Back in June 2022, I decided to take a gamble.
Even though Japan was reopening at a glacial pace, the fact they decided to admit tourists again (albeit in tightly-controlled tour groups a la North Korea) was reason enough to believe that a full reopening in time for next year’s cherry blossom season was on the cards.
Sure enough, Japan took its time, but in October 2022 they finally removed arrival caps and visa requirements and allowed tourists to explore as they pleased. I was among the first wave of travellers to visit the Land of the Sinking Yen, and having whet my appetite, I wanted more.
After all that planning, I suppose it was only natural that cherry blossom season ended up coming earlier than expected. I was worried we’d miss out, but thank God things held up long enough, and having completed the trip, I can tell you it’s something you have to see at least once in your life.
|🌸 Popping My Cherry Blossom|
|✈️ Popping My Cherry Blossom: Flights|
|Cost||25,000 Alaska Miles + US$50|
This trip turned out to be my very last chance to use the Japan Airlines sweet spot for intra-Asia travel via Alaska Mileage Plan. As you no doubt know by now, Alaska nerfed it without notice in March, and the price is now 50,000 miles (there is a hack to redeem it for 30,000 miles, though there’s no knowing how long that’ll last). Goodnight sweet prince.
The flight from Singapore to Tokyo (Haneda) is operated by a Japan Airlines B787-9, and since I reviewed this in November last year I’m not going to write anything new (tl;dr: it’s not great), except maybe update some of the photos in the report below since this time I had a middle seat.
I’ll spend a couple of weeks exploring Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, and fly back from Osaka. A direct flight would of course have been ideal, but I couldn’t find any award space.
As loathe as I am to pay cash for Business Class, I bit the bullet and bought two separate Business Class tickets: one from Osaka to Taipei on STARLUX (77,800 JPY, ~$775), and one from Taipei to Singapore on China Airlines (18,520 TWD, ~S$805).
Osaka to Taipei is operated by a STARLUX A330neo. Regular readers should know by now that I’m a big fan of the ultra-premium Taiwanese startup (there’s just something about an airline whose entire raison d’etre is a big “screw you” to estranged family members), and even though I’ve reviewed this fairly recently, I feel excited enough about STARLUX to want to pen an updated one.
There’s a 3-hour layover in Taipei before I fly to Singapore on my first-ever China Airlines flight. This is operated by a narrow-body A321neo, but fortunately the Business Class hard product is as good as you could hope for: full-flat seats in a 2-2 configuration.
All passengers enjoy personal IFE (delivered on 4K screens, no less), and onboard Wi-Fi.
|🏨 Popping My Cherry Blossom: Hotels|
|Night||Hotel||Per Night Cost (Nett)|
|1-5||Hilton Tokyo||56,000 points (5NF)|
|6-10||Conrad Osaka||76,000 points (5NF)|
|11-12||Roku Kyoto||110,000 points|
As a Hilton Diamond, I’m pretty much wedded to the chain for the foreseeable future. It’s just too hard to pass up free breakfast and room upgrades, and while I could get those with my Accor Platinum and IHG Diamond too, I’d rather focus my efforts on requalification for Hilton.
And hey, Hilton’s got some solid properties, especially in Japan.
The first five nights will be spent at the Hilton Tokyo, conveniently located in the Shinjuku district. The hotel underwent a renovation in 2018, so thankfully it’s more “new Hilton” than “old Hilton” (if you’ve visited enough Hiltons you’ll know what I mean!).
It has a swimming pool, a rare commodity for Tokyo, and given how much eating I’ll be doing that’ll come in handy (pool > gym). There’s also an executive lounge, which means complimentary alcohol in the evenings, and a traditional-style onsen, which means an opportunity for body-shaming.
I’ll be paying 70,000 Hilton points a night, which with the 5th night free averages out to 56,000 points per night.
Then it’s off to the Conrad Osaka and its Insta-worthy lobby on the 40th floor of Festival Tower. The views are great by day, and breath-taking by night.
This property has all the trappings you’d expect from a 5-Star Conrad, like a heated pool, fully-loaded gym, spa, executive lounge, and numerous dining options. It’s also close enough to the train station to be a convenient base for exploring Umeda and Namba.
The cost is 95,000 Hilton points a night, which after the 5th night free works out to 76,000 points per night.
For the last two nights, I’ll relocate to the Roku Kyoto, the first-ever LXR Hotel in Asia-Pacific. This isn’t the place to stay if you want easy access to the city- the hotel is nestled within the 29-acre Shozan Resort, a good 30 minutes away from Kyoto station by taxi. This is a place you come to escape from the urban hustle, with 114 guestrooms and suites, a spa, heated onsen pool and endless landscaped gardens amidst rolling hills.
As you might expect, the Roku Kyoto is not a cheap property by any means: cash rates are close to S$1,000, and award nights cost 110,000 points each. This means I’m going to be hyper-critical in my assessment of the resort, since with great price tags come great expectations.
|🍸 Popping My Cherry Blossom: Lounges|
|SIN||Qatar Premium Lounge|
|KIX||KIX North Lounge|
|TPE||China Airlines VIP Lounge|
As a Japan Airlines Business Class passenger, I’ll be able to access the Qatar Premium Lounge when departing from Changi Airport (not that you’d know from the ground staff, who direct everyone to the crappy Marhaba lounge instead!).
This lounge is just as spectacular as it was pre-COVID, and since I’ve reviewed it fairly recently I won’t be doing a fresh article so soon. That said, I’ll add some photos of the updated dining options to the post below.
Even though Japan’s been reopened for a while, the ANA and JAL lounges at KIX remain closed. I can’t for the life of me figure out why, but fortunately STARLUX has a tie-up with the contract KIX North Lounge.
I’ll do a quick review, but don’t expect much from this beyond a quiet place to sit and some finger food.
During my transit in Taipei, I’ll be visiting China Airlines’ flagship VIP Lounge (don’t let the name confuse you, it’s what they call all their Business Class lounges).
The interior décor looks the part, but of course there’s much more to assess like the food, drinks, showers and resting areas.
|Visit Japan Web|
Japan plans to scrap its COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirement from 8 May 2023, but until then you’ll need to submit proof of either via the Visit Japan Web portal.
Registering before your trip helps to save some time on arrival, so refer to the guide below for more details.
I’m back from my first-ever cherry blossom experience, and there’s many exciting trip reports coming your way over the next few weeks. I’m particularly keen to share about the Conrad Osaka and Roku Kyoto (though for very different reasons), and do a STARLUX and China Airlines head to head.