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Japan during pandemic

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  • meta

    I arrived last week to Japan and suffice to say it’s not the same as it used to be. Not at least is that you can easily feel out of place as not many foreigners.

    Conrad Tokyo

    I stayed at Conrad Tokyo for three nights. General impression is that standards have slipped, especially housekeeping. I guess that’s a common problem around the world. I booked Impressarion 3 for 2 rate. Got $100 (¥12,400) and used it at the bar and Kanahana Japanese restaurant on kaiseki.

    As a Diamond got upgraded only one category to Bay View Room. The hotel was really busy as it was the Obon matsuri weekend, so I wasn’t expecting much of an upgrade at all. Over the course of 3 days, I spotted maybe 5-6 foreigners in the hotel. I am mentioning this because most of the staff were visibly agitated when dealing with foreigner customers, but it all seemed well intentioned.

    The room itself is still very nice and the views are as always stunning and the bench along the windows is always appreciated. Mini bar items seemed cheaper than last time (£2 for can of coke, £3-4 for snacks).

    Indoor pool is still lovely to swim surrounded by skyscrapers. It was almost empty after 7pm and in the mornings before 9am.

    I had a kaiseki lunch at Kanahana, Japanese restaurant, which was delicious and beautifully presented. One drink is free if you bring a leaflet from the room.

    However, the housekeeping left a lot to be desired. Forgot to shut the curtains one day. Slippers left lying around and not put by the bed. Once they didn’t replace a towel during day time, but turndown rectified it. They seemed to focus too much on the details, so forget major things.

    And if there is another thing that I forgot is an issue, it’s the safe which doesn’t fit laptop properly so have to place it diagonally meaning you can’t put much else in.

    I’ll write about Courtyard in Nagoya separately.

    John

    Yen is 10-20% down versus GBP compared to 2019 so things should seem cheaper

    JosephH

    Thanks Meta, this is an interesting read! We’re going to be other there soon but haven’t 100% decided where to stay yet (probably going to spend some time in one of the Intercontinentals as I have a surplus of IHG points).

    Does the Conrad charge for the pool or have any weird booking systems for it etc? Most of the places in Tokyo with a pool seem to be charging fairly ridiculous fees, e.g. ANA Intercontinental want 5000 JPY per person per visit.

    (Is the Impresario 3 for 2 deal still running?)

    Gavin454

    How did you manage to get a visa?

    I may be going on a temporary visitors visa (for reason of family visit) next month. I’m quite strongly resenting all the hurdles I’m having to jump through to get a visa, especially while Japanese people can come to the UK freely with no visa, and even breeze through the e-gates. I’ve been to various countries that require a visa and Japan has been the least straight-forward. Even countries like Iran, Uzbekistan, Russia, were much easier!

    I’ve noticed that the hotels we usually stay at in Tokyo seem quite a bit cheaper than we’ve paid in the past, sometimes half the price in GBP.

    JosephH

    I’m going on the family visit visa, expecting to pick it up in 2 days time. The process was a little annoying (seems to require two visits to the consulate, one to apply and one to collect) but overall fairly straightforward and not too expensive (£20, excluding the travel to the consulate!). The hardest part was probably getting the Japanese family tree, though it seems they’d have accepted a marriage certificate instead. I don’t have anything to compare it too though, I think it’s 15+ years since I last had to do a visa application and I think it was all dealt with by my employer back then.

    I’m noting the same thing about hotels – I saw some at £40/night that I’m pretty sure I’ve paid >£100/night for before. As John says, the weaker Yen is certainly helping too, but it’s more than just that.

    Gavin454

    The hardest part was probably getting the Japanese family tree, though it seems they’d have accepted a marriage certificate instead. I don’t have anything to compare it too though, I think it’s 15+ years since I last had to do a visa application and I think it was all dealt with by my employer back then.

    Yeah, the Koseki / family register is a really annoying hurdle, and the main reason the application was difficult – since it can only be obtained inside Japan, and needs to be less than 3 months old. But also, having to book a visa appointment online at midnight 3 weeks in advance (fully booked within 1-2 minutes), having to visit the embassy twice, having to bother my fiancées elderly relatives in Japan to fill out an invitation letter when they don’t even have a computer etc. It’s just a bit galling when we could go visa-free before, and there’s no actual scientific covid-related reason for these visa rules being imposed.

    yorkieflyer

    Yes low hotel rates obviously due to no foreign tourists, we’ll be flying on from Tokyo this October to more welcoming destinations. It would have been our second trip to Japan, this was the third rearranged attempt. Mulling over rebooking for Oct 23 but not sure I can be bothered, when we booked this on I was sure it’d be ok.
    Stupid insular nation fearing foreigners, can’t think of anywhere else like that 🤠

    yonasl

    Yes low hotel rates obviously due to no foreign tourists, we’ll be flying on from Tokyo this October to more welcoming destinations. It would have been our second trip to Japan, this was the third rearranged attempt. Mulling over rebooking for Oct 23 but not sure I can be bothered, when we booked this on I was sure it’d be ok.
    Stupid insular nation fearing foreigners, can’t think of anywhere else like that 🤠

    I want to disagree with you as I love Japan but they have indeed managed to close the country and make foreigners feel like they are the reason COVID exists (while at the same time being one of the most infected countries right now!)

    I would like to think most Japanese disagree with these measures but I feel like they are happy travelling around and now have been brainwashed into seeing people from outside the country as a danger.

    My bookings for May 2020 have now been moved to May 2023 … let’s see how that comes up

    JosephH

    Yeah, the Koseki / family register is a really annoying hurdle, and the main reason the application was difficult – since it can only be obtained inside Japan, and needs to be less than 3 months old. But also, having to book a visa appointment online at midnight 3 weeks in advance (fully booked within 1-2 minutes), having to visit the embassy twice, having to bother my fiancées elderly relatives in Japan to fill out an invitation letter when they don’t even have a computer etc. It’s just a bit galling when we could go visa-free before, and there’s no actual scientific covid-related reason for these visa rules being imposed.

    Ah, that does sound bad. I guess that must be the London consulate? We’re in the area for the Edinburgh consulate, that was much easier to get an appointment at (it was as simple as phoning and I got an appointment the following week), and we didn’t need an invitation letter as my wife has Japanese nationality.

    Japan has generally done a lot better through covid, with lower cases/deaths than the UK (even counting the current peak). Whether that justifies the economic harm from stopping tourism etc is much less clear. I suspect at least part of the reason (looking at the requirements for the organised tourism groups visa) could be a worry that foreigners wouldn’t follow the masking recommendations. Hopefully they’ll open up before too long…

    meta

    Thanks Meta, this is an interesting read! We’re going to be other there soon but haven’t 100% decided where to stay yet (probably going to spend some time in one of the Intercontinentals as I have a surplus of IHG points).

    Does the Conrad charge for the pool or have any weird booking systems for it etc? Most of the places in Tokyo with a pool seem to be charging fairly ridiculous fees, e.g. ANA Intercontinental want 5000 JPY per person per visit.

    (Is the Impresario 3 for 2 deal still running?)

    No charge for the pool. The hotel would be practically empty if it wasn’t for the Obon weekend. The staff told me as much.

    The rate is still running I believe. I looked at it for later.

    meta

    How did you manage to get a visa?

    I may be going on a temporary visitors visa (for reason of family visit) next month. I’m quite strongly resenting all the hurdles I’m having to jump through to get a visa, especially while Japanese people can come to the UK freely with no visa, and even breeze through the e-gates. I’ve been to various countries that require a visa and Japan has been the least straight-forward. Even countries like Iran, Uzbekistan, Russia, were much easier!

    I’ve noticed that the hotels we usually stay at in Tokyo seem quite a bit cheaper than we’ve paid in the past, sometimes half the price in GBP.

    Business visitor. I sometimes work with a Japanese company and have been working on getting a short term visa for 3 months since they announced that it was easing. It took a while for the company to be set up on the system, then took me a month and a half to sort out the visa. In hindsight, I should have just called the Embassy to get a slot. So just call them to book your slot rather than try and wait until midnight and see who has the fastest finger/internet connection. But it might have changed now. I was doing it in June.

    Yes, all hotels are pretty cheap. I paid £140 for Conrad Tokyo or 65k points. Hilton is 45k points more or less at the moment as seen it as low as 34k points. ICs are a bit more expensive and reward nights have cleared in the last Sunday’s round for the next few months. Wanted to go to the new Kimpton in two-week’s time, but no availability.

    meta

    Yeah, the Koseki / family register is a really annoying hurdle, and the main reason the application was difficult – since it can only be obtained inside Japan, and needs to be less than 3 months old. But also, having to book a visa appointment online at midnight 3 weeks in advance (fully booked within 1-2 minutes), having to visit the embassy twice, having to bother my fiancées elderly relatives in Japan to fill out an invitation letter when they don’t even have a computer etc. It’s just a bit galling when we could go visa-free before, and there’s no actual scientific covid-related reason for these visa rules being imposed.

    Ah, that does sound bad. I guess that must be the London consulate? We’re in the area for the Edinburgh consulate, that was much easier to get an appointment at (it was as simple as phoning and I got an appointment the following week), and we didn’t need an invitation letter as my wife has Japanese nationality.

    Japan has generally done a lot better through covid, with lower cases/deaths than the UK (even counting the current peak). Whether that justifies the economic harm from stopping tourism etc is much less clear. I suspect at least part of the reason (looking at the requirements for the organised tourism groups visa) could be a worry that foreigners wouldn’t follow the masking recommendations. Hopefully they’ll open up before too long…

    Unfortunately it hasn’t done well as many try to portray it in the Western media. In reality and most Japanese I know agree, it has been a total disaster.

    The list is endless. Here’s some:
    – Abe no masku (or Abe’s mask) which no-one wanted to wear.
    – no testing availability so cases very low, people not wanting to get tested either for fear of having to stay at home and not being able to visit their elderly
    – late with ordering vaccines, late with vaccinating when ordered
    – has at the moment highest case rate in the world as they’ve finally started to test two years+ into the pandemic, try getting a PCR testing appointment in Japan

    Then economically:
    – 5000 tourist establishments bankrupt
    – can’t remember on top of my head the number, but a considerable number of other small businesses bankrupt
    – branches of foreign companies closed (lower and lower incoming investment)
    – konbinis closed in many areas (lack of foreign workers due to restrictions)
    – medical chiefs don’t want covid restrictions to end as hospitals will lose financial incentives from the government.
    – hotels built for the Olympics that never got used and are now empty.

    It goes on and on.

    meta

    Courtyard Nagoya review

    I’m continuing sampling hotels in Japan for the fraction of the usual prices. Will report how it goes, but be aware that these are all pandemic prices and experiences.

    This hotel is new. It only opened in March this year. It is also not your typical Courtyard. I’d say it’s more like 4.5 star, but not real luxury simply because of the service level and breakfast quality. I’ll explain further down.

    Hotel is located about 15 min walk from Nagoya station or 5 minutes by taxi (700-800 yen). It is very close to Sakae with Science Museum, Nagoya Tower and lots of shops and eateries. Hilton Nagoya is not far either, but it seems rooms are much older.

    I booked Earn, Eat and Enjoy rate for two nights directly via Marriott. The rate was £116 per night for the base room which also included breakfast, 3000 yen credit per night and 3000 bonus points per night. I also applied 2 SNAs that are expiring at the end of the year and selected Courtyard Corner Suite as the only option. I was promptly upgraded at T-5 days. The suite retails at £360+ per night so this represented a good return in my opinion.

    The suite was on the 6th floor out of 12 floors. Judging by the floor plan, I think they only have 1 such suite on each floor. This suite is a true suite as it has separate living room and bedroom which can be closed off completely with sliding door. The room decor is very nice with marble tops and Japanese wood panels. There were nice Japanese touches such as cushions (blue and green), wallpaper in sakura motifs. In the living room you have a corner sofa and a dining table as well as huge TV. Plus nespresso machine. Fridge/Mini bar was empty (at Conrad it wasn’t). On the dinning table there was a Japanese teapot with two cups and very nice smelling green tea in a tinbox. Lovely views of Nagoya from the window.

    The bedroom has king sized bed and a little armchair and table by one of the corner windows from which you can watch the river with a drink in hand. The other corner window also had a view of the river and city. Basically you wake up to nice views. There are 2xUSB ports on each side and normal sockets as well. There is also a non-branded alarm clock. The bathroom/bedroom is open plan, though only vanity area. The wet room (shower+bathtub) has doors and there is a separate toilet (Toto of course). The toiletries are in big bottles, but each day they would put a separate set of mini toiletries that you can take home with you. There was also complete skin care set, razors and other amenities that you might need.

    From bathroom on one side and entry hallway on the other side you can enter a walk in closet. There were stealable hangers and first time I’ve seen it in a hotel – a clothes freshner spray. There was ample space for my suitcases. There is also another guest toilet (also full Toto) by the entrance though I noted that hand wash and lotion were not place there.

    The check-in process was fairly straightforward, although I had to wait 15 minutes for them to get it ready (I did tell them a day before my arrival time and I actually arrived an hour later than that! I also had issues with them organising Takkyubin service as they gave me wrong information, but they rectified it.

    As Titanium I could choose from five different options for welcome gift:
    – cheescake or cake delivered to room
    -1000 yen credit total on anything
    – 500 yen discount per night in bars
    – breakfast (not needed as I had it included in the rate)
    – appetisers and 2 drinks (which I chose)

    I ate twice at the hotel. They are running promos for Marriott Bonvoy guests for food sets costing ¥3000 or less so you can use the credit for that. I had delicious Chita Beef on day 1 in their The Lounge restaurant. I also had Japanese beef curry on the famous Nagoya ogura toast the second. This was all just ¥5900 so quite pleased.

    However, the biggest let down was the breakfast. Really poor quality of ingredients, no cheese, barely any fruit. Just basics for Japanese food too. Check out was uneventful, but they messed up with Takkyubin when I moved to Kobe so I almost couldn’t go to a meeting. I was kind of expecting it as at the reception they were a bit clueless.

    Next I am due to stay at ANA Crowne Plaza in Fukuoka. First time staying at that hotel.

    meta

    Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo review
    (Ikebukuro area) – first time stay

    Before this a short holiday, I had to be in Tokyo for one night. I only had ¥15000 budget for the hotel room from the company, so had to go to a local hotel. This doesn’t stretch to any of the international chains which are around ¥20k at the moment. I asked whether I can top up with my own cash, but as usual it was a no. I knew the answer, but asked anyway at the off chance. Lol.

    This hotel is marketed as 4-star. It’s part of Japan Rail East chains. They have several hotels north of Tokyo.

    Check-in
    I arrived for a 3pm check-in to a long queue. It was Thursday, so didn’t expect this. I had a 4pm meeting so asked one of the floating staff how long the wait is and they said between 1-2 hours. They only had five people doing check-in and about 150 people in the queue. Really unbelievable, but it’s a big hotel and there was apparently there was some kind of event happening. Since I had a meeting, I just left the bags and only came back around 8pm to check in and briefly change before going out again.

    Check-in at 8pm was uneventful. I booked through hotels.com, so they recognised my hotels.com Gold status and offered 2pm late check-out plus free parking (I didn’t have a car).

    Room
    There was no upgrade, I booked Queen Standard City View (beware they call Queen bed, double bed in Japan).

    Room was really old as expected from the photos. It’s on the bigger scale of Japanese hotel rooms at 25sqm, but it still felt crammed as they had placed two armchairs and a big table by the window, so not much space to move around. There is no proper wardrobe. It’s a bit of an afterthought as it’s built in type by the bedside, behind a curtain. Also there is not enough space to put a suitcase there and very little space for clothes. Fine for one night, but you’d struggle for longer and couples too.

    Views were great though!

    The bathroom was standard Japanese style (think 70-80s) with obligatory Toto. Toiletries were in big bottles, Japanese branded (can’t remember which one). There was also face wash in a bottle on the sink. You also get steam face mask, pretty standard for Japan.

    Public areas
    I didn’t have breakfast in the hotel and checked out quite early. The ground level is divided into two parts – one with lobby and the other with several restaurants. It’s a huge hotel. I also didn’t have much time to explore. There is a big fitness centre on fourth floor which I briefly checked out in the morning.

    Anyway, this might be useful info for people who don’t have the budget for a major chain or luxury hotels, especially when Japan opens up and prices go significantly up.

    I chose this hotel primarily for its location. I had meetings near Shinjuku and in Chiyoda and this had good connections to both (10 to Shinjuku and 20 to Chiyoda/Tokyo Station).

    I’ll post my ANA Crowne Plaza Fukuoka review later today.

    meta

    ANA Crowne Plaza Fukuoka

    Stayed here for 4 nights. The hotel is conveniently located near Hakata station. Many shops and restaurants around. The hotel has 14 floors, a few restaurants, patisserie on the ground floor.

    Rate: I paid only 8000 yen (about £50) when I booked in July. If I remember correctly, it was 11000 on points. I had it booked for 2020 at one point when it was 25k on points.

    Check-in
    I was able to check-in early at noon which was appreciated. They couldn’t give me an upgrade as a Diamond which was disappointing. Of course, breakfast was included as a welcome amenity. However, in addition they gave me a cake, two drinks vouchers and access to Club lounge. This was an apology for the lack of upgrade.

    Covid measures

    I’m mentioning this as this hotel that takes Japanese covid measures to the very extreme unlike most other hotels. Mask wearing is policed, they make you take temperature every time you enter (at other hotels it’s unmanned digital scan, but if you walk past it without stopping nobody cares), they also wipe the area after you check in and hand you in a covid set as a present (yes, they specifically mention present). See breakfast situation too.

    Room
    The room Queen Standard was compact, but perfectly acceptable as I was staying solo. Mini bar was empty even though my reservation stated fully stocked (they said due to covid they can’t have mini bar stocked).

    The bathroom is small, but slightly bigger than Metropolitan one. There was an issue with the faucet as the water was constantly dripping and you couldn’t turn it off unless you press really hard on it. The view wasn’t great either. There was very little wardrobe space again, but at least here there were drawers both near the bathroom and next to the TV in the room. Hangers were stealable. Toiletries are Antipodes branded (Fig&Fejoia scent). All other standard amenities are available including an amazing shaving cream.

    Two free bottles of water were placed by housekeeping everyday. There were also clothes air freshener and face steam masks on the desk. Kettle, coffee and tea was provided, but no milk. They brought some to my room on request. You can also request ice.

    F&B
    There is an option to have breakfast in the Club Lounge with very small selection or much larger selection in the main restaurant. At check-in they gave me vouchers for breakfast and said that it’s better to have it in the restaurant. However, food was seriously bad to the point that on day 2, I opted to eat out of the hotel in many of the nice places around Hakata station. Bread was dry, pastries days old, coffee was served from those big dispensers. The quality of Japanese breakfast items apart from rice was of dubious quality as well. Covid measures are 2020-style with gloves, disinfectants everywhere and staff monitoring your every move around the buffet. Eggs are from carton and you can see the person doing “made to order” omelette opening it in front of you.

    As a result I also didn’t want to try eating at any of the restaurants or the cafe in the lobby. I also asked two glasses of house red to be delivered to my room (my welcome gift). It turned out to be a very good wine.

    Lounge
    I didn’t go for breakfast as had it in the main restaurant. I just popped once to check it out briefly during the day – they had snacks, coffee, tea and fridges with soft drinks, beer and wine. I can’t report on the situation at other times. Lounge is really not that important to me when in Japan. Too many options of delicious inexpensive food on every corner.

    So I have mixed feelings about it. The location is superb. The room is fine for solo travellers, albeit some issues and a bit old. However, the breakfast situation is not good and the staff seem disinterested. Closed facilities are a problem, but after pandemic it shouldn’t be an issue.

    meta

    The chatter in the Japanese (and foreign) media is that Japan is opening up supposedly from October without visa for those triple vaccinated or with negative PCR pre-arrival plus removal of the cap. Apparently, details are to be announced at this week’s PMs conference.

    I’m still sceptical about what form this reopening will take place as are my Japanese colleagues, but we shall see.

    yorkieflyer

    The chatter in the Japanese (and foreign) media is that Japan is opening up supposedly from October without visa for those triple vaccinated or with negative PCR pre-arrival plus removal of the cap. Apparently, details are to be announced at this week’s PMs conference.

    I’m still sceptical about what form this reopening will take place as are my Japanese colleagues, but we shall see.

    Thanks Meta, reading reports of this elsewhere, is the PM’s weekly conference on a set day? As am about to pull the trigger on a visa application

    Biki

    The chatter in the Japanese (and foreign) media is that Japan is opening up supposedly from October without visa for those triple vaccinated or with negative PCR pre-arrival plus removal of the cap. Apparently, details are to be announced at this week’s PMs conference.

    I’m still sceptical about what form this reopening will take place as are my Japanese colleagues, but we shall see.

    Hi Meta, Thanks for the update! what is it generally like around the places that you have been to as a visitor and are there restrictions like masks being required as you walk around etc? I have some BA redemption flights that were moved to JAL which land on the 1st OCt. I have a backup trip planned just in case, but wonder whether it would be worth going to Japan if it opens up. As much as I still want to go, i’d like to get a more normal experience rather than one with lots of restrictions! thanks

    BJ

    @meta’s scepticism is clearly justified but at least the noise is going in the right direction so hopefully the deeds catch up. I am now feeling a bit more optimistic about my June gamble on INV-LHR-HND…KIX-BKK…BKK-HKG…HKG-LHR-EDI 🙂

    Lady London

    @meta’s scepticism is clearly justified but at least the noise is going in the right direction so hopefully the deeds catch up. I am now feeling a bit more optimistic about my June gamble on INV-LHR-HND…KIX-BKK…BKK-HKG…HKG-LHR-EDI 🙂

    You’ll be fine @BJ unless Wuhan releases another virus.

    meta

    @yorkieflyer PM’s conferences used to be on Fridays, but I think they are now on Thursdays.


    @Biki
    There is social pressure to wear mask everywhere including outside. About 95% people do it. However, about 50% wear it properly covering nose and mouth. All rules are broken once in restaurants and bars… As it was explained to me, there is really no strict law requiring mask wearing.

    In regards to general feeling, I have experienced my first case of (mild)discrimination from no other than Westin Kyoto last week so have moved elsewhere as a result. I’m still thinking about my response to it hence why I haven’t wrote anything yet here. However, I have crossed that hotel off the list of hotels to visit in Japan ever again.

    Apart from that, it has been great, but I do speak the language so that helps. I can’t stress enough that the level of service is not as before even at the most luxurious properties.

    Biki

    Hi Meta,

    Thanks for the update. I guess we’ll have to see how things go over the next week and whether it might be worth going… I hope the Westin Kyoto experieince didn’t ruin things too much and you enjoy the rest of your trip!

    yorkieflyer

    Thanks Meta we’re due to go on 8th Oct so better not delay the visa application I think

    meta

    Are you applying from the UK? I heard it’s now a postal application and takes a minimum of 3 weeks to get it.

    yorkieflyer

    Are you applying from the UK? I heard it’s now a postal application and takes a minimum of 3 weeks to get it.

    Thanks, Yes we are applying to London so sending tomorrow, en route from Spain today, that allows just three weeks

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