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Japan in November

(Ah, now we can ask questions about non-European trips and fear no retribution! :) )

Planning my first trip to Japan, in mid-November of this year. We will have about 2 weeks. We are typical Rick-nics, have been to much of Europe on a dozen trips, also have traveled across a fair bit of Asia, but have not been to Japan before. We like history, culture, art, food, museums, scenery, and "back door" experiences. With 2 weeks, I know we won't be able to cover the whole country, so we're not even going to attempt going to the far north or south (we'll save those for another trip). I figure we will stick to the main Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka area and perhaps some excursions outside the urban areas.

Sure wish there was a Rick-style book for Japan...any recommendations for a good substitute?

Looking for any/all suggestions for how you would allocate 2 weeks for a trip like this, itinerary suggestions, favorite places and those to avoid or not dwell at.

Thanks in advance!

Posted by
2762 posts

We had a wonderful winter trip to Japan recently, to visit a relative who was doing a short internship there. We did not go to Tokyo. Our time was spent in Kyoto ( wonderful, beautiful city), Nara, and Ise. The last is well off the beaten path, but that is where our niece was based. I would definitely recommend a Multi-day visit to Kyoto and at least an overnight in Nara. We did not visit Hiroshima but I wish we had.

I cannot recommend a guidebook as we didn't use one.

Posted by
257 posts

I travelled with a friend to Japan a few years ago. We visited Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Nara, Takayama and Kanazawa. Hakone is a nice scenic area with hot springs. I had the Lonely Planet guidebook and my friend had the Rough Guide. Both were good and we found that these books complemented each other.

Posted by
1 posts

David,
November is really a great time to visit! The fall colors are just breathtaking. We visited Japan last November and we also skipped Tokyo. We did Kyoto , nara & Shikoku. You could easily spend a good 4 days in Kyoto- such a beautiful charming place with splendid temples. I would really recommend Miyajima Island - its close by to Hiroshima and you could easily combine the two.Have fun!

Posted by
9110 posts

Three days Tokyo, two Kyoto.

Split the rest between Hokkaido and Kyushu. Look out the windows enroute to decide what part of what islands you want to visit next time.

Posted by
379 posts

Hi, David

A good start is Lonely Planet's website. You can get a general idea of the country and figure out the regions you would like to visit without buying the book.

For "history, culture, art", Kyoto would be a good start. About 4-5 days would be enough for Kyoto. You could do a couple of day trips out of the city.

Also, check out the Kyoto forum on TripAdvisor.com. If you like cats, there is a reference to cat café.

Look on Amazon, there is a beautiful book on the UNESCO sites in Kyoto, cost about $17.

Search the internet, there are several websites on where to eat, Kyoto walks, handicraft center, etc.

You'll love Japan. The people are polite. The country is clean and safe. Public transportation is great.

Have a wonderful time.

Posted by
9110 posts

Japan has almost seven thousand islands of which about four hundred are inhabited. If you limit yourself to Tokyo and Kyoto, you're really screwing up.

Posted by
379 posts

Hi, David

Are you new to the website? Ed is a wonderful guy with lots of travel knowledge. He just sometimes comes off a little bit gruff. Don't take any offense to his last comments.

You can save the islands for your next trip.

Posted by
794 posts

My daughter and I spent 2 weeks in Japan in Jan 2011, when my niece was working in Kyoto. We flew to Tokyo and spent 2 nights there, sightseeing for one day, then trained to Kyoto where we spent 3 nights and my niece showed us around. Then she had to work for a few days, so we went to Miyajima Island and Hiroshima for 2 nights, then back to Kyoto for 4 more nights, then finished in Tokyo for our final 3 nights. It was very nice spending 2-4 nights in each city. While in Kyoto, we daytripped to Osaka to see the bunraku/puppets and also to Kobe, where we enjoyed the fashion museum and the center for disaster preparedness [Kobe was the site of a devastating earthquake in 1995 which led the Japanese to develop an outstanding early warning system. But I'll get off that soapbox now.] We used the Frommer guide [a bit expensive for us, but we followed the cheaper recommendations] and TripAdvisor for hotels, and also got some materials from the Japan Tourist Office in New York, which we visited the summer before our trip. Ended up not using most of those, alas.

Kyoto was great; we especially enjoyed the geisha show at Gion Corner, where they demonstrated the tea ceremony, various musical instruments and dance, etc., and the Golden Temple. Tokyo was great; we were fascinated by our trip to the Kabuki theater. It was all great. I was surprised at how much we loved the gardens, even in winter.

Two books I would recommend are "Confucius Lives Next Door" by a Washington Post reporter who lived in Tokyo with his family for several years during the mid-90s, and Isabella Bird's Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, written in the late 19th century about her travels.

It was very easy to travel there. The larger cities have a lot of English signage and great public transit. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
414 posts

I just got back from week in Tokyo and Kyoto. I liked Lonely Planet for Kyoto - very good restaurant suggestions. I also like the pocket sized Timeout book for Tokyo.

Tokyo is huge and I think the time spent there depends on whether or not you want to experience several different neighbourhoods and the hugeness of it all. I wish I had been there to see the crazy kids do their thing at Yoyogi Park on Sunday but I didn't plan my time well enough and wasn't in Tokyo on a Sunday.

I did go to a Sumo wrestling bout however. They are only on a few times a year in Tokyo. That was an experience.

I highly recommend Kyoto. We spent three days there and could have spent more time. It's a much more manageable size.

Posted by
194 posts

My favorite travel guides are by the Japan Travel Bureau - paperback guides called Must-See in Kyoto and Look into Tokyo. None for Osaka. What's great about them are the illustrations of sites, objects, events and their significance. Easy to take with you and easy to find while you're actually standing in a temple or in front of a shrine. You can find them on Amazon.

Posted by
199 posts

Hi Dave, I went to Japan for the first time in August for 9 days and it was fantastic. What a great country and such friendly people and great food. A quick way to see Tokyo is to use the Yamanote Line. It's a circular train that stops in many of the popular areas like Shinjujku, Shibuya, Ueno, Nippori and Akihabra. I'm pretty sure there's a day pass available for it around $7. There are videos available on YouTube to give you some help. Just search for Yamanote Line Tokyo.

Posted by
28 posts

David,

We went for 2 weeks in October, 2013. We're a couple in our 60s who have traveled Europe, etc. Same requests as you, Rick Steve's travel experiences. Here are my recommendations. Buy a Japan Rail Pass. It will cost you about $500 each, for two weeks. Plan on validating it so that it will cover your last train trip to the airport. If your trip is 15 days, you can manage without the pass on the first day in Tokyo by walking around the local area or using the subway. In Tokyo, stay in Ueno area. It is easy to access from airport (Narita) and it is convenient for trains. Ueno is also jam packed with museums, art, history and authentic neighborhoods. Some areas are very old and still inhabited by families (not just young people.) Locate the local guide for this area at Ueno Green Salon (in the Ueno Park.) There is a free 90-minute walking tour of Ueno that departs from here every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at 10:30am and 1:30pm. All you need to do is show up. It was one of the highlights of our trip. We were shown the historic Ueno, temples, shrines and other buildings. Our guide was charming and spoke excellent English. It actually took about 2 hours. These tours are also available in other cities and areas of Tokyo. From Ueno you can easily get to all areas of Tokyo on the Yamanote train line. We stayed in two places, and I would recommend both: Hotel Coco Grand Ueno Shinobazu-large hotel with friendly staff and fantastic Japanese and Western breakfasts included. Nice first hotel to get acclimated. This is not an inexpensive hotel ($140) but reasonable for Tokyo, and it is close to restaurants in a busy area. A totally different experience was the Ryokan Sawanoya Ueno. It is a family run ryokan located in the authentic "old" part of Ueno and very Rick Steve's feeling. It would be in his book, if he had one. Very helpful, modest, clean and quiet. From Tokyo we spent 2 nights in Kanazawa. Ryokan Sumiyoshiya is a lovely but not very expensive place to experience a traditional ryokan. Indulge in a dinner served in your room. This is a great city for historic neighborhoods (it was not bombed), crafts, and one the most beautiful gardens anywhere. Because of the autumn celebration in Takayama, we spent 2 nights there. It is a bit remote to get to, but a pretty mountain town. Then 5 nights in Kyoto, and I cannot recommend highly enough the hotel Eco+Tec. It is the perfect Rick Steve's match in Japan. It is located in a prime Kyoto neighborhood, quiet street, but close to transportation and sites. It is very reasonably priced, clean, and has helpful staff. We loved Japan. The historic sites are so beautiful it takes your breath away. The Japanese people are polite and helpful, food is sometimes difficult to locate (lots of signage is only in Japanese), it got dark pretty early, transportation was easier than it looked online, making reservations for hotels online worked out, but the sites are often difficult to understand-room size, etc., and train passes made travel extremely easy and pleasant.
Molly

Posted by
199 posts

I have to agree with Molly about the Coco Grande Hotel in Tokyo. During my stay Japan was suffering from a terrible heat wave with temperatures near 100 degrees F coupled with very high humidity. By the time I got to the hotel from Ueno station my shirt was soaking wet. The woman behind the reception desk immediately retrieved a packaged wet towel without one word from me. She was keeping them in an ice filled cooler. What a nice welcome. But Molly is right the Coco is pricey. The neighborhood around it is great too. There are shrines in Ueno Park and Nippori is close by as well. The Keisei train station (to/from Narita airport), Ginza line and Yamanote line are short walks from the hotel.
I stayed in 2 Chisun Inns while in Japan. One was in Asakusa (Tokyo) and the other was in Osaka. Good value for the price. There's one in Ueno too.
http://www.solarehotels.com/en/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rofU5AHesqY

Nara and Kyoto are worth visits and if you make it to Osaka don't miss the lively Dotonbori Street.

Posted by
1 posts

Pleased to see a "Beyond Europe" area of the website!

My hubby and I are doing a cruise to Tokyo in September 2014 with ports in Petropavlovsk in Eastern Russia and the following two ports in Japan (enroute to Tokyo/Yokohama): Otaru (Hokkaido) and Hakodate. Can anyone please give me ideas for an independent tour guide??

I am pleased to see we can ask questions in the Beyond Europe area of this website. Can anyone help us??
We will only be one day in each of the three ports.

Many thanks for previous help on European tours on Rick Steve's site!

Posted by
1453 posts

I did my two week solotrip to Japan in 2000. Places to stay and visit where Nara, Himeji, Hiroshima (Kintai-bridge), on island Kyushu to Nagasaki, Ibusuki and Kytakyushu, further to Kyoto and Tokyo. A busy shedule but with the Japan Rail Pass and the unbelievable accurate and efficient public transport system very well doable. The pass costs as Molly said some $500 and is very good value for the money if you want to make use of highspeed trains so that remote places become within more easy reach.
Japan is from the moment you arrive till departure in any respect a fantastic extraordinary country to experience, for me one of the best I had till so far, hopefully to get back there once again.

Used a Lonely Planet guide and readed a few books about Japanese culture to better understand what to expect, really adds to the experience. For me where the numerous little things, things that differs from my home country, that made this journey so memorable.