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Feedback--First Time in Japan, 3 weeks

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We are a mid-60’s couple who are traveling to Japan this October for just over three weeks, our first trip anywhere in Asia. We will get two- or three-week JR passes, and prefer not to rent a car. We fly in and out of Tokyo.

Some background: We’ve always traveled independently, and prefer some flexibility. Often book parts of a trip in advance, but like to leave periods of time unscheduled, to be able to extend time in a place we love, or skip ahead to somewhere else. Not sure this will be possible in Japan in October…will it? We are open to hiring guides as needed and to doing day tours if necessary to get to certain places.

We are interested in traditional folk arts and crafts (seeing the artisans at work), music and performing arts. We love festivals, but don’t do well with huge crowds, so often have the best time at neighborhood/smaller festivals we stumble upon. (We realize crowds will be unavoidable in October in Japan). We love to see the unique and varied scenic beauty of a country, but are limited by some orthopedic issues to 2 – 3 mile round trip easy “hikes”. In cities we like to stay where there is easy access to public transportation, as well as places to eat/shop nearby. Want to see the "important" sites, but are also don't want to burn out on shrine after shrine, temple after temple, so want to mix in other activities.

We are interested in both Kyoto’s Jidai Matsuri festival and the Kurama Fire Festival on October 22, but are concerned that crowds will be overwhelming. Same concerns for the Niihama Drum Festival on Shikoku island on October 16-18. Thoughts? Also realize we’re probably too early for the autumn leaves, but if the order of our trip might allow us to see some color changes, that’d be a bonus!

Here’s a tentative list of basic places we are interested in, but I’m not sure the best order to see them or how long to allow for each place, especially IF we’re trying to include any of the festivals. Very open to consider adding or eliminating places based on your wise recommendations.

Tokyo—5 to 7 days (including day trips to Nikko, Kamakura)
Hakone, 5 Lakes (?), Takayama, Kanazawa, Shirakawa-go
Kyoto (5 + days), Nara
Himeji Castle
Osaka (maybe as a day trip, maybe just one night), Iya Valley?
Hiroshima/Miyama
Mt. Koya (staying 1 night)
Can we get in Shikoku Island?
Back to Tokyo

Finally, I want to thank all of you Japan experts who take the time to share your experience and to encourage independent travel to Japan. However, I may find the logistics overwhelming, so if anyone can recommend a travel company that assists with the logistics of independent/custom travel, I might need that help!

Thanks so much.

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