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TRIP REPORT: Just back from first time to Japan!

TRIP REPORT: Just back from first time to Japan!

Jun 8th, 2014, 07:42 AM
  #41  
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 88
Hi russ_in_LA,

I have two kids aged 11 and 9. Will a family trip to Japan with wife and kids this ages be a good idea ? Will the kids enjoy Japan ? Their highlight might be the Disneyland in Tokyo.

Also we are pure vegetarians. In all the meals you mentioned, is it possible to get vegetarian options ? Is vegetarian food easy to get in Japan.

Thanks.
golfdude is offline  
Jun 8th, 2014, 08:16 AM
  #42  
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Hi golfdude,

One of the most entertaining and informative blogs that I found during my preparations for my trip was by a couple who are vegetarians. Here are a couple of links to their site:

http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/jap...up/#more-10101

http://www.neverendingvoyage.com/72-...s-about-japan/

Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of each page you view for more links that will take you to additional related info. It worth the read.

Note observation #55 under 72 random observations. Fish broth and bonito flakes are in everything, unless you specifically ask for them not to be. They suggest Kyoto as being the best area for vegetarians. I suggest that before you go, do a translation into Kanji of your food preferences (I used Google) and then have someone review it for accuracy. I made a screen shot on my phone to show each restaurant on our trip.

As for your children, while I don't know their preferences, I just read that Tokyo is now the most visited of all Disney theme parks. There are also home-grown theme parks that might be fun. There are also tons of arcades with games all over Tokyo. If you would like some additional info, here are a couple links fwith info traveling in Japan with Kids.

http://www.japan-guide.com/forum/que...y.html?0+73942

http://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Japan_with_children

Besure to click around on some of the other links provided on each site above.

If you go be sure to post a report. Have fun!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Jun 8th, 2014, 12:55 PM
  #43  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,510
I highly recommend Japan for family travel, Golfdude, and our kids (now 26 and 29) agree with that.

We first took our first child to Japan when she was 4 months old, and returned with both of them many times over the years. It is a terrific place to travel with children.

Visually very "foreign", you don't need to speak the language or even know much history. Easy transportation, Food and water are clean, no personal safety issues, and the Japanese people are twice as friendly and helpful if you have gajin kids with you!

If you want to travel on a budget, many youth hostels there will provide a private room for a family. Your kids will have fun with the kids on school trips that are always at the hostels.
My husband and older daughter are both vegetarians. It was easy to avoid meat, but the fish broth is a little harder. At times, they just pretended it was vegetable broth, but usually were able to have plenty of good vegetarian food.
lcuy is offline  
Jun 9th, 2014, 06:18 PM
  #44  
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May 19 – Day 7 - Takayama

Takayama turned out to be one of our favorite days of the so far, and great way to spend our halfway point in the trip. It’s not that there was any particular site that stood out, it’s just that it was uncrowded, interesting and a refreshingly slower change of pace. I will be eternally grateful to those Fodorites who suggested we spend all day in town instead of trying to go on a day trip.

The best discovery we made is that we could rent bikes from the hotel for a reasonable rate and keep them all day. We didn’t come back for 8 hours! It was fantastic, as it allowed us to tour practically the entire city, and get off and back on when we wanted to take a closer look. I won’t give a blow by blow of the entire day, but here are the highlights:

• Tour of morning markets – There are two of them, one by the river and one by the Historical Government House. Really fun, friendly people, with lots of samples of things to taste.
• Ride down preserved streets in old town area – we went before stores were open, which was really nice, since the streets were too crowded for bikes when we walked through a bit later.
• Touring some of the old local sake breweries.
• Historical Government House - very well preserved, quite large and interesting to walk through.
• Lunch in a tiny restaurant in the old town, with more delicious Hida beef served by a sweet girl and her mother.
• We loved the Folk Craft Museum – not only for what was on display, but to see what one of the ancient houses looked like with furniture and day to day items. It was like going back 100 years in time.
• Takayama Float Museum – interesting to see them up close. The town population swells to over 5 times its normal size during festivals.
• Higashiyama walk and temples – there are about 13 temples set in the eastern foothills that are very accessible and make for a very enjoyable walk, with almost no one else around.
• Hida no Sato – this is an open air museum comprised of houses that were moved there from various locations in the Hida region. It was interesting to be able to go inside, get a closer look at the construction, and get a feel for what life was like for the locals, as recently as in the 1960s. Since we didn’t go to Shirakawa-go, this made for an enjoyable 90 minutes at band of a full day.

After an enjoyable soak in the Japanese style onsen at the hotel, we unwittingly had what I would describe as our only “American” dinner of the trip: A small Hida Beef steak, mountain yams, and vegetables. We were beefed-out after that, so it was back to our diet of fish, noodles, soup and rice for the rest of the trip.

Next Up - Nara
russ_in_LA is offline  
Jun 9th, 2014, 06:22 PM
  #45  
kja
 
Join Date: Dec 2006
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Sounds like you had a perfect day in Takayama - and your certainly fit a lot in! The bikes sound like the perfect solution.
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Jun 9th, 2014, 07:22 PM
  #46  
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Takayama and Koyasan (still to come) were pretty darn close to perfect days. I must confess, that we did ditch the bikes back at the hotel at about 3:30 and took a taxi to Hida no Sato. There was no way around it if we wanted to fit it in. It turned out to be a very good decision, and we even arranged to be picked up when it closed for the ride back.
russ_in_LA is offline  
Jun 9th, 2014, 07:31 PM
  #47  
kja
 
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I wondered how you fit that all in, especially with what I recall as a relatively long uphill approach to Hida-no-Sato. Good call!
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Jun 9th, 2014, 09:47 PM
  #48  
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
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Hi russ_in_LA,

How much would be the typical cost in USD (excluding airfare to and from Japan) for a family of four (2 adults and 2 kids (ages 9 and 11) for 15 days from October 25th till November 10th ?

Can we do this for around $4,000 USD ? We are pure vegetarians if that impacts the food costs in any way.

Thanks.
golfdude is offline  
Jun 10th, 2014, 04:04 AM
  #49  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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> Can we do this for around $4,000 USD [4 people, 15 days]?

It's hard for me to imagine how you would be able to come close to that number. Two of your biggest costs will be transportation (within Japan) and accommodation. JR Rail passes, which would seem essential for any sort of comprehensive tour for 15 days, would cost about $1900 (2 adult, 2 children, 14-day passes). And you'll need 14 nights accommodation, usually needing 2 rooms per night. Even staying at budget places, you're looking at around $3k for lodging, so you're close to $5000 before dealing with food (which can be done relatively inexpensively), local transportation, admission fees, etc.
DonTopaz is offline  
Jun 10th, 2014, 07:00 AM
  #50  
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I would agree with Don's assessment above. The only way you might get close is to start in Tokyo and end in Kyoto and do a 7 day pass in between. That would be $828 for a 7 day pass for 2 adults and 2 children. If you budget $120 per day for food (that's eating only rice or noodle bowls and drinking only water)and $150 per day for hotel (I found 9 in Tokyo that will take a family of 4 for that price)you would be able to stay for 12 nights at $4068. This does not count entertainment, museums, temples or subways. I think you could maybe do 13days/12 nights for $5000 all in, but it will be tight. In reality, I suspect it will be a bit more. Hope that helps.
russ_in_LA is offline  
Jun 10th, 2014, 07:54 AM
  #51  
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 88
Thanks for your budget feedback.

We can go on this trip from October 18th till November 2nd. Is this the time of the year for the famous Japan autumn/cherry blossoms ? Is this unique only to Japan ?

I am also confused between choosing Japan or Europe for this trip. Any suggestions on this ?

Thanks.
golfdude is offline  
Jun 10th, 2014, 09:48 AM
  #52  
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Posts: 600
Hi golfdude,

Your dates are a bit early for autumn leaves in Tokyo and Kyoto, where you are likely to go on a first trip. You would need to go further north or to the mountains during your dates. Cherry blossoms are in April. Here is your best resource to get most Japan questions answered:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e623b.html click on "essentials" for lots and lots of great info. I would start here first.

I have a suggestion for getting the most out of this forum. I have found Fodorites to be extremely helpful, but not many are going to see your questions buried at the bottom of this trip report. I suggest that you start a new topic with a specific question. For example, your budget question was a good one. Then more people will see it, and respond to it, because the heading of the topic will match the nature of the questions being asked. Your question about Japan vs. Europe is probably too broad. You may want to narrow it down to one or two European countries, and then post the question again as a new topic in the appropriate forum. Hope that helps!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Jun 10th, 2014, 06:01 PM
  #53  
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May 20 – Day 8 – Takayama to Nara

We had been exceedingly fortunate up to this point, but after seven days of near perfect weather we awoke to our first day of rain. Since our train was not until 9:30, and decided to walk through the mist for one last pass through the morning market. We weren’t having much luck finding breakfast, but we did stumble upon a man with a very sunny disposition, making homemade marshmallows. These were nothing like the ones you would find in a bag in American supermarket. These were like 2 inch cubes of meringue, browned on all sides. Served with a cup of green tea, this proved to be a tasty, if not particularly nutritious, start to our day.

As with all of our train rides on this trip, the four hour journey to Nara was a pleasure. We originally had planned to do an overnight in Nara, but at the suggestion of some Fodorite veterans, we decided to break up a 6 hour journey from Takayama to Koyasan. In the end, I’m glad that we did because once we got to Kyoto I knew that we would not have wanted to leave again to do Nara as a day trip.

We arrived in Nara at about 2:00 PM, so we wanted to get as much done in the area of our hotel as possible, since our plan was to hit the sites in western Nara in the morning, on our way to Koyasan. As I did in my description of Takayama, I'll just hit the Nara high points:

• The Nara hotel – although the service was a bit more officious than the other hotels, the location right next to the Nara Park could not be beat, and it was fun to look at the photos and plaques noting all of the worldwide dignitaries that had stayed there over the past 100 years.
• Nara Park - large park filled with temples and shrines, with hundreds of tame deer that you can pet and feed.
• Todajii Temple – billed as the largest wooden structure in the world, it’s not difficult to believe, famous for its 58 foot call Buddha inside. We especially liked the scale models in the back showing some of the previous iterations of the temple when it was even larger. It was also fun watching school kids wriggle through a hole in one of the columns, the belief being that if you are successful you have achieved enlightenment.
• Kasagua Taisha – also located in Nara Park, this was far less crowded than Todajii, located up a lantern-lined path among the trees.
• Kofukaji Temple – with its five tiered pagoda, this was especially pleasant to walk around in the evening, since it was close to perfect days to our hotel.
• Naramachi – this area, also close to our hotel, had numerous narrow streets and alleys, filled with restaurants and shops. Unfortunately, we were not there during the day when everything was open, the only drawback to our overnight schedule. We did have dinner at a restaurant here which served local specialties such as sushi which has wrapped in a persimmon leaf, which looked pretty but didn’t really do anything for the flavor.

May 21 – Day 9 – Nara to Koyasan

The next day we were scheduled to travel to Koyasan. Since the train would pass right by the stop serving western Nara, we decided to stash our bags at the station for a couple hours so that we could see the Hoyujii Temple. It was interesting to see buildings famous for being the oldest in the world, and it was much quieter than the Temples in central Nara. If it weren’t for schoolchildren we might have been the only ones there.

Since we were changing trains in Osaka, we decided we would arrive a bit early to the station for a hot lunch, before transferring to the Nankai line bound for Koyasan. This was the only portion of the trip for which we had not previously bought tickets since it is not covered under our seven day JR pass. We were able to buy a two-day Koyasan free pass, similar to the one that we bought in Hakone, and which would cover all of our transportation to and in Koyasan, including our return to Osaka the next day.

Since we wanted to eat quickly, a nearby noodle shop caught our eye. This was our first experience with a type of fast service restaurant which requires the diner to purchase the ticket from the machine before entering. Fortunately there were large illuminated photographs on the wall next to the machine, with a laminated English language menu hanging from a chain. Having purchased our meal tickets, we gave them to a man at the counter who shouted out our order, and literally seconds later we were handed a bowl of noodles swimming in steaming hot broth, mine with shrimp tempura floating on top. At 400 yen each, it was the cheapest meal of the trip, but no less delicious.

The train ride to Koyasan was not quite as slow as the last train on the way to Gora, but the funicular/cablecar was far steeper than the one in Hakone. It was as if we were going vertically up the mountainside. As with all the transportation we had experienced thus far in Japan, everything was perfectly timed so that upon exiting the train, the cable car was already waiting for us, and exiting the cable car, there were buses waiting to take us to our final destinations. There was even somebody standing at the top of the cable car exit handing out maps of the area which listed all of the sites and directing people to the appropriate bus.

Besides the temples and the graveyard, the big draw at Koyasan is the ability to say in an active Buddhist temple, eating the traditional vegetarian diet as prepared by the monks, and sleeping on futons in traditional tatami mat rooms surrounded by the forest. This is not a word I use very often, but for us the experience was magical. It was quite possibly the best 20 hours of the trip.

At the urging of Fodorite kja, we booked our stay at Shojoshin-in, which is right next to the Okuno-in cemetery. I realize that there’s always a risk in making a recommendation to someone, because who knows if their tastes are the same as our own, or if they will have the same experience. All I can say is, “thank you”! Our experience was most certainly impacted for the better by the fact that all of the less expensive rooms had already been booked, forcing us to pay a bit more than we had budgeted, but which turned out to be well worth the price. It was a highlight of our trip.

Arriving at the temple at about 3:30 pm, we removed our shoes, had a brief check in, and were shown to our room which was actually a separate freestanding building next door to the main one, surrounded by a garden and backing up against a hillside. It was perfect. Walking in, we noticed that in addition to having a room with a low table and cushions, there was a separate room with our futons already laid out, which they had taken care to double for extra comfort. There was another room behind rice paper screens, the same size as our sleeping room, which was completely unused. All three rooms were connected by a gallery, with windows that looked out into a small garden. The rooms could each be closed off with sliding screens and would be perfect for two couples traveling together. On the opposite side of the rooms was another gallery which contained the washing area. In addition to two sinks, this included a wet room, with a wooden Japanese soaking tub. The only unusual feature was a urinal, which although odd, was certainly handy for two guys traveling together. The irony is that this was the night I was most concerned with in terms of comfort, and it ended up being one of the most comfortable places we stayed, and definitely the most charming.

Since dinner would be at 6:30 PM sharp, we wanted to walk through the cemetery while it was still light. As the temple located closest to the start of the walking path, it could not have been more convenient. The path is about two kilometers long, meandering under the cedars, through moss covered tombstones, statues, and other grave markers. It is lined with stone lanterns which come on after dark so that you can walk the path at night. I realize that a stroll through a graveyard might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was stunningly beautiful. I could have spent 3 hours just going down little paths that branched off the main path leading to giant stone torri or grave markers that look like enormous moss covered chess pieces. However, since we knew we had a deadline, we continued toward the end of the path which included a group of buildings, including the Hall of Lanterns. I somehow missed reading about this temple beforehand because walking in took my breath away. There are over 10,000 lanterns that decorate the inside and outside of the building, including the basement where you can also see over 50,000 tiny statues of Buddha. It gave me goosebumps.

We took a different path on the way back, passing a 10 foot high pyramid-shaped mound of little stone Buddha statues. With the dimming light of dusk, the stone lanterns came on, illuminating our path back to the temple. Arriving back to our room, we changed into our yukatas for dinner, putting on the provided wooden sandals, and preceded to the main building. Unlike our kaiseki dinner at the ryokan in Hakone, where we were seated at western height table and chairs, here we were seated on cushions at low tables, separated from otherguests by gold leaf covered screens, painted with scenes of birds and trees. Our food was served by monks and we’re surprised at how much we enjoyed the various preparations of tofu and vegetables. It was actually one of the more enjoyable meals of the trip.

After dinner, we took another walk down the path to the Hall of Lanterns. It was eerie, but beautiful, walking through the darkened forest illuminated only by the lanterns along the path, and listening to the night creatures making their night creature sounds. Although the hall was now closed, the thousands of lanterns hanging on the outside were stunning. Returning to our room we enjoyed a hot soak in our wooden tub, and passed out on our double thick futons, feeling very fortunate that we were able to experience a truly special part of Japan.
russ_in_LA is offline  
Jun 10th, 2014, 06:38 PM
  #54  
kja
 
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"At the urging of Fodorite kja, we booked our stay at Shojoshin-in, which is right next to the Okuno-in cemetery. I realize that there’s always a risk in making a recommendation to someone, because who knows if their tastes are the same as our own, or if they will have the same experience. All I can say is, “thank you”! " -- Oh, I am so glad to read these words! Yes, it is always risky to make a recommendation, but my experience at Shojoshin-in was positive enough to give me enough confidence to make it, even though your tastes could be different or the temple could have changed or our rooms or meals noncomparable.... Thanks for letting me know that you were pleased with your time there!

And I'm glad your experience of Okuno-in was also as special as (if slightly different than) mine, as I didn't make it as far as the lanterns until my early morning fog-shrouded walk. I didn't think anything could make me envy another's report of a visit to Okuno-in, but you may have inspired me to find a way to return!
kja is offline  
Jun 10th, 2014, 10:18 PM
  #55  
 
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Was this the Takayama marshmallow man? http://www.kaveyeats.com/2012/12/owa...-takayama.html
Kavey is offline  
Jun 10th, 2014, 10:22 PM
  #56  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Yes, I love and recommend Shojoshin-in too -- and we stayed in the same private hanare you were allocated. We booked it deliberately so we could have private bathroom facilities as I was nervous about sharing at that time.

It's available to larger groups, hence there being extra toilets in the corridor as well.

Like you, we found it wonderfully comfortable and also enjoyed our dinner very much.
Kavey is offline  
Jun 10th, 2014, 10:29 PM
  #57  
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Kavey...yes! That's the marshmallow man!! They were super happy on a dreary day, and made us sit inside to eat our marshmallows and drink our tea. Certainly the most sophisticated marshmallow eating experience of my life!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Jun 10th, 2014, 10:51 PM
  #58  
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
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I am enjoying this soooo much! Thanks again.
Bokhara2 is offline  
Jun 10th, 2014, 11:08 PM
  #59  
 
Join Date: Jun 2014
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your report is so awesome! love it. I have been staying in Japan 5 years, but never been to Takayama. add to checklist next to Naoshima XD
debussy is offline  
Jun 12th, 2014, 12:19 PM
  #60  
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Thanks again everyone! Hoping to get to our Kyoto, our last destination and final days in Japan in the coming days.
russ_in_LA is offline  

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