Posts Tagged ‘ Japan travel ’

The Sakura Hotel — Ikebukuro (Tokyo)

A    G o o d   &   Q u i r k y   P l a c e   t o   R o u g h   I t   i n   T o k y o

Sakura Hotel Cafe. Ikebukuro District, Tokyo. August 2011.

So I got onto Twitter a year or so ago, just for a lark and to promote this site/blog.  Sometime around six or so months ago I ran across and begin following the “Tweets” of  @ikebukuro_hotel, a hotel/motel/hostel in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro District.  The actual name of the hotel (I’ll call it a hotel) is the “Sakura.”  It’s rather inexpensive (see below), as Tokyo hotels go.  Besides that, it has an eager quirkiness to it that I found interesting and engaging (see the poem at the end of this piece, composed only of Sakura Hotel Tweets).  I like nice hotels.  I like quirky ones, too.  So, when I had a chance to check it out in person, I took it.

Guests from China. Sakura Cafe, Ikebukuro. August 2011.

From July 30 through August 15 I was in Japan on business.  The first week I was there — in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka — I shepherded a couple of corporate officers, executives from a client company, from meeting to meeting.  After that project was done, and over the next eight or so days, I was on my own to focus on other business and projects.  As these other clients that weren’t footing my hotel and transportation bill(s), I decided on staying at the Sakura in Tokyo for a few days.

First,  Let’s Compare

This was my room at the Westin Miyako in Kyoto, and from my small balcony this was the view looking east, and the view looking north.  It was magnificent (except for the exterior, which assaults the eyes of all who see it, not to mention the Kyoto skyline; an architectural abomination).  And the Westin Miyako  cost ¥21,700 (about $285) a night.  By comparison, this was my room at the Sakura Hotel in Tokyo, which defined “no frills” and “austerity.”  It was monastic, in fact.  The bathroom was quite small, too, but exceptionally clean, as would be expected.   This was the view from my window, which was somewhat different from the Westin Miyako view.  The Sakura set me back ¥6,800 (about $89) a night (for you who are mathematically-challenged, the Westin Miyako was more than three times the price of the Sakura).

Approaching at night from the Ikeburo Station side. August 2011.

There are “Business Hotels” that provide better rooms for comparable prices (see, e.g., in this piece of mine, Hotels,from about a year-and-a-half ago).  The Sakura, though, provides the experience of roughing it in a Casablanca-esque atmosphere (but without the tuxedos, gambling room, champagne cocktails, full orchestra or Nazis) and includes grad students, families, older couples on budgets, backpackers, a few businesspeople (but not many), and a wide assortment of non-stogy people from around the world are all thrown-in together and mingle with a happy informality.  I’ve never experienced this in “Business Hotels,” let alone in the 5-Star kind where I’ve stayed in from Atlanta to Houston to New York to Osaka to Beijing to Mumbai —  is worth three nights on a bed that is almost as soft as a piece of plywood.  Not that people are rude in 5-Stars, but there’s certainly less general friendliness.

The Sakura is not where I would book myself and clients to stay during a Tokyo business trip.  During my first week in Japan in August I was with a couple of officers of a corporate client and I booked rooms at the medium-end Business Hotel, the “Daiichi Hotel Annex.”  But when I was on my own for a week I had no need to look out for the comfort of my executive charges.

.                .                .

I apologize for the blurriness of the next two pics, snapped quickly & casually with my phone, but without much thought:

Not the kind of sign you’d see at the Imperial or New Otani Front Desk. Sakura Hotel. August 6, 2011.


In the Elevator. Along with signs for an upcoming “Fiesta.” Sakura Hotel. August 2011.

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The Personal Touch

In the course of making and confirming my reservations at Sakura I struck-up an e-correspondence with one of the desk clerks, Ken.  Cultural note and coincidence the guy’s name, “Ken,” is a real Japanese name.  Sometimes just “Ken,” and sometimes short for Kenji or Ken’ichi.  At any rate Ken is from Kyoto.  As it turned out his family trade, going back generations, was in kimono design and manufacturing, a Kyoto specialty.  The morning after I checked-in Ken was working the front desk.  I gave him some little gift of some sort or another and later that day he gave me a set of stencils from his great-grandparents’ era, 100 or more years ago.  The stencils were used for designing patterns on Han-Eri (半衿), delicate collars sewn round the neckline of kimono underrobes.  I was moved by this gift, but Ken assured me that he had hundreds and hundreds.  Nevertheless, it was extremely kind and not the sort of thing a desk clerk or concierge at the Westin Miyako, or New Otani, or Imperial Hotel or other 5-Stars I’ve stayed at, would ever think to do.   Here are photos of several of the Han-Eri stencils Ken gave to me —

1. 100 Year Old Stencil for Kyoto “Han Eri” (Kimono Collar).


2. 100 Year Old Stencil for Kyoto “Han Eri” (Kimono Collar).


3. 100 Year Old Stencil for Kyoto “Han Eri” (Kimono Collar).


G A L L E R Y:  Around Ikebukuro

All Snapshots Taken Between Ikebukuro Station and the Sakura Hotel August 6-9, 2011


Waiting for the Green Light. Ikebukuro Intersection.


On the Platform, Waiting for the Train. Ikebukuro Station.


Guys from the Office, After Work. Ikebukuro.


Decision-making Time: Ramen, Soba… Ikebukuro.


A Place Where Some People Play. Ikebukuro.


Walking the Wee One. Near Sakura Hotel. Ikebukuro.


“Walking” the Dogs. Near the Sakura Hotel. Ikebukuro.


Simple Dinner, Ramen. Near Ikebukuro Station.


Poster. Ikebukuro.


Looking Out from Ikebukuro Station.


An @ikebukuro_hotel Twitter Poem

good morning from Tokyo.

Tyhoon is coming. Its 25degree today.  Plz don’t forget to bring jacket with you when you go out.  Have you tried this BIG cafe au lait bowl?

Sometime our Cafe become as Dog Cafe.  How

sweet!!!  Each season has great atmosphere.

You should try

this beer!  I prefer cat.  pool in the sky???

The scene like the pic can be seen sometimes actually.  Some treats them as a baby.

Go Japan Go!

Father, mother and

baby.  All of them are lovely.  I ate the second one today.  taste nice and made me want to go to Sweden!!

Have you experience portable shrine?  making guacamole tonight.

What is your favorite German beer? Good morning from Tokyo 😀




Do you have problem                                                                                                                                                                                                     again


the language?  Gambare my friend!


Note & Apologia:  All Tweets featured above are actual Tweets; the punctuation is as-Tweeted.  However, I did not include links or references to other Twitter “handles” or “monikers.”  All Tweets featured above are but a fraction of many, many more posted between September 15-20, 2011.




Izakaya. Tsukiji (Tokyo). 2009.

I’m going to just refer friends and others who deign to express interest in my upcoming return to Japan to this post.  Note to those who can read Japanese:  I don’t 行く to Japan, I 帰る.  I say, 「ただいま!」 (under my breath and to myself; a symbolic thing) as I walk off from the plane onto the jetway going into Narita Airport (I miss that NW Detroit-Kansai Kukou route), and 「行ってきます」 (even more symbolic) as I walk back down the jetway towards the plane that’s going to take me to the U.S.  Let’s get that straight.  It’s certainly just a mind game I play, but it’s mine and it’s sincere.


Tokyo ( July 30 )

Kyoto ( July 31 – Aug 2 )

Tokyo ( Aug 3 – 8 )

Kyoto ( Aug 9 – 14 )

August 15 . . . to Tokyo, Narita, the U.S.

July 30 – August 6 has me working 100% for one U.S. client.  We’ve got a day trip into Osaka.  That’s as much as I can say.  From the afternoon of August 6-14 I’ll be somewhat working on a few different projects (meetings and such) and, hopefully, will have or make the time to see long-time friends and colleagues, make some new ones, take a couple of contemplative walks, eats some good (and missed) food, visit a couple of galleries.  A part of me is already looking forward to the next time.

Kawabata Street. Kyoto. 2009.


An old friend I plan on visiting. Kurodani-dera. Kyoto. 2005.


If you wonder at the sentimental, as well as professional, attachment I have to Japan, just read a few of the stories and check out some of the galleries.

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Addendum:  In case any of you are wondering, no, I’m not going to get up to the Tohoku Region (that was so decimated by the tsunami on March 11) this trip.  Time, budget.  However, much will need to be done over the next several years, perhaps decade, so I look forward to doing something, some modest or small something, to be part of revitalizing Coastal Tohoku.


So You’re Going to Japan…

Businesspeople and others unwind after the workday. Tokyo. 2010.

In a little less than three weeks I’m set to take corporate clients to Japan on a business trip.  Below is some of which I’ll be coaching these first-time-to-Japan travelers (a couple of the company’s corporate officers) on.  The lists are not exhaustive.  And much of this is as much “art” as “science,” but it’s extremely important to be aware of.  Japanese people are very patient and forgiving and allow for the fact that someone new to Japan likely won’t have all social mores “down pat,” but first impressions are important, no matter where in the world one goes.

Protocol – a few Dos and Don’ts

Do – Be mindful of your shoes; see if others are taking theirs off and go with the flow.

Do – Be mindful of your voice: Westerners’ voices can ‘carry’. You’ll stand out enough as it is.

Do – Use any Japanese words and phrases you may know or pick up . . . and savor your experience.

Do – Pay attention to who the “boss” is in meetings and pay deference to that person.

Do – Bring gifts (“omiyage“) for your hosts and those with whom you’ll be meeting. For true VIPs/Companies, I like coffee table books: nice- looking and flat, for relatively easy packing. For more on gift-giving.

Do – Accept gifts and anything given to you with two hands. Look to see if it’s being offered with two hands and receive in the same manner.

Do – Pour drinks for others and let others pour for you. Feign surprise at this little ritual — everyone else does.

Do – Bring plenty of business cards (“meishi”) with an English and Japanese side.  Use two hands when presenting and receiving these, too.

Do – Call your bank &/or credit card company(ies) before leaving and tell them you’re traveling to Japan and your travel dates. Otherwise your card could be declined in Japan: that first transaction in Japan will look “suspicious” to the credit card company. It’s happened to me and others!

    And  . . .

Don’t. . . assume the person standing next to you can’t understand English.

Don’t – . . . go to open the taxi door: it will automatically open for you!

Don’t – . . . stick your chopsticks vertically into your bowl of rice and leave them there. That’s only done at funerals ( ! ).

Don’t – . . . use idioms if at all possible. While it’s true that you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink and that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, translating these into Japanese, or finding the idiomatic equivalent is not worth the trouble.

Don’t – . . . be shocked by a cleaning lady in the Men’s Room while you’re in there doing your business. Don’t comment on it when you return to your meeting (you’ll look like a rube). Act like it’s no big deal because in Japan it’s no big deal.

Don’t – . . . tip! It’s not done! Not to the bellboy, not to the taxi driver, not to the waiter or waitress.  It’s. just. not. done.

Don’t – . . . pack your backs to the brim! Leave some room for when you bring home gifts and nick-knacks you’ve bought along the way.

Packing for your trip . . .

It’s a long flight. Fellow traveler. 2010.

Be Sure to Bring:

*  A couple good books for the plane.  The movies are too often rather horrid and, depending on where you start out, 10-13 hours is a long, long, time on a plane.

* Also for the plane:  one of those little, inexpensive personal reading lights you can clip onto your book.  When they put out the lights for the movies your overhead seat light can illuminate the surrounding seats like a football stadium’s arc lamps.  I try to be a considerate seat mate.

*  Visine, or your eye-drops of choice.  Your eyes will ache and be red after the trip.  Tokyo can be smoggy.  Not anything like Beijing’s smog soup (with the viscosity of 30-weight motor oil), but irritating to the eyes nonetheless.

*  Imodiom or equivalent anti-diarrhea meds.  The water’s fine and the food’s not “heavy,” but just the stress of traveling can upset the  stomach.

*  Comfortable shoes.  You’ll walk more than you usually do.  This applies to business travelers as well as tourists.

*  Plenty of solid deodorant.  Westerners often don’t smell good to Japanese (many contend to the comparatively high amount of meat in the typical Western diet).  And most of Japan’s extremely hot and muggy in the summer.

*  Patience and open-mindedness.

Intracountry travelers. Shinagawa Prince Hotel. Tokyo. 2010.

Tag – this theme’s “it” for a while.

Earlier today LetsJapan.Wordpress.Com updated its appearance.  Those new to this site won’t know the difference.  For those who’ve visited over the past 10 months, since this site’s/blog’s launch, will notice right away that this “Monochrome” format (that’s what it’s called:  Monochrome), with its clean gray-black borders, really helps the photography stand out a whole lot better than the all-white site.

=  Note to those who found there way here via a Tag:  Feel free to use the site Search Engine (bottom right-hand side) and enter the term/tag/post/info you’re looking for.  One or more posts/stories/galleries, etc. should pop up for you. =

Also quite different (than just 24 hours ago):  the top of the page has very few tabs.  Now each photo gallery is clickable through the drop-down tab (GALLERIES) at the page top, as are the stories, via the STORIES drop-down tab.

Finally, I ought to note that a couple of weeks ago I made a Facebook page for LetsJapan.Wordpress.Com to keep Facebook aficionados updated on posts and featured galleries and stories here.  I’ve also started posting a few Facebook-only comments, features and photos on the LetsJapan.Wordpress.Com Facebook page.

A photo apropos to nothing in this post.  I took in in Kyoto this past November and, well, I like it.

Finally, I’m “tagging” this post with many of my photo gallery and story themes and post topics (below and in prior pages) in hopes that this or that random googler will stumble upon this site and what it has to — and will — offer.

Hope you enjoy . . .

To Japan, tomorrow…

Tomorrow morning (Wed, 4 November) I’ll be returning to Japan.  Many meetings await me — in both the business sense and in the personal and place way.  I’m scheduled to be gone about a week.  Too short a time.  Too short a time.  But this is not a “Fun Trip”, although I certainly look forward to being in the midst of Tokyo’s energy and Kyoto’s beauty in the heart of autumn, my favorite season in Japan.

Kurodani Dera. Kyoto. 2003.


秋  。。。autumn (Updated for 2011)


Note:  In 2011 I updated this post with a few photos I took Kyoto in November 2009; taken a little over a month after I first posted this piece.  After you (hopefully) enjoy this photo essay, I hope you’ll click over to my 2012 Autumn album.

The Takase Canal. Kiyamachi, Kyoto. November ’09.

.          .         .

Autumn’s my favorite season.  I suppose it comes from being a native of Virginia, growing up just outside of Washington, D.C., where during my childhood autumn seemed to last forever.  Cousins lived — and now raise their own families — in the Shenandoah Valley.  My grandparents on my mother’s side lived in West Virginia when I was very young, and then moved over to Shenandoah, Virginia.  The glorious leaves, the cool crisp days and chilly nights, football season, Halloween, Thanksgiving, apples and apple cider and a slow, sweet transition into the Christmas Season.  As a teenager and then as a college student I found autumn the most romantic time of the dating year and most of my fondest memories of that aspect of my life were played-out against the backdrop of autumn.

Kurama.  Just north of Kyoto.  October 2003.

Kurama. Just north of Kyoto. October 2003.

The first time I went to live in Japan, near Hirakata-shi and within about a half-hour of Kyoto, or Osaka, depending on which direction one takes the Keihan Line, was in August.  So I was able to experience the transition from summer into autumn in Japan.  Through two living experiences in Japan and a couple of dozen of 1- to 3-weeks trips there over the past 10 years, I count autumn as my favorite time in Japan, too.

Kyoto. 2003.

Autumn in Japan:   its heavy, oppressive, debilitating humidity takes a holiday, the Japanese maples (もみじ) transform into millions of delicate blazes of red and gold, lengthening shadows and deepening shades of red and orange, charcoal-sweet smell of roasted yams (still in the skin, of course) wafting about in both city and countryside.  “Sweater Weather.”  The sycamores that line Ni-jo Street in Kyoto, east of the Kamo River.  Comforting memories of dear people who’ve wafted like sweet smoke in and out of my life — or was I the shade that merged into and out of theirs’? — all make autumn in Japan particularly special for me.

I remember one cool autumn night in Kyoto, around 2003 when I and my traveling companion had just flown across the Pacific, gone through the Rites of Immigration, Customs and Baggage Claim at Kansai International Airport, taken the “Haruka” train from the airport to Kyoto Station, been picked up at the station by my Sensei, my Japanese language teacher from college, and taken to his and his wife’s home in North Kyoto.  We ate some, drank a little beer and sake and then turned in after a long, long, long day.  The last thing I remember hearing as I drifted off was the sound of a man singing, almost chanting, just outside the window, pushing his cart of roasted sweet potatoes through the narrow Kyoto streets, plodding on by with his voice rising and falling   —   “R o a s ted yaaaa…ms!  R o a s ted  yaaaa…ms”  (“yaaahhhhkeee   eeemohhhh,  yaaahhhkeee  eeemohhhh…“).  He sounded elderly.  Was he?   I think it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard.

.               .               .

G a l l e r y

Kiyomizu Dera.  November 2003.



Canal from Lake Biwa. Kyoto. November 2009.


Harvesting Rice. Near my house. Hirakata. Autumn 1984.


Leaves in Stone Basin. Shoren-in. November 2009.


At Shinnyo-do Temple. Kyoto. November 2009.


Persimmons (柿). Kyoto, Okazaki, Market. November 2009.


Ladder. Kurama. November 2003.


Katano-san. Near my house. Autumn 1984.


Friend at Eikan-do (永観堂) “Light Up.” Kyoto. November 2009.


Along the road, near Chion-in. November 2009.


Overcast day in Pontocho. Kyoto. November 2009.


Wall at Shinnyodo Temple. Kyoto. November 2009.


Kurodani-dera. Kyoto. November 2009.

More on Kurodani-dera here.


True Stories. Also, Trip Info.

Several people have emailed me and, yes, with one exception, these stories are true (or as true as I can remember them).  I plan on posting about 1 or 2 a week.  They’ll cover things such as hot springs, trains, country auctions, unspoken apologies, quirky inn owners, “syphon coffee”, nitrous oxide, (the?) one that got away, neighborhood eateries, karaoke, police boxes, Noh plays at sunset, my Japanese family, Kyoto side streets, and, of course, Lucky Cat Boppers.



Additional trip information for all (including costs and deadlines) will go up within the next couple of days, too.

R Newton

2 SPRING ’10 TRIPS: Itineraries Up!

Detailed iteneraries for our “Cherry Blossom” and “Kyoto Sojourn” trips to post this-coming weeked, June 20-21.  Please check back.  We will also announce sign-up and deposit deadlines this weekend.  Please email  for more information on pricing and policies.

Also, if you have a Japan-related link you would like me to include in our Links List (see left side of page), please email me with the link and a little background on your company or organization!

Fushimi Inari, Kyoto. May 2008.

Fushimi Inari, Kyoto. May 2008.

LetsJapan Announces 2 Spring ’10 Trips to Japan

LetsJapan announces it will offer two guided tours of Japan in the Spring of 2010!


NOTE:  Cherry Blossom Spring has been put off ’til 2011.  “Kyoto Sojourn” remains “on” for April 2010.  See below or click on the Kyoto Sojourn link in the preceding sentence or at the top of this page.


Cherry Blossom Spring  (coming in Spring 2011)

Our “Cherry Blossom Spring” trip will run from March 29-April 11, with 13 days and12 nights savoring the glories of Cherry Blossom time in Kyoto, Himeji, Nara and along the Sea of Japan.  The trip will be limited to 9 guests, departure from Birmingham, Alabama.

We are scheduled to spend 2 nights at a traditional inn in Kinosaki

We are scheduled to spend 2 nights at a traditional inn in Kinosaki


Kyoto Sojourn

The “Kyoto Sojourn” trip will run from April 14-22, with 8 days and 7 nights in Japan’s ancient, wondrous capitol, Kyoto.  Day trips to Osaka and Nara and nearby hot springs will be included.  Kyoto Sojourn will be limited to 9 guests, departure from Birmingham, Alabama.

Stone Buddha at Kurodani Temple, Kyoto.  A favorite place of mine.

Stone Buddha at Kurodani Temple, Kyoto. A favorite place of mine.

For either/both trip itineraries or questions please contact: