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crellston Jun 5th, 2019 10:54 AM

Ideas for 10 days in Japan in January
I am in the process of planning our trip to Japan and am suffering a bad case of information overload/ indecision. I could do with some help please!

On a previous trip in 2008 we spent 3 weeks visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Takayama, Koyasan, Nara, Himeiji

This time we have a lot less time. We arrive into Haneda Airport on 08 Jan at 07.30am and leave 10 days later at 09.30 on 18 Jan. It seems to make sense to buy a 7 day JR Pass to get around. because of flight timings we have 10 nights and effectively10 full days on the ground. I plan on staying 3 nights in Tokyo probably at the end of the trip.

A destinations I have shortlisted include:

Kyoto (5 days didnít seem enough the last time)
Hiroshima (possibly as a day trip from Kyoto)
Himeiji (on the way to Hiroshima)
Wakyama - Kudo Kumano trail, Yunomine Onsen Etc. (thanks PatriciaB)
Nakasendo Trail - The short section from Tsumago to Magome
Japanese Alps - some random ryokans - Kuronagi Onsen, Shibu Onsen

Other places I have heard of but havenít really researched much include Miyajima, Matsumoto. As I said, I am suffering from information overload!

Any thoughts on any of the above destinations/itineraries would be much appreciated (as would any suggestions other possible destinations).
As this is a very short trip for us and transport in Japan is so efficient, we donít mind a faster pace than our usual. Our interests are varied and include the usual - stunning scenery, food, temples and gardens, cities and countryside etc.

We plan on staying in Minshukus , hotels and a couple of nights splashing out at decent ryokans. Any suggestions for accommodation would be appreciated.

Any suggestions, ideas or comments would really be appreciated.

Guenmai Jun 5th, 2019 12:19 PM

I loved going to Wazuka (near Kyoto) last summer 2018. I had my driver take me there as I wanted to eat at the restaurant there. The food was really good and we were only 4 people at the restaurant and the other two people looked like farmers. Only Japanese was spoken at the restaurant. It's the same restaurant in the below video. We drove all around Wazuka. There is a way to get there with public transportation. I just didn't do it that way. I hope I can get back to Wazuka this summer as it was so peaceful and I love being in the countryside. The same driver took me to the another countryside area, outside of Kyoto, on my summer 2017 trip and he bought his groceries out of a vending machine in the middle of the farm area on the side of a farm road. The vending machines were on the honor system as they trusted folks to leave money. I found the countryside to be very interesting.

Happy Travels!

kja Jun 5th, 2019 07:21 PM

I’m not sure that I understand your question(s) well enough to respond, but here are some some thoughts about places you mention:

Nikko: I loved it, found it different than other places I visited in Japan, was glad I spent a night so I had time for Nikko and a bit of Lake Chuzenji….

Hiroshima: IMO, perhaps the most powerful testament to peace I have experienced.

Himeji: The castle is a UNESCO WHS for good reason; the gardens nearby are an underrated treasure.

Kanazawa? I loved it! Easily worth 3 days if you like gardens or Japanese arts – it has quite a few museums featuring some of its unique contributiions to what many consider “traditional” Japanese arts / crafts, and also several memorable gardens, large AND small. There’s one exquisite bi-level garden where you can arrange a nominally priced tea ceremony; I’ve posted about it many times and don’t have the time to look it up for you now. Shouldn’t be hard for you to find.

Miyajima makes great sense as a pairing with Hiroshima.

Good luck with your planning! I’m sorry I can’t be of more help – I’m just back from a long trip and need to attend to other priorities.

I trust you are using Do1

crellston Jun 5th, 2019 11:17 PM

Thanks for the suggestion Guenmai. My wife is a macha aficionado, so if I show her that we will definitely be making that a side trip if we include Kyoto. Not sure what it would be like in winter though.
BTW I have a recollection that you were going to stay at the McGallery property in Kyoto - have you been yet? I have a lot of Accor points to use up!

KJA - Sorry if my original post was unclear. I was trying to resist the temptation to ask "please design a 10 day itinerary for me" and instead was looking for opinions on the places I had put on my shortlist, based on the experiences of others. I guess with the limited time we have, I am looking for help in prioritising the places to visit and help with the logistics of getting for A to B to C. I have been spending a lot of time on HyperDia and Japan Guide. The former is great for the logistics, the latter just seems to throw up more amazing places I want to visit, hence me coming here to solicit the opinions of more experienced Japan travellers.

Despite my lack of clarity, you did provide a lot of useful info. I agree re Himeiji, one of the most stunning places we visited on our last trip - my dilemma is should we go there at the expense of some of the places we missed in Kyoto? I suppose if we do visit Hiroshima, then it is on the way anyway.

Good to hearyou enjoyed Kanazawa. In terms of Onsens/Ryokans/hiking, I think my choice between there, the Kiso Valley ( Magome/Tsumago), the Kumano Kodo Trail, Yunomine Etc. Also Kinosaki Onsen looked interesting. My concern with Kanazawa is the weather as apparently, in June, the Sea of Japan coast sees a lot of rain and snow ( snow I don’t mind, but the less rain the better), whereas the Pacific side has blue skies.

Any other input would be appreciated.

Guenmai Jun 6th, 2019 06:26 AM

"Thanks for the suggestion Guenmai. My wife is a macha aficionado, so if I show her that we will definitely be making that a side trip if we include Kyoto. Not sure what it would be like in winter though.
BTW I have a recollection that you were going to stay at the McGallery property in Kyoto - have you been yet? I have a lot of Accor points to use up!"

* I also don't know how Wazuka would be in winter as I'm a hot-weather traveler. LOL! But, it might be interesting to go in winter and to also have a hot meal and some tea at the restaurant. The noodle dish that I had was the best that I had had while in the Kyoto region. I also treated my driver to lunch and he really enjoyed it. He was really happy that I had selected Wazuka as it was so peaceful. Plus, he mentioned that the last time that he had been there was a decade prior to us going. It's not a place that his clients to Kyoto ask him to drive to as most want to go to the main tourist places. But, I wanted a half day away from all the crowds of Kyoto. This summer we will be going to the Miho Museum and the surrounding area.

* As for the MGallery property in Kyoto, I haven't stayed there yet as the Japan trip is in July and August. This month is the Europe trip and then I come home and rest up before flying to Japan. I think I'm booked in Kyoto for 12 nights now and in 4, different hotels. I added some nights at the last minute. I"ll try to check back and let you know how the MGallery property turned out when I get home in August. But, from the reviews that I have read, it has gotten high reviews. It's only been open since the end of April 2019. I booked before it opened and got a good price. I'll have 3 nights there to try it out.

Happy Travels!

kja Jun 6th, 2019 06:04 PM

Originally Posted by crellston (Post 16931668)
KJA - Sorry if my original post was unclear.

The problem was entirely mine, crellston -- I plead jet lag!

Originally Posted by crellston (Post 16931668)
Himeiji, one of the most stunning places we visited on our last trip - my dilemma is should we go there at the expense of some of the places we missed in Kyoto?

If you've already been to Himeji (sorry, I missed that you said you had been), I'd prioritize the places you haven't seen -- unless Himeji-jo was under renovation / under wraps during your last trip. JMO.

Originally Posted by crellston (Post 16931668)
In terms of Onsens/Ryokans/hiking, I think my choice between there, the Kiso Valley ( Magome/Tsumago), the Kumano Kodo Trail, Yunomine Etc. Also Kinosaki Onsen looked interesting.

You might add Miyajima to your list of places to experience a ryokan and do some hiking.

crellston Jun 6th, 2019 11:33 PM

Thanks KJA - hope the trip was worth the jet lag? I did consider Miyajima then looked on Japan Guide and found that the Great Torii was being renovated and is covered in scaffolding for the next year. Still worth it do you think?

kja Jun 7th, 2019 04:49 PM

Of course the jet lag was worth it! :)

Good question about Miyajima. For me, seeing that torii at both high and low tide was a delight, but doing so was only a part of what I liked there -- the Itsukushima shrine itself was interesting, and I enjoyed exploring Mt. Milan and stunning views over the Inland Sea, and the cave of Daisho-in, and the deer sleeping on the waterfront at dawn.... That said, Miyajima was my one true ryokan stay, and it was a welcoming and calming place after an afternoon at Hiroshima., so I'm sure that affects my impressions. And time makes a difference -- I was there in 2006, and from what I've read, the place is now often jammed with daytrippers at times.

CaliforniaLady Jun 7th, 2019 09:07 PM

Given that our "assignment" is to post notes on where we have been, and what we recommend, I'll give this a whirl. although I have not been to all the places you mentioned.

Nikko - It is quite unique, and definitely worth seeing. We went on a day tour from Tokyo to Nikko and the lake. You could conceivably stay overnight as kja did, but we did not consider it at the time.

Hakone - We also took a day trip there from Tokyo. We went to the base of Mt. Fuji, and we got lucky to actually see it as the clouds drifted away. I have always wanted to do the actual climb--is that a possibility for you?

Hiroshima - I am intrigued by WWII history, so we spent a full day in the museum there. I'm not sure you could spend enough time there if you do not stay overnight.

I'm thinking that you didn't mention the area around Matsue as a possibility. Is that because you believe the weather will be lousy over there? I was there in September, and the city itself is fascinating. There are many temples there, and the castle is interesting. From Matsue, I took a day trip to the famed Izumo Temple, and from the temple I took a bus to a lighthouse, where I saw the beautiful rugged coast. I think you would enjoy this area.

It's a shame that you won't have time for Kyushu on this trip. I think you two would enjoy the area since you like the outdoors. When I planned my last trip to Japan, I asked our former exchange student where I should go, and he said, "Go to Kyushu for the nature."

mrwunrfl Jun 7th, 2019 10:10 PM

Kinosaki Onsen is a great place to visit for an onsen fan. There are several public baths on a main street and the idea is that wear your yukata and geta and visit a couple of them. That wouldn't work well in January, so that part of an onsen town visit would be missing. I wore street clothes anyway when I visited in April a few years ago. There were quite a few foreign tourists then, and they would also be missing in January, I assume, which would be a good thing.

I think you have learned that you would get better weather on the Sanyo side, Matsuyama on Shikoku and then a hydrofoil over to Hiroshima. A stay at Momijiso ryokan on Miyajima. Momijiso is not terribly expensive yet you can get a reall tradiitional ryokan experience there.

kja Jun 7th, 2019 10:12 PM

Originally Posted by mrwunrfl (Post 16932994)
A stay at Momijiso ryokan on Miyajima. Momijiso is not terribly expensive yet you can get a reall tradiitional ryokan experience there.

That's where I stayed. :)

mrwunrfl Jun 7th, 2019 10:25 PM

CaliforniaLady, did you take that former exchange student's advice? You didn't have any Kyushu stops in the whirl you gave.

CaliforniaLady Jun 8th, 2019 06:41 AM

Yes, mrwunrfl, I did indeed spend two weeks on Kyushu during that trip. Our exchange student's grandmother lives in Fukuoka, btw. I enjoyed the more luxurious, newer trains than on Honshu, the unique food, friendly people, and of course, "the nature."

It's always tricky when a person asks for more general advice here. I typically suggest someone visit another island of Japan on a second trip, but since crellston is already flying in and out of Haneda for only ten days, I would suggest that he visit Kyushu on his third trip to Japan.

mrwunrfl Jun 8th, 2019 07:27 AM

Kyushu has natural beauty and might have milder weather in Jan. than up north. I would not recommend a first time Kyushu visit be in January because, more than other parts of Japan, it is better to visit in the fall or spring (unless that is never going to happen then any time is good)..

Visiting Kyushu is easy visit, even on a short trip. That is especially true when using Haneda for the international flights. It is ideal for a connection to another city in Japan.

There are cheap air fares for visitors to Japan (e.g. the ANA Visit Japan fare) for domestic flights. FF awards for domestic travel can be cheap and easy to get.

mrwunrfl Jun 8th, 2019 08:08 AM

I see that if I was arriving HND around 7:30 AM that I could connect to an ANA flight to Hiroshima departing at 9:15A. Flight time is 1h 30 min and it is on a 767 (a widebody for a 90 min flight, probably headed elsewhere in Asia). The fare is just under $100 per person (Discover Japan Fare). I would take the bus to the central bus station and then walk to the Rihga Royal to check in. I could be at the Genbaku Dome and enjoying an obento before 1PM.

The next Hiroshima (HIJ) flight on ANA is at 10:55 and I might take that or see what JAL/other carriers have.

Or I could fly to Fukuoka (FUK) which has frequent flights to/from Haneda. Brunch in Fukuoka. Could still make it to Hiroshima PP for lunch.

Or connect to Komatsu for Kanazawa or to Yonago for Matsue.

crellston Jun 8th, 2019 09:20 AM

You get 8/10 for your assignment CaliLady - would have been a 9 if you hadn’t thrown Kyushu into the mix and tempted me with yet another option :-) . Not wasted though, it looks like exactly the sort of place we would like. Our third trip is likely to be sooner than anticipated, maybe next March/April en route to visit our new grandchild in Sydney. I am thinking a couple of weeks stopover en route maybe flying via Seoul (cheaper than Tokyo!), getting the train to Busan and the ferry over to Fukuoka. Thanks also for the recommendation for Momijiso ryokan on Miyajima. it may well be a perfect solution to kick off the trip and get over jet lag.

I didn’t mention the area around Matsue mainly because I hadn’t heard of it! I have been given a free Japan Guide for services to Rough Guides and have been working my way through it but sadly it is not the most inspiring of guides and lacks detail, which makes these exchanges all the more valuable. I will look at

I have now discounted Hakone on the grounds of it being (allegedly) too touristy. Nikko, may be a day trip from Tokyo, depending on how much I find we want to do in the capital.

Kanazanawa/Kinosaki is still calling although I remain concerned re the weather - cold and snow - no problem, but I really don’t want rain and grey skies. I suppose it is a bit of a gamble.

mrwunfl- I do like your idea of flying direct to Hiroshima on arrival. We are in BA business class so may be able to grab a reviving shower etc. in the lounge on arrival and get a midmorning flight or just carry straight on on the 09.15 after sourcing cash and SIM cards etc. We would then leave 3 days n Tokyo until the end which would work for our early flight out.

I am narrowing down the choices, slowly, but surely between Miyajima/Hiroshima and Kanzanawa/Kinosaki Onsen/Mat-sue and a return to Kyoto with maybe a side trip to Wakayama prefecture and/or Kanzanawa/Kiso Valley. If only BA would open up some more miles seats, a couple of extra days would make all the difference.

Many thanks for all the ideas so far.

patriciatbrogan Jun 8th, 2019 02:19 PM

I believe Kanazawa can be feet thick in snow in winter. In many ways I would avoid the Japan sea side of Honshu Island - it is cold there at that time of year, it's okay if you fancy a bit of snow. Hiroshima and Kyushu seem far away for a scant 10 day holiday if one's stuck with flying in to Tokyo. By the way, one does not necessarily need to take a JR pass, often they are a bit of a tourist trap, compare prices on hyperdia. It really is your call, you could even do all of the ten days in Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara. Nara is amazing for the history and the art, the amazing sculptures.

Adastra2200 Jun 8th, 2019 04:37 PM

Not entirely sure what you are asking, but a few impressions come up.
You mention you've been to Himeji before, but you still intend to go again this time. The castle and Kokoen Garden nearby are wonderful, but that time of year has the least of the green beauty. The other main sight if you haven't seen it is Engyoji atop Mt Shosha. For Miyajima, the giant torii gate has been covered up and will undergo renovations for over a year. It is an icon of the place, yet it should not torpedo your whole trip to the island if you want to go. There is still the shrine, Daishoin Temple, and Mt Misen. While convenient to go to Himeji along the way to Hiroshima/Miyajima, you might do it on a separate day as a half day trip (with the other half in Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka, Hikone, etc). Please don't shortchange yourself as so many do in Hiroshima by just seeing the Peace Park and then leaving the city. There is a lot more to see - the Shukkeien Garden is wonderful, though again not the best time of year, but also there is the magnificent Mitakidera Temple and eating okonomiyaki at Okonomi-Mura.
Going into the Alps and mountain areas are going to be cold and the most time consuming. The good news though is that winter generally has better days to see Mt Fuji clearly compared to other seasons. The Fuji 5 Lakes are though would have closer views. Hakone has been pretty crammed with tourists, and the Owakudani ropeway through is currently closed due to SO2 emissions. It could open up again before your trip, but nobody knows.

It's impossible to say which rail pass, if any, will suit you best until you really decide your itinerary.

mrwunrfl Jun 8th, 2019 08:10 PM

Given that Japan Airlines and BA are partners you should check their fares, of course, but also see if BA can link your BA and JL tix so that you checked thru to HIJ.

As you have become familiar with hyperdia you may understand that train travel to Matsue or Kinosaki Onsen takes some time and would involve some backtracking.

My solution to this when I wanted to visit Matsue was to fly. I took the train there, from Hagi, but I flew out of Yonago. The tix were a United roundtrip LAX-Nagoya-LAX and I added on ANA flights from Nagoya to Nagasaki and Yonago to Nagasaki. The bus trip from Matsue to Yonago airport was longer than I wanted but it all worked fine. No JR Pass, no backtracking, no long train rides.

I was in Kanazawa one January. It was snowing and there was a good bit of slush in the street. It is low altitude and near the coast, so I doubt that you would get feet of snow there. The multi-feet snows falls on the mountains inland and east from Kanazawa, like in Shirakawago. Which was wonderful even though it had "only" four feet of snow on the ground. I was the only guest at the Koemon gassho zukuri (the reservation was made with the help of a friend at Kanazwa station).. They have snow boots for guests and a pair actually fit me.

After S-go, I took the bus back to Takaoka and the limited express train heading heast was late due to weather.

I probably shouldn't but I can't let you scratch Hakone simply because someone said it is too touristy. It certainly can be - in good weather - on the Hakone Loop. But, if you would be interested in visiting there where your destination, the point of the visit, is a stay at a nice tradtional ryokan , one with an onsen, It could be worthy of a visit if you do without the typical sightseeing. If you sought something that a person/couple from Tokyo or Yokohama might want - a getaway to nice lodging, good food, hot springs - a kind of resort stay then Hakone can do it (don't ask me for a s;pecific recommendation for this, i stayed at a simple minshuku) But, really, anyone who advises that Hakone is too touristy is probably someone who did not visit there in January. Niether did I - it is low season!

crellston Jun 11th, 2019 04:31 AM

Mrwunfl - thanks for the second opinion on Hakone, the comments re it being too touristy came from an ex colleague who was based in our Tokyo office for many years and from a tour operator I spoke with. I will reconsider as it does seem to be a lot easier to get there from either Kyoto or Tokyo.

The more I think about this, the more I am thinking a priority will be a night or couple of nights in an Onsen Ryokan or two. As I have mentioned before, cold and snow we can cope with, rain an slush, no thanks!

Bearing in mind that a third trip may now be on the cards next year en route to Australia, I am probably going to forego Hiroshima and Miyajima and leave those for when we have more time as a stop over from S. Korea by getting the ferry from Busan to Fukuoka and spending a couple of weeks around that area then.

Adastra - thanks for the mention of Hikone . That looks intriguing and somewhere we would like and is easily visited from Kyoto.

I know I am going around in circles but I am leaning towards a two centre approach based on Kyoto and Tokyo. Planning our longer 3 month trips is far easier than this!

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