Introduction: Falling In Love With Japan

Filed Under: ANA, Hotels
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Welcome to my next trip report, covering travel in ANA first class to Japan using an incredible mileage deal, as well as stays at several hotels that I’ve been wanting to stay at for a while.

Planning the trip

Ford had never been to Japan before (other than connecting at Tokyo-area airports), and it had been years since I’ve “properly” visited Japan.

Japan had been near the top of our list of places to visit together for quite a while, and we finally decided it was time book when we had access to an incredible award opportunity while also having some free time in a season that’s pretty good for visiting Japan.

Booking flights

What finally pushed us to book our tickets is that one of the absolute best award travel sweet spots in the world is for travel in ANA first class using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles.

Virgin Atlantic has access to the same ANA saver award space that most other airlines do, and they charge just 120,000 miles for roundtrip first class from the US to Tokyo, which is incredible.

What makes this even better is that Virgin Atlantic is transfer partners with Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou, and we often see transfer bonuses from Amex and Citi to Virgin Atlantic.

Earn Virgin Atlantic miles with

We booked these awards at a time where a 30% transfer bonus was available, meaning we were paying just 93,000 Amex/Citi points per person.

We booked the following for 120,000 Flying Club miles plus $342.32 per person in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges:

05/28 NH11 Chicago to Tokyo Narita departing 11:20AM arriving 2:20PM (+1 day) [First]
06/07 NH12 Tokyo to Chicago departing 5:10PM arriving 2:55PM [First]

ANA’s 777 first class

Our plan was to finish our trip in Tokyo, so first we had to get to Nagoya. While usually train travel is the most efficient way to get around Japan, given that we were arriving at Narita Airport we decided to book the following flight for $255 per person in business class:

05/29 NH493 Tokyo Narita to Nagoya departing 5:05PM arriving 6:15PM [Business]


ANA’s 737 first class

For the rest of our travel we’d be taking the train around Japan. In the end our routing looked as follows:

We still had to book positioning flights to & from Chicago since we were originating in Miami, though that was a small price to pay for such a great award value.

Booking hotels

We had a total of nine nights on the ground in Japan, and our plan was to spend four nights at Amanemu in Shima, and then four nights in Tokyo, spread across two hotels.

Our first stay in Japan was at the Marriott Nagoya Associa. This was just a quick overnight, as we were taking a train to Shima the morning after we landed. This hotel is incredibly convenient, given that it’s on top of the train station.

The paid rate there would have been over $250, but I managed to redeem an anniversary free night from a co-branded Marriott credit card.

Marriott Nagoya Associa Hotel

For the next three hotels we stayed at I’ll be sharing the booking process in each individual installment, since there’s a lot to talk about.

Our first destination was Amanemu. Historically I’ve been an Amanjunkie, and I’ve found the hotels to be worth seeking out. My impression has started to change a bit about them, though, and I’m looking forward to sharing my take on this hotel.

Amanemu Resort

Then in Tokyo we decided to split our time to try out two different hotels.

We spent our first two nights at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, which is probably the best Marriott option in the city.

Ritz-Carlton Tokyo

We spent our last two nights in Japan at Aman Tokyo, which I’ve heard many people refer to as the world’s best city hotel. Aman is mostly known for their incredibly secluded hotels in nature destination, so I couldn’t wait to experience my first city Aman.

Aman Tokyo

Bottom line

Ford and I loved our time in Japan. We had an incredible time in Tokyo, and frankly I saw the city in a completely new light, and I think it might now have overtaken Hong Kong as my favorite city in Asia.

We got an excellent deal on our flight thanks to the amazing value of redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles on ANA, and we had some interesting hotel stays as well. Of the two Amans and one-Ritz Carlton, one delighted us, one disappointed us, and one was exactly what we expected.

I should probably mention that we didn’t visit Kyoto this time around. To be honest I didn’t love Kyoto last time I visited, but I do hope to return, now that I’ve seen Japan in a different light. Besides, this is a good opportunity to return once the new Park Hyatt there opens.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

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Comments
  1. Ben,

    Japan is my absolute favorite place in the world….so far.

    A great way to see Kyoto is by bicycle. My partner and I did the Kyoto Cycle Tour project a few years back and loved it. It was a bit pricey for a private tour but well worth it! We did a full day tour. Though I’d recommend winter over summer when biking all day. It was a bit chilly but you can wear layers. Here’s a link to their site:
    https://www.kctp.net/new/en/index.html

  2. Japan is an incredible country aside from the Xenophobia. Then again, without much outside influence and diversity they have maintained the peace and calm that makes the country so special. So you can say I am a little conflicted. I lived in Japan for 3 years and saw how society as a whole polices itself, to the point that where I lived the cops didn’t even carry guns.

    Reading this intro takes me and makes me want to go back. Time to start planning…..

  3. @ Ben — Sure seems like a short trip to Japan. You should explore more of this amazing country.

  4. I visited Kyoto and Tokyo last summer. I did not like either city at all. I thought Japanese people are very fake in their smiler and the sexism is so rampant that it bothered me to the hilt. People felt like robots with no souls. I went to an NHK Symphony Concert and never heard Strauss waltzes played with such precision but no soul. I would only return back for a work visit.

  5. Too bad you guys didn’t get to stay in a ryokan or explore the countryside! I’m looking forward to reading the Aman Tokyo review, as my experience there last year was… Interesting.

  6. Japan is one of my favourite countries in the world. I regularly fly to Tokyo and Osaka with CX or JAL in paid First class. In both cities I usually book a suite at Conrad properties. Their exexcutive lounge offer exquisities views of the cities

  7. Now I’d call that a teaser! I’m eager to get more details, as I’m likely to undertake my 1st visit before the end of year.
    If any readers Have visited Japan or Hong Kong as a single traveler (and not involving a business trip), let me know what your experience was doing that and any tips you have. I’m not concerned about my safety so much as feeling isolated with the language and cultural barriers ala “Lost in Translation.” Some friends of mine lived there for many years on the West Coast in a small town. Their experience was after many years people they would see on a regular basis continued to treat them as strangers and outsiders, and they never felt integrated despite learning the language. Then again, my niece (of mixed race but not Asian), who was pretty fluent in Japanese when she arrived, did a year in a high school with locals and Brit and American teens and she was treated like a rock star! Ha!

  8. Have you stayed at The Prince Gallery Tokyo? Wondering how that compares to the Ritz since you said the Ritz is the best Marriott in town. I stayed at the Prince Gallery and it was amazing.

  9. I visit Japan every year. Not my very favorite place (in top 5 though) but there is soo much to explore about it that it keeps pulling me back.

  10. I went to Japan first time this year in April using the 90k Avios Iberia offer. We took our 3 years old and 9 months old baby.
    I must admit I did too fall in love with Japan. Best holiday ever and the pastries is definitely better than France. Oh boy!!!
    We visited Tokyo, Kyoto ( my favourite) and Osaka. We used our Japan Railway ( a must have if not flying ) we took the Hello Kitty train for kids too ( I absolutely loved it).
    I will definitely consider visiting Japan again.
    We conclude our holiday in Singapore which is still my number one favourite place to visit. Seeing the Jewel at changi was amazing.

  11. Have you been to Andaz Tokyo before (I know Nick has reviewed it)… just curious how youd compare the RC and Aman to that, as I’ve never had a better Citi hotel than that Andaz. Would love to find out the other two are at least as strong.

    I know the RC brand gets a bad rap in general on reviews but the RC in Kyoto is fantastic so maybe the brand is stronger in Asia (or at least Japan) than elsewhere?

  12. Just to put it out there before your next trip – going to Kyoto and staying a big western chain hotel would be an absolute waste. Thee are so many unique and remarkable places to stay in Kyoto.

  13. I’m certainly hoping to hear that your experience at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo was the delightful one. The lounge experience I had there was one I will always treasure, not only because of the beautiful views and the delicious cuisine but also because the staff there were so kind and engaging. The guest services manager of the hotel was quite charming and really seemed to enjoy her customer interactions.

  14. Robert,

    Nagoya is a great city, and the 4th biggest in Japan. I spent 5 days there last year.

    There are a number of sights but for me a visit to the nearby Toyota factory tour is a must. Otherwise it is a very pleasant place to stay between Tokyo and Iska/Kyoto, and more relaxed than either.

  15. It is very easy to fall in love in which Japan, a country I have visited many times and never tire of visiting. In fact, the N Asia portion of my 2019 Year-end Asian Escapade(tm), before flying South to consume my award stay and trip highlight at WA Maldives, will include a stop in Tokyo, where I redeemed WoH points to stay in a Club room at Hyatt Regency Tokyo (right across the street from Hilton Tokyo 🙂 ).

    My favorite destination in Japan is Kyoto (gotta get out of the city and go to the visit Shinto shrines in the mountains, like the Kifune Ugenta, and have a traditional meal there too!). I am sure that now that @Lucky has “seen the light”, Kyoto will appear as magical as it does to me. Also, while in the area, be sure to visit Nara and its famous deer park and Todai-ji, a Buddhist temple and largest wooden structure in the world (the Buddha statue it houses. might be the largest in the world too)…

  16. Hiroshima (and Miyajima) are underrated. I’ve been to Japan multiple times in the recent years, and this was the first time I had a chance to visit Hiroshima and I would highly recommend it if you have the time and already seen Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo.

  17. It’s fun how people were asking why Nagoya.

    People really don’t know about Shima region don’t they?

  18. Japan is in fashion right now and vastly overrated. So many more fun places to visit. Luckily, it does serve as a nice hub for award travel tho.

  19. @Endre I love the Tokyo Conrad having spent a part of my honeymoon there. It is not as widely discussed as the other high-end hotels in Tokyo but I think just as wonderful and in a relatively quiet part of the city.

  20. @ Patrick Oh! – Language can definitely be a barrier since English seems to be spoken by far fewer people in Japan than other places in Asia that I’ve visited. That doesn’t mean you’ll have a hard time, but it may seem frustrating having to point at those picture translation tools that staff in places such as restaurants and train stations keep around to help them communicate. Don’t expect to see many signs in English either as I once spent several minutes staring at a map of the Tokyo subway trying to locate Tokyo when the only map on the platform was in Japanese (simple solution: always carry a copy of the map in English). And yes I was a single traveler and navigating the city on my own without any problem except for that testy map. Regarding Hong Kong, if you don’t venture around the city that much, you may not even run into anyone who doesn’t speak English.

  21. Ugh another trip to Japan that’s all Tokyo. At least you’re not staying at points only places, all the best hotels in Japan don’t accept points. Do white people even eat Japanese food other than ramen and “sushi”?

  22. Japan has a lot of underrated gems outside of the big cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. You should give them a try! I’ve traveled to 15 different prefectures so far and each of them have their own unique charms.

  23. Tokyo is nice, but

    Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido and of course Asahidake for the snowboarding enthusiast – love :*

  24. I’m going back to Japan in September. I travel internationally 4-6 times a year, but completely out of character for me I am fangirl-ing HARD over this trip for some odd reason!

  25. I’ll be interested to follow this trip report. My wife and I just returned from our first visit to Japan, and also flew ANA F. It will be interesting to compare experiences.

    I will say that our initial impression was that, while beautiful with so many unique places to explore, we didn’t find Japan particularly welcoming. There were those who seemed to be upset merely by our presence on the trains and in some restaurants. That said, while feeling a bit isolated, we absolutely enjoyed the experience and would like to return, bringing our children next time.

  26. Cant wait to read, I myself am planning a Japan trip with my sister when I found great space in ANA F with lifemiles for this spring. Have been hotel shopping, but still unsure, so I am looking forward to your reviews on this trip.

  27. Reading this from my hotel in Tokyo. Couldn’t agree more. I’ve spent 2/3 of my life coming to Japan, but it took a good many trips for me to finally GET the place. Now it’s **finally** one of my absolute favorite places, in no small part due to the way Japanese culture is prioritized here. Multiculturalism is ok when people are willing to put their host country’s customs first. This is executed to perfection in Japan (my favorite Indian restaurant is here… owned and operated by an Indian family). I’m a black female (so take this at face value!)

  28. I stayed at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo in Rappongi Hills in late June/July and it is also a really amazing hotel which greatly exceeded my already high expectations for a Grand Hyatt. The rooms were above average for the brand and the service was incredible. It was near the Ritz-Carlton and we went to the mall a couple of times which is right below the Ritz.

  29. Ben: About to plan a booking there as I have a little over 100K+ Singapore Kris Flyer miles about to expire and need to book 3 tix, probably Business not First since one of the passengers is a young child. Will transfer over my Chase Ultimate Rewards to fulfill the remaining miles needed. Was curious what would be the best option:

    A) Get all 3 tix on Singapore using Kris Miles?
    B) Book 1 on ANA using Kris Miles (as a Star Alliance Partner) and 2 on ANA via Virgin Atlantic like you did?
    C) Book 1 on Singapore using Kris Miles and 2 on Singapore via United Mileage Plus (probably doesn’t make sense as far as cost and availability)?
    D) Something else that I’m missing?

    Departure city is San Francisco. Thanks for the feedback.

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