First visit to Japan: itinerary advice?

Nov 12th, 2006, 11:28 AM
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First visit to Japan: itinerary advice?

I'll be visiting Japan for the first time during April next year, with my wife and two small children, and need assistance with the itinerary. The initial outline is:

Thu: Arrive at Kansai late afternoon. Night in Kyoto.
Fri: Day and night in Kyoto.
Sat: Day trip. Night in Kyoto.
Sun: Day and night in Kyoto.
Mon: Day trip to Himeji Castle. Night in Kyoto.
Tue: Day and night in Kyoto.
Wed: Travel to Miyajima Island. Day and night on Miyajima.
Thu: Travel to Nara. Day and night in Nara.
Fri: Day and night in Nara.
Sat: Travel to Tokyo. Day and night in Tokyo.
Sun: Day and night in Tokyo.
Mon: Day and night in Tokyo.
Tue: Day trip to Hakone. Night in Tokyo.
Wed: Travel to Kamakura. Day and night in Kamakura.
Thu: Day and night in Kamakura.
Fri: Travel to Nikko. Day and night in Nikko.
Sat: Morning in Nikko. Depart Narita early evening.

Aside from general comments on the itinerary, responses to some specific questions would also be appreciated:

* Kyoto
- How many days are recommended for the seeing city itself?
- Is Himeji Castle a reasonably day trip from Kyoto?
- Any recommendations for other day trips from Kyoto?
* Miyajima Island
- This is quite a distance from Kyoto. Are there any en route destinations worth adding? (We're not really interested in seeing the most obvious choice, Hiroshima.)
* Tokyo
- How many days are recommended for a first visit to Tokyo?
- Are there any better choices than Hakone for scenery, views of Mt. Fuji etc?
* Kamakura
- Is Kamakura worth a full day with two nights?
* Have I omitted any really interesting places/cities which are within practical distance of the area to be visited?
* Where would be a convenient place to see rural Japan (e.g. farms, rice fields, small villages)?

Thanks in advance,
Brendt is offline  
Nov 13th, 2006, 03:51 AM
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Hiroshima and the Peace dome. Osaka also has a great castle.

In your place, I would invest in a Lonely Planet guide, which is full of information, then work through it for an itinery. It'd be a shame to go all that way and miss on something really worth seeing. Consider a Japan rail pass, which has to be bought outside Japan.

Tokyo has a few good theme parks for children. Disney and Puroland (Hello Kitty).
kaneda is offline  
Nov 13th, 2006, 08:26 AM
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If you're into oriental arts, you might consider Miho Museum as a day-trip out of Kyoto. An amazing site, which looks like it's carved out of a mountain.
You might find Kamakura a slight let-down after spending time in Kyoto. It's a very lovely town on its own, but you can include it as a day trip from Tokyo.
As for other scenric areas aside from Hakone, Nikko area is quite nice (though no direct view of Mt Fuji). Mt. Takao west of Tokyo makes a good hiking day-trip.
W9London is offline  
Nov 13th, 2006, 12:21 PM
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i second the recommendation for the lonely planet guide.

we also did Miyajima, but as a day trip ... on a rainy day ... really, u can do himeji and then get to Miyajima for the night with one full day, or visit himeji on the way back - for us 4 hours on Miyajima was more than enough (and we also were not into hiroshima touring).

one thing i regret was not checking out as a day trip the ninja museum (do a search to find it in a small town by kyoto, propbably 1 hour by train)

a smaller town u may enjoy is takayama, and there's a hida village nearby for the kids ... the train from nagoya is amazing sites of gorges, mountains and rivers and small town life
lilipad is offline  
Nov 13th, 2006, 07:07 PM
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Thanks for the useful suggestions. One issue I should have made clear in my original message: the initial itinerary is already based on research using a number of guide books, but the information can be difficult to distill into a good itinerary, which is why I was hoping to obtain additional advice here.
Brendt is offline  
Nov 13th, 2006, 09:14 PM
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Hello Brendt,

Here are a few random thoughts. In general I think your itinerary is quite reasonable and should give you time to see lots of sights while providing "down time" for the younger set.

I took our then-four-year-old on a day trip to Miyajima from Hiroshima and it was very enjoyable. It doesn't require a lot of time, but if you are traveling part of the day from Kyoto it will probably work out well.

I loved Kamakura and think it certainly merits a full day of exploration, but we did not spend the night there. I think it's a great idea to spend at least one night, especially since Kamakura fills up with day-trippers from Tokyo on weekends.

You have ruled out Hiroshima but I will put in a plug for the Peace Museum anyway. We did not take our son in -- we took turns walking through. But it seemed a shame to pass through it without taking the time, and we both thought it was well worth it.

You might take one of the Kyoto days and go over to Osaka for the aquarium (really nice) and castle. My son loved both of them and it was an easy day trip. We took one intercity train from Kyoto to Osaka, and then another local train to the aquarium. There's also a huge Ferris wheel outside the aquarium. We did not ride it because it was raining the day we were there. If you go to the aquarium website and click on "amusements" you will see information about the Ferris wheel.

You have probably already noticed this, but in addition to parks for outdoor play time, a lot of the bigger Japanese department stores have arcades. Some are inside, some outside (my son had a blast at a rooftop arcade in Hiroshima). I'm not saying you would make a special trip to find one, but it's something to keep in mind along the way.
Barbara_in_FL is offline  
Nov 14th, 2006, 01:48 AM
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That is a good basic itinerary.

Yes, Himeji is a reasonable day trip from Kyoto. So is Nara. It is possible to visit Himeji and Nara in the same day, in fact, though I think you would want to spend more time in Nara.

As mentioned above, you could visit Himeji enroute to/from Miyajima. You could stop at Himeji on the way to Nara where you spend two nights.

It is not necessary to spend two nights in Kamakura. You could spend one night in Hakone and then it is a short trip from there to Kamakura for a night.

Or take that extra Kamakura time that you have and spend it in Nikko. You could consider dropping one of those desinations (Hakone, Nikko, or Kamakura (not Hakone, imo)). Seems a bit busy there the last four days before you departure day.

I would recommend a visit to the Peace Park and museum in Hiroshima but perhaps it is not suitable (the museum) for you children, depneding on their age.

With your itin as is you might not need a JR Pass at all. A Sanyo Area Pass might do the job for the Miyajima trip. But, I don't think you will need anything more than a 7-day JR Pass, especially if you move the Hakone/Kamakura/Nikko travel to be before the several nights in Tokyo.

You should look into the Sanyo Area Pass, the Kansai passes, and the Hakone Free Pass and the ones for Nikko and Kamakura. At if you follow the transportation link you will find a good summary of the available passes.
mrwunrfl is online now  
Nov 14th, 2006, 01:57 AM
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Obviously you did a good bit of research to come up with this itinerary. I think that you put Nara in that spot to break up the trip back from Miyajima to Tokyo. I think that your family of four might be better off visiting Nara as a day trip or overnight trip from Kyoto. You can leave all of your luggage at your Kyoto hotel (except for what you might need for the overnight). Logistically, it will be simpler that way. The catch is that it would make it a bit of a long day to go from Miyajima to Tokyo, but take another look at how much time that is vs getting to Nara.

They are playing tango music on the piano in the lobby of the Omni Saigon, so I must go now.
mrwunrfl is online now  
Nov 15th, 2006, 07:04 PM
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Thanks to Barbara_in_FL and mrwunrfl for your detailed responses. Since the suggested itinerary changes might leave an extra day available, any suggestions for an additional destination, preferably one involving rural scenery and/or pre-industrial Japan? (Perhaps Kiso Valley, Ise, Kurashiki, Kanazawa, Hagi, or Takayama (as suggested in a previous response)?)

Brendt is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 09:34 PM
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I think I was suggesting that you take the extra day and use it in an existing destination. But all of the places you just listed are interesting. Kanazawa is a good sized city, though.

Hagi is a neat place and you should go if you are interested in the pottery, but it is just a bit remote (this is good and bad) so you do want to be sure you want to go there. It is off the beaten path for a reason. If you were to go in that direction (say from Miyajima) then you could continue to Matsue with a stop at Izumo Taisha. But this would be a 3-day jaunt.

The other places would be more convenient than Hagi. Kurashiki would be enroute.
mrwunrfl is online now  
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