The first days of our trip have been very instructive. In San Francisco, we bought Irene a carry on bag with wheels to replace the hand held bag she loves. I should have bought one, as well, because the backpack I will need for days trips proved much too heavy when overfilled for international travel. Yesterday, we went to a nearby department store to get a wheeled bag for me.
We also had a side benefit. We took the advice of the Lonely Planet Kyoto author and ate in the department store restaurant. Irene had a spectacular, huge noodle bowel, and I enjoyed a remarkable sushi plate, all at bargain prices. Most enjoyable was the response of the restaurant employees to us. I guess not many Americans eat there. They treated us like royalty.
Earlier, we had spent a good day at the Kyoto Imperial Palace. I walked more than I had in years. I feel it a little this morning, but I think it is a good sign for the rest of the trip. The Japanese people have been exceptionally nice, especially when I use the two expressions I know in Japanese, "yes" and "thank you." We have enjoyed the courtesy and enthusiastic greetings we have encountered throughout the day. I don't know if we are singled out because we are Americans or because my white hair and walking stick make me appear ancient, but people are constantly making special efforts for us. We love it.
Our hotel is exceptionally well located, which makes things easier. We splurged for an expensive Japanese breakfast buffet in on of the hotel restaurants yesterday; but, from now on, we will have our first meal of the day at the Starbucks in the next block or the one across the street.
Now a few details on what we are doing after Kyoto. We cancelled five days in Beijing because of incredibly dangerous levels of air pollution. Instead, we will start by going to Tokyo; we are fortunate to be staying at the Marriott Courtyard on the Ginza for three nights. Our initial reaction to the idea of Tokyo was to avoid visiting a city of 34 million people. Later, we decided that the size, as well as the history, was a compelling reason to go.
We had planned to spend a night in Nara on the way to Tokyo. After dragging our bags through airports and train stations on the way here, we decided the best plan would be to stay an extra night in Kyoto and visit Nara on a day trip. The fifth and final day we gained by canceling Beijing we will spend in Osaka, not only to be close to Kansai Airport, but also to visit Osaka Castle.