I'm going to Japan!

Apr 1st, 2014, 01:35 AM
  #1  
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I'm going to Japan!

I can't believe I've gone ahead and done it...I've booked flights to Japan...solo! I'm absolutely terrified and excited at the same time. The furthest I've been before is Korea, and I stayed with a friend there the whole time.

I've got 10 days on the ground and have a vague plan of visiting Tokyo and Kyoto. I have a couple of friends in Tokyo I'd like to meet up with for dinner/sightseeing but otherwise am completely free. I'm flying in and out of Haneda airport, so was thinking of doing 3-4 days in Tokyo, going to Kyoto and then back to Tokyo. Does that sound sensible?

I was thinking of coming up with a few must-sees and working around them. I was hoping to do Mt Fuji as a day trip from Tokyo...it appears that the thing to do is go to Hakone and see it from there (as climbing season is only really July and August)...is that worthwhile? I also remember reading on here about an excellent cooking class in Kyoto...does anyone have a personal recommendation for that type of thing?

I'm on quite a budget, so will be trying to cut costs as much as I can. I'm looking at an overnight bus to Kyoto and back to save on the train fare and staying in hostels or cheap hotels. I don't mind splashing out on really special experiences but don't have the money to splash out on everything!
ClementineLdn is offline  
Apr 1st, 2014, 12:42 PM
  #2  
 
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Wow, congrats on booking the flights.
When we were in Tokyo in November we used a FREE guide to show us around, I believe you can now do this too in Kyoto ( I took a gift from the UK as a thank you) Contact Tokyo free guides in advance to arrange, our guide was lovely ( they are volunteers who want to practise English or just show off their cities.)
Smeagol is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2014, 12:00 AM
  #3  
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Thanks! Is it normally just for one day, or can you meet up with the guide a few days in a row?
ClementineLdn is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2014, 03:11 AM
  #4  
 
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I used a volunteer guide in Fukuoka, was really pleased. It will differ between the associations, but the Fukuoka one requests 2000 Yen to cover the travel expenses of the guide to reach the meeting point and travel home again. Then it's just a matter of covering all their expenses during the day - further travel, food and entrance fees. I think it's a fabulous deal! Like Smeagol, I also took a gift from the UK to thank my guide further, as we had emailed in advance to ensure the itinerary she created fit our personal interests.

I should think you can request a guide for more than one day, and it would depend on availability / interest of the volunteer guides as to whether one guide is able to offer multiple days, or whether you are allocated different guides for different days.

You will likely want to give some guidelines on what you'd like to do/ see with the guides.

I have a feeling JNTO has some links to all the volunteer guide associations, by location, can't find link just now but I'll try and find later.

If you're planning on day trips out from Tokyo, I'd probably suggest 5 days for Tokyo/day trips and 5 days for Kyoto/ day trips.

Kyoto has so much to see and do, plus you can easily visit Nara, Osaka, Kobe and even Koya-san from there. We also spent a half day at nearby Yamazaki, to visit the whisky distillery. And half a day in Arashiyama, which is virtually within Kyoto, just outside.

I've not taken trips to Hakone or Nikko (yet) so can't comment on those, but know lots of posters here have done so.
Kavey is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2014, 01:04 PM
  #5  
 
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I think you can book as many days as they can find volunteers for. Check out the website.
Hakone is great, the views of Mount Fuji are wonderful.
Smeagol is offline  
Apr 6th, 2014, 12:02 PM
  #6  
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Hi everyone,

Thanks for the help. I'm thinking about this very, very provisional and basic itinerary for my trip:

Fri 23rd May - Arrive in Tokyo around midday. Head to hostel (need to decide which one), meet friend for dinner, early night!
Sat 24/Sun 25th May/Mon 26th May - Explore Tokyo (sightseeing, shopping, fish market)
Mon 26th - Take a night bus to Kyoto
Tue 27th/Wed 28th - Explore Kyoto
(Question - is it worth doing a night in Osaka or better to save it for another trip given my short time in Japan?)
Wed 28th - Night bus back to Tokyo
Thurs 29th - Exploring Tokyo
Fri 30th - Day trip to Hakone (is it worth staying here? Or is it usually done as a day trip?)
Sat 31st/Sun 1st - Spending time with friends in Tokyo
Mon 2nd June - Fly home

Does any of this sound logical? Am I missing anything big? I want to base myself mostly in Tokyo but see 2/3 other places as well.
ClementineLdn is offline  
Apr 6th, 2014, 12:59 PM
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Why don't you go to hakone on the way back to Tokyo from Kyoto?
Smeagol is offline  
Apr 6th, 2014, 01:50 PM
  #8  
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Would that be easy to do logistically? I'm trying to use night buses where possible to save money. Is there one from Kyoto to Hakone?
ClementineLdn is offline  
Apr 6th, 2014, 04:11 PM
  #9  
kja
 
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Two days for Kyoto is very little time. You might want to consider shifting a day or even two from Tokyo to Kyoto. Of course it really depends on what you want to see and do. FWIW, I FAR preferred Kyoto to Tokyo.
kja is offline  
Apr 6th, 2014, 09:58 PM
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Me too, although we had less time in Tokyo than Kyoto but I still feel we got a taste of it. ( we had 3 nights just 2 days in Tokyo and ideally we would have had at least another day) we had 4 nights /4days in Kyoto and I wouldn't have wanted any less.
Smeagol is offline  
Apr 6th, 2014, 11:53 PM
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I thought the same thing - 2 days is low for Kyoto given that you have 6.5 in Tokyo. I'd try and switch to have at 4 in Kyoto and 4.5 in Tokyo, personally.
Kavey is offline  
Apr 8th, 2014, 01:51 PM
  #12  
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I know a lot of this is subjective but why did you prefer Kyoto to Tokyo? I had assumed more time in Tokyo was a logical choice given the size of the city, but I haven't looked into Kyoto properly yet!
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Apr 8th, 2014, 04:36 PM
  #13  
kja
 
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I preferred Kyoto because it preserves much of traditional Japanese culture -- its temples and gardens and shrines and even a palace or two, along with some of the old neighborhoods. Much of Tokyo was destroyed during WWII, although a few small traditional areas survived (most of which were not as old in the first place as things in Kyoto).

I strongly encourage you to start your research as soon as you can. As we noted on your first thread, the japan-guide website is a good place to start:
japan-guide.com
kja is offline  
Apr 8th, 2014, 10:48 PM
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As Kja said... Kyoto preserves and makes accessible traditional Japanese culture, architecture and crafts. But it also offers modern Japan too, so you can see both sides. As a city, it's more compact, easier to get around. On top of the rest, there are great eating opportunities and great shopping, including the wonderful food market. There are a great many traditional ryokans (in the city and in outskirt suburbs/ villages) and there are plenty of Western hotels. You can easily explore nearby locations too, such as Osaka, Nara, Kobe, Arashiyama, Yamazaki, Uji.

Tokyo is amazing but it's harder to get a handle on it. There are many attractions but they're spread out amongst the many different "centres" of Tokyo. It is less coherent as a city, in my mind, from a visitor's point of view, and although I enjoyed exploring what I saw, it doesn't draw me back for more like Kyoto (and other places) do.
Kavey is offline  
Apr 8th, 2014, 11:30 PM
  #15  
kja
 
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What an interesting answer, Kavey! It seems that we so often agree about things that I can't help but follow up on some minor details....

I actually found it easier to get around Tokyo because I thought the subway connections better, at least for the places I wanted to visit - but then, I did a LOT of advance research to make sure I knew how to get from place to place in the otherwise incomparable maze of unmarked streets that is Tokyo. Limitations on my budget at the time when I was in Japan made taxis an unthinkable luxury; I'm sure they would have simplified my time in Kyoto.

I didn't do much shopping, but wouldn't have thought Kyoto any easier than Tokyo, nor would I have thought Kyoto any better for food options (except, perhaps, for truly high end kaiseki - which I suspect is outside the OP's price range).

Of course, one can visit a lot of places from Tokyo, too -- Nikko, Kamakura, Hakone, ... so I hadn't considered ease of access to other places a particular advantage of Kyoto. That said, the fact that Kyoto offers easy access to nearby places that have an even deeper history in Japan (like Nara) was, for me, a decided plus to Kyoto.

(BTW, why to so many Fodorites list Arashiyama as a destination apart from Kyoto? Isn't it "just" the western district, as Higashiyama is the eastern district? I know I walked from Pontocho to Kinkakuji to Arashiyama, just as I walked from Pontocho to Ginkakuji to Kiyomizudera....)

These niceties aside, I agree with Kavey that Tokyo is less accessible than Kyoto. And like Kavey, I don't feel a desire to revisit Tokyo (where I spent less than 3 days), but I would love to see more of Kyoto & Nara (where I spent more than 6 days).
kja is offline  
Apr 9th, 2014, 07:10 AM
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Aah interesting, let me try and explain where I'm coming from...

Like you, we did a lot of advance research for our trips, so we knew exactly where we were going and how to get there via public transport. We used taxis only rarely, as, like you, our budget was sufficient to use them much.

But in Tokyo, because it's so large, I felt it made a lot more sense to group things we wanted to see by area, rather than backtrack across the city, north south east west. Because Kyoto is so much smaller, I didn't feel any need to worry about grouping things together, it didn't take long to get from one place to another. We found that a combination of bus and metro made Kyoto as straightforward to get around as Tokyo.

For shopping, similar reasons really - I like that in Kyoto I can visit department stores, the Nishiki food market and smaller stores within the surrounding shopping arcades all in one small area. In Tokyo, I felt I had to visit different areas to find the different kinds of stores and shopping experiences I was interested in, if that makes sense?

Same for eating, I think I just found it easier to settle on options in Kyoto than in Tokyo where googling for a great tempura place, for example, would find me so many that were way too far from my intended location to be of any use. I think it's just the scale of Tokyo versus Kyoto coming into play again.

Of course, both cities are superb for food, shopping and most anything else a visitor might be interested in.

I did find it easier to find and book an affordable private cooking class in Kyoto, the only ones I found for Tokyo were either not what I was looking for or way too expensive.

And lastly, I think many tourists stay towards the Eastern side of Kyoto, so Higashiyama is just a walk or short metro ride away whereas Arashiyama is a train ride, feels more like travelling further afield, our trip there felt similar to heading off to Osaka, or Nara, for example, even though it's technically within Kyoto itself.

I don't think a first time visitor would regret 10 days straight in Tokyo OR Kyoto, or any combination of the two, so it's all gravy, just a case of finding the balance that works best for you!
Kavey is offline  
Apr 9th, 2014, 12:27 PM
  #17  
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Thanks for the advice. I think I'm going to just have to start booking things and work out the rest bit by bit, as right now I'm completely overwhelmed.

What is the transport system in Kyoto like? Is it easy to visit the shrines, temples and so on using public transport? I'd like to stay in a ryokan for a couple of nights in Kyoto - is this a strange thing to do alone? Most of the rooms offered seem to cater to 2-5 people.
ClementineLdn is offline  
Apr 9th, 2014, 05:23 PM
  #18  
kja
 
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I found the transportation within Kyoto generally well-suited to my purposes. Doing a little bit of research has the potential to give you answers to many of your questions and allow you to move relatively quickly from feeling overwhelmed to realizing that you can do this.
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2363.html

Not all ryokan will accept single guests. I enjoyed my stay in one (but it wasn't in Kyoto). If you look at booking.com, you can specify that you are looking for a room for one and then see which ryokan are available.
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Apr 9th, 2014, 10:46 PM
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We found the public transport in Kyoto straightforward. On our first trip we mostly used metro/ trains but on the second trip we used the buses more as our location / destinations were more directly connected by the many bus routes. They were easy to use with English language call outs for each stop.

I think ryokans tend to list the highest number of guests accepted in a room, which is also a way of giving an idea of the size. I think some of the solo travellers have found some ryokans reluctant to accept solo travellers in high season, but I think it's definitely worth getting in touch to ask.

Or, I'd talk to Japanese Guesthouses, let them know the facilities/ type of ryokan you are looking for, your budget and ask them to source ones that are happy to accept solo travellers. I've used them on both trips and very happy with their service as some of the ryokans don't have a strong English-language speaker so asking questions by email can take longer.
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Apr 10th, 2014, 01:33 AM
  #20  
 
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I prefer Osaka much more, I think that the dishes here is extremely good, I also recommend some interesting places where I've arrived. http://contentwriteronline.com/1-day...5-restaurants/
hienpham is offline  

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