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First stab at Japan Itinerary - thoughts?

First stab at Japan Itinerary - thoughts?

Apr 12th, 2019, 05:19 PM
  #1  
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First stab at Japan Itinerary - thoughts?

Hello Fodorians!

We'll be in Japan in mid-late November for 15 nights, with an 11 year old and a 7 turning 8 yr old in town (it will be her birthday while we're away). They're pretty good travellers, but we know from the past we need a mix of the occasional park/place to burn energy/inevitable trip to Hello Kitty Hotel and Pokemon Cafe to make them happy to be dragged round the stuff we want to do! How does the following itinerary sound as our starting point? It feels like a lot of places but we managed 2 weeks in Italy with them a few years ago going to 6 different places so I'm hoping it's doable:

Tokyo - 5 nights
Nara - can we do this en route from Tokyo to Kyoto?
Kyoto - 5 night
Osaka (day trip from Kyoto?)
KoyaSan - 1 (maybe 2?) nights
Hiroshima - 1 night
Miyajima - 1 night

We have 2 nights left to spare but I imagine one of those will be back in Tokyo, 1 could be added to KoyaSan or Hiroshime/Miyajima....I would love to go to Hakone but feel we might need the full 5 nights in each of Kyoto and Tokyo, maybe Hakone as a day trip from Tokyo? It feels very much treading the tourist track but we're hoping we'll make it back to Japan again and get off the beaten path a little next time. We're big Ghibli fans if that has any impact (yes the date is in my diary to book our Museum tickets 3months before we go!). We fly in and out of Narita but should we look at a slightly different route from the above to beak up 3 places in 4 days?!

Thanks so much for your help - you were amazing helping us plan Italy a few years ago!

mymatemarmite is offline  
Apr 12th, 2019, 05:52 PM
  #2  
kja
 
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Should be great!

If you haven't already done so, please spend time -- LOTS of time -- with japan-guide.com

You can visit Nara en route, or from Kyoto, or on its own. I wanted 2 full days there, but many people visit it as a day trip from Kyoto. You can also see Osaka as a day trip from Kyoto -- or on its own. You might consider adding a day or two to Kyoto (6 nights is not unusual for a first trip) and/or adding a night or two in Nara so that your total nights in Kyoto & Nara add to at least 6 or 7.

Koyasan is, IMO, a delightful location -- IF you choose your temple carefully. I was very pleased with Shojoshin-in (which still gets very good reviews) and believe that several other Fodorites enjoyed it. In contrast, I've seen comments from people who stayed elsewhere and were very disappointed with Koyasan. There's a lot to be seen and enjoyed there, and maybe 2 nights would serve you well, but FWIW, note that most people seem to spend only 1 night there.

Hiroshima and Miyajima can often be combined -- depending on exact travel plans and interests and flexibilities you want to accommodate your children. You might want to explore your options for combining them, perhaps with 2 nights in the one location that seems to serve your needs best.

You mention that you think one of your spare days will be back in Tokyo. Consider putting all of your time in Tokyo at the end of your trip, if possible (it might not).

If you still have an extra day or so once you work things through, consider a day trip or overnight in Nikko or a day trip to Kamakura (both from Tokyo) or a day trip to Uji (from Kyoto). Have you included time for Himeji-jo? You have so many options!

Hope that helps!
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Apr 13th, 2019, 12:05 AM
  #3  
tt7
 
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Originally Posted by mymatemarmite View Post

Tokyo - 5 nights
Nara - can we do this en route from Tokyo to Kyoto?
Kyoto - 5 night
Osaka (day trip from Kyoto?)
KoyaSan - 1 (maybe 2?) nights
Hiroshima - 1 night
Miyajima - 1 night

We have 2 nights left to spare but I imagine one of those will be back in Tokyo,
Nara is not really en-route to Kyoto (or Osaka). If you're coming from Tokyo, you just want to take the shinkansen to Kyoto ... yes, you could detour somewhere along the way to get to Nara but it doesn't make any sense to do so. Alternatively, once you get to Kyoto, you could just continue on to Nara and stay overnight. Personally, I would just stay in Kyoto and do days trips to Nara and (if you must) Osaka.

As for a night in Tokyo at the end, what time is your flight? If it's late afternoon/evening, you can easily make it back from Kyoto (or points west) on the same day.
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Apr 13th, 2019, 06:54 PM
  #4  
 
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Looks pretty good. Towards the end you do have a 4-5 hr trip then 2 nights, then a solid 5-hr trip back to Tokyo. You could do that last long-haul first: Tokyo - Hiroshima/Miyajima - Kyoto- Koyasan (if you must) and back to Tokyo. You could add Nara before or after Koyasan.

Have you got your airline tix yet?
mrwunrfl is offline  
Apr 13th, 2019, 08:20 PM
  #5  
kja
 
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@ mrwunrfl: Just curious why you suggest moving that last long-haul to early in the trip. I generally prefer to put the long-hauls at the end of a multi-week trip in case I am getting tired, but maybe I'm missing something?
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Apr 14th, 2019, 07:21 AM
  #6  
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Thanks so much for the responses, its a huge help. Yes weve booked the flights already (pulling the kids out of school the week before the Thanksgiving Break so we are a bit tied.

thanks to your thoughts I think weve planned our itenary thus far:

Tokyo - 6 nights (day trip to Kamakura and hopefully Nikko)
Hiroshima/Miyajima - 2 nights
Koyasan - 2 nights (allowing for longish journey via Himeji)
Kyoto - 5 nights (day trip to Nara)

flight is at 5pm on our last day from Narita so reckon we can go from Kyoto?

now to book accommodation, I cant believe how much in Miyajima is already booked up!

re Tokyo based on research so far, maybe Ginza seems a good bet? Well be going all over the city but need to be somewhere not too frenetic but open late and early enough to deal with jetlag on arrival (5am coffees!)
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Apr 14th, 2019, 05:12 PM
  #7  
tt7
 
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Originally Posted by mymatemarmite View Post
Tokyo - 6 nights (day trip to Kamakura and hopefully Nikko)
Hiroshima/Miyajima - 2 nights
Koyasan - 2 nights (allowing for longish journey via Himeji)
Kyoto - 5 nights (day trip to Nara)
One issue that has not (yet) been discussed is whether or not you intend to get Japan Rail Passes. In order for a Pass to be cost-effective, you have to do enough long-distance travel. Tokyo - Kyoto roundtrip is marginal - but as soon as you add e.g., Hiroshima, the Pass becomes cost-effective. The difficulty is then fitting a 7-day or 14-day Pass in to your itinerary.

A 7-day JR Pass is 29,110, a 14-day Pass 46,390. Children 6 - 11 are 50% of those prices.

Tokyo - Hiroshima - 18,560 (19,080 on a Nozomi)
Hiroshima - Kyoto - 11,090
Kyoto - Narita - 16,380

Those three trips total 46,030, so about the same as a 14-day Pass. Some additional side trips would add value to the Pass although they may not be substantial (except perhaps for Nikko, if you use JR to get there). The downside to the Pass is you can't use the Nozomi shinkansen (the fastest and most frequent, though 'fastest' only because it makes fewer stops). You also can't fit all of your itinerary into a 14 day period -- you'd have to pay separately for a day or so, probably Narita - Tokyo, and then start the Pass from Tokyo.

For all things train-related, use Hyperdia. If you need help understanding how to use it etc., please ask.

Originally Posted by mymatemarmite View Post
flight is at 5pm on our last day from Narita so reckon we can go from Kyoto?
Yes. Even using a JR Pass and therefore restricted to the Hikari shinkansen, a 9.32 or 9.59 departure from Kyoto would have you at Narita by 13.23 or 13.53, in good time for a 5 pm flight.

Originally Posted by mymatemarmite View Post
re Tokyo based on research so far, maybe Ginza seems a good bet? Well be going all over the city but need to be somewhere not too frenetic but open late and early enough to deal with jetlag on arrival (5am coffees!)
Ginza is an upscale shopping and dining area, and wouldn't be my choice (but then I'm not in to shopping or, for that matter, upscale dining -- too many good, cheaper places in Tokyo to eat).

Shinjuku is a common choice but it can be a bit overwhelming - lots of bright lights and glitz but not to everyone's taste.

Take a look at Ueno (and Asakusa). A much more laid-back, old Tokyo type of area, adjacent to Ueno Park, its zoo and a number of major museums.

Between the trains and the subway, it's easy to get around though obviously it helps to be close to a station. To get around easily, get everybody a Suica card. In addition to Tokyo, you can use it in Kyoto, Nara etc. and (starting-recently-though-I-haven't-personally-tested-it-yet) in Hiroshima. In addition to using it for local trains, buses, subway etc., you can use it at vending machines, conbini, left luggage lockers, some cafes and restaurants. Makes life much, much easier. Whereas you can get adult Suica cards from a machine, for the children's cards, you'll have to go to a ticket office -- get them when you get your train tickets from Narita to Tokyo. I've never done it but I think you probably just have to fill in a form and have the children's passports. Note that Suica cards are usually cash only, so even at the ticket office you may have to use cash for the Suica cards (even if you use a credit card to pay for the train tickets).
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Apr 14th, 2019, 05:18 PM
  #8  
kja
 
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Originally Posted by mymatemarmite View Post
Koyasan - 2 nights (allowing for longish journey via Himeji)
Kyoto - 5 nights (day trip to Nara)
That could work! Or even with the long journey to Koyasan, you might shift a night to Kyoto.
And although many people visit Nara as a day trip from Kyoto, I was glad to have 2 full days in Nara.
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Apr 15th, 2019, 09:58 AM
  #9  
 
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Originally Posted by kja View Post
@ mrwunrfl: Just curious why you suggest moving that last long-haul to early in the trip. I generally prefer to put the long-hauls at the end of a multi-week trip in case I am getting tired, but maybe I'm missing something?
Many people (myself, and I have seen others mention it here) have a higher energy level at the start of a trip. Having two long trips with one night stays in a short period at the end is not what I would want to do. Having the long stay in Kyoto before the easy-ish trip to the airport is a better idea.

I was thinking of asking the OP how important Hiroshima/Miyajima and Koyasan are to them and to consider dropping one of them. But I won't do that.

But I will point to the big IF that kja mentioned. It suggests that your Koyasan stay could be less than delightful - depending on where you stay.

I suggest going from Hiroshima/Miyajima to Kyoto. Instead of two nights on Koya, spend one there and add a night to Kyoto. Stay one night or two or three in Kyoto, leave your stuff at the hotel and take just one small backpack to Koyasan for the overnight, and then return to Kyoto.

An option to consider is flying to or from Hiroshima. The one way fare can be less than $100.

In Hiroshima, I recommend the Sheraton (on the shinkansen side of the station) or the Rihga Royal (short walk to the Peace Park). There are a couple of places closer to the PP & Museum that would also be a short walk to a (non-JR) ferry to Miyajima.
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Apr 15th, 2019, 04:16 PM
  #10  
kja
 
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@ mrwunrfl: Thanks for elaborating! I, too, usually have more energy at the start of a trip -- which is why I was surprised. But it sounds like the combination of 2 long-haul raises AND 1-night stays that triggered your reaction.
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Apr 15th, 2019, 09:58 PM
  #11  
 
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Yes, kja, that combination - and it being at the end - and THEN one night Tokyo before a long-haul flight to LHR or SYD or AKL. But, what do you think of my comment about your big IF.

mymatemarmite, you have made some good stabs at a plan. I am now wondering if the plan to go from Miyajima to Koyasna - with a stop to visit Himeji-jo on the way - is possible. It is a 5 hour trip. Add what, 4 hours for Himeji? It could be a10-hour day, give or take, door to door.

So, you leave your Miyajima lodging at 9AM and get to your temple lodging at 7PM Is it possible to check in that late? You could leave earlier - your time on Miyajima is already squeezed.
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Apr 15th, 2019, 10:39 PM
  #12  
kja
 
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Originally Posted by mrwunrfl View Post
kja ... what do you think of my comment about your big IF..
It is, IMO, a bit IF! That's why I mentioned it in the first place. For me, Koyasan was one of the highlights of a highlight filled trip, and it wasn't just because of my temple stay -- there is a lot to see there, far more than simply Okunoin. Still, many delights -- the peace, beauty, and extraordinary cuisine -- were part and parcel of my temple choice, and from what I read, not all temples offer those experiences. In fact, the only two I remember seeing recommended are Shojoshinin (the temple in which I stayed) and Ekoin. Of course, other temples might be fine.
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Apr 16th, 2019, 05:13 AM
  #13  
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This is so helpful (especially the massive breakdown on prices for the JR pass which I assumed wed be getting, plus the Suica card which Ive read up on)

Actually going to Kyoto direct from Hiroshima and then in the middle of the Kyoto trip go to Koyasan sounds like a much more sensible idea, especially if we double book ourselves and leave our stuff in Kyoto, will prob be worth the expense of paying for a night in two places, that journey WAS worrying me a little, especially with children in tow

i desperately want to do Koyasan and DH has Hiroshima at the top of his list so neither of them are negotiable for this trip, but this feels like an elegant solution. I know most people do just one night and if we do one night it wont cut into Kyoto too much but Im really tempted to do 2 so we have a full day up there...
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Apr 16th, 2019, 06:23 AM
  #14  
 
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A comment on your flights, too late to help you but other readers may take note. Japan is a good place to use a multi-destination itinerary for trans-ocean flights. Fly into Tokyo and home from the international airport in Osaka (KIX), or the other way round. It saves lots of time and often will cost no more, or even less when the cost of returning to the entry point is added in. But using a multi-city search function is essential: These itineraries are not a set of one-way tickets.
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Apr 16th, 2019, 05:21 PM
  #15  
kja
 
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Or, instead of going from Kyoto to Koyasan and back to Kyoto, consider staying in Nara for a night or two (rather than day tripping from Kyoto). So: Nara -- Koyasan -- Kyoto, or Kyoto -- Koyasan -- Nara, whichever suits better. There really is a lot to enjoy in Koyasan, so as long as you choose your temple carefully, I think it should be a good option for your family. I hope so!

In many locations, you have options for leaving luggage at manned desks at train stations or in lockers -- consult japan-guide.com. And look into your options for luggage forwarding: It's called takuhaibin. Here's some basis info:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2278.html
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Apr 16th, 2019, 06:38 PM
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japan-guide says to try to check in at Koyasan NLT 5 PM as dinner is at 5:30 or 6PM: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4905.html
So it would be tough getting there in time if you made that stop at Himeji.

There is a 2-day pass for Koyasan to consider: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2358_012.html - a good bit of it is non-JR. There is also a Niko World Heritage Pass on Tobu but you can get there on JR (IIRC the JR fares are higher than Tobu but if you already have a JR Pass then it would not be an issue)

Figure 2 hours from Miyajima to Himeji and 4 hours in Himeji with the caslte closing at 5PM. Would be best if that was a weekday, same for the Miyajima night.

There is a national holiday during your stay called Labor Thanksgiving Day. It is Saturday Nov 23. You can expect good weather during your stay in general and Sanyo region in particular.

Shichi Go San is November 15, a Friday. It is also celebrated on the weekend before and after that day at a Shinto shrine (and probably other weekdays). This is a delight. A wonderful place for this is Meiji Jingu in Tokyo. You must go. You might also see a Shinto wedding party.

If you decide to go to Koyasan from Kyoto then you would be able to leave Kyoto early in the morning if you wish and explore for a few hours before checking in. It is a 3-hour trip, call it 4, so you could leave Kyoto as late as noonish and still check-in at 5PM even if you get a bit lost on the way. So, then you finish dinner at 6:30 and then what. I suppose there is something. Next day, up and at it at 6AM spend all day on Koyasan. Your option is then have another dinner and night up there and go back to Kyoto on the second morning. Or, after one night on Koya you just leave for Kyoto as early or late as you wish. Spend all day on Koya, but dine and stay in Kyoto that night. Wake up in Kyoto next day. I would choose the one night stay, but it is not my trip. Thing is, whatever you decide, you really can't go wrong. It's gonna be great.
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Apr 16th, 2019, 06:43 PM
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kja posted some good advice while I was writing. You will need to work on a luggage plan.
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Apr 16th, 2019, 07:01 PM
  #18  
kja
 
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And mrwunrfl posted some great advice about the timing of your visit to Himeji.

Note that even if you get up for the morning Buddhist ceremony at your temple, you are allowed to go back to bed -- no need to get up for once and all at 6 a.m! Or at least, that was the case when I stayed at Shojoshin-in. The times of the service and the breakfast were not negotiable, but I had a lovely nap before beginning my day.
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Apr 16th, 2019, 07:16 PM
  #19  
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You lot are seriously amazing

will def look into sending luggage ahead especially as now considering final night in Hakone en route to Narita. And Ill look into Nara-Koyasan overnighters too

have started dividing and conquering with husband, hes in charge of the big cities (Tokyo and Kyoto) and Im in charge of our smaller and shorter destinations

the festival on 15th November sounds great, well arrive that day and be in Tokyo that afternoon - brilliant as I was sad it looked like we were generally missing out on festivals

agree, I dont think we can go wrong - feels like its going to be great, and hopefully the weather will be mildish (were british but acclimatised to southern Californian temperatures!)
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Apr 18th, 2019, 10:45 AM
  #20  
 
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7-5-3 is a traditional family celebration, not like a public group festival on a fixed day, so many people plan it around their busy schedules (work/school). Saturday the 16th might be more popular than the 15th.

Nov 16 this year is a Taian day - lucky all day! Good for weddings and other events. The 15th is a butsumetsu day - bad luck all day. I would go to MJ on the 16th. Yes, you can ask parents if you could take a photo of their child(ren) and yes, it is ok to take photos of a wedding procession.

On the path to the shrine there is a small sign on the left with a short path to a couple of buildings by a lake. I think a princess did some fishing there back in the day. It is pretty/pleasant and does not take much time.
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