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Japan Itinerary & Logistics - help, feeling frantic!

Japan Itinerary & Logistics - help, feeling frantic!

Old Apr 24th, 2014, 10:35 AM
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Japan Itinerary & Logistics - help, feeling frantic!

Hi All,
My trip to Japan is coming up in 19 days and I'm trying to figure out right now a few things:

1. Should I purchase a JR Rail Pass?
When I estimate costs for using the JR rail to get between my itinerary destinations, the total amount is coming in around $250 whereas the rail pass is $276. Seems like I should just purchase tickets one by one when I'm there. But, am I missing something? Everyone says what a good deal the JR Rail Pass is.

2. Should I purchase day trip tours for top tourist destinations?
See my intinerary and add'l questions listed below.

3. Do you think I should skip something on my itinerary in favor of Koyasan or another stop? Just curious because if I'm making any changes it needs to be now.

Here's my itinerary:

TOKYO
4 nights here getting in late Thurs. evening, spending Fri. enjoying the Sanji Matsuri festival, Sat. touring about Tokyo, Sun. day trip to Nikko, Mon. Akihibara in the morning and leaving for Kyoto in the early afternoon.

Travel = Tokyo to Nikko roundtrip; Tokyo to Kyoto one-way.

Add'l Question = Should I purchase a day trip tour of Nikko from Viator.com? The cost is $125/person. Do you think we could easily understand what we are seeing and get around ourselves? I'd rather do that, but I don't want to miss getting the full experience.

KYOTO
3 nights here. Monday afternoon touring Gion and taking in a geisha show. Tuesday tour temples/shrines, trip to Nara?. Wednesday Arashiyama bamboo forest and monkey park. Gion tea ceremony maybe. Thursday morning depart for Shimoda and spend one night at beachside ryokan there before returning to Tokyo to leave.

Travel = Kyoto to Nara roundtrip; Kyoto station to Arashiyama roundtrip; Kyoto to Shimoda; Shimoda to Tokyo.

Add'l question = Should I book a tour on Viator.com to take us to Kyoto hot spots in the morning and then to Nara for the afternoon? It costs $134/person. I'm wondering how easy it is to get to the tourist destinations (e.g. are they in walking distance in Kyoto?) and if we'll be able to really understand what we are seeing without insight from a guide. Worth the money or DIY?

I so, so, so appreciate your advice and insight! I'm feeling kind of frantic to get things all planned out now that the date is coming up so quickly.




2. If I should purchase day trip tours to tourist destinations
kristitravels is offline  
Old Apr 24th, 2014, 12:04 PM
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The JR pass is only a deal if you were going to do a lot of travel on JR trains. (note that there are trains not part of JR, and the pass isn't good for those trains. We didn't get a JR pass for our trip.

I would not book any tours. If you have done a bit of reading in your guidebook, on japan-guide.com, etc, you can guide yourself. We took our guidebook along to temples in Kyoto. I wouldn't want to visit these places as part of a group tour. We took taxis from place to place in Kyoto. We felt our time was more precious than the cost of taxis.
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Old Apr 24th, 2014, 12:07 PM
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PS I note that you have just 3 nights in Kyoto and 4 nights in Tokyo. We loved Kyoto, Tokyo not as much. I'd shift the balance of the trip to more Kyoto and less Tokyo.
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Old Apr 24th, 2014, 04:17 PM
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"Should I purchase a day trip tour of Nikko from Viator.com? " -- Nikko is very easy to see on one's own, assuming you have a decent guide book (the cost of which is insignificant in comparison to the Viator tour). FWIW, I recommend spending the night in Nikko so you have time to see Kegon-no-taki and a bit of Lake Chuzenji, although most people visit it as a day-trip from Tokyo.

"KYOTO ... 3 nights here" 3 nights is NOT much for Kyoto and Nara. By way of comparison, I spent 6 full days in Kyoto and Nara and did NOT see everything I would have like to see. I have to admit that i personally would skip Shimoda to make more time in Kyoto -- but then, I haven't seen Shimoda, so I could well be wrong. And much as I loved Nara, I'm not sure I would sacrifice time in Kyoto for the transit there and back -- there is simply SO much to see and experience in Kyoto itself, and the sites are scattered across a very large area, so you will need to spend some time getting from place to place. (If you expand your time in Kyoto to include at least 4 days, then a day-trip to Nara would make more sense to me. YMMV.)

Again, you can easily see and appreciate Kyoto and Nara without a guide, so long as you have a guidebook or two. Admittedly, with such limited time, a tour might be a way to see some highlights in a very short time. I rarely take tours, and often find that enough time is spend herding people that I could easily have gotten to places on my own -- AND I would have been able to focus my time on the things that most interested me. But that's just my opinion. Kathie's recommendation to go on your own and use taxis makes sense to me, as you can maximize your control over time at a moderate cost (more than public transit, less than the tour).

And like Kathie, I far preferred Kyoto to Tokyo and would shift as much time as you can to Kyoto unless you have specific interests that make Tokyo a priority.

Good luck!
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Old Apr 24th, 2014, 05:48 PM
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another vote for the suggestion, more time in Kyoto than Tokyo. I've been to Kyoto twice,60 years apart... once in 1947...once in 2007...didn't see enough in '47 even though there were no tourists , tried to make up for it in 2007 and could still have used more than the 5 days easily.
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Old Apr 25th, 2014, 04:51 AM
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Thanks guys for your quick responses. After reading your comments and doing further research, I'm going to pass on the JR Rail Pass and the Viator tours.

I'm sticking to my itinerary but leaving Toyko first thing Monday morning to have more of a full day in Kyoto and skipping the Nara side trip to allow for more time in Kyoto.

Thanks so much for your help in figuring this out!
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Old Apr 25th, 2014, 09:25 AM
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That $250 estimate sounds low to me. Not a lot low, but I think you are missing something in your estimate. How did you arrive at that estimate?

Which area of Tokyo are you staying in?

What geisha show?
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Old Apr 25th, 2014, 08:28 PM
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If your calculation of $250 vs $276 is correct, I would buy the JR pass as it would make your life a bit easier plus you can use it to get around Tokyo via Yamamote line or Chuo line. Plus go to Nara if you wish.
I have not done any of the tours but they could make your life easier albeit at a price. Train fare to Nikko runs around $50-$60 RT depending on where you are coming from in Tokyo so you would be paying about $60 extra per person to be picked up at your hotel and be guided for the day.
I agree that most tourists prefer Kyoto over Tokyo but I think they are just different animals. I just spent 9 days in Tokyo and find the new just as interesting if not more interesting as the "old" which never changes.
I would take the time to go to Nara if it were me and would also consider taking a a side trip to Himeji castle. You really do not have the time to really experience Tokyo or Kyoto with your time frame so why not get a taste of something different while you are close? Do be careful with the deer in Nara if you go.
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Old Apr 25th, 2014, 08:37 PM
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Himeji-jo (castle) is magnificent -- but I believe it is still undergoing renovations. To decide whether you want to make it a priority or not, see this site for the latest info:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3501.html
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Old Apr 26th, 2014, 12:11 AM
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I would definitely get a 7-day JR Pass. That is unless you found some great Tokyo-Kyoto shinkansen fare. The pay-as-you-go normal fares for Tokyo- Kyoto- Shimoda (that is: to Ito or Izukyu-Shimoda) would be over $250. The Nikko roundtrip would be $60 to $100. Add another $40 for Shimoda area to Tokyo.

Pay-as-you-go would mean you could use the Nozomi shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto. The Nozomi are more frequent than the Hikari shinkansen that are available with the JR Pass. For that nominal advantage you would be giving up the convenience of using a JR Pass. Your trip from Kyoto to Shimoda would involve a Hikari shinkansen between Kyoto and Atami.

The $60 ballpark for Nikko would be a Tobu rapid train. The $100 ballpark for Nikko would involve JR and the shinkansen.

And you would have the option to use the pass to take the Narita Express to the airport at no additional cost (depending on how long it is between your departure from Shimoda and your departure from NRT, if that is your airport).
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Old Apr 27th, 2014, 10:04 AM
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Kathie, you may not have needed a JR Pass, but the OP could certainly use one. The mistake that I believe the OP made in estimating the cost of their trip was in only adding up the base fares and did not include surcharges. I did the same the other day and came up with $267 in base fares for the original itinerary including Nara.

The Nikko trip, departing from Asakusa, could be made on Tobu rail for 2720 return. On JR it would be twice as much or more but depending on departure station JR could be more convenient.

Below are the regular prices for the current JR itinerary including reserved seats. The first number is base fare, the second number is surcharge, the third number is total.
Mon: Tokyo-Kyoto 8210 5500 13710
Thu: Kyoto-Shimoda 8640 5780 14420
Fri: Shimoda-Tokyo 3890 2550 6440

For Shimoda, I used Izukyu Shimoda.

That is not a lot of JR travel, but the totals is 34570 yen and the pass is 28,300.

For the $60 difference you give up the frequency of the Nozomi and its 18 minute faster trip, but Hikari departures are every half hour in the morning from Tokyo to Kyoto and the convenience/flexibility of the pass makes up for the Nozomi advantage, imo. Others may value this differently.

The above travel is over 5 days. The Sunday trip to Nikko can be done on JR, so
34570
2720
37290 total to pay as you go.

Departing from Tokyo station the trip to Nikko could be made mostly in a reserved seat on the Tohuku shinkansen.

The pass could also be used in Tokyo on the Saturday before the Nikko trip or the Saturday after Shimoda (or the Narita Express that day).

The pass would end up saving the OP $100 while adding convenience but I don't think the OP wanted to hear that, or that amount doesn't really matter.
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Old Apr 27th, 2014, 09:40 PM
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When I looked at the tours last week they were booked 4-5 days in advance so if you wished to take a tour I would reserve well ahead of time.
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