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Japan Itinerary!

Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 10:04 AM
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Join Date: May 2016
Posts: 67
Japan Itinerary!

Hi all!

My wife and I will be traveling to Japan in November for 12 days. We've received great help from this community before for trips in Europe and are hoping for the same luck here! We're flying into NRT on November 9 and leave November 20 from the same airport. We're a young couple (early 30's) and fairly active. Our interests are food, culture, history, art/architecture and, of course, beautiful scenery. The goal is to immerse ourselves into the culture and perhaps sprinkle a little relaxation on top of the adventure. Other interests include Japanese art and animation (Akihabara sounds cool because it seems to have that mixed with cool electronics and gaming - we are big Nintendo fans), WWII history, temples/shrines, etc. Food is definitely a big part of all our travel and we are interested in trying the best out there - from fine dining to street food!

Our friends have suggested Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka but I really want to get into the details. What's the best way to split our time? What other areas should we prioritize or ignore? Best areas to stay and best way to travel? Best hotels or airbnbs? I know I'm asking a lot and as things get refined, I will share with the group. Thank you!

tonygabe is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 01:52 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Do you know about the best info on the web on Japan at ? Go there and take a look at some of the info they offer. We are all different, so something I'd enjoy may not be what you are looking for. Personally, I wouldn't include Osaka on a first trip. We included Kanazawa on our first trip, and loved it even though it poured on us most of our stay there. We also did a two-night stay at Hakone. You are traveling at about the same time we did and we were able to see the koyo in many places. Spectacular!

Take a look at our photos: There is a link to my Fodors trip report there.

Best way to travel: Trains, and take a look at the luggage forwarding service which is just wonderful. Personally, I don't use airbnb, so we stayed in hotels and a machiya in Kanazawa.
Kathie is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 05:39 PM
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WW2 history then visit Hiroshima. You can couple that with a visit to Miyajima.

>>sprinkle a little relaxation on top
That would be best achieved at an onsen - hot springs. In Hakone, for example.

You can skip Osaka unless you have a particular interest there.

You didn't mention castles or sumo or a hotel budget.
mrwunrfl is online now  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 06:52 PM
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Are you a Miyazaki fan? There's a studio Ghibli museum. And then several places that were supposedly inspiration for places in his films (princess mononoke's forest, bathiuse from spirited away, etc.)
marvelousmouse is online now  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 10:05 PM
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Miho Museum in Kyoto! Amazing architecture. Here are my pics of it.
If you go there i recommend the short walk through the tunnel rather than catching the museum transport through. I was very reluctant to come out of that tunnel, so beautiful.
sandgroper is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 12:13 AM
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When you say 12 days, is that 12 nights but only 11 full days, or do you have 13 nights and 12 actual days? Only one night difference but worth checking when discussing an itinerary.

With just 11 or 12 days, I would caution against trying to fit too many places in - I think your idea of 3 main bases is a good one.

I would probably do 4-5 nights in Tokyo, 6 nights in Kyoto and give 1 or 2 nights for Hiroshima / Miyajima.

My personal preference, as we have also always flown into and out of Tokyo for all three of our trips, is to split my Tokyo nights between start and end of the trip, and to stay in two different areas of Tokyo for each one. But others advocate landing and moving straight on to your first non-Tokyo destination and having all your Tokyo time in one block. Both have valid pros and cons, so have a think about what will work best for you.

In terms of day trips from Tokyo, you might look at Nikko and Kamakura, though I'd take care not to shortchange your time for Tokyo itself.

I've given Kyoto 6 nights because there's so much to see and enjoy there, plus you are also within easy day trip travel to Osaka, Nara, Uji, Kobe and more. (We spent a half day at Yamazaki to visit the whisky distillery, for example).

If you have an interest in WW2, then do include Hiroshima in your itinerary. It's very moving, of course, but also educational if you visit the museum. Instead of overnighting in Hiroshima, I'd suggest overnighting on Miyajima, it's a good way to unwind after the emotional impact of visiting Hiroshima and is a beautiful destination in its own right. We did just one night, arriving to Hiroshima early morning, spending a half day there and early lunch and then transferring to Miyajima for mid-afternoon and leaving late morning the next day.

There are so many other places you could add in to your itinerary, but with just 11 or 12 days, I would counsel against that temptation as you would shortchange yourself on the rest. You can always go back once the Japan bug has bitten you!

Kavey is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 12:16 AM
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Actually just read your post again, and I think you only have 11 nights, so that's only 10 full days! Definitely definitely need to keep a lid on the itinerary then! That's quite short!

By the way, I'd skip Osaka and do as a half day from Kyoto, you can go over one afternoon, pootle around the sites and have dinner in Dotonbouri before heading back to your Kyoto base.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 12:32 AM
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Agree with Kavey
mjs is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 11:29 AM
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Osaka is 30 minutes from Kyoto by train, no need to stay there and Kyoto. Stay in Kyoto.

You can't just ask for hotel recs and areas to stay in Tokyo - that's one of the world's largest cities and you didn't even state a lodging budget. C'mon now, help us help you.

You need to peruse and and become fluent in those sites. They are excellent resources.

You're likely to need JR passes, look into them. Calculate your itinerary a la carte for train fares on hyperdia and then compare with the JR pass. If you haven't booked, go into Narita or Haneda and out of Kansai International.
BigRuss is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 11:34 AM
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^should say, if you haven't booked YOUR FLIGHTS.
BigRuss is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 04:19 PM
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Many people split their time between the Kanto (Tokyo) area and Kansai (Kyoto/Nara/Osaka/Kobe) but you should not feel chained down to the beaten path. You could do well with the above, but feel free to get off the beaten trail if you want.

For WWII history, the Hiroshima Peace Museum certainly shows the horrible devastation of the bombing, but you might have more than that in mind. You might consider the Yamato Museum in nearby Kure. Or if you want to see more, there are the kamikaze airfields in Kyushu, and if you really want to see the areas of battle, then you'd need to fly down to Okinawa.

I'd like to emphasize that the whole country is at your feet. You can fly for peanuts up to Hokkaido and Okinawa if you like. If you choose to go down to Kansai for a week, the cheapest ticket is the Japanican ticket - it beats the pants off the 7 day JR Pass and you can take the Nozomi train with it, getting you there 30 minutes faster than other bullet trains. But if you go beyond Kansai down to Hiroshima or beyond, you can make a 14 day rail pass worth it or the 7 day pass will pay off in spades. Miyajima is an excellent outing just beyond Hiroshima City, including the Itsukushima Shrine & Daishoin Temple.
Just beyond it is Iwakuni which is also charming and well worth it.

Also nobody else has mentioned that you will be in Japan just in time for the autumn colors, and there are many great places you can see them. Popular places will be more crowded but if you go there you can see why.
I suggest also you take a few day trips from Tokyo - there are so many. But a few are Karuizawa, Kusatsu, Kamakura/Enoshima, Nikko, Izu, the Hitachi Seaside Park, Takao, and Okutama. There's also the Fuji area with Hakone or the Fuji 5 Lakes area.

In Kansai, Nara is a must see place, and for a very spiritual side to Japan, you might spend a night in Koyasan. Taking the Hokuriku route and seeing Matsumoto and Kanazawa can be very rewarding too, as well as Takayama and Shirakawago.

Japan Guide is one of the better updated comprehensive online guides, yet it too misses a lot of good places. The best resource is to look at the city or area online tourist info page (nearly every large and medium sized city has one) and you can find many interesting places listed nowhere else. Also most main train stations have a tourist info office - USE THEM. You can often get free maps, the latest info, and guides on what to see. Plus what may be closed or under renovation so you don't waste any time.
Adastra2200 is offline  
Old Jun 5th, 2017, 01:56 PM
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Thank you, all. This community never disappoints! I am still going through to get a better idea of each area, but using some of your recommendations, I have put together a rough itinerary, which I am sure will change drastically still. Please let me know if you have any thoughts! Flying in and out of Narita, btw.

Day 1 - Arrive in Tokyo in the afternoon. Settle into hotel and exit for dinner and view of nightlife in Shibuya.

Day 2 - Tokyo. Mostly northern Tokyo. Visit Akihabara for electronics and anime. Go to fish market and visit imperial palace.

Day 3 - Tokyo. Go to western Tokyo to see Harajuku cosplay, Meiji Shrine and end with dinner either in Shibuya or wherever is recommended.

Day 4 - Travel to Hakone early for one night to enjoy the hot springs and scenery.

Day 5 - Depart to Kyoto. Visit many of the popular temples and shrines.

Day 6 - Kyoto. Visit Tenryuji temple, bamboo groves and the monkey park.

Day 7 - Kyoto/Nara. Take a day trip to Nara to see some of the older temples

Day 8 - Kyoto/Osaka - Take a day trip to Osaka to experience Minami.

Day 9 - Day in Kyoto

Day 10 - Depart to Miyajima. Check bags in hotel and go to Hiroshima to visit the musuem. Take day to Hiroshima. Spend night in Miyajima.

Day 11 - Leave Miyajima back to Tokyo

Day 12 - Depart from Tokyo back to U.S in the early evening.

Some questions I struggled with while building this itinerary:

1. Should I do another night in Hakone? We could use the relaxation but I did not want to short change either Tokyo or Kyoto.

2. BigRuss mentioned the JR passes. Do those make sense given our itinerary?

3. BigRuss also mentioned hotel budget. We are likely in the $200/night range with the ability to splurge for another day or so.

4. Where are we eating???

5. I have a strange pull to visit Tokyo Disneyland. It was also mentioned in Komodo's itinerary. Anyone have any good or bad experiences?

6. Adastra mentioned the fall foliage. I believe Hanoke will be nice during that season, but any must visit places during the autumn?

7. Seriously, where are we eating?

Big thanks to Kathie, mrwunrfl, Kavey, marvelousmouse, sandgroper, Adastra2200, Komodo_Dragon29 and mjs!
tonygabe is offline  
Old Jun 5th, 2017, 11:52 PM
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Day 10 - Depart to Miyajima. Check bags in hotel and go to Hiroshima to visit the musuem. Take day to Hiroshima. Spend night in Miyajima.

Day 11 - Leave Miyajima back to Tokyo

I'd suggest last thing on 9th or first thing on 10th that you ask your accommodation to have your main luggage sent ahead to your Tokyo hotel for that last night - they'll use one of the Takuhaibin services.

Then you can take a small bag suitable for overnighting.

Miyajima is an island. It absolutely does not make sense to head out to the ferry port, cross just to leave your bags in the hotel, and then head all the way back to central Hiroshima to visit the peace park and museum. You're looking at 3-4 hours round trip, from memory!

So, carry a small overnight bag, head straight to the peace park, arriving their by 9 am. Spend the morning there visiting the dome, the museum and appreciating the park. Have lunch there if you like.

THEN make that 1.5 hour transfer to Miyajima so you arrive there early afternoon, check in to your hotel, enjoy Miyajima for the rest of the afternoon and evening, spend some time there the next morning, and then get the train back to Tokyo. When we did that a few years ago, the bullet train was around 5 hours I think, so you'd be looking at around 6 hours total journey time into Tokyo, which sounds a lot but we found perfectly fine, very comfy trains, and we just chilled out, read books, wrote diary notes etc.

By the way, do make sure you make seat reservations for that train from Hiroshima back to Tokyo in advance, that is the one train you do NOT want to miss, as you want to be back in Tokyo as scheduled for your last night and your departure the next day.
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Old Jun 6th, 2017, 07:23 AM
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Yes, with your itinerary the JR passes make sense, the Japanican offer for RT ticketing Tokyo-Kyoto does not. Going west (and south) of Osaka to Hiroshima and Miyajima is the tipping point.

Assuming you're American, there are s---tons of companies that sell JR vouchers online. You can only buy a voucher in the US, then you exchange it at a mainline station in Tokyo (e.g., Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ueno, Shinagawa, Shibuya) at the JR office. The associates will speak some English (Japan's second language) and you can get a 7-day JR pass and have it activated for the day you go to Kyoto through the day you return to Tokyo from Miyajima. Get the "ordinary" class pass. The trains have significantly more room for travelers than a coach seat on a flight - better than premium economy.

The Nozomi or Mizuho shinkansen trains are not included in the JR pass - you can only ride them if you pay full fare, which is a waste of money. This is not a big issue. The Hikari shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto (and Osaka) will take about 20-30 minutes longer than a Nozomi. From Osaka to Hiroshima (and back), you take a Sakura shinkansen - those make the Hiroshima-Osaka run in the same amount of time as the Nozomi.
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Old Jun 6th, 2017, 09:47 AM
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@Kavey - Thanks for that insight. Definitely makes sense then to go straight and use the luggage forwarding service. Appreciate it!

@BigRuss - Thanks, sir. We'll buy a voucher here then and exchange it at the station. Really helpful advice. I otherwise would have activated from the beginning of the trip, which doesn't make sense now that I have a more fleshed out itinerary. A little confused by your last paragraph and the difference between a shinkansen train and a nozomi.

All that being said, are we hitting good areas? Any other must-see's that are not currently on the itinerary?

tonygabe is offline  
Old Jun 6th, 2017, 10:22 AM
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Day 5 - you will be taking the shinkansen from Odawara to Kyoto. There are two shinkansen train service types that stop at Odawara: Hikari and Kodama. You want to book reserved seats on a Hikari shinkansen. The Hikari is faster because it makes fewer stops. The sooner the better as far as when you make those seat reservations.

The timetable at the link below lists trains that go from Odawara to Kyoto. There are other itineraries that would require a change of trains, but you really want one train, a Hikari, for that trip.
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Old Jun 6th, 2017, 10:40 AM
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Day 10 - you can stash your bag in a coin locker when you arrive at Hiroshima station. Take the streetcar to Genbaku Dome Mae stop. Visit there, the park, and the museum. There is another streetcar line near the museum that you can use to get back to Hiroshima station. Pick up your bag then take the local train to Miyajimaguchi and walk to the JR ferry for Miyajima. There is a tourist info counter at the Miyajima port where they will call your lodging to come pick you up, if necessary.
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Old Jun 6th, 2017, 12:54 PM
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The various shinkansen services from Tokyo to Osaka and from Osaka to Fukuoka (and beyond) have names for the types of service. There are degrees of express, even for the shinkansen. These are noted by the "type" of train: Mizuho, Nozomi, Sakura, Hikari, and Kodoma. All are shinkansens, some just make more stops. All are faster than non-shinkansen, but the point of the shinkansens is to go long distances quickly so making more stops doesn't fit the bill. The displays at the stations will clearly state what type of train is arriving (they all use basically the same cars now).

Mizuho run from Osaka to points west and back. It makes the fewest stops. It is not accessible with the JR pass.

Sakura run from Osaka to points west and back. They make only a stop or two more than a Mizuho from Osaka-Hiroshima. They ARE available without surcharge on the JR pass.

Nozomi run from Tokyo-Osaka or Tokyo-beyond Osaka as far as Fukuoka. They make the same number of stops between Osaka and Hiroshima as the Sakura but you cannot ride them with the JR pass. You have to pay full fare separately.

Hikari run from Tokyo to (I think) as far as Hiroshima. They skip more than half the "local" stations between Tokyo and Osaka. They make all stops west of Osaka. These are the JR pass holders' best trains east of Osaka. You use this for Tokyo-Kyoto and back because it's limited stop service on that run (2h30 or so).

Kodama are the slowest and useful only for short trips. They make all stops between wherever they run (Tokyo to Osaka and points west) (more than 4 hours Tokyo-Kyoto). Usable with JR pass.
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Old Jun 6th, 2017, 07:18 PM
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Hi Tonygabe, since you asked what will we eat, I have a few suggestions for Hiroshima if you would like. I have to email someone to get the names as I am terrible about taking notes during trips. What do you eat/not eat? Also, have some bar and food recos for Kyoto. I stayed in an airbnb in Tokyo my first few nights and last night in a hotel. Vastly preferred the airbnb. I would recommend a ryokan with onsen for some of your accommodations.

I'm just back from Japan and found that the stereotype of not needing to do any research beforehand and all food in Japan is great to be not necessarily true.

Regarding the JR pass, I made the mistake of getting on a Nozomi train from Uno port to Tokyo along with about 10 other foreign travelers. When the agent checking tickets told me I panicked remembering how this is handled in Italy. Japan being Japan, I and the others were told no problem just get off at next stop and wait for another train. Part of me was still wondering if I was going to get arrested at the station. I guess you can say I've been traumatized by Trenitalia lol.
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Old Jun 8th, 2017, 10:59 AM
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@mrwunrfl - Thanks for suggesting the correct train and sending the timetable. I have saved in my itinerary and will definitely plan to book tickets ahead of time.

@BigRuss - Thanks for distilling that for me! Based on what you and mrwunrfl said, it sounds like the Hikari is the best bet.

@JenV- FOOD! We eat largely anything - we are very adventurous eaters. We are looking forward of course to the sushi and the meat dishes. Could you explain what a ryokan and onsen are? Really really looking forward to your food recommendations.

Don't get me started on Trenitalia. I had a beautiful bag made in Vietname. I left it on a Trenitalia train and did everything I could to find it, spending hours at the police station. Sadly, I never got it back

Again, thank you all.
tonygabe is offline  

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