Just Peachy – Low Cost Airlines in Japan

Japan is often noted as being an expensive place to vacation. Like most generalizations this is a bit short sided and not quite accurate. If you are on a strict schedule and you are particular about accommodations then yes, Japan will set you back a pretty penny. If you don’t mind a public bath, odd travel hours and spending a night or two in a comic book shop, you can get around Japan at a pretty low cost. One of the most cost prohibitive things in any travel situation is getting from A to B cheaply once you have arrived within the countries’ borders. As I’ve discussed earlier regarding Japan, Shinkansen is very expensive and highway busses are a little time consuming.

On my summer vacation I settled on Peach Airlines to fly from Sendai to Osaka and then Osaka to Seoul. Following the same path in reverse on my return trip.Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 11.38.11 AM

I didn’t choose Peach because it got the best reviews (it doesn’t have many being relatively new), I chose it almost solely on price and availability. Sendai’s airport is small and there are not a lot of airlines that operate out of there to begin with. Price wise, it was about two thirds the cost of high speed train for round trip fare.

Well, how does Peach compare?

The Business End

I think the best way to think about Peach would be to place it side by side with a similar Euro and American counterpart. The closest thing to a low cost national airline in the states is probably Southwest. In Europe I will use EasyJet.

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I went through of process of trying to book a relatively equidistant flight on each Airline and then looked at my breakdown of charges before check out. For Southwest I used Sacramento to LAX, for Peach I used Sendai to Osaka, for EasyJet I used London to Berlin. For Southwest (or any US flight) the total taxes will change because the Excise Tax is 7.5% of your fare price. I included this as $20 tax fee but it can be less or more depending on the fare price. Timing of the flight would also play a major role in costs that are based on a percent of the fare total. I used a one week round trip in early December as an estimate.

Overall I would say Peach compares very well to the other LCC’s on the list. Within Japan, Peach’s biggest issue is that most of the flights require a trip through Osaka. If you are in Sendai and want to go to Sapporo or Even Tokyo a trip through Osaka is required.

I was a little worried they would nickel and dime me out of my low fare though hidden charges and other nonsense but as you can see from the above chart Peach is relatively tame compared to their US and European counterparts.
It is still really annoying to pay a fee to pay for your ticket. The “convenience fee” is either a charge for using your credit card or a charge for paying in cash at a convenience store in Japan. I like to imagine trying to charge a convenience fee in a barter economy.

George: “Hello, I’d like to trade you some lettuce and onions for these eggs.”
Adam: “Sounds great, I think 1 dozen eggs for 3 heads of lettuce and 3 onions is fair.”
George: “Ok, here is 3 heads of lettuce and 3 onions, thanks for the eggs.”
Adam: “Not just yet, there is a convenience fee of 1 potato.”
George: “Convenience what for what?”
Adam: “I am accepting a payment from you, isn’t that convenient for you?… Well it’s not convenient for me. So I have to charge you for the time it took me to finish our transaction. That costs 1 potato.”
George:“But I brought everything to you, and I am taking everything away, you did nothing but stand here and agree.”
Adam: “Conveniently I might add.”
George: “So I have to pay you, to pay you.”
Adam: “That sounds vulgar, it’s a convenience fee.”

Now imagine an online transaction with no human interaction at all. Ugh. A convenience fee should be a charge for reading my mind and then sending me a ticket via email without me having to stop binge watching Battlestar Galactica on Netflix. That would be worth a convenience fee.
Grade: B

The Flight

My biggest issue with EasyJet was that every flight was a non stop sales pitch. Since nothing is complimentary on an EasyJet flight they try to get you to buy 4€ cans of Coke or snacks. Peach did offer a menu of overpriced snacks but for the most part left me alone when it came to the sales pitch. Just one at the beginning of the flight informing the cabin that there were things for sale (in English and Japanese).peach_airlines_hostess
Our flights were during the summer and the Peach crew kept the plane extra frosty which was nice. The temperatures outside were just stupid hot. They even spray a cool mist in the cabin during boarding and taxi. Also the smooth jams that Peach plays during boarding were quite groovy.

Peach is a very new airline and just about everything on the plane was brand new and in great shape. The complimentary beverages were adequate but not on the level of Lufthansa which offers free wine and beer. The in flight staff on all four Peach flights was extremely courteous. In flight entertainment was a little lacking but the flight distances are relatively short and I am pretty well equipped with my own entertainment.
Grade: A+

The Check in Counter, Boarding Gates, Baggage Claim and Airport

For one reason or another I experience severe anxiety about the boarding process. If I am not one of the first 5 people on the plane (not counting those who require assistance down the jet way, families with children under 5 years old, and active duty heroes in our military) I get unreasonably annoyed. The ideal boarding process is me first, then everyone else. When I had frequent flyer status in the US I felt like such an awesome person. I would purposely lord my status over the peons in the REGULAR security line by walking extra slow between the empty stanchions in the priority line.

Southwest Airlines has nearly given me an aneurism due to their cattle call boarding procedure. Peach has boarding zones on their boarding cards but doesn’t seem to know that they exist. During all the Peach boarding processes I went through, they made every attempt to line up the passengers in some sort of order via the overhead announcement system, and invariably everyone boarding the plane ignored them. This is bad and good. It’s bad because I prefer order and knowing that I will be first if my boarding card reads, “zone 1” or whatever. However, the gate chaos can be great if you lack scruples and regardless of your boarding card, force your way to the front of the line. Sometimes I lack scruples.

Sendai Airport Terminal

Sendai Airport Terminal

Baggage was very prompt and nothing in the bag was severely damaged in flight. The highest mark any airline can receive for baggage handling is that my suitcase and back pack showed up where they were supposed to and were in one piece. At Osaka-Kansai the Peach baggage check was a little disorganized first thing in morning with about eight flights leaving between 7:05AM and 7:20AM. Maybe they might want to space those flights out a little bit to give the poor girl at the counter a break.

Lastly and probably not the fault of the airline itself, but the boarding gate areas in Terminal 2 at Osaka Kansai and Sendai airport were severely lacking in amenities. Not as bad as Santorini or Prague but pretty bad.
Grade: B

Overall, I could definitely recommend Peach to someone looking to save a dime with airfare. However for the time it takes to get to an airport and get on the plane the value may not be there. Shinkansen for short journeys is on average only a little bit more than the plane flight without all the hassle of the airport. If you are on a really tight budget, highway bus is the way to go because LCC’s are still expensive and air travel has many draw backs and fees that eat into any savings you might have got on the fare itself. See the chart below for cost comparison. Getting from your point of arrival to your final destination costs a lot if you are flying in to an airport that is well outside the city limits. It costs roughly $20 to $25 to get from Narita or Kansai to a central station in Tokyo or Osaka respectively.

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Below is a chart of comparing and contrasting the various LCC’s in Japan. I have attached an Excel file with working hyperlinks to items referenced. Since I have only had personal experience with Peach I can’t rightly say anything either way about the rest of the LCC’s in Japan. Let me know in the comments if you have any experiences you’d like to share.

LCC Airlines Japan Excel with hyperlinks

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The fare prices on this chart are not as accurate as I would like them to be. In order to get an accurate fare price a full booking must be completed. I went by the lowest prices I could find on comparable flights. I tried to stick to domestic flights in Japan on similar routes and using major hubs like Tokyo and Osaka. Its still not perfect, Air Asia for instance only flies from Japan and not domestically (as far as I can tell from trying to book flights). Peach and Jet Star offer great calendars where rate comparison is very easy but that still doesn’t guarantee a flight at the price listed above.

In no way am I receiving any compensation for this article from any company listed or otherwise.

*Convenience and Credit Card Fees can be avoided if you pay using a different method. In the case of Peach, paying by credit card is still cheaper than the fee associated with other methods of payment. For EasyJet this is a 2% addition to your your total.
**Seat Selection fee can be avoided if you don’t care where you sit.
***For EasyJet the admin fee is included in the fare but it’s still a fee. Since I am not giving totals on specific flights which would change with destination I have just included it separately. If you book a flight with EasyJet this fee is rolled into your fare to start with and isn’t shown separately.

Wakayama, a little slice of SoCal in Japan

We left Seoul around 10AM and we were back in Osaka shortly there after. Since we had been on the move for a solid 18 days at this point we opted for a day and a half of solid relaxation. We had already spent enough time in white hot Osaka. Himeji Castle and Byodo-in Temple are currently covered in scaffolding. The ninja capital of Japan, Iga, was just far enough away to make it rather unappealing to go there and try and get back for our 7AM flight in two days.IMG_1847

We had originally written Wakayama off as there didn’t appear to be much to do in the area. Japan guide lists Wakayama as a great place to do an overnight Buddhist temple visit, hike up Mt. Koya to an “atmospheric” temple or a pilgrimage to the Kii peninsula in Kumano. If you remember from my exposé on yuru-kyara, the Kumano region is home to a frightening demon.

However, after mulling over all our options we found there were several beaches with train or bus stops close to them and sounded like the perfect solution to the weary traveller.IMG_1837

First we arrived in Wakayama in late afternoon. With the last weeks of summer vacation wrapping up most of the hotels in Wakayama were booked. Wakayama is a small city so AirBnB was not an option. At the central gate of the station the Tourist Information office handed us a nice map and helped us by calling around to hotels in the area. We looked at a BK Pension and they were booked. Finally we settled on the Hotel Dormy Inn Premium. However we had to book through Agoda.com because the room was $110 online but $160 if the tourist desk at the station booked it for us.

I have a friend here in Japan who swears by Dormy Inn. Thus far they are the closest I’ve seen to western style hotels without a western brand name like Hilton or Marriott. The Wakayama Dormy Inn was built in 2012 so it is about as new and clean as a hotel can get. We got settled and relaxed for a little bit before heading back out.

Despite being late afternoon with only a little sunlight left in the day we headed to Isonoura Beach. This is one of the few beaches in Wakayama that allows surfing. Wakayama’s train set up is a little awkward though and not particularly convenient. The main JR station is across town from the main Nankai Railway station. This means that you either drop $2.20 on a 20 min bus ride between the stations or take the “once an hour” train between the two and transfer at an extra cost. It isn’t really convenient to walk between the two stations since its about two and a half kilometers.IMG_1840

We settled for the bus and about an hour later we were at Isnonoura beach. Isonoura is pure surfer. While the waves were not nearly as big as San Clemente or Bodega Bay the water was a very pleasant temperature. We sat and watched the super tan Japanese people ride waves and take a couple dips in the ocean ourselves to get a small taste of the salt life as it were.

On our way we had stopped at a “conbini” to grab some canned drinks called “ChuHi.” They are like adult Hi-C. They come in an array of flavors and so far all of them are terrible. The closest I can get to an accurate taste description is somewhere between old, liquified jolly rancher and baking soda dissolved in ethanol. They are in no way like the chu-his that can be ordered at most Japanese bars and izakayas. We choked down a cherry, kiwi and an orange one because we paid money but couldn’t make it through the fourth one we bought. Had we finished I’m sure we would have been at least considered for a Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Isonoura is quite lacking in things to do after the beach however so we took the train back to the main JR station and walked back to our hotel where we took an hour or so to enjoy the onsite onsen. Two pools with different temperatures of hot water, a sauna, a freezing water pool and TV’s showing the game. This was a man-sen. Also it was quite tastefully decorated with cool little rocks and waterfalls to sit near. Several Japanese men there appreciated the novelty of having a westerner in their onsen and we exchanged words that neither of us really understood. Also, saunas are really hot. Like uncomfortably hot.

After a relaxing soak and clean we headed to Wara Wara. This restaurant is deceptively cheap. Nearly everything on the menu is under five dollars. Even drinks! Beer is $2.80, easily the cheapest beer in Japan outside of nomihoudai. However the food is really good and much like tapas you keep ordering the small plates of octopus, gyoza, yakitori, and fresh salads and suddenly your bill is sixty bucks. Ugh. The food was excellent though and we got to try a local specialty called, chuka-soba, which is a pork broth ramen. I highly recommend it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The next day we went full beach day and headed to Kataonami Beach which is an artificial beach that juts out in Wakayama Bay. This beach is geared towards families. Rental umbrellas, beach chairs and inner tubes are available and snack bars line the back of the beach. The main problem with Kataonami is getting there. The closest train station is just over two kilometers away. This means a bus ride is required to get within 15 min walk to the beach. Or have a car. There is a parking lot there, for cars. I was starting to feel like Ulysses Everett McGill, ain’t this place a geographical oddity, it’s 2 kilometers from everywhere!

The bus system in Wakayama appears to be similar to that of Kyoto’s without the helpful pocket map. The bus timetable is on a little card only in Japanese but there is a big sign outside the JR station with the routes laid out in color and sometimes there is a guy standing there who will help you find the right bus. I’m not sure why they don’t put the route map on their tourist guides because that would be actually helpful. The time table is useless if you don’t know what stop you are at.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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All complaints aside we had a perfectly relaxing day at the beach. The water was comfortable and there was a nice breeze coming off the bay that kept it from getting too hot underneath the umbrella. The only real highlights of the day were: I got stung by a jellyfish (See Right) and we had to engage in a full sprint to catch our bus. The sting wasn’t anything big or painful but enough to make me stop swimming and glare at the water to see if I could spot the assailant. In mid to late August the beaches around Wakayama get an influx of jellyfish.

And this, this was the end of our summer adventure. Well. Not entirely but telling you about spending a night in the airport is about as interesting as watching someone mow a lawn. In your best interest I’ll leave out the details.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the worst thing that happened on the trip.

Osaka-Kansai, a plague on both your terminals.

It boggles my mind that they have a 24 hour airport with a lounge designed for overnight stays with showers, a kitchen, a 24hr McDonalds and yet it is nearly impossible to get to the airport after about 10PM or earlier than 6:30AM. I had done some research and found that there were night busses that go to Osaka-Kansai but too late I found out they only leave from hotels and not the train stations or bus stops near the train stations. This resulted in fifty dollar taxi ride to go from Izumisano station to the airport terminal (this is about twelve kilometers because the airport is built on an artificial island connected to the mainland by a massive bridge). The trains basically stop running after 10 and don’t start again until 5:30AM and the train takes an hour which doesn’t work if you have a 7AM flight. My advice would be to not book any flights earlier than 9AM ever out of Osaka-Kansai. It is very difficult to get there early in the morning and expensive to get there after 10PM. Or don’t use Osaka-Kansai at all, use ITM (Osaka Int’l) which is much closer to the city. A mistake I wont make again.

When our flight landed in Sendai we had travelled roughly 1550 miles. In 20 days we had been to 10 different cities. Rode on nearly 20 different types of public transport. Climbed so many stairs. So. Many. Stairs. Dealt with record breaking heat and thunder storms. Saw things from modern Japan, medieval France, feudal Japan, Korean independence, ancient Korea. Fish from around the world on display and on the grill. 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 1 of the New 7 Wonders of Nature,1 of the 13 finalists for the New 7 Wonders of the World and much more. We ate baby octopus, adult octopus, fried octopus, grilled octopus, octopus dumplings and saw numerous live octopus escape attempts.  Walked hundreds of miles collectively. Feared for our lives once, maybe twice and met some really cool people.

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Shoulders on flame with bags of clothes – Seongsan Ichulbong

We had a full day to kill before our Korean Air flight to B/Pusan in the evening. We left our bags at the guesthouse and caught the first bus to Seongsan Ichulbong, also known as, “Sunrise Peak,” due to its easterly position on Jeju island.

the crater

the crater

Shana’s obsession with volcanic phenomena usually involves descending into things. I on the other hand have a peculiar interest in climbing stairs. Well, not the stairs so much as just seeing what’s at the top, or also seeing what can be seen from the top. My desire to see whats up that next set of steps has been with me since I climbed the Statue of Liberty in the fifth grade. Since then I have dominated stair wells and flights such as: Yamadera (1,000 steps), Le Tour Eiffel (710 steps – that are open to the public), Sacré Cœur (534 steps-including the hill), St. Peter’s Basilica (491 steps),  The Statue of Liberty (354 steps), St. Stephen’s of Vienna (343 steps), and (but not limited to) The Acropolis (156 m, not strictly speaking stairs but it’s a good hike). Seongsan’s website sadly does not list the number of steps to the top but it’s roughly as tall as the Seattle Space Needle.Screen Shot 2013-08-24 at 1.05.36 PM

Seongsan is a “tuff cone” and a very good example of one at that. Standing at roughly 180 meters (600 ft.) Seongsan was a great pile of ash that hardened with the reaction of ascending magma and sea water. Seongsan had a wet eruption which caused the interior to become a smooth bowl unfilled with lava and ripe for vegetation. The eruption’s proximity to the ocean allowed a great wave or waves to form steep cliffs on all sides save the north western portion of the volcano. Even more unique than the well preserved tuff cone is that there are plants on the volcano that are only found on Jeju island and one plant that is only found in the crater of the volcano.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The bus ride to Seongsan is about one and a half hours depending on your bus driver’s mental state. Upon arrival at Sunrise Peak a fifteen minute walk is required to get to the ticket office. From there it takes about an hour round trip to the top and back if you’re moving fast. That means if you want to do anything else that day plan on at least 5 hours to really spend time there at make it worth your while. There is a complex at the bottom where you can get slushies and over priced food.

The hike to the top is not that unreasonable, well it wouldn’t be unreasonable if it the temperature and humidity outside are not record breaking. It’s more than reasonable if you’re not suffering from unreasonably bad sunburns from being UNDERNEATH an umbrella the previous day. Despite our cautious sun exposure and appropriate chemical protection we had both acquired awful sunburns from our day at the beach. Mine was on the shoulders and Shana’s was her shoulders and strangely just her right thigh. Sunburns that were bad enough where the sun can be felt through a shirt. At the top of Seongsan there is no respite from the sun. A massive view deck awaits with no shade.

panorama including the viewing deck at the top

panorama including the viewing deck at the top

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This picture also shows how terribly sunburnt Shana got

Someone asked me at the top, “Was it worth it?” Maybe. I was going to tell myself that it was regardless of my actual feelings. On the way down to the north of the peak is a small cove where tours of a local island, free diving elderly women and fresh sea food are available. We decided not to spend time there but we did stop on our way back to the bus to get a massive hamburger. Massive in the sense that it could be cut into pizza slices. We managed to have some excellent luck as we arrived at the bus stop right as the bus was pulling up.

Back at the Jeju bus terminal we hopped on local city bus to the Jungang Underground shopping mall. We didn’t have anything to shop for but felt like it would a good place to enjoy some air conditioning while we killed time before heading to the airport. The Jungang mall is comprised of small shops that sell almost exclusively clothes. There were a few shops that sold cell phone accessories or food. During our tour we noticed several stores selling matching sets of his and hers; polo shirts, horizontally striped t-shirts, bathing suits, underwear, and full outfits including sandals. One of the few souvenirs we bought in Korea was a matching set of Pud & Lix (I have no idea what it means) t-shirts.

We then headed above ground to walk around the “famous” traditional Dongmun market which is above the Jungang underground mall. The Dongmun market is several city blocks at odd angles to each other featuring numerous elements of Korean cuisine, knick-knacks, seafood… so much… sea food, and an occasional clothing store. Just wandering among the stalls, avoiding delivery boys hot shotting around on mopeds, and occasionally stopping to gawk at their food preparation is cool in and of itself. Many of the fish and meat stalls have tables behind them where they pull the (you name it) out of the tank/freezer and cook it for you right there. Some things do not appear to be edible like skinned but still alive eel (true story). Some things look amazing like the vats of different types of kim-chi.

Nevertheless we wandered for a while and decided it was time to head to the airport. The bus for Jeju airport is not particularly frequent so we opted for a taxi and arrived at an incredibly busy airport terminal. In terms of passengers Seoul to Jeju is the busiest route in the world. In 2012 there were over ten million passengers that came through Jeju terminal. Unlike the island airports of Crete and Santorini, Jeju’s airport was big with many lounge areas and lots of overpriced food. However, in the actual boarding area there were not a great quantity of seats.

Our short flight to Pusan was uneventful. I had booked us a hotel near Haeundae beach earlier that day on a deal through hotels.com and it was about an hour from Pusan airport to Haeundae via the Pusan subway. We arrived at our hotel and checked in around 11pm, dropped our bags and spruced up a little because Saturday in Haeundae during the summer is a 24 hour party. Haeundae is chock full of Korean love hotels and they are all essentially pretty nice with loads of neon on the outside and hidden entrances. We stayed at Hotel The Sun about a 10 minute walk from Haeundae Beach proper.IMG_6099

The main street, Gunam-ro, was absolutely electric around midnight. We had donned our matching t-shirts and khaki shorts to disguise ourselves as locals. Down at the beach no one is allowed to swim after dark but the beach is open 24 hours. The Korean laws are also not squeamish about drinking in public. Just about ever 10 steps on the beach was a group Koreans with guitars or a jam box playing their favorite tunes, drinking and dancing. They were packed in so close that we wondering how they heard themselves play. Most of the bars and clubs along Gunam-ro are way way overpriced. Especially for a place like Korea where most everywhere else the drinks are pretty cheap. The best way to solve this problem is convenience stores. A tall beer at a convenience store is $2.50 or a bottle soju is about $1.50 and then people watch from the numerous benches or sit on the beach with your cheap beer.

Haeundae at night

Haeundae at night

Around 2AM we figured it was time for dinner so we found an outdoor patio that served the famous Korean fried chicken and finally wrapped up our night around 3AM.

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A Seoul disposition

Editors note: This post will cause you great suffering, it may effect you to your very Seoul. You may even be inconSeoulable after reading this. Here at Easy Distance, we take zero responsibility for blog induced pun and suffering. You’re welcome.

A late night flight out of Osaka can cure you of many things. Paying too much for beer for instance can be cured easily with the short flight from Osaka to Seoul. That is exactly what we did.

Just like Osaka, Incheon airport is a significant distance from the city center. At least an hour train ride depending on if you have to change stations in the city center and connect to the subway, which we did. The train ride was long and fatigue had set in enough that I had begun to rehearse my rendition of, “Seoul Man.” I tried to get Shana to sing it with me but she would not. My performance remained Seoulo. There is also very elaborate system of limo busses from Incheon. Don’t let the name fool you, they are just regular busses. A little more expensive that the train but no transfers.

By the time we had got to our stop in the Myeong-dong area of Seoul it was well past 11pm and we had lost an hour from JST.

I had read that our guest house was up quite a steep hill and the owner recommended taking a taxi from the station exit to the house. We didn’t do this. How steep could it be?

About 5 minutes in, when the street started to get San Francisco-esque with an added dollop of insufferable late night heat and humidity, I realized a taxi would have been prudent. The amount of sweat we were producing was enough to make me feel Seouluable, but we Seouldiered on to the top.

I was told that our room would be unlocked and we could basically check ourselves in. I went to open the door to the room that was reserved for us and lo – there were two Seouls already in that room! After much texting, emailing, checking other doors, standing around in Waiting for Guffman like awkwardness, we settled into 403. The couple in 404 were either illiterate, or have a very laissez-faire attitude towards the order of numbers. Regardless, we had a room and we could change out of our sopping clothes.

Being the Seoulert travelers  we are (solert: So”lert\, a. [L. solers, sollers, -ertis,clever, skillful]. – You may need a thesaurus after this, I sure did) we had a quick change and immediately left to explore the local environs in the hunt for fried chicken.

Two kinds, Sauce & No Sauce

Two kinds, Sauce & No Sauce

You maybe asking your self in a rather Seoulopsist manner, “Fried chicken?! Why on Earth would you be going out for fried chicken in Seoul at 12:30AM?” To which I would indignantly reply, “South Korea has the best fried chicken in the world. The Koreans are Seouly at the top in this regard.” We found a restaurant near our guest house called, “Two Two.” The beer was cold, the chicken was spicy and crisp (literally a whole fried chicken that is just hacked to bits after they fry it, sometimes you get bonus stuff like liver still attached) and quite fulfilling. A total Seoulution for the weary traveller.

With the Seouls of our shoes all worn down we headed back up the hill (on foot again) to catch some shut eye.

Other uses of Seoul rejected for this post:
Seolon – of or pertaining to the Athenian statesman and dictator or minor league baseball team from turn of the century Sacramento.

SeouLP – Standards of Laboratory Practice

Seoulstice – either of the two times a year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator

Seoulenoid – converting fried chicken energy into linear motion via bipedal conveyance.

Dover Seoul – a delicacy to be sure.

Seoulent Green – It’s people.

Seould Out – that’s why we left. I mean we were into before Seoul was cool.

Let’s Get Tanked…

Editors Note: I promise this is the last time I will mention this. This post will not be exceptionally long due to the fact that much of the day was spent in the Apple Store getting my laptop worked on. Moreover this day was already planned to be short because our flight left in the early evening for Seoul.

One of the commons things we had heard from people who had been to Osaka before us was that the Osaka aquarium was an awesome experience. We had set aside a relatively easy day before our flight to Seoul to do nothing but visit the aquarium and relax before heading to the airport.

The Osaka aquarium is very easy to get to and is situated next to a large shopping mall and another museum. The train station is about a ten minute walk from the aquarium ticket gates proper. The Japanese word for aquarium is kaiyukan.

Let me take a moment to talk about aquariums in general. Aquariums are great. I could likely spend all day in an aquarium if it weren’t for two things 1) screaming children and 2) fish get really boring after about 30 minutes. My general rule with aquariums is: 1 aquarium every 2 to 3 years. The last time I went to an aquarium was on a business trip in Atlanta in 2008 so I was due for an aquarium visit.

The Great Barrier Reef, so to speak

The Great Barrier Reef, so to speak

Osaka’s version of water-terrariums is pretty impressive to look at just from the outside. It has two massive wings that sort of jut out from the central building that resembles a whale’s tale. It was already getting bloody hot at around 9:30AM and I noticed the rows and rows of stanchions around the ticket box. I can’t imagine what a long wait in this heat would feel like. Or the relief that you would get once you are inside the temperature controlled environment of the kaiyukan.

The price is a little steep but more reasonable than Marine World in California (although there are no roller coasters at this aquarium). We were one of the first groups admitted to the aqua-rium and it was already packed like sardines (I’m sorry).

I will take a short aside to describe a very cool and yet also very problematic aspect to the way the Osaka kaiyukan is laid out. After the main entrance there is an escalator that goes about five maybe six stories. The exit from the escalator is the first exhibit and happens to be some rather cute sea otters. The passageway in front of the otters is quite narrow and the escalator doesn’t have a feedback loop letting it know that critical mass has been reached in the otter exhibit at the top. The result is a heap of people all shouting at otters in Japanese while slowly being compressed together like the trash in a compactor. You can see the otters later in the tour but that didn’t seem to stop everyone from trying to hold their ground against wave after wave of tourists flowing off the escalator. In their defense, sea otters can be really cute.

This fish is big.

This fish is big.

I mentioned that sea otters are visible again later in the tour. This is due to the ingenious design of the aquarium. Once you are at the top, the scenic route makes descending circles back down to the ground floor. This allows you to see the same tanks from different levels as well as some new eco systems that are present and other pertinent side exhibits on the opposite walls. The theme for the aquarium is the “Ring of Fire,” a moniker that was given to the seismically active regions that form the border of the Pacific Ocean. In a circular fashion the exhibits replicate the different habitats on the Ring of Fire including: Japan, California Coast, The Great Barrier Reef, Coastal New Zealand, Coastal Central America and Chile, and even Alaskan islands. Being able to go deeper and deeper into each eco system was a very cool experience.

Cali,  Represent!

Cali, Represent!

The center piece to Osaka Aquarium is the “ocean” tank that sits appropriately in the middle of the exhibit walkthrough. A four story descent into open ocean with sharks, large open water fish, skates, rays and their top money earner, the whale shark. The whale shark is basically an ocean vacuum sucking up gallons of sea water and extracting plankton and other lifeforms in the process. No bitey teeth on that guy. However the hammerhead shark and several of the larger fish in the ocean tank and some nasty looking teeth.

At the bottom the tour closes with several tanks of jelly fish and tide pool where children can stick there hands in to touch gross things. A highlight of any child’s day, I’m sure.

With our oceanic voyage and at end we regained our land legs and headed back to the train. From there we spent the rest of the day at the Apple Store and on a plane which was quite boring but on a logistical note, if you fly Peach airlines out of Osaka, they land at a different terminal than every other airline. Make sure you build in an extra thirty minutes to get to the second terminal.

Tako

Tako

Open Kimono – Kehoes in Kyoto

It is summer vacation here in Japan. If you work for a junior high school in Japan calling it a vacation is a bit of a misnomer. There is very important speech contest right after summer vacation and the English ALT’s (like Shana and I) are expected to help prepare the students for their big speech.

Thanks to some clever studio work by Don Kehoe my students have a recording of their speeches that they can use for practice without my presence at the school. It’s not a perfect solution but everything helps.

After spending the entire first week of summer vacation working harder than I actually had on any previous school day it was time for Shana and I to embark on a Japanese tourist holiday. First stop: Kyoto.

Kyoto Station

Kyoto Station

At this moment, I would like to formally register a complaint with the design of Natori station. The Sendai airport access line should always be on the same platform.

The Sendai airport is a little odd in that there is nothing on the boarding gate side of security save chairs… and boarding gates. However there is a large glass atrium with prison phones so you can talk to your loved ones after you go through security.

We had purchased tickets on Peach Airlines and I will have a full review of the airline later. We flew from Sendai Airport to Osaka and then took a train from Osaka to Kyoto and then a bus to Umamachi (a neighborhood on the east side of Kyoto). This was a thoroughly painless journey.

There is a direct express train from Osaka Kansai Airport (KIX) to Kyoto that takes about an hour and is about 950yen per person for unreserved seats. We just went through the gates and bought tickets on the train. If you don’t have a pass card for the Japanese rail system you will have to go to the JR WEST ticket window at the top of the train platform.

Once we got to Kyoto we picked up an all day bus pass for 500yen. There is also a pass that includes subway fare for 1200yen. The subway is fast for the center of the city but most places in Kyoto will require taking the bus or paying extra to take local trains. We treated the bus like a “hop on, hop off” tour bus and just got off the bus when things looked interesting.

*action lines*

*action lines*

Our first hop off was the Manga Museum because comic books.

While a little over priced at 800yen for how small it is in a sense of displays and museum-ness the Manga museum makes up for that by housing a library of manga that dates back to the 1960’s. Anyone can take the manga off the shelf, set a spell and read. They have many of the more popular manga translated to English and other languages as well. If you can read Japanese and like comics this place is a must see.

Because of manga’s popularity the subject matter has become extremely diverse. There is manga about ballet, about being a house-wife, about western gunslingers and about robotic cats from the future. There is a lot of manga.

After that we toured central Kyoto on foot and managed to just dodge a massive down pour by stepping into Bungalow – a craft beer and whiskey shop on Shijo-dori. We sampled some local beers, an excellent pate and pickled bitter melon (Tsururaishi). When I have come across craft beers in Japan they tend to favor malt over hops and these were no different. Even the I.P.A. had only minimal hops.

We then proceeded by bus to the main shopping arcade just west of Ponto-cho and then walked the Ponto Cho neighborhood north and then south/south east through Gion. Gion is one of the traditional neighborhoods of Kyoto. If it’s after 6pm or 7pm you can basically skip Gion though because everything was closed while we walked through it.

Gion at night

Gion at night

On our way to Gion we came across a small parade of monks that were carrying a shrine from the temple to the castle to purify it. I will let my short video speak for me on this one.

Kyoto July 28th from An Easy Distance on Vimeo.

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki

Ponto cho is sort of what Japanese people assume about what foreigners like and they appear to be right because the place was packed with tourists and Japanese alike. Hugging the west side of the river north of Shijo-dori is where most of the action is at night. Shana and I found this amazing coffee shop where they do latte foam art but for 900yen we didn’t indulge.

Finally a bit exhausted from the travel we headed back to the Umamachi neighborhood by bus and stopped at an okonomiyaki restaurant for a late dinner. Okonomiyaki is not easy to describe because there isn’t really anything quite like it that I have come across. It’s heaps of seasoned cabbage and some sort of protein (pork, shrimp, etc…) sandwiched between two flat omelets and then drenched in a savory Japanese sauce and mayonnaise. I have asked several Japanese people what it is and I have gotten, “Japanese hamburger,” “Japanese pancake,” “Japanese omelet,” “Japanese pizza,” and “Japanese food.” Regardless of it’s intrinsically difficult to explain nature it is not difficult to explain that it tastes really good. Go eat one. Now.

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Some thoughts about air travel…

Occasionally I will post a random collection of thoughts. This is one of those times.

Some Thoughts About Airlines, Airports and Assorted Travel Ideas.

1)   Any international flight that doesn’t have Wi-Fi on it now days isn’t worth the price that I paid for the ticket

2)   When checking multiple bags why is the weight restriction on a per bag basis? If I switch items between my bags so they are all under the 50lb weight limit or for that matter take items out and put them in my carry on THE TOTAL WEIGHT STILL ENDS UP IN THE PLANE!!! Has no one thought this through? I can under stand if I’m checking 2 bags and the total weight that is allowed is 100lbs per passenger regardless of checked or carry-on but a 50 lb limit per bag without a total cap per passenger doesn’t make any sense. if someone in the airline industry could explain this to me it would be greatly appreciated.

3)   Change fees. Seriously. You’re pushing a button. There is no real work involved in changing a flight. The first airline that stops charging change fees will immediately earn a ton of business. The business that they earn will more than likely out weigh what they lose in change fees. This also doesn’t have to be an unreasonable allowance. One change for free per month. For someone who rarely travels the airline will have earned that customer for life. For someone who travels regularly if they are always changing their flights it will still cost them money.

4)            First Class Lottery. How much more likely would be to buy a ticket on an airline where every flight you took you had a chance to get your ticket upgraded to first class via lottery? The terminal would be electric with excitement. It could be a huge thing.

5)            Disorganized Security Entrances. Every airport needs to have 3 lines. Minimum. One for business travelers only. One for families with children, strollers, diaper bags, car seats, and caged children. One for regular travelers. O’Hare maybe terrible to return a car at but they have the security thing figured out. Orlando International Airport security is literally the worst place on Earth.

6)            Why are we still taking our shoes off in security? Seriously.

7)            Outlets in airports being very difficult to come by. Get with the program. People carry twice as many electronics as they used to. Probably 3 times more and there is like 1 outlet in the whole terminal. I can understand not spending the money because its hard to attach additional revenue to adding power strips in to terminals but the airline that does it and takes credit for it will get more business. That’s just science. I have seen some boarding areas that have been upgraded but its not enough. There needs to be more done especially if you’re going to delay my flight for several hours and keep me in terminal using my iPad.

8)            Just give me the whole can of Coke will ya! Some flights its ok, others its not. At the very least be consistent.

9)            More outlets at the seats for USB devices. This is neat and may solve the problem about the lack of chargers in the terminal.

10)          No longer taking complaints by phone is the worst. US Airways and United, I’m looking at you. If you’re getting so many complaints you can’t accomodate the call volume with real people its time to look in to a new business model called, “Not intentionally ripping your customer a new one every chance you get.” I’m not even the type of person to call and complain considering the airport hells I’ve been put through by just about every airline. If your prices for flights are so astronomical like they are today people are going to expect a certain level of service… a web form to register an egregious error by the airline is just “plane” awful.