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leslieq Sep 26th, 2014 10:22 PM

Fly into Osaka instead of Tokyo for Koyosan to Nikko trip?
Our first trip to Japan. We have two weeks. Not staying in Tokyo this trip. Going in April 2015; interested in historical sites/shrines, gardens, traditional towns, some hiking, a few more rural areas. We'd like to stay in at least one ryokan, plus a temple stay at Koyosan.

Thinking we might fly into Osaka and out of Tokyo (or should we do the reverse?). My first pass at an itinerary is:

Koyosan - 1 night
Nara - 1 night
Kyoto - 5 nights
Takayama - 3 nights
Hakone - 2 nights
Nikko - 2 nights
Tokyo- overnight near airport prior to departure

Does this sound about right? How should we sequence the places we'd like to stay? If we fly into Osaka, where should we start? I wish we could figure out a loop, but it seems like we have to do some backtracking. I haven't checked how the trains run yet (it might be easier to get to Koyosan from Kyoto than Nara? not sure)

I haven't made any reservations, air or accommodations, yet. Hoping to get some advice first. Am sure I will have many more questions once we get these basics down,

Are we missing something/ Jumping around too much?

Thanks so you Japan experts!

kja Sep 27th, 2014 03:54 AM

You are going to have a wonderful trip! :-)

Some things to consider:

Koyosan - 1 night

- For a Koyasan temple stay, you will probably need to reach the temple by late afternoon -- check the temple's requirements. Even if that would work with your schedules, note that I would hate to make Koyasan my first destination -- I wanted to make sure I was READY for the experience. YMMV. Also note that from what I have read, the experience of a temple stay on Koyasan really varies with the temple itself. I had a great experience at Shojoshin-in; you can look at other options by going to the home page of this site:

BTW, getting to Koyasan isn't easy no matter where you start. But it isn't as hard as it seems, and parts of the trip are spectacularly beautiful.

Also, do keep your adjustment to the change in time zones in mind when you plan your temple stay. You might want to plan it so you can have some confidence that you will be able to join the monks for their morning prayers.

Nara - 1 night

I love that you are planning a night in Nara! IMO, it really deserves it. Actually, you might want to consider TWO nights in Nara, but that will depend on how your timing works out.

"I wish we could figure out a loop"

Why!?! An open jaw will suit you much better!

I trust you have found this amazingly helpful online guide:'


mrwunrfl Sep 27th, 2014 11:42 AM

I would switch the first two places. It is simpler to go Kansai Airport to Nara first (limited express to Tennoji and then a JR local). Would want two nights there. Then Koyasan.

You don't really have much backtracking. For leaving Takayama, consider taking the bus over the mountains to Matsumoto. I think it would be a bit much to continue from there to Hakone the same day, tho.

I did this: bus from Takayama to Hirayu Onsen, took a soak, then bus to Kamikochi for a couple of hours then bus to Matsumoto. Spent the night there and visited Matsumoto castle the next day before heading back to Tokyo. When I arrived at Kamikochi, I got my bus ticket to Matsumoto right away - good thing as I got the next-to-last available seat for the bus I wanted to take to Matsumoto.

I like the idea of staying the night at a Narita hotel, but that would depend on departure time. An option is to travel from Nikko to the airport.

The reverse trip (NRT to KIX) works too (with Nara as the last stop before flying from Osaka KIX. I once planned on flying to NRT and then going straight to Nikko. I think the best plan I arrived at was a bus from NRT to Utsunomiya and spending the night there before going on to Nikko.

someotherguy Sep 27th, 2014 12:01 PM

There's a direct bus to Narita from Utsunomiya (the interchange between the JR Nikko line and the mainline):
(you'll probably want to put that through Google Translate).

It costs 4070Y one way and although it's convenient (no changes) it is slow and indirect: it takes three sides of a square and goes almost into Tokyo, where it get caught in traffic. You catch it (and buy tickets) outside the Chusun hotel opposite the train station. Utsunomiya is the Gyoza Capital of Japan, so not a bad place to grab a meal.

mrwunrfl Sep 27th, 2014 12:03 PM

Another way to do it is Kyoto- Koyasan- Nara, etc.

That may be better. Kansai Airport to Kyoto is just one train, a limited express. So, no change of trains like would be required for Nara. Nara comes after Koyasan on this plan so as to make it easier to get to Takayama.

My advice:
Don't go to Koyasan first.
Go to Nara first only if you can stay for two nights.

That is to say that it is too much jumping around (even for me) by starting the trip with two one-night stops.

KIX-Nara-Koyasan-Kyoto makes it easier to get to Takayama.
KIX-Kyoto-Koyasan-Nara makes it easier to get to Kyoto.

Sue_xx_yy Sep 27th, 2014 02:34 PM

Agree with the others. I don't know the origin of your flight, but it's a long one even from western N America and we found we needed to go slowly the first few days.

Per mrwunrfl, who really does have wunrfl advice, I'd start with Kyoto, then Koyasan, then Nara, and so on.

I'm also going to suggest you actually add another stop, that being between Takayama and Gora/Hakone. I'm going to suggest Nagoya for a night in between, with 2 nights in Takayama instead of 3 to facilitate this.

And what's in Nagoya you ask. The Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, which we found fabulous.

I'm also going to make the suggestion of shortening Hakone by 1 night and also doing Nikko as a daytrip, as follows:

So: Kyoto 5 nights
Koyasan 1 night (2.5 hours from Kyoto)(most of day and eve in Koyasan)
Nara 1 night (about 2.5 hours from Koyasan)
Takayama 2 nights (4.5 hours from Nara)
Nagoya 1 night (2.5 hours from Takayama)(travel in a.m, with p.m at the TCMIT museum to see a little of modern Japan as a change)
Hakone 1 night (about 3 hours from Nagoya to Gora, p.m doing the sights)
Tokyo 3 nights (a.m doing more of Hakone, then 2 hours to Tokyo. This still sees you having part of two days in Hakone area, to be flexible about the weather)
Tokyo 3 nights, 2 full days: a daytrip to Nikko (4 hours round trip, it's a fast first look at Nikko but others have done it and it's not too bad) and a second full day with just a glimpse of Tokyo on your first trip.)

Sue_xx_yy Sep 27th, 2014 02:45 PM

What I'm also thinking is, that if you consolidate some time in Tokyo, with Nikko as a (possible) daytrip, then you can go, or not go, to Nikko as you see fit. As lovely as temples are, some find that they can overdose on them. Others, well, the more the merrier. On a first trip, you need to find out which kind of animal you are in the temple department.

If the thought of 4 hours round trip to Nikko and back is a lot at that point in your trip, consider going to Mount Takao as an alternative. A very pleasant hike even if you are 'templed out' by that point. Another lovely temple or two, if you aren't. It's only about 2 hours round trip to Takaosanguchi, and a chairlift from there to the top takes about 15 minutes or so.

The Edo-Tokyo museum is really a fine introduction to Japanese history and Tokyo's in particular.

leslieq Sep 28th, 2014 01:35 PM

Based on the great advice above, we'll plan an open jaw into Kansei and out of Narita. We live near San Francisco. For the first part of the trip:

Kyoto - 5 nights
Koyasan - 1 night (thanks for temple recommendation, kja)
Nara - 1 night

For the rest of the trip, I need to better absorb the advice above. We don't want to go into Tokyo this trip but concentrate on smaller locations.

Takayama - Should we stay three nights as planned? It looks like a beautiful traditional village, which is what we're looking for. We'd like to see Shirakawago as day trip.

mrwunerfl - Kamikochi looks gorgeous. However, not sure when it opens. This year it opened April 18. That might be too late for our cherry blossom timing (we're thinking first two weeks of April). I checked their site, but no information on when the trails will open next April.

Hakone - Here we're hoping for views of Mt Fuji, an onsen soak, and a hike. Is it easy to get to the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station from Hakone? We're interested in the Ochudo Trail. Japan Guide says a five kilometer section of the trail can be walked from the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station. Have any of you done this hike?

Nikko - One reason we'd like to visit is to hike the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. Have any of you hiked this?

Thanks for all the advice. Am sure there will be many more questions and sure appreciate your time and effort to help.

kja Sep 28th, 2014 02:09 PM

I gave Takayama only two nights, and really regret that, as it desrved another day in light of my interests. BTW, if you have any interest in Art Deco or Art Nouveau, don't miss the Museum of Art there.

I walked the first mile or so of the Kangmangafuchi Abyss, and that stretch was surprisingly flat -- there was a rise, but nothing to "write home about." I think there may have been a steeper part further in; I had a train to catch and so tuned around at that point. It was very scenic and I definitely enjoyed it.

I recommend an overnight in Nikko so you can get to Lake Chuzenji and the stunning Kegon-no-Taki. And while in Nikko, do consider a visit to the museum attached to the main shrine, which has a glorious collection of screens.

leslieq Sep 28th, 2014 02:17 PM

Aha...from another site found that Kamikochi opens April 27, 2015. Doesn't that put it right into Golden Week? Unfortunately think this is too late for the trip we're planning, darn.

Sue_xx_yy Sep 29th, 2014 05:52 AM

"We don't want to go into Tokyo this trip but concentrate on smaller locations."

I can understand your wanting to avoid big cities all the time but just a few points:

Kyoto is not small, as I'm sure you know (population 1.5 million) and much of it is modern.
*Nara is a major pilgrimage site.
*According to the Ministry of Tourism, as of 2008 70 per cent of visitors to Koyasan are of Western origin.
*Hakone is to be avoided on the weekends, by all accounts.
* Takayama is lovely but if you are visiting in April, there will be a major festival there at that time (April 14 and 15) and it WILL be crowded and accommodation heavily booked at that time.
*Nikko is a relatively smaller but still popular destination.

Point being, it is harder to find a 'small' place by North American standards in Japan, although by staying overnight in some of these locales, they will be (relatively) quieter for at least a time.

You may as well be prepared to (figuratively) embrace people (and tourists) in Japan, because they will be there.

mrwunrfl Sep 29th, 2014 10:52 PM

>>Takayama - Should we stay three nights as planned? It looks like a beautiful traditional village, which is what we're looking for. We'd like to see Shirakawago as day trip. <<

Not a village. A small city of about 90,000 people. It is easily to walk/bike to the sites. Feels smaller than it is.

The 3 nights is good as you are planning to visit S-go (that is what I hoped your plan was). If you leave Nara in the morning then you might have time for Takayama in the afternoon. Could then go to S-go the next day, coming back to Takayama for the night. Then more sightseeing in Takayama next day and travel that night (would be the third night) to your destination. Maybe, but depends on where. Am thinking Magome or Tsumago for that night and then walk the Nakasendo the next day. But the feasibility of that would depend on where you stay in Hakone, your next stop.

someotherguy Sep 30th, 2014 10:25 AM

I'm going to be a contrarian here. I visited Shirakawago and the other villages during cherry blossom last April. On a random Friday, the car park at S-go had 13 tour buses and about 100 cars and the place was busy. (The car park is built for 10 times that number so I cannot imagine what it must be like at the weekends.)

Gokayama, on the other hand, had just a couple of visitors and was very pleasant, with some snow still on the ground.

The Hida village museum in Takayama is a better place than either to actually inspect the structure of the Gassho houses (if that is your interest).

The Nakasendo is a rather boring slog. It's only worthwhile if you stay overnight in one of the villages. I'd be inclined to leave Takayama via Matsumoto (good scenery on the bus there, and a lot to see in the town).

In Nikko, the Toshogu shrine was unpleasantly packed with school and other groups when I was there (in red leaf season). Taiyuinbyo and the other sites were empty and quite enjoyable. The Rinnoji Temple is being reconstructed inside a massive metal shed.

Nara is worth more than 1 night (I find it more interesting than Kyoto). Many of the significant sites are out of town: Horyuji (oldest wooden buildings in the world), Yakushuji, Toshidaiji. In town, there are magnificent statues in Shin-Yakushuji and in the Sangatsudo behind Todaiji. No photos allowed so you won't see any of these on the web. The National Museum is excellent, too.

Dont't forget to visit the most famous building in Japan (it's on the back of the 10Y coin): Byodoin in Uji between Nara and Kyoto. There's a lot of other good things in Uji, including a new museum devoted to Genji Monagatari.

someotherguy Sep 30th, 2014 10:38 AM

Japan Guide doesn't seem to have an entry for the Genji museum, so here's a link:

Murusaki Shikibu is said to have started writing at Ishiyamadera, which is a magnificent temple by Lake Biwa, north of Kyoto. It's an excellent day trip (you can combine it with Hikone castle, which is one of the 12 originals):

leslieq Sep 30th, 2014 07:42 PM

Wow, need to digest all this new information! There are some places I haven't yet heard of in these latest suggestions. Need to look up all these suggestions (thank you!!) and will come back with more questions. At least my husband has given up on going to Hiroshima, which would have complicated matters even more.

We are also looking into Kamakura as an alternative to Nikko. There are some great looking hikes between temples that appeal to us. Have any of you done these?

Also thanks for the heads-up on the April 14 festival in Takayama, Sue.

Looking forward to checking out all the new suggestions!

kja Sep 30th, 2014 07:52 PM

I "hiked" from Kitakamakura to Kamakura. In that direction, it's really just a pleasant downhill walk. I personally preferred the forests of Nikko; YMMV.

fareastcityhopper Sep 30th, 2014 10:03 PM

I have travelled in Kansai before with a stayover at a temple at Koyasan that I highly recommend for the experience. From there I travelled south to the Kumano Kodo Buddhist Pilgrimage routes. You can also consider visiting Nara as a daytrip from Osaka or Kyoto. I have put my travel information online with practical details on how to get around and where to stay at Koyasan.

someotherguy Oct 1st, 2014 09:56 AM

Kamakura is a good choice. I've only done parts of the hikes. Highlights were Meigetsuin and Hansobo (above Kenchoji) Hohokuji is very good (but in a different part of town).

The JNTO guides include some devoted to walks

leslieq Oct 5th, 2014 09:20 PM

It's taken me a few days to research the new information above. The JTNO guides devoted to walks is FANTASTIC!

After reading mrwunrfl's suggestion about the Tsumago-Magome hike we got totally entranced. DH has wanted to find one of the historic roads from the Edo period and walk part of it.

Now we're trying to figure out the logistics between Koyasan, Tsumago and Takayama and whether we have enough time for all of them.

We were thinking of a revised trip:

Sat April 4 - Kansei Airport about 7; spend night at airport
Sun-Mon (April 5-6) Nara - 2 nights
Tues (April 7) Koyasan - 1 night
Wed - Sat (April 8-11) Kyoto - 4 nights
Sun-Mon (April 12-13) Takayama - 2 nights (avoiding April 14 due to festival)
Tues-Wed (April 14-15) Tsumago - 2 nights
Thurs-Fri (April 16-17) Hakone - 2 nights
Sat-Sun (April 18-19) Kamakura - 2 nights
Mon (April 20) - Fly back to San Francisco from Hineda Airport

The logistics seem a little daunting. It seems the transit time between Tsumago and Takayama is about 5 hours (via Google maps transit time). Does this sound right? We are considering leaving out Takayama. From Takayama 5 hrs to Tsumago followed by another 5 hrs from Tsumago to Hakone seems to eat up a lot of our limited time.

Other questions:

Is it easy to get to the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station from Hakone? We're interested in the Ochudo Trail. Japan Guide says a five kilometer section of the trail can be walked from the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station. Have any of you done this hike?

If we decide to drop Takayama from the itinerary, is there a substitute that makes sense with what we're otherwise planning?

I still haven't made plane or lodging reservations since all this is still unsettled.

Wonderful advice so far. Lots of things we wouldn't have known!

someotherguy Oct 7th, 2014 10:07 AM

That looks like a pretty good plan. The simplest route from Takayama to the Nakasendo is bus/train to Matsumoto and then train to Nakatsugawa. The bus journey is very good--indeed the stretch after the Hirayu onsen near Kamikochi is awesome. I'd be inclined to spend the night in Matsumoto: it has one of the best of the 12 original castles and you'd get the feel of a castle town, which you're otherwise missing. And it has the Ukiyo-e (floating world woodblock prints) museum. Then train to Nakatsugawa and hike from Magome to Tsumago and spend one night there.

Here's a post of mine from back in 2005 or so.

Be aware that the Nakasendo is a fairly stiff hike: as measured by my GPS, Tsumago is at 1,425 ft, the Magome pass is at 2,620 ft, and the Magome bus stop is at 1,970 ft. The usual recommendation is to do it in the Magome to Tsumago direction because the total height gain is less; however, the Magome side of the pass is much steeper than the Tsumago side. If I were to do it again, I'd skip the Magome side (its a hard slog, mostly on roads, and not that interesting), and take a taxi to the pass and walk to Tsumago from there.

And here's another old thread that includes links to the bus timetables (use for the trains):

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