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Planning First Family Trip to Japan - Advice Needed!

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Sep 14th, 2014, 10:28 AM
  #1
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Planning First Family Trip to Japan - Advice Needed!

Hi all.

It's good to be back on the Asia forum! After going to Southeast Asia for the first time two summers ago, largely influenced by the advice on this forum, we are heading back in June. Two years ago, we visited Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

At the request of my oldest daughter, we will head to Japan for her 13th birthday on June 28, where she wants to celebrate in Tokyo. Now I'm trying to figure out the rest of the trip in terms of other cities and what to see/do. I'm at the very beginning of the planning process. As mentioned, Tokyo is a must and I'm thinking about 5 nights, including a day trip or two. I have a desire to visit Kyoto and am thinking 4 nights is about right. I would love for it to coincide with one of the festivals. Since I think, at least right now, that we will only visit 3 cities total, the last one is up for grabs. So far, Nikko, Takayama and Matsumoto are choices for another 2-3 nights. With this info can you let me know if I've allotted enough days in each city and/or if I should be considering any other cities for side trips or longer stays.

The other thing I'm in need of is a private tour guide or private tour company. Based on my schedule, after I know what I'm looking for, I need to hire somebody to put together the nuts and bolts of all in-country transportation, activities, necessary reservations and maybe even hotels, if they get better rates. Does anybody have any recommendations?

Lastly, favorite hotels and/or restaurants in the cities mentioned would be great. And any recommendations of where we should celebrate my daughter's 13th birthday in Tokyo would be fantastic as well. I'm thinking a great dinner and some sort of cultural show/activity.

Oh, and just so you know, after Japan for my daughter, we will head to Bali for me! So I will be back for Bali questions because it's my first time too. And I know there are die-hard Bali fans on this forum!

Thanks in advance all. Happy Sunday.
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Sep 14th, 2014, 04:08 PM
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kja
 
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>I have a desire to visit Kyoto and am thinking 4 nights is about right.

I had 6 nights / 6 full days in the area (Kyoto and Nara) and would have loved to have more time there -- and I would NOT call my visit leisurely!

>So far, Nikko, Takayama and Matsumoto are choices for another 2-3 nights.

Many people visit Nikko as a day trip from Tokyo. Personally, I recommend an overnight so one can see the beautiful waterfall, Kegon-no-Taki, and perhaps a bit of Lake Chuzenji as well.

I thought Takayama worthy of at least 2 full days (and I seriously regret that I only gave it 1.5 days ).

I haven't been to Matsumoto yet.

> should [I] be considering any other cities ...

That REALLY depends on what you and your family want to see. I trust you have seen japan-guide.com? And consulted at least one, if not more, good guide books?

>Based on my schedule, after I know what I'm looking for, I need to hire somebody to put together the nuts and bolts of all in-country transportation, activities, necessary reservations and maybe even hotels, if they get better rates.

Then your schedule must be VERY tight -- best wishes! I thought it extremely easy to make all the arrangements.
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Sep 14th, 2014, 04:36 PM
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hotels in T are outrageous.. do you have any FF pts??

we stayed in citadines but the rooms are very small... reserve now...

we rented a nice 2 bedroom mini house in Kyoto, read my trip report
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Sep 14th, 2014, 05:03 PM
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The mini-house Bob refers to is the same machiya house we rented. If you daughter is interested in things Japanese, she should love it. It is in Kanazawa. which we very much enjoyed. But if you wanted to stay in a machiya house, I'm sure Kim would be able to find one for you elsewhere.
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Sep 15th, 2014, 05:50 AM
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Hi all. Thanks so much for your replies.

Kathie, I have seen your photos -- gorgeous! I'm reading your trip report now.

Rhkkmk, I will read your report next. Staying in a mini-house might be a fun thing for a girl who loves all things Japenese.

Kja, thanks for your responses. Yes, I have read guidebooks, as well as gone on several websites and browsed some trip reports. Thanks for your feedback that Nikko can be a day trip from Tokyo. If I stick to 3 cities only, I may want to choose another a bit further from Tokyo. But all still up in the air. Just looking to maximize the different cultural opportunities in each city.

More later after I finish my reading.

Have a great day.
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Sep 15th, 2014, 07:26 PM
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kja
 
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Am I correct in thinking that you are looking for ONE place to spend 2 or 3 nights? If so, then given that you are "looking to maximize the different cultural opportunities in each city," Takayama would seem like a good option to me. Your timing would match it well IMO, and you would get to see some things that you won't see in Tokyo or Kyoto -- gassho-zukuri farmhouses at the Hida Folk Village, the former government house, a world-class collection of Art Nouveau and Art Deco work at the Museum of Art (if that is of interest to you), and some glorious glimpses of the Japanese Alps -- not to mention the things that are a bit more like what you will see elsewhere. And you could try some regional foods, e.g., delicious mountain vegetables.

Nikko could also be a reasonable option, as the setting and temples and shrines are a bit different than those you will see elsewhere. If your interest is primarily in Nikko per se a day trip would be long, but do-able; if you want to include Kegon-no-Taki, you might need at least one night in Nikko. BUT the main shrine in Nikko is undergoing renovation, and that is worth taking into consideration:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3801.html

Another option might be to go to Hiroshima and Miyajima, with two nights total for the two together. I thought Hiroshima very powerful; of course, only you can decide whether it is right for your children.

Hope that helps!
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Sep 16th, 2014, 06:57 AM
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kja, you have been extremely helpful. I'm researching the three options you suggested as I write. And yes, it is one more place for 2-3 nights. I'm actually not opposed to Hiroshima -- in fact I might just owe it to the kids to include it. I have never been shy to incorporate remnants of our past atrocities in any country we have ever visited. It's quite amazing how these things resonate with children and their ability to digest it based on their own maturity. In fact the birthday girl in studying Asia in this years history course. Last year was Ancient Rome and seeing Pompeii in person this summer was a highlight for her. You also made Takayama come alive with your description!

Thanks!
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Sep 16th, 2014, 06:35 PM
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Much as I loved Kanasawa, I don't think you have time for Kanazawa, which IMO would take at least 2 more days. YMMV.
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Sep 16th, 2014, 10:28 PM
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Actually if you can, you might reverse your times and allot 4 nights for the Tokyo (Kanto) area and 5 nights for Kyoto (Kansai).
Some day trips from Tokyo are definitely worth it. The typical destinations are Kamakura, Nikko, Hakone, and the Fuji 5 Lakes Area. You can see a lot of the best of Kamakura in 3/4 of a day if you start early - you could even squeeze in a bit of Yokohama if you like. June is hydrangea season and the hydrangea temple (Meigetsuin) is wonderful. The real draw of Kamakura though is the Great Buddha there and a must-see:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IC8sRezqtk
Hasedera is also an exquisite temple there.
I agree with the above, if you could see Nikko for 2 days it would be best; but you will be a bit pressed for time, so if you get up early a full day will do pretty nicely.
For Kyoto, you could spend 2 weeks there and not see all that there is. At any rate, make time for at least half a day to see Nara too - the Todaiji great Buddha is another wonder. The deer in Nara Park next to it are a big tourist draw also. Kasuga Taisha Shrine, also in Nara Park, is also a very nice place to see and more like walking a forest path than a park. There are also 2 landscape gardens by Todaiji if you want more to see. Once the temples/shrines close about 5PM, it's easy to zip over to Osaka for the evening - that's when the city really comes to life and there are some amazing sights, including Dotonbori and the city views atop the Umeda Sky Bldg and new Abeno Harukas:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...K2bcKCzr2pJQh2
Kyoto will keep you busy though, and the 3 top places to see are Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), Kiyomizudera, and the Fushimi Inari Shrine. The last one will take the most time (but unforgettable) and it's up to you to decide how far up the mountain you want to go. See a preview here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EandKTAwfOM
There are many nearby place to see as well - Himeji is Japan's finest castle, and there is Hikone not too far away as well. Kobe might be worth seeing in the evening too - the mountaintop views from Mt. Rokko & Mr. Maya are very famous.
Please note however that June is rainy season - you might get stuck in a lot of pouring rain for some days. And when you're not, it can get extremely muggy and humid.
About the guide, it really isn't needed. But if you want to pursue it anyway, you can get a free English speaking guide through the Japan National Tourist Organization:
http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/tr...uides_a-n.html
For your daughter's 13th birthday, you might look into a performance buy a maiko or geisha. The real deal is done by companies and wildly high with special introductions etc., but there are shows made for foreign tourists that you might look into. One of the first places you should look into when you get to Kyoto Stn is the tourist info office for free maps and info. Although you can contact them now for more info on the geisha shows.
Lastly - even if you take taxis all over, you will do tons of walking. Bring your most comfortable pair (or 2 or 3 in case one gets wet) of sneakers and get ready to burn a lot of calories. Wear light cotton clothes that can dry out quickly. And of course, don't forget the underarm deodorant!
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Sep 17th, 2014, 04:43 PM
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Hi all -- you guys are on fire and I am so appreciative!

I just had a chance to look up a few of the places you recommended and based on that, below is a first sketch of possibilities with lots of room to change based on feedback and more research. Please do not pay attention to the routing as I have not even gotten that far. I was basically trying to figure out days so I put some dates to the cities. Don't forget we are ending in Bali and though I am fine with taking off days there as I think I will get back one day, I cannot say this is the case for everyone else. The plan was to get at least a week...I have two scenarios -- one for 14 night in Japan and one for 12 nights if folks don't want to stay so long. So here goes a draft:

June 25 - travel from NYC to Tokyo
June 26 - arrive Tokyo, rest, have a nice dinner
June 27 - full day of Tokyo touring
June 28 - full day of Tokyo touring, birthday dinner and cultural celebration
June 29 - full day Nikko tour
June 30 - Disney Tokyo (unless I can talk the kids out of it)
July 1 - Arrive Miyajima/Hiroshima, 1/2 day tour
July 2 - full day Miyajima/Hiroshima touring
July 3 - Arrive Takayama, 1/2 day tour
July 4 - full day Takayama touring
July 5 - Arrive Kyoto, 1/2 day Kyoto touring
July 6 - full day Kyoto touring
July 7 - full Day Nara tour
July 8 - full day Kyoto touring
July 9 - full day Kyoto touring
*the Gion festival will be taking place
July 10 - depart for Bali

If I have to shorten it to 12 nights, I will take out either the Miyajima/Hiroshima combo or Takayama. Thoughts on which one if I have to?

Please also let me know what you think of the city choices, the time allotted in all (I added on a day in Kyoto), and any route advice.

Thanks all. You have been extremely helpful. It's good to be back on the Asia forum.

Take care.
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Sep 17th, 2014, 06:00 PM
  #11
kja
 
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At a first glance, and without considering the sequence, I would think that should work. Do try to fly into Narita and out of Kansai (or vice versa) so you don't have to backtrack.

"If I have to shorten it to 12 nights, I will take out either the Miyajima/Hiroshima combo or Takayama. Thoughts on which one if I have to?"

If your family is open to it, I would think Hiroshima does more to "maximize the different cultural opportunities," and Miyajima would also add to the range of your experiences, with its beautiful Itsukushima shrine and the cable car ride to the top of Mt. Misan with its stunning views over the Inland Sea and -- if they come out -- some monkeys. I thoroughly enjoyed Takayama, but there is IMO a definite overlap with Kyoto; too, you might want to wait to visit it until you can combine it with delightful Kanazawa. JMO.
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Sep 18th, 2014, 12:01 AM
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Takayama is out of order.

From which airport on July 10, Osaka? Tokyo?

I made the trip from Miyajima to Takayama and advise against it. (walk down to the ferry, the ferry, walk to Miyajimaguchi, local to Hiroshima, shinkansen to Shin-Osaka, change to a shinkansen to Nagoya, change to a limited express train to Takayama) That was enough for me to make a rule of no more than 4 hours, maybe 4.5, of travel in a day.
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Sep 18th, 2014, 11:16 AM
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Thanks for your last replies. I'm thinking of taking Takayama out and doing Miyajima/Hiroshima, along with Kyoto and Tokyo.

Looking at my last itinerary minus Takayama, do you think I should take a day sightseeing from Kyoto to do a full day in Osaka? Or do I need to add a day to keep the number of days that I have in Kyoto?

Lastly, thinking of staying in one traditional accommodation (the rest will be Western) and thought Miyajima might be nice? Thoughts or insights?

By the way, don't know where I will depart yet for Bali. There are direct flights from Tokyo and 1 layover from Osaka. It will be more based on what make sense location wise.

Thanks all.
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Sep 19th, 2014, 12:14 AM
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Consider Momijiso ryokan on Miyajima.

>>Looking at my last itinerary minus Takayama, do you think I should take a day sightseeing from Kyoto to do a full day in Osaka? Or do I need to add a day to keep the number of days that I have in Kyoto?<<

Am not following this. If you take out Takayama then you could either shorten your visit to Japan or use that time elsewhere in Japan. No need to take away from Kyoto, in any case.
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Sep 19th, 2014, 01:21 AM
  #15
kja
 
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I second mrwunrfl's recommendation that you look at Momijiso for a ryokan stay on Miyajima:
https://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/...yokan=Momijiso

Re: Kyoto and Osaka -- I, too, am a bit confused by your question. I can tell you that I thought 6 days insufficient for my interests in Kyoto/Nara, but I can't say what that means for you. I didn't make it to Osaka, but thought the aquarium might be interesting.
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Sep 19th, 2014, 05:35 AM
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I'm excited about the fact of seeing Hiroshima first and then going to Miyajima in the early evening and spending the night at a ryokan. Then having the next day to fully explore the island and stay one more night. Seems like a nice cultural and historical combination. kja, thanks for the suggestion. mrwunrfl, I will look up the ryokan today. Thanks too.

I did not explain myself effectively regarding Kyoto but no worries as I think I will keep it to Tokyo/Nikko, Kyoto/Nara and Hiroshima/Miyajima. This seems like a nice mix that will keep everyone happy and allow us to really explore a bit before going to Bali.

Now I just need to decide on a fantastic fun cultural activity/event/show in Tokyo to celebrate my daughter's actual birthday.

Thank you all!
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Sep 20th, 2014, 12:31 AM
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Coming in late but think you've landed on a great itinerary.

I loved Takayama but yes, I agree that with the time you have, I'd prioritise Hiroshima and Miyajima over Takayama. With two nights allocated there, you can spend the first afternoon exploring Hiroshima, take the last ferry across to the island (check what time it is!) and then you'll have the entire next day. It's lovely seeing the "floating" gate at different times of day and tide levels and there's much to see up in the hills. We didn't go that far up into the hills but here's 2 little posts I did on the temple visit we enjoyed: http://www.kaveyeats.com/2013/03/mes...of-love-5.html and http://www.kaveyeats.com/2013/03/mes...of-love-6.html
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Sep 20th, 2014, 11:13 AM
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Kavey is back! There is a thread asking about dinner reservations that you might be interested in. While composing a reply to that I did a search to find the name of the Takayama restaurant that has the bull statue in front and one of the top links was from kaveyeats.

This is the thread: http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...s-anywhere.cfm
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Sep 21st, 2014, 02:10 AM
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Hey Lovely, Yeah work has been a bit crazy, plus I'm behind on my blog, with lots of things I want to write up and share but not enough time to do them! If only I had a magic button which let me stop time for the rest of the world but carry on for me (without my ageing, during those periods, of course!!!)

I'll go look x
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Sep 21st, 2014, 07:50 AM
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Hi all,

Okay, I think I've settled on the following itinerary. What do you think? I feel good about it for the days that we have and in terms of satisfying all the members of our traveling party.

June 25 - travel from NYC to Tokyo
June 26 - arrive Tokyo, rest, have a nice dinner
June 27 - full day of Tokyo touring
June 28 - full day of Tokyo touring, birthday dinner and cultural celebration
June 29 - full day Nikko tour
June 30 - Disney Tokyo (unless I can talk the kids out of it)

Travel by bullet train to Hiroshima - 4 hours in duration or by plane with a 90 min flight

July 1 - Arrive Miyajima/Hiroshima, 1/2 day tour of Hiroshima and depart on last ferry to Miyajima
July 2 - full day Miyajima

Travel by bullet train from Hiroshima to Kyoto - 1 1/2 hours in duration

July 3 - Arrive Kyoto, 1/2 day Kyoto touring
July 4 - full day Kyoto touring
July 5 - full Day Nara tour
July 6 - full day Kyoto touring
July 7 - full day Kyoto touring

July 8 - depart for Bali via flight from Osaka

Thoughts?

Other details to consider:

Tour Guide:

Tour agents/private guides -- we are a private guide kind of family in order to see some sights more efficiently and to also help plan private experiences that we wouldn't have access to or know about. With the kids I'm looking to maximize the hands on cultural experiences. Anyway, I will now contact Kim who Kathie recommended (very impressed with all the work they do in Japan and their team) and the other recommendation I received is Chris Rawthorn Tours. This one was fantastic TA reviews for their guides and experiences. Is there anyone else I should be contacting?

Luggage:

I have to read Kathie's report again but I know she mentions luggage transfers as it's difficult to take luggage on the trains. If anyone needs this info, it's me! I will never be accused of being a light packer for myself or my three girls! Can anyone provide information. I would like to take the train between Tokyo and Hiroshima and Hiroshima and Kyoto.

Hotels:

In Miyajima, we will 100% stay in a ryokan. I loved the one suggested in this thread and one more that I saw on TA. It will all come down to availability and the right rooms. We are traveling with extended family and need a few rooms with full bathrooms, so again I will put in requests and go with the best available option.

Where to stay in Tokyo and Kyoto...any suggestions? Here we are looking for modern western style hotels Our budget is a good one as I have already told myself this is where I will spend the most money. I'm not going to use points as I will use them all on supplementing a few airline tickets as I have to purchase quite a few for our whole family. Location is important to me. I would like to be able to easily walk to sights and restaurants when we are not touring if we choose. If I had to pick a place where I would want to experience more luxury, it would be Tokyo. Kyoto on the other hand, I would put luxury aside for a more cultural experience.

Restaurants:

Of course, I am scouring TA and posts, but any must do restaurants in our three cities that we shouldn't miss? Would love your feedback.

Cultural experiences:

The kids, the kids! Anything stand out that I must do with them to make Japan come alive for them from the point of a cultural experience/activity? Please do tell! Also, something neat on my daughter's birthday in Tokyo? She wants to eat in a top-rated sushi restaurant, get her nails done, and have tea with cats (she's doing this without me!). I would like one other thing that the whole family could enjoy.

Thanks all. This whole itinerary came together because if your feedback, links, and advice. It's hugely appreciated. I now feel like I have something to go on and can start putting this thing together. I can also start asking questions about Bali!

Have a great summer!!!
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