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Our Japan Itinerary

Old Dec 21st, 2018, 01:56 PM
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Our Japan Itinerary

My wife and I are planning our first trip to Japan. We’ll be going for five weeks starting in mid-September and are concentrating on central Honshu. We’re retirees and tend to travel slowly. We’ll be travelling mostly by rail with occasional car rentals in the remoter locations. Our interests are cultural (temples, museums, castles), nature (hot springs, spectacular views and easy hikes), gardens and cuisine. Our draft itinerary is as follows:

Tokyo - 7 nights (local sights & excursions to Kamakura, Hokane, etc);
Nikko - 2 nights;
Matsumoto - 3 nights (castle and a visit to Tsumago & Magome);
Japanese Alps - 4 nights (partly by car; Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route at end);
Kanasawa - 2 nights;
Noto Peninsula - 3 nights (by car);
Takayama - 3 nights (for festival; fixed dates);
Kurasaki/Hiroshima 4 nights (still in planning stage);
Kyoto - 7 nights (day trips to Nara; lodging already booked).

Any thoughts on the proposed itinerary? Are we staying too long anywhere or, conversely, are we giving a location inadequate time?

Also…does anybody have any particular places (views, hot springs, lodging, restaurants) in the Japanese Alps that they would recommend visiting? Lodging suggestions are also welcome for everywhere except Tokyo and Kyoto, which are already booked or being booked.

Thanks in advance for your help!

GotT
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Old Dec 21st, 2018, 04:38 PM
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Sounds like a great trip. Though you mention using a car occasionally, I'm somewhat unclear on how you're going to get from A to B to C etc. - is the use of a car only where you specifically mention it? A few initial thoughts....

I assume to get to Matsumoto from Nikko, you're taking the train, so will probably transit through Omiya? If so, you may want to consider a detour for a few hours to the Omiya Bonsai Village and Museum - highly recommended.

I'm not sure what you're doing in the Alps for four nights, though it's partly by car. The Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route (or in your case, presumably Kurobe-Tateyama) only takes a day, unless you are planning on staying en route. In any event, you will end up at Tateyama / Toyama - would it not make more sense to go to Takayama from there? That may not be entirely possible if you're trying to be there on specific dates but going to Kanazawa etc. first would then require some backtracking.

If you wanted to add a night somewhere, Kanazawa for three nights instead of two would be worthwhile.

I'm not familiar with Kurasaki (which, if anywhere, appears to be in the direction of Okinawa) - do you mean Kurashiki?

On the way to/from Hiroshima, Himeji Castle is well worth visiting, together with the adjacent Kokoen Garden. The castle is an easy 25 minute walk from Himeji station.

While in the Okayama / Kurashiki area, consider a detour (for a day or two) to Uno, and take the ferry to Naoshima (and Teshima).

As for seven nights in Kyoto .... some of us could happily spend a lifetime there if we had one to spare...
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Old Dec 21st, 2018, 05:18 PM
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I’m sure you will have a wonderful trip!

Some initial comments:

I like that you are giving Nikko 2 nights! That will give you time, if you like, to see a bit of Lake Chuzenji, Kegon-no-Taki, and/or perhaps a bit of the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. If you have any interest in art, don’t miss the Nikkō Tōshō-gū Museum of Art.

IMO, 2 nights was too little for Kanazawa. I wish I’d given it at least 3 nights – and I travel HARD! If you prefer a relatively slow pace, you might want to make sure you can see what you want to see in this city that holds many glorious gardens of varying sizes and styles, along with some lovely collections of art before committing to a specific number of nights.

I was glad I had 2 nights in Nara, but it is easily visited by day trip from Kyoto and it sounds like you already booked lodging for your time in the area. I admit that I consider 6 full days more or less a minimum for a first stay in Kyoto and Nara combined.

Like tt7, I assume you mean Kurashiki – but I could be wrong! I was truly hard-pressed to see what I wanted to see in Kurashiki, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and Himeji-jo in just three days -- and I regret not making time for Naoshima. Of course, it depends on what you want to see and do.

I’m surprised you don’t mention Koya-san, but maybe that’s not of interest?

You’ll have a wonderful trip no matter what you choose!
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Old Dec 21st, 2018, 05:35 PM
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Japan Alps: Kamikochi, Hirayu Onsen
https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6040.html
https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5942.html

The travel time from Takayama to Kurashiki or Hiroshima is 5 to 6 hours, so a bit of a long haul. It would be a bit easier if you stopped at Okayama, visit Korakuen garden and castle and Kurashiki from there.

You want to add Miyajima to the Hiroshima visit.

Consider staying in Hakone for a nght or two.
Consider putting Nikko (and/or Hakone) in the middle of the Tokyo stay.

Last edited by mrwunrfl; Dec 21st, 2018 at 05:38 PM.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2018, 09:36 AM
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tt7 - Thanks for your recommendations! You're right, we will be traveling from to Tateyama from the Kurobe end. While I appreciate the backtracking issue regarding Takayama, we want to be there for the festival, which will require postponing our visit until later in the trip. I was using "Kurasaki" as a placeholder; the western end of Honshu is the one area I hadn't researched. Kurashiki, Himeji Castle, and Naoshima/Teshima all sound wonderful. We will certainly take all of them under consideration.

kja - Thanks! I think I will take your advice and add an additional day to Kurasawa. Our first evening will be at the end of a long day of travel and Kurasawa certainly appears to warrant two full days of attention. I hadn't researched the area south of Kyoto and thus wasn't familiar with Koya-San. It certainly looks wonderful. Is it doable as a day trip from Kyoto?

mrwunrfl - Thank you for the Japan Alps recommendations. I will have to check these out. They certainly meet the spectacular scenery criterion. Miyajima is also under consideration, although at this point my planning suffers from an overabundance of destinations. Hakone, unfortunately, will have to be a day trip from Tokyo.

All - Thanks again! GotT
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Old Dec 22nd, 2018, 09:44 AM
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Originally Posted by gottravel View Post
kja - Thanks! I think I will take your advice and add an additional day to Kurasawa.
I fear there's been some mistake, as I don't know Kurosawa.

Koyasan is too far to be a reasonable day trip from basically anywhere, and while there are some delightful things to do there, the main reason to go would be to spend a night at a temple.
https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4900.html

If you haven't already seen it, I strongly encourage you to spend time -- LOTS of it -- with japan-guide.com
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Old Dec 22nd, 2018, 09:53 AM
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kja - oops. You are correct. I got my "awa" towns mixed up. I meant adding a day to Kanazawa.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2018, 11:56 AM
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in May, we flew from Nagasaki to Osaka, then drove to Koyasan, had an overnight temple stay, then took bus, tram, train and subway to Kyoto the next day. Koyasan was wonderful but definitely not a day trip...overnight is a must not only because of the amount of travel time but the highlights of the trip are seeing the cemetery at night and attending a service in the morning. Hope you'll consider it.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2018, 12:54 PM
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Japan is truly a destination-rich environment. I fear that some places, Koyosan among them, are going to be deferred to followup trips.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2018, 02:16 PM
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Thanks everyone! I am the retired wife of the OP and appreciate all your help. It's always great to go from our noses in the guidebooks & maps and checking all the internet sites to hearing about recommendations from Fodor's posters and reading about your actual experiences.

tt7 - our initial thoughts are to use trains wherever possible and rent a car when we can't get there via train wherever there is. I know the Noto peninsula will require us driving.

I'm curious about Naoshima. I've read about it and even a few TRs here mention it. We enjoy art although not always fans of modern art. Anyone spent time there? Is it doable as just a day trip?

mrwunrfl - "Consider putting Nikko (and/or Hakone) in the middle of the Tokyo stay."
Moving around & changing accommodations is one aspect of trips we try to minimize.

FromDC -- hi! your thoughts continue to be so helpful. Thanks!
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Old Dec 22nd, 2018, 03:01 PM
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Originally Posted by gottravel View Post
kja - oops. You are correct. I got my "awa" towns mixed up. I meant adding a day to Kanazawa.
It can be hard to learn the names of places in a part of the world to which one has never visited, can't it? I know that I always get tripped up a few times.

If you are slow travelers, you might want even more time than that in Kanazawa.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2018, 05:17 PM
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Hakone and its outdoor sculpture museum were one of the highpoints of our trip. Could you perhaps do an overnight at the end and shorten your Tokyo stay by one night.

The day trip I would most highly recommend from Kyoto is to the Miho museum -- a small museum with two buildings, one dedicated to classical art from many cultures, another solely to Japanese art. The museum is set in the mountains, designed by IM Pei and the interface of art, architecture and the beauty of nature is again and again breathtaking. Actually, I'd say not just a highlight of this trip (done 10 years ago) but of this decade. I cannot overstate its magic. About an hour outside of Kyoto, something of a hassle to get there--I'd do it again in a minute.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2018, 09:51 PM
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Originally Posted by cmstraf View Post
The day trip I would most highly recommend from Kyoto is to the Miho museum .....
Interesting - I had not heard of the Miho Museum .... will perhaps have to put it on the list for the next time we're in Kyoto.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2018, 10:21 PM
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Originally Posted by yestravel View Post
tt7 - our initial thoughts are to use trains wherever possible .....
+1. We've never rented a car in Japan ... which probably just says we should get off the beaten track a bit more! We've also never taken a taxi (except once when we just missed the local hotel shuttle bus at Narita and didn't want to wait an hour for the next one). The trains (+ buses and subway) in Japan are excellent and, generally, can get you where you want to go.... though obviously there are some places that require a car. We much prefer to use public transport ... or walk. In many places (Kyoto being a prime example) the serendipity of just walking the backstreets when you're getting from A to B is not to be missed - you never know what you'll find.

Places names can be confusing because so many of them sound alike .... I took me a while to figure out that Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa is on the opposite coast from Kanazawa. You'll find any number of instances where there are multiple places with the identical name. I assume you've discovered the joys of using Hyperdia to plot your train journeys? It usually does a good job of highlighting places with the same name by appending a prefecture name in brackets. That may not help much if you don't know the prefectures but it at least alerts you that there may be more than one place with the same name (and when it tells you the journey you were expecting to take 30 minutes is going to take 4 hours, that's a bit of a giveaway...)
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Old Dec 23rd, 2018, 01:11 AM
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Originally Posted by yestravel View Post
I'm curious about Naoshima. I've read about it and even a few TRs here mention it. We enjoy art although not always fans of modern art. Anyone spent time there? Is it doable as just a day trip?
If you haven’t previously seen it, this NY Times (Naoshima) article may be of interest. When we went, we stayed in Uno for three nights (including the day we arrived from Tokyo) and spent day two on Naoshima and day three on Teshima.

Doing it as a day trip will depend on where you’re coming from. If you can get there early enough to have a full day and then stay the night (Benesse House being the primo place) that would be optimum. Alternatively, get there late afternoon, stay the night, explore the island for the day then head back to the mainland late afternoon. It perhaps depends on where you’re coming from / going to but, yes, it can be done as a day trip.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2018, 06:54 AM
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kja & tt& -- Yes, mastering names in unfamiliar countries is always challenging. Good to hear that Hyperdia highlights similar names. We just had friends mess up in Italy, of all places, and rented a car in a city different from the one they wanted.

cmstraf - "The day trip I would most highly recommend from Kyoto is to the Miho museum" - cm, that sounds right up our alley and will certainly try and include it as a day trip from Kyoto. I love I. M. Pei. I think I recall from another post that you are coming to DC? NGA is designed by I. M. Pei.

tt7 -- when we travel we really enjoy a mix of using public transportation and driving ourselves. Love that feeling of total freedom whenever we first get in a rental car. Obviously, we avoid cities where possible. I look forward to the excellent transportation in Japan. Thanks for the NY Times article. I need to check it out.
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Old Dec 25th, 2018, 02:55 PM
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It looks good though while in Kansai, you could certainly spend a day in Himeji - the castle is Japan's best and the Kokoen Garden is marvelous. And three nights in Noto sounds excessive. If you are interested in natural scenery, you could go see Tojimbo in Fukui. The dinosaur museum there is also very impressive. The Echizen Great Buddha is one of the very best places that nobody knows about. And if you love hot springs, you could do an overnight at Kinosaki in Hyogo.
And if you are going to do 4 nights in the Hiroshima area, you should have enough time to see Iwakuni just south of Miyajima. It has the loveliest picturesque old bridge in the country, plus a charming mountain castle. And if you'd like to go the whole 9 yards, there is also the Akiyoshido Limestone Cave in Yamaguchi, over 300 million years old - not many places to see giant caverns as well as an underground river rushing past you.
Also after a day of sightseeing in Kyoto, if you still have the energy you could go see Osaka in the evening. Dotonbori is very nice, plus there is Shinsekai, and some great nice views from the Umeda Sky Bldg, Cosmo Tower, Abeno Harukas, etc.
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Old Dec 25th, 2018, 05:44 PM
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Adastra2200 -- thank you for all the suggestions. We will look into them as we continue to research and tweak this draft itin.
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