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

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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!

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