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Japan 2011: We're booked...time for some serious Fodorite assistance!

Japan 2011: We're booked...time for some serious Fodorite assistance!

Jun 6th, 2010, 04:05 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Jun 2006
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Japan 2011: We're booked...time for some serious Fodorite assistance!

Was able to secure our tickets to Japan last week for our trip in early April (flying in ANA in biz class! thank you, FF miles!!) and now I'm tasked with figuring out what the hell we're going to do over 2 weeks.

I have to admit, as I did in my last post, I'm still somewhat overwhelmed by this trip...or I should say, my inability to put my hands around what we want to do and see. Our first Asia trip (and any subsequent one since then) has been markedly easier to plan so far than this trip. I almost feels like going to the US for the first time...where does one go when everywhere is a possibility? Guidebooks just confound me more since everywhere looks so beautiful. Time to start narrowing down all these possibilities. That's where you guys hopefully come in!

So I have taken the advice of HT (and others) and started cobbling together a least a very hi-level list of places I think we'd want to visit. I'm hoping that by doing this, you guys can help me with the amount of time worth spending in each as well as perhaps some stops along the way/in-between that we haven't thought of.

The logistics:
-We have 16 days on the ground (not including the day we arrive from LAX in the late afternoon.)
-I assume we'll start and end the trip in Tokyo, given that our flights are in and out of here
-We'll be traveling with the in-laws this time and they like to move around like us, so we'll want enough time in places to get a good feel for it, but not into spending *too* much time in one place
-We want to experience big city life *a bit* but we've always been into culture and nature above all, so seeing temples, cherry blossoms, forests, gardens, geishas, etc. is at the top of our list--basically all the cliched things you see in movies about Japan. That's what we want to see That said, I *do* want to spend a chunk of change in Tokyo if for nothing other than the culture shock, the Harajuku girls and the SHOPPING!

The places:
-Tokyo
-Kyoto
-Nara
-Hiroshima
-Miyajima
-possibly interested in the southern islands/Okinawa, if time were to permit, but not quite sure yet

The questions:
-Do we have the right idea here (city-wise) for a first-time, just-over-2-week trip?
-How many days would you suggest in each place?
-Is there some place that we're leaving out?
-Assuming that, yes, all of these cities are reachable by train and that investing in a JR pass is a must (when the time is right)?

I have a whole slew of other questions, including specifics about hotel lodging vs. ryokans, which onsens to visit, etc. but I'll save those until I can, at the very least, start getting a much clearer idea of our preliminary itinerary.
filmwill is offline  
Jun 6th, 2010, 04:54 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
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Great trip! You will love ANA. Blows any US airline out of the water.

Your list of places is good. Nara is a small city but one we really, really like the feel of. Miyajima is lovely, especially after the day trippers are gone.

For nature, I can't recommend Gokayama enough. Near to Kanazawa, yet countryside through and through. Much more off the beaten path than your other stops listed so not nearly as crowded...and April will be crowded. And of course I think Kanazawa is a great place.

I haven't been to Okinawa, but my daughter went when she was 10 and loved, loved it. Gorgeous sea, unlike near Kanazawa.

A JR Pass is probably right for you. Once your itinerary is nailed down you can cost it out and see for sure.
KimJapan is offline  
Jun 6th, 2010, 05:13 PM
  #3  
 
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aloha kimjapan, long time no see.

film, "Is there some place that we're leaving out?" lol. like of course. you've left out the tohoku region, and hokkaido, and kyushu, and shikoku. anyway, with 2wks. your iti is good. i'm sure you'll get alot of good advice from kim, ht, the rizz, and other japan experts.

i'll be there in early april too, duplicating hts 10 day hanami trip last year.

have fun planning.
kuranosuke is offline  
Jun 6th, 2010, 05:32 PM
  #4  
 
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Good starting point for a first trip to Japan. With a whole 16 days on the ground though I would be inclined to push it a little bit to have some time in a more rural area of Japan as well for a contrast. I know you have Miyajima on the list which I loved (and you do need to stay at least one night to appreciate it, preferably two) but the rest are cities. Is Nara to be a destination in itself or just a day trip from Kyoto?

I would think that 3 days in Tokyo would be enough but allow more time for Kyoto. Your interests sound rather similar to mine and I found this worked well for us. Kyoto gave us all the cultural highlights that we had so long dreamed about, but Tokyo was great fun at the end for a totally different type of culture shock. If you can organise your timing to get to Harajuku (where the girls dress up) and Yoyogi Park (bands and singers with their followers) on a Sunday it is not to be missed.

Consequently I would try for Okinawa if that takes your fancy (haven't been there) or if it is a bit to far, consider the Kiso Valley or Shinagawa/Takayama.
shandy is offline  
Jun 6th, 2010, 06:09 PM
  #5  
 
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KimJapan - ひさしぶり ですね。
Yes, Kanazawa is a very nice city - I was there in April - really enjoyed the Kenrokuen Garden as well as the castle....and a few of the many museums and temples.

filmwill - your itinerary looks good. Tokyo is good for shopping as well as wonderful museums. To me three days there is not enough...Kyoto deserves a lot of time as well - you can also do a half day trip to the Miho Museum from there. I did Hiroshima on a rainy afternoon - only went to the Museum and adjacent garden plus a late okonomikyaki lunch. I stayed one night in Miyajima - for a small place there is a lot to see there.
Enjoy planning your trip!
Mara is offline  
Jun 6th, 2010, 06:20 PM
  #6  
 
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filmwill,

Have you consider flying into Tokyo Narita and depart from Osaka Kansai? If that's possible then you don't need to return to Tokyo and can add another city to your list but I think they only fly to San Francisco from Osaka.
Hanuman is offline  
Jun 6th, 2010, 06:39 PM
  #7  
 
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Congrats Bill! I have nothing to add since we haven't been yet. But we're hoping it will be one of our next trips so I'll be following this thread with interest.
In the meantime, I have to plan for Panama and Cambodia! ;-)
Kristina is offline  
Jun 6th, 2010, 06:42 PM
  #8  
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Hanuman, we thought about it--but since we're using FF tickets, we were able to get in/out of Tokyo only.

It's actually fine, though, I think. Our plan, right now, is to spend that 1st night only in Tokyo, then head off south (Kyoto first, perhaps?) and head back to Tokyo for 3 or 4 days at the tail-end.

shandy, I don't know about Nara--you tell us Is it worth overnighting there? We honestly haven't "planned" anything yet--outside of my head at least. Also, did you mean Shirakawa-go (not Shinagawa)?
filmwill is offline  
Jun 6th, 2010, 08:14 PM
  #9  
 
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Hai KimJapan, ditto the long time no see and we miss you!

My initial thoughts with the time of year in mind and with the first look at your draft itinerary and questions.

Day 1 - Tokyo, ideally a hotel in Shinegawa.
2 - Kyoto
3 - Kyoto
4 - Kyoto
5 - Kyoto/Nara day trip
6 - Hiroshima
7 - Miyajima, definitely a ryokan here. Iwaso would be the splurge.
8 - Osaka/Namba area hotel is the key
9 - Osaka
10 - Takeyama
11 - Takeyama-Gokoyama/Kiso Valley day trip
12 - Hakone or Izu Peninsula-maybe ryokan here also
13 - ditto above or maybe Kanazawa for two nights instead
14 - Tokyo
15 - Tokyo
16 - Tokyo

I would want to add a day to Tokyo at the end but that's just me. You could also add a day to Hiroshima if you want to explore the city a bit more in detail.

Most here will say spend more days in Kyoto. I like to limit my time there as it is probably the most expensive place to stay in Japan. That said there are less expensive alternatives in the city but at the time of year that you will be there you would have to reserve well ahead and you will be in the high season.

I personally would stay clear of S-Go for now as I read here and elsewhere that it is getting more and more crowded with tourists now and losing its charm but we do have some fodorite fans of the town so I'll defer to their firsthand reco's of the place.

I would save Okinawa for another trip unless there is something there you really want to see.

Why I recommend Osaka is for the shopping that you want to do(and the food). IMHO Osaka and especially the Namba district are the best shopping areas in one place that I have seen in all of Japan. If you choose to stay in Osaka, stay in the Namba area.

Why I recommend Hakone or Izu is the sheer beauty of the areas and the chance to see Mt Fuji which is the ultimate cliched picture that you will need for your picture album. Hakone has some wonderful ryokan and isolated little towns to stay in.

You will need and can make good use of a 14 day JR Pass.

Going out to dinner right now so will check back later.

Aloha!
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Jun 6th, 2010, 08:46 PM
  #10  
 
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Yeah,ong time no see. Nice to be welcomed back.

I like the itin that Ht suggests. And I agree about S-go. I love the area but S-go itself is more touristy than before. We still go a few times year but recently have gravitated to spending moretime un the villages of Gokayama. Gokayama is an easy hour drive from home and a world away. Best by car though as buses are severely limited - which is what keeps it so nice.

If you have interest there are a number of experiences you can have in Kanazawa or nearby like making Kaga yuzen, real tea ceremony (not just drinking tea in a tatami room), gold leaf craft, soba making. And they are all cheap here.

I'd try the hyatt in Kyoto booked through Virtuoso which ysually gives best available rate but includes bfast and a modest f & b credit a d upgrade if available.
KimJapan is offline  
Jun 7th, 2010, 01:05 AM
  #11  
 
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STOP STOP... everyone stop helping.... he has not done a trip report for the last trip which we all had to live through before it began at least 30 times....

i guess we will just have to rely on david from here out for reports....
rhkkmk is offline  
Jun 7th, 2010, 07:02 AM
  #12  
 
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Kim, it's good to see you back here!

Filmwill, I'm watching the development of your itinerary as Cheryl and I still haven't done our first Japan trip.
Kathie is offline  
Jun 7th, 2010, 12:17 PM
  #13  
 
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A few more details on my recommendations....

Osaka at that time of year will be bustling with people but not the hordes you will see in Tokyo and Kyoto. Visiting the castle and a museum will be a nice change in scenery and the cherry blossom viewing is pretty good at the places mentioned above too. Of course I mention Namba as the place to stay in. See here for a little detail of the area. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4001.html
Linda and I ate at that crab restaurant you see in the picture and it is fabulous!
Lots to do in Osaka and we are headed back this November so I will report more when we return
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2157.html
The hotel I would recommend is the Swissotel Osaka but there are less expensive alternatives in the neighborhood.
http://tinyurl.com/y8ex7at

We will also be in Kyoto this fall and will stay at the Hyatt so I will give a first hand review then. We have Diamond status now with Hyatt so can reserve lowest rate rooms and still get upgraded automatically to suites and regency club rooms for free. I know your disdain for chain hotels though but this one is really nice and one to consider....

Other places for you to check out in the Kyoto area are the Hotel Okura and The Granvia Hotel, the latter is located right above the JR Kyoto Station. We have stayed at the Granvia before and liked it a lot. I did a review on the place in a previous tr. You can get a discount with your JR rail pass staying at the Granvia which is owned by the JR rail company.

Lots of people like the Okura for its location on the main shopping dori(street) and for the elegance of the hotel.

Some would say that Kyoto is a great place for a ryokan stay but I am in the category that says to stay at a ryokan with these three distinct features:
1. Great natural outdoor scenery and beauty
2. water must be direct from natural hot springs
3. not located inside any large city or town(and Kyoto is a large city)

Hakone and Izu would be ideal places for a ryokan stay and could be done on the way back to Tokyo. Hakone's tourist infrastructure is fantastic and the smaller towns like Gora or Miyanoshita hold a few gems to stay in for all budgets.

http://japaneseguesthouses.com/db/hakone/index.htm

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5200.html

http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/index.html

KimJapan's suggestions on what to do in Kanazawa are fantastic and something I want to do when we visit sometime in the near future.

Let us know what you are thinking so we can suggest more or less or........no pressure take your time,lol

Aloha!

PS - Another idea for a ryokan stay would be Kinosaki Onsen which is a couple of hours outside of Kyoto via train. This is the place on our radar this fall for various reasons....

http://japaneseguesthouses.com/db/kinosaki/tsutaya.htm
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Jun 7th, 2010, 02:15 PM
  #14  
jgg
 
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Bookmarking as we are planning a similar trip for late March 2011 and want to keep up on all the recommendations!!

We too will be flying in and out of Tokyo - HT are you recommending doing Tokyo last just so you are there for flying home, or is there another reason that it is best to do Tokyo last?
jgg is offline  
Jun 7th, 2010, 02:37 PM
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jgg, on this trip iirc, filmwill requested to be in the hump of the crowded seasons and is trying to avoid the crowds as much as possible. Being in Tokyo last gives them a chance of missing the mammoth sakura crowds earlier in April, see crowd pictures here: http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...y-blossoms.cfm
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Jun 7th, 2010, 02:57 PM
  #16  
jgg
 
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So,if we were going March 18- April 1, should we do Tokyo first to avoid the crowds? Then with last night in Tokyo b4 flying out still have possibility of seeing cherry blossoms (or too early)?
jgg is offline  
Jun 7th, 2010, 03:04 PM
  #17  
 
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Here is a rule of thumb to get the best hotel rates and availability: try to arrange to be in resort areas during the week, and in cities on weekends.
DonTopaz is offline  
Jun 7th, 2010, 05:52 PM
  #18  
 
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jgg, yes ,you may get a few at the tale end of your trip if my current predictions hold true.....you could also be smack bang in the peak blossoms most of your trip,lol, we'll see.

Aloha!
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Jun 7th, 2010, 06:50 PM
  #19  
 
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HT - interested to see you suggest just one night in Tokyo at the beginning of the trip and moving straight on to Kyoto. I was splitting my time in Tokyo between the beginning and the end, but putting it all at the end might flow better...

KimJapan - so good to see you back. I'm currently planning to visit Gokayama by public transport on the way from Kanazawa to Takayama - is that a bad idea?
thursdaysd is offline  
Jun 7th, 2010, 07:40 PM
  #20  
 
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Thursdaysd...thanks. I do think that Gokayama by bus is a bad idea unfortunatey. Gokayama is made up of a number of small villages connected by a good road. Each village has some gassho houses, a museum or two, a place to eat.

Ainokura is the largest and has about half a dozen places to stay - about ¥8000/pax per night with dinner and bfast included. Sugunuma is interesting because of its gun powder museum and small size. There is another village that the name escapes me right now that has an interesting "banished house" set up a hillside above the village. And there are a few more villages that are nice to walk around. We find the people more friendly and often eager to talk to us....maybe because we have a foreigner looking child who sounds native Japanese when she speaks...often shocks people.

There are two places you can make your own paper...one in a tourist center where they speak English but the experience is kind of bland, and another real factory located on the river bank where they speak no English but the place is real and the experience is much more interesting.

It is well worth exploring the area. Buses, however, are infrequent, very infrequent. So infrequent that I've actually never seen one during our many days spent in the area. I have seen the stops, though, but never anyone waiting. The schedule I see indicates only 4 buses a day between Ogimachi (Shirakawago) and Takaoka via Sugunuma and Ainokura. So first, you've got to go to Ogimachi. Overall, the bus schedule looks like a real time waster and will not be cheap eitiher.

I seldom recommend that people drive in Japan, but this is a place to do it. You can make a day trip from Kanazawa with a car and explore easily at your own pace. Parking is not an issue there..plenty of it and free except for S-go and Ainokura. You could also drive yourself to Takayama and pay a drop off charge for the car if time is an issue. Or skip Gokayama and visit S-go instead for its easier access. Sure, it is more touristy, weekends and holidays are packed bus tour groups, but if you go on a weekday I think it is still very enjoyable and all the stuff to see is in one place versus the multistops of Gokayama.
KimJapan is offline  

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