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Japan August 2016 Basics

Old Feb 14th, 2016, 05:23 PM
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Japan August 2016 Basics

Hello Fodorites!

My husband and I finally booked our dream beach house for a wonderful So Cal summer with the kids. No, I'm not on the wrong topic. They are teenagers. The plan was met with ... Well ... A total lack of enthusiasm? When asked what my graduating senior had in mind, he said "Japan." Well of course! It's actually not that far out of left field because we are pretty seasoned travelers - just never been to Asia. But I'll gladly plunk down that $6k towards an educational trip any day.

Our dates are easy. Between all of our jobs, summer school, sports and college move in day only 7/31-8/14 works so those dates are firm.

I started by pricing airfare from SFO for five. Holy Cow. I re-pitched Newport Beach and added in the New Harry Potter rides at Universal Studios and was told they have an even better Universal Studios in Osaka.

So I found a Groupon and booked with a travel agency. We are independent travelers but I found a package for $1500 each with great nonstop flights, transfers, some meals, one tour and a Tokyo hotel. So that's our first six nights.

I am not ready to pick exactly what sites we want to see but I could sure use some help roughing out the plan to book hotels.

I figure we will have plenty of time in Tokyo and can do day trips to Hakone, Nikko? and/or Kamakurra. I read many sample itineraries from Japan-Guide, this site and Frommers. I don't need to really tailor to kids - I get tired before they do. And yes, they can handle Hiroshima. We did concentration camps last year.

After Tokyo, I am wondering about a one week JR pass (comes to $1320) to get to Kyoto. In Kyoto, I have spg points and we can stay at the Westin on points, for 5 nights (the 5th night is free so no point in staying 4). From Kyoto, it sounds like we can see Nara and Kobe?

Working backwards, since we have to fly home from Toyko, our final night will be in Tokyo at a free Sheraton near the train station.

So that leaves two additional nights...???

So far, some of the things I see in the itineraries that interest us are:
1. When we leave Tokyo, taking the train/bus to Magome and walking the Nakasendo Highway. Will the luggage service take our bags to Kyoto? Would he need an inn for one night prior to Kyoto? Is August too hot and humid for that plan?
2. One tour company goes to Takayama and Kagaosen (sp? The hotel is Kasulkyo Ryokan, Kagu) after Tokyo before Kyoto. What is the draw of these destinations?
3. We love monkeys. One itinerary had a refuge visit from Beppu. I don't think Beppu is going to make the list. Other refuges that make sense or are they only cute in the snow?
4. Views on the Sagano Romantic Train. Cost? Time commitment? Worth it?

As for those last 2 available nights, if we go straight to Kyoto after Tokyo, we can spend them in Hiroshima or Osaka. So, it's a 13 night trip. Nights 1-5 Tokyo, Nights 6-10 Kyoto, Nights 11-12 ? Osaka (aquarium, Universal Sutdios) or Hiroshima - Dare we split them?; Night 13 end in Tokyo.

Thank you in advance experienced travelers. We are all very excited about this trip! I don't think the whole seafood thing has occurred to the kids just yet but fine with me if they eat Ramen and rice all week.

Jill
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Old Feb 14th, 2016, 08:15 PM
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That Groupon thing sounds like a good deal!

I don't have good answers for your specific questions, but here are some partial responses. I hope others can fill in the gaps.

1. There are are two luggage services you could be thinking of. One is the local service for people walking the Nakasendo--they take your bag from one village to another: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6078.html . The other is the general tukuhaibin services--they take your bag from anywhere to anywhere (usually next day but one): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2278.html .

I walked the Nakasendo in mid-June and didn't find the weather too oppressive. But I didn't find the walk very interesting either. I think you need to stay overnight in one of the villages to get the full effect, and I didn't.

2. That'd be Kaga Onsen: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4275.html . Does the tour from Takayama go via Shirakawago and the Hakusan White Road? That could be very good. The road is only open in high summer and I've not been there at that time.

3. Beppu is on Kyushu...the other end of the country. I've no interest in monkeys and so no personal experience but there's a monkey park in Arashiyama--which is an excellent place to visit from Kyoto independently of monkeys.

4. I'm considering taking the Sagano train myself in a few weeks time, but I don't think I'd put it high on my list if I hadn't been to Kyoto before (and if it wasn't springtime or fall). OTOH it also starts in Arashiyama, so you could maybe combine it with the monkeys.

Have a good trip!
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Old Feb 14th, 2016, 09:47 PM
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Does your travel time include flying time? If so, how many nights do you actually have on the ground? 12?

If so, I wouldn't push to add a huge amount more to Tokyo and Kyoto, especially when you are already thinking about side trips to Nikko, Hakone, Kamakura, Nara and Kobe plus Hiroshima as well.

You could also add Osaka to your Kyoto list if it is of interest, and we loved a half day trip out to the Yamazaki whisky distillery when we went.

This time (3rd trip coming up) I want to make sure I get to Uji, an area that specialises in green tea.

For Hiroshima, what I and many others have enjoyed is to head out early (from Kyoto or thereabouts) to arrive in Hiroshima at the beginning of the day, then spend half the day there (visiting the peace park, museums and the atomic bomb dome) before heading across to Miyajima for the overnight. If you can arrive to Miyajima mid afternoon, and stay overnight, and then spend as much of the following day there as you have available, you'll be able to enjoy the island itself, plus it's lovely to see the little temple and town area once the daytrippers leave, not to mention the chance to see the "floating" torii gate at both high and low tide - at low tide you can walk out on the sands to it.
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Old Feb 14th, 2016, 10:24 PM
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Thank you! That is so helpful. We have 13 nights on the ground if you want to count our last night in Tokyo before we depart. I think it will be a bit of a dud night! Tired and packing and thinking about school starting on Monday. Maybe we can leave the kids in the room and have a nice farewell dinner.

Great monkey tip - We can get them in Kyoto.

Most helpful was the Hiroshima/Miyajima advice: Sounds like we can leave early from Kyoto, spend a half day at Hiroshima then head over to Miyajima for our last night before heading to Tokyo the next day.

Maybe it's because I read a huge article on Osaka things to do... But I'm thinking we might want a night there after Kyoto so Osaka doesn't cut into Kyoto time and we have more time in Osaka to do something ridiculous like Universal Studios.

That gives us two single night stays in a row - But it's on the heels of two 5 night stays and the destinations are close so it might not be that bad. It's not like we are doing one night Paris then one night Rome. I hope.

And I don't think I need Nikko from Tokyo ... Too far. Sounds like the Hakone/Mt Fuji Park is the better day trip.
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Old Feb 14th, 2016, 10:30 PM
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I'm sure you can make this a great trip for all involved! -- it's a fascinating country!

First and foremost, consult japan-guide.com NOW! -- and do it for everything you are even thinking of doing. It is, perhaps, the single best source of information, online or not, on travel in Japan. The ONLY problem I've found with it is that it overestimates how long exploring major sites (like Kyoto) will take -- I'd advise that you double the japan-guide estimates. JMO.

"a Tokyo hotel ... our first six nights. ...I figure we will have plenty of time in Tokyo"

Indeed! I, personally, wouldn't want to spend that much time in Tokyo if I had only a 2-week trip, but it depends on what you and your family want to see and experience, and there are certainly things you can do to fill it with meaningful experiences.

Just to confirm: You are already committed to flying into and out of Tokyo? If so, you might want to be in / near Tokyo on the night before your departure, and if that's true, you might want to put all of your time in Tokyo at the end if you can. It might not be possible, but consider you options for heading out of Tokyo ASAP upon arrival.

"day trips to Hakone, Nikko? and/or Kamakura"

Hakone is not, IMO, a convenient day trip from Tokyo. It might be worth visiting (I haven't been there yet), which is a different question.

I loved Nikko, and I was glad to spend a night there, which gave me time to see not just the major shrines and temples there, but also Kegon-no-Taki and bit of Lake Chuzenji. Consult japan.guide. That said, if you have already paid for lodging in Tokyo, I'm not sure I would pay EXTRA to spend a night in Nikko.

Kamakura makes for a great day trip from Tokyo, if your time and interests allow.

While in Tokyo: In addition to the obvious "must-sees," be sure to visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and note that your children (and you!) might enjoy a boat ride along the Sumeda River.

"From Kyoto, it sounds like we can see Nara and Kobe?"

It is certainly EASY to visit them. Whether you have TIME to visit them depends on your interests. Many of us find 6 days barely enough for the highlights of Kyoto and Nara....

Japan's excellent luggage-forwarding option is called takuhaibin; here's the info:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2278.html
It is offered by several different companies; most guarantee day-after-next delivery; some, depending on the locations and exact times, offer next-day service. You obviously need to know exactly what YOU want.

IMO, Takayama is too far from either Tokyo or Kyoto to make sense as a day-trip destination, and what's more, it deserves at least 2 full days (IMO) -- you might want to defer visiting it until you have time to combine it with Kanazawa in a swing of about 5 days. Making time for it on THIS trip will just mean a lot of travel time at the cost of the chance to see things that are right where you already are. Honestly, I'd recommend skipping Takayama on this trip. JMO.

The Sagano "Romantic Train" was, IMO, pleasant. Seriously overhyped and overtouristed, but hey, you ARE tourists and I thought it fun. If I were traveling with children, I'd do it. Again, JMO.

I was extraordinarily glad to have visited Hiroshima. I spent about 5 hours visiting the A-Bomb Domb, Peace Park, and Peace Museum. (I think the Peace Museum may be undergoing some renovations, and so may take less time.) I then went on to spend a night in a ryokan on MIiyajima, and was also very pleased with that choice -- I was very glad to spend a quiet, contemplative night in a gorgeous setting after such an emotional day. And Miyajima is delightful after daytrippers leave -- you can see the amazing torii of Itsukushima in both high and low tide; walk within inches of deer sleeping by the waters' edge; see a candle-lit cave temple; ooh and aah at spectacular view of the islands glimpsed from the top of Mt. Misan; enjoy the tree-shrouded and rough-bouldered terrains of the island; and yes, maybe, see some monkeys.

FWIW, while on Miyajima I stayed at Momiji-so -- a true ryokan, but one that is MUCH less expensive, and less formal, than many. Loved it! And it still gets great reviews....

(BTW, kudos on raising your children in ways that allow you to take them to places like Hiroshima and concentration camps.)

So basically, I suggest that you put your non-Tokyo time into Kyoto and/or Nara (6 in Kyoto or 4 Kyoto and 2 Nara) and at least a night or two for Hiroshima / Miyajima. If you visit this area, you probably want to reach Hiroshima before noon, so you can explore it at your leisure before heading off to Miyajima. You could then stay the night on Miyajima, explore it the next day, and either spend another night in Miyajima or leave late afternoon for somewhere else.

Hope that helps!
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Old Feb 14th, 2016, 10:40 PM
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Seems like several of us were posting at the same time! (Took me quite a while to read and respond to all the info up through, and not including, Kavey's post.)
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Old Feb 14th, 2016, 10:50 PM
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OK - I've skimmed the latest (I think) ...

"And I don't think I need Nikko from Tokyo ... Too far.

Nikko is an easy day trip from Tokyo (even if I was glad to spend overnight). And Nikko is not like anything else you are planning to visit.

"Sounds like the Hakone/Mt Fuji Park is the better day trip."

Really? My understanding is that Hakone takes several hours each way. I could be wrong.

But you have apparently have a TON of time in Tokyo.... Just some things to consider!
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Old Feb 14th, 2016, 11:12 PM
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I just have a few thoughts. First August is hot and humid. The central valley in California is cool in the summer by comparison. Laundry sometime in your trip will be necessary as you will be changing clothes every day. August is also peak Typhoon season and if your are unlucky you may have a week of bad weather. August is also a month heavy with travel so you may need to check hotel availability etc. On the other hand August is loaded with festivals and you might find them interesting. Hakone is an easy day trip from Shinjuku station. Nikko is also a day trip by a variety of ways. kamakura another easy day trip. Lastly the closest Starwood hotel to a train station is the Westin while there is a shuttle from the Sheraton Miyako to a train station.
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Old Feb 15th, 2016, 10:30 AM
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I think Himeji should be on your itinerary instead of Kobe because of this: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3501.html

A 7-day JR Pass might not work the way you want because of the amount of time you have in Kyoto. If you use one to get to Kyoto that would be day 1. After 5 nights in Kyoto, it would be day 6 when you leave there. You'd have one more day left on the pass.

I wouldn't want two one-night stays "on the heels" of two five-night stays. I would want it in the middle or at the beginning, i.e. make it easier at the end of the trip.

Considering your interests and believing that you don't want to change the two five-night stays then I suggest: 5 nights Tokyo, 2 nights Osaka, 5 nights Kyoto, 1 night Tokyo or Narita.

You would pay for a Nozomi to get to Osaka. I think there is a special offer that you can use to get a discound.

You can probably use a Kansai regional pass and optionally use it for visiting Himeji and/or Nara.

I'd look into a "shinkansen tour" or other kind of deal for Kyoto to Tokyo. The package would include the shinkansen and a hotel. They mainly advertise the packages with Tokyo as origin and Kyoto as destination but I think you can go the other way.

I suggest inquiring about a package from Kyoto to Narita Airport as an option for your last night.

Actually, you could also use a package to get to and stay in Osaka.

See this link as a start:
http://english.jr-central.co.jp/shin...ackage_01.html

I enjoyed staying at the Westin in Osaka. It is close enough to Osaka station that you can walk, but they have free shuttle.

There is a nice Sheraton at Hiroshima station. It is steps from the shinkansen side of the station. Streetcar to get into downtown. If you keep Hiroshima on your itinerary then you would very likely benefit from a 7-day JR Pass starting in Kyoto. Put your Osaka stay after Hiroshima.
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Old Feb 15th, 2016, 11:45 AM
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Hi, I don't post much here, but came by today for a look. There are a few comments that might help.

1: The Westin in Kyoto is not that great - I tried it out last year and was very disappointing at the location, quality and service. It's not a good base for five days - the local subway station isn't far, but the shuttle service to Kyoto Station is not reliable (limited space).

2: Takayama is a great town to visit, I normally do that as two nights so I can either do the Shirakawa-go 1/2 day tour or visit the Hida Mura folk village. The trip to/from is also scenic, the Hida beef great and ryokan/onsen accommodation. Not really doable as a day trip, but Tokyo-Toyama-Takayama is an easy route.

3: Monkeys - the Jigokudani park near Nagano is dable as a day trip (and is good even without the snow, otherwise the one in Kyoto is accessible. Beppu is too far for your limited time.

I would also agree visiting Hiroshima/Miyajima is a good addition, especially with the rail pass. The Sheraton is a great hotel (use your SPG points there). If you are fit/active, get the ropeway to Misen and walk back down - the views are good.

Nikko and Kamakura are good trips - Nikko will cost a bit more because of the trains/distance. Kamakura is due to have the bronze buddha under renovation from March(?).

The Hakone FreePass is a good way to do Hakone as a day trip (less than two hours). Also, consider Osaka as excursions from Kyoto (you are doing Tokyo afterall). Nara is another day trip from Kyoto.

On the weather - you are unlikely to encounter a typhoon, the weather is hot (it is summer), and there are coin laundry places around so that is not a big issue either.
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Old Feb 15th, 2016, 01:31 PM
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I'm interested in your travel agent tour package - we have a trip planned soon and that sounds like a great deal. We had originally planned for November, but are considering changing to June for various reasons, and we're going to be scrambling for arrangements!
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Old Feb 15th, 2016, 06:04 PM
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Wow! You guys are amazing. It's going to take a while to digest this detailed advice. Many thanks.

Alyson - I want to respect Fodor rules. Clearly, I'm not selling anything. I mentioned the Toyko air package was on Groupon - the travel agency and telephone number was on the website. I made sure my dates and gateway city worked before I purchased.

I want to pin down hotels because of peak travel season which requires me to figure out what we want to do! Or how can we figure out where to stay?!

I realize 5 nights in Tokyo is a lot but it was on a package. At least we can do day tours.

It never occurred to me to do Osaka prior to Kyoto. That might work out great.

Roughly, it's looking like this:
5 nights Tokyo (hotel paid on package)
1-2 nights Osaka (try to earn enough points for a free Westin)
5 nights Kyoto (Westin)
1-2 nights Hiroshima (Sheraton on points)(we have 13 nights so we can do 2 if we only do one in Osaka)

I spent 3 hours online yesterday Googling away until I figured out that we could easily get from Hiroshima to Narita the day of our departure. No need to waste a day spending the last night in Tokyo! Our flight does not leave until 5 pm.

I fully agree with all of the advice about sleeping on Miyajima but I would feel more comfortable sleeping next to the train station in Hiroshima our final night.

Food for thought:
Does it make sense to end in a city other than Hiroshima in terms of getting to Narita? Our non Nozomi route has 2 transfers.

I now realize there is no avoiding the 2 week JR pass. Dang. $1980.

When touring heavily and using American hotels to simply sleep and shower, we sometimes pile into a room with 2 double beds. That looks do-able at the Sheraton Hiroshima. The Westin Kyoto looks more like two literal twin (single) beds which would require 2 rooms. ? Thoughts.

Thanks again.
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Old Feb 15th, 2016, 06:38 PM
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"Does it make sense to end in a city other than Hiroshima in terms of getting to Narita?"

You might go from Tokyo to Osaka to Hiroshima to Kyoto to Narita.
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Old Feb 15th, 2016, 06:46 PM
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There are actually not very many hotels in Japan that have rooms that will sleep 4 adults. Sometimes pre teen children are ok. Would try to book a quad room to make sure it is possible before making any assumptions. The Westin Kyoto has Japanese style rooms that will fit four and I think they have family rooms that would fit four. While Japanese trains operate like clockwork, I would not be comfortable Going from Hiroshima to NRT to fly out the same day but thats just me.
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Old Feb 15th, 2016, 09:44 PM
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Your final night is in Tokyo, so no need to sleep in Hiroshima and lose out on the magic of an overnight on Miyajima. On our first trip to Japan, we went straight from Miyajima (leaving just before lunch time), returned to Hiroshima's main station (that took about an hour and a half max) and then took a direct shinkansen to Tokyo. That was a 5 hour train trip but very relaxing, comfortable and really no worries about it running late. Trains in Japan absolutely run on time!
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Old Feb 15th, 2016, 09:45 PM
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Oh and meant to say, we stayed at Auberge Watanabe on Miyajima, another small, family-run ryokan. Loved it and friends who went last year also loved.
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Old Feb 15th, 2016, 09:58 PM
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Yes kja! That's exactly what we will do. Great idea - We will now end in Kyoto. So glad we don't have to spend the final night in Tokyo. I trust the trains and, if there is some sort of disaster, we aren't that important and can just get home when we do.

So now it's 5 Tokyo, 2 Osaka, 1 Hiroshima, 5 Kyoto.

I know Osaka sounds like a lot but we will arrive, tour, go to Universal Studios the second day then leave early after the second night for Hiroshima/Miyajima.

I checked a couple of links for bullet train/hotel packages - it routed me to "Japanican"... Not seeing any bargains plus it's RT. I think I will do better with the 2 week pass.

I appreciate the input on the Westin Kyoto. We probably don't have enough points to get free spg rooms every where so I think I will spend the points on the Sheraton Hiroshima and the Westin Osaka.

Now we need to find a hotel in Kyoto for 5 people for 5 nights... Suggestions? If it's too expensive, we might have to scrape together points and deal with the Westin. Free is free.

Are we missing out by not doing a ryokan for a night for the experience?

I am so happy with how this itinerary is coming together! Once we nail it down and book accommodations, I can work on the actual Tokyo and Kyoto plan.
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Old Feb 16th, 2016, 09:25 AM
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Room descriptions for Westin Miyako:
Standard & Superior Rooms - in the Main and South wings
Deluxe Rooms - in the Main and East wings
Westin Executive Club Rooms - in our East Wing
There are also Japanese and family rooms.

I think you/I don't want the South wing and do want the East wing.
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Old Feb 16th, 2016, 05:04 PM
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Now that you don't need to worry about getting to Tokyo from Hiroshima, I will again encourage you to consider staying in a ryokan on Miyajima. Sorry to keep sounding the same horn!
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Old Feb 16th, 2016, 08:12 PM
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Keep blowing the horn! We have no idea what we are doing and treasure the input. I checked! Your beloved Miyajima ryokan is sold out as is the other recommended one. A highly rated one is $600 a night times two = $1200. Is sleeping on futons comfortable, I wonder? There are rave reviews and I believe you but that's not in the budget for one night. I will keep looking...

On a positive budget note, I realized I had an old Marriott account with some points in it and scored two gorgeous rooms at the Marriott Osaka for our Universal Studios trip. So we have Tokyo, Hiroshima and Osaka booked. Working on Kyoto. We will probably end up at the Westin in the "bad" wing on points.

How soon prior to our departure do I need to purchase the JR pass?

Rarely do we hire tour guides but have enjoyed them immensely a couple of times: Once in Athens to get to all of the sites and have rich history lessons and once in Rome at the Vatican for the kids. If we were to use one or two on this trip, are there any sites in particular where it would be recommended? Maybe Nara? I think we missed out quite a bit wondering around Salzberg last year with no guide. We have enjoyed free walking tours in Munich and Vancouver ...
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