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Kyoto Dec 17-22 -- detour to Kanazawa still or just stay put in Kyoto?

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Hi there, my wife and I will be in Japan with our 3 kids from Dec 17th to 22nd. We'd appreciate any comments on this tentative itinerary:
[Day1 . Dec17 . Sat]
AM- Arrive Nagoya Centrair at 11am after a 4-hour flight; transfer to Kyoto
PM- I've booked Hotel Granvia Kyoto. If everything goes as scheduled, after dropping off our bags, we can go to Nara in the afternoon for its "Kasuga Wakamiya On-Matsuri" though maybe too late for most of the scheduled events
[Day2 . Dec18 . Sun]
AM- Go easy in the morning with a half-day Garden Experience Tour with Mark Hovane. Has anyone done his tour?
PM- Explore Kyoto on bike with Kyoto Cycling Tour Project's Kinkaku Arashiyama Golden Cycling Tour from 1pm-5pm
EVE- Stay on after bike tour to catch the Arashiyama Hanatoro
[Day3 . Dec19 . Mon]
AM to PM - Do Frommer's combined Walking Tours #1 and #2 itineraries
OR alternatively explore Kyoto on bike again with Kyoto Cycling Tour Project's Kyoto Tour East Course from 9pm to 5pm
OR maybe half day on foot/subway for Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle; the other half of the day on bike for the after lunch part of the East Course
I think Day3 should be kept 'light' considering how tiring Day 2 and Day 4 will be, so we’ll explore Kyoto at leisure on foot and/or bike
EVE- Explore Kyoto Station
[Day4 . Dec20 . Tue]
AM- Leave Kyoto Station for Koya-san at 6:15 am, arriving before 9:30 am. I'd like us to start very early so we can be back early enough to go to Osaka and/or Kobe
PM- Leave Koya-san station after lunch for Osaka Aquarium KAIYUKAN ?!? or Kobe
Do you guys think we can squeeze in the Osaka Aquarium for my 12-yr old who wants to see the whale sharks?
EVE- 18-yr old has to leave Aquarium at 5:30 to attend DEPAPEPE performance at 7pm in "Chicken George", 2-17-2-B1F, Kobe
My 18-yr old has requested to watch a live Depapepe (a Japanese guitar duo he follows) concert in Kobe that evening
Tonight, pack luggages for forwarding delivery service next morning to Nagoya Centrair. Travel light with just overnight bags to Kanazawa
Since we'll be spending one night in a ryokan in Kanazawa on Day 5 before we fly out late evening of Day 6, would it be more convenient for us to forward our luggages to Nagoya Centrair before we leave Kyoto and just carry overnight bags with us to Kanazawa? Or would it just complicate things?
[Day5 . Dec21 . Wed]
AM- Transfer via Shinkansen to Kanazawa
What my wife really wanted was to bring my 16-yr old to see the Miho Museum; unfortunately it closes for the winter starting Dec 12th.
Next best is for my kids to experience "snow" -- they were so excited when they saw pictures of Kenrokuen in winter!
PM- Explore 21st Century Museum, Ninja Temple, Samurai district and Geisha quarters, artisan gold leaf making workshops
EVE- Stay in Ryokan
For the kids' "ryokan" experience, is it better to be near the station or the places we're going to, e.g. Kenrokuen. Sumiyoshiya, Asadaya, Matsumoto, Kincharyou, Kanazawa Chaya are all well-recommended; any comments on these?
[Day6 . Dec22 . Thu]
AM- Visit Kenrokuen Garden
PM- Leave Kanazawa at 3pm via Shinkansen for Nagoya Airport for flight home departing 9pm
I read somewhere that Kyoto hardly ever has snow in December; does Kanazawa have snow as early as 3rd week of December? Archived weather data from the past few years show more rain than snow.
If snow really comes late still in January here in Kanazawa, do you guys think it's worth going all the way there for Kenrokuen in December or would it be better to just stay put in Kyoto for our last 2 days rather than rushing everything in Kyoto and to squeeze in Kanazawa?
Thanks in advance, guys!

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    Is this a vacation or an endurance test?

    Why are you spending six hours travel time for three hours at Koya-san? Koya-san is an experience, not a sight. You'll get to see the cemetery in daylight, when it's not especially atmospheric, and I'm not sure you can go into a temple if you're not staying there. You really need to spend a night in a temple to make the trek worthwhile.

    If you knew for sure there would be no "snow" (you do mean actual precipitation, right?) in Kanazawa, would you go? If not, you should probably skip it, although I really enjoyed Kanazawa. If you just want a garden, there's an excellent one at Takamatsu, which would get you onto another island, as well, and it's just under two hours from Kyoto.

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    Like thursdaysd, I have difficulty understanding your plan to visit Koya-san. I found spending a night in a temple there to be wonderful and walking the cemetery at dawn and dusk was amazing, but spending hours and hours - and making lots of changes of transportation - just to spend a few daylight hours there doesn't appeal to me very much, especially given that it is time you could use elsewhere.

    And I, too, loved Kanazawa, but I'm not sure I would try to pack it into this trip. IMHO, it really deserves at least 2 days, and Kyoto/Nara deserve 4 days at a minimum. If a garden is your priority, another one you might consider is the garden next to Himeji-jo (which, unfortunately, is undergoing reconstruction - I'm not sure whether any is open to the public at this time. You could probably learn more through

    Also, although I'm not sure what Frommer's covers in their current walks 1 and 2 for Kyoto, when went to Japan some years ago, it took me nearly 2 full days to cover most of what the then-listed Frommer's walks covered. Fortunately, I learned that I couldn't do it all in the suggested time frame before I left, and so was able to plan accordingly. If I recall, the estimated time covered only the walk itself, not any of the visits to temples, shrines, parks, or interesting districts along the way. (Something I found surprising, because I'd always found their walking tour recommendations highly reliable.)

    I think you've done a nice job of identifying some wonderful opportunities and some great activities for your family. But skipping some things so that you can add in some things that will require less travel and that can be done with less stress in the very limited time you have might make some sense.

    Oh, and you might consider a stop at the Fushimi Inari Shrine just south of Kyoto.

    Hope that helps!

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    Like others have suggested take out Koyasan and Kanazawa and save it for your next trip or add 3 or 4 more nights.

    Visiting a Japanese garden in the winter would find you looking at barren trees, no flowers, brown grass if any, etc. The pine trees and rock gardens would be ok.....

    There might be snow in Maibara a few minutes ride on the shinkansen north of Kyoto but no guarentees.

    The Osaka Aquarium is a cool place to visit but even I would be hard pressed to leave there at 5:30 pm and be in Kobe in 90 minutes time for your concert. Pick one or the other or leave the Auquarium at an earlier time. The Auquarium is located in southern Osaka near the docks and for a first timer with all the questions and being non familiar with travel in Japan would find it too hard, frustrating and time consuming imho. Where is the concert venue in Kobe? Taxiing from station to venue in Kobe and from the Auquarium to your train station in Osaka would give you the best chance of making it in time without the frustration I see coming for you if you do this. The cost might be a problem depending where the concert venue is.

    A ryokan stay for five would cost you but if you decide to do one then I suggest it being out in the countryside at an onsen town like Arima Onsen or Kinosaki Onsen both nearer to Kyoto. See here for more details.

    Hope this helps.


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    Though it is not 100% impossible to see snow in December in Kanazawa, it isn't all that usual. Sometimes there is a snowstorm around Christmas, sometimes there is no snow until January. The ropes are up holding the trees in Kenrukuen, and actually all over town now, so you could enjoy that aspect of winter, but I wouldn't count on big snow cover.

    Kyoto to Kanazawa is under 3 hours, but no shinkansen. Kanazawa to Centrair is under 4 hours (but transfer at least once at Nagoya and perhaps Maibara, depending which train you get from Kanazawa). Another option to get to Centrair from Kanazawa is jumbo taxi at last I checked ¥9,000 (or was it ¥11,000) per person door to door in about 4 hours.

    But, after explaining all that, I'm compelled to recommend you skip Kanazawa this time....or change your plans entirely and visit only Kanazawa.

    Were you to visit only Kanazawa, you could also include an overnight in Shirakawago or Gokayama, where you have a much greater chance of seeing snow, and you'd have the major added bonus of staying in a thatched roof traditional farmhouse, home style dinner and breakfast included for about ¥8,400 per person plus a small heating charge (like ¥300 yen per person).

    The ryokan you mention, Sumiyoshiya, Asadaya, Matsumoto, Kincharyou, Kanazawa Chaya, are all perfectly fine...some excellent. They are really all over the map in terms of experience/level. Sumiyoshiya has a great location and is very affordable, average ¥10,000/pax. Asadaya shares the same excellent location, but as far as food and service are concerned, is of a much higher level then Sumiyoshiya, and the price reflects that, average ¥50,000/pax.

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    Hit submit before finished.

    Kincharyo is gorgeous and well-known for its excellent food and setting. Location gives it a nice view over the Sai River, but not so convenient if you are on foot sightseeing. Priced like Asadaya, at ¥56,700/pax ~.
    Chaya is closer to the station area than downtown and is a little popular with international guests. It is certainly nice enough, and with the option of having only breakfast and no dinner for ¥9,000/pax, it's an attractive option in terms of cost for a family.

    But, for a ryokan stay, rather than staying in a city ryokan, I'd really recommend an onsen, of which there are many nearby. Or S-go/Gokayama.

    Kanazawa has a lot to offer - much more than Kenrokuen. 3 geisha districts, a samurai district, plenty of temples, gold leaf, lots of art, hands on experiences, the best seafood and sushi (and it's crab season), history, crafts, mountains, sea, onsen. It's much more of a destination than most visitors realize. In fact, after 16 years here, I'm just now discovering places and things to do.

    Hence my recommendation that you choose one or the other, Kanazawa or Kyoto, this time around with your limited time.

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    'Is this a vacation or an endurance test?'
    That’s why my wife calls our vacations “fieldtrips” and always cries out, “I need a vacation from vacation!” everytime we get back home from anywhere— last year, we hit Sydney’s streets on a bike tour the very morning of arrival from our overnight flight.
    My kids are avid bikers, runners, swimmers so for them, the long train rides are actually “rest periods”

    'Why are you spending six hours travel time for three hours at Koya-san? Koya-san is an experience, not a sight. You'll get to see the cemetery in daylight, when it's not especially atmospheric, and I'm not sure you can go into a temple if you're not staying there. You really need to spend a night in a temple to make the trek worthwhile.'
    Oh, didn’t realize that about Koya-san; guess we’ll skip that and now I can reassure my 12-y/o he’ll really get to see Osaka Aquarium.

    'If you knew for sure there would be no "snow" (you do mean actual precipitation, right?) in Kanazawa, would you go? If not, you should probably skip it, although I really enjoyed Kanazawa. If you just want a garden, there's an excellent one at Takamatsu, which would get you onto another island, as well, and it's just under two hours from Kyoto.'
    We were originally booked for 2 weeks end of March to mid-April (5N Tokyo -> 2N Hakone -> 5N Kyoto -> 3N Takayama, timing it for sakura season and ending with the Takayama Sanno Matsuri, with lots of biking and hiking , of course) but had to cancel after the earthquake. Kanazawa and everywhere would have been Beautiful!
    I was just thinking 3rd week of December might not be a good time to see Kenrokuen— past autumn colors but before postcard pretty white capped sceneries. IF it doesn’t “snow”, everything would just be wet and gray, drab and dreary, right?

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    Thanks for the quick replies, guys! You sure cleared up a lot of things for us!

    We won’t be doing Koya-san anymore, thanks to everybody’s unanimous advise— I thought it would be like hiking in a misty mountain which appeals very much to the kids, by the way. Now my 12-y/o can spend all the time he wants in the Osaka Aquarium communing with the whale sharks.

    The 18-y/o says it’s supposed to be walking distance from Sannomiya station. If ever we stick to just Kyoto, it's for him to do this concert, so we’ll really make sure he gets to his concert venue on time.
    And now to plan how to divide and spend that day wisely between Osaka and Kobe, hmmm…

    You guys are right, better to drop Kanazawa altogether this time or as KimJapan suggests, do ONLY Kanazawa.
    I'm inclined though to keep Kanazawa for when we can return to Japan for a longer stay, preferably during sakura season or autumn— to Tokyo and the Japanese Alps next! It’s just so frustrating because the kids have different school breaks!

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    @sixpeas - well that sounds much better! Great that you came back and that you're listening, not all new posters do. BTW, do you have tickets for that concert in Kobe? The duo's website shows it as sold out.

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    I'll ask my son tomorrow morning if he has but if he hasn't, that would really break his heart </3
    Is there an English-language site for buying tickets online

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    @thursdayd, @kja, @hawaiiantraveller, @KimJapan

    A trip report for everyone who so kindly helped, from Mrs Sixpeas:

    You will be happy to know that we did not push through with the biking (although my 12-y.o. would always point out enviously whenever we'd see someone on bike) because my husband's Kobe-based Japanese friend voiced out his doubts about “outdoor activities” given the "very, very, VERY cold" weather by then. Forewarned, we went well prepared, complete with thermals, pullovers, fluffed jackets, gloves, scarves, hats...the works! (We never needed the scarves and hats--my daughter just put them on for "nicer" pictures)

    Our trip started with a 4-hour flight delay and we finally arrived at Kyoto Station after dark.
    The silver lining: on the shinkansen ride from Nagoya to Kyoto, we passed vast snow covered areas. ‘Twas the first time the kids had seen snow "live" (even if only through the train windows, but still) so they promptly forgot how tired they were given that they'd been up since 2 A.M. to catch our 6 A.M. plane and started taking pictures and videos!

    The second day, we spent the afternoon in Arashiyama, took the Sagano Romantic sightseeing train ride, then the Hozugawa Kudari River Run boatride down the gorge, and explored the area while we waited for the Hanatoro to begin. It was a fantastic experience!

    We spent the whole time next day in Nara. A Goodwill Guide, a graduate student nicknamed Toshi, walked us around to see the Great Buddha in the Todaiji Temple, Kafukuji Temple with its towering 5-story pagoda, and the Kasuga Taisha Shinto Shrine. Too bad, the National Museum’s closed on Mondays. Here, my 12-y.o. got his first wish: to touch the deer in Nara Park. My kids would stop every now and then whenever any deer would be near enough to touch, so much so that the supposedly 3-hour walk extended into 5 hours! At the end of the great walking tour, Toshi-san brought us to Nara’s covered shopping streets with their astonishing variety of stores and offerings that we could only tackle after recharging with warm bowls of udon.

    On our fourth day, my 12-y.o. got his second wish: whale sharks and turtles at the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan! In the afternoon, we moved on to Kobe and here my 18-y.o. had his dream come true: a live Depapepe concert in the iconic Chicken George, getting his CDs autographed and shaking hands with the guitar duo--Miura-san and Toku-san (he said afterwards he was never going to wash his hands ever again)!

    The following day was already Day 5 and the funny thing was, we’d been zipping in and out of Kyoto from the day we arrived that we had not even stepped out of Kyoto Station at all! We had purposedly picked Kyoto Granvia for the convenience of its location. And though to this day, we still can’t get over how incredibly beautiful the Kyoto Station is with its distinct rooflines and architecture, and its stratospheric escalators, we resolved that on this day we will really go “see” the old Kyoto.
    So early in the morning, we went to check out the Kobo-san or antiques flea market at the nearby To-ji temple. This trip was supposed to be a "lite" version of our original plans but after only 4 days of fending for ourselves, we were just tired out by all the GPS location-checking, the trying-to-figure-out-the-right-train-rides, the non-stop translating, the whole day walking. So we finally surrendered and got ourselves a private guide to explore Kyoto itself. It was one our best decisions for the trip: our guide Miko was able to bring us to appreciate Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji, Ryoan-ji, Nishiki-Koji Dori in the comfort of a van. We all enjoyed Nishiki market so much, trying out different exotic looking food till the shops were closing one by one then we moved on to Gion. We saw several maikos or geishas (we can’t tell the difference) fleetingly but were not able to take any pictures as my sons were hesitant to run after them. After about 6 failed attempts, they cried “enough” as they were starting to feel like stalkers!

    Finally, Day 6, going home day. We had planned to take the short train ride in the morning to Fushi-Inari for more postcard pretty shots but the kids wanted to try their luck with snow. So we had the concierge check out weather predictions in Sekigahara along the Nagoya-Kyoto shinkansen route where we saw the snowfields on our first day. We were willing to take a local train instead of the shinkansen to the area on our way to the airport. Unfortunately, there was no prediction of snow that day so what did the kids vote on for our remaining few hours? Kyoto-Yodobashi! The merchandise it carried was just mind-boggling! They were glad they chose to stay longer at the aquarium and miss Den-Den Town as this building just had everything electronics possible. So carrying much less yen after, we finally started on our way to Nagoya Centrair (which in itself is another adventure as we were now struggling with a big, squat 17-kg box with my precious Rice Bread Maker for my mom who’s on a gluten-free diet, but that’s another long story!).

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