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Preliminary 4 week Japan itinerary (10,000 foot version)

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Jan 22nd, 2018, 12:29 PM
  #1
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Preliminary 4 week Japan itinerary (10,000 foot version)

I have been working on our itinerary for Japan in April (yes this year). Following is a very rough outline - primarily blocking out chunks of time - would appreciate input/comments.

Basic info - we're independent travelers 60 and 72; first visit to Japan; have 4 weeks; have booked an apartment hotel for the first week in Tokyo (in Shinjuku - Citadines).Primary interests are culture and history - physical/nature secondary (but still important hence why we're going at this time of year). Food trumps everything! We like off the beaten track and are assuming we will rent a car in some places (or not - just not averse to it). JR Pass is an enigma at this point - have read the rules and am not sure a) how long we would need it, b) when we would need it and c) if it represents a value for us. I have read that this year for the first time travelers to Japan can buy it *in* Japan so I'm going to look into that.
So - rough itinerary:

7 nights Tokyo - (we arrive from Vietnam so not huge jet lag issues upon arrival) Usual activities. Definitely want to visit the Fish Market and will likely do a private tour. Possibly Fuji as day trip? Or spend time there later as we return to Tokyo? (not hot springs people) Side trip to Nikko?

Fly from Tokyo to Ishigaki (Yaeyama Islands/Okinawa Prefecture). This would be the off the beaten track part! Lovely islands - spend 4 nights. Snorkel and/or dive.

Fly to Kyushu (probably Fukuoka) probably 4 nights - maybe a car - if so I could see us spending 4 nights in one place and doing day trips. Definitely a trip to the Volcano.

Then to Shikoku (train? or keep rental car?) and spend 4 nights there - stopping off in Hiroshima and Miyajima Island (2 nights?) Again I can see us staying in one (or maybe two) places and doing day trips.

So at this point I'm up to 21 nights - that leaves 6 nights for the final stretch which is the most traditional part of the itinerary (all by train I'm assuming) to Kyoto (side trips to Nara/Osaka?) then Kanazawa, Takayama, etc back to Tokyo. As I type this I realize 6 nights is tight but can steal a couple of nights from elsewhere, including the first 7 nights in Tokyo. (or completely remove the Yaeyama Islands portion which is the biggest wild card in this itinerary I think)

Whew! I realize this is thin on details for Kyushu and Shikoku but I've read enough to know we can happily fill in the details later. Any ideas/suggestions/major errors?

TIA!


Last edited by Elizabeth_S; Jan 22nd, 2018 at 12:35 PM. Reason: commented on itinerary change possibility
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Jan 22nd, 2018, 01:15 PM
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You are right that the final six nights is too short. You could easily spend all that time in Kyoto. Takayama requires at least one full day - so two nights - and Kanazawa two days. If you are going to Takayama I would recommend Matsmoto for the castle and Shirakawa-go for the houses (look it up).

WRT the JR pass, once you decide on your train trips use hyperdia to price them, then compare to the available passes - the JR pass is not the only one. A car would be useful on Shikoku if you want to visit the countryside, not sure it is necessary on Kyushu. I have always used public transport in Japan. Consider visiting Nagasaki as well as Fukuoka - I chose to do that rather than Hiroshima,
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Jan 22nd, 2018, 01:20 PM
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Thanks! Very helpful. Nagasaki definitely on the list ....... I think Yaeyama is on the ropes right now. Would rather have the time for the last portion of the trip.
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Jan 22nd, 2018, 02:22 PM
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kja
 
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Should be great! Some initial thoughts:

If you decide to use a guide at any point (none is needed, but that doesn’t address preference), you might consider taking advantage of an occasional local “goodwill guide” – The Japanese National Tourism Organization coordinates free volunteer guides – “Goodwill guides” – who are generally knowledgeable and happy to guide you in return for practicing their English – which can be excellent, but it is a bit of a luck-of-the-draw.
Japan National Tourism Organization Plan Your Trip Travel Tips Guide Services
You pay any entrance fees and his/her meal if your time with the guide includes one . Do NOT tip these guides, or anyone else in Japan.

Many people visit Nikko as a day trip. I spent overnight there, as I also wanted to visit Kegon-no-Taki and a bit of Lake Chuzenji and walk a bit of the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. I'm glad I did.

Depending on when, exactly, you would arrive and depart and your preferred pace, one night on Miyajima might be enough for Hiroshima and Miyajima. It isn’t particularly convenient to day-trip between the two, IMO, so you might look into options for visiting Hiroshima on the way to or from the island.

I wanted 6 full days (7 nights) just to see the highlights of Kyoto and Nara. I regret that I didn’t give Kanazawa and Takayama more time than I did -- I think the highlights of Kanazawa can easily take 3 days, and the highlights of Takayama 2 days. I think this part of your plan is quite rushed. But again, it depends on your interests.

Hope that helps!
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Jan 22nd, 2018, 02:52 PM
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With your length of time for travel, you certainly could work in the Yaeyama Islands. If you fly down to Ishigaki, it is easy to also take a ferry to Taketomi, but 4 days is quite a chunk of time - you also might want to see some other islands, like Miyako or the main island/Naha City. You might consider an Okinawa Island Pass to cheaply get around. Also to get to the islands you might look at some cheap fares by Jet Star or Peach, or use something like ANA's Experience Japan Fare.

For the rail passes, if you don't know yet where you are going, no rail pass is going to take you there. Make your itinerary first - then choose the best way to get around. Renting a car makes a lot of sense (if you are up to driving in Japan in the first place) in some areas like Shikoku, Okinawa, and the Noto Peninsula near Kanazawa. Needless to say, you will need an International Driver's Permit before you depart for Japan and if you don't know it, they drive on the left side like in the UK. If you are a member of the Canadian Automobile Association, they may be able to help. Driving in Kyushu may be good also, but largely depends on what you are going to see. You need to specify by what you mean by "volcano" - there is Sakurajima in Kagoshima, Aso in Kumamoto (crater area currently off limits), and Unzen in Nagasaki. Generally speaking though, for people with very long trips like yours (and often a slower pace), full JR rail passes are often hard to justify - a series of regional passes may serve you better. You can take a ferry from Oita to Shikoku easily, as well as from Shikoku to Hiroshima, but with a car it gets very expensive and if you don't return the car to where you got it, the drop off charges may be extremely high. I strongly discourage you from driving in the big cities - it is not necessary, parking can be high, and it's a lot less fun. A Tokyo Wide Pass can be good to see the nearby sights, plus there is the Tobu Nikko Free Pass, Hakone Free Pass, and various tickets for the Fuji 5 Lakes area.
For the Fuji area, you need to decide on seeing either Hakone or the Fuji 5 Lakes, or seeing both.

Seeing the cultural historical sights are very worthwhile, but as you said, don't neglect the beauty of the season. The Chichibu or Fuji shibazakura are beautiful, as well as the HItachi Seaside Park, and if you are in Japan at the end of April or first week of May ("Golden Week"), the wisteria at the Ashikaga Flower Park are stunning. That time of year is also tulip, azalea and nemophila season.

For food, you might browse through Bento - they have an extensive restaurant database - but I wouldn't waste precious time chasing down a bunch of restaurants every day unless it is something really special. Virtually every place serves high quality and tasty food and hygiene is overall excellent. While in Kyoto you also might try kaiseki ryori or shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian).

You still have time to plan, but if you are in Japan during Golden Week you should nail down your hotel accommodations ASAP.

Last edited by Adastra2200; Jan 22nd, 2018 at 03:16 PM.
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Jan 23rd, 2018, 10:25 AM
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Looks good from this altitude. I didn't see exactly when in April so will just mention that the end of April is the start of Golden Week. The itin is light on central and western Japan, but you don't necessarily have to go there, but it is more typical for a first trip. The Ishigaki part is not during prime time as the manta ray experience is during summer. One good thing about it is that you can fly from Tokyo to Ishigaki for $100, three hour flight. Am sure you could get the same fare from Ishigaki to Fukuoka, If you go from Fukuoka to Shikoku then you will likely better off taking the train. Because you are into food, I will mention that Shimonoseki is on they way. It is known for fugu, tho April is after the end of the natural season it is farmed and frozen. You are planning to stop in Hiroshima and could get to Matsuyama on Shikoku by fast boat and get a car there if you want one. From Shikoku on your travel will almost surely be by train and a 7-day JR Pass might be in your future, but it depends on how you work things out. At the beginning of your trip, you could look into a Kanto Area Pass for Fujisan, Nikko, etc. You absolutely have to go to Shinjuku Gyoen for cherry blossoms in your first week. There is a festival in Takayama (i think around 19th April) that you could plan for or around. For an April trip, I very highly recommend attending Miyako Odori in Gion, Kyoto.
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Jan 23rd, 2018, 10:55 AM
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Originally Posted by mrwunrfl View Post
Looks good from this altitude. I didn't see exactly when in April so will just mention that the end of April is the start of Golden Week. The itin is light on central and western Japan, but you don't necessarily have to go there, but it is more typical for a first trip. The Ishigaki part is not during prime time as the manta ray experience is during summer. One good thing about it is that you can fly from Tokyo to Ishigaki for $100, three hour flight. Am sure you could get the same fare from Ishigaki to Fukuoka, If you go from Fukuoka to Shikoku then you will likely better off taking the train. Because you are into food, I will mention that Shimonoseki is on they way. It is known for fugu, tho April is after the end of the natural season it is farmed and frozen. You are planning to stop in Hiroshima and could get to Matsuyama on Shikoku by fast boat and get a car there if you want one. From Shikoku on your travel will almost surely be by train and a 7-day JR Pass might be in your future, but it depends on how you work things out. At the beginning of your trip, you could look into a Kanto Area Pass for Fujisan, Nikko, etc. You absolutely have to go to Shinjuku Gyoen for cherry blossoms in your first week. There is a festival in Takayama (i think around 19th April) that you could plan for or around. For an April trip, I very highly recommend attending Miyako Odori in Gion, Kyoto.
Thank you very much! We arrive March 28 and leave April 26 - a few days before Golden Week.

Fugu - hmmmmm. When in Rome? We'll see!
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Jan 23rd, 2018, 06:10 PM
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I wonder ... did you go to the last post without reading the rest of our responses? I know this new format is taking some adjustment....
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Jan 26th, 2018, 02:13 PM
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Re: buying the Japan Rail Pass in Japan. They are offering it as a trial only for purchase in Japan ending in March 2018 and at a higher price.
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