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First trip to Japan: two weeks in December

First trip to Japan: two weeks in December

May 6th, 2018, 12:40 AM
  #1  
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First trip to Japan: two weeks in December

We're a fairly well-travelled couple but haven't made it to Japan before now. We'll have two weeks (from the start of December to mid-December) and would love advice about our draft itinerary. We're in our late 50s/early 60s, fit and active, with preferences for quiet places and as much cultural immersion as such a short trip allows.

We're currently thinking of the following: arrive Tokyo; 3 nights in Tokyo (including day trip to Kamakura); 2 nights in Takayama; 2 nights in Kanazawa; 4 nights in Kyoto; 3 nights in Nara; depart Osaka (train from Nara).
RosBlack is offline  
May 6th, 2018, 01:49 AM
  #2  
 
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I would perhaps consider dropping one night from Nara and add it to Kyoto.

Tough, though. I would be alternatively tempted to drop Kanazawa and add a night onto Tokyo and a night onto Takayama. I liked Kanazawa, I just feel one full day in Tokyo isnít nearly enough, and I loved Takayama. I also think that would be a fantastic time of year for an Onsen resort.

no really bad choices, I guess. But I would definitely want one more night in Kyoto.

another option you may like- someone suggested kurashiki, and I really enjoyed it.
marvelousmouse is offline  
May 6th, 2018, 02:16 AM
  #3  
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That's fabulously helpful: thank you, marvelousmouse!
RosBlack is offline  
May 6th, 2018, 03:09 AM
  #4  
 
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Youíre welcome!

Also- too early for you to go to the actual event but this is near Takayama- and I would like to stay in one of the Shirakawago farmhouses someday-

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5956.html

(I am not necessarily recommending this, as I donít know if December is a good time, and I did not, unfortunately, make the trip myself as I was having too much fun in Takayama. I just think it looks amazing so I thought Iíd share!).
marvelousmouse is offline  
May 7th, 2018, 10:01 AM
  #5  
 
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I'm sure you listed your itinerary in the order you will be traveling this December. We did all of those cities, and more, in March and April of this year. Takayama for 2 nights and then Kanazawa for 2 nights, one can take the bus between the 2 and stop for a few hours in Shirakawago. There are lockers at the bus stop in Shirakawago.

While we enjoyed both towns very much, if you find you need more time in other cities, I would drop Kanazawa. The garden there is beautiful, as we were there during cherry blossom season, but found the old town in Takayama much more impressive.

3 nights in Nara is a lot unless you are really into the many temples, the deer and the park. We did a day trip there, which we enjoyed very much despite the massive crowds. Again cherry blossoms! 2 nights max would be my suggestion. I would add another day to Kyoto and look into a day trip, perhaps Hiroshima and Himeji Castle. You can take the Shinkansen to both.

It was our first time in Japan as well; we immersed ourselves in NHK television station before we went to learn about the customs, traditions and food. Happy to answer any further questions you may have.
gailscout is offline  
May 8th, 2018, 06:54 PM
  #6  
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Thanks very much, gailscout: this is really helpful!
RosBlack is offline  
May 11th, 2018, 12:36 PM
  #7  
 
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Peruse japan-guide.com for anything interesting.

Use Hyperdia.com for train scheduling.

If you're going west of Osaka (Hiroshima, Himeji, others), you should be considering JR passes.

Generally, I'm thinking you cannot schedule too many nights in Kyoto, but it's easy to schedule too few.
BigRuss is offline  
May 11th, 2018, 02:06 PM
  #8  
 
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Russ what would you say to 7 nights in Kyoto for someone who is not going to visit very many temples? Someone who prefers to walk around absoring the atmosphere, poking into interesting old-school shops, sampling snacks and food in many places, and not pushing too hard??

Week in Tokyo and week in Kyoto, more or less?? Wonder if the OP should concentrate with those two on first trip??
ekscrunchy is offline  
May 12th, 2018, 01:13 AM
  #9  
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Thank you so much, BigRuss and ekscrunchy. Following your advice, and that of others on this forum, we've changed our itinerary to provide the (slightly) deeper immersion in a smaller number of places. We're now looking at this:
  • Arrive Tokyo
  • 3 nights in Tokyo (inc. day trip to Kamakura)
  • 3 nights in Takayama (inc. day trip to Matsumoto)
  • 5 nights in Kyoto (inc. day trip to Hiroshima)
  • 3 nights in Nara (inc. day trips to Horyuji, Toshodaiji or Yakushiji)
  • Depart Osaka (train from Nara)
RosBlack is offline  
May 12th, 2018, 10:25 AM
  #10  
 
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With the day trip to Hiroshima, are you planning to include Himeji Castle or Miyajima Island? I would not suggest all 3 in a one day but the train goes right by the Himeji Castle and then it is a short cab or bus ride to the castle and large grounds; Miyajima is a lovely island that one can take either a train/ferry to the island or a ferry direct, Aqua-Net, from Hiroshima park, depending on the tide schedule.

I would allow 2 hours at the Peace Park, longer if you are including the museum; I don't know if the larger museum will be reopened by December, but the smaller one is open at one end of the park. You can take transportation to both ends of the park so you don't need to retrace your steps. We took a bus from the train station to the museum end of the park and walked towards the dome. Then took a tram back to the station.

Also, have you selected a lodging in Takayama? We stayed at the Hotel Ouen, but I'm not sure I would recommend it. I'd look for someplace between the train station and around the river.
gailscout is offline  
May 12th, 2018, 10:38 PM
  #11  
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Hi gailscout, we're now thinking of staying in Hiroshima for at least two nights and including a visit to Miyajima Island. We might visit Himeji Castle as one of our day trips from Kyoto.

I did have my heart set on 3 nights in Takayama, but am now concerned about the likelihood of snow (we're travelling in the first two weeks of December). We're not skiers: we want to be able to walk around the old city. Any advice on this for us?
RosBlack is offline  
May 13th, 2018, 10:28 AM
  #12  
 
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Last night I was reflecting on our great time in Takayama, but I see the average temperature in December is 43į. Hiroshima is 53į. I'll tell you what we did in that area. We spent 3 nights in Okayama @ the Crown Plaza, which is attached to the station. We arrived the first afternoon, checked in and then took at a day trip to Kurashiki, which has a delightful old town area, similar but smaller than Takayama's. You can walk from the train station.

The next morning we toured the Korakuen Garden, near the Castle and then took an afternoon trip to Himeji Castle. The last day, we took the Shinkansen to Hiroshima and changed trains to Miyajimaguchi, where one gets the ferry to Miyajima. We spent too much time on Miyajima as we found we could not take the Aqua Net ferry directly to The Peace Park due to low tides. Though we did get to see the Torii at both high tide and low tide. Reversing our efforts to Hiroshima station, we took a bus to the museum at the Memorial Peace Park, walked through the park towards the dome (it was late and did not get to the museum nor the hall). At the dome, we took a tram back to the station, then train to Okayama. In December, closing hours may vary from what we experienced in early April.

In Kyoto, I would plan at least a 1/2 day trip to Arashiyama to see the Bamboo forest, perhaps the monkeys, and the town; on the way back you can take the Randen tram, oldest tram in Kyoto and check out Ryoan-ji and Kinkaku-ji, which are close to each other.

Happy to help!
gailscout is offline  
May 14th, 2018, 12:35 AM
  #13  
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Thanks again, gailscout! We're still longing to see the Alps, but this gives us some great alternative options.
RosBlack is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2018, 05:10 AM
  #14  
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Thanks again to everyone who helped us plan our itinerary for our first visit to Japan. On our first day, we arrive in Tokyo early in the morning. We'll take the train from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station, but we will have a few hours before we can check in to our apartment.
What would be the best way to spend those few hours? We'll have our suitcases with us.
RosBlack is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2018, 10:41 AM
  #15  
 
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Are you sure that you can't leave your luggage at the place before you check in? If it was a hotel then you could use a same day takkyubin (Yamato) and perhaps you could do that if there is any staff at the apt building to accept it.
Another option is to use coin lockers at Tokyo station.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2018, 05:31 PM
  #16  
kja
 
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Luggage-forwarding is called takuhaibin; here's the info:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2278.html

And here's some information on lockers at train stations:
https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2274.html (scroll down)
kja is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2018, 07:04 PM
  #17  
 
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For a first trip to Japan I think youíve done quite a good job with realistic planning. A few thoughts:

1. Horyu-ji is an easy 1/2 day from Nara. I visited Todai-ji (both lower and upper complexes) at leisure in the morning and then spent 2 1/2 hours that afternoon at Horyu-ji. All with extremely painful tendinitis in my right shin. My point-Horyu-ji is only a 30 minute or so train ride away.

2. I havenít been to Takayama but heartily recommend Matsumoto and the castle. Iíve been to 3 of the 4 great castles in Japan and Matsumotoís is my favorite.

3. Rather than spending two nights in Hiroshima and day tripping to Miyajima, Iíd recommend the other way around. Miyajima is wonderful during the crowded daytime but even more wonderful at night after day trippers from Hiroshima leave. And there are some wonderful ryokan options to choose from. Any of us here can give you ryokan advice if you choose this option.

I know you will have an amazing trip no matter what you choose and like many of us, will go back for a second trip. Honestly, Iím dreaming towards a third trip perhaps in 2021.
MinnBeef is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2018, 07:26 PM
  #18  
kja
 
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Oh gosh, I just realized that I never commented on your itinerary as I was off-line at the time! I certainly don't have unusual wisdom to share, but FWI:

Horyu-ji is, as MinnBeef noted, very easy to reach from Nara, and Chugu-ji, home to the beautiful Miroku Busatsu, not to mention Japan's oldest extant embroidery -- is well worth visiting IMO and is just inside Horyu-ji's entrance. It's small, and so visiting wouldn't take long.

If I understand your latest plan -- and I'm not sure you do! -- then your visit to Hiroshima would be a day trip? If an overnight is an option, I'd also recommend a night on Miyajima. And visiting Himeji-jo en route would also be worth considering if the timing works.

Hope that helps1
kja is offline  
Oct 29th, 2018, 10:40 AM
  #19  
 
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What did you decide for your final itinerary? I have some suggestions for Takayama, if you included this city.

Also, are you planning to get yen before you leave the US? We got a variety of bills including the "coveted" JPN •2000 note. Almost all small shop owners we paid with this note, were so delighted as many had only heard of it when it was printed in 2000. Their reactions were so joyful for us as well.
gailscout is offline  
Oct 30th, 2018, 12:11 AM
  #20  
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Thanks so much, gailscout, and everyone else who has so kindly offered itinerary suggestions. We've finalised our itinerary now and have decided to keep it very simple and contained: this is only our first trip, so we don't feel compelled to move about a great deal.

After 3 days in Tokyo, we move to Takayama for 3 days: gailscout, I'd love any suggestions you can share about our visit here. We then go to Kyoto for a week. We've rented a beautiful house and intend to 'settle in' a bit, seeing Kyoto but also doing day trips along the lines that many people have kindly suggested. Finally, we return to Tokyo to fly back to Australia.
RosBlack is offline  

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