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Seeking Advice on Tokyo/Hiroshima/Miyajima, Japan in June with kids

Seeking Advice on Tokyo/Hiroshima/Miyajima, Japan in June with kids

Jan 1st, 2005, 01:01 PM
  #1  
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Seeking Advice on Tokyo/Hiroshima/Miyajima, Japan in June with kids

I will be traveling with my two children (ages 8 and 10) to China (Beijing & Xian) and would like advice, input, suggestions on our tentative plans for Japan portion of the trip. My kids have traveled to Europe, Central America, South American, etc. but not yet to Asia. They are reading and making timelines now about Japan and China, so we will be emphasizing history and culture, along with contemporary daily life. I have also done some research and have read many of these forums, so hopefully I'm close to being on the right track and am not wasting anyone's time with vague, overbroad questions. Anyway, here's our tentative plans and some of my specific questions:

June 6-14 (China -- I'll do a separate email on this part)

June 14 -- Arrive Narita Airport

June 14 & 15 -- Staying at Ryokan Shigetsu (they've agreed to let us store bags there while we go to Hiroshima)

June 16 -- Take bullet train to Hiroshima, spend day doing Peace Museum, etc. (this is top of my son's list -- my father was there shortly after A-Bomb and we've heard many stories, etc.) -- Evening: ferry to Miyajima and stay at Momiji-so

June 17 -- Spend morning at Miyajima, then return to Tokyo -- hope to stop at Himeji castle?

June 18-20 -- Ryokan Shigetsu again. Tokyo sightseeing.

Here are some of my questions:

1. Transportation: What would be the best way to schedule the Hiroshima/Miyajima trip in order to be fairly efficient with train schedules and still get a stop in at the Himeji castle? It looks like it is on the way, but I can't figure out which trains stop where, etc. Is it a mistake to only stay one night in that area?

2. Japan Rail Pass -- It looks to me like we should get 7-day passes and use them for the airport transfers and the trip to Hiroshima area. From what I've read, the Nozumi is the fastest bullet train but the others are only marginally slower. I would appreciate advice on this and how much I should specifically plan out an itinerary (right down to picking and reserving train seats) and when I should do it.

3. Accommodations: My kids are very, very good travelers, but will it get tedious staying at ryokan for all 6 nights? We are not opting for the dinners at Ryokan Shigetsu, but we are taking dinner and breakfast at Momiji-so in Miyajima. I don't know that they'd have the patience to sit through 2 hour dinner every night after full days of sightseeing. Also, are these solid choices in both locations?

4. Any suggestions on things we might want to do in Tokyo beyond the obvious? I am wondering about an amusement park. After nearly 2 weeks in Asia, it might be a real treat to just have mindless fun, but I absolutely refuse to go to the Disney parks. I know that in Paris last year we went to Parc Asterix and found it to be very French and just as much fun as a Disney park would have been. Anything comparable in Tokyo area? Anything that they can't do elsewhere that we shouldn't miss?

5. I am struggling with skipping Kyoto. I know it seems ridiculous, but I've been there and loved it but don't know that it would be essential for the kids this time. Is there a way to work it in for a day only or would that be silly? I just don't know how many shrines and gardens I can reasonably expect them to enjoy.

6. Mt. Fuji -- Everything I've read about climbing Mt. Fuji still leaves me ambivalent. On the one hand, it seems like a neat thing to do, would be an active endeavor after much sightseeing, etc. On the other hand, it looks like in mid-June it could really be miserable, cold, and maybe eventually disappointing. I also hesitate to haul cold-weather clothes through China and Japan for one day. Any thoughts?

I apologize for this extraordinarily long email, but I find the insights on this website to be extremely valuable and would truly appreciate comments and suggestions.
TravelTrio is offline  
Jan 1st, 2005, 02:09 PM
  #2  
mjs
 
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I just have a few wandering thoughts for you. First it strikes me that you are trying to do too much in the 6 days you have in Japan. Going down south with a rail pass will also set you back about $250/ person and about a half day of travel each way. (trainpass might be less expensive for children) Still if you wish to see Hiroshima etc you could do it but you will be pushing yourself and your children, especially if your China tour is as ambitious as your Japan plans. The Nozumi train is alittle faster than the other bullet trains as it makes less stops but the difference is not an issue in my opinion. Plenty of other bullet trains including the Hikari that run about once an hour or so from Tokyo down south.
Stopping at Himeji is simple on your way to/from Hiroshima. Take a taxi to/from the castle and you could do it in a few hours. I also struggle with your skipping Kyoto as it really is "old " Japan but there is only so much you can do in the time you have and you will have to pick and choose what is most interesting to you. I do think your children would like Nara. I do not recommend climbing Mt. Fuji as you really do not have the time, it might be raining in mid June, and I think it would be too strenuous for your children. I climbed this mountain when I was 16 and in cross country shape and I remember it as being tough. I know there are Japanese amusement parks around Tokyo that would be fun for your family but I am not up to date on them.
Lastly I am not sure you only need to stay at Ryokans to get the Japanese experience. The better Ryokans tend to be rather expensive in my experience as they tend to charge per head. We really liked the Westin Ebisu when we were last in Tokyo earlier this year. Good luck!
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Jan 1st, 2005, 04:20 PM
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Thank you so much for responding. Your comments on Mt. Fuji confirm my own reservations and I appreciate your thoughts on that.

We are using United frequent flier award tickets to get us from Chicago to Beijing to Tokyo then home, so we are already going to be in Tokyo and I couldn't see how to work in Kyoto also. I approach every trip with the assumption that we'll return -- certainly my kids should be able to -- and I just think that they'd appreciate Kyoto more when they're a little older.

Hiroshima is pretty non-negotiable. My son has read every book there is, written about it, etc. and it is his #1 goal in Japan (Great Wall is top of his list for China). My daughter has started studying about it as well and I've always been intrigued after hearing my father's (WWII vet) observations of the city after the bomb.

Fortunately, the kids get a very nice discount on the Japan Rail 7-day Pass, so that helps and my kids have also asked to ride the bullet trains at some point anyway. My daughter's second grade class studied Japan all fall and she seems fixated on this one a bit. I hope she's not disappointed. I am also wondering, cost-wise, if another rail pass limited to a region might serve our purposes and am hoping to hear from some of the folks who've helped others on evaluating their rail options.

As for cost, the Ryokan Shigetsu is offering us a Japanese style room for three people for 22050 yen (about $214) a night, and I can handle that. In the past, we've pretty much immersed ourselves in the local way of doing things and it seems like with only 6 nights, we should do the Japanese thing. But I'll think about your comments further and will check out the Westin Ebisu. My husband has Starwood points that might work there. As you can see, he earns the miles and points and the kids and I spend them!

Thanks again for your advice.
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Jan 1st, 2005, 04:29 PM
  #4  
emd
 
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I haven't been, but in doing research for my trip I did see Fuji Highlands amusement park around the base of Fuji (w/the world's fastest roller coaster or some such claim to fame). They open in April. Also, there is some amusement park in Nikko, north of Tokyo. Alot of people do day trips to Nikko from Tokyo. But it sounds like you are already so booked for time. What about the Odaiba area of Tokyo? There is some amusement area there. I am taking my son to Megaweb there. And you can take the boat ride in Asakusa at the Hinode pier across the Sumida river to get there, and come back on the automatic train (no driver), or vice versa. Do a web search on Odaiba. It is left out of alot of the guide books. I learned about it from Leslie C. on here who took her young teen sons there for a fun day. There is also a high tech science museum there w/a full sized robot that is supposed to be very cool.
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Jan 1st, 2005, 04:49 PM
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emd
 
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mjs, if you return here, would you comment further on the Westin please? I am doing our trip w/Starpoints. Currently have reservations for Yokohama Sheraton (and plan to rail 1/2 into Tokyo for 3-4 days) and then westin Miyako in Kyoto. Am considering changing from Yokohama Sheraton to the Westin in Tokyo and would appreciate info. How was location?
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Jan 1st, 2005, 08:19 PM
  #6  
mjs
 
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We really liked the Westin in Ebisu. The location is quite good for exploring Tokyo as the hotel is a 10 minute walk to the Circle train line and the Hibiya subway line. It is therefore easy to get to most of the major tourist spots in Tokyo either directly or with one change. Tsukiji, Harajuku, Shinjiku, Shibuya, Ginza, and Ahkihabara (my favorite) for example require no changes and the rides are fairly short.
The location of Ebisu is a fairly new area and is somewhat upscale and relatively uncrowded. Joel Robuchon has a restaurant there if you are so inclined. Personally I like the Mitsukoshi department store food section for inexpensive to go meals. Go right before closing and the fresh prepared food is heavily discounted. There is also a Mcdonalds and a pretty good Italian restaurant in the Ebisu center and a French pastry/coffee shop for a quick breakfast nearby.
The hotel itself is a 5 star to me and in the same class as many Ritz, 4S hotels. The rooms are large by Japanese standards with >450 sq feet of room and two double beds. It is about the same size as the Shangi-la hotel rooms in Hong Kong. We managed to fit two adults and two teenagers. Nice bathroom with separate bath tub and shower. Lots of marble ala the Ritz and a high tech toilet that I never really deciphered. Incredibly quick and efficient service. Would stay there again. Have to look at using my Starwoods Amx points next time.
Also stayed at the Westin Miyako hotel in one of their ryokan style rooms last year. Nice hotel but not to the standards of the Ebisu. Did not see their western style rooms. Tight fit for four.
Location ok in the eastern part of Kyoto. Convenient office downstairs in the Kyoto train station so you can drop your luggage there upon arrival. Hourly shuttles during the day between the hotel and train station.
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Jan 1st, 2005, 10:51 PM
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I will comment on item #2 regarding Tokyo Hiroshima segment. We used JR pass to Hiroshima.

What you will find out that only Nozomi trains travels from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Hikari users must change train somewhere, Shin-Osaka, Okayama, etc.

The practical connection using Hikari really is not that good.

To see it your self, go to http://www.hyperdia.com/. Now the English version has schedule up to March 2005 only. You can get some idea of the trains, they do tweak trains for summer travels, that they are not that different. If you can read and enter Japanese characters (you need Japanese IME installed in IExplorer if you are using windows), you can see the 6/16/2005 schedule already.

According to the schedule, there are 6 Nozomi trains leaving Tokyo before 8am, arriving Hiroshima before noon, all but one requires a train change.

But if you have to use Hikari,there is only one train combination that gets you to Hiroshima before noon.
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Jan 1st, 2005, 11:03 PM
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oops, I wanted to add that what I did was to study the JR schedule very carefully and verify that Hikari can be used for our trip before comitting to the JR pass. It is West of Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima that you will see decreased Hikari services.
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Jan 2nd, 2005, 04:40 AM
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I suggest using our excellent guide,Jun, during one or more days in Tokyo. She is intelligent, perfect English, has a teen-ager herself, and really knows the city. She will take you where you want to go or use her knowledge to find special places your children will like. Well worth the money. Seach this board under my name or "guide in Tokyo" for her email.
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Jan 2nd, 2005, 04:45 AM
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Here is an alternate plan:

June 16 - take shinkansen to Himeji. Walk to/from Himeji-jo. Catch shinkansen to Hiroshima and change to JR local line to Miyajimaguchi. JR ferry to Miyajima to arrive about 4PM. Tourist aide will call Momiji-so and the van will come down to pick you up. You'll have a couple of hours to explore the island.

June 17 - visit Itsukushima shrine in the morning on the way to the ferry. If you get to Miyajimaguchi by 10AM then you can take the train to Hiroshima station, drop your bags at the lockers below the shinkansen tracks and be at the Peace Park by 11AM. Head back to Tokyo at 6.

Would be better to spend two nights. Arrive Hiroshima at 6PM, see a baseball game, take in the Peace Park at night after the game. Back to the PP in the morning, take your time in the museum (if you do this on a weekday then you would be guaranteed to see a few dozen school groups doing the same thing). Then head to Miyajima around 4PM.
Stop at Himeji on the way.
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Jan 2nd, 2005, 04:48 AM
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A few dozen uniformed school-children on class trips, that is.
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Jan 2nd, 2005, 06:09 AM
  #12  
emd
 
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I forgot to add that Sega Joyopolis is also located at Odaiba.
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Jan 2nd, 2005, 06:22 AM
  #13  
emd
 
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Are you aware that Shigetsu has a "lock out" period from 10 am til 3 pm every day (per the email they sent me at least)? I really like the location close to Senjosi, but it is not real close to the trains/metro either. The lockout turned us away from staying there- we want option to drop off purchases in our room or possibly go back to rest in middle of the day.
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Jan 2nd, 2005, 06:34 PM
  #14  
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emd -- Thanks so much for the suggestions on the parks. I will check them out. You've made my kids very happy I'm sure. Also, thanks for the heads up about the lock-out period. I don't think that will work for us at all, for the reasons you've mentioned. I intend to check out the Westin Ebisu.

nickn -- I will study the train schedule more closely. After reading 's posting, I may take two days for the Hiroshima/Miyajima portion, so that takes the pressure off of me in terms of getting the fastest, most direct train. It was my understanding that the non-Nozumi trains only took slightly longer, but I guess this may not be the case with the change of trains. I've tried to read other postings on Fodor's forums about this, but none seem to apply directly to my situation.

mrwunrfl -- I was really hoping that you would weigh in on my plans. Your postings on others' queries have been the most helpful I've seen. I will, therefore, take very seriously your suggestion that we allow two days for that portion of the trip, especially in light of the train issues raised by nickn. We had been talking of going to a baseball game in Tokyo anyway (I saw Yakult Swallows years ago and think the kids would get a kick out of the whole experience) so maybe we'd just do that in Hiroshima. I guess the reasons we were trying to fit Hiroshima and Miyajima into one night were (a) the fairly high cost of the ryokan Momiji-so (about $300 w/ dinner and breakfast for 3); (b) desire to avoid another hotel move; and (c) trying to keep luggage to backpacks only. Your suggestion about storing bags, therefore, is much appreciated and may take care of that concern at least. I may have to reevaluate our accommodations here too. Also, I really don't want the kids to be rushed at the museum, as it is an important objective for my son. I am wondering, mrwunrfl, if you can evaluate for us whether a Japan Rail Pass of some sort (7-day? Western?) would be economical and comment on the issues raised by nickn about the changing of trains, limited trains to Hiroshima, etc. Thanks to all of you.
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Jan 3rd, 2005, 03:46 AM
  #15  
emd
 
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Westin is pretty expensive but you get space and service, and you can use the space w/those kids. Shigetsu also has 11 pm curfew, BTW. I am also looking into Mansions at Roppongi- see Lucy's trip report that she just posted this morning. Lots of space there, but I don't know the cost. (www2.tocoo.jp/english), one is next to the subway line.
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Jan 3rd, 2005, 03:51 AM
  #16  
emd
 
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Oops, last part of the message was cut off- I meant to write I am also checking out some city hotels in Ginza on Club Tocoo's discount site (www2.tocoo.jp/english), and one of them in across st. from subway entrance.
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Jan 3rd, 2005, 06:04 AM
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The JR West passes wouldn't do you much good. The 7-day JR pass is what you need. It is possible to get your shinkansen seat reservations online before you arrive in Japan (see the world eki-net page linked to japanrail.com) but you can get your June 16 seat reservations at Narita when you do the exchange for the pass and get your Narita Express seats. Yes, nickn is correct about the frequency of the trains, but there is really no better economic alternative to the JR Pass.

You can ride the Kodama trains between Shin Osaka and Hiroshima and it would add only 18 minutes more than a Hikari. But, you won't really have to worry about the time as much if you don't try to cram the travelling from Tokyo, the sightseeing in Hiroshima, and going over to Miyajima in the same day. But if you wanted to do it, you could, taking the early train that nickn mentioned to get you to Hiroshima before noon.

The Hiroshima Carp baseball stadium is across the street from the Peace Park. I recommend that you sit in the right field bleachers if you go to a game.
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Jan 3rd, 2005, 08:35 AM
  #18  
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Thanks mrwunrfl. We'll get the 7-day passes. I am reevaluating time allocation for Hiroshima/Miyajima and the baseball game suggestion is a good way to move a Tokyo activity to that part of the trip to make things work. Any idea how to get tickets ahead of time or can we just purchase (scalp?) them at the stadium, if you know?
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Jan 3rd, 2005, 06:42 PM
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You can get tickets at the stadium ticket windows, no problem. The food at the stadium is not very good.

Another plan, travelling lightly. Train from Tokyo to Himeji to arrive by 1PM. Stash bags at the station. There are also small lockers just inside the ticket gate at Himeji-jo. The lockers are on a wall facing the castle, so not easy to spot. Spend 3 hours or so in Himeji. I recommend walking to the castle. It is not far and the taxi drivers at the station don't really want to take you that short of a distance. Take a taxi on return if you see one at the entrance.

Take a shinkansen (Kodama or Hikari, won't matter) to Hiroshima and check in to your hotel (get your seat res for this when you arrive Himeji eki). You should then have an hour or two to go to the stadium, get tickets, then maybe take a stroll over to see Genbaku Dome.

Next morning, visit the Peace Park and the museum. You then have (at least) three options for getting to Miyajima. First, you can go back to Hiroshima and take JR to Miyajimaguchi and the JR ferry. Second, take a street car to Miyajimaguchi from near the PP (inexpensive) then take JR ferry. Third, take street car to the port (Ajina-mae?) and take a non-JR boat over to Miyajima.
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Jan 3rd, 2005, 09:09 PM
  #20  
 
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hi there,
Just some extras which I think the others missed. The JP pass CAN'T catch the Nozomi, you can only catch the Hikari and Kodama and local JR trains. Go to Hyperdia. It is an online, real time database linked to JR's timetable and you can look up the actual cost, time and train number to get you from A-B, assuming you know the train station names, so maybe a map from the JNTO web site will come in handy.

That Ryokan of yours in Tokyo sound expensive. I got a japanese style room at the Toyoko Inn at Ikebukuro for 13,000yen per night per room and the room was for up to 4 people. And you can store luggage there if you leave tokyo for a few days. My mum did that.

Why don't you try and fly into Osaka if possible. I know there may be limits if you are using flyer points. Osaka-hiroshima/miyajima-tokyo, would give you more time.

June will be rainy and hot so try heading for nakashima spa land in Mie prefecture, its a water fun park, but may be a bit out of the way. At the top of the Odaikyu(?) building in Shinjuku there is a small fun park with rides etc and don't miss the sticker photos(purikura). The ones in Japan have much more variety, but you'll need some Japanese to work the buttons.
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