Part 1: Walking around Tennoji
This was our final day in Osaka and with perfect weather we decided to stroll through the nearby Tenshiba Park. The park houses Tennoji Zoo as well as the Osaka Art Museum, which has its own formal gardens attached. There were many school groups playing in the park so the space was buzzing. We kept walking through the park which has a large lake surrounding an ancient burial mound. The park is a welcome open space in a hectic, built up city. There were many people enjoying the weather and the outlook.
Further along the park is Isshin-ji Temple, famous for its Buddhas made from the ashes of cremated bodies. There is an annual burial festival where worshipers pay to deposit the ashes of loved ones, which over time the priests combine into a statue by mixing the ashes with clay and resin.
The temple and the original six Buddhas were destroyed in the Pacific War, so the temple has been rebuilt and eight new Buddhas formed since the late 1940s. There are some significant renovations underway so the great hall was surrounded by hoardings and scaffolding. We decided not to go in - regrettably in hindsight. Outside there are eight stone representations of the deity for worshipers.
The main gate to this temple is a handsome structure of steel, glass, granite and concrete. Given all the reconstruction of temples across Japan because of many wars and fires, this is the first time we have seen a modern re-interpretation of a temple building.
We went around the corner to Shitenno-ji Temple with its five storey pagoda. Why do Japanese pagodas have five storeys? This question has piqued The Navigator for some time. Tradition dictates a pagoda must have a odd number of floors, so building technology generally limited the construction to either three or five storeys. There is a pagoda in Nara with thirteen levels but that is the only one in Japan taller than five.
The various ponds around the temple are home to hundreds of small turtles, either sunning themselves on the granite or floating gently in the water. From a distance we watched a memorial service and listened as the bell was rung slowly. In another part of the complex we watched the calligraphers write the wishes of worshipers on thin sheets of bamboo, which were then cleansed in water from a spring and the words were washed away.
We wandered back to the hotel through streets selling traditional Japanese medicine, tatami mats, fresh produce and more bonsai.
Our final tourist attraction was the 60th floor observation level in the hotel building. Marriott Rewards members receive a free voucher to enter the observation floor. During our last stay here we went up at sunset to watch the night lights come on. This time we waited until today on the forecast of good weather to go up during daylight hours.
It seemed a bit incongruous to go from our room on the 53rd floor, down to hotel reception on the 19th floor, then down to the observation level reception on the 16th floor and then go up to the 60th floor. However, once there we were treated to the spectacular 360 degree panorama of the sprawling Osaka metropolis. You can pay extra to don special suits and climb the final few steps to an open ledge right at 300 metres.
We also spent some time on the open terrace on level 58, where one can buy food and drinks and sit by the window. We wondered what they did up here and indeed in the hotel during the typhoon.
Alas it was time to check out. Fortunately the bus to the airport (we were going to Itami - Osaka’s original airport) was just 100 metres down the road from the hotel but even then it took 20 minutes to get down to reception, then down to the basement, push our suitcases through the underground passages and then up to street level and around to the bus stop. The textured markers to guide the blind make it even harder to push the suitcases as the wheels get caught up in the markers. Pushing four suitcases was a bit like steering an aircraft carrier - hard to change direction and impossible to stop quickly when someone in front has a change of mind.
Part 2: JL126 ITM - HND
For clarity, ITM is Itami Airport in Osaka and HND is Haneda airport in Tokyo. Curiously, both of these are the original airports for these cities.
Boeing 777-200. This is the same type of plane we flew from Hawaii to Japan but with extra seats.
Oneworld. Although we are Japan Mileage Bank members (JMB), we chose to send the points to Qantas to avoid stranding them in JMB through lack of use.
Economy - seat 47A (window) and 47B (middle).
We can hear you ask: “Why didn’t you catch the train to Tokyo?” If one resides outside of Japan and has a ticketed seat on an international flight leaving Japan, the JAL Explorer Pass is a super discounted price on flights to over 30 Japanese cities, including as far as Okinawa. The seats are limited to economy only but there is no limit to the number of flights which can be purchased using this pricing. It cost us less than AUD75 per person to fly from Osaka to Tokyo, compared to over $180 per person on the shinkansen (our now expired JR pass was not valid for travel to Tokyo). This is a bargain! This fare can only be bought online but is available from anywhere in the world up to 72 hours before departure.
We were flying economy so did not have access to the JAL Lounge. There is a small paid access lounge on the landside of security but we were unsure if we had a qualifying credit card so did not investigate further.
The JAL Explorer Pass allows each passenger to have 2 bags each at 23kgs. This is a massive benefit compared to the regular domestic baggage allowance of 1 bag at 20kgs.
The Navbour very kindly took some of our baggage home with him earlier in the week. Notwithstanding, we still expected to be overweight. We had to juggle some things between suitcases but despite our Kyoto market purchases were within the limit.
Flying time of 50 minutes, so similar to a Sydney to Melbourne flight. We push back on time and arrive early. Unfortunately our planned arrival gate is still occupied, so we lose all of those gains and then even more time as we wait for an open gate.
This is a standard economy seat with 31 inches of pitch and 17.3 inches of width, which directly compares to Qantas widebody aircraft flying domestic routes. It has 1 extra inch of pitch compared to a Qantas 737 and one really notices that extra inch. There is plenty of legroom and the flight is entirely comfortable.
There are fixed screens above the aisles, on the bulkheads and below the overhead lockers although they only show the flight map. A full suite of entertainment is available via the JAL app, which must be downloaded beforehand (like on American Airlines). The app provides over 70 channels of entertainment for free.
Free content outside of the app includes 2 live TV channels of news and sport. One can also connect to the full internet for free but requires signing up to the Boingo internet service.
The real entertainment is out of the window, with the route taking us over Lake Biwa and then over the top of Nagoya and just to the east of Mt Fuji. Despite low cloud, the mountain still pokes her head out and we were fortunate to be on the correct side of the plane to see her. We wondered what the great Japanese artist Hokusai would have made of the mountain from this viewpoint.
None. Free soft drinks are available.
This was only a short flight but the service was typically polite and charming.
The JAL Explorer Pass is a massive opportunity for international travelers to get around Japan, particularly if one has lots of baggage. Even on a short flight like this the elapsed time is comparable to taking the shinkansen (about 3.5 hours between Osaka and Tokyo). On longer flights to other destinations, this ticket cannot be beaten for value.
10 out of 10.
Part 3: Haneda Airport to Shinagawa
There are a number of public transport options to and from Haneda Airport. We took the Keikyu Airport line to Shinagawa. This is a local metro line and whilst the carriage was empty when we got on, it filled up very quickly. The Navigator made a strategic error and was on the wrong side of the carriage when we arrived at Shinagawa. Thinking everybody would get off, instead he was confronted with a wave of people trying to get on. The Navigatrix worried he would not get out, which he did but not before nearly crushing an elderly man between the door and the suitcases.
Down at ground level, The Navigatrix asked the information desk for directions to our hotel. Instructions in hand, we went out through the ticket gates and started for the hotel which was now in plain sight.
The man behind the information desk had rushed after us.
“If you wait here the hotel has a shuttle bus,” he said. “It will arrive soon.”
What a relief! Even though the hotel was only 500 metres away, the shuttle bus was a far more viable option compared to pushing our suitcases through the crowd and up the hill.
Most Japanese travel very light - a single, medium sized suitcase at the most. The poor bus driver’s eyes widened in horror when he saw our four massive bags. We wondered what our fellow passengers thought as both us and our luggage was squeezed into the tiny 12 seat mini bus.