Voyage Through Japan & South Korea In 2015


My expedition to Japan and South Korea began at San Francisco International Airport  (SFO) when I took an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 Flight to Incheon (ICN) before connecting to Narita (NAR) in Japan.

New Tokyo International Airport (Narita) is about 50 miles from Tokyo so we had to take a train from the airport to our hotel in Gotanda.

Upon entering my really SMALL Tokyo hotel room, I saw these slippers.  The Japanese do not like to wear shoes inside the home so the hotel gives you slippers.  The room maids even were bare foot when they cleaned the rooms.

Although the hotel rooms are tiny in Tokyo, they were clean and modern and had a ton of amenities including pajamas that were laid out on the bed for me.  Since I was up for 24 hours for the travel to Japan, it was nice to have pajamas waiting for me so I did not have to unpack right away.

Figuring out how to flush the high tech toilet in my hotel was a challenge at first.  The seats are heated which is nice, but I pressed the shower button accidently to flush which made a nozzle come out and spray water in the air.  LOL.  The Japanese are known for high tech toilets!

This is a moat around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo with an old stone wall.  The current Imperial Palace was built on the grounds of the old Edo Castle.

There is a stone wall on the grounds of the Tokyo Imperial Palace that has the crests of the various shoguns who ruled over Edo Castle before the Meiji Restoration in the 1800s when the Emperor moved the capital to Tokyo from Kyoto.

This is the Japanese Diet which is their bi-cameral legislature similiar to our Congress.

Since I love sushi, I was looking forward to trying some in Japan.  The sushi in Japan is totally different from the kind we get in the US.  They do not have all these fancy rolls with sauce all over them.  Most sushi is nigiri style with a little wasabi in between the fish and rice.  It was delicious!

Japanese Whisky is amazing!  I was introduced to it when I was in Hong Kong last year.  I drank a lot of Japanese Whisky when I was in Japan!

Here is the Tokyo Train Station.  It was originally built in 1914, but most of the station was in ruins after WWII.

Here is a commuter train in Tokyo.  The commuter trains get really crowded during rush hour.

This is Tokyo Tower, which stands 1092' above the ground.  It is even taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  We went to the highest observation deck that is open to the public.

The views of Tokyo from the tower were amazing!  I have never seen so many high rise structures in one city before!  Tokyo is really large!

The Shibuya Crossing is the world's busiest pedestrian crossing.  One might remember seeing it in movies and films that were done in Tokyo.  It was just a sea of people crossing!

I had breakfast at Jonathan's, a Japanese style Denny's with a few of my friends and Joy's 2nd cousin on the third day.  Japan has a lot of 7-Eleven stores also.

This is the Sensoji Temple in the Asakusa area of Tokyo.  Shinto is the main religion in Japan.

Here is a cool pagoda near the temple in Asakusa.

There was a street vendor near the temple preparing fresh seafood including octopus in a broth.  The octopus was so good.

Japan is full of vending machines everywhere including in alleys.

Once again, I must post pictures of the sushi!  The fish was so fresh!  I liked the Amberjack, Albacore, Scallops, and Maguro.

This is an older part of Tokyo called Shimokitazawa.  The streets are very narrow, and the utility infrastructure is above ground.

We found a British pub too in Shimokitazawa.  I am having Japanese whisky of course.  They call these drinks "high balls," which is whiskey served with soda water and ice in a tall glass.

This is Akihabara which is known as the Electric Town of Tokyo.

The Maid Cafes are really popular in Japan.  They are kind of like a restaurant where Hooters meets the anime world.  The waitresses dress up in maid costumes that are almost out of an anime.  It is an interesting experience.

Nothing like a little chicken yakitori from a street vendor to start off the day.  LOL.  It was pretty good, but I was not adventurous enough to try the strange parts of the chicken like the internal organs.

I am standing outside the Nezu Shrine in Tokyo.  This shrine was said to have been established 1,900 years ago!

The Tokyo Fish Market is where they auction off the day's best catch.

I had some of the freshest sushi ever at a restaurant by the fish market in Tokyo.

Here is a menu of delicious sushi options.  I liked the albacore, maguro, and amberjack as well as the scallops.

This is the Kabuki Theater in Tokyo.  They perform traditional Japanese plays here.

This is the Ginza area of Tokyo which is their high end shopping district.

This is a huge Gundam statue at the Diver City Mall.  It can move it's head during the evening shows.

They had a Baskin Robbins inside the mall too.  I tried one of their local specialties which featured a crepe with ice cream and other toppings inside.

We went to a large Toyota Showroom where they showcased their product line.  In Japan, they drive on the other side of the road.  This is a Toyota Crown.

I am sitting in the backseat of another Toyota Crown.  This is their flag ship product over in Japan.  The Lexus GS is based on this.  It costs about $55,000 US.

Here is Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel Car.

The Century is Toyota's version of a "Rolls Royce."  This car is about $112,000 US, and it is used to drive the Japanese Royal Family.

Although the car's exterior has a classic styling, the interior features a ton of gadgets just like a Bond car would.

This is a Lexus sports car at the Toyota Car Exhibit.

We took the Shinkansen (a.k.a. "bullet train") from Tokyo to Kyoto the next day.  We were travelling at speeds of approximately 170-180 mph.

I saw this cool building from the bullet train near Nagoya.  It is called the Panasonic Solar Arc.

I am outside one of the buildings at the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

Here is a pond area in the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

This is one of the beautiful Japanese gardens at the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

This is the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto.  It is one of the most popular tourist sites in Japan.

There is a long and steep trail up the mountain that has these torii gates surrounding it which visitors go up to the top of the mountain.

A lot of people buy the torii gates and place them around the shrines on the mountain.

We climbed to the top of the 233 meter mountain!

I am standing by one of the shrines on the mountain here.

This is the Kyoto Tower.

Here is a nice mall by the Kyoto train station.  They had their Christmas tree up also.

I am feasting on some traditional Japanese food including soba noodles, tempura, and tuna sashimi in Kyoto.

This was our hotel in Kobe.  It is the Hotel Crown Palais.  The rooms were larger than the one in Tokyo at least.

This is the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.  It was one of the few structures that survived the blast.

This is the peace bell in Hiroshima.

Here is another view of the Peace Park in Hiroshima.  The Atomic Bomb Dome is at the other end of the picture.

We took a ferry to Miyajima Island after we saw Hiroshima.

Miyajima Island is famous for the torii gate that is built onto the water.

Miyajima Island has a ton of deer that wander about the town area.  They come up to humans without fear.

These grilled oysters were so fresh and amazing!

This is a traditional dish from the Hiroshima area of Japan.  It is called Okonomiyaki.  They start with an egg pancake and cover it with noodles, veggies, and meat.  Seafood and cheese are optional.  It was pretty good.

This is a view from the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island.  The pagoda in the background was really awesome!

Relaxing on the bullet train back to Kobe from Hiroshima.  We were exhausted!

Here is a special anime themed bullet train.  We took this train to Himeji.

This is Himeji Castle, which is the best preserved castle from the feudal times in Japan.

When I lived on the East Coast, we had a chain called Mister Donut that we would go to often.  They went out of business in the US for the most part, but they have them all over Japan.  I am having my afternoon snack here.

This is a large department store in Osaka.

Since we were so tired from all the walking around, we took advatage of the massage chairs on display at the department store in Osaka.

This is a picture of rice paddies between Tokyo and Narita when I was taking the Narita Express back to the airport from Tokyo.

The United Club @ Narita International Airport is the best United Club I've been to.  Their alcohol selection is better too.  They even had some decent bourbon for me.

The United Club also featured some sushi.  It was decent, but the sushi in Tokyo was way better!

I went out in the Incheon area in South Korea after I arrived.  It was pretty lively, but it was cold too!

I had a Korean Krispy Kreme Donut for breakfast the next morning in Incheon.  They were pretty good.

This is a pagoda I saw near one of the palaces in Seoul.  Korea was a kingdom until 1910.

This is one of the gates to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, Korea.

One can tell how important a building was back in the day by how many of these little figures were on the roof.  This was a pretty important building.

I am outside Gyeongbokgung Palace in this picture.  The pavements were rough so people would not slip with their leather shoes back during the day of the Korean monarchy.

This is by the Jogyesa Temple in Seoul, which is the main Buddhist temple in the area.

They had a special ceremony at the temple that day.  We were able to observe it.

This is an alley way full of restaurants near Insa-dong Street in Seoul.

I am enjoying a traditional Korean lunch of bulgogi and kim chi.

Here is a picture of Seoul from the tour bus when we were heading back towards Incheon.

This is Incheon International Airport.  It is the main airport in South Korea.

I am doing a Korean arts and crafts project at the airport here.  They have free arts projects that one can do while they wait for their flight at Incheon Airport.  I am making a painting.

They had a traditional march of the "Royal Family" parading through the terminal area at Incheon Airport.

    A few of my friends planned a trip to Japan towards the end of 2015, and since I had so much vacation left to take for the year, I decided to join them.  My finacee just started a new job with the federal government so she did not have enough vacation accrued to go with me unfortunately.  Since we were taking Asiana Airlines which connects through Incheon International Airport in South Korea, I decided to break up my trip while coming back to the US so I could see Seoul, South Korea as well.  We departed San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on November 11.  Our Asiana flight was a Boeing 777.  Having travelled a lot as a child, I am so used to taking a Boeing 747 for trans ocean flights, but the new twin engine aircraft are now OK for doing these routes as well.  The service on board Asiana was typical with that of other Asian carriers.  The crew was very attentive and smiled when they were asked to do anything.  It is a welcome change from our domestic carriers which suck so bad in customer service.  The alcohol selection on board was decent, but it was not as good as Emirates.  We were served a beef tenderloin (filet mignon) dish for our first meal on the flight.  They served us finger sandwiches mid flight as a snack, and we got a decent dinner before landing in Incheon.  The flight was about twelve hours.  I decided to force myself to stay awake so I could be really tired when I got to Tokyo since we landed at night.  Our connection to Tokyo was very short, but my luggage did make it to Narita Airport.  The dinner that was served from Incheon to Narita was a little odd.

    We took the train from Narita International Airport to Tokyo after getting into Japan.  Narita is about 50 miles from Tokyo.  The train trip took a little over an hour, and we arrived at the Hotel MyStays by Gotanda Station around midnight.  This hotel was recently redone, but the rooms were very typical of Tokyo.  They were SO SMALL!  I felt like I was on a cruise ship.  I could barely get my luggage into the room.  LOL.  They had slippers and pajamas waiting for me in the room.  Moreover, they had a lot of toileries available including facial cleanser, toner, moisturizer, hair bushes, and dental care products.  I just crashed after changing into the pajamas that were laid out for me on the bed in a plastic bag.

    The next morning, we began our tour of Tokyo.  Our first stop was the Imperial Palace.  We took the train to Tokyo Train Station where we were able to exchange our Japan Rail pass vouchers for the actual rail pass.  The rail pass is a great value at $232 for 7 days of unlimited travel on all Japan Railways trains including the bullet trains.  The Imperial Palace was a short walk from the Tokyo Train Station.  We had to book our tickets ahead of time for this tour.  Japan has a symbolic Emperor.  The Royal Family lives on the grounds of the Imperial Palace, but most of the grounds are open to the public.  We were shown around the large area that encompasses the Imperial Palace.  It was built on the site of the former Edo Castle.  When Shoguns ruled Japan, they had different Shoguns reside there.  Many of the Shoguns had their family crests put on a stone wall on site.  We also saw old keeps that were built too.  After our tour of the palace, we went to lunch at the train station.  I had some amazing sushi for lunch accompanied by Japanese whisky.  Japanese whisky in Japan is usually served as a "high ball" drink.  They mix whisky, soda water, and ice and serve in a tall glass.  The sushi in Japan is very different from what we get in the US.  The sushi chef puts a little wasabi in between the rice and the fish.  Our next stop was the Japanese Diet building.  The Diet is their Congress.  There are two legislative houses, and we got a tour of the House of Councillors.  We went to Tokyo Tower after that.  Tokyo Tower is higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and we got great views of Tokyo from there.  We capped off the evening with a tour of Shibuya.  The famous Shibuya crossing is seen in movies or shows filmed in Tokyo.  It is the world's busiest pedesterian crossing.

    We went to Sensoji Temple the next morning.  In addition to the shrine, there is a large pagoda also.  Moreover, we tried some octopus from a street vendor.  It was delicious!  Afterwards, we  got some more great sushi for lunch before exploring some older parts of Tokyo.  That night, we went to the Electric Town area of Tokyo where we experienced a Japanese Maid Cafe.  The waitresses wear maid outfits straight out of an anime, and they call the customers "master."  It was an interesting experience.  The "maids" also draw on certain dishes with ketchup.

    The following day, we explored older parts of Tokyo again including the Nezu Shrine.  I tried some yakitori from a street vendor.  Yakitori is grilled chicken skewers.  Afterwards, we went to the Tokyo Fish Market, and we had some great sushi there.  They auction off the daily catch of fish there including the expensive tuna.  We also saw the Kabuki Theater and Ginza that day.  Afterwards, we went to Odaiba, which is a man made island.  They had a cool Toyota exhibit there, and we saw cars that are not sold in the US including the Toyota Crown (similiar to the Lexus GS) and the Century (V12 luxury car).

    On Monday, we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto.  The ride was fairly smooth despite going 170-180 mph.  In Kyoto, we saw the Imperial Palace.  Kyoto was the capital of Japan until the 1800s when the Emperor moved the capital to Tokyo after he regained power from the Shoguns.  The Kyoto Imperial Palace had beautiful gardens and art work.  Afterwards, we went to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto.  We climbed up to the top of the mountain which was 233 meters high.  Along the path to the top, there were thousands of torii gates to mark the way.  It was quite a challenge.  We went to the mall by the Kyoto Station next.  I was able to see the Kyoto Tower there too.  For dinner, we tried some Japanese bento boxes.  I had tuna sashimi, tempura, and soba noodles.  Afterwards, we went to Kobe where we checked into the Hotel Crown Palais.  The room was not as tiny as the one in Tokyo.

    We went to Hiroshima the next day, and we saw the Atomic Bomb Dome and Peace Park before heading out to Miyajima Island.  Miyajima Island is a magical place with shrines and pagodas as well as a lot of little deer that wander about the town.  I had some amazing grilled oysters on the island before trying a local dish called okonomiyaki.  Afterwards, we explored the shrine near the water.  During high tide, it is supposed to look like it is floating on water.  They have a torii gate built on the water also.  We headed back to Kobe after we finished touring the island.

    The next day, we went to Himeji Castle.  It is the best preserved castle in all of Japan.  The beautiful white castle is six stories tall above the basement level.  We went to Osaka next.  In Osaka, we just toured a large department store.

    I returned to Tokyo the next day via bullet train so I could catch my flight to South Korea.  I arrived with ample time to spare so I chilled in the United Club at Narita International Airport.  They had decent alcohol selections as well as sushi and other snacks.  Joy and I used the lounge last year when we went to Hong Kong, and their shower suites are awesome too.  My flight to Incheon was not that long.  After arriving at Incheon, I called the Hotel Sky from my cell phone using the Global Sim card I bought, and the shuttle took me to the hotel.  I went out that night to see Incheon.  They had a vibrant night life around the hotel.  I checked out a bar called the California Bar.  There were three female bartenders there, and they asked if I would like them to drink with me so we each had a cocktail.  One of the girls was from Uzbekistan, and she was telling me about her country.  After one drink, I called it a night, and I returned to the hotel.  It was really cold outside, and I liked the heated floors in the hotel.

    After checking out, the hotel shuttle took me back to Incheon Airport for my transit tour of Seoul.  Incheon Airport offers complimentary transit tours ranging from one to five hours.  Since I had until 4:40 PM, I took the five hour tour of Seoul.  All I had to pay was $10 to cover the lunch and admission to the palace.  They took us by bus from the airport to Seoul.  The drive to Seoul took about an hour.  Our first stop was the Gyeonbokgung Palace.  It was the home of the Korean King until 1910.  The Japanese occupied Korea until WWII after the fall of the monarchy.  The palace tour was really cool.  We went to a Buddhist temple next in Seoul.  Afterwards, we had lunch by Insa-dong Street.  The traditional Korean lunchw as actually pretty tasty.  They brought us back on time to the airport after giving us some time to wander around Insa-dong Street.  I had enough time to get a foot massage, do some duty free shopping, and some traditional Korean arts and crafts when I got back to the airport.  Incheon Airport was pretty amazing!  My flight back to San Francisco on Asiana was very comfortable, and it was under ten hours this time.

Last Updated:  November 27, 2015 11:34 PM