I just returned home a few days ago from my first trip to Japan. I am very excited to share my stories and adventures with you all! This was my favorite trip to date and I rarely like to visit a place more than once (with there being so many places to see in the world) but I can’t stop thinking about going back!
I want to thank everyone who helped me plan the perfect first trip to Japan including, but not limited to, kja, mrwunrfl, russ_in_LA, someotherguy, Mara, Kathie, Kate1261, MinnBeef, Sue_xx_yy, Curiousgeo, and hawaiiantraveler.
My husband and I started planning this trip over a year ago, last October. After we got married we decided to spend the next few years traveling and exploring the world. Japan was first on our list! Before I travel I like to spend a lot of time researching everything about the place; from the customs, culture, weather, people, food, attractions, history, places of interest, and more. Japan has so much history and so many different places to explore that I was researching, reading, and asking questions for the entire year, right up to when we left. I’m glad we took the year to plan and come up with an amazing itinerary. Some of the hotels we stayed at even booked up more than 9 months in advance, so our early planning was definitely helpful!
Based on our research, we decided to visit in November for the fall the colors. We left Phoenix on Thursday, November 5th and returned on Tuesday, November 17th. Our final itinerary was:
Tokyo – 4 nights (with day trip to Kamakura)
Kawaguchiko – 1 night
Kyoto – 4 nights
Koyasan – 1 night
We ended up switching our day trip from Nikko to Kamakura only a few days before we left. I had been following Japan-Guide’s 2015 Autumn Color report and it looked like most of the fall colors had passed peak in Nikko (which was our main reason for wanting to visit). With some of Nikko’s Temple’s also under construction, we decided instead to go to Kamakura which was much closer to Tokyo. We ended up being very happy with our decision and Kamakura was one of my favorite places we visited on our trip! We also ended up not making it to Nara (which I am a little disappointed about) but we felt too rushed in Kyoto so we decided to spend the day in Kyoto instead. We were very happy with our entire trip and wouldn’t have changed anything besides adding more days to the itinerary!
November 5 and 6: PHX – Narita, and Tokyo:
We departed Phoenix at 7am and had a quick plane change at LAX before making our way to Tokyo. We flew with Delta and decided to upgrade for a small fee to the Delta Comfort seats for the 11.5 hour plane ride. This was the longest flight either of us had ever been on but it wasn’t too terrible. We made sure to download a bunch of TV shows to our tablets, got up to stretch every few hours, and got some sleep in. Before we knew it, we were making our decent into Narita Airport. We arrived on Friday, November 6th at 4pm. We were off the plane, through immigration, and had our bags within about an hour.
We decided to take the Narita Express train to the Tokyo Station and from there get a taxi to our hotel, Park Hotel Tokyo in Shiodome. It was easy enough getting our train tickets and finding our platform. After about an hour, we made it to the Tokyo Station. The first thing we noticed was the mass of people walking very quickly in a very organized manner throughout the station, everyone knowing exactly where they we were going. We stood there lost for a few minutes and realized very soon that the Tokyo Station was multiple stories tall (we are from Arizona and don’t have much experience at all with public transportation). We thought if we just went up we would make it to the top and could find our way out. Hauling our 2 giant roller suitcases and our carryon luggage, we struggled our way up multiple flights of escalators, only to realize that the top floor was not ground level, that it was a few floors above the ground. Back down the escalators, we finally found the ground level and made our way to the exit by following signs for “Taxi” (it took us about 20 minutes just to find the station exit!).
Based on advice from others, I printed out directions to our hotel in both English and Kanji as well a photo of our hotel (we did this for almost everything we had planned traveling to by taxi). It worked out great and our taxi driver knew exactly where to take us. We arrived at the Park Hotel Tokyo at around 6:30pm. I chose this hotel based off TripAdvisor reviews and its proximity to the Shiodome and Shimbashi Stations. I booked through hotels.com and got a great early booking discount. The hotel was beautiful, sitting on the 25th floor of the Shiodome Tower and decorated with art from local artists. Our room was on the 30th floor and was small compared to American hotels, but spacious enough. As we walked in we were immediately stunned by a gorgeous view of the Tokyo Tower sparkling in the night. The view more than made up for the lack of space. We spent some time unpacking a few things and showering before grabbing a quick dinner in one of the hotel’s restaurants. We were exhausted from traveling (and the time difference) but we managed to stay up for a couple of hours and fell asleep around 9pm.
I was worried about jet lag, but we surprisingly got a great night’s rest and were excited to get out and start exploring the city for our first full day in Tokyo…
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