Planning A Spring Points Trip To Kyoto (And Beyond?)

Filed Under: Travel

I know, I know, that’s not exactly original, though I wanted to share my thought process anyway.

How I Go About Planning Trips

Obviously my review trips are solely about maximizing the number of interesting airlines and hotels that I can experience in as short of a period as possible.

However, even when it comes to vacations with Ford, my first thought is always what interesting hotel and airline reviews I could get out of a destination.

So when Ford tells me he wants to go a certain place, I immediately start thinking about the interesting ways we could fly there, and the interesting hotels we could stay at. Of course I try to do that without having too crazy of a routing, given that Ford isn’t a huge fan of flying unnecessarily.

Ford & I LOVED Our Trip To Japan This Year

Ford and I visited Japan for the first time together earlier this year, and had an incredible time. Often I find that my enjoyment of destinations comes down to who I’m with, the circumstances, etc., and I saw Tokyo in a whole new light, to the point that it’s now probably my favorite city in Asia.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re full-on Japanophiles, but we have a strong interest in returning to Japan. Of course the Olympics will be in Tokyo in the summer of 2020, so realistically we’re not going to even think of visiting between April and September.

What We Are Planning

I fully recognize that going to Kyoto in spring is about the least original idea ever (it’s as original as going to Rome and eating gelato on the Spanish Steps… bonus points to anyone who remembers where that reference is from… ahh, the good old days).

But I think we’d enjoy it, and I’ve managed to plan it in a way that I think will lead to some cool reviews.

Great Kyoto Points Hotels Options

The Park Hyatt Kyoto has just opened, and looks incredible.

There are plenty of standard rooms still available this coming spring, though paid rates are insane. So we were thinking of booking it with points at the rate of 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night, which is significantly lower than the paid rates, which are approaching $2,000 per night including taxes and fees.

Obviously that pricing isn’t fully indicative of the quality, but rather just of the sheer demand that time of year.

I’m leaning towards also booking two nights at the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, which I’ve heard great things about, as I think it would make a useful comparison.

It’s my understanding that Marriott Bonvoy Platinum members and above receive complimentary breakfast here, which otherwise isn’t offered at Ritz-Carltons, so that’s nice at least.

What About Osaka Hotels?

Our flight would arrive into Osaka at night, so we’d have to spend at least one night there. I’ve never spent a significant amount of time there, so I was thinking of maybe booking two  nights there.

We’re not huge fans of cities, though we both loved Tokyo. So is it worth spending an extra day in Osaka?

As far as hotels go, what’s the best option? Based on my preferred hotel groups, there’s a Conrad, Hyatt Regency, Ritz-Carlton, and St. Regis. Anyone have a strong preference between those, or are there any other hotels that are a must?

How We Would Fly To & From Osaka

I’d like to get some new airline reviews out of this trip as well, so what am I thinking?

  • I have a lot of Korean Air SkyPass miles and those will soon be devalued, so I’m looking at booking Korean Air first class on the 777-300ER with suites from the US to Incheon, and then Korean Air 737 business class from Incheon to Osaka; these would both be new product reviews for me, as I’ve primarily reviewed first class on their A380, 747-8, and 787-9
  • I’ve booked Japan Airlines’ 787-9 business class from Osaka to Los Angeles; while I’ve reviewed JAL’s 787-9 business class before, what makes this different is that this flight features their reverse herringbone business class, compared to the Apex Suites they have on most 787-9s

Talk Me Into Visiting The Park Hyatt Niseko?

The Park Hyatt Niseko is opening soon, and will be the third Park Hyatt property in Japan. I’m tempted to visit, as Niseko looks beautiful.

That being said, I’m also trying to do what I can to make this a fairly straightforward trip, and going to Niseko will significantly complicate logistics. To get to the Park Hyatt Niseko we’d have to:

  • Fly to Sapporo, which would mean we’d have to take at least two extra flights
  • Then take a train to Niseko (which takes over four hours), or take a bus (which takes about 2.5 hours)

Niseko seems to be a ski area, and I’m not a skier, though Ford is. So I’m leaning towards not adding this to the trip, since the logistics just seem complicated, and I want to keep things simple. But if the area is awesome, I’m definitely open to it.

Bottom Line

I know a spring trip to Kyoto isn’t exactly original, but between excellent hotel award availability, as well as some new flight reviews, I think it could be fun.

I’m curious to hear what you guys think:

  • Has anyone stayed at the Ritz-Carlton and/or Park Hyatt Kyoto?
  • Is Osaka worth visiting for two nights even for people who don’t usually love cities, and if so, where should we stay?
  • Is it worth going out of our way to visit Niseko?
  1. Lucky, you’re really going to go to Kyoto and not spend at least a night or two at the new Aman property there? I’m shocked!

  2. I stayed at Conrad Osaka and LOVED it! It’s a brand new modern hotel with beautiful views and large rooms. You should absolutely stay in Osaka and experience Dotonbori which is a mini Times Square! It’s a fast flurry of energy and lights and activity.

  3. I recently stayed at the Conrad in Osaka and it was excellent. Also, Osaka is so worth 2 nights. Try to get 2 seats at Sushi Yoshi if you can. You’ll be blown away.

    Finally, consider Okinawa too. The HR Seragaki Island is amazing, and exploring this island by car is great.

  4. Chiming in for Osaka, it’s a foodie city. Tons of tiny hole-in-the-wall places down various alleys with great food of all types. Nighttime is also pretty special if you enjoy the cyberpunk feeling that so many neon lights give you in the Namba and Umeda areas. I’ve stayed at the Conrad there before, and it’s one of my favorite hotels at this point. Amazing views, the lobby is jaw-dropping, very good breakfast, and the bathroom in the basic level room is really well designed compared to a lot of hotels I’ve been in. I would definitely dedicate 2 nights for Osaka.

  5. Osaka is the Chicago of Japan – I like that it feels “real” (while Kyoto and Tokyo are both very surreal). I’ve loved it, but I’m not sure it’d be perfect for you and Ford.

    While this isn’t a points hotel, I would love for you to review the Benesse House on Naoshima. Naoshima is this incredible small island, jam packed with modern art, and the Benesse House is part of one of the largest museums. Naoshima might be my favorite place on earth… you two would love it.

    I’d also love to see you try a high end ryokan for a night or two – maybe in or outside Kyoto? Again, not a points hotel, but an incredibly unique Japanese hotel experience. (You could even spend a night at a capsule hotel and a love hotel, and cover all of the eccentric Japanese lodging options – I’d love that! 9h is a great modern capsule hotel).

  6. I would say consider worth staying in Osaka. I went to Tokyo and Kyoto earlier this year and while doing my research I found that although Kyoto is the cultural capitol of Japan, Osaka is the unofficial food capitol of the country. An enormous variation of foods from around the country can be found there so take your time.

    Also, obviously this is a miles and points blog, but being that you love Japan I might recommend you and Ford stay in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) for a night to get a more intimate and traditional feel.

  7. Not sure if you did the Suiran hotel in Kyoto (Starwood Luxury Collection), but for 1-2 nights it is a great quiet location and a neat hotel.

  8. I have been to Osaka a few times in the past few years and I enjoyed it each time more than the previous time. If you can take a detour to Hiroshima, that is also a lovely place to visit. I haven’t stayed at Conrad Osaka, but it’s on my list for a future visit.

  9. Do you think the intercontinental Beppu would be worth a review? Also there will be 2 new edition hotels opening in 2020. Also the jw marriott Nara is opening in 2020. It’s not far from Kyoto.

  10. I wouldn’t bother with Niseko outside of ski season. Osaka is fine, but focus your time in Kyoto. I’d recommend a day trip to Hiroshima with a stop in Himeji for something totally different if you spend a few days/nights in Osaka. I wouldn’t leave Kyoto if you are staying/paying for lux hotels.

  11. We have stayed at the Hilton Osaka with points and it was fine. Very central location. Osaka castle is nice, especially their cherry blossom festival is a wonderful experience.
    We used to live in Sapporo, skiing in Niseko is great, but there is not much else to do during the winter. If you go there, take the Niseko shuttle bus from CTS. The train is more complicated.

  12. We have booked a couple nights at the Park Hyatt in Kyoto this fall using points. Selfishly hope you stay there to get a preview/review. 😉

  13. Did conrad and Ritz-Carlton Osaka for my honeymoon. We wish we could have chosen more Japanese style rooms instead of U.S. chain hotels that are essentially the same as Conrad NYC, Seoul, or Hong Kong.

  14. Ritz in Kyoto is awsome, one of the best properties I ever stayed. Been there 3x, and they do not offer free breakfast to bonvoy platinums:-(

  15. Ritz-Carlton Kyoto was fantastic! Staff was insanely helpful and the location was beautiful. Can’t highly recommend enough.

  16. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton Kyoto. Absolutely one of my favorite hotels. Yes they did include breakfast which was amazing. Bonus, There’s a great little self service laundry about a block away

  17. No need to apologize for wanting to see Kansai in the Spring. There is a reason so many go. It is beautiful.

    Osaka is worth two nights, especially if you get in late on the first night. My daughter lived in both Osaka and Kyoto. We visited a couple of times.

    I don’t know if Ford and/or you are whiskey drinkers, but a tour of the Suntory Distillery can be fun. It is outside of the city, so you have to take a train there. Most of the Osaka hotels you mention are near the train station.

    If you are in Kansai for Sakura, Osaka Castle has one of the best festivals.

  18. RC Kyoto has to be one of the best points properties in the world. As Titanium, we were offered complimentary breakfast (which is insanely good by the way) and were even upgraded to a suite during cherry blossom season when the hotel was fully booked, which was unexpected and very much appreciated.

    If it is available you should definitely spend a couple nights. I’m also very curious to read your thoughts on the Park Hyatt Kyoto 🙂

    Enjoy it!

  19. Niseko is so worth it, even if you are not an avid skier. Hokkaido has some of the best sushi of Japan and you should book a hotel with onsen 🙂

  20. I used to live in Japan so can give you a little insight. Osaka is fun if you take it for what it is. It’s not Tokyo, think of it like Chicago compared to New York. The Ritz Carlton there is really good and offers what I find to be the best. Talk to Japanese and they love Osaka for reasons you might never understand…that is that it is the home of the funniest people and produces more comedians than any other city. Is it worth visiting? Sure, every city is. But, again, it’s not Tokyo.

    Hokkaido is amazing. The food and the culture is very unique, even in Japan. Niseko is beautiful but it’s all about skiing and the mountains. I guess for you, Ben, it’s like going to a Swiss mountain…you will still enjoy it but it’s better if you ski. Sapporo is awesome in it’s own way…and worth a night or two to enjoy the ramen and the special atmosphere. It’s the most “western” of Japanese cities in many ways but still has a special place in my heart as being so unlike other Japanese cities. As an option why not take the overnight train to Sapporo? There is even an option of an overnight ferry that I took some years ago – and the grand suite was cheaper than airfare, lol.

  21. One more thing…in all honesty…staying at a traditional Ryokan is far better than any luxury brand hotel. There are countless in Kyoto and, as well, in Niseko. It would be an experience you and Ford would never forget.

  22. Osaka is a great city but hotel options are pretty blah. The Marriott is actually a pretty nice hotel, very new and better than you might expect for a Marriott (though it’s definitely not 5-star luxury). It’s not the best location for being in Osaka, but it’s right above a major train station on the south side of the city (and only one stop on the train away from KIX, as well as being on the same train line that runs from KIX to Kyoto, so it might be useful for a stop between Kyoto and the airport).

    Kyoto itself is cute but kind of boring after a few days — I don’t know how long I would stay there.

  23. Osaka I found to be a lot more interesting than Kyoto. Dotonbori neighborhood is certainly cool, even though a bit touristy. Yet is has something… Kyoto I thought was plain boring.

  24. If you are going to Hokkaido in winter and not skiing don’t go to niseko. Even if you are skiing go to Furano or Rusutsu.

    If you aren’t skiing go and stay at Lake Toya and get a room overlooking the lake. The lake is a volcano crater and beautiful in all weathers. We spent early January there, driving up to rusutsu every day to ski and coming down to the lake every evening. Enjoying a outdoor bath in the snow as the lake fades to black is amazing.

    I second staying longer in Osaka or skipping it entirely. Just take the train from KIX to Kyoto if you aren’t going to spend a few days in Osaka. The other alternative is to head down to wakayama prefecture from KIX’ Depending when you go in spring it will be fresh sansho pepper season and the food will be stunning.

    Finally, for Kyoto, I know you are trying for points hotels but on my last trip we stayed at this beautiful extended stay place by the imperial palace called the hotel Kado, they put us in their best suite which featured a beautiful cedar bath, the most incredible horse Chester in table, tatami area and the largest king bed I’ve ever seen in japan. That said, going to Kyoto and not staying in one of the many machiya style luxury properties would be a shame.

    In general for a more relaxing time don’t stay down by Gion machi.

    I’ve got some cracking restaurant and visit recommends for Kyoto.

  25. I used Osaka as base for my first trip to Japan. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott which is adjacent to the Shin Osaka train station. Convenient for a one night stay if you arrive into Osaka at night. We even stored our extra luggage there when we took overnight trips on the train. It’s only a 11 minute bullet train ride to Kyoto & 2.5 hours to Hiroshima.

    In between our train rides elsewhere we loved Osaka for the hole in the wall food places, Okomomyaki anyone?

  26. We stayed at the Four Seasons in Kyoto last March. The property is as nice as it gets, with a lake and an authentic teahouse. For us, the location was much more convenient than the Ritz Carlton.

  27. Yawn!! You’re going all the way to Kyoto and not going to experience a Japanese ryokan, and instead play it safe at at an elite chain hotel, where, for the most part, you could be anywhere in the world and it really wouldn’t matter?
    If you’re looking to do something memorable, chose. a property like Hoshinoya.
    And let me know how you like it 🙂

  28. I have stayed at the RC Osaka and it is as wonderful as described by others, yet the St. Regis Osaka is my preferred hotel because of location, direct access to the Osaka Metro and La Venduta, their Northern Italian restaurant where the chef and his two Japanese assistants speak Italian as they cook up delightful treasurers in the open view kitchen. You are also within walking distance to Dotonbori and the fun shopping experiences there.

  29. I stayed at the Ritz Carlton Kyoto in 2016 right before they raised the price from 60K Marriott points to 70K per night. It’s now up to 80K, not sure of when is peak/off peak so what used to be a steal is now an average deal. The service is more than excellent, the feel of the whole hotel is luxurious, elegant, and balanced. Try the croissants if you do go there. If you do want to experience Kyoto properly, stay at least 3 full days.

    As for Osaka, I looked at the Hyatt Regency and saw it was way off into the northwest corner of the city and seemingly inconvenient versus other hotels in a more central location.

  30. Just got back from our second trip to the RC Kyoto – had an amazing time! Booked it in the dying days of 60k pn. We got comped breakfast as it was Xmas, wasn’t life changing to be honest (I am far too spoilt by Asian breakfasts these days) and I wouldn’t pay for it every day otherwise.

    Make sure you do a couple of their activities, most of them are free and are really what makes this place special – you can prearrange with the concierge.

  31. Ben, I just stayed at the Park Hyatt Kyoto for 3 nights and also stayed in Osaka for 3 nights. I have been to both cities before a couple of times. I do notice that people in Osaka are much more friendlier and livelier than people in other Japanese cities. I was eating in a small grilled beef place in Osaka with just myself and 3 locals at the bar. They ended up picking up my tab and took me to a crab restaurant because I told them I was very impressed with Kani Honke in Sapporo.

    Anyway, Park Hyatt Kyoto has an amazing location. Loved it, especially walking in the neighborhood at night. I was there in end of November, the service was really not up to par. There were 3 people standing outside the driveway when I arrived and they forgot to unload my bag, and the receptionist did not follow up on it despite she said she would. The duty manager ended up getting the bag back and sent a bottle champagne and grapes to my room. They were friendly but !!!!

    I used the cab company that Hyatt Regency uses, but the driver did not know Park Hyatt. If you have the same issue tell them to go to the restaurant “Kyoyamato”, which is where the hotel is located. The duty manager said that they are working on this issue, but who knows.

  32. Osaka is worth it. While there we saw a kabuki show (in Japanese), took a good tour, and visited the castle. We stayed at the Westin and it was a very nice hotel.

    If you end up adding time in Hiroshima (which is worth a day or two), consider spending a night on the island of Miyajima in a ryokan. It’s an easy boat transfer from Hiroshima and the Wantanabe inn is fantastic, right across from a shrine. In the evening most tourists leave the island and you almost have it to yourselves.

  33. @stuart sadly the night train to Sapporo is no more. The only regular night train in japan is the Sunrise Seto/Izumo service from Takamatsu/Izumoshi to Tokyo. We took it this year and it was a lot of fun with a bottle of Gozenshu Omachi Namazake (we visited the brewery that day)

    @lucky to get to niseko or Toya you have the alternative of flying to Hakodate and taking the train from there. It’s about the same time as from the Sapporo. Or take the train all the way up the country, there’s some worthwhile places to stop on the way, either up the Shinkansen in the east or the slow route in the west, through Kanazawa, Niigata and Akita. There’s some great Joyful trains up the coast which you could link together if you hit the right dates.

  34. I stayed at the Park Hyatt Kyoto in early November shortly after it opened and it is an extremely beautiful hotel in a beautiful area of Kyoto. Definitely worth a visit. The Hyatt regency Osaka is nice but not very conveniently located. The St Regis is in a better location about a block away from a subway station that will get you to most places in the city relatively easily. It’s definitely worth spending a little time in Osaka.

  35. The RC Kyoto is nicer than any of the FS, St Regis, or Park Hyatts properties I’ve stayed at. Fantastic property (even if the room view wasn’t ideal\ at my room). If only all RC properties could be on this level.

  36. I may be in the minority here but I thought the RC Osaka was extremely underwhelming compared to its Tokyo counterpart—poor service by comparison, dated rooms, weird public spaces, not great concierge. We regretted not staying at the Conrad or otherwise starting from the Marriott brands. On the other hand, we loved Osaka itself and ended up preferring it to Kyoto in terms of food, atmosphere, and general fun, though Kyoto certainly has the history. I will admit the RC Osaka’s location is good and central.

  37. I know you didn’ ask, but the Intercontinental in Osaka is wonderful! I would highly recommend it. The Regency is really tired, but the lounge is good given the low redemption rate.

  38. Ben – In the midst of planning my own trip later in the year. Looking forward to the reviews!

    So far, locked in both the PH Kyoto and Niseko, and chose the IC in Osaka, as it looks top notch. Maybe do a blast from the past (your IC RA days) and choose it!

    After Kyoto, planning on staying in the new Hyatt’s in Kanazawa and flying to Sapporo from Komastu, to get to Niseko.

  39. Regarding the Hyatt Regency Osaka–stayed there earlier this year. Pretty far from the sites (unless you are going to Universal Studios). They provide a free shuttle into town, which worked for us. I think you would not care for it, but it may be an interesting review. There is a reason it is a category 2 Hyatt property.

  40. @Stvr

    Good to see someone else who can recommend an interesting hotel. I doubt Ben would be able to get a reservation at a good time. I think Sankara would be much more interesting, as it’s just a better hotel than the Aman Emu.

    Everyone and there mother has used points in Japan, so all these other recommendations are boring and useless.

  41. Osaka and Kyoto are half an hour apart by train which costs about $12. Trains leave every 5 to 10 minutes all day. If you have a hotel you like in Kyoto, there’s no need to switch hotels to visit Osaka.
    For Japanese trains, use the excellent web site or their free phone app.

  42. Highly recommend on RC Kyoto. Beautiful property, convenient location, good Titanium member treatment, etc…but the staff members are awesome!

    You should definitely take advantage of their “activities” list which includes hiking, bicycle tours, running, sake-tasting, etc.
    Felt like the overall stay experience was similar to Aman resort…

    The former GM @ RC Kyoto returned to RC Osaka a few months ago, and heard he’s trying to build similar guest experience programs…

  43. I’ll be in Kyoto/Osaka in early March with my wife. IAH-PEK-KIX in First on CA. Now I know CA isn’t great but they’ve really improved compared to what they used to be. Plus, I love how easy it is to book them. The seats are huge too. I’m not staying at hotel with points but rather at a property just 1 year old, The Thousand Kyoto. Looks great, modern, and across the street from Kyoto main station which for me convenience is everything.

  44. We recently splurged on a bunch of these during the Rugby WC in September.

    RC Kyoto: Amazing property, well worth the points. Loved the personalized bike tour provided as a favor to Ambassadors. Free breakfast as well, maybe not mind-blowing but the Japanese option was quite interesting. The whiskey tasting was also a highlight.

    St. Regis Osaka: disappointed to see it’s sunk somewhat over the past few years. Received the Fuji Suite a while back, but the normal room and service was quite ordinary.

    Conrad Osaka: I didn’t stay here but the friends indicated it was far superior to the StR. Pictures certainly looked so.

    Might be worth it to experiment with the format – do a side-by-side review across hotels across categories (breakfast, gym, additional services, etc.).

  45. Dear Ben,

    Try the JW Nara opening in April 2020 and also Marriott Osaka which is the highest hotel in Japan.
    I heard enough of Ritz and St. Regis in Osaka but they are not in good shape due to their ages.


  46. I am planning a very similar trip and went through the same thought process haha. We are going to Kyoto beginning of April to catch the cherry blossoms.

    Unfortunately there is no award availability for the park Hyatt Kyoto, so we will be looking at the Marriott properties.

    You should try to catch a few days of the cherry blossoms towards the end of March!

    Also for Osaka I was looking at Conrad, a great use of the Hilton free night cert if you have any laying around.

  47. Are you going to be pampered or going for the culture. If pampering, the RC in Kyoto is outstanding and I wish their breakfast was somewhere near my home every day, oh my!
    Osaka options are not outstanding the Conrad was ok.
    Take time to get out into the countryside, get a driver and wander….so much to see and such nice, courteous people.

  48. Lucky, are you still planning to go to the Alila Jabal Akhdar? I booked some there around thanksgiving 2020 but if you make it there before that, I’d definitely enjoy your review

  49. Recommend going to Hiroshima as well and then spending a night at a ryokan on miyajima island. Totally magical. The most Japanese experience you can have. And do at least one more ryokan. Better than any points hotel.

  50. Repeating what other have said, the Ritz Carlton Kyoto is one of the best RC properties. The design aesthetic is beautiful and dramatic and the hard product is top notch. The service is on point too and several others have mentioned the great pastries from the lobby patisserie. Even RC / Marriott brand skeptics tend to admit it’s a great hotel.

    The RC Osaka looked very tired compared to the St Regis Osaka last time I was looking though.

  51. I stayed at the Intercontinental Osaka in April. For an Intercontinental city hotel, it is very nice. Consistently rated in the top 3 hotels in Osaka. Attached to the main train station, its location can’t be beat. We used Osaka as a base to visit Nara and Hiroshima. We went during cherry blossoms. As we traveled south from Tokyo, each city’s trees entered peak bloom. Cherry blossom season is very special to the Japanese. We loved it as we were seeing the nation at its most beautiful time.

  52. My wife and I had a fantastic visit to Japan late in Oct this year. A couple of strong recommendatios:

    1) The Ritz Carlton Osaka and specifically their Japanese dining experience at HANAGATAMI which has 4 rooms which serve diff types of Japanes cuisine. The Tempura room/chef is 1 Michelin starred but the standout for us was SUMIBIYAKI style cooking. New, unique and incredibly good.

    2) Just outside Kyoto is the suburb of Arashiyama. Do visit. It is very popular with domestic tourists as much as with overseas visitors. If you have never stayed at a LUXURY Ryokan then please do check out the HOSHINOYA KYOTO which is located in Arashiyama and will provide you with a unique and special experience. (In general read up on the Hoshino Resorts – it is an interesting story).

    Have fun

  53. I would highly recommend the St. Regis Osaka – I just stayed there in November and thought it was fantastic – terrific and central location, modern and large rooms with the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in, excellent views, fantastic breakfast, stylish common areas, and great service. I really loved the hotel – one of the top Marriott properties I have ever stayed in.

    Another idea from Osaka is to use it as a base for a day trip to Kobe — Kobe is only 30 minutes away by train. It has some interesting history related to the earthquake and, given your interest in nature, I think you would really enjoy the Shin-Kobe Ropeway and Nunobiki Herb Garden — this is directly behind the Shin Kobe train station and includes two ropeways (ski lifts), a beautiful herb garden, scenic views of Kobe, and you can walk back down rather than take the ropeways and see a beautiful waterfall. This would be an easy and fun day trip from Osaka.

  54. I would fly into Tokyo not Osaka. Just take the bullet train. Osaka is fun and has great food but I would skip it. Kyoto is amazing. I would also take the bullet train to Hiroshima and do a day trip to Miyajima. My Japanese colleagues strongly encouraged me to change my holiday to include it – glad I took their advise. In Hiroshima I stayed at the Crowne Plaza – it was blah but in a very convenient location. In Osaka I stayed at the Intercontinental – I was RA at the team and was treated REALLY well. I would also do a day trip to Nara from Kyoto. In terms of Niseko – I loved it and skied there. However it really was an effort to get there. I flew to Sapporo and then took 2 trains. It was a really beautiful train journey though. I know people that have been there in spring and I understand is beautiful! Enjoy. I loved Japan. In Kyoto I stayed at the Grand Hyatt – like many hotels in Japan really small rooms. I did want to stay at the Ritz but was outside my budget and had no points (lived in Singapore so no option to get points with CC). It is a wonderful place with great food I think I ate at Michelin starred restaurants every night (no idea of the same as my JP colleagues booked it all for me #spoilt). Like the person above I would also recommend staying at one of the many luxury Ryokan – no points but an amazing experience. Enjoy!

  55. I’ve been to Japan about 7-9 times now (Kyoto about 4 times). I finally went to Japan during Cherry Blossom season for the first time last year and instantly regretted it. For one, it’s hard to nail down the exact week and day for the blossoms. Sure, you can religiously stalk the annual Cherry Blossom map each week until April, but you’re dealing with flights and booking hotels. For example, the week I was in Kyoto was a week before the blossoms actually bloomed because there was a late start. And I ended up being in Kyoto the week that it had bloomed in Tokyo. So I ended up catching the tail end of Tokyo. The flood of tourists from China and the prevalence of Instagrammers has ruined a lot of sites for me. And it’s especially bad during Cherry Blossom season. As a landscape photographer, I usually wake up before dawn to take photos. Unfortunately that’s what a lot of Instagrammers do now. Plus you’ll deal with the onslaught of wedding/engagement photoshoots wherever there is a tree with a cherry blossom on it. I was so turned off by my experience during Cherry Blossom week that I decided not to go to Japan this year for the Olympics (I have family in Tokyo so it would have been free housing, tickets, etc).

    I’d recommend Osaka instead and maybe get capsule hotel for Kyoto for the night instead. Autumn leaves in gorgeous if you want to experience Kyoto with fewer tourists.

    I rented a machiya (traditional Kyoto style house) which was steps from the temples and was a great way to experience Japan. As someone who visits Japan regularly, it’s the day-to-day life that I enjoy the most about japan. Like buying mochis from the neighborhood elderly woman who has severe osteoperosis or going to the local sento. I didn’t use this particular company, but this is an example of what a machiya is.

  56. Just completed a three night stay at the Park Hyatt in Kyoto and absolutely loved it. Great location, incredibly friendly staff and a simply beautiful room. Honestly one of our new favorite hotels. Are there going to be growing pains with a new hotel…of course. It’s inevitable. It will on;y get better. For 30,000 points it’s a no brainer. One of our best redemptions.

    I actually prefer Tokyo to Kyoto, but still enjoyed our trip immensely.

    Osaka is a very interesting city as well, but for me it was about the food there, specifically the Kuromon market.

    Enjoy your trip. I’m curious about the new Park Hyatt you mentioned…

  57. @Lucky
    Fisrt and foremost, did you mean doing an Audrey Hepburn or getting fine doing so?

    Now for Niseko, go there for the snow, even if you don’t ski. But Hokkaido deserves it’s own trip and not a side trip. Hokkaido can be enjoyed year round and outside winter. While it does lack international chain hotels, it doesn’t mean none are up to the standards. You are going on vacation and not trying products right?

    I’ll throw you an idea for you to consider a separate trip.
    QF flies SYD-CTS
    AY flies HEL-CTS (just launched)
    Russian carriers to CTS from UUS or VVO!!!!!. (I don’t remember seeing that yet) Just to torture Ford even more, you can get to UUS or VVO starting from ANC on Yakutia.
    I think you just booked PR so that is out (and not as fun as going through Russia)

  58. I’ve stayed at the St Regis Osaka a number of times and always really enjoy it. Fantastic rooms, service, ambiance, etc. I’ve stayed at maybe 4-5 St Regis locations and I’d say it’s probably my favorite.

    That said, the food (room service and breakfast) were *bad* and I’d avoid. Otherwise it is top notch.

  59. Even though I enjoyed a shoulder season trip to Niseko, I wouldn’t recommend it given you have no other plans to see Hokkaido. It is unnecessarily logistically complicated for your short trip.

    As for Osaka, it really depends if you want another big Japanese big city. It has some unique charms, but it isn’t a world class city like Tokyo. Whether or not you stay in Osaka, I’d suggest considering a day trip to Nara (easy trip from Kyoto or Osaka, especially if you take the bullet train). Walking to the Todaji temple (until recently, the world’s largest wooden building) with the local deer (don’t keep food in your bags!) is a unique experience. There is also a reasonably priced 3 Michelin star restaurant there that I have enjoyed a meal at (Wa Yamamura).

    Also, given that you like nature, I’d definitely suggest looking into hikes around Kyoto. Depending on what you like, there are some great options. Enjoy Japan!

  60. We stayed at both the Courtyard Marriott Shin Osaka and Marriott Osaka Miyako recently. Both are excellent for the class of hotels they’re meant to be & well located for train connectivity, though they’re at opposite ends of the city. The Marriott Miyako has stunning views of Osaka & is newer.

  61. I have stayed at both the Park Hyatt Kyoto and the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto for the past fall foliage season. They are both great hotels. The service at the Ritz-Carlton was impeccable, while the location is a little bit far away from tourist attractions, but it’s no big deal as you would want to take taxis and the fare is actually affordable comparing with Tokyo and Osaka. The Park Hyatt Kyoto is a new hotel, and we experienced some service issues but they got resolved quickly. The location is actually inside a tourist attraction area. The interesting thing was most tourists didn’t even try to enter the hotel, so it’s still very quiet there. The breakfasts at both hotels were amazing.

    As for Osaka, I would only stay there for the first or last day of my trip to Kyoto. It’s a boring city. with no culture. It’s also a place I may stay if I want to explore the Kansai area rather than Kyoto.

  62. We have heard mixed about the Ritz in Kyoto. We’re staying at the new Aman. It seems a bit remote but on some lovely parkland and will be a nice break after Tokyo. They likely won’t be open for your trip but we’re visiting Kanazawa in May (one of the most beautiful gardens and some say a mini Kyoto) and they have two new Hyatt properties opening.

  63. I know its a different destination but you could either work it into your trip or just do this by itself but Smiths Beach Resort (an SLH property) in the Margaret River region just south of Perth is the most beautiful place I have ever been and that includes Napa Valley and Big Sur. Not only is it on the beach but there is heaps of hiking tracks around including the famous cape to cape which you can do parts of. The wineries and wine is of amazing quality the food is amazing to and people so friendly. You could also fly SQ A350REG OR 787-10 both which fly into Perth to review their new regional business product which you haven’t reviewed, you could even fly it from Osaka or skip Japan and visit a new destination.

  64. Just came back from our second trip to Japan and today started planning a late 2020 trip involving an ANA ATW award, go to your page for some info and see I am not the only one dying to go back to Japan for a third… eventually 4th, 5th time. We love it so much!
    Our first trip to Japan in 2018 was very similar to what you have in mind (shoulder season Niseko and then cherry blossoms) and timing was perfect going the last week in March and first week in April.
    Niseko is a great ski resort, albeit very touristy with a lot of Australians and did not feel very Japanese. Take the bus from Chitose not the train. The snow wasn’t the ideal Ja-POW, but it was solid spring time conditions and it might be worth it to check out new PH. You don’t need more than 2 nights in Niseko.
    As for Osaka, it is so easy to get on the train directly from KIX to Kyoto even from a late flight. Our first trip we stayed in both Osaka and Kyoto, but learned the second time around staying in Kyoto for 5 nights was best as it is so stupid easy and fast to get between Kyoto and Osaka, and have a solid base for day trips to Hiroshima, Okayama, Nara, Kobe etc. If you do stay in Osaka I highly recommend the Conrad (great use of weekend certificates). Gorgeous lobby, executive lounge, central location, and spacious rooms. The cherry blossoms are fantastic by Osaka Castle.
    Ritz Kyoto is probably my favorite hotel in the world right now and definitely the best of the Ritz portfolio. The old temporary sweet spot of 60k points per night with 5th night free was incredible, but sadly no more:-( Still I think you would enjoy a stay there as the free activities (morning runs, hikes, and bike rides), impeccable service, Mizuki tempura (1 Michelin), and gorgeous rooms make for great value. When we go back to Kyoto (favorite over Tokyo) I would check out the PH or one of the SLH offerings, but would not hesitate to stay at the Ritz for a night or two.

  65. I second that Marriott Miyako in Osaka is a good option if arriving from KIX at night. It’s the first stop after airport. Also the building itself (Abeno Harukas) has plenty of see and some nice restaurants.

    I also recommend Himeji castle as a nice side trip from Osaka/Kyoto.

  66. Conrad Osaka is a MUST. It’s brand new and gorgeous. Staff, food, lounge etc. etc. all top notch. And the views!

  67. “and I saw Tokyo in a whole new light, to the point that it’s now probably my favorite city in Asia.” – yes I have been to Tokyo every year for the past four years. Japan grows on you. I didn’t love it at first but the more I learned about the culture the more I realized how deep it was and the more I had to learn. It gets absurdly addictive to travel there. The more you understand the country the better your experience becomes.

    In terms of where to stay, if you are diamond I highly recommend to Osaka Conrad. Really had top notch service there. By way of comparison I liked it better than the Tokyo Conrad and even slightly more than the Tokyo Andaz (one of my favorite hotels in the world). Liked it more than the Park Hyatt Tokyo, Hyatt regency kyoto and grand hyatt tokyo. I also spent a night at the Osaka Marriott Miyako. Nice area and its the tallest building in Japan. Even as lowly gold status the stay was quite enjoyable.

  68. If visiting Kyoto and Osaka, you MUST do a temple stay and see the Okunoin Cemetery. And do at least one night in a capsule hotel with an attached bathhouse. Can’t use WOH points but still so interesting.

  69. Osaka is definitely worth two nights IF you have sufficiently explored Kyoto. On a recent trip I spent four nights there and they flew by, although I also used it as a base for some daytrips. There is interesting food unique to Osaka.

    I wouldn’t go to Niseko unless you are going there to ski. I spent a week in Hokkaido on my last trip and it was good but really should only be done after you have explored the more famous areas of japan. Sapporo is a cool little city and I think it would be a great place to live but not a huge draw for tourism. That being said the food in Sapporo along with a daytrip to Otaru has some of the best sushi, seafood, agricultural products, dairy etc in all of Japan. Hands down. For people who love Japanese cuisine Sapporo and Otaru are just incredible.

  70. Intercontinental Osaka is top class and highly convenient. Rooms are new and modern, the breakfast buffet is very extensive and the spa facilities are unrivaled in Japan IMO.

  71. If you go to Sapporo, fly Hawaiian direct CTS-HNL. Stay a few days… then the longest domestic flight? HNL-BOS?

    I have enjoyed Hawaiian, and that Sapporo route is not terrible points value.

  72. If there’s any way, give yourself at least 4 nights in Kyoto. You could be there for a couple months and still not do nearly enough. Same advice holds for Osaka. Id suggest staying in one place and really diving in. Walking aimlessly in Kyoto is incredibly fun.

    Some suggestions for Nara… there are cool temples, but it’s generally somewhat of a tourist trap and you could do the good parts in a day trip easily.

  73. I have stayed at the Conrad in Osaka and it was one of my favorite hotels in Japan. Strongly recommend it. My family and I stayed at the Ritz Carlton Tokyo and the Park Hyatt Tokyo last month and we found the Ritz to be the better of the two. I have not been to Kyoto and would love to see a review of both the Park Hyatt and Ritz Carlton there.

  74. Highly recommend the Marriot in Osaka. Great value. Tallest building in Osaka, great lounge, unreal views. Well worth two nights.

  75. Atmosphere is everything in Osaka, thus you MUST stay in Namba/Dotombori area ( I.e. Swisshotel Nankai or Holiday Inn…). You should also visit Shinsekai at night.
    For a rare (but safe) glimpse at the dark/underworld side of Japan, which is often completely hidden from foreigners, visit Tobita Shinchi at night, you will not regret the contrast.
    Leaving Osaka visit Nara and Koyasan.

  76. @ David

    Aren’t the women in Tobita Shinchi off limits to Westerners? Heard they are basically only for the Japanese men.

  77. I’ve stayed at Hyatt Regency and Ritz Carlton in Osaka. HR is old and tired, and not in a very accessible location. The club lounge is very good though, both in service and the view. RC is much newer, more central, and directly connected to a number of stations.

  78. To be honest, the Westin Rusutsu Resort is much nicer than the Hyatt in Niseko. Having stayed at both, Rusutsu is much nicer than Niseko and offers the same things. There are too many Australians in Niseko!

    How about in Osaka you stay at a 4 star hotel like the Courtyard instead of the super expensive St Regis!

  79. As crazy movie fan when I saw the question I immediately rolled down here to answer.
    Roman Holiday
    BTW.Sit on Spanish Steps is forbidden now.

  80. On Osaka – as others have said an absolute foodie must.
    3 weeks in Japan on our honeymoon. Osaka really stands out.
    Used FHR for a night in St Regis. Beautiful hotel. Great views. Interesting garden. Right beside an enourmous food market. Breakfast was a little Meh. Might have been the hangover from spending our property credit on all you can drink at the bar. Cheap Chilean wine…
    We plan to go back and spend a few days in Osaka next time we’re in Japan.

    Kyoto was oddly our least favourite city.
    Just seemed dirtier and more touristy than all others. Had some great food, but nothing outstanding. Stayed in the Crowne Plaza. Their traditional style rooms were cute.

  81. After Osaka/Kyoto you should check out Hakone. There’s a Hyatt Regency and the area is known for its hot springs. From Osaka take the Shinkansen to Odawara. From there either take a taxi to your hotel, or take a local train to Gora Station; either option is about 30 minutes.

  82. Now after read all above and can’t believe no one answered the bonus points question.Why?
    Aren’t movies the cheapest way to travel around world?

  83. Osaka is nice but I don’t think it would be a tragedy for you to skip it if you’re not a huge city person.

    There is a very nice Marriott there though that occupies the top of the tallest building in the city. Far, far, far and away the best plain old Marriott I’ve ever stayed at. Amazing views and they did a really good job with the interiors too.

  84. @ Reginald

    Direct answer: No, Tobita Shinchi’s businesses are open to foreigners. I (a westerner) was touted by a “Mama-san” when I was walking in the area with my girlfriend (also a westerner). Not sure if my girlfriend would have been allowed to come with me had I accepted the offer… plus you can find “trip reports” in some dark corners of the internet…

    As I said, in Osaka “Atmosphere is everything”: was sent back in the Japan 70’s when walking a covered shopping arcade west of Tobita Shinchi. Felt like time had stopped 40 years ago.
    I also read that Osaka’s Dotombori district at night was a strong visual inspiration for the city scenes in Ridley Scott’s “Bladrunner”, and also for the movie Total Recall (2012 remake). Don’t know how much of it is true.

  85. I’ve booked two nights at the PH Kyoto and 3 nights at the Conrad Osaka in March. Really looking forward to the trip.

  86. Lucky,

    I did a similar trip last year.

    The RC in Osaka is pretty basic. Only stayed there for one night.

    Re Kyoto, the RC there is superb. Great location, beautiful hotel. Highly recommended.

    I would also look at staying at a Ryokan – Tawaraya is incredible.

    We took a flight to Sapporo from Osaka, but I would recommend renting a car as buses and public transport in Hokkaido are difficult and take too long. Make sure you bring your international drivers license. There’s also a great ryokan there called Zaborin near the park Hyatt

  87. It’s a short train ride between Osaka and Kyoto, so if you ( like myself) do not want to waste your time on packing/unpacking and changing hotels, you can stay at either city and visit the other every day if you want (JR pass comes handy)… on our November trip to Japan we decided to add Kanazawa to the itinerary- check it out, I hear great things about that area… and it’s not too complicated to get to from either Tokyo or Kyoto… you might want to stay at a traditional ryokan there, it would be an interesting experience…

  88. We stayed at the Conrad Osaka last year & it was fantastic. Highly recommend the Miho Museum outside of Kyoto. Amazing architecture & surroundings. Also less crowded with people too.

  89. This comment is coming from a Kyoto native: I think it is a bit odd that Americans call Osaka a culinary destination. Yes, Osaka has good food, but if you ask most of the Kansai natives they don’t associate Osaka with “foodie-type” food. Osaka has always been more of a “regular folk” city with a variety of street food/comfort food type cuisine. I would make Osaka a day-trip or at most, an overnight destination. Shinkansen from Kyoto only takes 12 minutes, so there’s no need to stay there for 2 nights, in my opinion.

    Osaka Castle is impressively shiny and new-looking, but that’s because it is newly built after WWII. There are many other authentic castles worth visiting, including Himeji or even Hikone castle. I’m not sure how much of Kyoto you have seen already, but there’s a l lot more traditional “only-in-Japan” sights in Kyoto, compared to Osaka.

  90. And yes, if you haven’t been to Naoshima – it’s def worth a visit, especially if you like art… someone mentioned Benesse House there – it is The place to stay there, it’s pretty much a hotel and museum in one, although the hotel part is nothing special

  91. @T. If you can get a room in the Oval building, it elevates the experience entirely. I have stayed twice, love Naoshima! Pretty tricky to get to though.

  92. Stayed at the RC Kyoto for 7 nights on my honeymoon (using a now-defunct 7 nights and 120K SW points cert, which also got us CP for two years). It was the best hotel service we have ever received. Such a great place. Kyoto is a wonderful city, with the opportunity for so many day trips. Don’t leave the area without going to Nara.

  93. Also skip Niseko! Taken over by the Aussies (I am one) and it’s not fun to go to any ski area in mud season- late spring! Beautiful in the summer though.

  94. If its just one night I would try the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel. The train from the airport stops in the building, its the tallest building in Japan with the hotel started on the 33rd? floor, amazing views all around. A really nice lounge, free access to the roof viewing area and the rooms aren’t to bad either.

  95. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of staying at the Suiran in the Kyoto area and that was definitely the highlight of the trip (which included the St Regis Osaka and Hyatt Regency Kyoto). Great location, phenomenal service, beautiful property. Plus the free rickshaw transfer was memorable and highly recommended. If you have a chance to spend a few nights there, you won’t be disappointed.

  96. RC Kyoto is beautiful so recommend staying here. I would split time here and Park Hyatt. I think the Park Hyatt location is preferable for walking to various sights.

  97. Adding to what everyone have said, I would say that Kyoto is a city where many things requires months of advanced reservation during peak season (mid to upscale dining, temple visit permissions, activities) where Osaka is the kind of city you can just show up.

  98. Hoshinoya modern ryokans gets my vote. They have a chain of properties across japan (also bali). Each property is unique and the included breakfast, dinner is mindblowing. The hot springs were really good too. My stay at hoshinoya Kai sengokuhara in April 2019 is hands down my favourite still.

  99. I visited Niseko a couple years ago, and it’s fantastic, but if you’re not a skier, then I wouldn’t bother. Also, the Park Hyatt Niseko is kind of in the middle of nowhere, not near the main town at the ski area (Hirafu), so I wouldn’t bother if you’re not a skier, as I honestly don’t know what you’d do there in the winter otherwise (there’s not much going on other than hot springs and skiing).

  100. @ Lucky, I stayed at the RC Kyoto in November 2019 for five nights, booked with points before the devaluation in March and fifth night was free … woohoo! I have silver status with Marriott so no breakfast, but was advised upon check in that our room was upgraded (to be honest, not sure what I would have gotten if not upgraded as there was one small window looking down at the courtyard and the other larger window had a small, inaccessible balcony outside. I believe all rooms at this RC are relatively private as there are no windows across from the rooms). Room was huge and comfortable, with modern and nice touches, and not gaudy or over the top grand. While not unfriendly, staff demeanor was superficial. I did feel a little judged by the person checking me in (or should I say checking me out and I guess I didn’t pass snuff ), but I can also say she was not as vigilant as one might expect for a hotel of such caliber, especially since it was not busy at the time I checked in (the first few items hotels ask for at check in is name and id/passport; my birthday was on the 4th and check in was on the 3rd, but not one comment was made . I remember being wished happy birthday at The Westin one year by staff during check in and was surprised with a slice of cake and a bottle of Pellegrino via room service – my SPG status was at the lowest level. To be clear, I don’t expect to be acknowledged for/on my birthday but it’s just the overall “not so pleasant” vibe received from the hotel). RC concierge did not offer any suggestions after I made an inquiry about a restaurant they could not book. The environment felt stuffy and every time I turned around, someone was superficially greeting me … felt more like surveillance state imho. Good one time experience, but I won’t go back again; I felt more comfortable at the St. Regis in the US, which was very posh as well and staff appeared more genuine. I saw a comment someone else left about a self service laundromat a block away … very clean and all you have to bring is your laundry … RC laundry service is highway robbery: 1300 yen for one pair of trousers/jeans, and this is for laundry, not dry cleaning!

    With respect to Osaka, two nights is good, especially if late afternoon arrival on day one. I stayed at the Hilton Osaka: location is convenient, across the street from Osaka station and the subway is downstairs. Hilton Osaka staff’s hospitality is commendable. They go the extra mile to ensure one doesn’t fall between the cracks. I was waiting for the limo bus to KIX, uncharacteristically delayed, on check out day. On three different occasions, I was greeted by three different staff members I had come across during my short stay (three days/two nights), all inquiring whether everything was okay. The third staff took me and my luggages to another bus stop across the street, not at Osaka station, since the one I was waiting for at the front of the hotel was delayed for the third time … I only wished it had happened sooner though. That morning was sheer chaos as a convention had just wrapped up the night before and attendees were all going on a sightseeing bus tour. Despite all the chaos that morning, staff paid attention to all details and got me to my destination, albeit after a lengthy wait (glad I had scheduled ample time to get to the airport).

  101. @Lucky – Intercontinental Osaka is fantastic; easily the best Intercontinental I’ve stayed at and a great location as well, and it’s quite new. Only 60,000 IHG Points a night too and the rates here tend to be high so you get outsized value here I think.

    Ritz Carlton Kyoto is fantastic as well; smallest Ritz in the world, excellent high tea service and a great gym and spa. Can’t go wrong.

  102. To be honest, I don’t get all the hysteria over the RC Kyoto. It’s a nice hotel but there is so much to see in Kyoto, you aren’t going to be spending a ton of time at the hotel anyway.

  103. Stayed at Kyoto RC this past June using points for two rooms. Hotel offers many intern led “excursions” including hikes, bike rides and onsite sake tastings. Enjoyed them all, especially the early morning bike ride to local temple (arrived well before the crowds). Appreciated not having to look at maps! Hotel arranged all cabs needed for hotel sponsored offsite activities, including payment for same. Wouldn’t accept our paying for onward cab trip to a non hotel activity. Lovely staff, flexible with making arrangements prior to visit. Lost my phone (dropped it in a cab on a ride back to the hotel from a hotel arranged hike) and they tracked it down by reviewing the car park camera recordings. Once found, they apologized that there would be a delay in returning it to me as the cab was in use at the time (it was delivered to me 30 min later).

  104. Just a word of warning about Kyoto during the bloom. It is absolutely filled to the brim with tourists, and my kids and I left early rather than staying in the scrum. Kyoto is a beautiful town (I have been there at least 5 times), but I very much prefer it outside of the bloom.

  105. Here is a thought. If you are willing to blow a packet (as you have done before at Aman Hotels) I would highly recommend the Tawaraya in Kyoto. It’s a super high end ryokan so you get an idea of traditional Japanese culture. You can google it and there is also an in depth review with pictures …. the locals resent folks who live in chain hotels (including Park Hyatt)

  106. I definitely agree with Dereck:. the top tourist sites / shrines are so packed during cherry blossom season they can almost be unpleasant. Fushimi Inari in May and October was very pleasant. In April of 2019… even far after peak bloom… it was just so crowded it was a disappointment.

    That being said, it’s worth going at least once during cherry blossom season just to see it.

  107. As a long-time resident of Tokyo, I am delighted you are coming back. I visit Osaka regularly as my son works there. I stay at the Hyatt Regency as it is only 8000 points per night, but the location is a little out of the way. Great gym that is underutilized As has been noted, the food in Osaka is amazing. My son is a foodie and usually finds some great small restaurants to try.

    I would definitely stay in Osaka at least 2 nights. You could do a day trip to Himeiji and still enjoy a great dinner. I would love you to review the PH in Kyoto, as I have been thinking about trying it out. I would save Hokkaido and Niseko for another trip. As you love nature and don’t ski, I would go in summer when you want to escape the humidity of Miami. The food in Hokkaido is amazing.

    I would also second the recommendation you stay in a high-end ryokan. Forget about points; it is every bit the great experience like you enjoyed on safari in Africa. Something you can’t do anywhere else in the world.

  108. I lived in the Osaka suburbs (between Osaka and Kyoto) for two years and return there every couple of years. Osaka is really a tale of two cities – the north side (Umeda) has high end shopping and tons of restaurants. The south side (Namba area) is more glitzy (think Times Square light). Recommendations include Osaka Castle, Yodobashi Camera for the latest gadgets you can’t get back home , and Osaka Aquarium (one of the world’s largest with 2 Whale Sharks and also near one of the world’s biggest Ferris Wheels).

    During my last trip, I stayed at the Intercontinental Osaka on points and was upgraded to a fabulous junior suite (with just platinum status for having the branded credit card). The hotel is very modern, chic, and has 4 excellent restaurants, a huge indoor pool and spa, and incredible service. It’s much more modern than the RC, which is a bit stale, IMO. It also has the added bonus on being near the JR train to Kyoto.

  109. Please try the new Park Hyatt Kyoto & then compare it against RC Kyoto. I’ve stayed once in Suiran, was nice, not great. Hyatt Regency was lovely given the price or points required. Conrad in Osaka was stunning & serves the most delicious breakfast.

  110. My stay in Hoshinoya Tokyo is something I still dream of. I would stay there again if I could afford it. Would also massively recommend the Marriott in Osaka as well. The best views I’ve ever had from a hotel room.

    If you don’t necessarily like cities, then try heading to a town like Kinosaki Onsen. There’s an absolutely stunning ryokan there called Nishimuraya Honkan and the town itself has a bit more to do than other Onsen towns in Japan. Easy to get to by train from Kyoto – and make sure you try some of the local sake as some is made by a British guy.

  111. To echo what some have said here, why not go beyond the normal boring chains and experience a traditional ryokan? Or you could take a ~2hr train trip from Osaka to Koyasan and stay at a Buddhist Temple (Shukubo), have an amazing vegan kaiseki meal in your room and get up at 4am to experience the morning chanting of the monks. It is an amazing experience.

  112. Just stayed at the PH Kyoto and Hilton Niseko (PH Niseko not open yet). PH Kyoto is amazing and although it is not centrally located the hotel service and surrounding area were amazing. We took taxis almost everywhere in Kyoto. Although it was more expensive, it was significantly faster and allowed us to do more activities per day with kids.

    We went skiing in Niseko but the snow was terrible over Christmas. We rented a car for Niseko and think it is by far the best option. The charm of the area is in the countryside and natural beauty around you. Renting a car was extremely easy and the drive was beautiful. They do require an international drivers license but that is very easy to get from AAA in the US. Please reach out if I can provide additional information.

  113. Japanese breakfast at RC Kyoto is amazing. It is brought to you on a tray with beautiful small plates hand picked by their Michelin star chef. Just beautiful presentation. And the food itself is top notch too. They are very particular about the ingredients they use in their dishes such as special eggs from so and so chicken farm, rice from so and so rice farm, etc. I am sure they will gladly explain to you how special each dish is. If you want Japanese breakfast, you then need to let the hotel know the day before and make a reservation. Japanese people pick RC’s breakfast as one of the best Japanese breakfast in Kyoto, so there you go.

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