Author Topic: Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK  (Read 5711 times)

Offline bendor

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Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« on: June 22, 2017, 12:13:46 PM »
This is my first trip report, and my first trip ever using points. I’ve been accumulating for just over a year, and I’d like to give a big shoutout to all those who post here and have made this hobby possible, and specifically to PieRSquare (who answered a lot of my questions) and the others who have posted TRs and in the Master Thread. So give yourselves a big round of applause!
On to the report.

It all began with plans for Thailand.
I really wanted to go to Thailand. I had been following the Thailand Master Thread, read all the Thailand TRs, and was completely hooked. Beautiful beaches, diving and snorkeling, elephants, beautiful resorts on points, and cheap kosher food at Chabad. What more could you want? A little research showed that AA offer the cheapest awards to Thailand from Israel (after JAL, but no point in wasting Starpoints on this) with great availability on Royal Jordanian and good connection times. I continued to trawl through the Thailand Master Thread, started researching hotels, and began racking up AA miles (thank you Citi!). Up until now, I had been collecting speculatively, but now that we had a destination in mind, I worked out my points-earning plan.
The plan was to go right before or after Pesach (mid-April 17'), to work with my DW's university schedule.

This was in September 2016. We started opening up relevant cards for signup bonuses, and all was well in the world.

In November, about 4 months before our planned travel dates, we discovered that my DW was pregnant! B”H! Our unborn child would be able to enjoy this trip as well! My elation lasted about a week - at which point I found out that Thailand has the dreaded ZIKA virus, making it a no-go for pregnant women. While Zika in Thailand is endemic, and not epidemic like in South America, we decided that we were not risking it. So, the objective now came to find a destination which wouldn’t cost (many) more AA points, and didn’t have Zika. There weren't so many options, as Zika is endemic in most of SE Asia, so Japan came out the clear winner. We soon found out that we were planning our trip around the beginning of the famous "sakura" (cherry blossom) season, which only confirmed our decision. And after looking at some pictures, the Mrs. was hooked!  ;)

Booking: Flights
While living in Israel is wonderful, it does make things a bit more difficult with regards to earning points. So even though our dates were coming up fast, we still didn't have all the points we needed for the flights. Our low expenses (B"H!) didn't help that fact, nor did the closing of the main avenue for MS in Israel. But we were still determined, and thanks to the help of some friends, we finally earned enough AA miles to book our outbound flights.

All good, right? Just a simple TLV-RJ-AMM-RJ-BKK-JL-TYO flight. That's what we thought, until we found out that all there was no availability on JL from BKK to either Haneda or Narita, without wasting almost 24 hours in BKK. Worse, even if we were to continue to HKG, there was no availability in J or Y for any direct flight to Tokyo!  :'( The Internet says that cherry blossom season is crazy, and it was right!

Finally, after researching with a number of very helpful AAdvantage call center agents (I would always call middle of the night US time) and on, it looked like we'd have a long journey from Tel Aviv to Tokyo. TLV-AMM-BKK-HKG-KIX,ITM-HND. Total travel time from TLV departure until arrival in HND would be almost 24 hours (not including timezone differences). Ouch. The one consolation was that it would all in Business class. Our first time too! So it would be worth it. (It was! ;D)

To get from TYO to HKG it's only 10k Avios +27$ (in Y) on either CX or JL. The advantage over these carriers as opposed to AirAsia or any of the other LCC (Peach, VanillaAir, etc.) is in the availability and times. Most of the LCCs are either early morning or late at night, and we wanted a nice afternoon flight. Also, you get 2 pieces of checked baggage and a 10kg hand luggage as opposed to 0 and 0 on the LCCs.

For our return to Israel (and to make it back in time for Pesach) we planned on staying in Hong Kong over Shabbat, and catching the new 1am CX flight on Sunday morning from HKG to TLV, booked using Asia Miles which I would transfer from Citi TYP. (Unfortunately, the maiden voyage was a week after we wanted to depart for our trip, otherwise it would have saved us a whole lot of transfers on the way to Japan…) That would give us a whole day and a half to clean for Pesach (which was on Monday evening). There was only one problem - there was no availability, in any class!  :'(
After overcoming my initial horror, I read that Cathay will often open up availability closer to the date. So I sat back, warned my wife and my Mom that we my not make it home for Pesach, and booked award tickets on the waiting list through CX (the main advantage to booking direct, and what - in the end - got us home for Pesach). I also went on multiple times a day, checking for openings, as I read stories on flyertalk about being on the waiting list, and a seat opening up and being 'grabbed' before handed over to the waiting list... I also kept a close check on fare availability through expertflyer, as there were a lot of unsold J, PE and Y fares, so I was fairly optimistic that something would work out. I also looked into some contingency plans - flying RJ back through AMM (although risking a 45min connection in AMM, and landing Erev Pesach), or just using UR points through the portal to buy (relatively) cheap cash ticket on Ukrainian or Aeroflot... (Luckily, it cleared – but we’ll get to that in a future post.)

Booking: Hotels
Booking hotels was contingent on us figuring out our itinerary. As mentioned below, Japan is huge and there is so much to see! But because it was the sakura season, hotels were filling up fast. Very fast. Luckily, I was still able to get the Prince Sakura (15 min walk to R' Mendi's Chabad House in Tokyo) for most of the nights I wanted in Tokyo, and we spent Shabbat in an airbnb 5 min walk from Chabad, which I had meticulously gone over with the host to make sure it was shabbat-friendly.
Apart from that, we had two nights in Toyama at the Crowne Plaza there, one night at the Crowne Plaza Nagoya, and spent our second Shabbat at the JCC/Chabad in Kobe. From there we planned on going to Kyoto, but there were literally no hotels, hostels or ryoken left in town, so we booked two nights at an airbnb in Osaka (Terrible! Worst idea ever! >:() finishing up with a night at the Prince Sakura and one night at the adjacent Prince Shinagawa (more on that later).

In Hong Kong, we splurged for the Shagri-la Kowloon with Chase UR.  Totally worth it 8)

Keeping kosher in Japan, and other pre-trip preparations:
Japan is an amazing country, and there is so  much to do and see. There is, however, very little to eat, for those keeping kosher (besides your basic fruits and vegetables which are very expensive, and fish). Basically, you have the two Chabad houses (official and unofficial) in Tokyo (only one of which has an active restaurant), the Jewish community in Kobe (run by Chabad). On our trip, we heard from others that a new (unofficial) Chabad house in Kyoto opened up. So we planned out all our meals before hand, and brought a suitcase full of food (cereal, pasta, instant soups, snacks, etc) and a large freezer bag (bread, soups, cheese, lasagna). There is a very detailed list of what foods you can bring in to Japan (and what not). Unfortunately, all types of poultry and meat are prohibited (without proper import certification), and while the reports say that no one has been stopped (yet), we didn't want to break the record and risk getting stuck in Japan with no food. So we brought only milchig food (frozen lasagna, frozen soup, frozen pitot, frozen cheese, etc.).

We planned on doing cooking at both the hotel and at the airbnbs, and purchased an electric-coil burner for about ~20$ in Tokyo and a grilled cheese sandwich maker for about 10$. Remember that Japan uses 100v (and the current is 50/60A) so be careful bringing electronics with heating elements from the USA, as I was told they still need some sort of converter. In Israel all our appliances are 220v, so it wasn't relevant anyways.

At all the hotels we stayed at they were very accommodating with regards to our stockpile of frozen and refrigerated kosher food. The frozen food was stored in the kitchen or porter's freezer in a large freezerbag on wheels, and they would cart it back and forth to our room. Most had no qualms about heating food up in the oven, while two hotels only provided microwave services. We would always ask them to clear out the mini-bar so we could use it for our Israeli cheese and local cows milk (ask your LOR! We talked to R' Herschel Simantov, a mashgiach for the OK, who said it was fine to drink full-fat clearly labeled cows milk).

And for the record, always double wrap frozen soups. Always...  :-[

Planning a Japan itinerary
As there is so much to see, you really have to pick and choose. After combing the Japan master thread, various travel guides, and the nephew of a neighbor who had spent 3 months in Japan last year, we built our itinerary:
  • (Tuesday Day -2: Depart TLV)
  • Thursday Day 1: Land in Japan
  • Friday Day 2: Tokyo (Ueno park)
  • Shabbat Day 3: Tokyo (Chabad + ??)
  • Sunday Day 4: Tokyo (Tokyo National Gallery + Akihabara)
  • Monday Day 5: Tokyo (Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ginza)
  • Tuesdya Day 6: Toyama (activated 7 day Japan Rail Pass)
  • Wednesday Day 7: Kanazawa
  • Thursday Day 8: Scenic route to Nagoya, SCMaglev Park
  • Friday Day 9: Toyota Factory Tour + Travel to Kobe
  • Shabbat Day 10: Kobe
  • Sunday Day 11: Kyoto
  • Monday Day 12: Nara (return to Tokyo, end of JR Pass)
  • Tuesday Day 13: Tokyo (Cherry blossoms, Shibuya, Ueno and Karaoke! ;D)
  • Wednesday Day 14: Tokyo (Cherry blossoms) + Fly to HKG
  • Thursday Day 15: Hong Kong (touring the Island)
  • Friday Day 16: Hong Kong (Kowloon)
  • Shabbat Day 17: Hong Kong (Kehillat Zion + Museum)
  • Sunday Day 18: Fly to TLV

Redemptions [vs. cash value]:
- TLV-TYO  RJ/CX J:  2 * 30k AA + 42.20$ [~2500$ pp, 8.3cpp]
- TYO-HKG CX Y : 2 * 10k BA + 27.13$ [~350$ pp, 4.3cpp]
- HKG-TLV CX PE: 2 * 30k CX + 330HKD (~42$) [~950$ pp, 3.1cpp]
- Prince Sakurua Tokyo: 4 * 40k Marriot points [350$ per night, 0.875cpp]
- Crowne Plaza Toyama: 2 * 25k IHG points  [~300$ per night, 1.2cpp]
- Shangri-La Kowloon: 3* 24k UR [~350$ per night, 1.5cpp]

Total cash (not) spent: *~11,000$*

Detailed posts will follow, but expect sporadic updates. It takes time to churn these things out...
I'll also try and update the Japan Master Thread wiki with info as I write up the TR.

Offline as2

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Re: Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2017, 12:29:04 PM »
Amazing start, love how detailed you are.
Memories last forever, make them while you can.

Online mmgfarb

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Re: Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2017, 12:58:32 PM »
Great start!
"JS [is] a fetid cesspool of unvarnished linguistic manure, with lots of useless drivel and post-padding." -Moishebatchy

Offline bendor

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Day -2, -1 and 0: 5 flights, 6 lounges and an instant ramen museum
« Reply #3 on: March 21, 2018, 12:54:39 PM »
Day -2, -1 and 0: 5 flights, 6 lounges and an instant ramen museum
In honor of it being our tripanniversary next week, I decided about two weeks ago that I would (finally) get out the next post. Hopefully the following post installment will come sooner than the next tripanniversary. (Writing it also really made me appreciate all those people who do manage to get their TRs out in a timely fashion, and especially those who actually *finish* their reports. You make it all worthwhile!)

I’m going to start this post out with a little big thanks to my wife, who put up with my shenanigans and agreed to come on the trip even though we were in transit for almost 72 hours from departing Tel Aviv until we reached Tokyo, as I’m not sure if it came through in the previous post.

Our journey started on a mid-week evening in March.
Our flight to Amman left Tel Aviv late in the evening, but not late enough to prevent a 3 hour layover in AMM, before continuing on to Bangkok. Among the many things I was looking forward to when flying business for the first time was the use of business check-in counter, passing by all those plebeians flying coach and queuing up in those endless lines..
But both check-in lines were empty. It didn’t prevent me from feeling a little heady when the agent handed us our business boarding passes (even if they looked just like the economy ones). Due to our creative routing, the agent told us she wouldn’t be able to generate boarding passes beyond Bangkok, so we’d have to visit Cathay’s transfer desk there.
Passing through security was uneventful, and we soon found ourselves air side.
Flying business got us into the super-luxurious and exclusive adequate Dan lounge, where we feasted on soup and crackers. We had been in the lounge a year before (thanks to an Israeli credit card that used to offer free entrance) and it looked exactly the same (down to the positioning of the drinks in the fridge). At least the salads weren’t a year old…
In any case, even though it was (and still is) nothing special, it’s nice to have a variety of free kosher food, especially in our case where they didn’t serve any food on the 24 minute and 17 second flight (I timed it :-P).
After finishing our snack we hung around in the lounge a bit longer, before heading to our first flight out of five over the next 48 hours.
The TLV-AMM flight is unlike any flight I’ve ever taken. At only 69 miles, the flight is scheduled for 45 minutes, but a look at the flight history shows that it averages around 27 minutes. We literally spent more time taxiing at the two airports then flying.
Due to the low altitude, you have great views of the route. Especially at night, it was really amazing to fly the breadth of the country. Unfortunately, my ancient point-and-shoot camera, which was great for the rest of the trip, did not do so well with the combination of movement, low light and reflective airplane windows.
 So here’s a picture of the crazy lady from the RJ safety video instead:

 Crazy lady from the RJ safety video

Very (very) soon, we found ourselves in Queen Alia Airport. We had 3 hours to kill until our flight to Bangkok, and after a few minutes of browsing the duty free, we decided to go to the lounge and try and get some sleep.
The Crown Lounge (which is also open to Priority Pass holders) is located directly above the terminal, and shares the same open-air space of the terminal, giving a very spacious feeling. It also means there’s lots of people-watching to be done – even at 1am.
View from Crown Lounge
The lounge was quite empty. Upon entering, the lounge splits in to two parts – the right hand side is where the food is, the left hand side is where the seats, couches and comfy armchairs are. So we grabbed ourselves two couches, and took a quick snooze until our next flight.
Snoozing in the Crown Lounge AMM

At about 1:45AM we headed over to the gate, where we boarded our 787 to Bangkok. While the TLV-AMM flight had been our first ever flight in business, it didn’t really count (as business. Or as a flight, for that matter). Here we were going to have our first ever full night sleep on a lay-flat airplane seat. It did not disappoint.

As soon as we hit cruising altitude, we put the beds into sleep mode and hit the sack. Definitely the best sleep I’ve had on an airplane. The flight was about 8 hours, and we slept for about 6 of them (a good thing too, because we weren’t going to get any sleep the next night… More on that later).
We were served some sort of breakfast (or was it lunch?) about an hour away from Bangkok, I seem to remember it being adequate.  Soon enough, we were descending into the beautiful hot and humid Thailand.


This was the first time I’d ever been on a flight which makes a stop where people get out. The RJ flight continues from Bangkok to either Kuala Lumpar or Hong Kong, depending on the day. Unfortunately, it was the wrong day, which was why we were getting out at BKK. They counted the stopover passengers as we left the plane, and double-checked the names as we entered the terminal.
Next time, Chiang Mai and Ko Samui!

As we hadn’t been issued Cathay Pacific boarding passes when leaving TLV, we headed over to the transit desk, where after a few minutes wait (they needed to electronically move our checked baggage from the RJ ticket to a CX ticket) we were on our way to the CX lounge.

We had a few hours to kill in the lounge, so we availed ourselves of their fruit and drinks, and printed out some info for our excursion during our last stopover, in Osaka. The CX lounge has a wide variety, and great windows and comfy chairs for plane spotting.
It wasn’t long before we were heading to our next plane, a CX A350 – a last minute switch from the B777 that was scheduled.

For those who have never traveled business class, just having a lie-flat seat (like on the RJ B787) seems like a dream. But even to our inexperienced-premium-travel-class-senses, we could tell that the CX business class was a different level. 
Whether it was the service upon boarding, the upholstery and more advanced chair, jam-packed IFE, private enclosed seat – all of it made the CX J experience a whole different class from the RJ J. It didn’t hurt that they had a Hermolis J meal for us either ;-)
The CX A350 J is set up 1-2-1, with the two middle seats having a divider between them that can be raised or lowered. One of the seats is staggered slightly farther back then the other, so one of us needed to lean forward to talk to the other, but it wasn’t too bad.
Though it was a short flight (just under 3 hours) we enjoyed it immensely. I could get used to flying like this!

In Hong Kong we had a 4.5 hour layover which we put to good use – checking out all the lounges! As Hong Kong is Cathay Pacific’s home base, they have no less than 4 business lounges for departures, 2 first class lounge for departures and 1 business lounge for arrivals. Gotta catch’em all!
You can read more about them on Cathay’s own website or on Lounge Buddy, but all of them are amazing. Our take-home points were the following:

-   The Cabin – has tons of private seating, cool fruit juice shakes
-   The Pier – humongous, loved the quiet room (see picture above), lots of reading material and definitely try the tea room
-   The Wing – last lounge open; don’t forget to ask for Haagen-Dazs ice cream!

We had a great time just exploring the different lounges. They also stamp your boarding pass at each lounge, so it makes for a great memento.
Our departure was at 1:50AM, at which point the Wing lounge was also closing up. We were both pretty tired, having been in transit for over 24 hours at this point (and not done yet!), and couldn’t wait to take off and get some sleep. Unfortunately, we were delayed departing Hong Kong – so I fell asleep in the upright position, while my wife waited until she could change the seat into a bed.
The bump of the wheel hitting the runway woke me from my sleep. We were finally in Japan! But not in Tokyo…

Our first stop in Japan was in Osaka, the second largest metropolitan area in Japan (after Tokyo), and one of the largest in the world.  It is served by two airports – Kansai International Airport (KIX), where we landed – and Osaka-Itami International Airport (ITM), where we were departing from. Despite its name, it serves very few international destinations. There are flights from both KIX and ITM to the two Tokyo airports Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND), but there was no availability for any of the flights out of KIX, despite my checking multiple times a day for the week before departure. Out of ITM there was quite a lot of availability, but even the earliest flight would require us sitting in the airport for 2 hours. We needed to get some fresh air. So with a little help from the Japan Guide, we were able to find an attraction not too far from the Itami airport which we could visit before getting on our flight to Tokyo.

This is a good place to introduce the Japan Guide ( that I just mentioned. It is the ultimate guide to everything in Japan for the English-reading tourist. Attractions, schedules, transportation maps, instructions how to transfer between airports, Cherry Blossom best viewing areas – it’s got everything. The navigation is a bit “Japanese” at times, and you’ll sometimes have better luck searching the website on Google then trying to find the link you want – but it’s amazing.

Regarding Japanese passport control and customs: going through the border control was very smooth. If I’m not mistaken they took thumbprints, and a picture of us. I don’t even think they asked us how long we were staying.. I was slightly apprehensive regarding customs, as we were bringing in quite a lot of food, and even though I tried to follow the rules (see my first post), I wasn’t really looking forward to explaining to a Japanese customs agent why I had frozen lasagnas and chicken soup in my suitcase… Luckily, they let us through with barely a glance. Though I did throw out the apple I had picked up at the lounge in Hong Kong.
From the Japan Guide I knew that there were two ways to get between Itami and Kansai airports – one was taking an airport limousine bus, which took you directly from the terminal in Kansai to the terminal in Itami, and the other was to take three different trains through the heart of Osaka (it came out more expensive too). Guess which one we decided on?

A quick note about the airport limousine bus. When you first hear about the airport limousine bus, you might think this:

But in reality, it’s more like this:

I guess the Japanese think that if they would just call it the airport bus, nobody would take it... Or some enterprising foreign businessman managed to sell them “limousine busses” ;-)

This was where I will mention my first mistake of the trip. Researching the cheapest option for internet showed that buying a SIM card at one of the electronic stores in downtown Tokyo would be much cheaper than purchasing one at the airport – which is true. I saved about 15$. But the headache and worry it introduced was, in hindsight, not worth saving 15$. I definitely recommend getting one of the SIM cards or pocket routers at the airport (or possibly have one waiting for you at your hotel).

Knowing I couldn’t rely on having internet access, at the lounge in Bangkok I had printed out instructions on how to find the bus. We found it easily enough, purchased a ticket at the window, and we were then treated to our first display of Japanese bowing. There were two attendants hanging around the curbside.
When the bus drove up, the driver got out and the two attendants bowed to him. He bowed back. They bowed again. Then the bus driver got back on the bus, and the attendants started loading the luggage. We saw this happening many times afterwards, but the first one really made an impression (lack of sleep might also have had something to do with it).

The ride on the bus took a little over an hour, and it was our first opportunity to view a Japanese city (even if it was mostly from a highway).
The bus dropped us off right outside the terminal. Unlike the Kansai airport which clearly catered to many foreigners, due to the English that appeared on every sign, the Itami airport had very little English. Very very little.
Our plan was to check in to the flight and get rid of checked luggage, store the hand luggage in a coin-locker (a common fixture in public places throughout Japan) and go touring for a few hours. We were, however, slightly hampered by our lack of knowledge of Japanese. We finally found the correct check-in counter (they have different counters for Japanese, non-Japanese, and people with baggage) and after a harrying wait in which the agent couldn’t figure out how to pull up our economy JAL ticket on the business award reservation, we were finally rid of the suitcases. We found the closest coin locker, deposited the hand luggage and away we went.

Our destination: the Momofuko Ando Instant Ramen Museum.

Getting there from the Itami airport was very easy (and we had printed out Google Maps instructions before hand), and involved taking the airport monorail one stop, switching to the Hankyu line, and going one stop - 18 minutes total (including a 5 minute walk from the station to the museum).
Japanese ticket machines are very impressive. It’s like an arcade game, with lots of flashing buttons and lights. They’re usually brightly colored, with lots of information (in Japanese of course) printed around them. Luckily, all of the ones we encountered throughout our trip all had an “English” option.  I forgot to take a picture of it, but it looks something like this:

After a quick ride and a short walk through the streets of Ikeda, we found ourselves outside at the museum. The museum is located on the grounds of the house shack where the creator of instant ramen noodles – Momofuko Ando – lived and invented the instant ramen.
For those who have never encountered instant ramen, it’s basically a cup of noodles which you cook very quickly with hot water (similar to the Israeli “mana chama”) . Usually it includes pieces of chicken or seafood, but as with other foods, the Japanese are happy to experiment with all sorts of interesting additions and flavors (wasabi flavored kitkats anyone?).

A statue of Momofuko Ando:
P_20170323_105218 Momofuko Ando

A lifesize instant ramen cup:

They have a short animated video telling the history of the instant ramen, the shed in which Momofuko Ando worked his magic, a “hall of instant ramen fame”, and a floor where you can make your own instant ramen from scratch. They also have an exhibition of many different types of instant cup noodles from all over the world, which was very cool.
All in all, we spent a good two hours here, and it was a great, short and fun excursion to break up the endless travel.
We headed back to the airport, retracing our steps. We arrived back a bit earlier then we needed to, and there were no priority pass lounges at Itami, so we spent our spare time plane watching on the open-air observation deck.

As I mentioned in my first post, American Airline awards can only book into economy on domestic Japan Airlines flights. While there is often availability to upgrade with cash for a very low price (when travelling on paid tickets as well), we didn’t really care about the ever-so-slightly larger seat. The flight took about an hour, and we landed at Tokyo Haneda airport.

Here came mistake number two. I had read in multiple places that Haneda was much closer to the city center, was connected via a fairly and cheap subway, etc, as opposed to the much more expensive Narita Express train. Which was why when choosing between landing at Narita or at Haneda, I chose Haneda. I obviously wasn’t thinking of the fact that we wouldn’t want to schlep our suitcases on the infamous Tokyo subway, or that -  as we would be departing from Narita anyways – I could get a round trip ticket on the Narita Express or Airport Limousine Bus, which would make it cheaper than getting one way tickets from Haneda on the arrival and to Narita on the departure.

As we were planning on taking the subway, and we didn’t want to lug all the suitcases on the train with us, we planned on using the luggage delivery service provided (for a small fee) by the Prince Sakura Hotel.  Such services are very common in Japan, and we used it again the following week to send some of our luggage directly to Kobe, where we would spend the second Shabbat.

It really did make a difference. We took the subway with just our backpacks to the Shinagawa station, which is a 3 minute walk from the hotel.  I’ll describe the hotel in a later post, but we really enjoyed ourselves. At check-in they noticed that I had multiple reservations, and asked if I’d be leaving luggage in between. I explained about our food situation, that we’d need to store food in the room service freezer and they said they’d be happy to help, and to contact the front desk whenever we needed something. As our luggage was still in transit (we arrived at the hotel at about 3pm, and our luggage was scheduled to be there by 5pm), they told us it would be sent straight to the room once it arrived.

The bellboy took us to our room. We were planning on having an early dinner at Chana’s Place (the kosher restaurant run by Chabad, about a 20 minute walk from the hotel), but I really didn’t want to leave before we had made sure that the food was put away in the Freezer.
We hadn’t been in the room for 10 minutes, when there was a knock at the door. It was our luggage! It had arrived well before the scheduled time. We immediately went to work unpacking all the food. I had asked for a box to be brought up for us to put the freezer stuff in, and the bellboy was amazed at the amount of food we had brought. His English was passable, although I made sure to write down the word “freezer” on a piece of paper, just in case.  We had brought real food for 10 nights (and bread for 12 lunches), and the other nights were Shabbat or eating at the restaurant. Good thing we were flying business class, otherwise we would have been very overweight…

I also asked him to empty the mini-bar, and he said he’d ask room service to come up and do it.
This was when we discovered mistake number three. As I mentioned, we had brought frozen chicken soup for dinner (which we had made the previous Shabbat). However, we hadn’t moved it from the plastic container we had originally frozen it in to a zip lock bag before putting it in the freezer bag in the suitcase. Big mistake! The container had gotten punctured somewhere along the way (it wasn’t a very good quality one), and while in transit from the airport the soup had defrosted a bit.. and leaked into the freezer bag! Luckily I had brought a supply of ziplocks in a variety of sizes, so we transferred the still-frozen soup into one, and disposed of the box. I then spent the next 10 minutes trying to clean the bag, before laying it open on top of some sort of air purifier that was in the bedroom. I must have managed to get most of it out, as by the next day it smelled fine :-)

We headed out to Chana’s Place. The walk was straightforward, and we passed by all sorts of stores and shops, as well as two shrines. The streets were clean, and the sidewalks were pretty wide as well. There weren’t so many people about, but we enjoyed just walking around the neighborhood.

Chana’s Place is located in the Chabad of Japan complex house run by Rabbi Mendi Sudakevitch (Chana is his wife). They have a full time cook (who is also the waiter, cashier and manager of the restaurant). It’s a small room with 4 or 5 tables with two chairs each, and a large doorway into the kitchen (you can see the picture on their website). The menu is fairly priced, considering the difficulty in getting kosher ingredients, and is available on their website.

I don’t remember exactly what we ordered, but it was yummy and filling (a nice sized portion). As we were paying, the cook casually mentioned that the following week the restaurant would be closed, as they were cleaning for Pesach! Unfortunately, we had planned on going to the restaurant the day we came back from Nara, as I didn’t want to have to deal with dinner. So we’d need to make a slight change to the meal plan, not a big deal.
On our way out, he offered us some kosher jelly some previous traveler had left with them, which we took. Mistake #4: We had brought bread and peanut butter to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but hadn’t brought any jelly!! Oops…
On the opposite street corner from the Chabad is an upscale store called Peacock, which we went in to just to see what a Japanese supermarket looked like, and whether there were any kosher products. The answer to the first: very much like a western store. The answer to the second: absolutely nothing. Except for this:
Looks really filling…


At the store we purchased some aluminum foil (which had somehow escaped the packing list) and some (expensive) bananas and tomatoes, and headed back to the hotel, where we got our first full night’s sleep in almost three days.

View of Tokyo from our window. The thing that looks like the Eiffel Tower is called the Tokyo Tower.


Offline DTM

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Re: Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2018, 10:57:00 AM »
Great trip report, interesting, informative and nicely detailed, I love it, can't wait until the next installment!

Offline iamhappyz

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Re: Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« Reply #5 on: November 06, 2018, 10:27:40 PM »
Did you stay at prince Sakura for shabbos? If you did, did you have any shabbos issues and if you didn't do you foresee any issues? Thanks.

Offline nafnaf12

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Re: Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« Reply #6 on: November 06, 2018, 11:57:26 PM »
Great TR! Thanks for sharing and being so detailed
A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

Offline bendor

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Re: Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« Reply #7 on: November 14, 2018, 02:49:40 PM »
Did you stay at prince Sakura for shabbos? If you did, did you have any shabbos issues and if you didn't do you foresee any issues? Thanks.
We didn't, we stayed at an airbnb closer to the Chabad. There was no award availability...
Off the top of my head, I remember only sliding doors to get in/out of the hotel, so you'd need to go through an electronic eye or wait for someone else.
There were definitely stairs, and the Japanese are so accommodating, I can't imagine they'd say no to you  :P
It's worth writing to them to ask. I emailed them asking if I could store all that food in a freezer, and they were more then happy to oblige. I do seem remember that it took at least two days for them to reply.

Great TR! Thanks for sharing and being so detailed
You're welcome! I just wish I was also a bit faster at getting out posts..

I have a draft of the next post, hope to get it out sometime over the next week.

Offline iamhappyz

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Re: Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« Reply #8 on: December 11, 2018, 10:28:54 AM »
Thanks for responding I did not notice till now. For some reason I am finding it harder to plan this Japanese trip then all my other ones. Most other sites talk about going to the temples and shrines which we are not going to. I would love to hear exactly what you did on your itinerary to give me some direction. We are going beginning of march so would be appreciated sooner than later. Also means we will just miss cherry blossoms unless can find some place where it blooms earlier. Thanks.

Offline bendor

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Re: Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2018, 03:44:36 AM »
Thanks for responding I did not notice till now. For some reason I am finding it harder to plan this Japanese trip then all my other ones. Most other sites talk about going to the temples and shrines which we are not going to. I would love to hear exactly what you did on your itinerary to give me some direction. We are going beginning of march so would be appreciated sooner than later. Also means we will just miss cherry blossoms unless can find some place where it blooms earlier. Thanks.
No problem.
If you're looking for ideas I'd definitely look in the Japan Master Thread. We entered very few shrines, and really just did a lot of walking around the cities. We did a few (free or mostly free) guided walking tours, but mostly just walked around ourselves and took in the sights.
I don't know if you've come across the Japan Guide, but it was a really indispensable resource for us during our planning. They have detailed pages on thousands of points of interest, and provide detailed itineraries and directions for all parts of Japan.

Been a busy month at work, but my next post of the TR is imminent!  ;D

Offline bendor

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Re: Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2020, 02:09:31 AM »
(A year and two months later then planned...  ::))

Day 1 and 2: Friday and Shabbat in Tokyo

Friday was our first day touring Tokyo. Our plan was to take a free walking tour of Ueno Park, provided by the Tokyo systematized goodwill guide club. We’ve been very happy with free walking tours we’ve taken in other cities, and this one was no exception.
Even though we had left with plenty of time, we arrived a minute after the tour was scheduled to begin, due to getting lost while exiting the metro station. This being Japan, the tour had already started – but we hadn’t missed much 
Waiting in line to board the train
Our guide’s name was Fuji (like the mountain) and he was an English teacher for many years, before becoming a guide at the TSGGC (they actually call it that). He gave a background of Japanese history, and a brief intro to Tokyo, before we headed out of the TSGGC club house into the park.
P_20170324_110304 Fuji, our guide
IMG_6291 Saigo Takamori, a legendary Samurai
The tour was very informative, and it also gave us a chance to ask him some questions about Japan and the Japanese.
After the tour finished, we continued walking around the park ourselves, before heading back to the Prince Sakura and checking out for Shabbat. We had booked an airbnb closer to the Chabad house for two nights, both because it had a mechanical lock, and because the Prince Sakura had no award space for Friday night.
We packed the things we’d need in to a carry-on, and the rest of our luggage we left with the bellboy to keep until Sunday night. We also had them place a large box containing all of our frozen food into the freezer.
IMG_6299 The streets of Tokyo
The airbnb was small (like most apartments in Tokyo) but cozy, and served our need adequately. We got ready for Shabbat, turned off the motion detector in the front hall and set a timer on the air conditioner. Almost forgot to unplug the toilet!
It was a 5 minute walk from our apartment to the Chabad house, and we arrived just in time for candle lighting and mincha. The shul, located in the basement, was not full but well attended – about 20 men, and 8-10 women. Davening was soon over, and we went upstairs for dinner.
Dinner was simple, but good. R’ Mendi had returned to Israel unexpectedly, so two regulars (both mashgichim, one for the OU and one for the OK) helped things along. After dinner we returned to our apartment and went straight to sleep.

Shabbat morning we woke up, davened b’zman, and then preceded to Chabad for Shacharit. It was pretty much the same crowd at davening and at lunch, although two local families also joined. The husband’s were both Jewish, one Israeli and one American, who had been living in Japan and met and married Japanese girls (who both converted).They both had children, and I got to hear the crazy story of how they managed to get a mohel for a bris..
 I also met an old highschool friend of mine, and parents of a different high school friend… All in the Beit Chabad in Tokyo. It’s a very small world, especially if you’re Jewish :P
After lunch, all of us tourists were figuring out what to do with the afternoon. Some decided to make the long trek to the “center” of Tokyo, but we decided we weren’t up for the hour trek to Ginza, and asked if there was anything nearby. We were told that the best local attraction to do on Shabbat is visit Happo-en gardens.
Happo-en is a classic Japanese garden about 10 minutes away from Chabad. The Rabbi from the OU walked us most of the way, as he was staying at the Sheraton which is just around the corner from the garden.
Words don’t do it justice, and I don’t have any pictures of my own, so you’ll have to go there to experience it 
An unexpected bonus is that Happo-en is also a very popular wedding hall. We got to see 5 different wedding parties while strolling through. What was even more interesting to see was how some of the couples had a very “western” ceremony (and were dressed accordingly), two of the couples were dressed in traditional Japanese wedding garb – and the ceremony was very different too. Alas, no pictures.
Soon it was time for some menucha, and we headed back to our Airbnb for a nap.
We returned to Chabad for Seuda Shlishit and Maariv, where there was a much smaller crowd.
After Havdala, we returned to our Airbnb and geared up for our evening walk to National Azabu Supermarket.
Azabu, an area inside Minato, is the location of many international embassies and consulates, as well as a large foreign population. To cater to these foreigners, a few “international” supermarkets opened up, with many imported products. National Azabu is one of these. While they do stock some kosher supplies, you can’t rely on them having anything specific. But it was fun to walk around, and try and spot an OU or KLBD on various items. In the end we left with some frozen Raisin bagels (OU).

Offline mme

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Re: Mr & Mrs. BenDor in Japan and HK
« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2020, 11:18:04 PM »
wow its still nice to read the report even after two years... i hope you don't let us wait a year and four months for the rest :)