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First trip to Japan - 3 weeks, summer 2018

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Aug 9th, 2017, 01:36 PM
  #1
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First trip to Japan - 3 weeks, summer 2018

Hello! I'm thinking about a trip to Japan next summer (June-July) for 3 weeks, for me, hub and our 12 year old son. I've just started researching but it looks like Tokyo and Kyoto are musts, and I'd like to add in time in the mountains and at a beach (if possible and worthy).

Is Hakone the best place to go for the spectacular alp scenery? We love stuff like cable cars, gorges, short hikes (2-4 hours), fabulous view points, hanging bridges or whatever they have that's interesting.
What about Nagano? It would be cool to see the monkeys there.
Is there somewhere else that we should consider, that wouldn't be too difficult to get to and enjoy as non-Japanese speakers?

Where to go for a few days of beach time?
I've read some about Okinawa and the pics look great, but it might be too expensive and time consuming to get to one of the islands, and I'm wondering if there's anti-American sentiment there due to the military bases? If it's worth the time and money, which island and how do you get there?
What about Shirahama Beach? The pics of the empty beach look wonderful. The pics of the beach with 5 million people don't look so appealing. I'm wondering if that's just peak weekends in late summer, or throughout the summer, or what? I wouldn't want to go to any beach that's crazy packed.

Any other recommendations for a family with a 12 year old? I'm guessing he will like the first few temples and shrines, but probably won't want to do that day after day, all day. We love animals, science, cool architecture, funky stuff, nature and spectacular scenery.

Thanks!
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Aug 9th, 2017, 03:48 PM
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Three weeks is a pretty good chunk of time and you should be able to see a lot that you want to. Going to the mountains and the beach are easily done as well, for a lot less than you think.
You should be aware if you are not already, that June through early July is the rainy season, and you could get hit with several days of pouring rain. Even when not, it can get extremely muggy and humid. Expect to sweat like a pig. Going to the mountains or way up north to Hokkaido and northern Tohoku can be a good way to get some relief.
Going to Hakone is not the Japan Alps as you may be thinking - Nagano is much better for that such as Karuizawa or Kamikochi. Hakone as well as the Fuji 5 Lakes have a lot more daytripping tourists, but they are certainly well worth seeing. You can use one of the Odakyu passes to save some money.
http://www.odakyu.jp/english/deels/

Another option for a gorge is in Yamanashi, often called the best in Japan - Shosenkyo.
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6952.html
It's quite easy to find some good green mountains - nearly 3/4 of the country is mountainous, and very beautiful. Near Tokyo there is Takao, Mitake and Okutama, and in Chiba there is Nokogiriyama. For beaches you can try Kamakura/Enoshima, or Izu. Loads in Kyoto and Nara as well.

I think going down to Okinawa and the Yaeyama Islands is a terrific idea - I found Okinawa to be quite beautiful and while the South Pacific may be nicer, it is often ignored by the tourist hordes. And you can fly quite cheaply on a low cost carrier - even as low as USD $50 one way.
http://www.jetstar.com/jp/en/home
http://www.flypeach.com/pc/en
http://www.vanilla-air.com/en/
It's true that the majority of Okinawa isn't happy with the US military there due to the crime, noise, and occupying most of the best real estate, but they are very welcoming to tourists (in fact it's one of the poorest prefectures and depends on tourism). You could see the main island or go to a few of the beautiful smaller islands like Miyakojima or Ishigaki.
https://goo.gl/RywFTE
You could even go island hopping on a discount tourist airfare.
http://www.churashima.net/jta/compan...ndpass_en.html

There are also many science related museums if that's your interest, plus some good aquariums. The Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa is just top notch with its 10,000 ton pool and full size whale sharks and rays swimming around. It puts the ones in my area to shame. Plus others like the Kyoto Railway Museum, Iwatayama Monkey Park, and others - you're quite correct that the blur of temples and shrines can get monotonous. But there is enough to keep some variety too.

If you want to get away from the tourist crowds (and heat) then go north. Extremely few foreign tourists bother going north of Tokyo - even though there are some amazing places there, like the Hitachi Seaside Park
http://en.hitachikaihin.jp/
or Nasu Flower World in Tochigi
http://www.flower-world.net/
to the gigantic Ushiku Great Buddha, Yamadera, Matsushima Coast, Urabandai, Lake Towada, etc.
http://en.tohokukanko.jp

You'll find lots of whatever interests you. Once you set your plans, then choose your transport. JR Passes, air tickets, regional rail passes, etc.
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Aug 9th, 2017, 04:56 PM
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Thanks for all the info!
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Aug 9th, 2017, 05:20 PM
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kja
 
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if you haven't already seen it, I recommend japan-guide.com as an easily accessible resource -- it isn't perfect, but it has a wealth of information.

Here's their web-page on traveling with children, and even though your son is at the upper edge of what might be relevant on that page, it still might be worth a look:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2460.html
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Aug 10th, 2017, 04:38 PM
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About the crowds- Japan has a huge domestic tourism industry. I mean, there are definitely places that are less crowded than others, but there are always going to be crowds if the weather is nice.

Not speaking Japanese really isn't an issue though. Rent pocket wifi for data, use your cell phone for basic questions, like buying train and bus tickets. With food, you can always point. People are very nice and patient.

You may want to consider flying open jaw- like into Tokyo and out of Osaka. It could save you money and time.
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Aug 11th, 2017, 08:17 AM
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You don't need to go to Nagano to see the monkeys. It's easier to do it in Kyoto. The snow monkey park is outside Nagano and you need a bus and then a 2-mile hike to get there. In Kyoto, you just go to Arashiyama, walk across the Moon Crossing Bridge and walk up up up up up the hill to the monkeys.

If your boy wants science, then you should go to the Miraikan in Tokyo. Can't beat it. http://www.miraikan.jst.go.jp/en/
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Aug 11th, 2017, 08:56 AM
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Japan-guide.com has to be the best tourism website I've ever come across. Wow.

Thanks for the tip about the monkeys! And the science museum! That looks really cool.
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Aug 11th, 2017, 03:21 PM
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Yes, japan-guide.com is really helpful, isn't it? Unfortunately, like any resource, it isn't perfect, so you might want to consult JNTO or a good guidebook, too.
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Aug 16th, 2017, 06:44 PM
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I ran into wild monkeys in Japanese Alps including Kamikochi many times.
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Jan 3rd, 2019, 11:38 AM
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Update! We spent 3 weeks in Japan, end of June to mid-July and LOVED it!! Our itinerary was: 5 nights Tokyo, 3 nights Kanazawa, 2 nights Takayama, 7 nights Kyoto (with day trips to Nara and Osaka) and 3 nights Enoshima/Kamakura. We loved it so much we're hoping to go back next summer with this itinerary: 3 nights Nagano (day trips to Togakushi and Matsumoto), 2 nights Shibu Onsen, 5 nights Tokyo, 2 nights Miyajima, 5 nights Osaka, and 3 nights Enoshima/Kamakura. It's tempting to just do a repeat of the 1st trip because we enjoyed it so much, but gotta add new places.
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Jan 3rd, 2019, 05:19 PM
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Thanks for reporting back! Japan is a delight, isn't it?
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Jan 3rd, 2019, 05:35 PM
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So glad you enjoyed Japan. Thanks for letting us know about your trip.
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Jan 3rd, 2019, 06:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Tally View Post
.... we're hoping to go back next summer with this itinerary: ......5 nights Osaka, ....
What are you planning on doing in Osaka? For some of us, 5 nights would be 5 too many (well, 4 at least). After Osaka Castle and Dotonbori, what else are you planning?
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Jan 4th, 2019, 06:49 AM
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For Osaka the plan is to arrive in the evening on the first day, so that leaves 4 full days. One day Dotonbori, Kurimon Ichiba, DenDen and that part of town. One day Spa World, Abeno Harukas and some other stuff over there, maybe the castle. One day, back to Nara. That leaves one day for either the castle, to wander and explore, or day trip (Himeji, maybe Iga, or ?). There's also the aquarium. We day tripped there from Kyoto last summer and really liked it, and don't want to short change it next trip.
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Jan 4th, 2019, 05:39 PM
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Himeji-jo is definitely worth seeing, IMO! And if you go, consider making time for the gardens next to the castle (Kokoen), too.
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Jan 4th, 2019, 08:54 PM
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What is it about Himeji that makes it so cool? I've read there's not much inside, and it's always crawling with people. Is it enough to go look from the grounds?
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Jan 4th, 2019, 08:56 PM
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Well, I found the interior fascinating -- the use of woods, placement of windows, arrangement of space, etc. But to each his/her own!
https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3501.html
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Jan 8th, 2019, 06:44 PM
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What do y'all think of Miyajima for a 2 night stay? That's the one part I'm really not sure about. We aren't going anywhere else down that way, so it means long trip down there, spend a day exploring, then half a day getting to the next place. I think we'd like it (the temples, floating torii, deer, cable car, cool views and hiking), but not sure we'd like all the time spent getting there and away, or the crowds. I may add 2 nights at Nagoya so we can go to the Totoro house, then a day trip to Kiso Valley to see Magome and Tsumago and do the walk between. Can you think of any other places that would be really worthy, but not require so much time to get there? Is there any other town that reminds you of Takayama? That was one of my faves from our trip.
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Jan 8th, 2019, 07:05 PM
  #19
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I'm very glad I spent a night, and the better part of the days to either side, in Miyajima, so a 2 night stay would make a lot of sense to me. Are you not interested in visiting Hiroshima? it is a remarkable place, IMO, and makes a perfect pairing with Miyajima.
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Jan 9th, 2019, 05:48 AM
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No on Hiroshima. Too depressing. I'm still haunted by my trip to Auschwitz. I'm glad I went, but not really what I want to think about when I'm on vacation.
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