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Another first-timer. Does this work?

Old Dec 17th, 2015, 07:31 AM
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Another first-timer. Does this work?

I'm so happy to see such an active board with so many knowledgeable and helpful people. Lots of experts and experienced travelers here! I have been poring over itineraries and trip reports and have come up with a very loose, basic itinerary. I just want to know if I'm on the right track before I book flights and hotel rooms and was hoping you could guide me. We are interested in local culture, art, and traditions, gardens and nature, food and unique experiences. We would probably get burnt out on too many temples and would like a variety of sites and experiences. I know this is only the beginning of many more questions, but here's where I'm at right now. We are aiming for Nov 1 - 16 or 17. I would prefer to be there towards the end of November for the fall color in Kyoto, but I'm hosting Thanksgiving so I'm afraid I have to be back in the US with enough time to prepare. Hopefully, we will see some color, even if not peak. I would like to end our trip in Kyoto to be there as late as possible. This will also put is in Kyoto the weekend of Shichi Go San, which might be fun, although I'm worried about crowds in Kyoto on the weekend.

Tokyo - 2 nights
Takayama/Kanazawa - 4 nights
Hiroshima/Miyajima - 2 nights
Osaka - 1 night
Koya-san - 1 night
Kyoto - 6 nights

Is Kanazawa to Hiroshima doable, or do we need to break that up somehow? Is there a better order to do this in? If I needed to drop something, I would be open to leaving out Tokyo. Big cities are usually my least favorite part of any trip.
Thanks in advance for any guidance you can give me.
Laurie
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 07:56 AM
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Are you doing open jaw flight, into Tokyo out of Kyoto?

If you have sufficient annual leave allowance, I'd add another night to Tokyo, if you can, since you're not heading back there after and your current itinerary only gives you a single full day there.

Takayama 2 nights is fine, we found it about right on our first Japan trip. I hear from everyone else that 3+ nights for Kanazawa is preferable. I've not been but am booked for 4 nights on my next trip.

Koya-san, yes, it's wonderful, definitely go. Both Kja and I recommend Shojosin-in. Just remember it'll take time out of your previous and next days for the travel / time.

Kyoto, you won't get bored with your 6 nights and so many of us worried about getting templed out but they're really so different, and the culture and people watching is fascinating.

Osaka. I tried to love it. I tried hard. I visited on both first trip and second. But no, it's just not as exciting or interesting as I hoped. I did love the food market there. Dotonbouri bored me, frankly. If I were doing a trip for a friend, I'd say do a visit to Osaka as day trip from Kyoto, but if you're looking for an overnight there, choose Nara.

It's only 4 hours 20 minutes from Kanazawa to Hiroshima so that's perfectly doable. Even if you have a leisurely start and take the 9.53 train, you'll be in to Hiroshima at 14:08 which gives you enough time to see the peace park, dome and museums and then head across to Miyajima early evening. If you're happy to leave Kanazawa earlier, you totally have time for the half day Hiroshima exploration and heading to Miyajima. Staying there for 2 nights means you have a full day, that's lovely as you'll see the floating torii at different times of day, you can walk out to it at low tide and of course visiting the temple, going up the mountain.
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 08:21 AM
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You are on the right track. Your stops are in a good order.

The trip from Kanazawa to Hiroshima is about 4.5 hours with a JR Pass according to www.hyperdia.com. I usually suggest keeping travel time between stops to 4 hours with 5 hours being the absolute max. So that is a bit more than I would like but it will be easy enough with just one change of trains, comfortable limited express to a shinkansen, and you are staying two nights. I would stay in Hiroshima the first night and maybe Miyajima the second night. You can visit Himeji castle on the way to Hiroshima, but you can stop there on the way to Osaka.

You can use a 7-day JR Pass starting on the day you go to Takayama with your itinerary as it stands. But the 4 nights for Takayama/Kanazawa is a bit short. I suggest 2 nights in Takayama or don't go. Then 3 nights in Kanazawa.
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 08:29 AM
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The Osaka stop makes sense as a way to break up the trip between Miyajima and Koyasan. You would have time that day to visit Himeji or see a few Osaka sights and eat well that night then have a relatively easy trip to Koyasan the next morning.
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 10:38 AM
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Thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly! I've read so many of your comments and suggestions on these boards and was hoping you'd reply.

I haven't booked any flights yet and was hoping to do open-jaw, but I'll have to see how much more expensive that is. I'm trying to use points so I'll have to check that out. Are there any advantages or disadvantages as far as which airport to fly into Tokyo? I'm sure we'll be jetlagged and exhausted so I'm hoping to make this as easy as possible.

Is Osaka Airport the best choice for departing from Kyoto?

I definitely plan on booking Shojosin-in in Koya-san. Seems like it was such a highlight for so many of you. The only reason I added Osaka after Hiroshima is because I thought it would make it easier to get to Koya-san I have to admit that I haven't researched Osaka at all other than that. Should we omit Osaka and go directly from Hiroshima to Koyasan? Is that a possibility? I want to make this part as easy as possible as it does sound complicated.

Maybe I can cut Hirosima to one day and add a day to Takayama/Kanazawa. I could overnight in Miyajima and then move on to Osaka later that day. I'm not in a rush to get there as I'm really just using it as a stopover.

Great suggestion to visit Himeji. I'll look into that too.

I think the only way to spend more time in Tokyo would be to take a day away from Kyoto. I haven't broken down what I want to see in Kyoto yet so maybe that's a possibility. Tokyo just looks overwhelming to me. Maybe the best thing to do to make use of that day or two would be hire a guide.

Thanks again! I'll be back with more questions once I get into the flight, train, and hotel details.
Laurie
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 01:19 PM
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You asked about airports. In Tokyo there are 2, Narita being the international airport where US airlines arrive. If you arrive very late, you might stay near the airport and transfer to town the next morning, with less jet lag and less expense.
For Kyoto, Kansai International is closest, or you can use Osaka International airport, 10 km north of Osaka city center.
But logistically, I would consider going from Takayama to Kyoto(through Kanazawa), followed by Hiroshima and departing from Osaka for the U.S.
As most people don't rave about Osaka, you could consider using a day at Kanazawa instead, and either flying out of Hiroshima to Tokyo's Haneda airport (about $90 adv purchase), then limo bus to Narita airport (1 1/2 hrs, about $25) or flying from Osaka to the U.S.
Using miles for your trip will really dictate where you end your trip, as not all of them service Osaka.
I am flying to/from U.S. to Tokyo, finishing my trip in Hiroshima, so I studied all choices to getting to Narita from Hiroshima.
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 01:34 PM
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I went directly from Miyajima to Koyasan back in 2009 - it is a long trip with many changes but not impossible, and it takes about six hours.
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 02:03 PM
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This looks like a very solid plan!

We flew into Tokyo Haneda our first time and Narita the second. You can read details on my trip reports, but to summarize, Haneda is closer and quicker for getting into town, but I would not decide my flights based on which of these two airports they fly into. Just take the flight that makes the most sense for your schedule and budget.

We flew back from Osaka KIX on our first trip, and Tokyo Narita our second. It was nice not to have to back track to Tokyo the first time, but our second trip was more of a loop, so it made sense.

We stayed in Nara before Koyasan on our first trip, so either that or Osaka will work for you. Read about both and see which interests you more. I'm happy we did Nara, as we got enough modern Japan from Tokyo, and there is a lot to see in Nara.

We spent a 2 nights and a full day in Takayama and 3 nights and 2 full days in Kanazawa, and felt it about right, but we did them on separate trips. If you leave early from Takyama after your second night, you would get 1.5 days in Kanazawa, which is doable, but rushed. I felt the need to see all 3 old geisha areas in Kanazawa, but after Takayama's excellent old town, you might not feel that need (and might feel repetitive), so that will save you some time if you skip one of them. Or you could do as you mentioned and cut one day from Hiroshima/Miyajima and add to Kanazawa. Many people do that and seem happy about it.

I personally felt that Tokyo warranted 2 full days, so in your place, I would take one night from Kyoto, especially if you decide to overnight in Nara; but if Kyoto sounds like it holds more appeal, then you won't go wrong to leave it as is. I think most of these comments are relatively minor tweaks to what is a generally good plan. Have a great trip!
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 03:00 PM
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Hi! Looks like we will be there at the same time and taking the same route - so it's got to be right! Take a look at Kobe as well as Nara instead of Osaka. I'm definitely thinking of using the same guide that rachill_az used in Tokyo - it sounded a great way to get oriented.
Happy planning, Tim
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 03:54 PM
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Thanks for all your words of encouragement and great suggestions! I'm glad I'm on the right track and will begin tweaking soon. I've just spent the last few hours trying to figure out flights, and my head is swimming. Going to put it to rest for now. I've always used FF miles from my United card, but switched a year ago to Capitol One as I read it had a lot more flexibility. Looks like I should have stuck with my United card for this trip. Since I'm actually going to have to pay dollars for at least one of our tickets, would you say I should go ahead and book airfare almost a year in advance? It looks to be about $2000 per person, round trip. Do you think that's likely to go up or down? The price is the same for both United and ANA. Higher with AA. Also, I didn't realize Japan is 15 hours ahead so I'm either going to lose a day or try and depart a day earlier.
Tim, good luck with your planning. I'll be comparing notes often!
Again, thanks so much!
Laurie
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 04:07 PM
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Keep in mind that the day you lose going you will get back when you fly home, but of course you still lose the flying time ;-).

We used United FF tix, booking 11 months in advance, so I'd suggest at least booking that ticket, since those tend to disappear quickly. I'll defer to others more knowledgeable than I about the likelihood of pricing going up or down as the trip gets closer.
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 04:45 PM
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We went from Kyoto to Koya-san and did trip from Koya-san to Miyajima in one day. It was long but not onerous. We spent two nights in Miyajima, stopped at Hiroshima on our way back to Kyoto (leaving stuff in day lockers) and then flew out of Osaka.

We just came back from using United miles to fly to Nepal and back from Bangkok--thought ANA was wonderful to fly. We booked each way 330 days out, which worked for us.
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Old Dec 17th, 2015, 05:38 PM
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You’ve already gotten, and responded to, so much great advice that I hope you will forgive me if I speak to points that are now moot!

“We would probably get burnt out on too many temples’

I’ve heard many people express that concern. I’ve heard at most one person say it happened! Many Japanese temples are quite different from another, and include such an array of gardens and side buildings, that they won’t necessarily seem redundant. And there are things you can do to maximize the differences – include both temples and shrines, some large and some small, some heavily tourist-ed and some less so, some very old and some ancient, etc. And if you do get “templed-out,” well, you have plenty of other options, including to move on!

“Hopefully, we will see some color, even if not peak.”

I trust you have seen japan-guide.com and its many relevant pages, including this one:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2014.html

“This will also put is in Kyoto the weekend of Shichi Go San”

I’m so jealous!

“Takayama/Kanazawa - 4 nights”

Depending on your specific interests, you might consider your options for adding a night to make it 2 nights in Takayama and 3 in Kanazawa. As russ_in_LA notes, you can fit this route into 4 days (or less!), but you would then need to be extremely selective.

“Is Kanazawa to Hiroshima doable, or do we need to break that up somehow?”

I don’t mind long transit days. Some people do. Your call!

“If I needed to drop something, I would be open to leaving out Tokyo.”

I easily admit that although I found Tokyo fascinating, it was the least favorite of the places I visited. It’s also probably the easiest place to reach in Japan from just about anywhere, and so the most easily visited on another trip. Just something to keep in mind.

Kavey wrote: “Koya-san, yes, it's wonderful, definitely go. Both Kja and I recommend Shojosin-in. Just remember it'll take time out of your previous and next days for the travel / time.”

I agree! My understanding is that one’s selection of a temple can make a huge difference to one’s enjoyment of Koya-san. I enjoyed Shojoshin-in, which still gets great reviews:
https://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/...n=Shojoshin-in
While on Koya-san, do not miss a dusk or dawn (or both) walk through Okuno-in:
https://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/...n=Shojoshin-in

Mrwunrfl wrote: “You can visit Himeji castle on the way to Hiroshima, but you can stop there on the way to Osaka.”

Definitely make time for Himeji-jo if you can, and for the lovely gardens (Koko-en) next to it if time permits:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3502.html

“Is Osaka Airport the best choice for departing from Kyoto?”

I flew into Kansai. I think you’ll need to explore your options to decide what works best for you.

“The only reason I added Osaka after Hiroshima is because I thought it would make it easier to get to Koya-san”

Like Mara, I went straight from Miyajima to Koya-san, and that worked well for me.

Aleta wrote: “Narita … If you arrive very late, you might stay near the airport and transfer to town the next morning, with less jet lag and less expense.”

And if you don’t arrive TOO late, you might consider pushing on. You’ll be tired anyways! Whether that works for you depends on when you arrive, how you deal with jet lag, whether you are normally a morning or night person, where you would go first, etc. It might be worth keeping the idea in mind as you think through your options.

Russ_in_LA wrote about staying in Nara.

I loved Nara! I spent 2 nights there and did could easily have spent more! But then, I don’t mind moving around a lot – so I was happy splitting my time between Nara and Kyoto; others prefer to stay in one place. FWIW, one advantage I found for separating the two was that I could easily visit Uji and Fushimi Inari after leaving Nara and before checking into Kyoto – and that save me a lot of back-and-forthing!

BTW, I don’t think anyone has mentioned Japan’s excellent luggage-forwarding option; it's called takuhaibin; here's the info:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2278.html

You will have a great trip! Hope my comments help….
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Old Dec 18th, 2015, 03:59 AM
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Thanks, Russ. I think you're right, that I better jump on the FF tickets while they're available and keep a close eye on the tickets I'll have to pay for.

Thanks for all your great insights, kja. You make a good point about seeking out variety in the temples -- that makes a lot of sense. I'll check out the fall color report more closely on Japan Guide to see if there is anyplace I might have a chance of seeing fall color in early November.

It sounds like Nara would be a better choice than Osaka for an overnight between Miyajima and Koya-san.

We don't mind occasional long days of travel, especially if there's beautiful scenery. What we don't like is getting lost and wasting precious time.

Sending luggage ahead? What a fantastic system. And I haven't read anything about luggage getting lost.

So so excited.....
Thanks,
Laurie
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Old Dec 18th, 2015, 07:58 AM
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We used the luggage forwarding system three times in each of our two trips, and it worked flawlessly! Keep in mind that, in general, if you ship the luggage on any given day, it will arrive at your destination the afternoon of the next day (confirm this with your hotel, or email ahead). What this means is that you will need to ship your luggage to every other destination, and take an overnight bag with you to the destination in between, while your main luggage is being shipped. Alternately, you could ship your luggage to the next destination the day before you leave the previous one, using your overnight bag for your last day in each destination.

In your case, I would ship from Tokyo to Kanazawa, with an overnight bag for Takayama. Then ship from Kanazawa to Nara, with an overnight bag at Miyajima. Then a final ship to Kyota, with an overnight bag in Koyasan. Of course, other options are possible.
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Old Dec 18th, 2015, 03:04 PM
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"We don't mind occasional long days of travel, especially if there's beautiful scenery."

The scenery in the final stretch of the trip to Koyasan is, IMO, stunning!

"What we don't like is getting lost and wasting precious time."

Me neither! I found it very easy to plot my intercity routes using hyperdia. the best single collection of city maps I found in advance was the even-then-outdated Japan Solo; JNTO also has some great maps. I think it might be safest to assume you will get lost at least once in Tokyo. ;-)
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Old Dec 19th, 2015, 07:50 PM
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In researching Hiroshima, I found this on Japan Guide:

Construction Notice: The Peace Memorial Museum is currently undergoing major renovations, during which only one of the museum's two buildings will be open to visitors and the number of exhibits will be reduced. The renovations will be in two stages: from September 2014 to spring 2016 the east building will be closed, followed by the closure of the main building until spring 2018.

Hmmmm.....I may have to rethink this portion of our trip. Not sure I want to travel all that way if I can't visit the museum. Or maybe I would just spend the one night at Miyajima. Back to the drawing board.....
Laurie
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Old Dec 19th, 2015, 08:14 PM
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Your call, but remember that Hiroshima's powerful and very moving sites also include the A-Bomb Domb and Peace Park, and it sounds like at least a part of the museum will be open.
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Old Dec 19th, 2015, 08:33 PM
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We start with galleries, because art is our thing.

They know all the good places to stay and eat, and nice people to get you around.

Cheers, Maree
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Old Dec 19th, 2015, 10:08 PM
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Sitting on the front step of our house in Australis, water dripping from my hair. 23 degrees, Just happy to be off 28hrs of planes and out of airports.

Happy Christmas, everyone.
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