First time to Japan (This Month)

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Dec 3rd, 2017, 10:02 AM
  #1
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First time to Japan (This Month)

Hello,

I just booked a last minute flight to japan, but I leave on the 25th of this month come back the 4th of January. This leaves about 9ish days without travel time. How should I plan on splitting up my trip? I know I want to spend time in both Tokyo and Kyoto, should I add Nara/Hakone/somewhere else too? I'm interested in shopping in Tokyo, seeing the fish market, seeing the shrines in Kyoto. Also, would it be worth it to get a Rail Pass if I will just be needing tickets from Tokyo to kyoto and back? Thank you in advance for your help!
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 11:09 AM
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With such a limited time, I'd suggest you stick to Tokyo and Kyoto. There are day trips possible from both cities, so if you find yourselves bored (I can't imagine!) you could take a day trip. I'd suggest you go straight to Kyoto from Narita. No need for a rail pass, buy point to point tickets. But do ask that they print your tickets in English.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 02:18 PM
  #3
kja
 
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I agree with Kathie that sticking with Tokyo and Kyoto makes sense EXCEPT that I would think it could make sense to visit Nara from Kyoto -- personally, I wouldn't skip Nara, but it really depends on your interests and preferences.

If you haven't already done so, spend lots of time with japan-guide.com.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 02:22 PM
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Ideally it would be better to have an idea where you want to go before you commit yourself to fixed dates/itinerary - try to stay as flexible as possible.

You should NOT buy regular fare tickets. For your plans, you can save more money with the japanican ticket to Kyoto.
http://www.japanican.com/en/tour/detail/VJOPENTK1/

As for getting into Tokyo, it depends on which airport you are using. For Narita, the fastest way to catch the bullet train to Kyoto (if you opt to go there from the get go) would be the Narita Express from Narita to Tokyo Stn or Shinagawa. But if you go take a side trip to Himeji or elsewhere from Kyoto, then a 7 day JR Pass instead begins to look more attractive and economical. Otherwise, a much cheaper option would be the 1000 yen bus from Narita to Tokyo.
http://accessnarita.jp/en/home/
If landing at Haneda, it's not difficult or long to get to Shinagawa or central Tokyo.

Adding at least Nara Park for half a day is well worth it - Nara was also a former capital and has some of Japan's best sights. Missing the Todaiji Great Buddha would be a tragedy.
Hakone would normally be good, though perhaps not its best in late December, but to me you could be piling too much on with just 9 days.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 03:04 PM
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You've got 9 full days, so sure you have time to also visit Nara and Hakone. If you want to add another destination then you can do that too. It just depends on how you like to travel.

If you do go from Narita Airport to Kyoto on your arrival date, the 26th (I assume), then you could use a 7-day JR Pass if you return to Tokyo on/before the 1st. Or a 7-day pass if you left Tokyo on the 29th, go to Kyoto, and then use it to get to Narita Airport on the 4th. But the value of the pass would really only come out if you added another destination, like Hiroshima, Himeji, Kanazawa, Takayama.

Are you flying in/out of Narita or Haneda. An option option is to fly to Osaka if the flights for $71 fit your schedule.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 03:30 PM
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I loved Nara. Wouldn’t skip it. But I also enjoyed Hakone, and winter would be a terrific time for onsens.

Depending on what you’re shopping for, I think Kyoto is more fun than Tokyo. Actually, if possible, I’d cut time from Tokyo and go to either Takayama or Miyajima/Hiroshima. I liked Tokyo but the smaller places are more of what people think of when they think of Japan.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 03:33 PM
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And I’m not advocating super fast travel, but I found that the Japanese rail system is so easy that I was more comfortable with shorter stays.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 03:48 PM
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".. the smaller places are more of what people think of when they think of Japan." Really?! My last three sets of houseguests in Japan came for the cutting edge design/architecture - so Tokyo proved the highlight. Tricky to generalize.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 03:59 PM
  #9
kja
 
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I also question the reference to "smaller places" -- my impression is that most people, when thinking of Japan, think of either Tokyo (among the world's largest and most densely populated cities) or Kyoto (which is also a very large city).
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 04:45 PM
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Maybe it’s that many of my friends are art or history majors? So that mostly their interests lie in historic architecture, traditional crafts. That was my main exposure to Japanese culture before my trip. Kyoto is very large but feels a lot more traditional and preserved than Tokyo. I really enjoyed the food and energy of Tokyo but I didn’t find it an especially attractive city.

Good point about design and architecture in Tokyo, though. I could see if you’re into modern design, Tokyo would be fascinating.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 05:37 PM
  #11
kja
 
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I think there's an enormous difference between whether places are traditional and whether they are "small." Tokyo has only a few areas that predate WWII, some of which are IMO well worth seeing; Kyoto and Nara have large areas filled with ancient -- or at least very old -- sites.

I thought that many temples and shrines created a sense of being a small, or at least smallish, corner away from the world, but some felt vast. And of course, modern spaces can do that, too.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 06:01 PM
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A good way to describe it, thank you, Kja. I worded it poorly. I liked the little corners away from the world that I saw in Japan, and encountered few of those in Tokyo. Although modern spaces can do that too, I agree. One of the more interesting things about Tokyo is that it doesn’t really have a “downtown” area- it’s like a city made up of distinct districts.

This is making me really want to revisit Tokyo actually....never mind,Henry, Tokyo is well worth spending time in
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 06:57 PM
  #13
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Thank you guys so much for your input, would you recommend going straight to Kyoto upon arrival, or stay in Tokyo for a few days first?
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 07:09 PM
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Kind of depends on you and how you handle jet lag.

I enjoyed Tokyo a lot more once I was over jetlag. Kyoto is very compact. But if you have a longer list of stuff you want to see in Kyoto, maybe you’d prefer to be fresher for that.

For what it’s worth, I’m glad I went to Kyoto before spending more time in Tokyo, because I learned a lot about the shrines and temples there, and it gave me a better idea of what I wanted to see in Tokyo.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 07:20 PM
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JR pass is great to move around Tokyo as well as long as u are on the JR line which is not the subway.

I would go Kyoto first and enjoy some traditional Japan. I did that when my family came to visit me, they landed in Tokyo and we went Kyoto same day. Nara is great for a day trip and so it would be Hiroshima but maybe a bit far.
wrap it up in Tokyo. Can go for some shopping in Yokohama as well
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 07:23 PM
  #16
kja
 
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I agree that it depends!

I don't deal well with jet lag, so when possible, I want to go as far as I can before crashing, knowing that I don't have to move on again until after I've recovered.

Others have different opinions and experiences.

And of course it depends on when, exactly, you would arrive.

BTW, I would disagree with the statement that Kyoto is "very compact" -- it's major sites are, IME, distributed over a rather large geographic area, with things to the east, south, west, and north, not to mention the center, and with multiple different bus, subway, and train lines (in addition to taxis and feet) needed to get to what many consider the highlights. Kyoto is more compact than Tokyo, but that doesn't say much as Tokyo is vast.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 11:19 PM
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“Tokyo has only a few areas that predate WWII……” What?! Asakusa – grew up around Sensoji, founded in the 7th Century. Ueno was declared a public park in 1873 but its grounds, including Shinobazu lake, were originally part of Kaneiji, founded in 1625. Meiji Jingu which always feels so ancient to me, actually dates back only to 1920. The Imperial Palace, destroyed in WWII and rebuilt, is on the site of the original Edo Castle, seat of the Tokugawa shogun in 1603. The whole notion of ‘reconstruction’ is completely different in Japan anyway; the Ise Grand Shrine, the most sacred Shinto site, is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years.

I agree with kja, Kyoto is not 'compact'.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 11:26 PM
  #18
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@ Boveney: You are mentioning the few areas of Tokyo that predate WWII -- basically proving my point. And as I said, I believe that they are worth seeing.
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Dec 4th, 2017, 03:49 AM
  #19
 
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I could keep going! How many areas should I list??? Maybe easier to list the ones which postdate WWII - eg Shinjuku which literally translates New Town.
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Dec 8th, 2017, 06:36 PM
  #20
 
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I would say 3 days in Kyoto is enough for a good exploring, 2 if you just want to see around.
Tokyo might need at least 4 just because there is more variety of things to see and do.
now...Nara is really pretty, so it is worth a day for me...Hakone is nice to so go for it if you can.
But there are other options such as Hiroshima, or maybe road trip from Kyoto to Tokyo going through Nagano-ken or Yamanashi...
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