Japan Itinerary feedback please

Sep 9th, 2004, 09:06 AM
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Japan Itinerary feedback please

We're going to have 17 days in Japan (inc 2 travel days) and I'd like some feedback on this possible itinerary. We enjoy historic sites, gardens, nature (mountains & ocean), shrines & temples. Below are the cities we'll sleep in:

Day 1 - Tokyo (arrive 5 pm)
Day 2 - Tokyo
Day 3 - Tokyo
Day 4 - Hakone
Day 5 - Takayama
Day 6 - Takayama or Shirakawago
Day 7 - Kyoto
Day 8 - Kyoto
Day 9 - Kyoto
Day 10 - Kyoto
Day 11 - Mt Koyo
Day 12 - Takamatsu
Day 13 - Matsuyama
Day 14 - Matsuyama
Day 15 - Matsuyama
Day 16 - Osaka
Day 17 - Fly home out of Osaka (3 pm flight)

Day trips aren't listed out yet but will include Kamakura &/or Nikko (from Tokyo), Himeji castle (from Kyoto?), & Nara from Kyoto. When in Matsuyama we're planning a bike ride along the inland sea (Shimanami Kaido route).

Is the order a good one, or should we change things around? # of days OK? We were going to cut out Tokyo but decided there's plenty of things to see there (as well as a good base for day trips).
alan64 is offline  
Sep 9th, 2004, 05:16 PM
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In Kyoto, I'd recommend day trips to Ohara and Kibune/Kurama. Personally, I'd skip Nikko and Mt. Koya. They are totally overrated and many people are disappointed. You can stay in a temple at other places besides Mt. Koya - which is rather commercial and full of concrete. Kamakura is great, so is Hakone. You didn't mention staying at an onsen. Your trip won't be complete without staying at a traditional onsen in the countryside, especially since you like nature. Cherry blossom time is a great time to be in Kyoto. Very magical.
Mealea is offline  
Sep 9th, 2004, 08:40 PM
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It looks okay to me, because you're giving yourself time to explore using two great bases from which to do day trips. I have to strongly second the recommendation for Ohara-it is quite simply one of the most beautiful and interesting places in all of Japan-I always tell people who are going to Kyoto to also go to Ohara, and those who've gone have never been disappointed.

The road in Ohara splits and at one end of the road lies the Buddhist nunnery of Jakko-in, in this lovely farming community surrounded by mountains, and at the opposite end, the Buddhist temple and monastery of Enryaku-ji/Sanzen-in. The story of Jakko-in is actually quite sad, and is detailed in the Tale of the Heike and Genji. There is an ancient belfry and a perfect little garden which houses the Empress Kenreimon's tomb-the Empress founded the nunnery after she was rescued by her clan's enemies from death in a great battle around the 1100's-she became a nun to pray for her drowned son and other dead relatives. There is a certain atmosphere of sadness here, but also of great serenity and beauty. Recently, I was shocked to read that the nunnery buildings burned to the ground in 1999-however, it was being rebuilt, and was supposed to re-open in 2004. It would be great if someone could go there and report if the nunnery bldgs. have in fact been rebuilt.

The other great sites in Ohara are the temple and monastery of Enryaku-ji/Sanzen-in, which was founded sometime in the 700's. The garden at this temple is stunningly beautiful in summer-it's also a bit of a hike to get to, but there are plenty of little shops and refreshment stands along the way, as quite a few Japanese, but hardly any westerners,(or so it seemed to me) do some sightseeing here. Go on the web and see if you can find pictures of this temple and its garden, and you will see what I mean. Sanzen-in houses a large Amida Buddha, and you can sit awhile outside the rooms of the temple (some of which are open to the outside) in this idyllic setting and listen to the monks chanting their prayers. Ohara is truly a must-see, and it's an easy day trip from Kyoto.
Spygirl is offline  
Sep 10th, 2004, 10:15 AM
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Your trip sounds great - how will you be getting from place to place? Car or train?
Lolo is offline  
Sep 10th, 2004, 12:41 PM
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Another vote for Ohara which was a definite high point for me. I's also strongly recommend going to the Miho Museum outside of Kyoto. I'd skip Nikko and add at least one or two more days in Kyoto. I was disappointed in Takayama.
glorialf is offline  
Sep 12th, 2004, 06:23 AM
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Thanks for the opinions & suggestions. We'll be getting a rail pass and will also take local buses if neccessary.

Anyone else been disapointed by Mt Koyo &/or Takayama? Suggestions on good replacements?
alan64 is offline  
Sep 12th, 2004, 07:12 AM
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Looks like good itinerary. Three nights in Matsuyama might be too many. I read about Shimanami Kaido, see the link here:

Looks like the route is almost 80 km and goes between Imabari and Onomichi and the webpage author discusses staying overnight enroute.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Sep 12th, 2004, 01:30 PM
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Haven't been to Mt Koyo, but loved Takayama.

It is a smaller mountain town with an old merchant section still intact on two streets. Lots of the shops sell the same souvenirs that you find elsewhere, yet some have some really beautiful crafts and art.

The float museum was interesting,as well as some of the old merchant homes and the toy museum. I loved the walk above town that takes you from temple to temple.

There are several inns that are not what you'd think of as traditional, but are a very good example of the kinds of places that japanese love to go away to--good baths, incredible japanese meals, lots of beer and sake and group singing.

We rented bicycles and had a good time cruising out to the village with restored farmhouses. Also had fun just wandering the open market and the little modern shops- found some really unusual toys, fishing lures, staionery, and japanese craft supplies at very reasonable prices.

Overall, a nice visit. Its also a good place to escape the summer heat.

We're going to Japan before New Years and are trying to see if we have time to get there and see it in the winter.
lcuy is offline  
Sep 12th, 2004, 06:35 PM
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The Spring Takayama Festival is when the floats that lcuy mentioned are carried in a procession around town. The museum has a guide on tape that said that during that festival the population of Takayama swells to something like five times it's year-round size (something like 60,000 year round residents, 300,000 during the festival). The festival is held on/about April 14-15.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Sep 13th, 2004, 04:11 AM
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Bonjour Alan,

If you can, take one more day in Takamatsu so you can visit Yashima plateau and Shikoku-Mura (about 70 traditional houses moved on the ground of a former castle at the foot of Yashima plateau). Ritsurin gardens are well worth a visit too (allow at least 2 hours). You might also want to visit one of the oldest kabuki theater, recently restored, in Kotohira.



The tourist office in Takamatsu will give you maps and informations in English. They don't speak much English, though.
Florence is offline  
Sep 13th, 2004, 04:23 AM
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We just returned from Japan, and the highlights for us were Koya-san, Nikko, Kyoto (of course), Nara and Himeji. We went to Takayama, but prefered Mt. Koya (especially the cemetery) over Takayama. However, Takayama also was interesting, and we were not disappointed.
We found very, very few tourists in late August in Japan, and Mt. Koya was practically deserted during a mid-week trip. Unless you are going during a peak period when it would be overrun with tourists, I suggest keeping Mt. Koya in your itinerary.
Ben is offline  
Sep 13th, 2004, 06:55 AM
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We had timed Takayama and Mt Koyo for weekdays (Day 1 of our trip is a Friday)with the hope that they won't be as crowded. If we keep Takayama on our itinerary we'll probably shorten it to one night and add the other on to Kyoto and day trip to one of the suggested places.

I appreciate the info on Takamatsu and things to do from there. Perhaps we'll do 2 nights there and 2 in Matsuyama.

Train questions: Tokyo to Hakone seems straightforward, but to go from there to Takayama do we have to go back to Tokyo first? From Takayama, what train line will take us to Kyoto?
alan64 is offline  
Sep 13th, 2004, 05:00 PM
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From Hakone you would go to Odawara station. From Odawara you can get a shinkansen to Nagoya then a limited express train to Takayama.

Most of the shinkansen leaving Odawara are Kodama shinkansen which make frequent stops. The Kodama is like (is) a shinkansen "local" train and has a frequency of 2 or 3 per hour at Odawara. The Kodama train makes 8 stops between Odawara and Nagoya and takes 2 hr 10 min.

The Hikari train goes through Odawara less often. It goes non-stop between Odawara in 1 hr 12 min, so it really is a bullet train. Here is what the schedule of departures from Odawara bound for Nagoya is like: 7:10, 9:10, 11:10, 14:10, 16:10, ...

You can get reserved seats on the Hikari train in advance and then know what time you need to get to Odawara station.

Oddly enough, the JR line that runs thru Takayama is called the Takayama line. I think that there is one lex train a day that goes from Takayama to Kyoto, but all the rest go to Nagoya where you would hop a shinkansen to Kyoto.

If you miss a Hikari train from Odawara to Nagoya, you could take a shinkansen north to Shin-Yokohama, Shinagawa, or Tokyo and then get a Hikari shinkansen to Nagoya. You can get a Hikari nonstop from Tokyo to Nagoya that takes 1 hr 46 min.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Sep 14th, 2004, 05:57 AM
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Mealea wrote "You can stay in a temple at other places besides Mt. Koya - which is rather commercial and full of concrete." I've heard mixed reviews of Koya-san (Ben and others gave it a thumbs up but others were disapointed).

We'd like to consider options. Where else could we stay in a temple and get a glimpse into the lives of the monks (participate in prayers, etc.)? Is there somewhere nice in Kyoto itself? That might free up time for use to go from Hakone to Matsumoto, then Takayama. If we did those 3 mountain cities with 4 nights, which place should get the extra day?
alan64 is offline  
Sep 14th, 2004, 06:17 AM
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On your last question: either Hakone or Takayama.

What route(s) are you considering for going from Matsumoto to Takayama?
mrwunrfl is offline  
Sep 14th, 2004, 06:37 AM
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In my "Skip Tokyo?" thread, you gave a suggestion of "...visiting the castle at Matsumoto (after Hakone) and then travelling down the Kiso Valley or travelling across the mountains via Kamikochi to Takayama (and on to Shirakawago and then the Kenrokuen gardens in Kanzaawa, then south to Kyoto)."

That sounds like a wonderful route, but it also sounds like it might mean pulling an extra day from somewhere. Perhaps we'd do 1 less on Shikoku, leaving 3 nights to split between Takamatsu & Matsuyama.

alan64 is offline  
Sep 14th, 2004, 06:50 AM
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Bonjour Alan,

Kyoto offers a number of opportunities for temple lodging (shukubo) and zen experiences. You might have a look here: http://www.kateigaho.com/int/aut04/kyoto-events.html

and here: http://niwashi.net/kyotoinfo/gesshin-in/

I know other temples offer lodging (Myoshin-ji, for a start) but I couldn't locate the info on the JNTO site. You might try asking them or their office nearer to you to send you information ( http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/ )
Florence is offline  
Sep 16th, 2004, 09:47 AM
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We decided to do 1 night in Matsumoto and 1 in Takayama before heading off towards Kyoto. Looking at a map, I'm wondering if it would be better to go Tokyo-Matsumoto-Takayama-Hankone-Kyoto.

BTW, we also decided to skip Mt Koyo and use that as an extra day in Hakone. We'll try to attend meditation while in Kyoto.

I'm also trying to decide if we should to Takamatsu mor Matsuyama first (we're going to spend 2 nights in each). Doesn't seem to make much difference as far as I can tell. On our day 16, we'll take the train to Osaka but stop at Himeji for the afternoon, since we really don't plan to spend much time in Osaka itself (we just wanted to be close to the airport for the flight home).
alan64 is offline  
Sep 16th, 2004, 03:22 PM
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When you stay in Osaka to fly from Kansai, you should be aware that you are still an hour from the airport. Not a problem by any means, though. There is a terrific bus service that's cheap and efficient.

The Haruka train to Kansai airport does NOT stop at Osaka station, so if you wanted to use that train, you'd have to be in Shin-Osaka or Kyoto or one of the areas closer to the airport (which are not exciting or cheaper or nicer in any way). There are other trains from Osaka station that do go to the airport...they aren't as fast or as nice as the Haruka, but they get you there for less money than the Haruka and you can go from Osaka station on them. The airport bus is what we always use, right from the hotel.

There is a Westin on one side of Osaka station, and on the other side there is a Hilton and a Ritz Carlton. For a 3PM flight, you'd have till lunchtime to relax in your hotel or do some last minute shopping. Being at the Hilton (actually, that's our regular hotel in Osaka) you are connected to a vast network of underground shopping areas, as well as next door to the Hanshin department store, which has a floor of lovely Japanese wood and ceramic things.

For your routing, Toyko, Hakone, Matsumoto, Takayama, Kyoto makes the most sense to me. You should not miss Shirakawa-go. If you were in Kanazawa on a Sunday, you could attend meditation at Daijoji, built in 1261. It's located at the base of the mountains in a lovely area, very beautiful and quiet. Meditation in English is at 1:30 pm.

For your routings, I recommend checking the schedules on hyperdia.com - it will give you and idea of the time required from place to place.

KimJapan is offline  
Sep 16th, 2004, 04:08 PM
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Time-wise, would it be much longer to go from Kyoto via the Haruka train to Kansai airport versus the bus or shuttle from the city center of Osaka? We'd still have our JR rail pass and would prefer Kyoto to Osaka, but didn't want to have to get up very early and make lots of train or bus transfers on our way to the airport.
alan64 is offline  

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