Japan - Nara, Nikko, Hakone

Oct 16th, 2019, 11:31 AM
  #1  
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Japan - Nara, Nikko, Hakone

We are a group of 12 visiting Japan for 12 days in May 2020. My three year old daughter is with us, along with my in laws, my parents, my siblings, and aunt/uncle and cousin. Our ages vary from 21 to 60 with only one toddler. We love scenery, adventure, fun activities, and food!

Currently on our itinerary is the following
2 full days and 2 half days in Tokyo
1 full day in Osaka with day trips to Kyoto (2 days) and Kobe (1 day) - note we prefer to stay in Osaka simply because of the night life, but if you have other thoughts I do not mind hearing them
1.5 days in Takayama/Shirakawago area

Here are my questions:
1. We have one extra day to spare for a "day trip" from Tokyo and are debating either Nikko or Hakone. Based on our itinerary above, between Nikko or Hakone, which would give us something "different" to experience? We are totally ok with the travel time as long as it offers us something worth going for!
2. Do you recommend that we visit Nara when we are in Kyoto area? Aside from the deer, I am not sure I am finding anything else more appealing when I research the area (temples, shrines we will see in Kyoto and Tokyo).

Thanks in advance!
viranpooja is offline  
Oct 16th, 2019, 12:17 PM
  #2  
 
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I don't think I'd do Nara on this short trip either. It does have some very interesting places besides the deer park, but Kyoto has enough interesting sites that you could spend weeks and not see them all.
Both Nikko and Hakone are interesting, but I'd choose Hakone for your large group. Once there, you get a ticket for all the circuit of activities (outdoor art museum, trams, gondolas, pirate ship, etc.) I think it would be easy to let the group split up and do the circuit at people's interest/energy levels and then you all end up at the same spot at the end of the day.

In Nikko, it would be a bit harder as the non-temple sites (the lake, the waterfall, etc) are more spread out. You'd probably have to hire a small bus to keep together.

Any particular reason you have Kobe on your list? I would delete that unless you have something besides tourist activities there.
lcuy is offline  
Oct 16th, 2019, 12:39 PM
  #3  
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Thank you so much. That's very helpful. We can certainly look into a private bus tour or something for our group if Nikko is definitely worth it. What are your thoughts on that?

My husband and sister really want to go to Kobe. The Mt. Rokko ropeway looks interesting and fun with nice views of the city. I guess not much else?
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Oct 16th, 2019, 08:43 PM
  #4  
kja
 
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IMO, these 3 places are so different from each other than only you and your group can decide what best meets your interests, preferences, and goals for the trip.
  • Nara is MUCH older than Kyoto. Some of us like seeing the differences in temples and shrines over time; others pay no attention.
  • Nikko's temples and shrines are in a different style than anything you will see elsewhere and are in a beautiful wooded setting near a stunning waterfall (not close enough to walk). Some people appreciate those differences; other pay no attention.
  • Hakone -- which I did not visit -- has the advantages lcuy noted and is clearly a major tourist destination in Japan. It wasn't a priority for me.
FWIW, I think you are shortchanging Kyoto to make time for Takayama, which will take a chunk of time to reach -- and you aren't giving yourselves much time for Takayama, either. You might want to consider skipping Takayama on this trip, giving your group more options for personal choices (individual or small group) while in either Tokyo or Kyoto. If it helps, note that many people consider 6 nights a reasonable amount of time for a first visit to Kyoto / Nara. Just a thought.

And like lcuy, I was surprised to see Kobe on your itinerary -- but again, your trip / your call.

If you haven't already done so, I'd recommend that you spend a LOT of time with japan-guide.com and the JNTO website.

Whatever you decide, you'll see some wonderful things!
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Oct 17th, 2019, 09:16 AM
  #5  
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Originally Posted by kja View Post
IMO, these 3 places are so different from each other than only you and your group can decide what best meets your interests, preferences, and goals for the trip.
  • Nara is MUCH older than Kyoto. Some of us like seeing the differences in temples and shrines over time; others pay no attention.
  • Nikko's temples and shrines are in a different style than anything you will see elsewhere and are in a beautiful wooded setting near a stunning waterfall (not close enough to walk). Some people appreciate those differences; other pay no attention.
  • Hakone -- which I did not visit -- has the advantages lcuy noted and is clearly a major tourist destination in Japan. It wasn't a priority for me.
FWIW, I think you are shortchanging Kyoto to make time for Takayama, which will take a chunk of time to reach -- and you aren't giving yourselves much time for Takayama, either. You might want to consider skipping Takayama on this trip, giving your group more options for personal choices (individual or small group) while in either Tokyo or Kyoto. If it helps, note that many people consider 6 nights a reasonable amount of time for a first visit to Kyoto / Nara. Just a thought.

And like lcuy, I was surprised to see Kobe on your itinerary -- but again, your trip / your call.

If you haven't already done so, I'd recommend that you spend a LOT of time with japan-guide.com and the JNTO website.

Whatever you decide, you'll see some wonderful things!

Thanks for all the tips. I really am trying to convince my husband and sister about skipping Kobe. Lets see if I can. Will show them this!
Our group stays together 99% of the time. We literally separate at bed time. So individual things will not be an option any way. Half of us in the group really want to go to Takayama and get the Japanese Alps scenery that we won't get in Kyoto. Will it not be worth it?

I am still torn between Nikko and Hakone
viranpooja is offline  
Oct 17th, 2019, 02:16 PM
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There are ropeways/aerial lifts all over Japan. There is one near Nikko; a major part of the Hakone circuit is via aerial lift, and there are even lifts on the outskirts of Tokyo.
Some overviews of your options:
Hakone:
https://www.japanvisitor.com/japan-c...s/hakone-guide

The sights outside Nikko:
https://www.japanvisitor.com/japan-c...on-falls-guide

Nikko city:
https://www.japanvisitor.com/japan-c...ty-guide-nikko

A nice train near Kyoto. Combine it with a boat ride
https://www.japanvisitor.com/kyoto/sagano-train

An overview of Kyoto(which may explain why out of my approx 30 trips to Japan, probably half have involved at least a short portion in the Kyoto area!):
https://www.japanvisitor.com/kyoto/kyoto-az

It is difficult to have a bad trip to Japan, especially if it is your first trip. Most cities have beautiful temples, hikes, interesting architecture, art, great food and unusual shopping no matter which way you wander. I always recommend Kyoto to first timers because there is so much of Japan's culture (old and modern) concentrated there, but you could visit Aomori or Zama or any town in-between and still come back loving your experience!
lcuy is offline  
Oct 17th, 2019, 03:01 PM
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I just saw your other post with the places you are planning to visit. From your interests, I would suggest you do Hakone instead of Nikko.
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Oct 17th, 2019, 05:50 PM
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Originally Posted by lcuy View Post
I just saw your other post with the places you are planning to visit. From your interests, I would suggest you do Hakone instead of Nikko.
THANK YOU SOOO MUCH. I Will look at all these links right now. Really appreciate it.
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Oct 17th, 2019, 06:26 PM
  #9  
kja
 
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Originally Posted by viranpooja View Post
Half of us in the group really want to go to Takayama and get the Japanese Alps scenery that we won't get in Kyoto. Will it not be worth it?
Unfortunately, NONE of us can answer that question for you. Pros and cons, apples and oranges.
Good luck!
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Oct 17th, 2019, 07:36 PM
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If you want the Alps scenery, one option is the Shin-Hotaka ropeway - that would be a side trip from Takayama. I would also say Nara is quite different than Kyoto and worth including - and after seeing half a dozen temples one after another in Kyoto, they begin to become one long blur together. But if you see the Todaiji Temple in Nara, you will never forget it for the rest of your life. Feeding the deer at Nara Park is nice as well, though with a 3-year old you'll need to be a bit more careful. You can buy some crackers to give them, and she should have no problem giving one to a fawn, but the larger deer can get rather pushy once they see you with food. Nipping your belly and shoving their mouths into your pocket where you keep the crackers is quite common. Kobe is nice but I think Nara will have a much bigger impact on you.

>> Nikko's temples and shrines are in a different style than anything you will see elsewhere...

Not exactly true. There are some very similar places you could see - though if you get extremely technical you could call them different, but Japan has a few others like in Nikko.
Both Hakone & Nikko get a lot of tourists, but Hakone is a lot more 'touristy'. People often follow the Loop Course, and at some places you could be waiting in a long line. If you branch out though, you can still see a lot and have a great time. I made time at Hakone for the Cedar Lane (virtually nobody else there) as well as the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands (nice in spring; again, mostly empty), and the Choanji Temple (all to myself!!) which was glorious. Between Nikko & Hakone, I'd say the latter has a much wider variety of places to see, as well as more buses to get around. The Toshogu Shrines at Nikko are much more impressive for me though. So depends what you want.
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Oct 17th, 2019, 07:49 PM
  #11  
kja
 
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Originally Posted by Adastra2200 View Post
>> Nikko's temples and shrines are in a different style than anything you will see elsewhere...

Not exactly true. There are some very similar places you could see - though if you get extremely technical you could call them different, but Japan has a few others like in Nikko.
Please, educate me.
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Oct 17th, 2019, 09:15 PM
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There are some others - start with the Mitsumine Shrine in Chichibu. Very time consuming to get to and back (though there is a good hike if you are up for it). Another one is not really on anyone's list, but in Kumagaya, Saitama, there is also the Menuma Shodenzan Kangiin (more info here). And in Sendai, the Zuihoden Mausoleum which is really spectacular. Not to mention the Shibamata Taishakuten in Katsushita, Tokyo (though uncolored, yet some of the most detailed carving you'll ever see). Again, not identical in every way, but I adore the wild ornate decorations.
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Oct 17th, 2019, 09:25 PM
  #13  
kja
 
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Thanks, Adastra2200. So, just to be clear, when I said "in a different style than anything you will see elsewhere" to someone planning to see Tokyo, Kyoto, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, and maybe Osaka and/or Kobe, it doesn't seem that I was far off the mark. The exception would seem to be Shibamata Taishakuten, which looks fabulous (and added to my wish list -- thanks!) -- but as you say, uncolored, and, I think, in a very different setting.
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Oct 17th, 2019, 09:34 PM
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Well, they are certainly atypical of most in Japan - that is why I am drawn to them - anything that really stands out such as colorful, in natural scenery, etc. There is also Kosanji in Onomichi, though it is not an old historical place, but still off the deep end decorated, which is why some call it a "Buddhist Disneyland".
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Oct 17th, 2019, 09:48 PM
  #15  
kja
 
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Interesting! But again, not likely to be on this OP's itinerary as I understand it.
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Oct 18th, 2019, 12:32 AM
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From the OP's must do list on their other thread, I have a feeling that their family is not nearly as interested in the historical evolution of Japanese architecture as some of you may be:

Japan Itinerary rough plan - help please

Sounds like they are equally as interested in modern Japanese culture as temples.

They've only got 12 days, and will be herding a group of 12 first timers including a toddler. They really need to make good use of their time, focusing on satisfying many family requests.
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Oct 18th, 2019, 09:34 AM
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That ropeway in Kobe is ok but not really worthy of being the focus of a day trip. It is convenient to Shin-Kobe, though.

From the way you described your itinerary it sounds like you could use a 7-day JR Pass. Without a pass of some kind going to Kobe would not be worth it in time or money. But, with a pass you get a local to Shin-Osaka and then it is only 12 min to Shin-Kobe on the shinkansen. After the ropeway and the herb garden, etc. you could then take the shinkansen to Kyoto.

If you chose to go to Hakone then you should do it on a weekday.
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Oct 22nd, 2019, 10:48 AM
  #18  
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Originally Posted by Adastra2200 View Post
If you want the Alps scenery, one option is the Shin-Hotaka ropeway - that would be a side trip from Takayama. I would also say Nara is quite different than Kyoto and worth including - and after seeing half a dozen temples one after another in Kyoto, they begin to become one long blur together. But if you see the Todaiji Temple in Nara, you will never forget it for the rest of your life. Feeding the deer at Nara Park is nice as well, though with a 3-year old you'll need to be a bit more careful. You can buy some crackers to give them, and she should have no problem giving one to a fawn, but the larger deer can get rather pushy once they see you with food. Nipping your belly and shoving their mouths into your pocket where you keep the crackers is quite common. Kobe is nice but I think Nara will have a much bigger impact on you.

>> Nikko's temples and shrines are in a different style than anything you will see elsewhere...

Not exactly true. There are some very similar places you could see - though if you get extremely technical you could call them different, but Japan has a few others like in Nikko.
Both Hakone & Nikko get a lot of tourists, but Hakone is a lot more 'touristy'. People often follow the Loop Course, and at some places you could be waiting in a long line. If you branch out though, you can still see a lot and have a great time. I made time at Hakone for the Cedar Lane (virtually nobody else there) as well as the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands (nice in spring; again, mostly empty), and the Choanji Temple (all to myself!!) which was glorious. Between Nikko & Hakone, I'd say the latter has a much wider variety of places to see, as well as more buses to get around. The Toshogu Shrines at Nikko are much more impressive for me though. So depends what you want.
Appreciate all this information!!! Nara does sound amazing but thinking about the deer and my 3 year old, I am a bit worried especially if they get aggressive. Should I be concerned?

Thank you for the additional recommendation for the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway! Looks amazing and may consider adding this in instead of Nikko or Hakone.
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Oct 22nd, 2019, 08:31 PM
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No need to be overly concerned - there are many deer of varying sizes. Just find a fawn alone or lying on the ground, and you'll be just fine. Only the really big ones get aggressive. And to them, if you don't have food, then you don't matter.
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Oct 28th, 2019, 01:38 PM
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Originally Posted by mrwunrfl View Post
That ropeway in Kobe is ok but not really worthy of being the focus of a day trip. It is convenient to Shin-Kobe, though.

From the way you described your itinerary it sounds like you could use a 7-day JR Pass. Without a pass of some kind going to Kobe would not be worth it in time or money. But, with a pass you get a local to Shin-Osaka and then it is only 12 min to Shin-Kobe on the shinkansen. After the ropeway and the herb garden, etc. you could then take the shinkansen to Kyoto.

If you chose to go to Hakone then you should do it on a weekday.
Yes we hope to get a 7 day pass. I wonder if we could do half a day in Nara (morning) and then half a day in Kobe (evening time) before heading back to Osaka (where we will be residing). What are the thoughts on this?

In addition, we can still either consider Hakone or Nikko for the day trip from Tokyo.
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