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SOS! 21 nights, Nov '15, First-timers to Japan

SOS! 21 nights, Nov '15, First-timers to Japan

Jul 9th, 2015, 02:25 PM
  #1  
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SOS! 21 nights, Nov '15, First-timers to Japan

Hello,

My husband and I are traveling to Japan for the first time in November ‘15 to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We have flights via Frankfurt to Haneda and 21 nights. I’d like to finalize the itinerary asap so I can reserve hotels.

We’re arriving Saturday midday the first weekend of November during the 3-day Meiji Shrine Festival. I can’t find a schedule for 2015 but I found last year’s schedule. Many of the demonstrations look interesting and it’s tempting to set aside the three days just for the matsuri. Definitely we want to see the martial arts performances which were on the 3rd day last year. Also, there’s a special Ramen fair across town during this time as well. Lucky us!

Japan-guide advises that koyo ends around mid-November in Nikko so I would like to head there asap. Not sure if we should purchase the 2-day Nikko pass and stay 1 night. We’d like to do the full Nikko. If in the end we require the 21-day JR pass then perhaps we should made it two nights?

I’m totally confused about how much time to devote to Tokyo given that the first few days will be a mix of regular sightseeing and taking time for the matsuri. Should we stay a few nights in Tokyo on return from Nikko or should we return to Tokyo for a few nights at the end of the trip? The number of nights we can devote to Tokyo depends on how much we add elsewhere to the base itinerary.

This is the base itinerary:

Tokyo (tbd)
Nikko (1 night) 2-day Nikko Pass OR (2 nights) 21-day JR pass…is that right?
Kyoto (5 nights)
Fushimi Inari (full day)
Arashiyama (full day)
Nara (1 night)
Hiroshima (1 night)
Miyajima (1 night)
Himeji (half day)

We could add an evening and overnight in Osaka above if it makes sense. But only if.

I’m considering 1 night at Koya-san but am really put off by the additional travel expense and transit time. It seems to be a favorite experience here and there and Michelin Guide gives it 3 stars. But to be honest I’m only really truly excited about Okunoin based on what I’ve read. I know it depends on where you choose to stay. Having a hard time saying yes or giving it up.

I’ve looked at Ise but again how would it fit? Would it work to do Koyasan and Ise? I like the remote vibe of Ise but is November a bad time?

What about arriving from the west to Lake Kawaguchiko (1 night) then next day to Hakone (1 night) and then onto Kamakura and from there back to Tokyo or direct to Haneda? Is that overkill with the Toyko sidetrips? If we can only pick one, should it be Lake Kawaguchiko or Kamakura? Hakone is the lowest priority.

Reading your trip reports makes me want to: visit Matsumoto, enjoy the scenic train ride from Nagoya to Takayama (hida beef!), Shirakawa-go and Kanazawa. But I don’t see it working with my base itinerary and 21 nights. I think I’d leave them as a group to be visited on a future trip. Sound ok?

I've been using hyperdia and jorudan but my head is about to explode. I'm getting overwhelmed by the number of possible routes just on the base itinerary alone. Then add in any additional locations and it becomes very frustrating. My brain hurts. Is it more clear to you what my route should be?

Can this trip be arranged with a 14-day pass or do we need the 21-day pass?

Like, if we kept our base trip as-is and used the remaining nights in Tokyo and Kyoto could we get away with the 14 day pass? If it must be the 21-day pass then should we be more inclined to travel?

I hope this is all much clearer to you. My mind is so full of abstractions and what-ifs right now. Please help me decide what doesn’t make sense and even better what does! THANK YOU!
Lagom is offline  
Jul 9th, 2015, 03:00 PM
  #2  
 
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It isn't clear to me that you want/need a rail pass. You can figure it out with hyperdia but I'm guessing just from eyeballing it that individual tickets will be less expensive. And as you noted, if a person has a pass, they may be more inclined to travel more - not necessarily a good thing.

I assume you are staying in Kyoto while visiting Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari, but plan to overnight at Nara. You might even want two nights at Nara.

We were in Japan in November a few years ago and saw the height of koyo in the Kyoto area - stunning!

There are lots of Japan experts here so I expect you'll get lots of good info for your decision-making.

I'd suggest you start laying this out on a calendar with notations on where you will sleep each night and delineating travel days. This will make it more apparent how much time you have in each place for sight-seeing, etc.

Happy planning!
Kathie is offline  
Jul 9th, 2015, 05:37 PM
  #3  
kja
 
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Happy anniversary! I'm sure you'll have a great trip.

"I’d like to finalize the itinerary asap so I can reserve hotels."

You can start booking if you select options that allow you to cancel in advance. Check booking.com . Just pay attention to the cancellation policies!

Re: Nikko. I was very glad to spend a night there -- it allowed me to see the stunning Kegon-no-Taki and a bit of Lake Chuzenji.
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3812.html

"should we return to Tokyo for a few nights at the end of the trip?"

You already booked your flights, right? So open-jaw is not an option? If so, then I think it depends on your comfort with flying out of a city on a day when you are elsewhere in the morning.

"The number of nights we can devote to Tokyo depends on how much we add elsewhere to the base itinerary"

If it helps, keep in mind that Tokyo is relatively easy to reach, since it has a major international airport. That means that it would be an easier place to which to return than some of your other possible destinations.

Re: Kyoto and Nara: Ditto what Kathie said. Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari are in outskirts of Kyoto (different directions from the city center). I found MORE than enough to keep me happily busy in Nara for 2 nights.

Re: HIroshima and Miyajima. Depending on your interests, you may be able to stay in just one of these places. If you do that, I'd go for Miyajima.

Himeji -- you can visit Himeji from Kyoto, or en route from Kyoto / Nara to Hiroshima.

I'm one of those who truly treasured my night in Koya-san. Yes, it takes a LONG complicated journey to get there, but the scenery was absolutely gorgeous, IME -- I might even have wanted to take that journey without the option of a temple stay! Okunoin was, for me, part of what made Koya-san so special, but not the only thing -- the meals I had a Shojoshin-in were awesome, the opportunity to sit in on a Buddhist service was something I greatly valued, Kongobuji has some exquisitely painted sliding screens, etc.

Enjoy!
kja is offline  
Jul 11th, 2015, 08:35 AM
  #4  
 
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Ditto Kja on Koya-san, we did an overnight, also in Shojoshin-in which a Japanese friend of mine here had stayed in a year or so before us, and we really appreciated the experience not to mention it's location right next to Okunoin.

For both our trips (17 nights 2012 and 19 nights 2013), we've split our Tokyo time between some nights at the start and some at the end, which feels more comfortable to us, and I think it would work for you too, rather than worrying about train schedules and a long journey directly to the airport on your departure date.

On our first trip, we arrived in Tokyo on October 7th, and this is the itinerary we followed:

Day1 Arrive Tokyo early evening (2 nts)
Day2 Tokyo
Day3 -> Takayama
Day4 Takayama (2 nights)
Day5 Takayama -> Nara (1 night)
Day6 -> Kyoto (5 nights)
Day7 Kyoto
Day8 Kyoto
Day9 Kyoto
Day10 Kyoto
Day11 Kyoto -> Mount Koya (1 night)
Day12 Mount Koya -> Osaka (1 night)
Day13 Osaka -> Hiroshima -> Miyajima (1 night)
Day14 Miyajima -> Tokyo (4 nighs)
Day15 Tokyo
Day16 Tokyo
Day17 Tokyo
Day18 LEAVE

On our second trip we landed on Friday 18th November.

We made a minor itinerary change on the ground, we originally had 5 nights in Kyoto, 1 in Osaka and 2 in Kobe but we extended Kyoto, dropped Kobe and extended Osaka.

Day 1 Arrive Tokyo early morning
Day 2 -> Kyoto (6 nights)
Day 3 Kyoto
Day 4 Kyoto
Day 5 Kyoto
Day 6 Kyoto
Day 7 Kyoto
Day 8 -> Osaka (2 nights)
Day 9 Osaka
Day 10 -> Kumamoto (2 nights)
Day 11 Kumamoto
Day 12 -> (car) Kurokawa Onsen (2 nights)
Day 13 Kurokawa Onsen
Day 14 -> (car) Yufuin Onsen (2 nights)
Day 15 Yufuin
Day 16 -> (car) Hakata/ Fukuoka (2 nights)
Day 17 Hakata/ Fukuoka
Day 18 -> (fly) Tokyo (2 nights)
Day 19 Tokyo
Day 20 Depart to London

If I can answer any questions on any of our choices / stays, do let me know.
Kavey is offline  
Jul 11th, 2015, 01:53 PM
  #5  
 
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>>Like, if we kept our base trip as-is and used the remaining nights in Tokyo and Kyoto could we get away with the 14 day pass?

Yes. But you really need to plan out the rest of your itinerary. Plan out where you want to go and how long you want to stay. Then we can discuss rail passes.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Jul 11th, 2015, 02:05 PM
  #6  
 
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It is a bit unclear from your itinerary--but are you planning on sleeping in eight, maybe nine cities? It would be better if you cut it down to seven at the most, and used those as a base for day trips, rather than running hither and wither. The trains are great in Japan, but you need to slow down a bit.

What are your interests? Then we can help you better with an itinerary.

Mrwunrfl is correct, the trains come last, although it doesn't hurt to peek at Hyperdia to see the times and distances between cities. Rail passes are rarely worth it.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Jul 12th, 2015, 10:56 AM
  #7  
 
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Lagom, please answer a few questions:
You are arriving on Oct 31, is that correct?
Would you be interested in attending a sumo tournament?
What time is your departure from Haneda?

A JR Pass can be a terrific bargain and is often worth it.

The OP's "base itinerary is 7 stops: Tokyo, Nikko, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and 1 more place the night after visiting Himeji. I'm assuming Tokyo or Yokohama for one night, at least, before the flight home.

>> If in the end we require the 21-day JR pass then perhaps we should made it two nights?

No. You should make it two nights if you want to stay two nights. Or 3 or 1 or whatever.

>>Is that overkill with the Toyko sidetrips?
Not in my opinion.

>>Should we stay a few nights in Tokyo on return from Nikko

You could, but not necessary. You can travel from Nikko to Kyoto or to Kawaguchiko or to Kamakura.

>>or should we return to Tokyo for a few nights at the end of the trip?

One night at least. Am thinking after your Himeji visit you can spend the night in Yokohama. Then Kawaguchiko next night and back to Yokohama for two nights. Day trip to Kamakura after the first of the two nights and then go to Haneda the next day.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Jul 12th, 2015, 12:33 PM
  #8  
 
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Rail passes can definitely be worth it. There are many types of passes:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2357.html

I have done best with regional passes such as the Shikoku 5 Day Pass and the JR East 5 Day Pass - with both of those I had terrific bargains compared to the prices of individual trips. It entirely depends on your exact itinerary and time frame...
Mara is online now  
Jul 14th, 2015, 11:36 AM
  #9  
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Thank you everyone! I can’t tell you how happy I am to return to a lively thread. Thanks for your thoughtful responses and questions.

"Gateway to Japan" arrived and my better half and I have been reading through the most relevant parts and discussing options. This trip has taken over our life. Anyway we would like to propose a new itinerary for your review.

Also, I was lucky to be in Paris briefly and made time to visit the JNTO office because there isn’t one in my country. I picked up The Tokyo City Guide and official map which are great. They had the same for Osaka but not Kyoto. Tbh I was a little disappointed because they mostly had printed pages of their website pdfs and tour advertisements. The young lady working there couldn’t answer my questions because she didn’t have first hand experience and she didn’t know the answers. But if I hadn’t gone there then I’d be worrying now that I was missing out.

Before I post our updated itinerary let me respond to your questions.

Yes, we agree there are too many nights in different cities. It’s too hard not to over plan!

Airplane tickets have been purchased. Still need to buy trip insurance.
Arrival: Sat. Oct 31st 13:05 Haneda
Departure: Sat. Nov. 21st 15:20 Haneda

Sumo: Do tell me about the tournament but we plan to attend the Sumo ceremony at the Meiji Shrine Festival if we can get in. “The performers at the festival are often at the top of their art. For example, the Sumo ring entering ceremony is often performed by a Yokozuna grand champion. Less than 100 sumo wrestlers have gained Yokozuna status since the 17th century.” http://bit.ly/1I06Y0M

Currently:

31 Oct – 6 Nov: Tokyo (Hilton Shinjuku & Courtyard Tokyo Station) (both points)
6 Nov: Nikko (daytrip only)
6 – 9 Nov: Kanazawa (hotel tbd)
9 Nov: Shirakawago (daytrip only)
9-11 Nov: Takayama (hotel tbd)
11 Nov: Himeji (daytrip only)
11-13 Nov: Miyajima (reserved Miyajima Guest House Mikuniya)
13 Nov: Hiroshima (daytrip only)
13-19 Nov: Kyoto (tbd but considering Ibis Styles at Kyoto station)
19-21 Nov: Tokyo (Hilton Shinjuku) (points)

14-day Japan Rail Pass (active from November 6-19)
Haneda monorail to/from Tokyo
Nohi buses between Kanazawa and Takayama

Next I will post the day by day breakdown. Ofc I’m still working on it.
Lagom is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 12:57 PM
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Much better, but please consider a day trip to Mt. Fuji from Tokyo, as you certainly have the time. You can take an organized trip, if you like.

Do you have Marriott points? We stayed at the Marriott Ginza, which is now a Courtyard Marriott--it's in a nice location.

Lastly, regarding this debate about rail passes, please add up the segments yourself and see if it's worth it.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 01:34 PM
  #11  
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Courtyard Ginza, you're right! That's the one I meant. The idea is to move there the last night because our morning train to Nikko leaves from Tokyo Station. Normally we wouldn't change hotels but we'll be traveling without luggage so it should be painless. I think we'll use online check-in to the Courtyard during breakfast from the Hilton when we have wifi.

My husband calculated the individual segments and found that the total price is comparable to the 14-day JR pass. So we figure the pass gives us more flexibility if we want that for whatever reason. Say, if we decide to take a day trip to Nara from Kyoto after all. We almost made it work with the 7-day pass but that was forcing us to add more time in Tokyo or Kyoto where we're already spending considerable time.
Lagom is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 01:37 PM
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I'm a little confused about your day trips. You say Nov 6 Nikko (daytrip only), but you also say you are going to Kanazawa on Nov 6. Are you taking a day trip to Nikko then taking the train from there to Kanazawa? There are too many places where you say you are in three different places: Nov 6 Tokyo, Nikko and Kanazawa; Nov 9 you say you will be in Kanazawa, Shirakawago and Takayama, likewise, Himeji. Lay out a calendar with where you will be sleeping each night, put in the train journeys, and add in the day trips. Then you will be able to see how many days you actually have in each place.
Kathie is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 01:56 PM
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Lagom, I also remembered that you can use your JR pass on the Miyajima ferry, but your husband probably figured that into his calculation.

I am glad that you are going to Takayama. It's such a cool city, and Shirakawago is interesting. One of my sons still says, years after visiting Takayama, that he wants to retire there. We ate all three nights (my son insisted) at a beef restaurant where they cook the meat at your table in Magnolia leaves (local specialty).

In Takayama, we stayed at the Best Western Takayama. The breakfast buffet was gigantic, and the service was pretty good, although not fancy. It's very close to the train station. I would stay there again, I think.

There a nice baseball stadium in Hiroshima (also one in Tokyo), so maybe you can catch a game. Even if you don't like baseball, it is fun to people watch at the stadium.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 02:08 PM
  #14  
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Here is our tentative day to day outline.

I have marked my questions with **

Tokyo

Random shortlist:
Quick browse through the flagship stores of Muji (Yurakucho) and Uniqlo (Ginza), run through Tokyu Hands, Shinanoya whisky store (Shinjuku underground mall) or similar for Yamazaki 12 yo or similar
To buy: tenugiu, food from a depachika, vending machine and 7-11/Lawsons/etc, and an engraved kitchen knife at the end of the trip

We’d like to try sushi near Tsujiki but don’t care to watch the auction. Would like to visit an Izakaya but have heard it’s difficult without a local companion.

No to: karaoke, baseball game, Odaiba, Disneyland, Studio Ghibli

Saturday 31 Oct
Upon arrival exchange JR passes at Haneda, find the ATM, ride the Monorail (built for the ’64 Olympics which was five years after the Disneyland monorail opened. Might sound silly but I’m looking forward to riding it), check-in and shower, walk to Shinjuku station to buy Suica or Pasmo card and then head to the Ramen fair at the Komazawa Olympic Park Plaza http://bit.ly/1I0S4pc Afterwards depending on our energy level we will return to the hotel via the nearby Metropolitan Plaza 45th floor viewing deck or continue exploring tbd.

Sunday 1 Nov – Tuesday 3 Nov
Meiji Shrine Festival. When we get antsy we’ll move to Yūshūkan, Senso-ji Temple, Asakusa Shrine and also visit the Tokyo Sky Tree (to the open viewing deck on the second level) and Edo-Tokyo Museum especially if it rains. I read about the free Panda buses along this path. Have you taken one?

Wednesday 4 Nov
Whatever we missed above or tbd
Arrange with Hilton to forward our luggage to Kyoto. We want to travel through Chubu with daypacks (we have smartwool socks, underwear and Cocoon travel sheets that add warmth).

Thursday 5 Nov
Check-out of the Hilton and go exploring probably around Tokyo station area because that night we’ll be staying at the Courtyard Ginza for tomorrow morning departure from Tokyo Station to Nikko.

Friday 6 Nov
Activate 21-day JR pass
7:12 Tokyo Station to Utsunomiya to Nikko
9:11 Arrive Nikko
17:07 Depart Nikko
20:54 Arrive Kanazawa

Nikko sites: Rinno-ji, Nikko Tosho-gu, Futara-san Jinja, Taiyun-byo
Sadly, Oku-Nikko will have to wait for the next time.

**Can we buy bento at the train station or on the train for dinner?

17:07 Depart Nikko
20:54 Arrive Kanazawa

Hotel in Kanazawa: tbd

Saturday 7 Nov
Sunday 8 Nov

Can we see the following with two full days?

Kenroku-en and Seisonkaku, see exterior of the 21st century Museum of Contemporary Art
Ishikawa Prefectural Museum (Samurai armour)
Nomura House and Nagamachi neighborhood
Ninja-dera tour (45 mins) and Teramachi neighborhood
Daijo-ji Temple
Omicho Market

**If we rent bikes can we see both Teramachi and Higashiyama districts?

To be continued...
Lagom is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 02:43 PM
  #15  
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CaliforniaLady: Personally, I wanted to spend our time in Kanazawa and skip Takayama but my husband insists we do both partially because he is so excited about Hida beef. We lived in Argentina for a year and he really misses the lomo. I'm happy to hear your son is so fond of Takayama. I will look into the Best Western. We considered a baseball game but we decided not to fill up our nights so we can go to bed early and rise early to make the most of the shorter Autumn days. On the other hand, I haven't been to a baseball game in over ten years. We'll see. We need to lengthen the days!

Kathie: it's too rushed, I know, but we'll spend part of the day in Nikko, a few hours in Shirakawa-go on the way to Takayama from Kanazawa, 3-4 hours at Himeji, and the better part of a day in Hiroshima. We're feeling the most regret about our lack of time in Nikko and would prefer 2-3 nights there but we're still holding on to see the shrines and temples near the station. Ofc next time I want to spend a night at Yusuke in Ainokura. And a night in Matsumoto.

Oops, it's half past midnight so I will continue tomorrow. Thanks for reading and chiming in!
Lagom is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 02:51 PM
  #16  
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Whoops! Just caught that I wrote 21-day pass above but I mean 14-day pass. I need to do a better job of proof-reading.

And by smartwool underwear I mean long underwear. Basically, we have technical clothes so we can travel lightly to a colder climate.
Lagom is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 03:02 PM
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Thanks for clarifying your day trip logistics. This is a really crammed itinerary, so be flexible!
Kathie is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 03:58 PM
  #18  
kja
 
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Re: Kanazawa: "Can we see the following with two full days?"

IME, yes.
kja is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 05:14 PM
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I looked at your itinerary again, and yes, Kathie is right, the middle part is very crammed. I know you already made some of your hotel reservations, but you might want to omit the Miyajima/Hiroshima module. The Miyajima temple is unique in that it is on the water, but the whole island is tourist infested and not particularly appealing, at least to me. If you do decide to stay there, I would think twice about a day trip from there to Hiroshima, it's quite a schlep both ways, and the museum is fascinating, but it's just too much. You could, instead, just take walks around the island.

On my last three week trip to Japan, I cancelled two of my day trips just so I could walk around and people watch. If you move too quickly, you will miss all the fun interactions you will have with the Japanese people, which is more important than trying to see everything.
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 05:46 PM
  #20  
kja
 
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"The Miyajima temple is unique in that it is on the water, but the whole island is tourist infested and not particularly appealing, at least to me."

I haven't been there since 2006, so things could easily have changed, but I found Miyajima absolutely delightful -- particularly before or after the onslaught of day-trippers.


And if I understand correctly, the plan is to visit Hiroshima on the way from Miyajima to Kyoto? That would work for me!

When I visited Japan, I kept a fairly rapid pace. Doing so did NOT prevent me from some amazing interactions with Japanese people. And yes, those were wonderful experiences and they are treasured memories. I strongly believe that each of us should travel at the pace that works for us. Just think through what you will drop if necessary -- and what you will add if you can.

I admit that I wouldn't plan the trip you are planning -- but only because I would shift time from Tokyo to Kyoto. But it isn't my trip, so if that's your preference, I think your plan could work quite well.
kja is offline  

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