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First time – Solo - Japan 2016

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Hello fellow Fodorite.

I’m embarking on my first trip to Japan in May 2016 with the itinerary listed below. I had initially planned on combining this trip with a visit to Hokkaido, but after further research I feel like Hokkaido is a destination that shouldn’t be combined, adding to the time of year I’ll be visiting, which would mean that Hokkaido will probably be just starting to wake up from its winter hibernation, so I’ll save Hokkaido for its own separate trip.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Depart: 5/11 –Leave IAD
Arrive: 5/12 – Narita – Hiroshima (flying directly)
5/13 – Hiroshima with day trip to Miyajima
5/14 – Hiroshima (maybe another day trip to Miyajima)
5/15 – Hiroshima – Kyoto
5/16 to 5/20 – Kyoto (with day trips to Nara and Okayama)
5/20 – Kyoto – Takayama
5/21 – Takayama
5/22 – Takayama – Kanazawa
5/23 – Kanazawa
5/24 – Kanazawa to Lake Kawaguchi
5/25-5/28 Lake Kawaguchi
5/28-5/31 - Tokyo
6/1 – Fly home

From reading many of the trip reports, I know that some thinks an overnight in Miyajama is worth doing and I don’t disagree that it doesn’t, but I would rather not do that and will just day trip it from Hiroshima. I also would prefer not to overnight in Okayama. I think a day trip from Kyoto would be sufficient for what I want to see.

The problem that I’m having is going from Kanazawa to Mt. Fujii for a couple days before heading to Tokyo for my final leg of the trip. It doesn’t appear to be an easy way to get from Kanazawa to Lake Kawaguchi without having to go through Tokyo.

Also it doesn’t appear that a JR Pass would be of any significant savings if I’m using hyperdia.com correctly.

Should I add or take away any days from any of the destinations? I would prefer not to add any more overnights and only consider day trips. All comments/suggestions are welcome.

Thanks in advance,
jdc

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    It looks like a decent trip, clearly you've done some reading and the destinations you've chosen reflect your personal interests and your travelling style and preferences.

    You're right, I think an overnight in Miyajima (or even two) is worthwhile, but it sounds as though you've already considered that and ruled it out.

    Likewise, you could readily appreciate an overnight in Nara, it's a lovely spot to visit with plenty to see. We loved our overnight, and saw only a fraction of what is there to be seen.

    I think your number of nights in Tokyo, Kyoto, Takayama seem good.

    I've not yet been to Kanazawa but I've included it in my upcoming trip (number 3) and heeded the advice of many here that it merits more time, so I'm giving it 4 nights. 2 is always tough as it means only 1 full day there.

    I can't comment on Lake Kawaguchi as never been.

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    Wow, jdc26, there is a really good first try at an itinerary, you have really been doing your homework. It's good to visit Japan by regions, as the trains are not particularly cheap, and distances are long. My next Japan trip will be solely to Hokkaido, or perhaps I will do the Shikoku Henro Trail.

    In any case, I have a few comments:

    1. I agree that Miyajima is not worth an overnight. You have to lug your suitcase onto a ferry, and the area is quite built up with hotels, restaurants and shops. We didn't find it charming or peaceful, so we visited the beautiful temple and left.

    2. Three days, and two full nights in Hiroshima is enough, so I would cut out one of the nights there. You need almost a full day to see the museums and the surrounding park, and another for Miyajima. You can try to catch a baseball game there, also. The city was destroyed during WWII, so it is very modern. There is a nice department store there, and the underground shopping streets are fun, but you can do that after the museum.

    3. I would add the other night in Takayama, which is really a gem of a city. You need a full day to see the city itself, and another for a day trip by bus to Shirakawa-go. We thought the day trip to Shirakawa-go was fun and worth it, and the city of Takayama itself is quite charming.

    4. The Lake Kawaguchi stop is a puzzler--every trip seems to have a glitch. We stopped there on an organized day trip to the Mt. Fuji area, but you're right, I don't think you can get there easily from Kanazawa. Would you be willing to rent a car? I did that by myself last year in Kyushu for a few days, and it allowed me to make lots of stops. The GPS spoke to me in English.

    Alternatively, you could go to the Lake Kawaguchi and the Mt. Fujii area on an organized day trip from Tokyo, and find an alternate destination for the three nights. There are lots of possibilities, but may I suggest Matsue? You would have to change your itinerary around, but it may be worth it. Matsue has lots of history, natural beauty, and no foreign tourists other than you.

    Regarding the JR Pass, if you added up your segments using Hyperdia and it is less, then you are correct. Your pace is quite leasurely, so the pass is probably not worth it.

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    @kavey, thank you very much for your comments. I've enjoyed your trip reports and planning and have taken many of your suggestions.

    I’ve studied Nara quite a bit and agree it does appear to be “lovely spot”, but I think a day trip there will be sufficient for me. If after I visit I find that I missed seeing something, if time permits I can do another day trip there. On the other hand, I may add another day to Kanazawa. From everything I’ve read about it, it does appear to be a town I would definitely enjoy. I’ve already booked my hotel in Kanazawa but I will email to see if I can add another night.

    @CaliforniaLady, thank you also for your wonderful comments as well. Yes, I’ve been planning this trip for a while now and have been reading all things Japan related and my favorite go to Japan-guide.com. I think I may have read all the Japan trip reports on here (some more than once) as well as all the trip planning and related questions.

    I’ve taken your suggestion of dropping a day from Hiroshima and adding it to Takayama. As luck would have it, I faxed the hotel in Takayama for availability for the 2 days and I just now got their confirmation that they’ve reserved the days I requested so I sent another request if they can add an additional day. Fingers crossed, toes curled that they can add the additional day. I will take a look at Matsue and see if it’s worth adding a day or two there. Funny, as I stated I had originally considered spending some time in Hokkiado as a friend of mine her parents lives there and when I’d told her I would rent a car to explore Hokkiado she said “don’t do it, Japanese drivers are crazy and I don’t want anything to happen to you” her exact words. But then she told her husband and he thought I would be okay driving. As a solo traveller, I’ve never wanted to rent a car because I’m so directionally challenged…lol. When I’m driving someplace for the first time, if the GPS says to go left I’ll go right…no kidding. So I think for my first trip to Japan, I’ll rely on their efficient transportation services.

    In terms of Lake Kawaguchi, I think I’m going to spend all of the last few days in Tokyo and make day trips to Nikko, Hakone, Kamakura, etc. Who knows I may luck out and see Fujii-san from any of these destinations.

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    You're welcome, jdc26, glad I could help. I agree about the car rental. It did make me nervous, especially driving alone without a navigator, and they drive on the "wrong side" in Japan. I was just a thought.

    I'll just voice my opinion on your updated itinerary, and you can make a decision. I would not drop three nights in an outdoorsy area of Japan, and then stay six nights instead of three in Tokyo. First of all, your three nights in Tokyo are enough. You can do a day trip to Nikko, and then spend the other day seeing the city. Much of Tokyo was destroyed during the war, so you will find it charmless and crowded.

    If Lake Kawaguchi is difficult to get to, why not stay in Hakone instead, and then you can take the train? I peeked at your bio, and it said you like to hike, so you need a couple of days in an outdoorsy area to balance this itinerary, rather than more temples. I like to take day hikes too, and Japan is so wonderful for that. There may be another alternative besides Hakone as well in that region, but you get the idea. I'm just voicing my thoughts...

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    I'm also sure that you will have a wonderful trip!

    A few comments -- and a forewarning that some of my comments are not like those of others from whom you have already heard. :-(

    I agree that you can cut a night from Hiroshima. I will note that I LOVED my overnight on Miyajima, and there is (of course) no need to lug your suitcase there -- you can leave your suitcase in a locker in Hiroshima, or use Japan's wonderful luggage forwarding service option, so you only need to take an overnight bag with you. My reasons for recommending an overnight there are that (a) it had the most affordable ryokan I could find in Japan at the time I traveled, for the itinerary I planned -- and that ryokan (Momiji-so) was extraordinarily charming and peaceful, (b) it let me see the Itsukushima Shrine at both high and low tides, and (c) it let me see some parts of the island when day-trippers weren't around. I even saw deer sleeping on the pavement near the harbor! But maybe those reasons don't appeal to you. I wonder if you are willing to share your thinking? No need to do so, of course -- just curious!
    Luggage-forwarding is called takuhaibin; here's the info:
    http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2278.html

    I'm sure it depends on the season, but I must admit that the biggest disappointment of my time in Japan (which was in May) was Okayama's Korakuen, and I say that even though the iris were in full bloom when I visited -- and that was my hope! Maybe I just failed to see what made it special....

    Re: Takayama and Kanazawa -- I gave each about 1.5 days and wish I'd given both more. If I had to choose, I would give more time to Kanazawa than Takayama, but I'm sure that depends on one's interests and one's broader itinerary. I didn't spend time in any of the villages of Shirakawa-go, and so can't speak to that experience, but if you do want to do that, visit en route from Takayama to Kanazawa! FWIW, I spent an afternoon at the outdoor museum in Takayama, and was glad to be able to see structures from all over the region, including a Gassho-Zukuri, which I could explore on my own. I'm sure that wouldn't replace the experience of staying at one, but I don't think you are planning to do that?

    Hope that helps!

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    JDC

    To add a few thoughts.

    Like Kja, for me overnighting in Miyajima was one of the absolute highlights of our first trip, during which we spent 17 nights in Japan. We don't carry an enormous amount of luggage so lugging it onto the ferry wasn't an issue and in any case, as Kja said, you can leave your main case in Hiroshima or in a locker on the shore side, if you wish. Overnighting allows you to explore farther than the more built up area right by the ferry port. And being able to explore the little harbour front and the famous floating torii gate at different times of the day is magical. Although it means a touch more moving about, you could easily do one night in Hiroshima, one in Miyajima and lose the third night to add on elsewhere.

    We too drove in Kyushu during our 2013 trip and found it incredibly calm and wonderful but Kyushu is very rural. I wouldn't be so keen to drive in some areas of Japan, mainly the big cities, but otherwise.

    I forgot to mention, I was also heavily leaning towards Hokkaido for the next trip but decided that it appeals to me most to visit it either in winter or in the height of summer, and that spring doesn't seem to be such a perfect time to go there. I may be wrong but that's how I felt about it and we decided to focus on Chubu (plus Kanto and a return to Kansai, mostly Kyoto).

    If you want to do multiple day trips out of Tokyo, then 6 nights isn't too much, though it may be worth splitting your overnights into two blocks so you can experience evenings in two different areas of the city. I've found that Tokyo is more like several cities in one, than many other capitals I've been to.

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    I'm going to give the same opinion as kja and Kavey when it comes to overnighting on Miyajima. I absolutely loved spending the nigiht on Miyajima. Doing so allowed me to enjoy the island at a more relaxed pace, ,whether it was visiting the Itsukushima Shrine at both high and low tide, along with the famous torii, ridking the cable car up to the top of Mt. Misen, sitting down to a lunch of delicious grilled oysters washed down with a cold Sapporo, walking what seemed like the entire island enjoying the stunning koyo, or watching the torii light up as the sun set and dusk took over. I see that you are considering doing a second day trip to Miyajima so the island must appeal to you. Definitely give serious thought to doing an overnight instead. Once the day trippers all leave, the island becomes tranquil and, dare I say romantic. And as far as my luggage went, I just had my Hiroshima hotel forward my roller bag onto my Tokyo hotel and I took a backpack to Miyajima. There were many highlights of my first trip to Japan 2 years ago and Miyajima was among the top highlights of them all.

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    "When I’d told her I would rent a car to explore Hokkiado she said 'don’t do it, Japanese drivers are crazy'."

    She's right. I'm in Japan with a rented car right now. I'm in Shizuoka rather than Hokkaido (though I have driven there), but it's the same everywhere: nobody goes faster than 25 miles an hour. Drives me crazy!

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    @kavey, CaliforniaLady, kja, MinnBeff, someotherguy; thank you all for your comments.

    Here’s my revised itinerary with the tail end before Tokyo yet to be determined:

    Depart: 5/11 –Leave IAD
    Arrive: 5/12 – Narita – Hiroshima (flying directly)
    5/13 – Miyajima
    5/14 to 5/20 – Kyoto (with day trip to Nara)
    5/20 to 5/22 – Takayama
    5/23 to 5/26 - Kanazawa
    5/26 to 5/28 - ???? Nikko, Hakone, somewhere else that’s easy to reach from Kanazawa
    5/29-5/31 – Tokyo
    6/1 – Fly home

    I’ve reconsidered and decided to overnight in Miyajama. I had a couple reasons for not overnighting on Miyajima. My initial plan was to spend 2 days in Miyajima not Hiroshima, but due to the time I would be arriving into Tokyo and then fly to Hiroshima, I factored in any potential delays and didn’t want to risk missing the ferry to Miyajiama. Then I thought that my one indulgence to try a Ryokan I would choose one in Kyoto since most of my time will be spent there. I also didn’t feel like packing and unpacking after switching hotels, but you guys made excellent points in either leaving my suitcase at a locker or having them forward to Kyoto and walking with just an overnight. I’ve decided on the latter two. To that end, after looking at the Ryokans in Kyoto, I agree with kja that Miyajima Ryokans prices are much more reasonable for a budget traveller like myself. Kja thanks for the recommendation of Momiji-so. Unfortunately, their reservation schedule is not yet opened for my date, so I’ve booked a room with Auberge-Watanabe, which I think was recommended by a few Fodorites including I believe Kavey. The price they quoted me is doable. Being a vegetarian was a concern for me staying at a Ryokan, but I was able to let them know in advance and it won’t be a problem.

    As far as overnighting in Nara, I think I’ll be okay with doing it as a day trip. I’ll make it an early start returning early evening. Btw, kja I have no aversion to deers. I live in a wooded area and deers are always in my backyard although mine are not as friendly as the ones in Japan…lol.

    I only now need to fill in the few days after leaving Kanazawa. I’m leaning more towards Nikko because the train travel/transfer is much better than going to Hakone where going to Hakone requires more train changes and a stop in Tokyo. I’ve also tentatively book hotels for all except Tokyo and the few days before Tokyo since I’m unsure where to go after Kanazawa. Still trying to dissect whether a Japan Rail Pass would be beneficial or not. Any further comments are appreciated.

    Thanks in advance,
    jdc

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    I think you will like this plan much better!

    I trust you are leaving enough time for Hiroshima -- the A-Bomb Dome, Peace Park, and Peace Museum are all well worth seeing, IMO. If it helps, I think I spent 3 or 4 hours for the set; I'm sure faster or slower paces are possible.

    I was very pleased with a night in Nikko. Many people visit it as a day trip from Tokyo, but I wanted a bit more time there so I could see Kegon-no-Taki, a bit of Lake Chuzenji, and a bit of the Kanmangafuchi, in addition to the temples and shrines of the area. Keep in mind, though, that parts of Toshogu Shrine will still be under construction.

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    I like your itinerary as well. I really think you will live Miyajima. And Hiroshima is very memorable also. The Peace Museum is very well done and the A-Bomb Dime is huanting, particularly at dusk. You are set up to have an amazing trip!

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    Oh this itinerary looks very good, JDC, I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time.

    I did indeed stay at Auberge Watanabe back in 2012, and several people I have recommended it to since have enjoyed it too, the latest just a few months ago. It's a warm family welcome and we loved the location too.

    So excited for your trip!

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    @kja, thank you. I'm hoping that my arrival into Hiroshima will leave me with enough daylight to at least have a stroll around the immediate area, that's if I'm not too jet-lagged. If not, I'm typically an early riser so I'll hit the sites early enough so I can get to Miyajima without being too rushed to get prepared for dinner which is set for 6:30. If I don't have enough time, on my way to Kyoto, since I'll be returning to Hiroshima, I can see what I missed.

    @MinnBeef, yes, I too think I'll enjoy Miyajima. I'm especially looking forward to doing a little hiking in Mount Misen (obviously I won't have that much time), but will enjoy whatever time I do have there.

    @Kavey, I am looking forward to the staty at Auberge Watanabe. Also good news in that I emailed Kiyomizu Tenseian in Kyoto regarding aviaibility for my 6 nights there and he can accommodate me during that time and the price is very good, at least by Kyoto standards. I believe he was recommended by leslieq. If she's reading thanks for the recon.

    Also thanks to leslieq, I'm going to spend 2 nights in Karuizawa after leaving Kanazawa. I was hoping to spend 3 nights but Hotel Wellies (which leslieq also stayed at and which she loved) would charge an extremely higher rate for the last night being that it's the weekend and they're busy, so I decided to stay just the 2 nights giving me 4 nights in Tokyo where I can do day trips to Nikko and Kamakura or even Hakone if I choose. It was a toss up between Karuizawa and Magome-Tsugmo for hiking, but Karuizawa won.

    I'm really getting excited now that all my accommodations are set with the exception of Tokyo. Still undecided on which is the best area to stay that will provide easy access to the transportation to/from the major sites as well as to the train/subways. All comments are apprecitated.

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    Question: The guesthouse I plan to spend 6 nights at in Kyoto is requesting my passport number to secure the room. Is this normal? I've never been asked for my passport number to secure a booking before, but I do know some hotels will request it upon arrival, at least I've had this done by some Italian hotels. Should this concern me? He didn't request my credit card information as I was expecting him to do, but my passport number.

    Thanks,
    jdc

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    "Tokyo. Still undecided on which is the best area to stay that will provide easy access to the transportation to/from the major sites as well as to the train/subways"

    As I understand it, that really depends on what YOU want to see and experience! For MY purposes, a location near Ueno Park suited very well; for many people, that would not have been a good choice.

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    On our first visit to Japan we did the first two nights after arrival at Shinjuku, though we'd originally intended to be right within the Tsukiki outer market - learned a bank holiday was a week later than expected meaning the market would be closed both mornings we were there, so we changed our minds.
    And for the 4 nights at the end of the trip, we based in Asakusa.
    On trip 2 we only had one night on arrival and stayed by Tokyo Station ready to take shinkansen to Kyoto the next morning.
    We stayed 2 or 3 nights at the end in Ueno.

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    Thank you both. I've made tentative reservations at a hotel in Shinjuku. This may change once I've finalize what I plan to do while in Tokyo. Although Shinjuku does seems like a central location to explore Tokyo.

    jdc

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    I visited Kawaguchiko a few days ago. I had a car. I've also visited Hakone in the past. In my opinion, the views of Fuji are better from Kawaguchiko--if you can see it. If it is cloudy, there is more to see and do in Hakone.

    You'll want to travel around Kawaguchiko and its neighbors to see more than one
    view, and you might need to speak a bit of Japanese to do that with confidence. The jnto guide gives useful bus info: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/ttp/ptg/PS/pg-405.pdf

    Overall, I'd be inclined to recommend a tour from Tokyo: the bus will take you to all the highlights with no effort on your part.

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