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AmyH Jul 22nd, 2010 12:20 PM

Japan - Kyoto, Noto v. Hokkaido question (Summer)
Hello All-
Planning a summer trip to Japan (late June/early July 2011). This will be our last family trip together as our son will be heading off to college. He is studying Japanese and spent 4 weeks in Matsuyama over Christmas. We will have roughly 16-17 days on the ground. We know we can't "do" Japan in this amount of time, and we really have a rule of spending at least 3 or 4 nights in a place to try and get the feel/not spend our time packing and unpacking. One of the stops has to be Matsuyama to visit the host family and go to Naoshima Island. So, with all that "baggage", I am starting to put together an itinerary that focuses on natural beauty and culture that is unique to Japan and less about city experience other than Tokyo. We are less about ticking off sites and more about hiking around, biking back roads etc.
1. Would like to spend 3-4 nights exploring around Kyoto but maybe stay in a smaller town or village that is nearby with good transportation but more off the beaten path. Is that Nara? Okayama? or someplace else less discovered that people have stumbled upon?
2. Assuming 4 nights Tokyo, 3/4 nights Kyoto area, 3/4 nights Matsuyama -- Would Kanazawa make a good addition to round out the trip? I have checked Hyperdia and we could do a full day out of Tokyo to Hakone and than on to Kanazawa by late evening. Or perhaps here is where we could to a ryokan in Hakone or Gora and then on to Kanazawa.
3. If not Noto, where would others recommend? Should we consider Hokkaido?

Looking forward to reading your thoughts. Thanks in advance.

KimJapan Jul 22nd, 2010 01:10 PM

What a nice trip! It will be rainy season so you will not encounter the terrific heat that follows. That's good.

1. Aroound Kyoto , there is not really any place undiscovered. There are smaller cities or nice neighborhoods, but don't think they are undiscovered.

Nara is right on the tourist trail. I like it a lot, a d it has some great places to stay, but it's touristy for sure. Arashiyama is smaller, very touristy, but might givr you more of a quiet feeling at night after day trippers are gone. It's a part of Kyoto and is locaated well for seeing both Kyoto and Nara.


KimJapan Jul 22nd, 2010 01:17 PM

2. Though I would recommend both Hakone and Ksnszawa, I would not do as you suggest. I would spend at least one night in hakone before moving on to Kanazawa.

3. Noto is popular with Japanese people as a day trip or an overnight onsen destination. Wakura onsen is very famous.

Gokayama and Shirakawaw-go are near Kanazawa and make a nice day out or overnight.

hawaiiantraveler Jul 22nd, 2010 01:29 PM

Kyoto is a beautiful Japanese city but imho is one of the most expensive and crowded places in all of Japan. Nara is a small town but again the crowds can be overwhelming. If undiscovered you mean by the foreign tourist then a little past Arashiyama into the Kinosaki Onsen region and beyond may be for you.

Hokkaido, especially Furano and Biei are also a good options. The weather would be pleasant and the scenery about the best Japan has to offer. Daisetsuzan is right around the corner too


AmyH Jul 22nd, 2010 01:48 PM

We really do not like to follow the herd and try and stay off the beaten path. I would consider skipping Kyoto in favor of other areas that are quieter and will give us more small authentic towns and villages to explore for scenery, gardens and the natural beauty of Japan. I know this may sound silly but we would like some "take your breath away' beauty. With that in mind and the facts above -- Tokyo and Matsuyama are constants, what two other areas would you suggest -- we would like to travel by public transport and not rent a car.

KimJapan Jul 22nd, 2010 02:02 PM

Japan is very much a follow the herd kind of place. if it is beautiful and easily accessible, you can bet it has been discovered. Domestic tourism is huge, and recently there is a huge market in Taiwanese and Chinese groups visiting.

With a car, you'd have access to places less visited, but depending on the (very comprehensive) transport system you may find that you have to go with the herd a bit.

Stunning scenery on the Tateyama Alpine route, with good hiking (weather permitting) and accessible without a car...but the herd is there full on. You could avoid some crowd if you visited on a weekday.

Kyoto, Nara, full on herd.

Kanazawa, small herd. More on the Japanese herd track than foreigner herd track.

Herd track doesn't mean not authentic at all, though. Shirakawa-go, for example, is a small village that is heavily touristed every day...but after 5:00 when all the buses leave, the place transforms into a really pleasant place, absolutely authentic...after all, there is a whole village of people living, working, going to school there.
Kyoto is perhaps the most heavily touristed place in Japan, but is also a place thousands of people call home. Absolutely authentic.

You might want to choose things you want to see or experience and put your itinerary together that way, without thinking about the herd. I'm afraid that if you concentrate on avoiding the herd then you will end up staying home.

hawaiiantraveler Jul 22nd, 2010 02:07 PM

The areas I mentioned are accessible by train and bus. On Hokkaido you will find that having a car opens up a whole other dimension and can put you out in the those unspoiled areas you are seeking. Driving on Hokkaido is extremely easy. If you can drive a car you can drive on Hokkaido, trust me. Not many cars in the country areas at all and the gps systems make it almost impossible to get lost,lol.

Other areas I would consider would be Okinawa, Southern Kyushu around Kagoshima and the onsen areas around Kurokawa Onsen, Northern Tohoku around Lake Tazawako and Kakunodate. Also the area around Towadako is beautiful. The mountain towns of Nasu, Nikko, Nasushiobara are also very scenic and accessible by train but to get out into and really explore the area it would be easier to rent a car.


hawaiiantraveler Jul 22nd, 2010 03:33 PM

I just reread my post and don't mean to be pushing renting a car when you already stated you did not want to. You can surely get by without renting a car very well in the places you mention. But sometimes in order to avoid being one of the herd as you have requested you have to abandon the way the herd travels and the way the herd travels in Japan is by the train and bus systems. So where those systems go the herd will follow.

A car in the more remote areas gives you a chance to break from the herd and discover that special moment you are asking about and looking for.

Of course you'll be dodging the local Japanese herd while driving on the wrong side of the road but oh well, such is life,lol ;)


AmyH Jul 27th, 2010 03:30 PM

Thank you for your responses. Given that it will be full on summer -- crowds and heat, I am thinking that either the Japanese Alps or Hokkaido make the most sense, particularly after reading HT's wonderful trip report. I'll work more on this and get back on the board soon. I just wanted you both to know that I appreciated your advice.

BigRuss Jul 29th, 2010 07:45 AM

HT -- what about the west coast for the OP, like the Matsue area? You've probably been, I've just heard that it is nice.

The Japanese Alps are fine but the cities there that I've seen (Matsumoto and Nagano) are not that pretty. Matsumoto has the fantastic castle, though.

AmyH Jul 30th, 2010 07:54 PM

Another poster (jgg) and I have similar travel likes. Her March itinerary of Tokyo-Hakone-Miyajima-Kyoto may be close to what we end up with. Instead of Miyajima, we will spend time with our son's host family in Matsuyma -- that will get us a castle, onsen and the art island of Naioshima. I guess the real question is, is it "crazy" to go to Japan for the first time and not spend any time in Kyoto but to opt instead for Kanazawa and the Japanese Alps for four nights.
We could do:
Tokyo - 5 nights
Hakone - 2 nights
Kanazawa/Noto - 4 nights (with car). Can we day trip to the alps?
Matsuyama - 4 nights

Shiretoko looks absolutely stunning but i worry that with only 15-16 days in total, we will eat up too much time to get there.
If we did that, it could be:
Tokyo - 5 nights - (including at least one day trip)
Shiretoko - 4 nights
Kyoto - 3 nights
Matsuyama - 3 nights

Now that i type the latter itinerary out, it looks pretty good. . What say the experts

hawaiiantraveler Jul 30th, 2010 09:36 PM

Can you fly into Tokyo and out from Kyoto?

Your first itinerary is the easiest with the least amount of travel.

The second one is the one I would want to do, which is why I asked about flying out of KIX. You could fly from Haneda(Tokyo) to Asahikawa(Shiretoko area) in 100 minutes. You would probably qualify for a discount yokoso fare or the Star Alliance Pass where your domestic plane ticket would cost around 11,000 yen

It will be rainy in the south during that time of year and Hokkaido should give you a respite from that. Key word is should,lol.


wmbolman Aug 1st, 2010 12:25 AM

Kyoto is a must see for temples- the city itself is a UNESCO designated cultural site: beautiful temples everywhere, many individually and collectively designed by UNESCO. As noted in previous forums, staying near the Kyoto Train station is a must. It is unlike any other train station in the world- a shopping center, a food court, a concert hall and a 5 star hotel at the station with 3-4 star hotels surrounding it. At the Govt Tourist stop at the Train Station, we learned about a trip along the river in Arashiyama- took the train out and had a wonderful boat trip with a traditional crew in an open boat . Fabulous wild river with unspoiled beauty about 20 minutes outside of Kyoto by train. It was so refreshing on a hot day- cleared the senses.
We did a day trip from Kyoto to Okayama to see the Mingei Museum and the old town- also a fun side trip. We needed help of a volunteer English speaking retired teacher at the train stations to help us figure out the Shinkansen routes to Okayama and back to Kyoto.
Can you do an open jaw and fly into Tokyo and leave out of Osaka/Kansai??

usernameistaken Aug 1st, 2010 06:30 AM

I went to Hokkaido for a week last summer and although we enjoyed it, I might not go there during a first trip to Japan, unless you are a big hiker. It is more expensive than other parts of Japan and places are far apart from each other. We had a blast in Noboribetsu and Daisetsuzan National Park was very peaceful but the whole experience was not very "Japanese."

If I were you, I would stay on Honshu. Instead of Hokkaido, maybe check out Nyuto onsen and spend a few days hiking and relaxing there - I stayed at Kuroyo onsen but Tsurunuyu is very popular as well.

Definitely spend as much time as you can in Kyoto. Like Sevilla in Spain, it is a city whose charms reveal themselves slowly. I would base yourself there for a bit and then poke around surrounding areas.

You might also like the island of Miyajima. If you stay overnight, after the daytrippers have left, you will find it very serene and beautiful.

June and July are what is called "rainy season." Sometimes it rains a lot (this year, according to my friend in Kyoto); last year, we were there for the bulk of rainy reason and experienced only one day of rain in Honshu. Something to think about.

usernameistaken Aug 1st, 2010 06:32 AM

I should also mention that the train ride from Tokyo to the Lake Tazawa-ko area (on the way to Nyuto onsen) is spectacular - portions of it are among the tree tops! In my top five train rides ever (and I am train buff)

BigRuss Aug 2nd, 2010 09:02 AM

I agree that Kyoto is excellent, and I don't say that about many places. But this statement is inaccurate:

<i>[The Kyoto station] is unlike any other train station in the world- a shopping center, a food court, a concert hall and a 5 star hotel at the station with 3-4 star hotels surrounding it.</i>

Other than perhaps the concert hall, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Shinagawa and other major train stations in Japan can say the same. (Shibuya station is about 7 minutes walk from a major concert hall). The large stations have department stores, and the department stores themselves have numerous restaurants and food halls. And yes, they have hotels nearby.

I also don't recall any Kyoto temple I visited being designed by UNESCO. Kyoto's major temples tend to be hundreds of years old and UNESCO hasn't quite reached 65.

AmyH Aug 13th, 2010 08:40 AM

Thanks to everyone for all the responses. For a variety of reasons, we have decided to put Japan on hold until we are not tied to school schedules and can go in either Spring/Fall. Instead, I have booked my FF miles and we will be going back to Africa -- SA and Uganda, so if you see me over on that board, please don't think that I was wasting your time over here!


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