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Chasing Colors in Japan: A November 2023 Trip

Chasing Colors in Japan: A November 2023 Trip

Old Nov 1st, 2023, 03:10 PM
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Chasing Colors in Japan: A November 2023 Trip

Itís been eleven years since our first visit to Japan. The February 2012 trip took us to Tokyo, Hakone, and Kyoto, in just over one week. During that trip, we were drawn into the unique Japanese culture, Japanese designs and aesthetics, the food, its first-rate infrastructure, and the ubiquitous temples and gardens that we enjoyed so much.

Weíve yearned to return but wanted to explore our places that we hadnít visited first. By the time we were serious about returning, COVID hit and Japan closed itself to the outside world. We initially planned to visit in May of this year but did not want to go while the G7 meetings were taking place, which leads us to the present.

Knowing that November is peak season for koyo, or fall foliage, we leaned into it. Unfortunately, koyo also means peak tourists crowds. While we understand crowds may not be avoidable everywhere, we still hope to have some of Japan to ourselves, whether itís maximizing earlier hours or visiting less popular sights.

That said, our itinerary is more typical of a first-time visitor than a repeat visitor. Given that itís been so long since our prior visit, we want to return to Tokyo and Kyoto. And we wanted to hit up places that we would have hit up on a first visit had we had more time but didnít.

We begin in Tokyo and end in Osaka, as follows:

Tokyo, 4 nights
Kanazawa, 3 nights
Shirakawago, stopover
Takayama, 3 nights
Nagoya, stopover
Kyoto, 5 nights
Himeji, stopover
Kurashiki, 3 nights
Hiroshima, 2 nights
Osaka, 1 night

Not on this itinerary is Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu, Tohoku, and much more. Will just have to come back for those.


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Old Nov 1st, 2023, 10:46 PM
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Konnichiwa! We are here right now and thoroughly enjoying our trip! We’ve been in Takayama for several days and will be off to Kanazawa tomorrow. So far, we’ve been to Tokyo (amazing and dizzying!), Matsumoto (we loved), an Okuhida onsen (stunning!) and now Takayama (busy but delightful!). And the color in the Japanese Alps has been spectacular!

Enjoy your trip! I’ll wave as we pass by you!
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Old Nov 2nd, 2023, 12:51 AM
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Good to hear from both of you
am at Haneda right now connecting from Kumamoto to Akita
kyushu kirei desu
some fall colors at Kurokawa onsen
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Old Nov 2nd, 2023, 02:08 AM
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Landing KIX November 9.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2023, 11:45 AM
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progol, konnichiwa and arigato gozaimasu. Glad you're enjoying your travels across Japan and get to see some of the fall colors too. We're still stateside and arrive in Tokyo on Sunday.

mrwunrfl, wow, you're going from one end of the country to the other. Hope you'll catch some color up in Akita.

mjs, how long are you in Japan? What parts of the country are you visiting?
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Old Nov 2nd, 2023, 03:23 PM
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The Planning

We began actively planning our trip to Japan in the early spring of this year. We conducted our research per usual, considered the very helpful advice from you here as well as on japan-guide.com, thought about our interests, etc., but narrowing down the places we eventually settled on was very hard. We ruled out Hokkaido and Tohoku early on, as we were originally looking at later in November and December did not want to visit during the depths of winter. We knew we wanted to return to Tokyo and to Kyoto, and really wanted to see the Japanese Alps, even though we would be there past the optimal time. We initially wanted to include Kyushu, but to do it justice would have required an additional couple of weeks that we didn’t have and it is far from the main part of Honshu. Himeji Castle was important to us, so Okayama and Kurashiki seemed logical. We looked at Naoshima, but Benesse House was sold out for our dates. Matsue and Hagi spoke to us as well; we simply didn’t have the days and it seemed it would be rainy and cold during the time of year. Needless to say, so many places to explore for a follow-on visit.

We went ahead and reserved our accommodations – booking refundable options of course. Other than Ryokan Kurashiki (I wished it hadn’t, as the USD – JPY exchange rate is much more favorable now), none charged us ahead of time and we made a few substitutions along the way. Even with our trip just a couple of days away, we still reviewing hotel options and may still make a last-minute substitution. Other than staying at a ryokan, we’re booked at machiyas in Kanazawa and in Takayama. The other places, it’s more traditional hotels, especially in Tokyo and Osaka (so we can begin and end with something more familiar). Overall, we’re happy with the variety.

We also make a handful of dinner reservations, especially at the harder to get-in Michelin-ranked establishments. Other than that, we have a list to work with (thanks to some of you) and will see what piques our interest while we’re there.

We also booked a handful of sightseeing experiences ahead of time, including digital art at Kanazawa Castle (thank you progol), a similar display at Nijo Castle in Kyoto, and visits to Saiho-ji and Katsura Imperial Villa, both in Kyoto. We wanted to book a special early visit to Tofuku-ji in Kyoto and an evening visit to To-ji, also in Kyoto, but both use the Smart Ex app, which does not seem to work with anyone without a Japanese cell phone number.

Speaking of Japanese website and app, we ran into a quirk with some of the restaurants and train sites that we’ve not experienced anywhere else in the world. Who knew that websites didn’t function during overnight hours, apart from scheduled maintenance? This was a bit annoying but easy to get around.

In any event, our bags are packed and documents in order. We check in online in a couple of hours. Japan, here we come.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2023, 05:25 PM
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Sitting and getting 4 tires replaced after hitting a nail. I donít think it was that long ago that tires were $69 a piece not $470. A little sleepy recovering from a long weekend mileage run to Vienna while finishing some schedule issues for a meeting this weekend in San Francisco. leaving for Japan next week. My youngest daughter is actually doing 90% of the planning for this trip. I actually have to see her goggle document as to what we are doing. I just pay for things and pick out our lodging and flights. Managed to upgrade seats to Polaris which is nice for long flights. Doing simple things for this trip as itís my partners first trip to Japan. Spending two nights in Osaka as one of my nieces moved there 2 years ago to teach. Staying at Sheraton as my sister says itís ok and a decent location.
moving to Kyoto for 4 nights Airbnb than onto Tokyo for 5 nights Westin. I think we are planning side trips to Nara and Nikko and Hakone. I just asked my daughter to leave me a half day for Ahkihabara in Tokyo. Think we have reservations for some higher end Sushi and Tempura and Kappo restaurants. I am actually fine with simple foods and eating lunches from Department stores and 7-11 but donít mind introducing my partner to some Michelin level Japanese restaurants.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 12:22 AM
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Originally Posted by tripplanner001
The Planning

We began actively planning our trip to Japan in the early spring of this year. We conducted our research per usual, considered the very helpful advice from you here as well as on japan-guide.com, thought about our interests, etc., but narrowing down the places we eventually settled on was very hard. We ruled out Hokkaido and Tohoku early on, as we were originally looking at later in November and December did not want to visit during the depths of winter. We knew we wanted to return to Tokyo and to Kyoto, and really wanted to see the Japanese Alps, even though we would be there past the optimal time. We initially wanted to include Kyushu, but to do it justice would have required an additional couple of weeks that we didnít have and it is far from the main part of Honshu. Himeji Castle was important to us, so Okayama and Kurashiki seemed logical. We looked at Naoshima, but Benesse House was sold out for our dates. Matsue and Hagi spoke to us as well; we simply didnít have the days and it seemed it would be rainy and cold during the time of year. Needless to say, so many places to explore for a follow-on visit.

We went ahead and reserved our accommodations Ė booking refundable options of course. Other than Ryokan Kurashiki (I wished it hadnít, as the USD Ė JPY exchange rate is much more favorable now), none charged us ahead of time and we made a few substitutions along the way. Even with our trip just a couple of days away, we still reviewing hotel options and may still make a last-minute substitution. Other than staying at a ryokan, weíre booked at machiyas in Kanazawa and in Takayama. The other places, itís more traditional hotels, especially in Tokyo and Osaka (so we can begin and end with something more familiar). Overall, weíre happy with the variety.

We also make a handful of dinner reservations, especially at the harder to get-in Michelin-ranked establishments. Other than that, we have a list to work with (thanks to some of you) and will see what piques our interest while weíre there.

We also booked a handful of sightseeing experiences ahead of time, including digital art at Kanazawa Castle (thank you progol), a similar display at Nijo Castle in Kyoto, and visits to Saiho-ji and Katsura Imperial Villa, both in Kyoto. We wanted to book a special early visit to Tofuku-ji in Kyoto and an evening visit to To-ji, also in Kyoto, but both use the Smart Ex app, which does not seem to work with anyone without a Japanese cell phone number.

Speaking of Japanese website and app, we ran into a quirk with some of the restaurants and train sites that weíve not experienced anywhere else in the world. Who knew that websites didnít function during overnight hours, apart from scheduled maintenance? This was a bit annoying but easy to get around.

In any event, our bags are packed and documents in order. We check in online in a couple of hours. Japan, here we come.
Sounds like you've planned an amazing trip! Chasing the fall foliage does seem busy but worth it for the scenery. I appreciate you sharing all the details - it will really help with my planning for next month too. Dividing your time between Tokyo/Kyoto and lesser visited areas in the Alps is a perfect mix. Thanks for the tip on refundable accommodations. Please share any great meals or experiences, it will help me too. Wishing you smooth travels and hoping the colors dazzle! Enjoy every moment and safe travels.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 12:34 AM
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Currently in Tokyo staying in Hibiya. Heading to Hakodate shortly. Really warm the last few days, sunny in the mid 70’s and this is November.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 12:51 AM
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"Chasing Colors in Japan: A November 2023 Trip" sounds like an incredible adventure waiting to happen! Japan is renowned for its breathtaking autumn foliage, and a November trip promises to be a visual treat with the vibrant hues of red, orange, and gold leaves blanketing the landscape.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 01:08 AM
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Trip Report Chasing Colors in Japan: A November 2023 Trip

Thank you for sharing the details of your upcoming trip to Japan in November 2023. It sounds like you have done extensive planning and research to craft an excellent itinerary that balances revisiting highlights like Tokyo and Kyoto with exploring new places like Kanazawa, Takayama, and the Japanese Alps region.

Chasing the fall colors during peak koyo season is an excellent idea, even with the potential crowds. I'm sure the autumn foliage will be stunning. Your mix of cities, rural areas, and unique accommodations like ryokans and machiyas promises to showcase many sides of Japan.

Smart thinking on booking refundable hotels and reservations given potential last minute changes. The tips you provided on quirks with Japanese websites will also help others planning trips. I hope you'll report back on your favorite meals and experiences after your trip to help guide future travelers. Wishing you an amazing time appreciating Japan's beauty, culture, sights, cuisine and more this November. Looking forward to hearing how the trip goes and seeing some photos of the vibrant fall scenery if you can share! Safe travels and enjoy.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 03:01 AM
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Missed the bus stop for Towadako cruise and ended up going to Tsurunoyu instead yay
Resort Shirakami scenic train tomorrow to Hirosaki
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 05:42 AM
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Mjs, that’s awesome. I’m with you on dining, and actually love the department store options in Japan. And the ubiquitous food stalls in the train stations, from cafes to ekibens. Even 7-11s and Lawson’s have interesting selections. It’s been a while since I’ve done a mileage runs, as there are fewer worthwhile these days.

hewholovestravel, will do. I will share as I go along. Where does your trip take you?

curiousgeo, unpredictable weather to say the least, but I suppose unpredictable is the predictable these days. I was definitely expecting it to be colder than it is right now.

arjunsingh5685, Japan is unique and good anytime; I fell in love with it when we went in February. But I’m hoping for some special moments enjoying the koyo.

chinyen, thank you.

mrwunrfl, sounds fun. Someday we’ll make it to the north too.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 02:29 PM
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As a fellow koyo chaser who's arriving to Tokyo on Nov. 12th, I've been checking the weather forecast while wondering all along how's the situation on the grounds, really. I often see it at home that what's in the weather app isn't exactly how it plays out in reality. So, for you who are already there, is it really as warm and pleasant as it seems? We are staying Nov. 12-26 and I'm worried if the clothes I'm packing is adequate.
Thank you!
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Old Nov 3rd, 2023, 09:56 PM
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Originally Posted by ak_rc
As a fellow koyo chaser who's arriving to Tokyo on Nov. 12th, I've been checking the weather forecast while wondering all along how's the situation on the grounds, really. I often see it at home that what's in the weather app isn't exactly how it plays out in reality. So, for you who are already there, is it really as warm and pleasant as it seems? We are staying Nov. 12-26 and I'm worried if the clothes I'm packing is adequate.
Thank you!
cold 55F in Hirosaki 2pm

look at forecast lows to prepare
when you go into mountains it will be colder than
i reallly did need a jacket for in Unzen last week
was about 72f in Fukuoka but got cold that night up in Unzen Onsen not far south but up in elevation maybe 58F
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Old Nov 4th, 2023, 06:56 AM
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ak_rc,
This is our first time to Japan so can’t compare to other years, but my understanding is that it’s been unusually mild. When we were in Tokyo 2 weeks ago, it was in the mid-upper 70s during the day. We were in the Japanese Alps (spectacular color!) and it was cooler there - upper 30s in the morning, the high was generally in the upper 60s, maybe low 70s in Marsumoto (end of October). We were in Okuhida in an onsen and it was definitely cooler there. We’re now in Kanazawa and we’re back to milder weather - upper 70s during the day, upper 50s/low 60s at night. It’s projected t go up to 80 degrees on Monday!

But the color has been fabulous in the Japanese Alps!
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Old Nov 4th, 2023, 01:10 PM
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Thank you! We are accustomed to cold. If it happens to be low to mid 60s we'll feel warm. I'll pack a jacket for just in case for sure.
Glad the fall come through and you're enjoying the coolers, @progol. We sort of come from the Mecca for fall colours so we can relate to what it means to appreciate them. Hopefully, we'll catch some of them in Japan as well.
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Old Nov 5th, 2023, 01:54 PM
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ak_rc, we just landed in Tokyo yesterday, and it was about 75 and partly cloudy. We wore long sleeves and had to roll it up midday as it was too hot. It was quite humid yesterday too. It may hit 80 today.

progol, when were you in the Alps? I plan on going there for the day on the 14th. Hoping some of the colors still remain, but looking forward to it regardless.

Enroute to Japan

We traveled from Washington, DC, to Japan via New York JFK. The first flight, on American Airlines, was delayed for about an hour. Not to worry, though, as we had a five-hour scheduled layover at JFK, which was now four - still allowing us plenty of time. At JFK, we passed the time between flights at the Greenwich Lounge operated jointly by American Airlines and British Airways. We ate a little and mostly relaxed. The flight from NYC to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport was operated by Japan Airlines, a first for us. The flight departed and arrived on time. The economy seating was more spacious than most carriers (9 across rather than 10) and the seats were comfortable enough. The service onboard was very good - probably one of the better ones we've experienced on a long-haul flight. Each economy passenger was handed a deli bag before takeoff, which served as our first in-flight meal service. The second meal was served about two-thirds of our way into the flight. The food was decent as far as airline meals go, and quite well-balanced. The flight attendants walked up and down the cabin with juice, coffee, and tea about every 30-50 minutes, and also offered snacks. Lavatories were kept clean and tidy throughout the flight, cleaned after every few uses. The only downside was the in-flight entertainment, as the options were more limited than on other carriers.

We arrived at Tokyo Haneda’s Airport at about 5:30 AM, after about 14.5 hours in the air. Immigration and customs were very efficient. We were on the other side about 15-20 minutes after we landed. Arriving at Haneda Airport meant a much shorter commute time into Tokyo, compared to Narita, the city’s other airport. We travelled to The Gate Hotel in Ginza, our home for the next four nights, via the city’s very extensive and efficient public transit. Having grown up in NYC, we’re used to riding the subways; Tokyo’s is not any more difficult to navigate. Most of Tokyo’s subway stations, though, is a labyrinth underground, with several connecting lines and more than one exit. It took us a second to find the exit nearest to our hotel, which was right in front of the entrance to our hotel. Our rooms wouldn't be ready until the afternoon, which we had expected. No worries though, as, we simply checked in, dropped off our bags, and went out to explore the city. After all, it was only about 7:30 AM, meaning we had a full day ahead of us.

Diving Headfirst into Tokyo

Tokyo is a city of wards and neighborhoods, a hodge-podge of many high- and mid-rise buildings scattered over a vast geographic area. By some estimates, Tokyo is home to the most people of any city on earth. We spent our day within the city center, to its west, visiting Harajuku Aoyama, Omotesando, Shibuya, and Roppongi, considered by most guidebooks to be the “modern” part of Tokyo.

We began our day at Yoyogi Park, for some fresh air and people watching after sitting on a plane for so long. From there we made our way on foot to Meiji Shrine, a place for Shinto worship honoring Emperor Meiji, who presented over Japan’s industrialization and urbanization in the 1800s. Situated in a forest of tall, beautiful green trees within an urban jungle, Meiji Shrine is among the most popular sights for tourists to Tokyo as well as a spot for traditional Japanese weddings. We entered via the southeast entrance, strolled past three wooden tori gates until we reached the main shrine complex. Near the entrance was an exhibition of chrysanthemums, the symbol of the Japanese throne. Other than foliage, this is chrysanthemum season.

Meiji Shrine was fairly busy this morning, but not more than usual. Among the visitors are tourists as well as local worshippers. We happened upon a wedding as soon as we stepped through the massive wooden gain to the main hall. We watched the procession for a little bit and wandered among the worshippers in front of the shrine. The interior of Shinto shrines are mostly closed to the public, which meant we admired the details of the wood and guilded metal work from the outside. We also strolled to the far northern end of the site, to the Treasure House for a view of some of the artifacts on display, before making our way back to where we started. We stopped at the cafť and souvenir shop complex for some shopping and saw a couple of vendors selling dango, or rice cakes grilled over charcoal and then dipped in a sweet soy sauce – yum! We enjoyed our dango with some cold green tea from the ubiquitous vending machines (vending machines are everywhere in Japan, in the most unexpected of places too).

From Meiji Shrine, we walked down Omotesando, one of Tokyo’s main shopping districts. We browsed a couple of stores (more for people-watching and window-shopping than anything else) but also enjoyed some of the unique building architecture. Near Meiji Shrine off the main drag of Omotesando is the Ote Memorial Museum of Art, where we enjoyed its collection of scroll paintings in the ukiyo-e style. We soon ate lunch at Maisen, a well-known restaurant serving tonkatsu, deep-fried, breaded pork cutlets. Given its fame, the line was long and we waited for about 30 minutes. Serve was efficient though as we ordered while we waited and were served shortly after sitting down. The tonkatsu was very good – crispy outside, soft and moist inside, going well with white rice and cabbage. That said, I don't know if we would wait again for a second time, as we've had similar quality tonkatsu elsewhere during our prior visit (we still remember the delicious tonkatsu we had in Hakone last time). From Maisen we walked to the Nezu Museum for a visit. On display yesterday is art from the Song Dynasty in China, with scroll paintings, calligraphy, bronzes, and Buddhist sculptures on display. Behind the museum is a nice garden with teahouses and more Buddhist sculpture.

After our visit to the Nezu Museum, we made our way on foot to Shibuya, another shopping district. We walked through the famous Scramble Crossing, enjoyed a coffee break at one of the many cafes, and made some purchases at Tokyu Hands, a store selling everything from daily use items to home and kitchen ware to stationary and craft items. We had wanted to visit the indoor and outdoor observation deck at the new Shibuya Sky, but it was sold out for today weeks in advance. From Shibuya, we hopped on the subway for Roppongi.

While everywhere we’ve been today we’ve visited previously, we had not gone to Roppongi before. Hope to many expats, Roppongi is east of Shibuya not that far from Tokyo Tower (the red-and-white tower that resembles its famous sibling in Paris). We visited Roppongi Hills, for the Mori Art Museum and Tokyo City View. On display at the Mori Art Museum, which showcases contemporary art, was a not-very-interesting exhibit regarding the effects of climate change (we believe the issue is real and care about it; the exhibit was just not very interesting). Also housed in the same building, the Mori Tower, is an observatory. We walked around, enjoying some of the city views from the 52nd floor. Other than an all-lit-up Tokyo Tower standing stately before us, the nighttime view was honestly not very interesting (from what we remember from a decade ago, the views from Tokyo Skytree were better).

We ate dinner nearby at Ryuzu, a Michelin two-starred French restaurant. The food was quite good, with a good variety of ingredients used. We dined on artichoke soup, grilled scallops, lobster, fish grilled in butter, wagyu beef with matsutake tempura, and a selection of desserts. Everything was delicious. From Ryuzu, it was a short ride on the subway back to our hotel in Ginza.
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Old Nov 5th, 2023, 02:53 PM
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Wow, you get a lot accomplished on your first day after a long overnight flight! I am considering a similar flight which I have not tried before as it is much cheaper than the afternoon one...

You visited my two favorite Tokyo museums - Ota and Nezu!

Enjoy!
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Old Nov 5th, 2023, 03:38 PM
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Hi! We are in Osaka now and leaving for home in a couple days! We started with 8 days in Tokyo way back in the beginning of October.
Your trip is very similar to the one we took in 2019. Look forward to following along.
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