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6.5 days in Japan: Must See Sights?

My family (husband and I, two teens, ages 17 and 14) have 6.5 days in Japan in early April. (Fly into Narita on a Saturday in late afternoon, depart the following Saturday from Haneda Airport mid-afternoon. This is our first trip there and I'm thinking we will probably only have time for Tokyo and Kyoto, but am open to suggestions. Given we have limited time, I prefer not to spend hours and hours traveling from one city to another. A couple of factors:

  • My teenagers are probably not going to want to see a temple a day :-), so I'd want to just hit the "don't miss" ones. Same with museums.
  • We'd love to experience a ryokosan in Kyoto -- any recs?
  • In Tokyo, I'd like to stay in a central location with easy access to transit so we can get easily to sights. Everything seems pretty expensive though. Are we not likely to find a family room (quad) option? I've heard it's rare in Japan.
    • We love Japanese food, open-air markets, walking neighborhoods.
    • Any suggestions on which train pass to purchase?

Thank you!

Wendy

Posted by
6204 posts

If your kids are interested in anime, there are several places in Tokyo to see it. You may need to book way ahead.
Consider a good walking tour with Yukari Sakamoto. Buy her book on Amazon, FOOD SAKE TOKYO, a real asset to have along.
As far as temples, they have more outdoor space than , for example, a cathedral and often have a pretty Japanese garden attached.
I will send you a few temple names that you all might enjoy later. I need to find my Japan trip notes.
We loved Japan.

Posted by
104 posts

If you're kids are really into anime, you could visit the studio ghibli museum but it does book up and took us about an hour to get there if I'm remembering correctly.

For the trains, be sure to price out the passes vs. buying point to point tickets since with the length of your trip if you are only looking at Tokyo and Kyoto the pass may not save you much if anything.

Most visitors to Kyoto will want to see the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) but try to pick a time when it won't be as busy so earlier or later in the day. Another top site is the Fushimi Inari Shrine. My son really enjoyed Nijo-jo Castle. I also really enjoyed Ginkaku0ji Temple.

in Tokyo, check out Meiji Jingu shrine, and there is also a garden area to walk through. We really liked the Tokyo National Museum as it had art from many different periods, and we looked around Ueno park after.

I also have to say that we found the food overall to be very good in Japan. both in Kyoto and Tokyo. We stayed at Ryokan Sawanoya in Tokyo and really enjoyed the neighborhood and the staff were wonderful. In Kyoto, we stayed at the Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel, and would also really recommend this hotel. The onsen onsite was wonderful after all of the walking and the breakfast had a nice selection. Again, the staff was extremely helpful.

Posted by
4662 posts

We spend several days in Tokyo and Kyoto (also visiting Nara) prior to a cruise that included several Japanese ports (Kobe and Nagasaki and more) continued to Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

We loved Japan and it wonderful people. Japan is the cleanest country ever.

We stayed at a hotel near the Tokyo Station then took a three day tour on the Bullet train to Kyoto and Nara.
Our hotel in Kyoto was across the street from the main train station. Our tour of Kyoto and Nara was included in the overall trip there.

You need to research the temples, shrines and palaces in Kyoto. It would take a week to see them all.

Here is a detailed review of our trip and cruise. Enjoy Japan
Japan and a little bit of China
http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=518503&et_cid=2531924&et_rid=17221689&et_referrer=Boards

Posted by
192 posts

In Tokyo, your family might be interested in the Edo/Tokyo Museum. Great history of the city with cool exhibits and lots of English. Go to Meiji Shrine and Harajuku on Sunday to see the teens and young adults in cos-play costumes.

The Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and the surrounding area is really interesting. Be sure to wander the streets around the temple, not just the main temple area itself.

If you will be in town during a sumo tournament, go to one! And try Japanese stadium food.

Posted by
44 posts

Thank you to all for the great suggestions. I know this is highly subjective, but any suggestions on how to allocate the time? 3 days in Tokyo, 3 in Kyoto?

Wendy

Posted by
11929 posts

It is indeed high subjective, and probably tempting to just divide your time 50-50. But maybe not the best plan.

I have not been to Tokyo yet, but I have been to Kyoto. We are going back to Japan in November to do a guided walking trip, starting in Kyoto and ending in Tokyo. I have added three days at the beginning in Kyoto before meeting the tour, because I felt very comfortable there before, and able to navigate without stress. And there is so much to see and do there; much more than temples and shrines, although those are a highlight. As mentioned above, these are not like visiting Western churches; a shrine or temple visit is more about nature, the gardens, the beautiful building, and a sense of calm and peace. And lots of trinket shopping opportunities on the way in, but these can be bypassed.

Take a look at photos of Fushimi Inari shrine and put that high on your list.

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3915.html

In addition to the shrines and temples, you can explore Gion, the geisha district; walk the grounds of the imperial palace; and more. It is a nice city to walk ( which we did exclusively when I was there 20 years ago) but they do have a metro and a good bus system.

Tokyo is a huge a vibrant city, with so much to offer, but many independent travelers find it intimidating. My sister and her family spent a few days there last autumn after walking the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail, and by her account they felt totally disoriented and stressed. They did manage to make their way to the famous tuna market, and have sushi for breakfast nearby, but beyond that they felt like they wasted a lot of time just trying to figure things out and get from place. and they were overwhelmed by the crowds and how fast everything moved.

Maybe others who have managed Tokyo as independent, non-Japanese speaking travelers, will have more and better advice, but personally Inwould spend more time in Kyoto than Tokyo, unless you have. a guide to help you navigate.

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3915.html

Posted by
4662 posts

I recommend visiting Nikko, north of Tokyo, it is amazing. Also, Kamakura is great. We did a great three day tour of Kyoto and Nara by Bullet Train from Tokyo. I would do that as well as 3 nights in Tokyo.

Posted by
679 posts

Just found this discussion and am so glad. Thanks for all the great information. We will be going to Tokyo and Kyoto in November and still in the where do we stay now that we have airline tickets and dates.

Posted by
126 posts

I recommend you to get the Suica card, to move on trains/subway in the cities and you can use it to pay on vending machines and convenience stores.

If you plan on using the Shinkansen to travel between cities, buy the JR Pass. They have a calculator on their website so you can see if it's good for your needs or not. You have to get this one before leaving, they send the physical pass (inactive) to your house and you take it with you to Japan and activated it once you arrive at the airport, or later in the week if needed.
https://www.jrpass.com/farecalculator

In Kyoto definitely visit the Arashiyama bamboo forest, Gyon and the Fushimi Inari Shrine. You don't have to climb the mountain all the way to the top but we did and it was fun. We are in fairly good shape so we didn't felt tired or sore the next day. YMMV. Also, I read somewhere than now it's forbidden to take pictures of the geishas and maikos in Kyoto, specifically the Gion area, because people and photographers were pretty much stalking them and following them around. You can get a fine https://www.thenational.ae/lifestyle/travel/tourists-banned-from-taking-pictures-of-geisha-in-japanese-city-1.933902

Tokyo is so big and diverse, that it depends on your personal taste about the kind of activities you want to do. I would recommend you to go to the famous Shibuya crossing Sunday afternoon, I read it's when it's more packed with people, and it was fun crossing it several times. An area in Tokyo that is becoming so trendy is Nakameguro. We rented an apartment there, and it was great, plus I have read the river it's beautiful during cherry blossom season.

Posted by
1312 posts

You could try the Westin Kyoto - they had family rooms that fit 4 when we were there - this is from about 10 years ago. You may have to email them for this.

Posted by
4771 posts

Many people who visit Kyoto also visit Osaka or Nara, or at least Inari (the closest of those.)

I urge you to think about that "temple a day statement". The whole reason for going to Kyoto is to see temples. They are widely separated, and many of them take some time to see. There are at least five to ten "must-see" temples in Kyoto, and there are in fact, well over 100. It is a remarkable place.

Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. And there is little tradition of large hotel rooms in Japan. But American chains (like Hilton) certainly cater to that, for a price. A quad room is not a reasonable expectation. Like most big cities abroad, Tokyo has excellent public transit, which is absolutely necessary to "see everything in town." In that sense, bed location is less important. Restaurants are also often smaller, and don't process people through like in the US. So it is unfortunately necessary to reserve any non-quick-food dinner place, or be shut out.

Posted by
11929 posts

This is for Nancy: we were just in Kyoto in November (perfect time to go!) and we're very happy with our small hotel in Gion:

https://www.hotel-ethnography.com/en/gion-shinmonzen/room.html

I chose it as it offers the best of both worlds---a Japanese-style bathroom ( tub and shower separate) and a Western bed ( not a futon on the floor). I booked the "garden room" and it was very comfortable as well as pleasing to the eye; a nice place to relax after a busy day of walking.

The location is great: close to the river near Sanjo bridge ( metro station) and the Keihan railway station. The #5 bus to the Silver Pavilion left from a stop 2 blocks away. (The very helpful staff advised us to take that). The famous canal-side street in Gion was two blocks to the south, and the Nishiki market and arcade were a 15- minute walk.

The breakfast is taken at a shared table with other guests, and we met people from France and Australia. The meal is simple: rice and miso soup, pickles, and slices of omelette, plus granola. Not sumptuous but it was plenty for us.

If we return to Kyoto ( which we might do) we would happily stay there again.

Posted by
143 posts

I've been to Japan several times over the last 30 years, and think that your teens may also find it interesting to visit Hiroshima. I would consider flying into Narita, connecting to a Hiroshima flight, spend about 1 1/2 days there and take the train to Kyoto. 2 days in Kyoto/Nara and then take the train for Tokyo to spend 2 days before departing from Haneda. In Hiroshima, Mazda Motor offers a free factory tour, which showcases why the Japanese are the best in the automotive business.

This itinerary may sound rushed to others, but based on my experience it's reasonable.

Posted by
679 posts

Thanks Lola. I will look into it. Any advise will be gladly accepted.

Posted by
13 posts

For Tokyo temples, if you have to do only one, do Senso-ji in the historic Asakusa neighborhood. The temple itself is gorgeous and Asakusa is super fun. Lots of shopping, eating, and general atmospherics.

As for Kyoto, I did the Golden Temple over the summer and found it WAY too crowded to be worth it. I thought I’d never seen a Japanese person lose his cool, but the one exception is a police officer outside the Temple grounds trying to handle tourists who weren’t following the guidelines (it’s a historic temple and very delicate). I know it’s famous and all but the experience was incredibly unpleasant. Fushimi Inari (Fox Shrine) is also crowded but I enjoyed my visit there. The crowds thin out if you hike to the top, and there’s food and shopping at the bottom of the mountain!

A number of people have already mentioned the Miyazaki museum. If you all like anime/Miyazaki, don’t miss it. It’s a bit out of the way but a really wonderful experience.

Re: housing I’ve only stayed in Tokyo solo, but perhaps you could do a private room in a hostel? “Roughing it” in Japan tends to still be very very clean, safe, and tourist-friendly. Shinjuku is a super fun neighborhood if you can swing it.

Posted by
4662 posts

We expected Japan and Tokyo to be more expensive that it was.
We have visited far more expensive places. Switzerland and Scandanavia were more expensive than Japan.

Our hotel was very near Tokyo Station, so arriving at Narita Airport, we just took the Tokyo Express to the Station and walked to our hotel. We found meals in Japan to be very reasonable.

Posted by
6204 posts

We stayed in Tokyo at Hotel Dai Ichi near Ginza district and a major train station was two blocks away. In fact the hotel had a tunnel passageway to the train station although we never used it. We liked that it was a Japanese owned hotel not a western chain.
We found Tokyo so interesting and easy to get around. We love big cities but Tokyo is large and very spread out so choose a few areas to explore.
Go to Japan-guide. They have a tool that you use to figure out if you would make good financial use of a Japan Rail Pass. I doubt you would. We didn’t find Tokyo intimidating at all and would love to return.
Kyoto was easy to navigate, a wonderful city to explore. Subway was so easy, only two lines. We did a day trip to Nara by train too. But we had almost three weeks in Japan and you have one week so need to prioritize.

Posted by
2 posts

Highly recommend checking out airKitchen cooking classes while you're in Japan, and they're very family-friendly. A great way to get a deeper experience of Japanese culture as well as learn how to cook Japanese food from locals themselves – and usually in their homes. I did a vegan shojin ryori cooking class in Tokyo, and it was super memorable for me and my friend! My hosts were a Japanese family of three, and they were incredibly kind to us! It's a neat opportunity to get a better feel of what the ordinary lives and homes look like for Japanese locals! Especially being vegan, where it can be difficult to find food options here. Definitely a cultural experience that goes beyond sightseeing, it was fun being able to converse with my Japanese hosts – who can speak English. Tokyo classes here if you're interested: https://airkitchen.me/list/tokyo.php

Posted by
511 posts

Nancy wrote: "Just found this discussion and am so glad. Thanks for all the great information. We will be going to Tokyo and Kyoto in November and still in the where do we stay now that we have airline tickets and dates."

I used the forums in Japan-guide.com, they're very helpful.

My third trip to Japan was in November 2017 - it's a great time of year. We spent two and a half weeks visiting Kyoto, Himeji, and Hiroshima on that trip. In Kyoto the most famous temples are spread out over a large area, so no hotel location is convenient to everything. We split our time in Kyoto between the Westin and an AirBNB near Kyoto Station (arranged by my son who lived in Japan for a year).

In Tokyo we like the Art Hotel in Hamamatsucho. It's a lovely neighborhood with my favorite temple (Zojo-ji) nearby. Also two lovely gardens. And great access to public transportation.

Posted by
1605 posts

hey hey all
my niece and the gang took a tour to japan about a year ago. they absolutely loved it, they are half japanese. they went to the cup noodle (ramen) museum in yokohama (cupnoodles-museum.jp) and (japan-guide.com learn all about ramen and it's history about it. there was also a station to make your own ramen.
they also went to disneyland tokyo (tokyodisneyresort.jp) the 5 girls were 16 to 23 years old at the time, it rained even though they had a great time.
they walked down some of the pedestrian market streets, ate street food, stopped at a hole in the wall restaurant and ate fabulous food, noodles to sushi to shrimp tempura to ton katsu.
saw really pretty and manicures gardens, fish ponds, statues and monuments. you go have fun and enjoy.
aloha