Autumn Fare Sale for flights from New York, Houston and Washington to Japan

One of the most difficult aspects – and one of the biggest expenses – of a trip to Japan is the airfare. Right now (April 14, 2014) the round-trip airfares from New York, for example, are a staggering $1,500 per person. So it helps to occasionally do some research to see if there are any good airfare deals.

I stumbled upon a few cheap airfares that are worth mentioning if you are interested in making plans to visit Japan in the fall.

First is a fare sale that Air China (Star Alliance carrier) is having on its flights to Beijing from Houston-Intercontinental and Washington-Dulles, which then extends to connecting flights operating out of Beijing to Tokyo and Osaka. I am guessing these fares are on sale because they are relatively new air routes. If you don’t mind a longer trip (18-19 hours or so each way) and an evening arrival in Japan then you may want to look at what they are offering.

The second cheap airfare is something I’ve mentioned before – it’s the service from China Airlines (Skyteam carrier) that operates from New York-JFK nonstop to Osaka-Kansai three times a week, as part of its route that continues to Taiwan. While Air China also offers a similar fare sale from New York to Tokyo and Osaka via Beijing, China Airlines’ nonstop to Osaka is, in my opinion, the better and less time consuming deal.

Before continuing, a reminder that these airfares were researched independently by myself on April 14, 2014 and the expiration date for sales is not known. Information provided is for use at your own risk and subject to the Jose’s Japan Tips Disclaimer.

NEW YORK TO OSAKA KANSAI (Nonstop on China Airlines)
$1,111 round/trip including taxes and fees.
The fare is valid for outbound travel from September 15 through November 22 and requires a minimum stay of 6 nights in Japan. Maximum stay is 30 days or returning on November 29, 2014, whichever is sooner. Travel between New York and Osaka operates on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays in both directions. There is a free checked baggage allowance of two bags per person.

HOUSTON TO TOKYO HANEDA/NARITA (via Beijing on Air China)
$909 round/trip including taxes and fees.
As the Houston to Beijing flight is a redeye (leaving 1 AM and arriving 4:50 AM), you can choose a flight to either Haneda or Narita airport. The flight to Haneda is recommended since it arrives one hour sooner than the flight to Narita (12:50 PM vs 1:55 PM), and because Haneda is closer to Tokyo than Narita.

HOUSTON TO OSAKA KANSAI (via Beijing on Air China)
$913 round/trip including taxes and fees.

WASHINGTON, DC TO TOKYO HANEDA/NARITA (via Beijing on Air China)
$1,051 round/trip including taxes and fees.
The flight from Washington requires an overnight layover in Beijing, yielding an arrival in Japan two days later. You can choose a connecting flight to either Haneda or Narita airport. The flight to Haneda is recommended since it arrives one hour sooner than the flight to Narita (12:50 PM vs 1:55 PM), and because Haneda is closer to Tokyo than Narita. On the return trip the layover in Beijing is only 1 1/2 hours.

WASHINGTON, DC TO OSAKA KANSAI (via Beijing on Air China)
$1,054 round/trip including taxes and fees.

All of the AIR CHINA FLIGHTS are valid for outbound travel from September 5 through December 8, with a few blackout dates (more from Washington than Houston). The maximum stay is 30 days or returning on December 31, 2014, whichever is sooner. With Air China there is a free checked baggage allowance of two bags per person.

No matter how long your layover, Beijing has a transit visa waiver for passengers staying in the airport and connecting to another flight within 24 hours. When transiting in Beijing you will have to go through border inspection for your transfer, followed by a security checkpoint.

There is also a 72-hour transit visa waiver for citizens of over 50 countries, including the US and Canada, who stop and sightsee in Beijing en route to a destination outside of China.

Of course, if you live on the West Coast of the US, the flights are pretty competitive, with nonstop flights in the fall – particularly on ANA, as well as Singapore from Los Angeles – going for about $1,000 round/trip. 🙂

I hope this information helps you if you decide to go and experience the wonderful country of Japan in a few months!

Japan Diary – September 14, 2013 – Hanshin Racecourse and Namba

I am re-posting my diary from my September 2013 trip to Japan. This is the report from September 14 with my girlfriend (now fiance) Jordan which recounts our visit to Hanshin Racecourse and Namba in Osaka.

Start of the 2nd race at Hanshin Racecourse. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013
Start of the 2nd race at Hanshin Racecourse. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013

It was an early start this morning as Jordan and I took a visit to the Hanshin Racecourse, one of Japan’s horse tracks. I was invited to the facility by representatives of the Japan Racing Association (JRA) through connections at work.

On the way to the track I noticed a lot of younger Japanese greeting older people with ‘Ohayou Gozaimasu” (Good morning) … this weekend is a holiday known as “Respect for the Aged”, so that’s probably one way it ties in.

I was surprised at the amount of people who exited the train at the stop next to the racecourse! The crowd that exited the train for the ordinary Saturday races would be typical in the US if a big race were being run… think the Belmont Stakes.

As promised, Mr. Tanaka, representative from the JRA, was waiting at the entrance and escorted us through the paddock area to the front of the grandstand.

The infield "Turf Vision" at Hanshin Racecourse. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013
The infield “Turf Vision” at Hanshin Racecourse. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013

The entire place was enormous, and the popularity of the sport in Japan justifies the very long grandstand. Mr. Tanaka pointed out the “Turf Vision” HD screen in the infield, then escorted us to our seats on the fourth floor, right in front of the CCTV operation.

After a few minutes, he brought us in for a tour of CCTV… there are about 20 control room operators and 20 camera operators at the track, and broadcast control was very spacious. Towards the end of our visit, Keisuke Morimoto, the CCTV producer that I met during his visit to Aqueduct earlier in the year, stopped by to say hello.

We stayed for 8 races, including the featured Hanshin Jump Stakes which we enjoyed very much.

Of course, Jordan left very happy as she had a 3,000yen ($30) winner in one of the races! And of course I was broke….

Much thanks to the JRA for accommodating us, and for leaving us with some presents prior to our departure.

After the races Jordan looked to try some Okonomiyaki again, as today was our last full day in the Kansai region. We took a detour to the southern part of Osaka city, to Namba, home of a large shopping arcade and what Jordan would refer to as “The Times Square of Japan, only much larger”

We did some shopping and one of the shopkeepers recommended we go to Fugetsu Okonomiyaki… the same chain that we visited a couple of days ago in Tempozan.

Dotonbori Canal in Osaka. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013
Dotonbori Canal in Osaka. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013

After that it was a quick trip over to see Dotonbori canal and the “Glico Man”, one of the trademarks of Osaka – it is a neon advertisement of a running man that has been standing in Osaka since the 1930’s.

After some more shopping, we returned to Kyoto and called it an evening.

Tomorrow we go to Tokyo! I am starting to get a little worried since there is a hurricane heading straight for Tokyo… there will be rain tomorrow, and it looks like the heavy stuff will start hitting around Sunday night/Monday… hopefully we’ll make it in before the hard stuff hits…

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS

As you read, my first visit to a racetrack outside of the United States was phenominal. Jordan and I were both stunned, struggling to see how we could compare Hanshin to other tracks in the United States. We just could not. The atmosphere was great, and the fans were friendly and passionate.

Much as we would have loved to stay for all 12 races – which is typical of a JRA card – we had to press on with our plans.

It was nice to visit Namba and Dotonbori for the second time – Dotonbori is the area around the canal near Namba. We picked up a bag from a store in the shopping complex at Namba station for Jordan’s sister. It was the sales clerk that eventually redirected us to what winded up being another Fugetsu for another dose of okonomiyaki!

The Kansai Thru Pass ended up being a tremendous benefit for us today, as we had to do a lot of traveling to get around. Our route:
– Kyoto Subway to Karasuma
– Hankyu Kyoto Line to Juso (outside of Osaka)
– Hankyu Kobe Line to Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi
– Hankyu Imazu line to Nigawa – the station for Hanshin Racecourse
Then to Namba:
– Hankyu Imazu line to Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi, connecting to Imazu
– Hanshin Main Line to Osaka-Namba via Namba Line
When we were finished, we opted to take Kintetsu back to Kyoto
– Kintetsu Nara Line to Yamato-Saidaiji, outside of Nara
and finally
– Kintetsu Kyoto Line to get us back to Kyoto Station

Needless to say, we saved a lot of money today by using the Thru Pass for foreigners!

Since we had a little bit of extra money we opted to pay a surcharge to take Kintetsu’s premium train services back to Kyoto. A little circuitous, but it was very fast, very comfortable, and we were able to avoid the commuter train crowds during the evening hours. Oh yes, we could eat too. 🙂 I believe the surcharge was 870 yen per person to go back this way.

As you may know, the storm I was worried about at the end of the post ended up being the powerful typhoon that lashed across Japan. Let’s see how we ended up…. 🙂

Japan Diary – September 12, 2013 – Nara and Osaka

The reserved seat tickets for our trip to Nara. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 11, 2013

I am re-posting my diary from my September 2013 trip to Japan. This is the report from September 12 with my girlfriend (now fiance) Jordan which recounts our day trip to Nara and Osaka.

This morning we boarded the “Vista Train” at Kyoto station for the quick 35 minute hop to Nara, home of Todaiji Temple, and the Great Buddha statue housed in the world’s largest wooden building. It was quite a hike from the station, and again the weather was hot and humid.

We received a brief explanation from an English-speaking assistant at the entrance about the cultural significance of the temple. One of the more interesting facts that we learned is that the hall housing the great buddha statue is the third incarnation… previous builds were about 40% larger than what currently stands. The walk around was nice, and I can recall back to the last time I visited this hall in 2004.

Jordan interacts with deer in the city of Nara. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 12, 2013
Jordan interacts with deer in the city of Nara. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 12, 2013

On the way back and forth, we ran into a signature trademark of Nara: Deer on the road. Jordan and I bought deer snacks and the animals were happy to partake in the feast

Then it was on to Tempozan near the port of Osaka, home to one of the world’s tallest ferris wheels, one of the world’s largest aquariums, and a small mall to boot. It was here that we had the Osaka staple, Okonomiyaki, for lunch. Basically a cooked cabbage pancake filled with whatever ingredients one chooses… in this case the main ingredient was beef. It was Jordan’s first crack at the meal and both of us really enjoyed it. It was also the time that I reunited with green soda, melon flavored!

After the ferris wheel it was on to Kaiyukan (the aquarium), and we spent a good deal of the afternoon making our way around the tanks. She was happy to point out the large whale sharks that were on display, and other fish that were of particular interest. My favorite moment was the dolphin feeding, which I captured on video. We arrived just in time for it and the handlers were more than happy to feed them and have them do tricks for everyone!

The skies were dark as we left…. my feet were numb from standing in the commuter train as we got back to Kyoto. The day finished with dinner that Jordan was looking forward to partaking since we arrived, when she noticed a store selling large pork buns! Very delicious and professionally made, we might try this one more time before heading to Tokyo on Sunday.

Tomorrow’s plans…. not decided yet. We’ll rest and see what we decide to do.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS

Okonomiyaki served at the Fugetsu restaurant at Tempozan Marketplace, Osaka. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 12, 2013
Okonomiyaki served at the Fugetsu restaurant at Tempozan Marketplace, Osaka. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 12, 2013

I am pretty sure that on my last trip to Japan in 2008, an old friend of mine – Sachiko – introduced me to Okonomiyaki. It’s been a few years… and I never realized how delicious it can be! It was a bit of an interesting experience the first time, with our lackluster (at best) command of the language… though after this visit we’d go back for Okonomiyaki in Kansai and Tokyo a few times before our flight back to New York. Jordan and I have yet to figure out what New York restaurants offer good Okonomiyaki 🙂

I should also mention that the routes we used for a majority of this day’s trip were fully covered by the Kansai Rail Pass. This included the Kintetsu from Kyoto to Nara, and again from Nara to Tempozan/Kaiyukan in Osaka. Many of the urban and suburban transit systems in Japan will often run on to other train lines. Case in point – from Nara we took the Kintetsu to an intermediate station, Ikoma – in the suburbs – where we switched to the Kintetsu Keihanna Line. 10 km and 4 stations west of Ikoma, the same train that we were on continued on to the Chuo Line of the Osaka Subway. This took us directly to Osaka-ko, the station for Tempozan and Kaiyukan, and eliminated the need to change between lines in the middle of Osaka. If you do your research, you can find alternates like this that will make your travel a little easier.

It got pretty late for us this day, so we opted paying for the faster (and as it so happened, crowded) JR line to go back to Kyoto.