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Take a look at May Japan Itinerary and Q's

Take a look at May Japan Itinerary and Q's

Old Jan 18th, 2020, 02:38 PM
  #1  
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Take a look at May Japan Itinerary and Q's

Hi fellow Fodorites, planning our May 2020 trip to Japan. We are well-traveled fit seniors who have no mobility issues, but are now keeping number of hotel stays to a minimum. That's why this itinerary only scratches the surface - we realize we are only seeing highlights and that's ok! Also, we are NOT early risers and do not "get up and out." (I think it's helpful to know travel style when asking others for advice.)

We are flying open jaw - into HND and out of KIX. Therefore, the JR pass doesn't seem to make sense per Hyperdia. (But let me know if you disagree....also JR pass wouldn't allow us to take fastest train from Tokyo to Hiroshima.)

May 11 - Flying LAX to HND
5 or 6 nights in Tokyo in Ginza, probably at Hotel Muji or Mitsui Millenium Garden Hotel.
We wanted as nice hotel as possible in our mid-price range (for Tokyo!) that has large bed that both people could exit from the sides. No easy feat in Tokyo where the beds are often against the wall. We also wanted lively area convenient to train/subway stations. Ginza seemed less overwhelming than Shinjuku or Shubiya with easy access to other places.

QUESTIONS ABOUT TOKYO PORTION: Trying to figure out if we are better with 4 or 5 full days (realizing one could stay a month and not run out of things to see/do....) It probably depends if worth it to do a day trip to Hakone even though the railway isn't operational; the ropeway is supposed to reopen in spring. I think that decision may have to wait until updated info from people visiting Hakone after volcano/typhoon damage. If we allow a day for a Hakone day trip, I think we need the 5 full days.We LOVE big cities and don't want to short-change Tokyo as we realize there's a lot of moving around during the day. We will also be there for the Sanja festival in Asakusa so may visit Asakusa on one of the festival days. May also take Culinary Backstreets tour as we had great experience in Istanbul. And we are interested in other walking tours and the modern architecture. NO particular interested in amime or youth culture.
Picked Ginza for ease of transportation, walking distance to some of the sights we want to see and lively area -- NOT because we are shoppers.

May 17 or 18 - train to HIROSHIMA for either 2 or 3 nights. Staying at Mitsui Garden Hotel. Even though Sheraton at station was so well recommended, thought it would be more convenient to stay closer to Peace Park.
QUESTIONS ABOUT HIROSHIMA PORTION: At first thought we needed 3 nights so we could have one full day for Peace Park and Museum and one full day for Miyajima (yes, I'm aware of the scaffolding..) But now thinking if we add a day in Tokyo and have only 2 nights we could still see what we want in Hiroshima and not be too rushed. Thoughts on the following please:
Arrive Hiroshima 2:30 p.m., see peace park late afternoon/evening. Next day Miyajima day trip, presumably by 45-minute boat from Peace Park rather than going back to station for train and ferry. Then, next morning several hours for museum before departing on 2:17 p.m. train to Kyoto.
I realize that with 3 nights in Hiroshima we could devote one day to the city including the castle and one day to Miyajima in more relaxed fashion.

May 20: Train to Kyoto, 5 nights Kyoto. (Separate thread posted asking about the exceptional and raved-about Hotel Mume vs. newer alternatives like Cross Hotel, Celestine Gion and Ethnography Gion Furumonzen.)
QUESTIONS ABOUT KYOTO PORTION:
We will see the typical sites in Kyoto without getting "temple'd out" and will consider day trip to Nara, based on time. Others seem to feel a day trip to Arashiyama, not just to bamboo grove, is worth it. Thoughts?
May 25: Flight is out of KIX at 6 p.m. Should we consider leaving our bags at Osaka station and trying to see a bit of Osaka on way to airport? Or we'd have another half-day in Kyoto.

Hope to hear input from those who've visited Japan. Thanks so much - couldn't travel without you.
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Old Jan 18th, 2020, 06:58 PM
  #2  
kja
 
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From your description of your priorities, it sounds like 2 nights in Hiroshima should work for you.

Arashiyama is really just a part of Kyoto. There's plenty to see/do there, just as there's plenty in other parts of the city and no special planning is necessary IME. I wasn't enamored for the bamboo grove; I was very glad to visit the Okochi Sanso Villa.

For that last day, I'd want the time for Kyoto, but you should be able to make a decision on that last day, right? If you're ready to move on, you can.

I trust you're already aware of japan-guide.com.
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Old Jan 19th, 2020, 09:28 AM
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Your Hiroshima hotel is in a good location for the PP&M and that ferry to Miyajima. Their website has good access info. I didn't know about the loop bus. Maybe it is newish service.

When you go to Genbaku Dome and the PP I recommend taking the streetcar just for fun.

You could use a 7-day JR Pass. It would be :₯18,910 from Tokyo to Hiroshima with change of trains. For example, the 10:03 Hikari departure with a transfer at Shin-Kobe would get you to Hiroshima (at 14:34) 2 minutes before the 10:30 Nozomi you are are looking at.

The non-Nozomi fare from Hiroshima to Kyoto would be :₯11,300.

Those two trips would cost more than the pass price of ₯29,650. You could get more value from it by using it to get to Odawara, if you choose to go to Hakone. You could use it for Arashiyama. If you went to Miyajima after your second night in Hiroshima then you take JR to Kyoto that evening (JR ferry, local from Miyajimaguchi, shinkansen from Hiroshima). You would not be able to use it to get to KIX because that would be Day 8 (after 2+5 nights).

I am not necessarily recommending the pass. Taking the Nozomi does have advantages that make it worth more. There would not be any change of trains which makes your trip faster. They operate more frequently than the shinkansen you can take with the pass.

I would not buy the Green seat pass, if I wanted to ride in the Green Car (which I probably would not), but an ordinary JR Pass is worth considering. It is just a matter of convenience over cost.

There is a JR Pass eligible Hikari train that goes from Hiroshima to Kyoto with no change of trains. Departure time is 6:13 PM

If I did get a JR Pass then I would consider stopping at Shin-Kobe station (on the way to Hiroshima) to take the ropeway that is next to the station: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3563.html

You planned well, so far. The only thing I don't like so much is leaving Hiroshima so early in the afternoon. Sunset in Hiroshima will be after 7PM when you are there. You could have pretty much two full days on the day after arrival in Hiroshima and the day you head to Kyoto. You do want to arrive Hiroshima in the daytime (so that you can see the views on the train ride), but your trip to Kyoto could be in the evening/night.

Last edited by mrwunrfl; Jan 19th, 2020 at 09:33 AM.
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Old Jan 19th, 2020, 09:42 AM
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That 10:03 Hikari departure from Tokyo thaat I mentioned goes all the way to Okayama, so a stop at Himeji (or Okayama) on the way to Hiroshima would be possible but would take more time than the Shin-Kobe stop (the latter, tho, is not a World Heritage Site).
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Old Jan 19th, 2020, 09:46 AM
  #5  
kja
 
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BTW, you'll be in Kyoto during the Kamogawa Odori, which is IMO awesome!
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Old Jan 19th, 2020, 12:30 PM
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For Hakone, the train track repairs will be finished around autumn - you will need to take a bus for that portion. While it can be nice (especially in hydrangea season), unless you are there in late May you likely wouldn't see any. The ropeway is fully functional now. You can get off at Owakudani Stn in fact, but there is still no hiking allowed in the area. The problem you are likely referring to is the Hakone Cablecar between Gora and Sounzan. But since you are going in May, this will not be a problem for you either. It is still worth going there. But try to avoid weekends if possible. Some places can get crowded, but not all. Some of the best have very few people, like the Botanical Garden of Wetlands, which is wonderful, as well as the Choanji Temple. For most people, 3-4 days in Tokyo is enough, unless you have a long list of places you really want to see there. You could actually consider another day trip if you like, such as to Nikko, Kamakura, Karuizawa, etc.
For Hiroshima, one full day for the city and one for Miyajima is doing pretty good. But a whole day at the Peace Park & Museum, as sobering and worthwhile a place it is, would be killing a lot of good time there. The city has a lot more to offer, and Hiroshima is far more than just a city that got bombed. The Shukkeien Garden is wonderful, and May is a nice time to see it, plus the Mitakidera Temple is the secret jewel nobody discovers. You can also eat at Okonomi-Mura if you like, and try the okonomiyaki there. You can also try it in Osaka if you like, and see which you like better. Each has its fans. Or take the Mazda factory tour (advance reservations needed) and see some old Japanese cars you can't see anywhere else, and a modern factory cranking out new ones.

The Hiroshima loop bus (Meipuru-pu) is not new at all - it has been running for many years, and yes, you can use the JR Pass on it.

As for Miyajima, the giant torii gate is still under renovations, but if you look at the panic some people put out online recently, you'd think the whole island was shut down. It's a nice photo op, but there is a lot more there are well - the shrine is still open, plus the Daishoin Temple is magnificent, and you can also go up to the top Mt Misen for the famous view. You can take the ropeway up partway, and I've seen some Japanese seniors storming the summit, so if you're fit you can do it too. If the weather is not good or you are not interested, then of course you can skip it. Iwakuni would be a nice alternative, just south of Miyajima, with the country's loveliest old bridge, plus mountaintop castle. The bridge is also undergoing renovation works, but will be finished by the time you are in Japan.
If you want to save some a little money, what you could do is just buy the regular fare ticket from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka, then use a JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass for Hiroshima and some other places within Kansai. This way, you'd be able to ride the faster Nozomi bullet trains the whole way to Hiroshima and back. The only drawback is on your return you'd need to change trains at Shin-Osaka and take the limited express train (not bullet train) to Kyoto. The riding time difference is only about 15 minutes though. You also might consider getting an IC card to get around - they offer negligible savings but they are very convenient and you don't need to carry around a big bag of coins for fares. You could get a Suica or Pasmo card in Tokyo for example, and they'd be fully usable in Hiroshima and Kansai also. The one thing you need to know however is that the cards are only refundable in their area of origin, so if you are leaving from KIX, you wouldn't be able to refund any balance (it's good for 10 years though, so you could use it on a future trip). Another option with a discount on the Haruka ltd express train to KIX is the Icoca & Haruka discount ticket. The Icoca card is another IC card and like the ones I mentioned they are nearly totally interchangeable, and it does have a few small discounts at some tourists places. You'd be able to refund the balance on the Icoca card with a small refund fee.
I highly suggest you take some time and see Nara as well. It has some of Japan's very best. The Todaiji Temple will leave you awestruck, and feeding the deer can be quite an experience there. For Arashiyama, it is part of Kyoto, on the city's west side, as mentioned. I really would like to know the source of such misinformation treating the place like it's a separate city. The Sagano Bamboo Grove as well as the Togetsukyo Bridge though are a couple of the most overhyped places in Japan - the grove is swamped with people from morning til evening, and the bridge (while historical) is today just another ferroconcrete bridge with cars and trucks roaring through it all day. If you really want to see the grove, getting there before 7 AM is a lot more peaceful, or go in the evening. There are some other bamboo spot alternatives if you want someplace quieter. Going to Arashiyama just for the grove though would indeed be a waste.
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Old Jan 19th, 2020, 04:58 PM
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There is a sumo tournament in May in Tokyo. May is also during baseball season. You could see a game in Tokyo or maybe the Hiroshima Carp at their newish stadium near the station.
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Old Jan 20th, 2020, 01:39 PM
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tt7
 
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Originally Posted by Adastra2200 View Post
You also might consider getting an IC card to get around - they offer negligible savings but they are very convenient and you don't need to carry around a big bag of coins for fares.
Don't 'consider' it - get a Suica card at Haneda - no ifs, ands or buts. You do not want to be trying to take the JR Yamanote line, the subway etc. in Tokyo or anywhere else without it. Purchase and top up is cash only. If you have an iPhone 8 or later, you can load a virtual Suica in Apple Wallet and top it up with any card you have in Apple Pay.

Use it for local trains (both JR and non-JR), subway, buses, at convenience stores, some cafes, restaurants, supermarkets, vending machines and left luggage lockers. Believe me, you do NOT want to be having to figure out how much the fare is and stopping to get a ticket every time you want to get on a local train, the subway etc.

The "Welcome Suica" card (valid for 28 days) does not require the usual Y500 deposit ... but does not permit any refunds. However, whichever card you get (regular Suica, Welcome Suica, regular Pasmo, Pasmo Passport) you will not be able to get a refund outside of the Tokyo area so don't put too much on the card (maximum is ₯20,000) - if you have funds left on it at the end of the day, just spend it at a convenience store etc.

IC Cards

Suica
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Old Jan 20th, 2020, 06:20 PM
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WOW. Thanks so much for all the tips.
kja did not know about the Kyoto dance festival; will check it out. But we do know about japan-guide!

mrwunrfl hadn't even thought of a sumo tournament or baseball game. Will have to float those ideas with DH. Thanks for the heads up! RE: JR Pass, still figuring this out. If we don't go to Hakone it really doesn't pay. And even if we do, it's not much of a savings. I think my husband would prefer we not connect trains. Even though we will travel light, it's still a hassle with every "on and off." However, if it will save enough money we will consider. I will keep re-figuring as we settle on final itinerary. And yes, we could leave Hiroshima later in the day to give us more time....but then that just takes away from our time in Kyoto. Could we decide on the fly which train to take from Hiroshima to Kyoto? I'm under the impression that in high season we have to reserve in advance. But how far in advance?

tt7 yes, will figure out if we want welcome suica card or another. If we can't get refunds outside of Tokyo, then the new Welcome Suica card might make the most sense.

Adastra2200 thx so much for the other Hiroshima recommendations. Hadn't heard of them (particularly that temple with the walk and waterfalls) and have "saved" them in TripAdvisor in my "Hiroshima trip" so that we can consider if we have time, especially if we are there for two full days. I also have to fit in laundry in Hiroshima or immediately when we get to Kyoto!
And I think it was you who mentioned that 3 days is usually enough in Tokyo. When I figure one day for Culinary Backstreets (we want to take it there), one day for Edo-Tokyo Museum/Asakusa, one day for Mori musuem and view plus Tanaka -- well, we're already up to three days and we also want to take some sort of architecture walk/tour. So, if we want to do a day in Hakone (still deciding....) I definitely think we need to add the day in Tokyo.
It always comes down to this...we always need just "one more day...."

Other Fodorites, appreciate other tips. These have been so helpful!
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Old Jan 20th, 2020, 07:30 PM
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Yes, you could decide on the fly. You might not get reserved seats or you might but not together. There are unreserved cars, but that could involve standiing. High season for tourism would mean more JR Pass holders competing for the non-Nozomi trains.

The Nozomi trains are much more frequent. Here is the timetable for May 18. It is frequent enough that you could check the next three trains for available seats and not have to wait too long. Have a snack and coffee at the Doutor while you wait.
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Old Jan 20th, 2020, 07:59 PM
  #11  
tt7
 
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Originally Posted by tt7 View Post
... just spend it at a convenience store etc.
.... and on the subject of convenience stores ....

If sumo is of interest, you can find information here - Tokyo Sumo - May 10 - 24, 2020. You can (try to) buy tickets online yourself or you can use this site, which we (and I believe others in this forum) have used in the past (Tokyo last May and currently waiting - hopefully - for our March 2020 Osaka tickets).
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Old Jan 21st, 2020, 06:59 AM
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Originally Posted by tt7 View Post
....... or you can use this site, which we (and I believe others in this forum) have used in the past (Tokyo last May and currently waiting - hopefully - for our March 2020 Osaka tickets).
I have used that site as well and am also hoping for a March Osaka seat....
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Old Jan 21st, 2020, 08:24 PM
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I got an excellent seat for the May tournament on the day at the venue. It was 'on the 50-yard-line, first row above the walkway, and on the opposite side from where the rikishi enter, so they walked towards me.

It was a few years ago. Midweek before Sanja Matsuri. There were vendors outside and I got an enormous apple (oishiiii) from Hokkaido and a framed print that shows drawings of all of the yokozuna up to then, 68 of them. That dates it from 2003 when Asahoryu was promoted to 2007 when #69, Hakuho, was promoted. I recognize #67, Musashimaru.

I recommend the chanko nabe (sumo stew). The line was long but when they opened the door they took everyone in a big batch It is cheap and good and probably not too healthy but was a good break from the wrestling (I got there around noon-1PM and stayed to the last match at 6PM, which is a must-do).
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