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travelingfearless Aug 25th, 2016 04:20 PM

traveling Japan for 2 months--cities to base in?
I am traveling Japan for 2 months and am hitting a lot of cities. Therefore, if anyone can help by telling me what "base" cities to stay in and what places are reachable from those bases? For example, I would like to visit Kyoto, Nara, Mount Koya, and Himeji. Thus, I have been told I should book a hotel in Kyoto and take side trips to Nara, Koya, and Himeji. In addition, what would be the best route to take to visit all the cities? I have tried my best to figure out the routes and staying accommodations but am having such a difficult time! Any help would be appreciated. Thank you :)

My destinations are:
mt koya
mt fuji

and possibly if time permits:

kja Aug 25th, 2016 07:21 PM

For many of us, the joy of a trip to Koyasan is staying overnight in a temple there, so that is one place that I would NOT visit from anywhere.

Where and how to base depends on individual preferences. For example, I far prefer moving on to backtracking from day trips; many people prefer the base-city option. Your call.

To decide what works for you in terms of both basing and routing, please spend lots and lots of time with (the best single source of information on traveling to Japan anywhere), hyperdia (for train info), google maps, and -- with this range of interests -- a good hardcopy guide book or two that lets you study some maps.

You'll see some wonderful things no matter what you choose!

Adastra2200 Aug 25th, 2016 08:03 PM

Well, you really don't give enough info, such as how much time you plan to put into each city or area, and when you plan to travel.

I'd say the fewer times you need to change hotels the better, and also you should have your hotels in the cities you'll spend the most time in. So in a vacuum, to see Koyasan, Kobe, Kyoto, Himeji, Osaka and Nara, I might say Osaka would be the most convenient - but if you're spending most of that time concentrating on Kyoto, it makes far more sense to have your hotel there.

Remember also that many hotels will let you store your luggage there if you arrive too early for their check-in time. Very convenient, but you should verify with each place first to be sure.
The first place to act as a base would be Tokyo, and you can do day trips to many places you mention - the Mt Fuji area, Nikko, Kamakura/Enoshima, Yokohama, Sendai, and Nagano. There are many other places you did not mention, and since you have so much time, you should consider going to see them - Izu, Kusatsu, Karuizawa, Kawagoe, the Hitachi Seaside Park, the Boso Peninsula, Mt. Takao, Mt. Mitake, Okutama, etc. A Tokyo Wide Pass can save you a ton:
That said, some places are worth an overnight, such as at a hot spring place in Hakone, a farmhouse in Shirakawago, a townhouse in Magome, and at a temple lodging in Koyasan.

Fukuoka is an often overlooked place and worth a visit. In fact the Nanzoin Temple is one of the best in Japan and virtually unknown to even well informed travelers.
But unless you also see Nagasaki, Kagoshima or some other places, it's not worth going all the way there. Kagoshima is only 90 minutes away from Fukuoka (Hakata), and the main sights (Sakurajima, Senganen, Shiroyama Park) could be done as a day trip, but Nagasaki is 2 hours by train one way and really better as an overnight.
You could also do Hiroshima/Miyajima as a day trip from Kansai with an early morning start, but there is a lot to see - many just go to Miyajima for the Itsukushima Shrine with the 'floating torii' and little else, which is a tragedy - the Daishoin Temple and Mt Misen are in some ways much more interesting.
You could also see Iwakuni which is just a bit beyond Miyajima, and well worth seeing.
And one often overlooked place is the Akiyoshido Cave, a 300 million year 1km wonder that is just breathtaking.

Given that with such a long trip you won't be moving very far and very fast, a full JR Pass might not work for you. Instead, you might look at a series of regional passes to save money.
The pass validities might help you decide how to allocate your time.
For Okinawa, look at a low cost carrier like Jet Star, Peach, or Vanilla Air. Maybe Hokkaido too, unless you want to travel up the Tohoku region to get there.

kja Aug 25th, 2016 09:02 PM

Adastra2200 has given you an incredible amount of very valuable information, but I must admit that I disagree with a few things. For example, I wouldn't plan on starting in Tokyo until I'd planned my itinerary, and then determined whether it makes most sense to fly into Tokyo to start my trip or not. As another example, I would not forego a stay in Kyoto even if Osaka could be a better base because I would want enough time in Kyoto -- at least 4 or 5 nights just for Kyoto itself -- that I wouldn't want to commute in and out of the city on each of those days. Too, I wouldn't consider a day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima from Kansai -- too much to see in each location, and Miyajima is so much more delightful after day trippers leave that an overnight there really is worth considering.

Again, it really depends on your preferences, and as Adastra2200 noted, time of year, too.

Adastra2200 Aug 25th, 2016 09:53 PM

Well, I mention Tokyo since that is how the majority of people enter and leave Japan, and that is the top of the OP's list of destinations. If in the final itinerary there is a more efficient way through some other port of entry, I certainly have no objection.
The point on Kyoto I can't understand because that is what I just said - if you want to concentrate your time in Kyoto, it is better to stay in Kyoto.
And if the OP wants a day each for Hiroshima and Miyajima (or more), that is fine as well - there is time, and after the tourist crowds leave, it does indeed get a lot quieter and peaceful.

The criteria for staying in a place for me is first it is convenient to be there, but also is a place worth staying in, and also opting to stay in a place because as a day trip it would eat up too much time on trains in the round trip.

kja Aug 25th, 2016 10:19 PM

@ Adastra2200: I'm glad you have no objection to the OP's interests. ;-) Honestly, I don't question your intention to help the OP pursue his/her interests. I just think it can be extremely helpful to travelers to realize that they have options beyond the obvious (e.g., flying into and out of Tokyo is not always the best idea) and that it is also very helpful to recognize that we don't always have the same criteria for travel options (e.g., criteria for staying somewhere). If I misrepresented your position on staying in Kyoto in my effort to provide succinct, helpful info to the OP, my sincere apologies -- I was trying to acknowledge your contributions, while stating clearly that I WOULD give the time to Kyoto. I trust you aren't going to challenge me point for point as we each strive to give our input to travelers? I, at least, have confidence that OPs can take different ideas into consideration and figure out what works best for them.

Adastra2200 Aug 25th, 2016 11:11 PM

Again, I don't see any real points of disagreement.

CaliforniaLady Aug 25th, 2016 11:30 PM

To the OP, depending on the time of year, I would go either north to south, or vice versa. When are you travelling? That would make a difference on which way to go.

I would print out a big map of Japan and circle all these cities. Then I would see if I could do day trips from any of them (my rule is two hours or less each way). I would also try to stay in each city for an average of three nights.

Do you have any particular interests? That would make a difference what others here may recommend for the emphasis of your trip.

If you are flying internationally into Narita, I would suggest finding a connecting flight from Narita (rather than Haneda) that takes you directly to your first city. And then you can do the reverse on your way home.

kja Aug 25th, 2016 11:39 PM

Note that for many people, open jaw flights into Narita and out of Kansai, or vice versa (or some other pair of cities), can be a better option than flying into and out of the same city.

mrwunrfl Aug 26th, 2016 08:36 AM

I'm not a fan of "basing" because of the amount of backtracking involved. I don't think it is compatible with the idea of "hitting a lot of cities".

Logistically, I get the idea of basing in Kyoto and Tokyo, but don't see the point of paying the higher cost of hotels in those cities if I'm spending my day elsewhere.

But, am willing to help if you are committed to basing.

An important question for a "baser" is: how long are you willing to travel one-way on a day trip?

I have an upper limit of four hours of travel in a day and will stretch that to 5 hours if the destination is important to me. And that will depend on how long I stay at a destination and how much time to the destination after that.

To get bet organized so that you can make some decisions, I suggest that you rank each of the destinations according to your interest. One star for mild interest up to five stars for got to do it. No, they can't be, aren't, all **** and ***** destinations.

Then get a map and start organizing the locations by region. Include all of the destinations on both of your list.

Then do some more research for those regions to find other things of interest.

You will find, for example, that Nagoya, Ise, and Magome are in the same area of Chubu and Nagoya can be a base. The shortest travel time from Nagoya to Takayama is 123 minutes and, for me, it is out of the question as a day trip because it is 6 minutes longer than my four-hour limit.

Use this site for planning:

Fukuoka can be a day trip from Hiroshima.

Some of your locations are not good as a base or day-trip from elsewhere Nagasaki, Sendai, Hachimantai.

Noboribetsu, that is Noboribetsu Onsen - a bus trip up from JR Noboribetsu station, really is not worth it as a day trip from Sapporo. It deserves at least one overnight stay because it is more than a place to go for a soak - it is an <i>onsen town</> which is a whole different experience than just going to a place to have a soak.

lcuy Aug 26th, 2016 09:49 PM

One thing to consider with doing a lot of day trips is the expense, as each day trip is a round trip ticket. If you plan to get two months of rail passes, that will also be very expensive unless you clump your travel days into one or two week chunks and only buy passes for those weeks.

Money may or may not be an issue, but if it is, certain areas like Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka, are quite expensive, while the Kyushu region (Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kagoshima ) tends to be very reasonable.

I'd also consider when you are going. Okinawa is not only a lot of extra travel, but can be miserably hot much of the year. Hokkaido and Nagano can be very cold in the winter. If you do both, will you mind carrying both winter and summer clothing and footwear?

Another thing I notice is that you've got some cities that are quite similar. I would suggest you figure out what places you want to see, and what kind of sites make those places appealing. Sort your destinations by "temple" towns, "castle towns", good hiking or nature spots', 'cultural or historical' towns, or shopping or food destinations.
AS an example, Himeji and Matsumoto are both castle towns. If you love castles, do both, but otherwise maybe choose one. Choose either the best examples of a type of town or go because there is something specific that's a "must see" for you.

Right now you have barely a day & a half for each town if you do both your lists. With some careful editing of cities or regions, you will have more time in each (or can add in spots as you go).

mrwunrfl Aug 27th, 2016 09:33 AM

lcuy makes a good point about the complexity involved with managing the travel costs. Would have to consider the full range of JR regional passes (like JR Hokkaido or JR East).

Domestic air travel can be an inexpensive way to connect regions of Japan, Hokkaido in particular.

>>Then do some more research for those regions to find other things of interest.
In the Nagoya area, for example, you have Magome and Ise. You might also find Inuyama and Gifu of interest and easily accessible from Nagoya.

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