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Newbie to Japan - first time travel assistance

Newbie to Japan - first time travel assistance

Old Jan 11th, 2023, 08:14 PM
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Newbie to Japan - first time travel assistance

Hello to all,Iʻm a mature aged female and a complete newbie to Japan. I will be travelling solo for around 7-9 days (aim is for 9). I hope to book flights from Syd to Tokyo today or tomorrow (it was suggested I try landing at Haneda airport (?). I have decided to make Tokyo and Kyoto my destination points and soak in their magic in this short travel time.

While I am very keen to be part of the ʻfuturisticʻ part of Japan, I may be wrong but I believe that would be in Tokyo. My heart however, leans towards Japanʻs green natural beauty (Kyoto), spiritual tranquility, richness of culture, to see and feel the experience of change from old to new.

I have built my intention list, somewhat ambitious but I will tone it down; hopefully with some of this forum group suggestions:

I will be staying in the Ueno part of Tokyo (I think)

*Cherry Blossom (Tokyo ?)

*Meiji Jingu Shrine and Museum, Shinto Shrines (Tokyo)

*Institute of Nature Study (Tokyo)

*Vivid surreal interactive modern art exhibition

*Kintsugi donʻt know where

*Ancient Tea Ceremony donʻt know where

*Forest Therapy Bathing (Kyoto Arashiyama, The Sagano Bamboo Forest)

*I believe the Tenryu-ji Temple is worth a visit and near the S. Bamboo Forest

*Kiyomizu-michi Temple (Otowa Waterfall). Is this manageable this is by foot (?)

*Geisha districts Gion or Pontocho (Fushimi Inari)

*Fox Shrine

*Museum of Reversible Destiny

*Museus/Art Galleries (Iʻd like to see Yayoi Kusamaʻs work)

*The transition of change from old town to new

*A cooking class if I can squeeze it in

I also considered small tour groups - something I have never done before. The prices, I believe, are fairly high and I was able to find something that including Tokyo and Kyoto only.

I havenʻt travelled overseas since COVID and while those travels included India, Spain and Sth America, I want to gradually ease back into it and regain confidence. I will avoid uphill struggles and rough terrains; Iʻd rather ease into the gentleness of what the two cities offer (unless it is a WOW factor that will sorely be missed, if I miss it.

All comments, insights, suggestions are hugely welcomed. Past experiences lived and shared are very precious thank you for reading this and helping me craft a return to overseas travel.

Hodophile 😊 (Greek background from Australia)
P.S. I have checked other sites for ideas/research and posted this message for assistance on japan-guide hoping for insight across both forums.
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Old Jan 12th, 2023, 09:06 AM
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All things being equal, I would prefer Haneda vs Narita, but things are often not equal (fare, schedule, seat comfort). Use TYO in a fare search for both airports and maybe your trip will use both airports. You could consider flying home Osaka (use OSA for fare search for both KIX and ITM), probably connecting in Tokyo.

One thing that Narita Airport has going for it, if you are staying in Ueno, is the Keisei Skyliner from NRT to Keisei-Ueno Station. It is a lower-priced option that people (like me) use to get to other parts of Tokyo, so even better if you are staying in Ueno. Might prefer NRT or at least make it a tossup with HND, depending on lodging location.

You must be traveling in April or late March if you expect to see cherry blossoms. If you want to find futuristic then, yes, I suppose that would be Tokyo. Traditional culture- Kyoto. Generally speaking,

Interest in "green natural beauty"? Great! There is a lot of that in Japan, but I would never have thought that meant Kyoto. Then I saw mention of the bamboo forest, and ok, that is some natural beauty that you would find in/near cities. One thing that Tokyo has going for it is a relative abundance of parks. The sakura at Ueno Park are great, Shinjuku Gyoen is worderful. Kyoto is a large city and popular in April, so tranquility might be a bit of struggle to find.

in April, I highly recommend attending the Miyako Odori in Gion. Pop for the first class seat with tea ceremony if you can (we did this and the seats were great but we messed up and didn't get to the tea ceremony). MIYAKO ODORI|祇園甲部歌舞会 公式ウェブサイト (miyako-odori.jp)

You would probably like the performance at Gion Corner. The geiko demonstrate a few of the traditional gei.

i love Meiji Jingu. You might see a Shinto wedding party on a weekend and/or an auspicious day (there is a calendar for this). It is a flat gravel walk. Kiyomizaudera is uphill

Last edited by mrwunrfl; Jan 12th, 2023 at 09:19 AM.
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Old Jan 13th, 2023, 03:27 PM
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Thank you mrwunrfl for all your suggestions and comments.

I have booked my flights (March 14th to March 22nd). I may not even get a glimpse of the cherry blossoms - one can only hope.

At this stage, I do not have any accomodation booked (hostel, hotel, Ryokan, other ??) so I am open to learning of any suggestions re accomodation. I have Tokyo and Kyoto as my set destinations to ensure that this trip is unrushed and I get to experience it at a deeper level rather than hop on and off transport and in out of accommodation.
The only other city I am considering is Kamakura as a day trip (from Tokyo or Kyoto)

Iʻve added an onsen (outdoor amonst nature) experience to my list, a festival if there are any (I think the Omihachiman Sagicho Fire Festival is on around that time) and a theatre (I looked at Butoh but seems the venue in Kyoto is not longer open. An authentic tea ceremony - not one where it feels like a tourist performance, I say this with respect. Although, yes I will be a tourist there, I prefer to experience things at the most local cultural level I can

Thank you for reading my mini thesis
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Old Jan 13th, 2023, 06:25 PM
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onsen, where?
which airport(s)?
lodging price range?

The forecast says blooming starts March 22 in Tokyo.
The 2023 Japan cherry blossom forecast isere (timeout.com)
for the most popular cherry tree variety. I'm reminded though that Shinjuku Gyoen has several varieties and there are blooms to see for a long period of time as the blooming for the different varieties overlaps. You would be too early for sakura in Kyoto, but that means there will be fewer tourists

The March grand sumo tournament will be in Osaka, March 12-26.
World Baseball Classic games at Tokyo Dome. March 15 and 16

Kamakura is a day trip from Tokyo but not from Kyoto.

Last edited by mrwunrfl; Jan 13th, 2023 at 06:29 PM.
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Old Jan 14th, 2023, 03:13 AM
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It's a long list! I'll try my best to go over everything you mentioned:

TOKYO:
  • Cherry Blossom -- Your dates are a little too early for cherry blossoms. However, you might be able to catch some plum blossoms. See Yushima Tenmangu Shrine in Tokyo (in Ueno).
  • Meiji Jingu Shrine -- The "lucky days" mrwunrfl was referring to follows the rokuyo system. You can find a calendar here (in Japanese). The 19th of March is a lucky day, and the 15th and 21st are lucky for morning. All that said, weddings at Meiji Jingu are frequent, so you may see one on any day.
  • Vivid surreal interactive modern art exhibition -- You may be referring to TeamLab exhibitions. The Odaiba Borderless has closed since the pandemic (it may reopen at some point), right now you have the option of Odaiba Planets. Buy tickets in advance through their website, note that it can be crowded.
  • Museums/Art Galleries -- There is a Yayoi Kusama Museum in Tokyo, but last I checked (when it first opened a few years ago, things may have changed now) getting tickets was difficult. They must also be bought in advance. See her website for ticket details. If you're into modern art, you may also enjoy the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.
  • Theatre -- There is kabuki-za theatre in Tokyo which does kabuki shows.

KYOTO:
  • ARASHIYAMA -- With these three things on your list, I think you could spend a full day in Arashiyama, with dinner in Pontocho in the evening.
    • Kintsugi -- I can't help with this, I haven't actually seen kintsugi in Japan... I think it may be more popular with westerners than amongst Japanese people! But you could try visiting a pottery store and seeing what they have on display. For example, there is a pottery store in Arashiyama called "Kotouen", I'm sure they'll have something interesting there to see.
    • Forest Therapy Bathing -- The bamboo forest in Arashiyama may end up being the opposite of a peaceful nature walk. Note that Kyoto is a very very popular tourist destination and there are so many crowds.
    • Tenryu-ji Temple -- While Tenryu-ji is nice enough, and is indeed close to the bamboo forest, I would say there are nicer temples in the area that might be more in line with your tastes. Try looking into Gio-ji, takiguchi-dera, Jōjakukō-ji, and even Adashino Nenbutsu-ji if you don't mind a bit of a walk.
  • EASTERN KYOTO -- With these three things, you can also fill in a full day. There is room to squeeze in more, but walking in Kyoto can be quite tiring and, depending on your age, you may value rest over a packed itinerary. If you have spare time, you can always add in other sights of the area, such as Gion Shirakawa canals, Chion-in temple, Kenninji temple...
    • Kiyomizu-dera Temple -- Kiyomizu-michi is the name of the street leading up to it. Kiyomizudera is on a hill so there's quite a slope, along a path called Sanneizaka (you can google for photos). The temple grounds are also large, which requires walking. However, you can take the bus to Kiyomizu-michi bus stop and that will cut the distance from wherever it is you're sleeping.
    • Geisha districts (Gion) -- It takes around 15min to walk from Kiyomizu temple to Gion, assuming you don't stop. But you will almost definitely stop several times, there are many cafes with delicious things on their menu, and it's worth going off the main road to see the lesser crowded side streets, which arguably have more charm than the main path.
    • Ancient Tea Ceremony The things with tea ceremonies is that there are many rules to follow. There are many places around Kiyomizu temple and Gion that offer tea ceremonies aimed at tourists. Some are just touristy, but others are aimed at foreigners because they will explain the backstory, the rules of the tea ceremony, the tools used, etc. Even if it's catered towards foreigners, sometimes these places can make the experience more enjoyable than a fully Japanese experience where they won't explain anything to you. You may be interested in the service from Maiko ya. They organise a lot of activities with geisha as the focus, and they offer normal tea ceremonies, ceremony with kimono, or ceremony with a maiko dance. See their website for info.
  • OTHER
    • Fushimi inari (fox shrine) -- Since this is located further away from the other sites, you might want to do it on the day you depart from Kyoto back to Tokyo, or something.
    • Museum of Reversible Destiny -- It's a little time-consuming to get to. With at least 2 days in Kyoto and 2-3 days in Tokyo, going off your list, that's already 6 full days. You likely won't have time to include too many more things. However, you could do the Yoro Destiny site as a day trip from Kyoyo, combined with the afternoon at Fushimi inari when you return to Kyoto.
    • Onsen -- Neither Tokyo nor Kyoto are known for their onsen. Your best bet is probably staying in a ryokan with an onsen, then. Kamishichiken Oku has private baths, for example, but it's on the pricey end. If you're willing to cut out Yoro Destiny site, you also have the option of taking a day trip to Ohara, north of Kyoto, to Kyo no Minshuku Ohara no Sato. See Fushimi inari in the morning, then take the bus to Ohara and spend the day in that town, with the onsen and some temples if time, small town life.

FESTIVALS:
The Sagicho Festival in Omihachiman has been confirmed for 11-12 March next year, but there are some smaller festivals you might go to. Apparently I can't write Japanese characters here, so I have linked to google images and you can copy the name from there. Note that these dates might change, these are not confirmed:
  • Saga no otaimatsu (Seiryoji Temple, Kyoto), March 15th -- Seiryoji is in Arashiyama / Sagano, so you can see the bonfire during your Arashiyama day.
  • Rice planting festival (Kasuga shrine, Nara), March 15th -- Nara is a common day trip from Kyoto
  • Kannon demonstration (Sensoji temple, Tokyo), March 18th
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Old Jan 29th, 2023, 12:12 AM
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Good eveing @ mrwunrfl
Thank you for your suggestions.
I think I might get a little glimpse of the Cherry Blossoms starting to show some signs of life on my last day in Japan - fingers crossed.

Witnessing a wedding would be absolutely marvelous
I only in Japan for 9 days including arrival and departure days - so time will be precious. Iʻd rather leave things out than fast speed through especially since this is my first time to Japan and everything I see, do and be part of will be an absolute joy....ex the over crowded spaces but I will have to get over that one.
Iʻve been to India and the over congestion and chaos didnʻt take the shine off my experience there.
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Old Jan 29th, 2023, 01:29 AM
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Good evening Peter_T
**WOW - what a wonderful and detailed response - many thanks to you
(I have tried posting this four times and it wasnʻt happy to send - hope this works)

It's a long list! [img]file:///C:/Users/ANASTA~1/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.gif[/img] I'll try my best to go over everything you mentioned:
**Yes, you are right - it is a very ambitious list. One I am working on narrowing down


TOKYO:
  • **My last day in Japan is th 22nd so I hope that the cherry blossoms would want to briefly show up and say hi
  • Meiji Jingu Shrine --
  • **I will aim to be around there on the 15th or 21st and see what pans out from it
  • Vivid surreal interactive modern art exhibition --
  • **Yes, the TeamLab exhibition was were my interest was heading. The ʻcrowdinessʻ appears to be everywhere. Any ideas on how I can enjoy Japan (Tokyo and Kyoto) with less of it?
  • Museums/Art Galleries --
  • **I have an appreciation for Art in general. Yayoi had struck an interest when I had come across some of her articles and thought a perfect opportunity to see her art in person. Happy for it to be altered. Butoh theatre was of interest but I read that the venue is no longer offering Butoh there.
  • Theatre -- There is kabuki-za theatre in Tokyo which does kabuki shows.

KYOTO:
  • ARASHIYAMA -- With these three things on your list, I think you could spend a full day in Arashiyama, with dinner in Pontocho in the evening.
    • Kintsugi -- I can't help with this, I haven't actually seen kintsugi in Japan... I think it may be more popular with westerners than amongst Japanese people! But you could try visiting a pottery store and seeing what they have on display. For example, there is a pottery store in Arashiyama called "Kotouen", I'm sure they'll have something interesting there to see.
    • **"Kintsugi belongs to the Zen ideals of wabi sabi, which cherishes what is simple, unpretentious and aged especially if it has a rustic or weathered quality. A story is told of one of the great proponents of wabi sabi, Sen no Rikyu (1522-99)" - again something I came across a few years ago
    • Forest Therapy Bathing -- The bamboo forest in Arashiyama may end up being the opposite of a peaceful nature walk. Note that Kyoto is a very very popular tourist destination and there are so many crowds.
    • Tenryu-ji Temple -- While Tenryu-ji is nice enough, and is indeed close to the bamboo forest, I would say there are nicer temples in the area that might be more in line with your tastes. Try looking into Gio-ji, takiguchi-dera, Jōjakukō-ji, and even Adashino Nenbutsu-ji if you don't mind a bit of a walk.
    • **I take it on board and will look up Gio-ji etc - thank you

  • EASTERN KYOTO -- With these three things, you can also fill in a full day. There is room to squeeze in more, but walking in Kyoto can be quite tiring and, depending on your age, you may value rest over a packed itinerary. If you have spare time, you can always add in other sights of the area, such as Gion Shirakawa canals, Chion-in temple, Kenninji temple...
    • Kiyomizu-dera Temple -- Kiyomizu-michi is the name of the street leading up to it. Kiyomizudera is on a hill so there's quite a slope, along a path called Sanneizaka (you can google for photos). The temple grounds are also large, which requires walking. However, you can take the bus to Kiyomizu-michi bus stop and that will cut the distance from wherever it is you're sleeping.
    • **I have no accommodation in Kyoto yet - still looking. Iʻd love to do a monastery stay - borrowing another lens to look at how life is lived and appreciated.
    • Geisha districts (Gion) -- It takes around 15min to walk from Kiyomizu temple to Gion, assuming you don't stop. But you will almost definitely stop several times, there are many cafes with delicious things on their menu, and it's worth going off the main road to see the lesser crowded side streets, which arguably have more charm than the main path.
    • **Perfect - delicious food, less crowds and charming paths my calling
    • Ancient Tea Ceremony The things with tea ceremonies is that there are many rules to follow. There are many places around Kiyomizu temple and Gion that offer tea ceremonies aimed at tourists. Some are just touristy, but others are aimed at foreigners because they will explain the backstory, the rules of the tea ceremony, the tools used, etc. Even if it's catered towards foreigners, sometimes these places can make the experience more enjoyable than a fully Japanese experience where they won't explain anything to you. You may be interested in the service from Maiko ya. They organise a lot of activities with geisha as the focus, and they offer normal tea ceremonies, ceremony with kimono, or ceremony with a maiko dance.
    • **My hope is not to turn, what I hope to be, a meaningful and memorable trip, into something that is exhausting and a nightmare; where quality has been jeopardised with quantity. Iʻm very open to any guidance that helps me not fall victim to the latter.
  • OTHER
    • Fushimi inari (fox shrine) -- Since this is located further away from the other sites, you might want to do it on the day you depart from Kyoto back to Tokyo, or something.
    • **This has been edited from my original list. If I make it back to Japan, I can revisit them.
    • Museum of Reversible Destiny -- It's a little time-consuming to get to. With at least 2 days in Kyoto and 2-3 days in Tokyo, going off your list, that's already 6 full days.
    • **Agree, which is why this one also got canned.
    • You likely won't have time to include too many more things. However, you could do the Yoro Destiny site as a day trip from Kyoyo, combined with the afternoon at Fushimi inari when you return to Kyoto.
    • **Most likely this is falling off also.
    • Onsen -- Neither Tokyo nor Kyoto are known for their onsen. Your best bet is probably staying in a ryokan with an onsen, then. Kamishichiken Oku has private baths, for example, but it's on the pricey end. If you're willing to cut out Yoro Destiny site, you also have the option of taking a day trip to Ohara, north of Kyoto, to Kyo no Minshuku Ohara no Sato. See Fushimi inari in the morning, then take the bus to Ohara and spend the day in that town, with the onsen and some temples if time, small town life.
    • **Onsen - that has been highlighted as a item to put on the list which I personally was unsure about and continue to remain so. If it somehow happens great - and if it is indoors and not outdoors amongst mother earth, Iʻd be more inclined to say ʻnot nowʻ.

FESTIVALS:
The Sagicho Festival in Omihachiman has been confirmed for 11-12 March next year, but there are some smaller festivals you might go to. Apparently I can't write Japanese characters here, so I have linked to google images and you can copy the name from there. Note that these dates might change, these are not confirmed:

**I read the Omihachiman festival was on the 3rd weekend of March which aligns with my stay in Kyoto. I will go back and recheck what I read.
  • (Seiryoji Temple, Kyoto), March 15th -- **Will be in Tokyo
  • (Kasuga shrine, Nara), March 15th -- **Again, in Tokyo
  • (Sensoji temple, Tokyo), March 18th **Will be in Kyoto
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Old Jan 29th, 2023, 01:32 AM
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Finally, it appears there are characters, or font colours or something this does not like. After lots of editing and problem solving it has gone through.
Apologies, if it is not as user friendly to read.

Once again, thank you
2Hodophile3
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Old Jan 29th, 2023, 04:52 AM
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The ʻcrowdinessʻ appears to be everywhere. Any ideas on how I can enjoy Japan (Tokyo and Kyoto) with less of it?
You might consider going elsewhere in Japan, although your trip is very short. There are plenty of worthwhile sights outside those two cities. My second, five week, trip I didn't visit Tokyo at all and spent only a few nights in Kyoto. That said, the bamboo forest in Arashiyama was packed, for instance, but there were quieter areas around it. Marquee sights will have marquee crowds.
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Old Jan 29th, 2023, 11:37 AM
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Hello @thursdaysd,
Thank you for your reply. Yes, a short stay has limits and restrictions. As a 1st timer to Japan and based on what I have gained little knowledge on through reading, websites, chatting to different people - I felt that Tokyo and Kyoto to be my cities of exploration; a taste tester
Perhaps, if I time my ʻgo to placesʻ during the less populart times of day/evening/night - I will reduce the crowdiness. I guess, I wonʻt know until I get there and will try and gauge it from these wonderful forums.


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Old Jan 29th, 2023, 11:44 AM
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@ mrwunrfl - Thank you, the Miyako Odori at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjore and combined tea ceremony recommendation would have been perfect . Unfortunately, the dates are in April only.

ʻin April, I highly recommend attending the Miyako Odori in Gion. Pop for the first class seat with tea ceremony if you can (we did this and the seats were great but we messed up and didn't get to the tea ceremony)ʻ
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