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tripplanner001 Apr 24th, 2015 04:52 AM

Japan, round two - the planning begins...
I'm in the early stages of planning my trip for spring 2016. We're looking at starting sometime in late-March or early-April. The trip will run approximately 30 to 35 days, not including intercontinental travel, and we will be visiting Japan, Australia, and possibly an island in the South Pacific.

This will be our second time in Japan. On our first trip, back in 2011, we visited Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, and Nara. In addition, I've experienced Tokyo on a couple other occasions while transiting Japan. The goals of this trip are to see some Japanese castles, more temples and gardens, ride the bullet trains, and hopefully get a glimpse or two of sakura in bloom, and we're looking at 2 weeks for this portion of our itinerary.

Right now we're thinking...

4 nights in Tokyo - We want to revisit some of our favorite sights, check out one or two that we haven't seen already, and do a day trip to Kamakura. I've stayed near the Hanzomon subway station on a couple of occasions and out on Odaiba on one. The Hanzomon area worked well in that it is centrally located and it wasn't too busy in the evenings, which was perfect, although we want to try a different neighborhood this time. Budget is around US$200 a night. Any suggestions / your own favorites? One of us is also thinking about Yokohama, for a day trip or possibly on the way back from Kamakura - is the harbor area similar to Odaiba? is it compact enough for perhaps an evening stroll?

1 or 2 nights in or near Nagano, for the Jigokudani snow monkeys - We're unsure about this one, depending on timing. What has the snow situation been in past years in mid- to late-April?

4 nights in Kanazawa - Based upon what I've read here and elsewhere, I'm thinking two full days in the city and perhaps one day trip, if we're up for it. We're gravitating towards Gokayama, but have read good things about the Noto peninsula. Is Noto worthwhile for a day visit, or are we better off saving it for when we have more time?

3 or 4 nights in Okayama or somewhere nearby - We're interested in visiting Himeji Castle, Korakuen, and Kurishiki. How is Okayama as a base if our goal is ease to get around among these areas, or would you recommend one of the other towns? As we are fairly fast-pace travelers, would 4 nights be overkill or would there be enough to keep us reasonably occupied?

Looking forward to your suggestions and feedback, and, as always, thank you.

thursdaysd Apr 24th, 2015 05:56 AM

Can you fit in Matsumoto and Shirakawa-go on the way to Kanazawa?

See: and following.

russ_in_LA Apr 24th, 2015 07:21 AM

We stayed at Kanaguya in Shibo Onsen last April 12 to see the snow monkeys. We loved the ryokan and enjoyed seeing the snow monkeys.There were only small patches of snow in the area, which was fine with us.

We loved Kanazawa and were happy we spent 3 nights there so that we would have 2 full days in the city. We stayed at the Trusty Hotel Kanazawa, which was very centrally located.

We also stayed in the historical Bikan area of Kurashiki for one night which we liked very much. It was 15 minutes from Okayama, which was convenient for Korakuen, but keep in mind that, as a base for touring the region, it will add 30 minutes round trip (plus connection time) to any train trips you take in the area.

More details if I ever finish my trip report.

tripplanner001 Apr 24th, 2015 08:43 AM

Thursdaysd, thank you. I will take a look at your report. We may be able to include them if we wind up not visiting Nagano and Jigokudani.

Russ, appreciate the feedback and will certainly check out your accommodation recommendations. Looking forward to more of your report and am sure will have additional questions then.

hawaiiantraveler Apr 24th, 2015 12:18 PM

what are the approx dates you plan to be in Japan?

tripplanner001 Apr 24th, 2015 02:40 PM

HT, my dates are uncertain at the moment. It could be as early as March 25ish and as late as April 25ish for day one and then two weeks from that point on.

russ_in_LA Apr 24th, 2015 04:54 PM

TP, avoid overlapping with Golden Week at all costs. Full hotels and trains all over Japan. In 2016 that would be April 30 - May 8.

kja Apr 24th, 2015 05:14 PM

"3 or 4 nights in Okayama or somewhere nearby - We're interested in visiting Himeji Castle, Korakuen, and Kurishiki. How is Okayama as a base if our goal is ease to get around among these areas, or would you recommend one of the other towns? As we are fairly fast-pace travelers, would 4 nights be overkill or would there be enough to keep us reasonably occupied?"

I based in Kurashiki for these locations -- the extra time for the train from Okayama to Kurashiki wasn't sufficient to interfere with my plans. I am a fairly fast-paced traveler, too, and -- believe it or not -- I visited all of these places in 1.5 days. I would have liked a few more hours in Korakuen, but was otherwise satisfied with the time I had in each of these locations. ;-) BTW, if you like gardens, don't miss the one next to Himeji-jo.

tripplanner001 Apr 24th, 2015 05:25 PM

Thanks for the feedback, kja. And appreciate the tip about the gardens next to Himeji.

mrwunrfl Apr 24th, 2015 07:46 PM

Kenrokuen and the castle in Kanazawa. Hikone castle is on your route. Korakuen and Okayama-jo.

Osaka castle along with the cherry blossoms in Osaka-jo Koen (the park).

You can day trip to Hiroshima from Okayama. The castle there is not special but better than I expected. The castle at Fukuyama is next JR Fukuyama station, not special and I would not have mentioned it except for the convenient location.

kja Apr 24th, 2015 07:59 PM

Actually, if you cut a night from Okayama / Kurashiki, you can go to Hiroshima, visit it, and then spend the night in delightful Miyajima. Just a thought. :-)

tripplanner001 Apr 25th, 2015 03:51 AM

Mrwunrfl and kja, appreciate the suggestions. I will add them to the list for consideration.

Russ, thanks for the reminder about Golden Week. Somehow I had not realize the potential overlap. Will keep in mind to start around April 15th at the latest.

mrwunrfl Apr 25th, 2015 08:11 AM

List of things to do/attend in Japan in April:
1) cherry blossom viewing

mrwunrfl Apr 25th, 2015 09:33 AM

>>We're interested in visiting Himeji Castle, Korakuen, and Kurishiki. How is Okayama as a base ...

Definitely add Okayama-jo to that list of interests. It is going to be in the background of some of your Korakuen photos. Go to the main entrance of Korakuen, enjoy the garden, and then take the footbridge over the water to the castle. The garden and castle are both walking distance from Okayama station. There is a nice streetcar part of the way and is must-ride at least in one direction. Best way, I think, is taxi from the station to the garden and then walk/streetcar back from the castle.

Okayama is good as a base because every Sanyo shinkansen stops there. That is not the case with Himeji, though shinkansen service there is frequent enough.

Osaka could work as a base, but it is farther from Okayama. If you wanted to go to Miyako Odori then you could get back to Osaka after the show (last train from Kyoto is a 40-minute local at 00:15).

Craig Apr 25th, 2015 11:43 AM

You need an overnight on the Noto Peninsula, but 4 nights in Kanazawa may be 1 too many...

tripplanner001 Apr 25th, 2015 12:43 PM

Mrwunrfl, thanks for the feedback on Okayama and the Miyako Odori. I will definitely add Okayama castle and the streetcar to my list.

Craig, appreciate your insight on Noto and Kanazawa. Did you think one night on Noto is sufficient?

someotherguy Apr 26th, 2015 01:38 AM

A good excursion from Okayama is Bitchu-Takahashi. There are 12 original castles in Japan, and this is the only mountaintop one. Also, there are interesting temples in town, including one with a notable Zen garden. It's a good opportunity to see a slightly more rural part of Japan.

And from Kanazawa, a nice excursion is to Maruoka, another of the 12 original castles and said to be of the oldest style. I was there last spring and it was delightful. japan-guide doesn't have much coverage in these parts, so you'll need to check other sites, such as or a guide book.

Eiheiji (a head temple of the Soto sect of Zen) is another interesting destination in the same area.

The place people refer to as Shirakawago is actually the village of Ogimachi, and will be crowded. The village of Ainokura in Gokayama is far more attractive.

If you have a car, you can do Maruoka, Eiheiji, and Ainokura and some other nice sites as a loop from Kanazawa.

Myojoji is a very atmospheric temple in Noto: quite remote and very few visitors.

tripplanner001 Apr 26th, 2015 04:13 AM

Thank you for all these suggestions, someotherguy. I'll add them to my list for consideration.

Craig Apr 26th, 2015 10:43 AM

TP - one night on Noto is sufficient. We flew there from Haneda and visited the lacquer museum in Wajima before driving along the northern coast and staying overnight at Flatt's (wonderful host/hostess, food and location, but spartan). The next day we drove to Kanazawa via the southern coast. Not sure whether you will be flying to your next destination or taking the train. There is no train service on Noto, so if you are not flying, you may have to drive back and forth from Kanazawa. The distance between them without stops is about 2-1/2 hours, depending where on the peninsula you are going to/from. The timing would work well for you, I think.

tripplanner001 Apr 26th, 2015 11:04 AM

Thanks Craig. This is very helpful.

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