to bring happiness.
We had originally planned to arrive back at Prince Gallery to enjoy the cocktail hours at the club lounge but unfortunately I got the hours wrong! Despite the food having disappeared there was still a good selection of alcohol including some quite drinkable champagne so we poured a few glasses and enjoyed the glorious views of Tokyo and treated it as apero time instead of the substitute dinner time that I had planned in.
Feeling hungry, tired and not overly adventurous we decided to check out the mall downstairs and ended up at a soba joint, Koishikawa. Yes I had been complaining about not having ramen the entire trip and as soba are buckwheat noodles which are in theory gluten free Anne-So was happy to oblige. Yet again I’m still none the wiser as to how the gluten in a bowl of ramen noodles is so much worse than that in pastries, but as they say you live and learn…
We were offered a table in the corner and an English language menu. We also found the restaurant had put on complementary entertainment in the form of a table comprised entirely of blind drunk salarymen. We ordered two soba sets, one hot, one cold and some stunningly good fried chicken that was crisp on the outside whilst remaining soft on the inside. When I was first returning to a more varied diet after many years of being vegetarian, chicken was one of the few things I never really understood. People would get so excited and you’d try the item, usually roast or fried chicken and outside of a curry it just tasted really bland. In Japan they do chicken right with and without the curry sauce. I washed down my food with a highball (had to have at least one in Japan!) and most certainly even without photographic evidence Anne-So had a ginger ale. The food was good but the lasting memory would be of those salarymen, though no doubt they probably remember less of the evening then us.
We headed back to our room to marvel at those views and to prepare for checkout the next day. We’d had an amazing day but we felt a little sad inside knowing that our adventure was not far from coming to an end.
The morning started with a swim and I was keen to check out the Prince Gallery pool to see how it compared to the Ritz in Kyoto. Whilst it was a nice pool with an amazing view (though you could not see any of it when you were actually in the pool) the finishes in both the pool and changing area were not as nice as that of the Ritz. Over the years we have been lucky enough to stay in many five star hotels at various price points and in different countries, whilst Prince Gallery was certainly very good it was not quite up there with the very best. Anyway, it was a pleasant swim and it woke me up nicely for the day to come. Oh, and it also made me feel not quite so guilty about the club lounge breakfast I was about to enjoy.
We arrived at the club lounge and after giving our room number were warmly welcomed as per our previous visits. We were encouraged to order a hot dish from the breakfast menu as well as make use of the self-service buffet. As per the suggestions on Flyer Talk I decided to order the chef’s egg, which is scrambled egg yolk, topped with a poached egg, with egg white foam on the top along with some Parma ham and a light grating of truffle. I also indulged in some pastries and other items from the buffet as well as a couple of coffees, all the while enjoying the view. To be honest it was a brilliant way to start the morning and if there wasn’t so much to see in Tokyo we could have stayed a lot longer.
The plan for the morning and it was a plan that failed miserably, was to have a stroll around Daikenyama which was supposed to be filled with cute little shops, coffee houses, art galleries and so on. Maybe we went to the wrong part but it was not what we found. Heading back a minute; what made it even more frustrating was that we spent more time getting lost trying to escape the surrounds of Shibuya station then we spent in Daikenyama. On a positive note we did find Hachiko the dog!
So in the end we headed back to the crowds of Shibuya and enjoyed a stroll through streets big and small, found some real life Mario Karters and did plenty of window shopping. After a few hours of walking around doing not much more than soak in the atmosphere we headed back to the Prince Gallery to check out and move on to our next hotel.
In theory it was a short trip on the Marunouchi Line from the Prince Gallery to the Palace Hotel, but whilst the trip on the metro was short, escaping Otemachi Station was something else. It took almost the same time again to make it through the maze of the station into the depths of the Palace hotel and out the other side to the front desk.
Hotel: Palace Hotel
Room: Deluxe with Balcony (Room 2001)
Status: None (Booked through Virtuoso – Upgrade, breakfast and dining credit)
We were running a little late and made it to check in for 2pm, the same time as our reservation for lunch at Go Teppanyaki. Thankfully check in was quick and friendly with our Virtuoso benefits explained. Our bags were dragged one way and we were pulled the other as we were marched straight to the restaurant. The set up was similar to the tempura restaurant at the Ritz in Kyoto. There were two spotless grills and one other couple in the restaurant.
As per usual drinks were beer and ginger ale. We had gone for the basic Ryokusui menu and once again the more you pay, the more expensive the ingredients are, with a small increase in the volume of food served. In all honesty the amount of food was way more than it looked. Service was polite but functional, perhaps as our chef and our server were less confident in English than at some of the other high end places we had been to on this trip. Overall the meal was definitely lacking the personality and atmosphere we had at Monk, Jiki Miyazawa and Tempura Mizuki.
Anyway, let’s move onto the food. First up was some soup and then a small salad.
We were presented with our vegetables and meat before they were placed on the grill. Our condiments were also explained.
The vegetables were nice but that marbled beef was something else, not necessarily better than a good old fashioned thick cut steak from home (France or UK) but it had a completely different flavour and texture profile; buttery, melt in the mouth and incredibly rich. If this was the cheap cut how good must the real prime cuts be?
After that we had some food envy and paid the supplement for the deliciously fragrant garlic rice. This was followed by the usual miso soup and pickles.
There was a dairy based dessert (can’t remember exactly what it was now) and we finished up with the usual green tea and some much needed coffee. It was an expensive lunch, but with the Virtuoso dining credit making a significant dent towards the bill it was quite reasonable for the quantity and quality of the food as well as the exclusivity of the location and essentially having our own private chef cook for us.
We were pretty stuffed and thought we better check out our room before heading out for the afternoon.
We were happy to see we had been given room 2001 which had a special meaning for us. I was happier still that we’d been upgraded to a balcony room which had quite spectacular views of the Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo Station and all those lovely sky scrapers with Tokyo Tower in the distance. The room itself was large, not as big as Prince Gallery or the Ritz but we had loads of space. The fixtures and fittings although not as high tech as Prince Gallery were significantly more luxurious. This felt like a really high end luxury hotel and for the nightly room rate that was the very least we were expecting! We briefly unpacked and then headed out for one crazy afternoon and evening of sightseeing.
First up for the afternoon was the Imperial Palace. Sadly we had to rush this visit due to the late arrival at the hotel, longer than planned lunch and me taking too long in the room taking photos and unpacking. The grounds were pleasant enough but compared to what we had seen elsewhere there was nothing worth dwelling over. The fact that it was rather overcast didn’t help. We left at closing time as the guards were politely ushering us and the other stragglers out.
Next up was Akihabara to see the lights, obsolete gadgets, geeks and so forth. When I think of Tokyo, Akihabara was what I always had in mind. It was also nice to really stretch our legs after all that food. In an ideal world we would have arrived a little later and caught the illuminations in their full glory rather than at dusk. We saw lots of fun things, old gadgets, geeky dolls, some rather strange singing with even stranger dance moves (sorry, we were enjoying it too much to take a video), more Mario Karts, backpacker bars, restaurants under the railway arches and ladies playing dress up.
Oh, and the amazing Yamashiroya toy store, the only toy store I can think of that was almost entirely devoid of children. It had everything we could ever dream of from high end Ghibli merch to plastic musical cats and dogs, dancing Star Wars figures and fancy mecha kits. So much fun. Oh and I won’t talk about how a certain person got over excited at the floor filled with every Sylvanian Family member you could imagine. We really loved this place and were quite glad that our cases were already full to bursting.
It was dark by the time we got there, but still pretty busy. We had about 90 minutes to enjoy the museum before closing which included time to pick up some of the gifts that we’d struggled to find. I have to confess we probably could have spent the day here and in the end we managed to rush through one of the wings. Despite the rush we saw some amazing art, ceramics, furniture, swords, screens. It was a really great museum. We finished up trawling the gift shop and thankfully found some nice items to bring home to our families that didn’t take up a lot of room in our cases.
We weren’t super hungry after a huge hotel breakfast and a good sized lunch. So rather than dinner we headed back to the hotel for cocktails and dessert. However, on the way back through the park we stumbled on what looked like some kind of bonsai competition. Another wow moment on what was turning into one heck of a fun day. We took the metro back from Ueno to Tokyo Station (could the day get any better?) and I even got to enjoy a rather fun photo opportunity!
Knowing we had a few fine hotels, with equally fine hotel bars during our trip, we wanted to dress up for at least one evening and enjoy some drinks. For some reason we’d left it to the final evening and at this point I was terribly bloated and just about managed to fit into my suit. Anne-So had no such problem. We ended up in the main bar and caught the end of the jazz band over a couple of cocktails and some desserts.
It was very relaxing and we were happily overdressed. It had been a great day and we couldn’t believe we had less than 24 hours left in Japan.
I meant to start our final day in Japan with a swim and compare the Palace to the Prince and the Ritz but I was exhausted and knew we had a busy day ahead of us. So instead we started with a high quality luxury hotel breakfast buffet. It had been a while and we had no choice but to overdo it! I had a perfectly cooked eggs benedict with some pastries all washed down with a never-ending supply of coffee and juice. The quality was as good as expected.
The plan for the morning was to see the spectacle of Fukagawa Fudo-do with its mirror room and fire ritual. It was a short hop on the Tozai Line from Otemachi to Monzen-nakacho and from there just a short walk past some interesting antique shops or perhaps junk stores (we couldn’t tell) to the temple.
As we approached the gates we heard the temple before we saw it and hurried in to catch the end of the fire ritual. Wow, they really go for it and it’s quite the spectacle of noise with each beat of the drums shaking your insides (we must have missed the bulk of the fire).
After some exploring we found the mirrored corridor filled with tiny little Buddha statues on a mirrored background. It was an interesting experience but not anywhere near as exciting as our guidebook suggested.
We then spotted another temple down the road and headed off to explore. The grounds were taken up by a huge flea market, where we really enjoyed ourselves and had a great walk around, picking up some sake cups and bottles. I’m sure we overpaid but we had gotten some nice souvenirs and had a great time in the process. We then headed back to the hotel for lunch.
Checkout was easy enough and the hotel kept hold of our cases for the rest of the day. We were then escorted up to the hotel’s Michelin starred Amber Palace restaurant where we’d booked a table for lunch. The place was a bit of a maze to find and we were glad to have someone walk us up. No expense had been spared with the setting and we were quickly acknowledged by the staff who confirmed our reservation. There was a short wait whilst a party was leaving and we were given a nice spot by the windows with views of the city.
As alluded to earlier in the trip report, we’d not spent all that we’d budgeted for and decided to have a bit of a blowout lunch going for the Amethyst Menu at around £70 per person including service but excluding drinks (and this was by no means the most expensive lunch menu on offer). In a change from the usual I went with a glass of white wine. Anne-So stuck to ginger ale. As a reminder, you pay as much for the quality of the ingredients in Japan as for the volume of food. The presentation, quality and taste of all our courses were up there with anything I’d ever eaten. I would also say this is probably the most refined and tastiest Chinese food I have ever had.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of things that got in the way. It was very expensive, the portion of duck was not as generous as we would have liked and the server did not explain the different ways we could have the duck – the fact that it was the best crispy duck roll we’d ever had only added to the disappointment. The service did not feel overly polished, the courses did not come in the order they were printed on the menu and half the courses did not come with a full explanation.
In many ways we finished the trip as we started it food wise with a delicious but expensive meal. As is the custom we finished with green tea.
As was becoming the norm after another long meal it was getting late and we decided to change our plans. It was a glorious afternoon and rather than spend it inside a museum we decided to do the historic Tokyo walk we meant to do earlier in our trip which we had postponed due to rain. We headed off towards Ueno Park and began our walk through the Yanesen area of Tokyo.
For me, any good big city should be full of contrasts and surprises. On show that afternoon were low rise buildings, quiet streets, tourist free temples and shrines.
The walking route saved the best to last and as the sun was setting we enjoyed the calm of the Yanaka-reien cemetary and the climb down through Yuyake Dandan and Yanaka Ginza, too bad we didn’t have the time to really take in that sunset or stop for a beer.
The last stop of our trip was supposed to be the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi. We both like modern art and the museum was open late. However, at this point we were so far behind schedule by the time we arrived in Roppongi that we’d given up on the museum. On the plus side we got a stunning view of the Tokyo Tower, enjoyed some fun people watching opportunities and finished off our trip with the most romantic stroll and a huge desire to return to Japan. We saw so much and yet so little during our two weeks of travels.
We got the metro back to the hotel and picked up our bags, it was finally time to head home and face the world.