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A taste of Japan

West Mids, UK
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34 posts
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A taste of Japan

We are travelling to Japan in April and have 11 days/10 nights. We are flying into Osaka in the early evening.

For us to get a feel for 'real' Japan does anyone have any must see cities/places.

Basic research has given us the following as potential places to visit:

Tokyo

Nikko?

Mount Fuji

Nagoya?

Osaka

Kyoto

Takayama

Nara

Okayama

Himeji

Hiroshima

Problem is thats probably already too many places to see properly in the time we have, any suggestions?

We'd also like to see a sumo tournament if possible.

Many thanks

Illinois
Destination Expert
for Chicago, Illinois
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1. Re: A taste of Japan

Suggested itineraries - http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2400.html

also search for itineraries on this forum. The subject's been covered previously.

Narooma, Australia
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2. Re: A taste of Japan

Tigger -

We recently visited many of the places you mention. A copy of our (lengthy) trip report is attached, which might be of some help. You probably are trying to cover too much ground in 10 nights - especially if you are flying in direct from the UK!!

If you haven’t been to Japan, do yourself a favour: pack your walking shoes soon, and go.

We thought Japan and the Japanese were FANTASTIC.

The country is visually exciting – different to other parts of Asia…gentle…in contrast to say Thailand, form and shape are important, colour is less so…with a distinctive Japanese style (STYLE in capitals!) to many things (e.g the wonderful designs on very simple utilitarian things like manhole covers – so much so, I started photographing different manhole cover designs).

Also in contrast to other parts of Asia, there is (appealingly to us) no haggling or pressure to buy from shop assistants.

The country feels safe, and is incredibly clean – there is no litter, there is absolutely no graffiti.

Everything is ordered (you only cross the road, when the green light shows, at the pedestrian crossing at the corner!), and everything works so well. It’s easy to get around, even for 60-year-olds! (Forget group tours – explore on your own [you’ll discover a lot more and save at least 50%]). English signs are everywhere – especially at train and bus stops. Hotels are first rate, and hotel staff are courteous and helpful. There are (spotlessly clean, free) public toilets everywhere.

The food is superb…and so cheap! (outstanding meals for Y2,000; you can put together a picnic lunch to eat in the park for well under Y1,000!)

The people are incredibly polite, friendly (will talk to you in restaurants; we were ‘interviewed’ by a school group in Hiroshima Peace Park) and very helpful (see the two examples below of our ‘misadventures’ on trains; another example – enquired at Takayama Tourist Centre about availability of internet – “come in, use ours” – for free…and then they gave us two small Sarubobo Dolls!).

Perhaps the major surprise was the amount of Japlish. We thought the Japanese desire to get things working absolutely perfectly would have extended to ensuring translations from Japanese to English were absolutely correct – but that’s not the case. Two favourites: from Hakone (a major tourist area) “Building asks a smoked visitor in the outside smoking section that you cannot smoke in” [we think they were saying if you must smoke, you will have to go outside]. And instructions from a National [international brand!!] high-tech toilet: “When you sit on the seat, automatically the cold water flow. Wait for ‘off’, the lamp to wash. When you sit on the seat, ‘STANDBY’ lamp starts flashing. If you press (a symbol) upon seating, you may have a cold water spray…Contact front desk if the following occurs: ‘STAND BY’ lamp does not stop blinking. Cold water continues to flow, even after pushing the ‘SHOWER’ button.” [Hope you now know how to drive this toilet! {you can also use it just like a toilet in Australia}]

Another surprise was the amount of sampling used in Japan – one hotel gave us free sox, a free washer, a free set of nail clippers, a free pack of toiletries/cosmetic items for the lady; packs of tissues [promoting various things] are offered freely on the streets; many food items in markets and in department store food halls are displayed with samples to taste-test – you could easily help yourself to enough samples in the larger markets or food halls and then not have to eat lunch or dinner!

Another strong impression is that the Japanese are big on announcements. On trains, they sometimes seem to be virtually non-stop. Significantly, some trains even have “quiet carriages”, where announcements are not broadcast.

We were prompted to visit Japan because of very low Jetstar fares to and from Kansai, Osaka ($553 each, including meals). Basically we then headed north, west and south in a circle from Osaka, using a JR Rail Pass (Y28,300 each for 7 days. Must be purchased outside Japan. A voucher is swapped for the rail pass at any major rail station and [recommended!] free seat reservations can simultaneously be made for long distance trips. JR Rail Pass also provides free passage on JR Ferries – including one to Miyajima Island near Hiroshima. JR Timetables are at www.hyperdia.com) and by selecting/booking hotels via the internet. JNTO in Sydney were also very helpful – we asked for maps, walking suggestions for the cities and towns of interest to us, and they sent detailed information to us.

First stop was KYOTO for 4 nights (Aranvert Hotel Y57,000 a double for 4 nights). First morning we organized all train bookings, and then a wonderful university student volunteer guide, Jyunko (through Good Samaritan), showed us some of the sights in the north and north-west of the city – the Golden Temple, Ryoanji Temple [with its famous rock garden], Ninnaji Temple, and then over to the Arashiyama area (including a walk through its spectacular bamboo forest). She also took us to a wonderful buffet all-you-can-eat-in-50-minutes restaurant that served local home-cooked style food. This was a great way to start the visit to Japan.

The next day we explored the east of the city ourselves – basically taking in 2 suggested walking tours and missing a third, because we walked the track to Mt Nyoigatake and then kept walking (the Lonely Planet instructions didn’t say to return by the same route!). We came across a stunning outdoor display of posters promoting Kyoto and we happened across a festival at the Ginkaku-ji Shinto shrine from which we had planned to start the walk. The following day we spent in Nara, and then visited the amazing Fushimi Inari Shrine (1,000 Torii gates – which ward off bad spirits – along a 10 km path up a hill…and hundreds of live cats!) on the way back to the hotel. An excess of temples and shrines! Kyoto also has an amazing, modern railway station.

Whilst in Nara we discovered that the local Governor has organised free admission for international visitors to, at least, 4 museums and one garden. This is in celebration of the city's 1300th anniversary in 2010. The museums offering free admission are the Nara Museum of Art (which includes a collection of 17th century woodblock prints), the Nara Complex of Manyo Culture in Asuka Village, the Nara Museum of Folklore, and The Museum, Archeological Institute of Kashihara. We happened across similar free admission at the delightful Yoshikien Garden.

Then it was to HAKONE for a night (Hakone Yumoto Hotel Asuka. Y18,300 a double including dinner and breakfast – the Japanese dinner and breakfast were wonderful! Thanks to the patient Manager for explaining what side dishes/sauces to eat with each course [we were the only non-Japanese in the hotel]). Lonely Planet’s description of the Hakone area is accurate: “you’re riding a conveyor belt” (train, train, funicular railway, cable car, ferry (actually Pirate Ship!), and bus (what an amazing bus ride it is, too!). Disappointingly (but not surprisingly), didn’t get a view of Mt Fuji. Bought and ate 6 black eggs – each of which is supposed to add 7 years to our lives!

Next stop was TAKAYAMA for 2 nights in a Japanese style room (Rickshaw Inn Y11,900 per night). Visited two morning markets, walked and walked through and around the outskirts of town, and visited the Hida Folk Village. Two great meals in a Chinese/Japanese restaurant.

Then, over the mountains for 2 nights in KANAZAWA on the west coast. The major attraction here is the stunning Kenrokuen Gardens (considered one of the 3 best gardens in Japan) and the magnificent Kanazawa Castle. Kanazawa also seems to be deliberately trying to be a 21st Century city – its 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is well worth visiting (a wonderful display of television and cinema advertising; discovered The Very Hungry Caterpillar [even though it’s not a 21st Century book!!] is also a favourite with young Japanese children; played an oversize football table game), there are sculptures all around town, explored and ate at their fish and fruit market, and had a great meal at a restaurant (suggested by the front-of-house manager at the hotel) specializing in local Kanazawa food. Stayed at the Toyoko Inn Korinbo Kanazawa (Y16,380 a double for 2 nights – including breakfasts, plus the numerous give-ways on arrival!).

Then it was a couple of trains to Himeji – or at least that was the plan! Foolishly I left my backpack on the first train, when changing trains at Kyoto. I quickly reported this to the person in the Fare Adjustments office – who asked for details of the train (which was then on its way to Osaka). Within a minute, a 2nd station employee arrived to help. About 5 minutes later they advised the bag had been retrieved, that we should take the next train to Osaka, pick up the bag from the Lost Property counter (they gave us instructions on how to get there and wrote a note in Japanese to the staff there), then catch the train from Osaka to Himeji [thus going 2 sides of a triangle, instead of going direct from Kyoto to Himeji. All at no extra cost, because we had the JR Pass]. The backpack was waiting for me at Lost Property, and our journey was lengthened by perhaps 1 hour. What a contrast to what would have happened in Australia (if, indeed, the backpack had been recovered at all)!

HIMEJI has a great Castle dominating the town, and some amazing covered shopping arcades. We stayed at the Comfort Hotel Himeji (Y9,000, including a big, big breakfast). With assistance from the very helpful front desk staff at the hotel, dinner was tako-yaki (octopus balls, with a sauce) from a hole-in-the-wall take-away and akashi-yaki (the local version of tako-yaki) from a food court at the station.

The final day was a dash to MIYAJIMA ISLAND (and up Mt Misen by cable car to get a great view of the Hiroshima area and surrounding islands) in the morning (because this coincided with high tide, to see the red floating torii gate at its best), and then to HIROSHIMA Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb Dome, before heading to the airport.

This last leg of the journey involved a change of trains at ShinOsaka and was designed to give us time to comfortably check in at the airport, use the coin-operated showers before embarkation and grab something to eat. Unfortunately JR cancelled the train we were supposed to catch (and had seat reservations for) from ShinOsaka to Kansai airport – so we were looking lost and perplexed on ShinOsaka platform when the train dispatcher spotted us and came to see if she could assist. She explained our train had been cancelled, and we would have to catch the next train – which would arrive at Kansai with no time to spare. We explained this, and within minutes another JR employee (armed with a timetable the size of a phone directory) was trying to help us by re-routing us on other trains. In the end this turned out to be impractical – so we reluctantly had to catch the later train (with new seat reservation tickets organized – without us having to request them – by the train dispatcher; and the 2nd girl giving us explicit directions on how to get from the train to our check in counter)…and we then sprinted across Kansai airport and arrived at the Jetstar check-in counter 1 minute before the flight closed. So a quick wash in a basin in the toilets was all we could have – and dinner had to wait ‘till very late on the plane. Again, the understanding and helpfulness of the JR staff was incredible – and a complete contrast to what we feel would have happened, had we been in a similar situation, in Australia.

In summary –

A great holiday.

Jetstar was good – very much better than the Bangkok to Melbourne leg we did 12 months earlier. Their meals were good. They even served prepared coffee (in contrast to providing a coffee bag and a paper cup of luke warm water on the previous flight)! And exceptional value.

All the places visited were fabulous, and different enough from one another to make everything interesting. An extra day in Miyajima and Hiroshima would have been welcome, as we didn’t do justice to that area. Pleased we went a little off the beaten tourist track to Takayama and, particularly, Kanazawa.

Not excessively expensive. All up, the trip cost us A$5255 – and this was at a time when the A$ had dropped about 40% against the Yen in the 2 months prior to our departure. (Internet advice suggested that one budget a total of Y10,000 for site entrances [typically entrance was Y300 to Y600 per site], Y20,000 for non JR transport [major expense was Hakone Free Pass, which was Y3,900 per person ex Odawara for a 2 day pass; most bus or local train tickets were around Y200 one way] and Y2,800 to Y3,200 per person per day for food [a noodle meal is about Y700; prices in a 7/11 type store in Hiroshima were Y126 to Y136 for a bag of crisps, Y147 for a can of Coke, Y136 for 500ml milk, Y115 for a 500ml orange juice, Y306 for a 500ml Kirin Lager, Y110 – 141 for a 160g yoghurt, Y185 to Y275 for 2 rounds of sandwiches, Y200 to Y1,000 for a pack of sushi for 2 people. In the markets, Y100 for a BIG apple, Y300 for a bag of mandarins, Y200 for barbecued cuttlefish or octopus on a skewer.]. We found this suggested amount to be generous.)

The time of year was good. Weather was comfortable, and the autumn leaves were just coming on (2 or 3 weeks later and they would have been absolutely spectacular).

Reviews of all hotels have been posted on TA.

Nashville, TN
Destination Expert
for Himeji, Kobe, Osaka
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3. Re: A taste of Japan

You probably won't get to do everything. On your list, Okayama, Nagoya, and Fuji can be dropped. A couple of others might need the ax as well.

First, if you haven't already bought your ticket check the price of flying into Osaka and out of Tokyo (or vice versa). This might make it easier because you can then do a linear trip, so to speak. But weigh the travel time and other factors; price is usually not much different (if any) compared to flying into/out of the same airport.

Himeji can be done on the way to/from Hiroshima; I suggest at least a half day, though it really works out to about 3/4 of a day if you do Mt. Shosha.

I doubt you'll get to see a sumo tournament; there aren't any scheduled:

http://www.sumo.or.jp/eng/

However, some sumo stables (that's what the training gyms are called) do allow visitors. I've only heard about this and have never done it. Hopefully someone else will have more information. That might make a good option.

An itinerary might look something like this: From the airport go to Kyoto. Spend three nights in Kyoto. Go to Hiroshima, stopping in Himeji on the way. Stay one night in Hiroshima. Take a late train from Hiroshima to Tokyo. Spend three nights there; you might want to see how much you want to do there before deciding if you want to do Nikko as a day trip. Go to Takayama for a night. Head to Osaka for your last 2 nights. You can do Nara one day and then Osaka on your last day. I personally think Osaka has some good things to see, but you probably won't have time; luckily it's a good city to do at night (the ferris wheel in Osaka Station is open in the evening, for example, as is the aquarium (closes at 8). It's also a great city for food, and there are lots of bars to enjoy.

Hope this helps!

John W.

West Mids, UK
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34 posts
14 reviews
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4. Re: A taste of Japan

60yoaussie andworthj1970, many thanks for your advice.

Unfortunately we have already got flights booked in and out of Osaka so thats something I guess we'll need to work around!

60yoaussie - your trip looks like it defn echoes much of what we were looking to do - thanks for posting your review that will definitely help with planning and ideas for hotels.

Many thanks

5. Re: A taste of Japan

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