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Requesting Opinions on a First Japan Trip this Summer 2015

Requesting Opinions on a First Japan Trip this Summer 2015

Jun 1st, 2015, 10:18 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2015
Posts: 8
Requesting Opinions on a First Japan Trip this Summer 2015

Konnichiwa minna-san! (This is the little Japanese that I know.)

I am working with a travel agent in Kyoto to plan a first-time mostly independent trip to Japan with my husband. I know this can be self-planned from reading all the great itineraries, research, suggestions, and resources here but we simply have no time to do all of it on our own right now. Hence, we're using a travel agent so we have support while traveling and everything would be booked and written out for us.

I do love and trust my travel agent after working with them for a little over a week. But I've read so many wonderful thoughts and ideas here so I want to garner the opinions and tips of expert travelers as well as newer travelers to Japan regarding my trip itinerary and if there is anything I can/should do to make it "better" though I understand that is a subjective term.

I think our objectives for the trip are to see a glimpse of the anime/manga culture, gardens, temples, at least one onsen/ryokan and really whatever is interesting, classic, must-see, and/or pretty. My husband's objectives are basically the Pokemon Center and some sort of GTR experience.

This is what our itinerary sketch looks like at the moment:

7/26 - Fly into NRT around 4pm, overnight in Tokyo, explore
7/27 - Private guided day in Tokyo visiting Tsukiji Market, Asakusa, Sensoji, Akihabara
7/28 - Nissan factory in Yokohama (if available) or day trip to Kamakura
7/29 - Nikko day trip
7/30 - Hakone day trip
7/31 - Kyoto
8/01 - Private guided day in Kyoto visiting the Golden Pavilion, Nishiki Market, and Gion
8/02 - Nara day trip, Fushimi Inari Taisha
8/03 - Kyoto, explore, Manga Museum, Arashiyama, and Moss Garden (if available)
8/04 - Takayama, independent cycling tour, staying at Ryokan Tanabe...any feedback/reviews?
8/05 - Shirakawago day trip
8/06 - Back to Tokyo (maybe stop at Matsumoto Castle on the way if transportation permits)
8/07 - Tokyo, visiting Ginza and Odaiba
8/08 - Tokyo, visiting Harajuku, Shibuya, Pokemon Center in Ikebukuro
8/09 - Fly out of NRT at 3pm...Would we have time to do anything in the morning?

I have thoughts about visiting Mt. Koya but that seems too difficult. And Kanazawa was initially a full day and overnight stay if we decide to forgo one of the days above but I wasn't sure 1 day was enough of for Kanazawa. It sounds like most itineraries recommend 1 day though. So we were thinking of saving those for a future trip.

All comments are welcome and appreciated! Yoroshiku!
rengetsu is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2015, 10:00 AM
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That is a bit of a rush, particularly around Takayama.

On 8/1 will you have a car/driver or public transportation?

8/6 - possible, am not sure desirable because of travel time. I traveled from Takayama to Matsumoto by bus. Made a stop at Hirayu onsen, then another stop at Kamikochi, before getting to Matsumoto that evening. Spent the night in Matsumoto and visited the castle the next day before heading to Tokyo. On the way, I stopped in Nagano to visit Zenkoji.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2015, 03:51 PM
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mrwunrfl, thanks for your comment!

Do you think 2 days in Takayama is not enough or is it because of the travel time to/from there?

Would Kanazawa for one day be better than the Kamakura day trip? (This is only if we cannot see the Nissan plant.)

On 8/1, I'm guessing it will be by public transportation. That is a good question though for me to think about and clarify. Are those sites far from each other? Would we be wasting a lot of time in between to get to each place?

I see. Matsumoto will probably be something we save for a future trip since it doesn't seem feasible with the time we have. I did read about the Hirayu onsen so we will try to stop there too.
rengetsu is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2015, 08:22 PM
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>>because of the travel time to/from there?

Yes, that. You don't have two days in Takayama. You really don't have one day for Takayama, just Takayama, unless you leave Kyoto on 8/3.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2015, 08:12 PM
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Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but this itinerary looks like something designed to be done on a chartered bus. You've got 8 different towns in 14 total days. Nearly every day involves a couple of hours or more on a bus or train. I'd cut out several of these day trips, especially as this time of year is going to be very hot, humid and possibly rainy.

I'd definitely pass on Hakone, unless you are spending the night there. Keep your eyes peeled from the train windows as you travel south of Tokyo. There's a good chance you'll see Fuij-sama from there. Nikko and Shirakawago would also be on my "to do next trip" list.

But that's just me. I enjoy wandering streets, popping into the numerous temples and shrines and shops you'll find in ordinary neighborhoods, stopping for long lunches, or hiking some of the wonderful paths and trains in all these areas.

Takayama should be cooler during this month as it is at a higher elevation. I'd give it at least 2 full days for your bicycling, the cultural park with the traditional houses, visiting the old market homes, and with its AC, the float museum would be a nice cool stop. If you are staying at a Ryokan, you check in at 3 pm, bathe, eat a long dinner, then maybe go walking or bathe again after dinner. Breakfast is also a leisurely affair, but it won't be if you are rushing off to Shirakawago.

If you love Japan, you will come back and can see more next time. If you don't love it, or if you get so tired of rushing around in the heat, you may not want to come back!
lcuy is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2015, 09:12 PM
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This itinerary makes me dizzy as well. If you don't mind me being blunt, I'd fire the travel agent and start over. First and foremost, why are you going to Tokyo twice? Not very efficient, and Tokyo does not deserve that much time. It's a very expensive city, and most of the history got destroyed in WW II. There is so much to see in other parts of Japan.

My younger son loved Takayama when I took him there, and I also found it charming (he claims he wants to retire there). I would not bike ride around that city, however. I remember the drivers were racing around there, and it scared me just to step off a curb. You can see the city easily in a day. To me, the wood carvers are the most interesting part. Also, we took a bus out to Shirakawago and we enjoyed climbing around the old houses that are there. It really only takes about two hours to see them. We had lunch in one of the overpriced tourist restaurants there, and headed back to Takayama. You take a bus both ways, and no guide is needed.

I'm not sure how to tell you how to re-formulate the itinerary. Is your husband insistent on all that stuff in Tokyo? What are YOUR interests?
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2015, 10:18 PM
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Thank you mrwunrfl, lcuy, and CaliforniaLady for your thoughts and suggestions! I do think our itinerary is quite busy, but I guess we want to do as much as possible since we won't be able to go again for at least a couple of years.

What we have changed is taking out the Yokohama day in Tokyo and instead going to Kanazawa for one day before going to Takayama. Not sure that that really helps.

lcuy, we did want to spend a night in a ryokan at Hakone but I guess there is volcanic activity going on there now. So our agent suggested against it. But we want to go there for the private rental rotenburo (i.e. Hakone Yuryo). But maybe Nikko will be a skip for us...

CaliforniaLady, the main reason why we're going to Tokyo twice is because of our flights (both inbound/outbound are at NRT). The other reason is I'm interested in Japanese fashion and want to see the different shopping districts. My husband really just wants to buy all the stuff at the Pokemon Center (and take a picture with Pikachu) haha. For me, I'm a photography hobbyist so my goal is to take pictures; so gardens, temples, mountains, scenic paths are what I want to see.

Even with a travel agent, this trip planning is so hard...I'm impressed at all of you who did it on your own!
rengetsu is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2015, 11:44 PM
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It's your trip and your preferences.

But I agree with the others, for me it's far too rushed -- you spend more time travelling than you do in some of the key destinations!

Looking at Kyoto for example, assuming that you need to carve out some of the time you've listed to actually get there and to head on to the next destination, that leaves you maybe as much as a day and a half, if that, to explore Kyoto. There is so much to see there, not to mention the joy of wondering around the historic districts in particular, just stumbling across small temples and shrines, popping in to interesting shops and so on.

Given your particular interests, I don't think it's a mistake to give Tokyo plenty of time, but personally, if I were helping a friend plan a trip, I'd strongly encourage them to pare down the number of places on the itinerary and give more time to the ones that remain.
Kavey is offline  
Jun 4th, 2015, 12:18 PM
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I agree with Icuy, this itinerary looks like it is a tour bus itinerary morphed into a private tour. Why else would you be in Tokyo twice?

If you want to visit Tokyo, Takayama, and then Kyoto, I would leave directly from Kansai airport. If you already purchased your tickets leaving from Narita, then I would take the cheap Jetstar flight from Kansai to Narita in the early morning, or I would take a train, but I would do it very early in the morning. There is no reason to go back into Tokyo--you are wasting a day.

I would allow consider substituting Matsue for Takayama. If you are a photographer, then it is a beautiful city, and there are lots of interesting shops, since you said you are a shopper. BTW, don't expect too much in fashion in the Tokyo stores--all I saw there was Burberry.

Travel agents are a dime a dozen. Maybe you can find one based in Tokyo. Why not ask your hotel for a recommendation?
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Jun 4th, 2015, 02:32 PM
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Warm Friday morning greetings from Singapore to you, rengetsu, and warm welcome to Fodor's; glad you will be travelling to one of my favourite business and holiday destinations, Japan.

You have already received good suggestions. Concerning Tokyo, a few thoughts for you, as my most recent business trip to that great city was this past late-March through early-April; fine as ever. The initial weekend was spent with the loved one and some dear Kyoto-dwelling friends at a rather unique property, the Hotel Okura. My all-too-brief review of the property on my profile page just touches on her special qualities. If nothing else, take in her public venues and perhaps a libation. More Okura info via: savetheokura dot com/ Quite the landmark.

[And for a *slight* contrast, consider checking out the public venues of the Aman, Tokyo, a serene place where we spent the Easter weekend holiday before flying back home to Singapore. Almost all of my Tokyo trips are business related, but every now and then, make time for some leisure weekends. Great properties in Tokyo; best of lodging fortune to you.]

Concerning Kyoto, have always stayed with the aforementioned Kyoto friends. Kyoto dining, Kikunoi is very special. Love Kyoto.

Should you spend time in Takayama, will give a bit of a promotion to the delightfully named, 'The Mackintosh Tearoom', at the Hida Takayama Museum of Art; a fine retreat named in honour of one of our esteemed ancestors, Mr. Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It's been a few years since the last Takayama and Mackintosh visit with various family and Kyoto friends; good memories.

Savour your planing, rengetsu; happy for you. Should you ever desire lodging and aviation suggestions for our Singapore, happy to oblige. Early and warm Friday and weekend wishes to you and all,

macintosh (robert)

... Singapore Airlines, You're a Great Way to Fly ...
AskOksena is offline  
Jun 4th, 2015, 04:30 PM
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Thank you Kavey and CaliforniaLady for your honest input! Your comments are very valuable to me and I've thought a lot about how to prevent this trip from being a rush.

I'm working with the agent on adjusting the itinerary today. Will report back on the changes and hope you all can provide further insight.

CaliforniaLady, I actually shop much less than the average shopper. I was just going to try and look for OL outfits for work because I like the Japanese OL style haha, but to be honest have no idea where to look so I just included all the shopping districts as ideas. But probably don't want to roam around aimlessly where there is no nature to surround me. Your comment really made me think about why I named those places in the first place so thank you.

If we take an early train back to Tokyo on the day of our flight, what would you suggest doing with luggages? I've read so much about it being difficult or annoying to others if we have luggages on the train...
rengetsu is offline  
Jun 4th, 2015, 08:20 PM
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Hi rengetsu, Great that you are spending your last night in Kyoto. This itinerary is starting to look plausible now.

Regarding your luggage, there are three nice options: 1. If you purchase most of your goodies in Tokyo, then take with you a couple of canvas duffle bags (sold at Sport Chalet, for example), and have your hotel send them ahead to Narita. The cost is about $15 per piece, and it is 100% reliable. You pick it up the day of your flight. or 2. You can have your Kyoto hotel send the same duffle bags ahead to Narita, with the caveat being that two days, I think, are needed to ensure that they get there before you do. or 3. You can send your goodies home, or put them in your suitcase.

I typically travel with a 25" rolling suitcase (Delsey), a cute fashion backpack for my ipad, hoodie, and umbrella, and I bring a small purse. There is no problem bringing all that on the train. The aisles are very wide, and no Japanese person would fume at you and kick your suitcase. In fact, they would apologize to you that they are in the way of your suitcase. However, you will have to go up and down escalators (elevators are hard to find), and lift them up slightly into the train. Overall, it will be a fun experience. Just make sure that you have long connections--I recently did a six minute connection across a train station, and it was a bit much.

So can you now put a third night in Takayama? That's what we did. We arrived late in the afternoon, walked around a bit, spent the next day going to Shirakawago, and the next day seeing the city. There are nice shops there.

And one some last thoughts on Tokyo. We enjoyed our day trips to Mt. Fujii (Hakone), and Nikko, and they will be worthwhile for you. Maybe you can go to the Ginza area right after you arrive. We arrived at 4 PM as well--we tossed our suitcase in our rooms, and headed to Ginza. There are two fun department stores there that stay open until 8 PM, and we had some sushi in the basement of one of them. I noticed that you didn't include the Asakusa area. You should go there on the morning that you go to Odaiba, and from there you can get on the ferry to Odaiba. There is a big shopping mall there, a Toyota museum, a Panasonic museum, and the Fuji tower.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Jun 8th, 2015, 06:50 PM
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Thank you everyone again for sharing your suggestions and tips from your travel experiences. My husband and I had long and thorough discussions with our travel agent and this is the new itinerary that we came up with:

Kyoto - 5 nights including day trip to Nara
Takayama - 2 nights
Kanazawa - 2 nights
Tokyo - 5 nights including day trip to Nikko

I think our itinerary has been "relaxed" a lot and should be leisurely fun while allowing us to see everything we want to see in the amount of time we have.

I'll report back on how it turns out! ^_^
rengetsu is offline  
Jun 8th, 2015, 07:21 PM
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I like this later plan MUCH better than your original proposal!

I'm not sure exactly where the transit time fits into these options, or where (if anywhere) you will deal with jet lag, but if you need to shift times among places a bit for those needs, then I personally would shift time toward Kyoto and away from Tokyo. Just my interests.

BTW, Fushimi Inari is open 24/7, while many things in Kyoto and Nara are not, so you might see if visiting it works at a time when you don't have to give anything else up. I thought it particularly evocative at sunset, and I'm sure it would be so at sunrise, too.

kja is offline  
Jun 8th, 2015, 07:54 PM
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Much better, rengtsu! Personally, I would have spent three nights in Takayama, and four in Tokyo, but it's a personal decision. Can you at least take the 6:48 AM train from Kyoto to Takayama--that would put you in Takayama at 10 AM. On that first day, you could see most of the city, and then you could go to Shirakawago the second day.

I am curious as to why you decided to go to Kyoto first. Aren't you flying into Narita at 4 PM. How do you plan on getting to Kyoto? I would have reversed the order of the whole trip, but you must have a reason for doing it this way.

Lastly, keep a day trip to Mt. Fuji (from Tokyo) on the back burner. You may decide to go for it the last day, and you can join a group tour, as long as you have the concierge call it in the day before. We found ourselves done with Tokyo after a couple of days, and so we added the fun and interesting day trip to Mt. Fuji.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Jun 8th, 2015, 09:37 PM
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It does look much better!

As the others have said, would have a think on what is optimum order for the itinerary, taking into account jetlag, transport options, getting back for your flight and so on.
Kavey is offline  
Jun 8th, 2015, 10:39 PM
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This is a great itinerary and amount of time in each place! We were able to see everything we wanted to see in one LONG day in Takayama when we spent two nights. Kanazawa warranted two full days when we spent 3 nights, but if you leave Takayama early you will have one and a half days in Kanazawa, and you could always spend most of your day of departure there as well, if there are still things left that you want to do. We had 4 full days Tokyo (including Nikko) and 3 in Kyoto, although we did Nara overnight, so your plan is perfect, in my opinion. I don't think you will regret streamlining a bit. Have a great trip!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Jun 9th, 2015, 12:05 PM
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HunyBadger is offline  
Jun 9th, 2015, 04:05 PM
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kja, the travel agent will work out all the transit times but if we want more time in certain places, they will make adjustments for us. Based on brief research, I do think we will enjoy Kyoto and the remote areas more too but who knows until we get there. Thanks for the FYI on Fushimi Inari! I will keep that in mind!
rengetsu is offline  
Jun 9th, 2015, 04:05 PM
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CaliforniaLady, we're actually planning to go to Shirakawago before heading to Kanazawa so in a way, we'll have 2 full days in Takayama. I'll definitely keep Hakone in mind if Tokyo bores us!

You're right, we are flying into NRT. Our agent is arranging transportation for us to Kyoto. Our thought process was to get the long traveling part out of the way on the first day since it would be similar if we had booked a flight in to KIX/ITM. And perhaps we'd be so tired, we'll just go to sleep to get over the jet lag. My husband is also a scaredy cat when it comes to traveling so he didn't want to risk long distance traveling to get to the airport on our last day. ^_^

Thank you so, so much for thinking about our itinerary and potential issues in such detail!
rengetsu is offline  

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