Japan is a country that has long held my interest, and so it was with anticipation that this trip edged closer in the calendar. Taking advantage of some excellent ex-Italy fares with Qatar Airways, this trip began the day prior to this report’s opening scene; you can read all about the positioning flights for this trip, overnight hotel and our experience of the city of Venice here: viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1401263
Highlights ahead in this report:
- Qatar Airways Business Class VCE-DOH-HND including the Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business lounge and First Class lounge in Doha.
ANA InterContinental Tokyo in a Kaze Club Corner Suite with 3 days exploring Tokyo.
Shinkansen bullet train in the Green Car (first class) from Tokyo to Osaka.
InterContinental Osaka in a Club InterContinental room with 3 days exploring Kyoto.
Japan Airlines First Class ITM-HND – a unique experience.
Qatar Airways Business Class HND-DOH-VCE including the Japan Airlines First Class lounge at Haneda.
After a morning exploring Venice, we arrived via taxi at Marco Polo Airport somewhat early a little over three hours before our 6pm departure. The agents were just finishing set up for check-in when we arrived, and after a couple of minutes we were greeted and escorted to the single Business Class desk where formalities were completed quickly, and bags priority tagged. There was no queue at Fast Track security, with the single security lane neatly segregated from the main security area. Moving aside a Tensabarrier to avoid the mandated detour through the duty free shop, we headed to the third party Marco Polo lounge, located one floor above the gates.
The Marco Polo lounge is reasonably modern in design, with excellent views across the airport through floor to ceiling windows along the full length of the lounge, and from its small outdoor roof terrace (although annoyingly smoking is permitted out there).
A number of small workstation nooks/phone booths flank the entrance corridor, with showers located behind reception; see my separate positioning flight trip report for a review of those.
The lounge then opens out into a principal large space, with a mix of armchairs and sofas, high back single chairs by the windows and small dining tables.
To the right of the lounge, flanking the buffet, are two recessed oval quiet areas with a confusing lack of seating, whilst at the far end of the lounge adjacent to the roof terrace is a sort of conservatory area with outdoor-style seating and planted features.
The buffet had a pretty limited food offering, with mountains of carbohydrates (think pizza, pizza and more pizza). The tended bar was a particularly odd concept, where an invariably miserable barista would operate the coffee machine with their back to the lounge and the inevitable growing queue, whilst at the same time scolding any person brave enough to help themselves to a bottle of something alcoholic from the glass-fronted fridge. The design of the space did not really allow for a tended offering. Paper plates and plastic knives and forks did nothing to add to the buffet experience.
Washrooms (with a particularly grand entryway) are located in the right-hand corner, adjacent to a small TV lounge and high-top work area. The maroon high-back chairs in the TV lounge had been relocated to the windows on our return visit (a much more sensible location for them) and are incidentally the same design as those found in the BA First lounge at LGW and Concorde Bars at SIN and DXB.
After passing a couple of hours in what is a well-intentioned but ultimately unmemorable lounge, we headed down and through immigration to Gate 20, where the priority line was in the process of being combed by an agent to check eligibility. Although QR don’t differentiate between status passengers and Business Class passengers for priority boarding, the short line moved quickly, and we were soon being welcomed at Door 1L and escorted to our seats onboard A7-ACC, a 15-year-old A330-200.
Qatar Airways have two different types of seating in Business Class on their A330 fleet; some aircraft, including the one we were on this evening, feature the B/E MiniPod seat, whilst others (such as the A330 we would fly on the return sector) feature the B/E Diamond seat. Both seating variants are marketed as flat beds (although I have my doubts about the MiniPod seat being truly flat) and are in 2-2-2 configuration, meaning window seats do not have direct aisle access.
Our particular A330 had three rows in the spacious forward cabin, and a mini cabin with just one row behind Doors 2 that remained empty for the flight.
As I settled into 3B (at the rear of the forward cabin), the tranquillity was steadily shattered by the entire aircraft load of passengers traipsing through the cabin; all gates at VCE have just the one airbridge, and for some reason (perhaps due to stand configuration), the airbridge was at 1L today rather than the more usual 2L. Despite this intrusion, the cabin crew did an excellent job of welcoming passengers personally with a choice of drink (mint and lime for me), and hot or cold towel. Menus and wine lists were handed out, and the CSD also made the rounds welcoming passengers individually.
Whilst clearly dated and not a patch on the B/E Super Diamond product found on QR’s 787s, A380s and non-Qsuite A350s, the seats and indeed the entire cabin on our A330 was spotlessly clean and well maintained. One distinct advantage of these older style seats over their modern business class counterparts is the oodles of completely unrestricted leg (and, importantly, foot) room; there are no silly cubby holes to contort your feet into here. The backs of the seat in front provide a home for a large IFE screen, small storage net, literature pocket and shoe storage. Bulkhead seats come with an elongated low level divider between the seats to house the IFE screen, and lack the net and shoe storage spaces of their non-bulkhead counterparts.
The centre console of each pair of seats houses the table, touchscreen IFE controller, a small and completely inadequate privacy shield and adjustable reading lamp, below which are various inputs, including a USB port. Below the IFE controller is a pocket where unbranded noise-cancelling headphones are pre-placed. I do think headphones are an area where QR could improve; Bose (or similar premium brand) sets would be far more in keeping with the otherwise high-quality experience. Even American Airlines manage Bose in international and transcontinental J. A power socket is located above the lifejacket compartment adjacent to the footrest. Although additional overhead reading lights are provided, there are no personal air vents up there which meant the cabin was uncomfortably warm during the flight.
The other side of each seat is home to the seat controls within the armrest.
As if to highlight the unacceptable lack of storage space around the seat, the water bottle and smart Bric’s amenity kit were precariously balanced on the centre console of each seat. Whilst the colour of the amenity kit and its contents on this sector had changed to a lighter blue, the kit was otherwise identical to those I received on my recent Singapore trip; I’ll have a photo of the contents on the return sector of this report. On-seat amenities included the usual large pillow and thick, quilted blanket first introduced on Qsuite routes.
Once boarding had completed, newspapers were offered, and dinner orders taken as the captain announced a very specific flight time of 5h17 cruising at 41,000ft. In what with hindsight was a rather pointless attempt at adjusting to Japan time and stay awake through a long layover in Doha, I decided to skip dinner and sleep on this sector, but the sector time (at what was in fact 5h25) wasn’t really long enough to enable a good night’s sleep, exacerbated by the early evening hour of departure and the lack of mood lighting on these older aircraft.
Straight after takeoff, my requested hot chocolate arrived as a nightcap, and I settled down for a few hours’ rest. The MiniPod seat is a little droopy at the foot end when in ‘fully flat’ mode, and the manual extendable foot rest is very annoying. It’s seats like these that make one appreciate the BA Club World seat; despite its failings, it’s streaks ahead in terms of sleeping comfort and privacy (in window seats) when compared to older style business class seats such as the MiniPod. In a nice service gesture, a box of Godiva chocolates had been placed at my seat whilst I was asleep.
The A330-200 has two washrooms for Business Class passengers; one in the forward galley on the port side, and one in the Doors 2 galley on the starboard side. Both were kept spotlessly clean as is the norm on QR, and were well stocked with Rituals amenities, dental and shaving kits.
On returning from the rear washroom during the evening, I was proactively asked by the crew whether I wanted anything to eat or drink; my sparkling water was brought in lightning quick speed.
As we approached Doha, the nicely presented seasonal fresh fruit I’d ordered when dinner orders were being taken arrived along with an Americano. As I enjoyed this refreshing snack, I tried out the wifi but gave up when I realised that a user account had to be created in order to take advantage of the free 15 minutes/100MB, something I haven’t had to do before on newer QR aircraft.
The CSD thanked each passenger for flying Qatar Airways as we came into land at around 00:30 local time, after which there was a short wait for stairs to arrive at Door 2L at a remote stand. The advantage of a remote stand at DOH is that QR provide a dedicated Business Class bus to whisk you to arrivals and flight connections, and tonight was no exception. Unlike my previous visit to Hamad International Airport in February, this time I successfully located the priority security line to the right at transfers security, where there was no queue.
01:00 is a generally quiet time at DOH, although tonight the transfers security area was bustling but free flowing. I’ve always thought it odd that the route to the Al Mourjan Business lounge (a level above the security area) involves descending to the gate level (two levels below the lounge), only to ascend back up two floors; I guess it’s similar to the non-First Wing route to the lounges at Heathrow T5.
Our boarding passes were scanned at the podium adjacent to the escalators leading up to the lounge, and then again for unknown reasons at the top by a roving agent. I’ve written in some length about the layout of this lounge (only accessible by passengers ticketed in oneworld first and business class, or for a steep charge) in previous reports, so will focus on the experience more this time around.
The shower suites at the Al Mourjan lounge are routinely the most criticised element of the experience; staggeringly there are a total of just 13 suites for men and 10 for women, spread across two different locations. For the flagship business class lounge of the ‘world’s five star airline’ at a major global hub airport, this is an unacceptably low number that regularly leads to long waits during peak hours (from about 04:00). At this even earlier hour of the morning, thankfully there was no wait for the male showers (although there was a short queue for the female ones), and I was escorted straight away from the showers reception to a suite in the block next to the café area (which I’ve always thought an odd location for the showers), just down the corridor from the washrooms.
Although dimly lit and poorly ventilated, my suite was reasonably spacious, with a separate toilet room, walk-in shower, Rituals amenities and plenty of space for luggage; the powerful shower certainly did the trick in waking me up at this odd hour of the night. Dental kits and hairdryers are only available on request, and there are no face cloths which feels a little stingy. For a four-year-old facility, things are starting to appear a little worn around the edges already; a pretty bashed bin lid being just one small example.
Suitably refreshed, I headed back out through the café to the raised seating area in the middle of the lounge and sipped a cappuccino from one of the many self-service drinks stations dotted around. This was my third visit to the lounge, and as I sat there with the caffeine starting to kick in, I reflected how the space has certainly grown on me over time (particularly when not crowded), although the ambience remains undoubtedly on the cool side and the design more form than function.
The blue seating area immediately to the left of reception suffers significant glare from the digital advertising screens for the level below; avoid at all costs!
The red quiet seating area (adjacent to the work area and one of two games rooms) is my favourite spot in the lounge; some rare views of the outside world can be glimpsed through the sun shields.
Having skipped dinner on the flight, our stomachs guided us swiftly to the restaurant on the mezzanine level; dinner was still being served (despite the tables set for breakfast), but at 02:30 food is food and it didn’t really matter that my brain was expecting breakfast (which incidentally doesn’t begin until 04:30).
The seating area within the restaurant is expansive and varied (and wraps around the restaurant’s own washrooms to provide a more private seating area towards the rear suitable for families), although there is not a great deal of privacy or colour; the expanse of white plasterboard behind the bar is a good example of lack of attention to detail in the design.
We headed to a booth with a view over the main lounge area and were promptly approached and asked what we would like to drink; this seemed to be the limit of the table service, as everything else is buffet-led or available at the tended bar. Two hot and cold buffets offer similar options either side of the staircase, whilst desserts were available in the nook adjacent to the coffee machine.
Whilst presented fairly well, the dishes were of disappointingly mediocre quality. I had thought that an à la carte menu was also available, but perhaps this is only an option at certain times.
In a lounge that’s open 24 hours a day, it must be difficult to undertake maintenance or cleaning without disturbing lounge users; in the early hours of the morning, the number of cleaners outnumbered the number of passengers, which was at times a little uncomfortable.
To relieve the monotony of a long layover, we headed out to check out the First Class lounge. Not to be confused with the Al Safwa First lounge (for oneworld first class passengers only), this is a facility designed for oneworld Emerald members travelling in economy or premium economy. The lounge shares a reception with the Business Class lounge (for oneworld Sapphire members travelling in economy or premium economy) and is located to the right of the desk, one level above the gates. The agent was initially a little confused and tried to send us to the Al Mourjan lounge, but a brief explanation was all it took to be granted access.
A relatively small space, the design is both smart and conservative, and feels more intimate than the Al Mourjan lounge thanks to much lower ceilings. Arranged in an L shape with reception at the top of the L, multiple different seating areas make up the bulk of the lounge, with a living wall along one side and a drinks station set up in the middle (including a rather temporary-looking table). A few screened-off quiet areas are available near reception, along with a separate family room.
The tail of the L is home to the dining area, which at the time of visiting was devoid of food, presumably as changeover to breakfast commenced.
Whilst I didn’t spend longer in the lounge than it took to take these photos, it’s clearly not a first class space except by name, but is more than adequate for a short visit before a flight.
We took the transit train to Gate E21, a remote gate with a clearly defined and empty priority boarding lane and a dedicated Business Class bus (that only left for the aircraft once all seats were occupied). Boarding one-year old A7-ALN was via stairs to Door 2L this morning. At the top, we were greeted in the A350’s expansive entryway and escorted to our seats in the forward of two Business Class cabins. For a full review of the B/E Super Diamond product and configuration of the A350 (and comparisons to the 787), see my Singapore report here: viewtopic.php?t=1392775
As I settled into Seat 2A, the cabin crew stopped by to welcome me and ask my preference for a drink and hot or cold towel.
Pre-placed on my seat was a pillow and old-style non-Qsuite blanket, whilst on the ledge at the side of the seat was to be found the previous generation amenity kit by Armani. The Armani kits come in male and female versions, and it always impresses me that QR obviously check the manifest in order to place the correct kit at the correct seat. Whilst I prefer the scent of the Armani products to the current Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio amenities, the usefulness of a huge tube of aftershave balm (with no dedicated moisturiser) in the air is debatable, and the unbranded eye mask is of lower quality than the current version in the Bric’s kits. Whilst I appreciate old stocks have to be used up, the inconsistency of soft product elements on QR means it’s hard to plan what to bring on a flight.
Headphones and Evian water was as usual to be found within the aisle-side armrest.
Despite an 06:45 departure time meaning this was technically a day flight, with a flight time of 9h30, QR happily consider this to be an ultra longhaul flight, meaning PJs, slippers and – crucially – mattress toppers are offered. The White Company PJ and slipper sets were handed out on the ground, whilst mattress toppers were available on request (fitted by the crew) once in the air. Newspapers were also offered at this time as the captain gave his welcome announcement and informed us of our cruising altitude of 39,000ft.
Breakfast orders were taken on the ground; as I was feeling slightly jetlagged by this point I opted to defer breakfast by a couple of hours and snooze for the first part of the flight, but not before enjoying a splendid view of Doha on climb out.
As I started watching the captivating Darkest Hour on QR’s excellent Oryx One IFE, I had to prompt the crew that I was ready for breakfast; one prompt was enough however, and the service flow that followed was well paced. I kicked things off with a date and cinnamon smoothie, with my table then laid for the food to follow.
Whilst QR are renowned for the quality of their catering in Business Class, I have found their breads to deteriorate in quality over the last few years I’ve been travelling with them; this flight was no exception to the trend, with a dry muffin and hard white roll tempered only by a fresh croissant.
First up was the ever-dependable seasonal fresh fruit plate, followed by the sweet Bircher muesli (rolled oats mixed with yogurt, fruits, almonds and cinnamon).
For my main course I opted for the flavoursome but slightly over-salted asparagus omelette with grilled chicken fillet, served with sautéed potato with chives and an invisible roasted vine cherry tomato that either the crew forgot to plate, or catering forgot to load. An Americano concluded the breakfast service.
Jetlag not having been totally shifted by my earlier 90-minute snooze, I paused Darkest Hour for a post-breakfast sleep that, thanks mainly to the comfort of the mattress topper, lasted almost four uninterrupted hours before I naturally woke feeling completely refreshed and ready to peruse the menu once again as landing cards and customs forms for Japan were handed out. I had to use the call bell to order, signifying once again that this crew weren’t quite as proactive in responding to passengers’ needs, contrary to the norm.
It was at this point that I became aware of two passengers talking rather loudly in the entryway between Doors 2 whose voices carried throughout the otherwise tranquil cabin. It never fails to bemuse me how little consideration some people show towards their fellow passengers.
Firing up the IFE once again, my table was laid, and dinner commenced with a glass of wine that was either unremarkable enough not to warrant its name being recorded in my notes, or divine to the point of forgetfulness; I suspect either the latter, or the influence of Gary Oldman’s superb acting simply keeping me distracted.
The grilled beef fillet with teriyaki sauce and steamed green peas rice served with simmered calamari, eggplant, pumpkin and carrot was one of the nicest dishes I’ve ever eaten at 39,000ft. Incidentally, chopsticks were available.
As the sun set, I concluded dinner with the selection of indulgent individual desserts which were sublime, accompanied by a herbal tea and finished with a hot towel.
We arrived on time at Haneda and parked at a stand with dual airbridges, although the one to Door 2L was first to dock and so it was from our point of embarkation that we also disembarked the aircraft. Immigration was a breeze with nobody in line, and our bags were amongst the first off the belt. Soon we were on our way into the city courtesy of an immaculately uniformed taxi driver in a cab decked out with an impressive display of doilies.
ANA InterContinental Tokyo
The rough equivalent of GBP55 worth of doilies later, our taxi pulled up outside the huge Die Hard-esque tower block that houses the ANA InterContinental Tokyo, one of three IC properties in the city. Opened in 1986, the tower is part of the Ark Hills complex in the Minato ward, and is just around the corner from the US Embassy. One of the many entrances to the Tameike-Sanno metro station is conveniently located directly adjacent to the hotel, although it is a good five-minute walk underground until the gate line is reached.
Presumably as it was approaching midnight, there were no bellboys outside the lobby, so we headed inside to the reception desk where we were met with a warm welcome by a fairly new member of staff; check-in lacked the usual polish for this reason but was well-intentioned. As everybody has to start somewhere, these things are easy to forgive. As a Platinum IHG member, I was offered a choice of a welcome drink or points; as usual I took the points as the welcome drink is somewhat pointless with Club access included in the rate. We weren’t offered any help with our bags, which again I put down to the new member of staff on the desk; I actually usually decline help anyway as there’s nothing worse than having to wait for them to be delivered to the room, particularly at a late hour.
Thanks to my Ambassador status, we had been upgraded before arrival two categories from a Club InterContinental room to a Kaze InterContinental Club Corner Suite. Whilst the majority of the public areas around the lobby and non-Club rooms are looking somewhat dated, Club floors have been extensively and elegantly refurbished and are decidedly swish; it’s essentially a different hotel entirely on the upper floors.
As we stepped through the door to our suite on the 33rd floor, the telephone rang; reception had forgotten to give us our pre-ordered (through the hotel concierge) Shinkansen bullet train tickets, and they were sending them up now. Once these arrived I was able to look around the suite a little more.
The suite itself was comprised of two principal rooms; the living room was spacious, with a large three-seater sofa, armchair and dining table with two chairs. Oddly there was no desk in the suite; instead, what appeared to be a side table housed one of several telephones and various other items more suited to a desk.
The dining table was home to the Ambassador welcome fruit plate, and several welcome gifts of varying levels of interest and taste. The savoury snacks were replaced daily.
To the right of the entryway, a walk-in closet provided a useful place to hide everything that is often unsightly in a hotel room, although the space could’ve benefited from better lighting and a mirror. The safe was also located in there.
Backing onto the closet was the stylish tea, coffee and minibar station, which included a Nespresso machine. I always think it looks a bit stingy when only one bag of each tea (TWG in this case) is available in a room clearly intended for two people.
Walls throughout the suite were exquisitely panelled or covered in subtle wallpaper, accented with art, whilst the floor was a sumptuous patterned carpet. The thoughtfully designed mood lighting and window coverings were controlled via switches, and of course there were plenty of power and USB sockets in all the right locations.
The bedroom had an armchair and side table positioned adjacent to the angled window, with a small wardrobe housing robes and kimonos adjacent to the glass-panelled bathroom. Whether intended or not, although there was space for a sound bar below the TV in the bedroom, unlike in the living room there was no sound bar here. Both TVs stayed on their previous channel when switched back on; a minor point, but incredibly handy and frustration-avoiding and one which more hotels should follow.
Whilst there was no complimentary Ambassador mineral water anywhere to be found, the normal branded IC bottled water was available and regularly replaced.
Through a rather heavy self-closing door, the bathroom was spacious and beautifully designed. As is common with most Japanese hotels, the shower and bath were located within the same mini wet-room, the concept being that one should shower before a bath to ensure cleanliness. Whilst I can definitely get on board with this in theory, the proximity of the shower to the bath means that in reality the bath gets dirty from the shower somewhat defeating the point, as well as being unnecessarily complicated to clean. Amenities were by Salvatore Ferragamo, a nice change from the more usual Agraria products used in non-suites.
The separate toilet room featured a bidet toilet; not technically a washlet, since it was a Lixil rather than a Toto, although I can assure you that the effect was the same. This mini room, more a cubicle, was on the small side and would’ve benefited from at least a shelf to improve its practicality.
After a comfortable night’s sleep on a typically Japanese supportive but snug bed, breakfast was sought in the 35th floor Club InterContinental lounge, but not before taking a moment to admire the view from our suite.
The lounge is arranged with a seating area directly behind reception and dining area in a long thin space to the right. The seating area offers numerous different options for relaxation, including a small library, but doesn’t immediately appear to be particularly well coordinated design-wise. ‘Cosy’ is not a word I’d use to describe this lounge what with its open layout and multiple mirrored or reflective wall surfaces, but it’s certainly not an uncomfortable or uninteresting space, particularly with its expansive views of the city from three aspects.
The dining area is the nicest part of the lounge, with well-spaced elegantly-laid tables (many positioned to take advantage of the view) and two sumptuous buffets decorated with fresh flowers.
For a club lounge, the à la carte menu is notably extensive, and includes a menu from Pierre Gagnaire, representing what is the only two Michelin star breakfast available in a hotel club lounge anywhere in the world. The breakfast waiting team were always professional and usually efficient and were happy to take customised orders.
The first three images below show the Pierre Gagnaire breakfast (which incidentally was not available on the Saturday morning), followed by a selection of other à la carte options enjoyed over several mornings. Everything was of excellent quality, although I’m in no rush to demand all my breakfasts in future are made to Michelin star standards.
We enjoyed afternoon tea in the lounge on a couple of occasions, although unlike in say the Singapore Club InterContinental, I actively had to seek out a member of staff for service when seated in the lounge area (as opposed to at one of the tables), and drinks were generally not poured at the table. Afternoon tea is entirely waiter-led, something I’m not a huge fan of as I’m more at ease just helping myself to a few items rather than being presented with an entire array of things I may or may not like (although admittedly the latter is usually better presented).
My schedule only permitted one sampling of the evening canapés; this was yet another nicely presented buffet offering an excellent selection of both Japanese and Western items. Drinks were made to order at the tended bar (which doubles as the second buffet at breakfast time), and a daily rotating menu of hot canapés was offered table-side.
I popped down to check out the gym and outdoor swimming pool that same evening; the gym looked nice enough, but the pool area was rather austere with 1980s tiling in abundance.
I also looked around the ballroom and conference area one morning, which was decorated in much the same way as the lobby.
When it came to check-out, the lounge team took care of all formalities and offered help with bags and onward travel. Although I might be tempted to try one of the other IC properties on my next visit to Tokyo, the ANA offered a great suite and solid lounge experience, with the added novelty factor of a two Michelin star lounge breakfast. With some further investment in refurbishing the non-Club floors, and perhaps some slightly more proactive service in the lounge, this would have been an even better stay.
Views from Tokyo
We had three days exploring Japan’s vibrant capital, starting with successfully navigating the metro to the tranquil Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens. We used the reloadable Pasmo smart card (equivalent to Oyster in London) throughout our stay, including in Osaka and Kyoto.
From the Gardens, we strolled through the Fujimi district to the Imperial Palace Grounds. Whilst the grounds themselves are not immediately as attractive as you might imagine, the buildings that lie around the Imperial Palace (not itself normally open to the public) are impressive and historically notably significant.
From there, we took the metro back from near Tokyo Station, something of an oddity, albeit an attractive one, amongst the skyscrapers of the modern city.
Our second day started with a stroll through the political Nagatacho district (home to the National Diet Building and Kantei Prime Minister’s residence) to the famous and strikingly positioned Nijubashi Bridge, which somehow we’d missed on our initial walk around the Imperial Palace Grounds the previous day.
A few stops away on the metro, Yanaka is a notably traditional district of the city that should be high on your list of places to experience. We spent an enjoyable hour or so strolling through the residential streets, pausing at a number of temples, shrines and the cemetery along the way to Ueno Park and the Toshogu Shrine within.
We hopped back on the metro for our final stop of the day, Senso-ji Temple, the oldest temple site in the city. Although we were visiting on a national holiday, I was still able to capture a handful of crowd-free images at this architecturally significant site.
That evening we headed to the flagship branch of Japan’s most famous department store, Mitsukoshi; the kimono department is quite something to behold. The bright lights of Ginza, including the striking Kabuki-za Theatre, provided a vibrant end to the evening.
The Meiji Shrine was the undoubted highlight of our third and final full day in Tokyo. We were lucky enough to witness a traditional Japanese wedding procession, which certainly added to the atmosphere and sense of occasion.
The adjacent Iris Garden provided a great contrast to the more formal setting of the shrine itself, and although there were limited displays of irises at this time of year, queueing for 15 minutes within the garden to touch some ‘sacred’ water certainly made the visit memorable.
Shibuya Crossing provided a hectic and typically Tokyo-esque location to end our visit to this memorable city.
Shinkansen Bullet Train to Osaka
Riding a bullet train must surely be on most people’s bucket list, and so it was with a sense of excitement that we arrived at Tokyo Station for the Nozomi 227 train to Shin-Osaka Station. It was easy to find the right area of the platform to await the train’s arrival, thanks to clear carriage numbers marked on the floor and above each platform edge door.
Bedecked in spotless (albeit non-diverse) blue and pink uniforms dependent on gender, it was fascinating to watch the servicing crew perform their duties with military precision and to an excellent standard. I’d come to expect nothing less in a country that prides itself on both cleanliness and politeness. (The photo of the front of our train below was taken on arrival at Shin-Osaka Station.)
Whilst on paper the Green Car (the equivalent of first class) offers little in the way of extra amenities (save a wet towel upon departure) when compared to Standard, the configuration of Green Car carriages offers significantly more comfort. Arranged in a 2-2 configuration as opposed to 2-3, seats in the Green Car are akin to those found in international business class on aircraft in the 1980s and early 1990s and offer ample legroom with the added comfort of an adjustable footrest.
Upholstered in comfortable fabric, the left-hand armrest of the seat features buttons to operate the heated seat and in-seat personal adjustable reading light, whilst the back of the seat in front houses a large tray table and seatback net pocket for storage.
Power sockets are located below the centre console, and generous recline is available via a manual switch on the right armrest. This armrest also houses a cocktail table, although what you’d put on it is far from exciting, given catering is confined to a trolley run of minimal drinks and snacks (which are not complimentary).
The overhead luggage racks take a medium-sized suitcase with minimal effort, although there are storage spaces on the floor for larger items at the rear of each carriage behind the last row of seats. A coat hook is available next to each of the large picture windows, which can be covered with a blind should you not wish to gaze at the stunning and varied scenery whizzing past at 186mph outside.
The ride comfort of the N700 series rolling stock is superb, with smooth acceleration and deceleration, and hardly a bump to be felt. For all the speed and comfort of the Shinkansen, however, the highlight of the 2h22 ride was undoubtedly the unforgettable view it afforded of magnificent Mount Fuji, its perfectly curved slopes rising to a snow-capped peak brushing against the shimmering clouds.
Next: InterContinental Osaka, views from Kyoto, Japan Airlines First Class to Haneda, a full tour of the Japan Airlines First Class lounge at Haneda, and Qatar Airways Business Class to Venice