Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo review and Japan travel tips

Sheraton Miyako Hotel
Thanks to Starpoints, we were able to enjoy 5 free nights at the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo.  The Sheraton Miyako is an SPG Category 4 hotel, and cost us 10,000 Starpoints per night.  Thanks to the SPG 5th award night free benefit, we were able to stay here for 5 nights in Tokyo for 40,000 Starpoints (an average of 8,000 Starpoints per night).  This was a valuable redemption since paying for a 5-night stay here would have cost us $1047.45!

Compared to other Sheraton properties, the Miyako Hotel seemed very plain.  The main entrance has a nice fireplace and large window to view the gardens outside.  Overall the hotel felt like there wasn’t enough lighting, and everything just seemed so “brown” in appearance.  Once we got past the boring look of the hotel, everything else was quite nice and peaceful.   

The room was very clean without any frills.  The Wifi was fast and reliable.  We enjoyed the butt-warming toilet but didn’t try the bidet.  The bed was extremely comfortable. 

We really didn’t like how dark it was in the room; we would have preferred more or brighter lighting.

If you’re staying at the hotel, be sure to check out the garden outside.  It’s a peaceful area you can spend 15 minutes exploring.  

I’ve read that the food at the hotel is pretty good, but we preferred to explore other dining options around Tokyo. 

Outstanding service
The concierge was extremely helpful; it always seemed like they went out of their way to help us plan our activities, subway routes, restaurant reservations, and they answered every question we could throw at them.  We would tell the concierge our plans for the day, and then they would provide us directions, subway maps and tourist activity handouts for the wards we visited.  A complimentary shuttle takes you to the nearest station continuously throughout the day.  The JR Meguro Station is about 5 minutes away by shuttle.  The Shiroganedai Station is about 4 minutes walking distance. 

This may sound silly, but our biggest disappointment about the Sheraton Miyako hotel was that they didn’t seem to participate in the SPG “Make a Green Choice” promotion, which awards 500 Starpoints for each night you decline housekeeping services (except day of departure).  Since we don’t need our bed sheets changed, pillows fluffed, or towels replaced daily, we could have banked an extra 2,000 Starpoints.  Other than this, we couldn’t complain much since we pretty much only used our hotel room to rest and sleep.   

Japan travel tips
We loved everything about Japan and here are some tips for you. 

Pocket Wifi
Although Tokyo is extremely modernized; free Wifi is not widely available.  We rented a pocket Wifi from Global Advanced Communications, which is the largest provider of mobile Wifi in Japan.  It was really cheap at $38.44 for 5 days of unlimited Wifi.  The reception on the device was awesome and we were fully connected. This allowed us access useful apps like Google translate and Google Maps that helped us get around.  We picked the Standard 75Mbps Wifi unit, which was more than sufficient for our needs. 

This company is awesome because they will deliver the pocket Wifi to either your hotel or the airport.  As soon as we checked into the Sheraton Miyako Hotel, our package was already waiting for us at the front desk.  Returning the unit is extremely easy as it comes with a pre-paid return envelope.  We just handed it to the front desk on checkout and were good to go.  When paying for the device, use a credit card with no foreign exchange fees or else they will tack it onto your bill (since you are making a purchase through a foreign website).

Cash or credit?
I’m all about earning the credit card points; but in Tokyo we found that most places were cash only.  Cafes, restaurants, shops, and even fast food restaurants accepted cash as the only payment option.  Make sure you exchange plenty of USD to Yen. The post office or smaller money exchange stores gave us the best rates.  We were surprised so many places were cash only – seemed to be the opposite of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea – where you could charge almost everything.

No tipping in Japan! 
This is awesome.  Most places include sales tax in the final figures – so the price you see is literally the price you pay.  No dealing with calculating taxes or calculating tip – Japanese culture prides themselves on excellent service.  Everyone will treat you will a high level of respect; we loved it!  If you try to tip them, they will give you your money back.

Due to the Bank of Japan’s quantitative easing strategy, the US dollar is extremely strong in Japan.  I just checked and today 1 USD will be equivalent to 118.20 Yen.  This is an incredible value.  Just in November 2014 when we traveled, 1 USD was equivalent to 115 Yen.

This being said, you can use a credit card at some places like taxis, big attractions, some restaurants, and some entertainment venues.  Make sure the establishment charges you in “local currency” which they should do by default, and which will give you the best rates possible.  This goes without saying, but if you are going to use a credit card in Japan, make sure you use one with no foreign exchange fees.  If you don’t have a credit card that offers no foreign exchange fees, don’t use a credit card out of the U.S.

Google translate
When we were exploring Tokyo, we found that very few people spoke English.  Maybe they knew how, but they would only respond to us in Japanese.  Google translate was very helpful in getting our point across.  For instance, if we wanted to order a particular item on the menu, we would just type it in English into the Google translate app, and then it would translate it into Japanese.  The new app even scans texts in foreign language and translates it into English. 

Google maps
With the help of Google maps, we never got lost: we used it to determine which subway rails to take and also used it for walking directions around town.  Hotel concierge, information desk, and helpful pedestrians will help you get around as well, but Google maps made finding things extremely easy.

Useful sites for more information
The Trip Advisor website (and phone app) is great for finding out which activities, restaurants, and entertainment there was around Tokyo.  You can read tons of reviews from other travelers on their experiences.  Prior to visiting Tokyo, I did tons of research on trip advisor.  Japan Guide was also extremely helpful for us finding more information on what to do.  There’s a lot to do in Tokyo.  We were slowed down a bit by my wife’s pregnancy and morning sickness, but we still felt like we explored everything we wanted to within 5 days in Tokyo.

Here are my posts on the places we visited in Tokyo:

We loved our time in Tokyo and would like to come back again in the future!

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