First time trip to Japan in September

Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 06:33 AM
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First time trip to Japan in September

Hi Fodorites
My husband and I are taking a two week trip to Japan in late September/early October, and our itinerary is coming along but I have a few questions that I'd be most appreciative of your thoughts on.

Our rough itinerary is:
9/21 Land at Narita at night
9/22 Tokyo
9/23 Tokyo
9/24 Train to Kyoto
9/25 Kyoto
9/26 Kyoto
9/27 Hiroshima
9/28 Kyoto to Hakone
9/29 Hakone
9/30 Hakone to Tokyo
10/1 Tokyo
10/2 Tokyo
10/3 Fly home from Narita in the afternoon

1) We're trying to determine whether to do a rail pass or just pay for the trains as we need them. When we're in Tokyo, we were thinking we could just do a metro pass, for example. And same when we're in Kyoto, and back in Tokyo at the end. The JR rail pass is over $600 per person for the trip...

2) We'd like to stay in a Ryokan for at least one of the nights we're in Kyoto, if not more, however they all seem to be very expensive. Does anyone have any recommendations for one that is under $300 USD per night for 2 people? Seems hard to find. We're looking for a traditional style ryokan not far from Gion. We'd love to stay in Gion however it might be cost prohibitive.

3) We'd like to do a day hiking trip somewhere on our trip. Do you have any suggestions for where to go that wouldn't take us too far from the travel route we're taking? We're intermediate hikers, but really for the fun of it and not avid!

4) Are there any spots you think we'd miss out by not seeing on this first trip, that could fit into our itinerary?

Thank you so much. I'll return the favor in other forums of places I've visited!
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 07:23 AM
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I just mapped out costs for the train scenarios on Hyperdia and in the end the rail pass is very similar in price to buying al a carte tickets (within $20 USD), so it could be worthwhile to get the pass so as to avoid constantly visiting ticket machines throughout the trip. Would love your thoughts. Thanks!
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 07:57 AM
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You can use a 7-day JR Pass. You need it to cover the 24th to 28th mostly because of the day trip to Hiroshima. If you want to take JR from Hakone to Tokyo then get it activated for the 24th to 30th. Otherwise, you could choose to take the Odakyu train on the 30th, which is a good option especially if you are staying in Shinjuku.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 08:43 AM
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Going by the numbers:
1) The 7-day green pass saves you $235 vs the 14-day pass. You are right: you are better off using a metro pass or pay as you go when traveling in Tokyo and Kyoto.

2) Can't answer about Kyoto, but can recommend Miyajima and Hakone as very good ryokan stay opportunities. Momijiso on Miyajima is very nice and affordable. In Hakone you can find a ryokan with an onsen, good way to relax at the end of the trip.

3) You could walk the Nakasendo.

4) Yes. Spend a night on Miyajima or in Hiroshima. You are basically using your Kyoto hotel room as a storage locker on the 27th. The positive points about returning to Kyoto is that it gives you a shorter travel time to Hakone and it makes for one less hotel change.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 12:55 PM
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Thank you for the responses. We have decided to do a 7 day rail pass to cover the bigger connections, and use metro passes when we're in the cities. It's definitely the most cost effective way.

We're also going to do a night on Miyajima- great suggestion!

Thanks again!
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 02:35 PM
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After Miyajima/Hiroshima you could travel that evening to Nagoya. Spend the night in Nagoya or Magome and walk the Nakasendo next day and then go to Hakone.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 02:59 PM
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Shall we assume that flying into Narita and out of Kansai (or vice versa) is not an option? It would be nice if you could avoid backtracking....

Depending on your interests, you might consider adjusting the relative amounts of time you are planning in Tokyo and Kyoto. FWIW, I thought 6 full days insufficient for Kyoto/Nara.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 06:52 PM
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mrwunrfl, great suggestions- thank you!

kja, how much time would you spend in Tokyo? I too think Kyoto might be the more interesting city between the two. How would you alter the days in each in my schedule?

We've already booked our flights in and out of Narita, so we're locked in with that.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 07:12 PM
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I spent 6 days in Kyoto and Nara and hope that one day I get to return and see some of the many things I didn't have time to see.

I spent 2.5 days in Tokyo, during which time I saw what I wanted to see there.

Just my take....
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 07:17 PM
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Quick follow up...

My goal is only to need seven days for a JR rail pass. These are the seven days right now where we planned to use it. Based on what we have below, would you still go to Miyajima? Or just go back to Kyoto the night we see Hiroshima to maximize the time there?

Also, where would you rather hike based on beauty-- Miyajima or Hakone?

25-Sep Tokyo to Kyoto in the morning
26-Sep Kyoto
27-Sep Kyoto to Hiroshima (afternoon) to Miyajima (evening and stay over)
28-Sep Miyajima to Hiroshima (afternoon) to Kyoto
29-Sep Kyoto to Hakone (late afternoon)
30-Sep Hakone
1-Oct Hakone to Tokyo

Thank you very much
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 07:39 PM
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I skipped Hakone, and so can't speak to its merits, relative or otherwise.

There are some lovely hiking trails on Miyajima.

One thing to consider: How does the price differential for your lodgings in Tokyo and Kyoto compare to the difference between a 7 vs 14 day pass? That might be a really dumb question, but when I was there, hotels were WAY more expensive in Tokyo....
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 09:42 PM
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That 7-day pass plan, the new itnerary, is squeezing out Kyoto time. You can arrange the itinerary so that the JR Pass ends on the day you travel to Hakone. You don't really need it to get back to Tokyo.

Odakyu Railways can get you from Hakone to Shinjuku where you can get the subway or train to other Tokyo locations at low cost. The Odakyu fare is quite good. You can get a Hakone Free Pass with a discounted fare on the Odakyu Romance Car train.

Here is an Odakyu webpage about the HFP and their trains: http://www.odakyu.jp/english/romancecar/

I think Odakyu has other destinations in Tokyo besides Shinjuku, so check on that. You can use hyperdia with departure station of Hakone-Yumoto and whatever Tokyo destination. But first: un-check the "Japan Railways" option so that the search only uses "Private Railway". You will be able to see non-JR itineraries that way.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 09:59 PM
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"You can arrange the itinerary so that the JR Pass ends on the day you travel to Hakone."

Great idea, mrwunrfl!
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Old Jun 22nd, 2014, 10:49 PM
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I would definitely not compromise your itinerary just to fit in with the JR Pass -- for sure the more expensive train trips you can cover in a one week period, the better, but I wouldn't squeeze the Kyoto time just to do that.

I'm in complete agreement with Kja -- more time in Kyoto and less in Tokyo. It's not that Tokyo doesn't have plenty to see but that Kyoto and surrounding areas have even more and I think it's fair to say that the majority of us who have visited both have found ourselves with a strong preference for Kyoto. I've not yet met anyone who felt they had given themselves too much time in Kyoto and yet I've certainly read comments of that nature about Tokyo. Mostly, people wish they had more time in Kyoto and environs.

9/21 Land at Narita at night
9/22 Tokyo
9/23 Tokyo
9/24 Train to Hiroshima (overnight Miyajima)
9/25 Train to Kyoto
9/26 Kyoto
9/27 Kyoto
9/28 Kyoto
9/29 Kyoto
9/30 Kyoto to Hakone
10/1 Hakone
10/2 Hakone to Tokyo
10/3 Fly home from Narita in the afternoon

I've left the itinerary with 2 nights in Hakone, as per your original. Might be nice to finish with this, as it's a place to relax.
I've also kept your Kyoto nights together, but if you're planning to do 2 nights in a ryokan and rest in hotel, you could do 2 nights in Kyoto, then go to Hiroshima for an overnight and come back to a different hotel for the other 3 nights.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2014, 08:46 AM
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My tip on filtering out JR results for Hakone-Tokyo is useful only to show where Odakyu goes from Hakone-Yumoto.

The query result linked below is an example of your options if you traveled without any kind of pass. The destination is Shibuya in this case. Both itins include reserved seats when available.

The first result, using Odakyu, is ¥2,240, 101 minutes, and one change of trains.

The second result uses JR, shinkansen, is ¥3,850, 81 minutes, and a couple of changes. The first leg ¥310 on the Tozan train would be covered by a Hakone Free Pass.

Here's the link: http://tinyurl.com/l2eqfaq
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Old Jun 30th, 2014, 01:35 PM
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Thanks so much for all the most recent suggestions.

I think my next step is just to lay out activities I want to do in each place so I can logically see why I need a certain amount of time in each place.

I'm definitely going to cut back on Tokyo and do more in Kyoto as a result of everyone's advice. This is my gut feeling as well.

I'll report back when I have my activities laid out.

Thanks all!
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Old Jul 5th, 2014, 12:06 AM
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Good luck, Blueberry!
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Old Jul 10th, 2014, 12:14 PM
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Hi Fodorites,

I've had the chance to lay out a more detailed itinerary taking into account your suggestions, and the activities my husband and I will likely do. Would you mind taking a look at the below, and my questions? I would be most appreciative.

21-Sep- Tokyo
(arrive to hotel in Meguro around 9:30pm)
Eat a late dinner in Ebisu, a trendy neighborhood in Shibuya-ku. Any recommendations? Is an izakaya a good option? We'll only be eating around 9/10pm due to a late flight.
Rooftop bar at hotel for a drink (in Meguro)

22-Sep - Tokyo
Tsukiji Fish Market / Daiwa Zushi for breakfast (Chuo) Akihabara (electronics, anime, manga stores) Sumo wrestling match at Ryōgoku Kokugikan (tournament going on from the 14TH -28TH) What other cuisines are good to try in Tokyo? Any neighborhoods you'd recommend we go to for dinner?

23-Sep - Tokyo
Rent bikes at Yoyogi Park - check out Harajuku bridge (right off the park) Shibuya Crossing at Shibuya station (not far from hotel) Is it worth it to do a bike or walking tour? I couldn't find one that went to all the specific places we want to see, but I don't want to miss on the deeper level of knowledge that a tour guide could bring. Any suggestions for a tour you think is worth it? Roppongi Hills / Mori Tower 52nd floor observation deck (late afternoon or maybe before dinner)

24-Sep - Tokyo to Kyoto in early morning
What is the best part of Kyoto to stay in? Higashiyama Area Half Day (1/2 of Eastern tour on Japan-Guide, includes Kiyomizudera Temple- undergoing renovations, Higashiyama District, Kodaiji Temple, Kenninji Temple, Gion- including a walk along the river bank)

25-Sep - Kyoto
Philosopher's Path Half Day (1/2 of eastern tour on Japan-Guide, includes Ginkakuji, Philosopher's Path, Nanzenji, Keage Incline, Heian Shrine) Can I have you opinion on how many temples to go see? Are they all vastly different to warrant seeing several? What are your favorites? Any recommendations for where to have afternoon tea? Sanjusangendo Hall* (1001 Human sized statues)

26-Sep - Kyoto Fushimi Inari Shrine- short train ride out of the city (southern kyoto) AND/OR Arashiyama half day (1/2 Western Kyoto tour on Japan-Guide, includes Tenryuji Temple, Bamboo Groves, Togetsukyo Bridge, Monkey Park)

27-Sep - Kyoto to Hiroshima (morning) to Miyajima
Visit the A-bomb dome, Peace Park, and Peace Museum (reserving 4-5 hours) Head to Miyajima to see the Itsukushima Shrine (and it's famous floating gate)

28-Sep - Miyajima to Hiroshima to Kyoto
See Itsukushima Shrine again at different tide Miyajima Ropeway to Mt. Misen Walk up Daisho-in course (temple w/ prayer cylinders on the stairways and the 500 Buddha statues)
Head back to Kyoto

29-Sep - Kyoto
Northern Kyoto half day (Japan-Guide, includes Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion*), Ryoanji (zen garden), Ninnaji (interesting Temple grounds) OR Do Mt. Koya and stay at temple lodging
What do you think?

30-Sep - Kyoto to Hakone (morning)
Potentially do Hakone Loop (or just part, and do a hike instead)- we'd follow this map: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5210.html Hakone Shrine (along Lake Ashi) Stay at an onsen (do any have views of Mt. Fuji?)

1-Oct - Hakone to Tokyo (late afternoon) Staying in Shinjuku district Robot restaurant? Kareoke? Have a drink at the Lost in Translation hotel (Park Hyatt)

2-Oct - Tokyo
Shinjuku Garden and then some shopping

3-Oct - TRAVEL
Fly home from Narita in the afternoon

I know this is a lot of information so even if you have tips on just one or two things, that would be great.

Thank you so much!
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Old Jul 10th, 2014, 01:50 PM
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What kind of budget do you have for accommodation, if that's not too nosy a question?

In Kyoto, accommodation wise, there are a few options that spring to mind.

1) Mid-to-high price ryokan in heart of historic district of Gion (or perhaps Higashiyama) -- I did a post on Shiraume on my blog (KaveyEats) with lots of photos, if that helps. Advantage of ryokan is that it helps you really FEEL what the historic buildings are like/ about plus of course, you will hopefully enjoy the experience of kaiseki ryori - the specialised multi-course cuisine that is usually served in ryokans and is local and seasonal and utterly fabulous.

2) Splurge ryokan in outlying districts - I haven't stayed at any of these but have seen photos / articles here and there. They look UTTERLY luxe but location-wise, don't appeal as much to me as being in heart of Kyoto.

3) A reasonably priced hotel in town centre - on our second visit we stayed 6 nights at Kyoto Royal Hotel Spa Kyoto in the Kawaramachi/Sanjo Dori area, perfect for evening eating out, shopping, Nishiki market and buses / metro to everywhere. Our room was enormous and very well maintained and the deal we got through booking.com was astonishingly good.

4) Budget hotel chain such as Dormy, Tokyu etc. Haven't been in one in Kyoto but we have been very happy with all the Dormy Inns we've used in several cities in Japan.

5) Self-catering apartment, I forget the chain people use, not Citadines, I think a different one... there are various options though.

6) Rental in a machiya - the traditional houses of Japan, on self-catering basis. We found they were pricy if travelling as a couple but better value if travelling in small group or family. Futon beds on floor (as in ryokans), small kitchens/ bathrooms but an experience I'd like to have next trip.

7) Hotel in the Kyoto Station, we did 3 nights at Granvia on the first trip (and the other 2 at Shiraume ryokan) which allowed us to travel on the city metro/ local trains very very easily so we scheduled our sightseeing accordingly - we went to Yamazami, Fushimi Inari and Arashiyama by train from Granvia base).
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Old Jul 10th, 2014, 03:24 PM
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Been to Kyoto many times but the last time there in the fall we stayed at our first machiya (townhouse). Fantastic experience and the prices are very reasonable. Talk to either Avi or Wendy and they will help you arrange your Kyoto stay. We stayed in Koke-An but they have smaller places for a couple.

https://www.kyotomachiyastay.com/index.php/en/

Aloha!
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