Saturday, August 30, 2008

Travel back to home

Travel Back to Home
Saturday, 30, 2008
Orlando to Tallahassee

After spending eight days in Japan, we were ready to head back home. Our almost 18 hour (9 1/2 hour to San Francisco and 5 1/2 hour journey to Orlando) journey and 13 hour time difference made us very tired. So we stayed at a Hotel last night.

Around 10 AM we got back in our car and headed toward Tallahassee. We stopped only briefly to pick up some lunch. We arrived around 3 PM.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Travel in Japan 05 - Osaka Aquarium (Kaiyukan)

Osaka Aquarium
Osaka Kaiyukan
Thursday, August 28, 2008

I completed my morning session and came for lunch and we decided to see the Osaka Aquarium.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Travel in Japan 04 - Nara

Short trip to Nara
Wednesday, August 27, 2008 2-4 PM
Nara, Japan

We wanted to do a short trip to Nara since it is close by Osaka and relatively a small town. So after completing my morning session at the conference we took the Osaka sub-way system to a station called Tennoji.

From Tennoji we needed take JR Yamtoji line to Nara. We wanted to do a short trip to Nara since it was close to Osaka, relatively a small town but had couple of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. So after completing my morning session at the conference we took the Osaka sub-way system. At Awaza station we caught the Chuo Line (Green) to Tanimachi 4-chome and at Tanimachi 4-chome caught the Tanimachi Line (Purple) to Tennoji station.

In Tennoji station we needed to go from the Osaka Municipal Subway system to Japan Railways' Yamatoji Line. The Yamatoji line runs from JR Namba Station to Kamo (three stops past Nara). Since the Yamatoji line is part of JR system we used our JR Pass and rode the train for about 45 minute. The scenery was very beautiful with lush green plants everywhere including rice paddy.

At Nara JR station we picked up a tourist guide and had lunch at the local McD. From Bus Stop Number One we took Bus Number two toward Kofuku-ji temple. On the way to the Temple we saw lots of spotted deer roaming the grounds. The Kohfuku-ji Temple complex has several structures and we saw the following: Kokuhokan (National Treasure House), Tokondo (Eastern Golden Hall), Nan-endo (Southern Octogonal Hall; open only one day in a year), and Goju-no-to (Five storied Pagoda).

From there we walked all the way along the Nara National Museum, Nara Prefecture Tourist Office to the Todai-ji Temple.

Todaiji Temple ticket is shown below:

Monday, August 25, 2008

Travel in Japan 03 - Kyoto

Trip to Kyoto
Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji Temple and Sanju-San Gendo Temple
Monday, August 25, 2008

On Monday we decided to do some site-seeing in the morning in the historic city of Kyoto, Japan. So like Saturday, we got out of our Hotel Okuuchi Osaka and went to the near by Awaza Subway Station in Green Line and used three more individual tickets for ¥ 230 to get to Shin-Osaka (New Osaka) station. We first traveled to Hommachi station in Green (Chuo) Line and transferred to (Midosuji) Red line and arrived in Shin-Osaka.

From Shin-Osaka we took the Shinkansen Hikari Number 364 around 8:40 Am and going toward Tokyo. Kyoto was the very next stop for that train. We got out of the train and were looking for the Kyoto (Prefecture) Tourism department at the 9th floor of JR station building was not open yet. So we proceeded and picked valuable information from Kyoto city Information center in the second floor of Kyoto JR station.

Kyoto's tourist places are well connected by buses (in Hiroshima we found street cars or trams were convenient and in Osaka we found sub-ways were convenient). So at the Kyoto City Information Center we picked up the Kyoto City Bus Travel Map (aka Bus Navi Guide). Based on the places we wanted to visit the lady at the center asked us to buy City Bus All-Day Pass (for one day) at ¥ 500. At the end of the day we found that her suggestion was good.

We first headed toward Nijo Castle by taking the bus number 101. Our starting point was Kyoto Eki-mae (Kyoto_train-station_in-front). In Kyoto in city buses you board from the middle of the bus and disembark from the front (in Nara it was opposite). While disembarking you either pay ¥ 180 or get your All-Day Pass stamped once in the machine. Then you simply show the card with the current date on it. That was what we did. We got out at the Nijo-jo-mae (Nijo_castle_in-front) stop.

Nijo Castle Ticket is shown below:

The Nijo Castle is a huge place and we spent about 1 1/2 hour touring both the interior and exteriors. The castle floors still make squeaking noise when one walks on them. It was originally built that way to warn the Shoguns if somebody tries to get inside the castle with out their knowledge. We found common crows at the castle grounds and with loud mouths. There were beautiful blooming trees and a lily pond.

Then from Nijo Castle we took another bus (Bus-Navi actually lists what buses you need to take to go another location from any other location, a very convenient feature). We headed to Kinkaku-ji (and not the Ginkaku-ji Temple) Temple and took the same Bus Number 101 and got off at Kinkaku-ji-michi stop.

Kinkakuji Temple ticket is shown below:

The Kinkaku-ji temple has the beautiful golden pavilion. Even the tickets to the temple are so beautiful to look at. As you around the bend all of sudden you see the golden pavilion with a reflecting pond just next to it. Even though the day was cloudy we could still see the shiny gold color. In the pond there were several colored fish swimming around. The whole temple had a peaceful mood. Even the walk way out of the temple is so nicely done.

Then from there we went back to the Kyoto Station and had lunch at the McDonalds nearby the station. After lunch we headed to the Sanjusangen-do temple by another bus from the Kyoto JR station. In the main hall (where you have wear the shoes provided by the temple) you see 1001 Kannons. It is considered by one of the oldest and longest wooden structures in the world. Even the court yard outside with corridors filled with equally spaced orange pillars make this place really nice to visit.

SanjuSanGendo Temple ticket is shown below:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Travel in Japan 02 - Hiroshima and Himeji

Travel to Hiroshima and Himeji
Saturday, August 23, 2008

After resting for a night we started our travel in Japan by going toward Hiroshima and Himeji. It was a cloudy day. We got out of our Hotel Okuuchi Osaka and went to the near by Awaza Subway Station in Green Line and bought a multi-use subway pass for ¥ 3000 and used it to get two more individual tickets for ¥ 230 to get to Shin-Osaka (New Osaka) station. We first traveled to Hommachi station in Green (Chuo) Line and transferred to (Midosuji) Red line and arrived in Shin-Osaka.

At Shin-Osaka (only here the Shinkansens Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama come and not to the Osaka station) we took JR Shinkansen Hakari #453 train at 9:11 AM going toward Hakata. In about hour and half we arrived in Hiroshima JR station. At the station we took travel guides from the Information station about Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and A-Bomb Dome. Hiroshima tourist sites are connected from the JR Station by tram (aka Street Car). We took the tram number #6 and reached the Peace memorial park in about 20 minutes (Genbaku-dome-mae).

We spent about an hour going around the A-Bomb Building, Peace Memorial Park, and Eternal flame all located on either side of the Motayasu-gawa river. Then we turned back to the tram station and took the Street Car # 2 and got back to Hiroshima JR Station.

From there we took Hikari Railstar # 460 around 12:50 PM to Himeji and arrived there at 1:50 PM. At Himeji we saw one beautiful palanquin at the JR station. It looked very similar to the carriage that are prevalent in India for carrying deities from the Hindu temples. We walked out of the JR Station and it started to drizzle a bit. We quickly saw the special bus that took people to the Himeji Castle and paid ¥ 180 and took it the Castle. It was probably the fourth stop.

The rain stopped but it remained cloudy and slippery. We bought the tickets for the Castle and started to climb the winding path. We saw beautiful bonsai-like trees in the castle grounds. Almost all the important structures were made of wood.
We stopped at couple of places to take rest since drinking (even water) and eating were not allowed. There was no electrical connection and hence no a/c or fan inside the palace. The raining and cloudiness in addition to the hot climate made it hard for us to climb all the way to the top. We stopped at three floors from the top most floor and headed back. We bought some souvenirs at the shop on the front of the palace.

We took another Hikari Railstar home that evening. The legs were bit sore at the end of the day. But it was well worth it. Another thing we noticed was that there were no public water fountains anywhere to be seen. They were not there even near the public restrooms. So if you are traveling during summer pack lot of water or buy them at the shops.

Himeji Castle ticket is shown below:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Travel in Japan 01 - Nagoya and Osaka

Nagoya to Osaka
Centrair International Airport
Friday, August 22, 2008

We arrived in early afternoon in Nagoya International Airport also called CentrAir. After clearing our immigration, picking up our bags in carousel 3 we headed through the customs to train terminal in the airport.

The trains that connect from CentrAir to Nagoya are run by a company other than Japan Rail and is called Meitetsu Railways. We had to take this train to reach Nagoya station before we could reach Shin-Osaka (New Osaka) and finally Osaka proper and to our Hotel.

Since this train system is different from JR we had to buy tickets. We bought the tickets in the Limited Express Train (¥ 850) and took the first available train around 3:15 PM going toward Kanayama. We had to transfer to another train at Jungu-Mae station after traveling about 25 minutes. At Jungu-Mae station we took a train going toward Nagoya and the second stop was Nagoya.

After leaving the Meitetsu Railway station we transferred to JR Railway station. Went to the JR Information booth. At the information booth we gave our receipts for JR 7 day railway pass and showed our passport (JR passes are available ONLY for non-Japanese citizens) and got the shiny JR Railway Pass. From this point onwards we could travel in JR lines unlimited times for another 7 days.

By this time we were tired and hungry. We started to inquire people whether there is a place to eat. Since we were not yet sure where to eat we were looking for some familiar places to eat and found out that there is a McDonald's at the Nagoya JR station itself. We took our luggages and sat at Mickey D and had some coffee and hot lunch. The people were very nice. There were both Japanese and English menus with pictures. We showed them the pictures of what we wanted and they were able to serve us what we needed. Not many people could speak English.

Then we took the next available Shinkansen (Bullet train) headed toward Hakata (opposite side to Tokyo) and in our case it was a Hikari Railstar train. We boarded the train and sat there for about 1 hour 10 minutes before arriving at Shin-Osaka (Shinkansen station for Osaka). Since we were very tired by that time, we came out of the station and hailed a taxi to go our Hotel paying about ¥ 3000 for about 15 minutes ride through Osaka (it was worth it considering our baggage and our tiredness).

We checked into the Hotel Okuuchi Osaka and were ready to go to bed around 8:00 PM JST.

Travel to Japan 13

On Flights to Japan
Friday-Saturday, Aug 21-22, 2008
United 51 and 831

We started out journey very early in the morning in Orlando, Florida. With tropical strom Fay still threatening the East coast of Florida (current location is around between Cape Canavarel and Jacksonville) we woke up around 3:15 AM prepared ourselves, checked out of the HoJo and headed toward the Orlando International Airport (MCO). Flights from MCO fortunately were not affected, but it was raining on and off.

We parked our car in one of the Satellite parking lots and took the shuttle (in rain) and reached the gates for the Untied Airlines. We checked our bags with relative ease and MCO was much more easiser to navigate than the busy ATL airport in Atlanta, GA. Since there was still time we grabbed some breakfast before the 5-hour trip to San Franscisco (SFO) International Airport.

Our flight to SFO was smooth. The weather in SFO was much better, cloudy but no rain. Even though we reached early, we had very short time before catching the connecting flight to Nagoya International Airport (NGO). The flight 831 was about 10 1/2 hours long. We saw Kung Fu Panda and Iron Man while traveling.

Finally around 1:40 PM JST (Japan Standard Time) ahead of our 2:20 PM scheduled arrival we landed at NGO. 15 minutes before we landed we had a beautiful view of Mount Fuji (no snow cover at the altitude of 14,000 feet) to our right of the flight path.

We were fingerprinted and photographed (all non-Japanese citizens are required to go through this procedure) and collected out baggage and needed find a way to get the Nagoya Japan Rail station.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Travel to Japan 12

Trip to Orlando
Wednesday, Aug 21, 2008

Due to tropical strom Fay we had to start earlier on Wednesday afternoon from Tallahassee toward Orlando. So we picked up VTS around noon. Packed our bags and headed out of Tallahassee around 2:00 PM. On our way in I-10, I-74 and Route 4 there were rains on and off. Nothing torrential but constant cloudiness and continous drizzle greeted our trip.

We checked into the HoJo and went to the MCO airport to find out more about the long-term parking and United terminal. We retired early so that we will we well rested for tomorrow's journey to Japan.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Travel to Japan 11

Short-term Cell Phone Rental for Japan
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Tallahassee, FL 32306

I have been researching for quite some time to a get a cell phone for my short-term stay in Japan of 10 days or less. I read the forums and travel blogs. Finally I decided to go with This company is based in Kyoto, Japan and seems to be popular and favorite company to rent a cell phone in Japan. The Japanese cell phone system is unique and therefore most of the cell phones (both SIM based and non-SIM) don't work in Japan. Therefore, my global SIM Card from won't work here.

So I contacted them about a month ago and told them that I needed more than one phone so that I could carry one and my travel party could carry another. They were quite happy to comply stating that they could even send one to my home (Florida, USA) for extra charge.

This company will charge me ¥ 3900/for a week/phone and additional days charges are ¥ 300/day/phone purely in rental fees. Additional charge of ¥ 1000 will apply for the phone that will be sent to my home address in the United States.

Besides the rental charges I have shown above, you will pay for usage just like a pre-paid phone. The company says that typical charges for calls in Japan is ¥ 90/minute (a cheaper rate of ¥ 35/minute is available if you put in a special code) and international calls range anywhere between ¥ 45-60/minute depending upon the country. The charges are taken out in 1/10 minute increments i.e., 6 second increments. There are no charges for incoming calls.

So I placed order for two phones. One to be delivered to my home address in US and another to be delivered to Hotel that I will be staying in Osaka. The first phone arrived today. It came with a Softbank Sharp 420SH type phone with a 1.3 Mpx camera, universal charger, instruction sheet, pre-paid return envelope (with Japanese stamps) and a pouch. I charged it and is ready for use when I travel to Japan.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Travel to Japan 10

Japan Map with English Tags
Locating a place in Japan by Address or by Zip Code
Friday, August 1, 2008

I found the website to be very useful in locating an address on map in Japan. The website uses Google Maps API to display the underlying map, however, diddlefinger generate its own English name tags that are then superimposed on to the main map. Diddlefinger can be used to find a place if you know the postal address or zip code (it has other options but I find the listed two more useful). Let me explanin how I found a place.

I was looking for the location of Grand Cube Osaka (aka Osaka International Cenvention Center) in Osaka City, Japan. Of course, a famous landmark like this is easy to locate but I am going to use it as an example any way. The address for Grand Cube Osaka is:

Grand Cube Osaka 5-3-51, Nakanoshima Kita-ku, Osaka 530-0005 JAPAN

Explanation for the address is given below:

Grand Cube | Name of the place
5-3-51 | Door number {chome-ban-number}

Nakanoshima | Area {by itself or may end with -machi or -chu}

Kita-ku | Ward {ends with -ku or -machi}

Osaka | City {by itself or may end with -shi or -gun}
530-0005 | Postal Zip Code
[Osaka | Prefecture {ends with -ken; NOT needed}]

So I first started to find this place using the Zip Code. So I brought up the website and clicked on the Zip lookup feature and typed-in the Zip code 530 followed by 0005 and clicked the Go button. The website found the address and gave the following zoomed up image:

Now let us look-up the same place if had the address in English but without the help of the Zip code. First we start with Diddlefinger map and start with"English Address Search" feature. The first step is to start with the city name (Step 1.). In our case we start with Osa..., as you type these letters the program gives all the possible names and you just pick the right one.

Then continue on to Step 2, by typing the Ward Name Kita-ku and on to Step 3, Area Name Nakanoshima and finally the Door number.

Once it is done. You simply click the Map This button and you will get the zoomed up map of the location as shown below.