Whats up from onboard the Tōkaidō Shinkansen!
After two and a half years of closing their borders because of the pandemic, Japan finally reopened to international travellers on unguided package deal excursions as of this month, and seems poised to totally reopen with out visa necessities within the close to future.
Having secured my vacationer e-visas by the use of Japan Guide Agency a number of weeks in the past, I’ll be spending the following two weeks in Japan, in the end stepping foot again into considered one of my favorite locations on the planet.
However in interested by my journey plans for the autumn of 2022, Japan was initially nowhere close to my radar. For many of 2022, the prospects of Japan reopening to tourism anytime this calendar yr seemed pretty bleak at finest.
Certainly, for the longest time, I had deliberate to hyperlink up with the Prince of Travel team at Oktoberfest in Munich over this previous weekend. This all modified, nonetheless, when the subject of Japan’s considerably ambiguous easing of border controls got here up on the Blissful Hour for Prince of Travel members in August 2022.
With little fanfare, because it turned out, Japan’s borders seemed set to be… sort of open.
The important thing? A fee to Japan Information Company – on the time of ¥20,000 ($180 CAD), then of ¥30,000 ($288 CAD), and now now not provided – for processing your entry into the ERFS system, which was a needed step earlier than making use of for a Japan vacationer e-visa from September 7 onwards.
On the time, I had a sense this was the sort of window that would slam shut at any second. And whereas the ¥20,000 fee for ERFS processing appeared to be not more than a blatant cash-grab, I thought of it very a lot a value price paying for a dream return to Japan on the earliest alternative – crucially, earlier than the crowds arrived throughout a full reopening!
I stated to my accomplice Jessy: “Hear, I’m not promising something, however we would possibly be going to Japan as an alternative of Oktoberfest,” and set to work on submitting our e-visa functions.
To my utter pleasure and delight, the e-visas got here by way of not more than 48 hours later.
We’ll be spending two weeks throughout Tokyo and the Kansai area, rediscovering a few of our outdated favourites after a very long time away whereas additionally trying out a number of new locations we haven’t been earlier than.
Specifically, I’m trying ahead to visiting the cities of Nara and Osaka for the primary time. I’ll even be embarking on a side-trip from Tokyo to the mountainous city of Hakone, the place the recent springs and Mount Fuji views look very inviting certainly.
All of the whereas, we’ll in fact be indulging in scrumptious Japanese meals at each alternative we get, from omakase to onigiri to okonomiyaki, from $200+ sushi joints to $2 meals from the 7/11.
We’ve already carried out our justifiable share of sightseeing in Tokyo and Kyoto on earlier visits, so we’ll be allocating that point to filling up our appetites as an alternative.
For a celebratory first post-pandemic journey to Japan, no flight itinerary appeared extra becoming than a double-header of the 2 predominant Japanese carriers: ANA and Japan Airways.
On the outbound journey, I managed to seek out award availability on ANA’s Los Angeles–Tokyo Narita route in enterprise class, which occurs to be operated by considered one of their newer Boeing 777s with the brand new “The Room” enterprise class product.
ANA’s enterprise class award area is pretty unpredictable: the airline typically gives up a number of seats far prematurely, after which might or might not launch extra seats because the departure date approaches. In our case, we had been pretty lucky to seek out two enterprise class seats on a preferred route and product only a few weeks prematurely.
This route would’ve sometimes price me 75,000 Aeroplan points per particular person. Nevertheless, moderately than making a brand new reserving, I modified one of many speculative bookings I had made below the American Express 25% points back promotion – which means that I’d solely successfully be paying 56,250 Aeroplan factors per particular person one-way.
In the meantime, on the return journey, my pure best choice was Japan Airlines First Class. Today, JAL persistently releases last-minute First Class award area two weeks prematurely, so I patiently waited for my desired date to indicate area on the Tokyo–Los Angeles route earlier than pulling the set off.
I’ve flown JAL First Class a couple times before, however having recently experienced the unimaginable ANA New First Class, I’m eager to offer it one other attempt to decide which Japanese airline is popping out on prime lately.
What’s extra, Japan Airways nonetheless ranks as my all-time favorite airline by way of the onboard eating expertise, and I’m curious to see if the airline can hold that impression going 3 times in a row.
The return journey price me 70,000 Alaska miles per particular person with no gasoline surcharges, which stays probably the greatest award chart candy spots throughout the whole loyalty panorama.
In some ways, this two-week journey is equal components enterprise and pleasure.
With Japan set to reopen absolutely within the coming months, I’ll be taking the chance on this journey to evaluation as many high-end factors properties as doable to assist all of you resolve on the most effective place to remain.
You’ll be able to anticipate critiques of the next properties:
- Conrad Tokyo, booked with 62,000 Hilton Honors points
- Hotel The Mitsui Kyoto, Marriott Luxury Collection, booked with 75,000 Bonvoy points on the PointSavers price
- Park Hyatt Kyoto, booked with 35,000 World of Hyatt factors
- Roku Kyoto, Hilton LXR, booked with a Hilton Free Night Reward
- JW Marriott Nara, booked with a Marriott Free Night Award price 50,000 factors, plus a top-up of 10,000 factors
- Conrad Osaka, booked with a Hilton Free Evening Reward
- W Osaka, booked with 43,000 Bonvoy factors
- Park Hyatt Tokyo, booked with 30,000 World of Hyatt factors
- Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, booked with 30,000 World of Hyatt factors
- The Tokyo EDITION, Toranomon, booked by way of Marriott STARS for $350 (USD)
- The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo, booked with a Marriott Free Evening Award price 85,000 factors, plus a top-up of 6,000 factors
Past the main chain resorts, although, yet another factor I additionally needed to check out on this journey was an genuine Japanese ryokan expertise, the place visitors are handled to a Japanese breakfast, a kaiseki dinner, and onsen sizzling springs.
I selected to guide a ryokan within the mountain city of Hakone, and after trying over a number of choices, I ultimately selected Yama No Chaya, a tranquil retreat on the finish of a suspension bridge with conventional Japanese-style rooms.
Alas, there’s no method to make use of resort factors for ryokans, so I’ll be paying the money price of ¥70,480 ($654 CAD) for a one-night keep for 2 adults, together with breakfast and dinner.
30 months later, I’ll lastly be setting foot as soon as once more in Japan, after the prospect of doing so had appeared so distant for therefore lengthy.
Despite the fact that I’m positive it’ll stretch my abdomen like by no means earlier than, this journey additionally carries a good bit of symbolic which means, as I view it as firmly drawing a line below the “pandemic journey period” of 2020–2022.
With Japan having saved their borders closed to international travellers for therefore lengthy, its much-anticipated reopening marks the moving-on from the challenges of yesteryear and the beginning of adventures anew.
I’m positive a lot of you’re looking ahead to your individual eventual return to Japan, too – and let me guarantee you, when you’ve gotten your short-term customer stamp and stepped out into the arrivals corridor, it’s going to really feel like no time has handed in any respect. 😉