Skip Toyko?

Sep 6th, 2004, 08:19 PM
  #1  
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Skip Toyko?

My girlfriend and I are planning a 2 week trip to Japan. She's been there once before (Tokyo & Kyoto) and I've never been. We're both seasoned European travelers but this will be my first trip to Asia.

We both love history, small towns, religious buildings (churches, temples & shrines), and experiencing other cultures. With so many exciting places to see in Japan, I'm not very excited about Tokyo. We could fly into Narita and stay in Tokyo for a couple days, or fly in & out of Osaka.

Is it a mistake to bypass Tokyo completely? A friend said it would be like visting Italy and skipping Rome. Truth be told, I loved all the smaller towns in Italy and Rome was one of my less favorite places there, so...

Opinions would be welcome on if we should or shouldn't spend a couple days in Tokyo. Shopping & nightlife aren't exciting for us, but I do understand that there are some very good museums & shrines there. Is Tokyo some place you MUST see?
alan64 is offline  
Sep 6th, 2004, 10:52 PM
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I would say yes, definitely, but it seems clear to me that Kyoto is your holy grail-Kyoto is one of the most fascinating cities on earth, and you can spend weeks here and not discover all of the unique temples and other cultural offerings of this former ancient capital, which was left virtually untouched (unlike Tokyo) from WWII bombing by the Allied forces due to the urgent requests of historians not to destroy its temples and other ancient cultural treasures.

But as far as Tokyo, you would be well advised to visit for a couple of days and stay in Asakusa, to see Sensoji- Tokyo's largest and oldest Buddhist temple (rebuilt after 1945) and experience the unique flavor of old Edo in this area, partic. in and around the Nakamise-dori, the avenue leading up to Sensoji-where little shops selling Japanese foodstuffs and other unique, hand-made items have been in the family for generations. The Meiji Jingu (Shinto Shrine) with its giant wood Torii gate and the park in which it is located is also a beautiful oasis of serenity that should be experienced, along with a walk-through of the Imperial Palace grounds, to get a sense of the country and its history. Also, it is really only in Tokyo where you can experience Kabuki theatre at its best-the Kabuki-za in the Ginza area of Tokyo is a cultural experience like no other-it's almost as interesting to watch how the audience reacts to the actors than it is to watch the play itself-and Kabuki, I should warn you, can absolutely draw you in-I once spent all day in the theatre watching a particular play to its end -the entire spectacle of Kabuki was totally engrossing-and a great introduction to one of Japan's unique cultural traditions. Tokyo is also a good place to take day trips to Kamakura, to see the Great Buddha (Kamakura also has several ancient temples to visit as well) and to go to Nikko, which is a lovely town surrounded by a National Park, and where one of Japan's most revered National Treasures-the Tokugawa Shrine complex is located.

In sum, despite Tokyo's glitzy, materialistic orientation, the essence of what is Japanese can be found here, in its temples, shrines, and Zen gardens, and in the neighborhoods and alleyways that one can discover by using a good guidebook and doing walking tours-of Asakusa in particular.
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Sep 6th, 2004, 11:25 PM
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Bonjour Alan,

"Is it a mistake to bypass Tokyo completely? A friend said it would be like visting Italy and skipping Rome. "

And is there a religious commandment that makes visiting Rome mandatory ? Don't force yourself to visit a place you have no taste for, those who love Tokyo (like me) will have to live with the idea that some others might not ;-)

Flying in and out of Osaka would allow you to experience less well known areas like Shikoku and the inland sea, the Western provinces (Fukui, Yamanashi, Ishikawa), Chubu (the Japan Alps provinces), etc.

Should you fly into Narita, you have the option to go directly North by train, towards Tohoku or the Japan Alps.
Florence is offline  
Sep 7th, 2004, 06:28 AM
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I agree with Spygirl. I spent 2 weeks in Kyoto last October and feel I must go back to see alsl that I missed. However, I was also surprised at how much I liked Tokyo and how "asian" and non-western I found it. We were there three days and I'd suggest the same. We think of Ginza as Tokyo but it isn't. You can still find a lot of what you are looking for there -- you can even find areas that feel like a small town. I expected to think Tokyo was a waste of town but got talked into going. Now I want to go back.
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Sep 7th, 2004, 06:29 AM
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Oh-- forgot to mention. Rome is one of my least favorite cities in the world and I also loved the smaller towns and cities in Italy. Tokyo is a whole other thing.
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Sep 7th, 2004, 06:30 AM
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We're very interested in theatre and seeing Kabuki is high on my must-do list. The other sites that Spygirl mention sound excellent too. Perhaps we CAN find a couple days for Tokyo!

Besides Kyoto (planning for 4 nights), we're hoping to stay at Mt Koya, Kumamoto, Takayama, and possibly Kamakura and Nara. I'll also read up on some of the places that Florence mentioned.

We've still got to figure out the order we visit places, as well as the total number of days in different spots. We're also now considering tacking on a couple more days if our budget can handle it. Thanks for your feedback!
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Sep 7th, 2004, 06:36 AM
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Alan,

There is also great Kabuki in Kyoto, and you might consider seeing Bunraku (many kabuki plays were first written for bunraku puppets) in Osaka.
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Sep 7th, 2004, 09:26 AM
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Hi Alan,

My husband and I visited Japan in May. While we enjoyed the major cities, the highlight of the trip was our stay in Takayama, with a daytrip to Shirakawago.
In Takayama we stayed in a traditional Inn. We enjoyed the small town atmosphere and traditional culture. We also spent a few days in Nara (a city, but much smaller then Kyoto).
My advise to you would be to definately experience Tokyo and Kyoto, but to also get off the beaten path a bit and see the quieter side of Japan.
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Sep 7th, 2004, 10:06 AM
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I was in Takayama in October and also stayed in a lovely ryokan. However, I actually found it much more touristy than Kyoto and thus was disappointed. I saw very few locals -- just hundreds of Japanese, chinese (and some western) tourists. In fact I saw more Americans in my two days in Takayama than I did the other 2 weeks in Kyoto. There are many places in Kyoto and just outside where you can get a real sense of "old" Japan an can even experience a small town feeling. Go to Ohara which is a section in Kyoto and you will feel more a sense of the peace and quiet you are looking for than in Takayama -- at least that was my experience. Even the wonderful old craft stores in Takayama were ruined for me because all they were selling was souvenir. Not the quality stuff I expected. Now the foliage was lovely when I went so it may have been more touristy than at other times of the year. I just know it was the only place in Japan where I was disappointed.

I did, however, enjoy Kanazawa a lot but it is more of a city.

One place not to miss is the Miho Museum which is about an hour and a half outside of Kyoto. Its setting and architecture is one of the most beautiful and sprititual places I have ever seen.
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Sep 7th, 2004, 10:25 AM
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Thanks for the feedback on Takayama. I may have to replace it as a destination. Is Nikko worth staying in, or is it better as a day trip from Tokyo? Regarding Tokyo itself, I'm leaning towards spending a couple days there and staying at the Ryokan Shigetsu in Asakusa.
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Sep 7th, 2004, 10:50 AM
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Nikko is definitely a day trip. Everyone has a different "take" on it. I'm one of those who found it completely unappealing -- too "glitzy" in a funny way. But for others it is ae high point.

You also don't need to stay in Kamakura or Nara -- very easy to do as a day trip. I guess I'm concerned because I think you should spend as much time in Kyoto as possible -- get to the temples and gardens that are not in the top 5 for all tourists. They will will give you the history, culture and peaceful atmosphere you say you are looking for. And in many ways they are even more beautiful than the "top 5".
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Sep 7th, 2004, 05:48 PM
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Hi Alan!

Just returned from 2.5 weeks in Japan with my boyfriend. We LOVED Tokyo. Like you, we are not very interested in nightlife. However, we just found the city fascinating. We saw the sites suggested to you above, but really enjoyed just being in the city. We explored different neighborhoods, window shopped, sat at cafes and people watched, and wandered everywhere soaking in the culture. Kyoto was actually the low point of our Japan trip- despite the fact that it is lovely and historical, we found ourselves wishing we had spent two less days there and more time in Hakone or Tokyo.

While I can't advise on Nikko because we ended up skipping (we were planning on a day trip from Tokyo but we ran out of time in time in Tokyo), we spent a night in Hakone and it was the high point of our entire 5 week vacation. Our guide book did not devote many pages to it- just the "circle tour." However, it is a lovely little resort town that was very Japanese- not many Western tourist. We stayed at a traditional inn which was beautiful. The lake and mountains has gorgeous scenery and there was a lot to see in the town itself which we didn't have time for. Also, we detoured when it started to rain to Yunnesson, a hot spring resort, which was great! We were the only westerners there, but it was amazing. Think waterpark and spa rolled into one. A fun detour from a hectic vacation schedule.

OK hope that helps a little! You will love Japan! We can't wait to start planning our trip back again!
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Sep 7th, 2004, 08:13 PM
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Punky, do you know the name of the inn you stayed at in Hakone?
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Sep 8th, 2004, 05:03 AM
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Alan64, when will you be in Japan? Why Kumamoto?
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Sep 8th, 2004, 05:44 AM
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We'll be in Japan the first half of April. I thought of staying in Kumamoto because there's a castle there (with nice gardens, I hear). Riding a traditional boat through the Kumagawa river rapids (day trip from Kumamoto) also sounded interesting. If there's a better castle town to stay in, I welcome your suggestions.
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Sep 8th, 2004, 06:17 AM
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If it was November then I would recommend visiting Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. I still recommend it, considering your stated interests (shrines). Sounds like Tokyo should be on your itinerary (for the kabuki) though I am one who would consider Tokyo to be optional.

I think that you will be a little late for cherry blossom festivals down south, but maybe you can catch some blossoms in Takayama. I suppose that if there is rafting available in Chubu that the water would be plenty cold at that time of year (snow melt from the mountaings).

Kumamoto-jo is a nice castle and I do seem to remember that there was a large garden adjacent to the castle. It is not worth going to Kumamoto just to see the castle, but given your other interests in the area it is definitely worth a visit. It will be baseball season in Japan and I can recommend seeing a game at the Hawks Dome in Fukuoka.

You probably want to put Himeji castle on your itinerary. There is a nice castle in Matsuyama on Shikoku island.
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Sep 8th, 2004, 07:33 AM
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We thought April would have more chance of blossoms, but could easily switch to March 25-April 10 or even 1 week earlier. However, would the blossoms bring out tons of other tourists too?

Himeji castle is a must-do on our list, although we haven't decided if it will be a day stop or a place to stay in for a night or two.

Is Matsuyama easy to get to (we'll have a rail pass)? I had heard about that castle but haven't had time to learn about the area.

I'd love to see a ballgame, but my GF is a Brit and thinks baseball is boring ("worse than girls playing Rounders!").

I really appreciate all the information and advice here. I've been active on the Europe Fodors board for years but knew nothing about Japan. Thanks!
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Sep 8th, 2004, 08:31 AM
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From everything I've hear cherry blossom time is a zoo. Tourists all over.
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Sep 8th, 2004, 09:30 AM
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I don't think it is a zoo at all. Just more fun activities to experience.
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Sep 8th, 2004, 05:39 PM
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At the link below there is a map showing average cherry blossom flowering time. March 25-31 in Kyushu and Shikoku. One article at gojapan.about.com said that there are 600 cherry trees at Kumamoto-jo.
http://gojapan.about.com/cs/cherrybl...kurazensen.htm

I don't know what it is like watching Brit girls playing rounders, but I am sure that it is nothing like watching a j-ball game. Maybe you can convince her that it is an authentic Japanese cultural experience. Or, on a carefully chosen late afternoon in Hiroshima, you could head north from the Peace Park and see the stadium just across the street. "Look honey, all those people are going to a baseball game at that stadium right there, right now". Sit in the right field bleachers.

Himeji would be a stop on the way. Maybe an overnight stay, but no more.

To get to Matsuyama, you could take the train from Okayama to Takamatsu on Shikoku Island and then (south)west across the island. Crossing the Inland Sea there is quite scenic. Matsuyama is a manageable city, i.e. not a small city like Takayama but not a huge one like Tokyo. Probably about the same size as Kumamoto. Matsuyama is also the home to the very famous Dogo Onsen. The other way to get to/from Matsuyama is by hydrofoil (non-JR) to Hiroshima thru the Inland Sea National Park. A visit to Hiroshima is worthwhile as is Miyajima.

If you are a tourist, esp. first time tourist, then why would you NOT want to go where the tourists go? Look, it is obvious to me that the Japanese do four things often and well:
1) work
2) eat fish
3) make more Japanese
4) go touring.
(not necessarily in order of importance)

If you don't want to run into Japanese tourists then don't go to Japan. If you don't want to run into gaijin tourists, then you should probably not visit Tokyo or Kyoto.
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