16 Days in Japan, what to do?
Replies: 12 - Last Post: Oct 11, 2012 6:31 PM Last Post By: ACommonLoon
Oct 10, 2012 8:20 AM
16 Days in Japan, what to do?My partner and I are travelling to Japan late March 2013 and will be staying in Tokyo for 5 days or so and are planning to visit more of the country south of Tokyo for a week then back to Tokyo for a couple of days and fly back home.
I'm still reading through all the other similar forum posts and collecting information regarding other peoples experiences, but thought it might be a good idea to start a thread to see if anyone has any suggestions and or recommendations in the mean time.
So what we have in mind so far (this is not set in stone):
we read about the rail pass and will get one each for two weeks, but if we are spending 5 days in tokyo will we need that? It doesn't apply to the metro/underground does it?
Other than spending time in Tokyo we have bookmarked a few locations we would like to visit, and this is what i wanted to ask your advice on, are we being to optimistic that we can get all of this done and should we scale it back, or are there places that others have been to and recommend we visit too?
Other places we have bookmarked so far:
Kyoto (probably 2 days here)
Mt Koya - would love to spend a night in a Buddhist temple and experience the mountain forests and morning mist
Kanazawa - I'd love to go see the ninja temple :)
Other thoughts, we would like to stay in a traditional ryokan for one night at least and visit an onsen too.
As this is our 1st time in Japan, i want to make sure we don't miss anything and that we more importantly get to enjoy what time we do have there and not rush from one place to another.
Oh one last thing, what are the best districts to stay in Tokyo, Shinjuku? Shibuja? Should we consider any other areas?
Oct 10, 2012 8:47 AM
1The rail pass is only worth it if you are going to leave Tokyo and use the shinkansen (bullet train) to get somewhere else. You can check your train fares to anywhere is Japan with this handy site to decide if you would get enough use out of the JR pass: http://www.hyperdia.com/en/
Now, I'm going to come clean: I don't like Tokyo much. My advice is to only give Tokyo a few days, unless there is a lot of stuff you know you want to see specifically in Tokyo. However, you'll be here just in time for cherry blossom season! There are websites dedicated to tracking and predicting when the blooms will open. Tokyo has some great parks for seeing them, I will admit that much. You can see them all over the country, though. Definitely have yourselves a hanami (flower viewing picnic) with a bento box lunch and some adult beverages (drinking in public is OK in Japan, even on the trains and in parks!)
I've lived in Japan for over 2 years now and I can confidently say the Kansai area is far more worthy of your time than Tokyo. It's the cultural heart of the country, and you can see a lot. Daytrips in this area are easy to do.
Definitely go to Kyoto! It's amazing. It was the capital of Japan for hundreds of years and is chock full of temples, shrines, and other interesting paces. So many places were bombed in WWII but Kyoto was spared. It's a gorgeous city, probably my favorite in the world.
From Kyoto or Osaka, you can easily visit Nara, Koya (another great choice! do the temple stay for sure. 1 day/night is enough) and others.
Osaka is fun, but doesn't have as much in the way of attractions as Kyoto. Great shopping and nightlife, though.
Kyoto doesn't have great onsen, though. You might try Arima, near Kobe, if you end up in Kansai.
Miyajima is great. Kanazawa is a great place too. They call it the "Little Kyoto", and I think that's accurate. But, with the time you have, if you are set on spending only a week outside of Tokyo, restrict yourself to Kansai or you will go nuts.
I have lots more advice, but tell me what you guys are into. Nature? History? Hiking? Big cities? Nightlife?
Oct 10, 2012 8:53 AM
2Oh, and as for events, check the Sumo Grand Tournament schedule. There is one going on in Osaka in March (ends the 26 I think). I think it's really fun to watch for a while, and you don;t need to buy expensive seats.
There's also the Miyako Odori happening in Kyoto. Apprentice geisha (maiko) dance while geisha play instruments. It's fantastic.
Oct 10, 2012 9:00 AM
3Thank you for the reply, I'm already giddy with excitement about going to Japan. I have always wanted to go.
I do appreciate your comments about Tokyo and was thinking the same as we have listed quite a few places to visit, so maybe break it up for a few days at the start and a few days at the end of our trip and the rest to divide across the rest of Japan.
You mentioned Cherry Blossom season :) well that was kinda the reason for picking the end of March, and a hanami sounds perfect
Regarding what to do, we want to see the temples, cities, nature and a bit of night life. But not forgetting food and shopping too. We want to take in as much of the culture as possible, and enjoy ourselves.
I really should make a chart and start putting things against dates to track what we could do :)
We arrive on 23rd March and leave on 7th April
I do have a concern about luggage, i'm sure my partner will be taking a LOT, which is why i considered getting an apartment in Tokyo so that we can leave our stuff there while we go on short trips around the country and keep tokyo as our base?
but that also sounds expensive, so i need to work on that one :)
Edited by: iPanic
Oct 10, 2012 9:17 AM
4It looks like the Sumo tournament will finish on 23rd so we might just miss it :( if we do, would you recommend we do this tour, in Tokyo?
Sumo match with Chanko Dinner
Oct 10, 2012 9:28 AM
5I found some tours, anyone know if these are worth doing as they do sound good, even if a little pricey:
Tokyo Full Day Tour = £94.00pp – Daily Departures
Ideal to give you an introduction to Tokyo, whether you want to see temples, shrines, gardens, modern architecture or experience the old Tokyo, there is something for all. All Full Day tours include lunch.
Mount Fuji & Hakone Tour = £136.00pp
Travel by coach to Hakone National Park, visiting the 5th Station of Mt. Fuji along the way. Enjoy lunch, a Lake Ashi cruise and the Mt. Komagatake aerial cableway in Hakone before returning to Tokyo by bullet train.
Kyoto & Nara Full Day Tour = £112.00pp - Daily Departures
The Kyoto morning tour includes Nijo Castle, the Golden Pavilion, and Kyoto Imperial Palace. After lunch you will travel to Nara to visit the Great Buddha at Todaiji Temple, Nara Park and Kasuga Shrine.
Oct 10, 2012 11:42 AM
6" i want to make sure we don't miss anything"
Of course you will miss something, it is a big country, you can't see everything in 16 days.
Maybe you can fly home from Osaka (KIX) instead of Tokyo (Narita)?
You don't need a tour for Kyoto and Nara, you can do it yourself, same with Tokyo. Using public transport in Japan isn't that hard. There is always someone who wants to help you and the signage is in English too and I consider figuring it out part of the fun. I don't know about that Fuji-Hakone tour but you can read a lot of reviews on trip advisor. It depends on the weather if you see the Fuji. I don't know about the sumo tour, what does trip advisor say?
You need to make a reservation if you want to visit the Kyoto Imperial Palace because it is always with a guide, there is an English tour. It is free but take you passport with you, they check it. I liked it but other people didn't.
I think you should just tell your partner that he/she doesn't need to take a lot of stuff with him/her but you know your partner better than I do. But staying in Tokyo because of this is imho a bit weird, the shinkansen is fast but still all that traveling takes a lot of time.
I would give Tokyo at least 3 days unless you really don't like big cities but you can always do day trips if you are 'done' with Tokyo.
Oct 10, 2012 5:11 PM
7Hmm, in my opinion you would waste a LOT of time if you used Tokyo as your base. It's not close at all to other things that you want to see. 4-5 hours round trip is nothing to shake a stick at, especially since most attractions close by 5pm and you would be slave to the train timetables.
If anything, you could stay however long you wanted in Tokyo, and then switch your base somewhere else. I reccommend Osaka or Kyoto, because lots of other things (Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, Koya) are within daytrip distance from one another (although staying a night here and there would allow you to see other stuff).
There is luggage storage available in the train stations, but sometimes it's hard to find the big lockers, plus it takes time out of your day dealing with that stuff. It's also expensive (the larger lockers are about 700-1000 yen per calendar day). If at all possible, for sanity's sake, see if your partner can minimize what they take. One suitcase and carry-on for each of you ought to suffice for 16 days. Do coin laundry at night when you're unwinding from a full day (find out ahead of time where a facility might be so you can plan it). You will hate that luggage every step of the way, I guarantee it.
As for the tours, I agree with previous posters: you can get aound Kyoto and Nara, actually pretty much anywhere, without a guide. If you want to learn more about a particular place, you can get an audioguide in English from the larger places. I also personally dislike large, generalized tours. Curators or experts in a particular area are a different matter. I've never done the sumo tour you linked, but if you wanted to see sumo it might be a good option.
Oct 10, 2012 5:15 PM
8And about Mt Fuji, you won't be able to visit it at the time that you are coming. It's only open to hikers and the like during July and August when the snow is gone. If you want to see it from a distance you can see it from the shinkansen on a clear day, or you could do one of the hikes in the surrounding area (which I have heard are lovely).
Oct 11, 2012 9:00 AM
9Thank you @wateenmooiedag and @allapologies for your replies and suggestions.
You are both right this plan needs more refinement and sure i will miss some things, it was more a desire to do as much as we can while we have the opportunity to visit such an amazing place. I like your suggestion about having a base in Tokyo for a few days then switching to Kyoto, and doing day drips from there to the other places.
Regarding the luggage, I am working on that :)
I know we will be bring more luggage back but that is expected, we both love shopping and i love gadgets too :)
To help myself with organising the trip i have made a custom map and placed pins in all the locations i would like to visit.
This way i can see where the majority of the pins are and plan accommodation in those cities. So far most of the pins are around Kyoto then Tokyo and a few around Hiroshima.
I am also trying to learn some Japanese, I appreciate i will not be able to speak it by the time i get there, but every little helps. After all I am visiting Japan so i should learn their customs and not expect them to cater for me just because i chose to go there.
Oct 11, 2012 9:20 AM
10I went to Japan in July for three weeks (July 10-30). I traveled alone, it was my first time to Japan, I do not speak any Japanese, and I traveled by public transportation everywhere. I bought a Japan rail pass which was a really great deal and I used it a lot. I worked out my schedule in advance using the hyperdia website. I usually got a free reservation before getting on many of the trains. I found that the non-reserved cars were often full. The personnel at the reservation desks always spoke English. It was the easiest country to travel in that I have ever visited.
I went to Tokyo (3 nights) including a side-trip to Nikko (used the JR Rail Pass)--in Tokyo, visited the Tokyo National Museum (the art collection is spectacular). The Fish Market was interesting, the sushi made a good breakfast. I stayed in Shinjuku.
Kyoto (2 nights)--loved the Fushimi-Inari Shrine
Nara (1 night)--you can walk in the park at night--you will be almost alone and the lights cast weird shadows of the deer
Hiroshima (2 nights)--the Peace Museum is a must and take a day-trip to Miyajima Island (take the JR Rail Pass Ferry)
Osaka (1 night)--the castle is nice (rebuilt) but the aquarium is spectacular. Stopped at Himeji-jo, took elevator up to roof--interesting.
Koyasan (1 night)--wonderful--I stayed at an inn--the tofu inspired dinner and breakfast were not to my taste but the cemetery at dusk was absolutely amazing. (JR Rail Pass will not work to Koyasan--it is a private train line)
Kanazawa (2 nights)--former "pleasure" districts are great, Nomura Samurai House, Ishikawa Prefectural Museum for traditional Products and Crafts, and the covered food market were really great. Kenrokuen gardens for me were a little disappointing.
Shirakawa-go (1 night)--wonderful, stayed in a Gassho-house booked through Japanese Guest Houses website--the food was really great. Take bus from Kanazawa.
Takayama (1 night)--staying the night is not necessary. take bus from Shirakawa-go.
Matsumoto (1 night)--great castle especially since Himeji-jo is covered. Take bus from Takayama.
Tsumago (1 night)--walked six kilometers of Naksendo Way. Tsumago is nicest village. Way too hot in July. Used JR Rail Pass.
Nagano (1 night)--great temple--best part of trip was finding the key to paradise in the tunnel under the temple. Wonderful.
Tokyo (1 night)--Stayed at Narita Airport
Everyone was really nice. As a woman traveling alone, I felt safe everywhere (even at night). Few people spoke English but it was never a problem.
Oct 11, 2012 3:44 PM
11Wow @northmorarandcararoe that's quite an epic trip, and good to hear your thought too, I will spend some time over the weekend planning more for our trip. Need to decide where we will stay and book the hotels.
Will need to read your reply again with a map in front of me to plot it all down :)
Oct 11, 2012 6:31 PM
12My first (of several) trip(s) to Japan was a similar length: 17 nights. I spent the first and last three nights in Tokyo. I had a 2-week rail pass and spent 4 nights in Kyoto, 3 Osaka and 2 nights each in other places not on your itinerary. Did a day trip from Osaka to Himeji and Okayama, which you shouldn't bother with if Himeji is still under restoration.
If you have 16 nights with 5 in Tokyo, that also leaves you 11 other nights.
I'd say skip Kobe and Takayama, spend 2 nights each in Kanazawa and Hiroshima/Miyajima, do Nara as a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto unless you really want to walk through the Nara park at night and drop one of my nights in Osaka/Kyoto for that temple night at Mt Koya. Kamakura can be done as a day trip from Tokyo since allapologies hates it so much.
Northmorarandcararoe had a really good trip it looks like, though for me it sounds a bit rushed as does your OP. Of course that depends on you, it depends on whether you mind having to move to a new city and a new hotel almost every night. I happen to like to be able to relax in one spot for a couple of days, anyway.
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