Thursday, March 22, 2018
PAT'S SAKURA ADVENTURE
I've been in Japan, South Korea and Washington, D.C. at least 25 times for the peak of cherry blossoms. Japan has the most impressive Sakura season, starting on Kyushu, lasting for around a week to ten days and moving north to Hokkaido in May.
Cherry blossoms came early this year, with initial appearance in Tokyo on March 17. The peak is expected the final few days of March into very early April. DC was soon after, but the peak should be similar to Tokyo. DC festivities on Saturday, March 24, had to be moved to Sunday to accommodate the 500,000 March for Our Lives gathering organized by the survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. There could well be a thousand supporting rallies worldwide over the weekend.
So faced with the above, last week I decided, heck, I'm going to follow the Sakura bloom this year. I made an initial attempt, and remembered that the last time I did this, I could get to Bangkok and Seoul for only 50,000 miles more, the entire trip in business class. This time, the cost was $11,000+ because Thai Air pulled out of the Circle-Pacific cooperation. So I gave up.
Until yesterday, when I tried Kayak and saw that the United Air Business Class seats cost $6432 and ANA at $8806, but if I stopped through Guam, the UAL price dropped to $3348. And this included a stopover. I have never been there before, so took this itinerary. The Guam Westin had special rates for seniors.
Hotel rooms in Japan were a challenge because everyone in the country catches the Bullet Train during cherry blossom time, agglomerating at peak locations. I usually stay at the Tokyo Westin, but the price was around $600/night. I had just enough points to spend two nights, so that was free. As Tokyo would be a week past the peak, I thought Sendai would be ideal, so from the April 9-12 I got a room at the Sendai Westin for $133/night. The peak is supposed to be April 9 (adjusted up by two days from that above map), so the price was surprisingly low.
I then saw that the peak in Matsumoto, the home of Pearl's gold koi, was to be April 7-15. A Shinkansen (bullet train) ride from Sendai to Nagoya is easy and enjoyable. Plus, the Marriott Associa at that station is convenient and excellent. $250/night, but a very fine hotel with cocktail hours for Platinum members. The roundtrip from Nagoya to Matsumoto is comfortable and Green Car seats should be available on the Friday I plan to make that visit.
I bought a one week Japan Rail Pass, Green Car (first class), for around $375. From Nagoya I then return to Tokyo into the Westin for less than half the price of that quoted above. I will still have a full day left on the pass, so can bullet train on a Monday to Niigata for my final day in Japan, for the peak will be from April 11-20. Train seats on weekends are booked well in advance, and aliens on Japan Rail Pass cannot make reservations until they arrive. I leave Tokyo on April 17.
So return for my Sakura Adventure beginning on April 5, when I arrive on Guam. Mind you, my adventures are not exactly as exciting as an Indiana Jones movie. But I do eat well and, while I plan my lifestyle to minimize stress, something or two always happens. I'm very much looking forward to this trip, for I have no speeches to give and nothing official to do.