Seeking Help with First Trip to Japan

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Nov 27th, 2015, 12:22 PM
  #1
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Seeking Help with First Trip to Japan

My husband and I are finally going to Japan next September. Just nabbed 2 BC FF seats on ANA. First full day in Tokyo Sept 3. Depart Tokyo Sept 20.

Background/interests: We will be 78 (husband) and 71 (me) when we go. We have average energy but do not wish to rush from shrine to shrine. We like a leisurely pace. My husband likes cities, I like country. We both are very interested in all things cultural: kabuki, tea ceremony, architecture, calligraphy, textile making, sumo, meditation and much more. We would rather enjoy one or two outstanding gardens, shrines, or temples in a city than see a lot of them. If its realistic we’d like to keep nightly lodging to an average of $250 per night with the exception of nights in a ryokan where we will pay whatever it costs for a special experience and a couple of nights in a splurge hotel/inn/lodging somewhere.

Here are the places that appeal to us after having done some reading and my reviews of some trip reports.
I’ve indicated number of day or nights. Please give feedback.
Tokyo 2 days at beginning of trip in one part of town - flying in to NRT
Kyoto -5 days/nts
Nara 2 days/1 nt
Kamazawa 2 days
Hiroshima 1nt Miyayima
Kamikawa 2 days
Takayama 3 days (because takes 1/2 day train each way)
Tokyo 2 days fly out of HND

We are concerned about finding our ways in train stations (Kathie’s experience in Tokyo was not inspiring) and spending hours getting lost in big cities.
Thanks Japan hands,
Robbie
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Nov 27th, 2015, 12:44 PM
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I'm thinking there are a couple of confusing typos in your itinerary....Kamazawa? Kanazawa, right? And Kamikawa - you don't mean the place in Hokkaido, do you..maybe Kamikochi in Nagano Pref?

Otherwise, your itinerary looks okay but you don't want to do Hiroshima in between Kanazawa and Takayama which are near to each other.....

Please clarify a bit....
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Nov 27th, 2015, 01:00 PM
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Hi Robbie, I've been thinking about you! We are just back from a Pandaw cruise in northern Burma - fabulous! This might be something you and Fred would enjoy. Sorry, no trip report yet, but it will get done soon.

Japan - we loved out time there. Other than Shinjuku station in Tokyo, we found the train system easy to use. So don't let my experience there discourage you.

Comments on your itinerary: I think you may be trying to do too much. In my experience, 1 night is never two days - it may be one night and two half days at beat. It takes three nights somewhere to get two full days. So it is clearer to me to count nights in a place to tell me how much useable time I have.

We used taxis in Kyoto to get around efficiently. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be a viable option for Tokyo.

I'll leave you in the hands of our many very able Japan experts, though I am glad to answer any questions that I can.
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Nov 27th, 2015, 03:03 PM
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Mara, Of course I'm confused. I meant Kanazawa. Let's forget the other place. And where should we put Hiroshima? So now I've recaptured two days which makes the itinerary more doable but perhaps it still needs trimming. Any suggestions on what to cut or where to reduce time?
Hi Kathie, we did a Pandaw cruise on one of our trips to Burma, too bad it rained most of the time. Glad you and Cheryl enjoyed it. I'll look forward to your TR.
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Nov 27th, 2015, 03:35 PM
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lol....I get confused a lot also....I am close to your age...

Here's an easy map, you'll see it when you scroll down the page and also it's a wonderful site to do your research:

http://www.japan-guide.com/

So you can see that Hiroshima is to the west of Kyoto - so I guess I would go to Hiroshima after Kyoto and before Kanazawa and Takayama....
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Nov 27th, 2015, 05:25 PM
  #6
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Given your interests, I would try to give yourselves at least 5 days for Kanazawa and Takayama (the two together, not 5 days each!, perhaps tilting toward Kanazawa), and as Mara has already pointed out, those two should be seen together.

Miyajima / Hiroshima would make most sense, as a rule, from Kyoto -- but you might want to play around with a few different routings to see what works best for your interests.

I'm still not sure I understand what you meant by your references to places with names that start with Ka... -- but if one of the places you meant is Kamakura, it is, IMO, best visited as a day trip from Tokyo.
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2166.html

If you have time, I strongly recommend a "splurge" night on Koyasan, perhaps at Shojoshin-in:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4900.html
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4900.html
Staying there was, for me, a highlight even in a trip notable for its MANY highlights.

"We would rather enjoy one or two outstanding gardens, shrines, or temples in a city than see a lot of them."

Even so, you will need to be very selective! There are SO many glorious gardens and shrines and temples, and they are quite different from one another. I found japan-guide the single most useful of the resources I used when planning my time in Japan, but thought it overly optimistic in estimates of how much can be visited in a day, especially in Kyoto -- and I travel HARD! The next most useful was the even-then outdated, extremely informative, and not (that I could see) any more helpful to solo travelers than others, "Japan Solo" -- you might want to see if you can find a copy.

Kabuki (and Noh) are fascinating, IMO, but are not performed year round. Here's some info:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2090.html

If you do go to Kanazawa, you can experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at Gyokusen-in, which also has a small, but extraordinary, garden:
http://www.kanazawa-tourism.com/eng/...de1_1.php?no=8

Also in Kanazawa, you can learn about yuzen silk at Kaga Yuzen
http://www.kanazawa-tourism.com/eng/info/info3_2.php

"We both are very interested in all things cultural"

It's touristy, but consider an evening at Gion Corner in Kyoto -- it offers a little taste of several traditional Japanese performing art forms:
http://www.kyoto-gioncorner.com/index.html

"We are concerned about finding our ways in train stations"

I think I would have experienced difficulties only in Tokyo -- but based on my advance research, I specifically avoided the largest subway stations. I found it much easier to walk a half mile or so from a less complicated station than deal with a massive underground complex. Once you decide where you are going, a little bit of research should give you a good idea of your options.

Should be a great trip - enjoy!
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Nov 28th, 2015, 06:33 AM
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Robbietravels,

Your itinerary sounds ok to me, though I would spend a few more days in Tokyo because there's so much to see and do, including many of the things you mentioned.

One of the things you mentioned was sumo, and it happens one of the major sumo tournaments will be in Tokyo during your stay -- the tournament runs from Sept 11-25. It is possible to get tickets in advance, the most reputable online site being https://buysumotickets.com/. They will probably begin accepting orders in early summer.

One other question/caution: if either of you is unable to sit on the floor comfortably, then you might want to re-think the idea of a traditional ryokan. At many/most of them, dinner and breakfast is served either in your room or a dining area where you sit or kneel on the floor. A chair seat with a back but no legs is provided. That said, there are several top-flight places that combine traditional Japanese ambiance with more Western comforts (for example, Hoshinoya in Kyoto and Karuizawa).
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Nov 29th, 2015, 05:16 AM
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Love seeing you back here.

We stayed right next to the train station in Hiroshima and it was perfect. The park and dome are the main things to see.

Bob
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Nov 29th, 2015, 08:32 AM
  #9
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I thought the Peace Museum in Hiroshima well worth seeing, not just the park and dome. And I was very glad that I chose to spend the night in Miyajima. To each his/her own!
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Nov 30th, 2015, 11:52 AM
  #10
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Good News! I just changed my return flight and added four days to our trip. So the tentative itinerary looks like this. I've spelled out the days so you can see how much time to allow for transportation
Sept 2 arrive NRT 4:30 PM
Sept 3 Tokyo
Sept 4 Tokyo
Sept 5 Tokyo
Sept 6 Kyoto
Sept 7 Kyoto
Sept 8 Kyoto
Sept 9 Kyoto
Sept 10 Kyoto
Sept 11 Nara
Sept 12 Nara
Sept 13 Nara to Koyasan
Sept 14 Hiroshima/Miyajima
Sept 15 Kanikawa
Sept 16 Kanikawa
Sept 17 Kanikawa
Sept 18 Kanikawa
Sept 19 Kanikawa to Takayama
Sept 20 Takayama
Sept 21 Takayama
Sept 22 Takayama
Sept 23 Takayama to Tokyo
Sept 24 Toyko depart at 5 PM

Comments Please
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Nov 30th, 2015, 11:59 AM
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Robbie, Is Kanikawa suppose to be Kanazawa?

I like this itinerary! Have a wonderful time in Japan.
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Nov 30th, 2015, 02:31 PM
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Yes Kanazawa. I'm still getting used to these unfamiliar names.
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Nov 30th, 2015, 02:48 PM
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Hi Robbie and Fred. I have lots of comments and suggestions but will do so when I get home from our current trip where I can type on a normal computer and not tap on my iPad lol. Two glaring things I see are too much time in Takayama and not enough in Hiroshima. Also you will be in Japan at the hottest/humid time of the year save August. Two nights in Hiroshima and one night on Miyajima would be my perfect stay in that area taking away one night each from Takayama/Kanazawa. Actually two nights in Takayama would be plenty enough for me buts that's just me. The Japan guide website that I introduced to this fodors site years ago has now become the Japan bible but please also check the jnto site for lots of great info. Will get back to you soon after we return home.

Aloha!
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Nov 30th, 2015, 04:22 PM
  #14
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I agree with hawaiiantraveler -- consider moving a night from Kanazawa or Takayama and add a night to Hiroshima / Miyajima. You might also consider moving a night from Kanazawa or Takayama to add it to Kyoto or Nara -- plenty to see there! Don't get me wrong -- I really enjoyed both Kanazawa and Takayama -- I just think your allotted time in these two cities may be a bit overly generous. That said, it really depends on what YOU want to see and experience.

If I understand correctly, you already have your flights? If so, you might consider putting all of your time in Tokyo at the END of your trip. You'll be tired upon arriving in Japan, but you'll be tired whether you push on to another destination or not. Just a thought so you could avoid two different hotels in Tokyo.

Too, you might consider putting your time in the hottest and most humid areas later in your trip than other destinations.

Enjoy!
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Nov 30th, 2015, 05:32 PM
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Robbie, good to see you back! Pleasantly surprised to see your name again!!

Everyone has covered a lot of the points I would've made, but I'll add my two cents on one additional thing.

We LOVED Miyajima. And we did it the same way you are (as a side trip from Hiroshima)...but I'm concerned you're not giving yourself a ton of time to do both Hiroshima and Miyajima. It looks like you have one full day to do both.

Hiroshima, in and of itself, will take you at least 3-5 hours to properly see and tour the Peace Park, including the museum and nearby sights. I agree that's all there is to do there: but absolutely worth doing nonetheless.

Getting to Miyajima from Hiroshima will take you a good 1-1.5 hours all in (with train stops and ferry, etc.) depending on the route you go. That's just crazy rushed to me to try and do all in one day. And, I worry you won't be able to enjoy the uniqueness of both places.

Miyajima itself warrants at least a half-day of exploring, walking around, taking the tram up Mt. Misen and seeing the monastery. Don't rush that experience--soak it in. Miyajima is amazingly beautiful. The best part is when all the day-trippers leave around sunset and you can basically have the whole island to yourself. Being there that night ranks amongst my best travel experiences.

I would suggest--if you can make it work--getting to Hiroshima in the early afternoon, staying next to the train station (I think we stayed at the same Sheraton as Bob) and touring Hiroshima that day...then head to Miyajima late morning the next day and truly enjoy the island on its own--without being rushed.

When you do start exploring hotels in Miyajima, consider Iwaso. We stayed there and really enjoyed it.

Good luck planning. We head back to Japan in 2 short weeks and cannot wait to get there!
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Dec 1st, 2015, 07:05 AM
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I'm glad I'm back too Bob, filmwill and and hawaiinatraveller. Your thoughts are interesting. The only reason I was considering 4 days for Takayama is that it takes a half day (well 4 hours, since we don' want a 8 am train) getting there and getting back, leaving 3 days to visit. Maybe that's still too much. Or maybe its just too much travel for a two day stay??? But yes we can eliminate one night from Kanizawa and Takayama and assign one night each to Hiroshima and Kyoto.

We arrive at NRT at 4:25 on Thursday pm. Kja where would you suggest we travel on to that late afternoon instead of staying in Tokyo?

Don Topaz, we are fit enough to stay in a ryokan for a night. I take it that most folks just do an overnight rather than a three or four night stay.

About the weather. Which places will be the most humid. What clothing is best?
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Dec 1st, 2015, 08:56 AM
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Please leave yourself extra time because of the humidity, which exists all over at that time of year. From experience, you will need time to sit and relax/rest with a cold drink in an air-conditioned café frequently (even perhaps if younger).

Have someone write down in Japanese characters how to ask "Which platform does the train leave from?" and how to say "Write it down". I found that quite handy before my Japanese got more fluent and not common phrasebook material.
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Dec 1st, 2015, 04:20 PM
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"We arrive at NRT at 4:25 on Thursday pm. Kja where would you suggest we travel on to that late afternoon instead of staying in Tokyo?"

Your first destination other than Tokyo! What that is will depend on how you decide to navigate the heat and humidity, whether you are "night" or "morning" people, how your travel options fit with your interests in seeing specific sites and/or any cultural events you hope to include in your journey, etc. As I said, its just something you might consider to avoid two different stays in Tokyo.

"I take it that most folks just do an overnight [at a ryokan] rather than a three or four night stay."

My understanding is that not everyone wants to plan on being at a ryokan in time for dinner each night (which can mean reaching the ryokan as early as 4 or 5 p.m.), or pay the price of a ryokan stay if they aren't including the evening meal as part of the experience. But ryokan come in a variety of "sizes and shapes" and offer various options to their guests.

SambaChula wrote: "Have someone write down in Japanese characters how to ask "Which platform does the train leave from?"

Interesting! I learned only the most basic of Japanese pleasantries, and had no trouble finding the right platforms for my many train rides. I got most of the platform information I needed in advance from hyperdia (maybe it no longer provides that information?) and when I didn't have it, I found it easy to identify the correct platforms. Maybe things have changed....
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Dec 1st, 2015, 04:37 PM
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You've already been given plenty of advice to add a day to Hiroshima/Miyajima, which is the one glaring opportunity I noted on your new itinerary. Let me second the recommendation of staying at Iwaso ryokan on Miyajima. I loved my night there. It is right next to Red Maple Valley park, which, although you will be too early for fall colors, will still provide you with beautiful nature walks. The onsen facilities at Iwaso were wonderful and the kaiseki dinner in my room that night was spectacular. I can still taste the grilled oyster! Yes, it is exepensive but considering where you are, the setting and the quality of the facilities, it's well worth it for that one night.
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Dec 1st, 2015, 05:30 PM
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Hi Robbie - I agree with kja that you will not have to ask anyone about how to find your train's platform.

I recommend using a translator app rather than writing things down, although the last time we were in Japan we encountered way more English than previously. Can't help with the itinerary because it's been years since I've been outside Tokyo or Hakone, but I did visit the places on your list and have fond memories. Look on Time Out and Afar to edit the list of shrines and gardens you visit.
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