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Nagano/Gifu route?

I need help figuring out the best order for my itinerary. I am traveling with three elementary age children and my parents. It is the first trip to Japan for everyone except for me. We have a month to spend, And I am thinking about going mid September to mid October.

Tokyo - 5 nights (With optional day trips)
Day 6: Fly to Asahikawa in Hokkaido, pick up car, Visit the zoo, and continue on to
Sounkyo Onsen - 2 nights
Drive to Biei/Furano 2 nights
Drive to Sapporo 3 nights (Optional day trip to Otaru or Jozanken Onsen and/or Noboribetsu)

Does anyone Think any of these three day trips are essential or deserve an overnight? We could add an extra night in here if needed

Fly from New Chitose to EITHER Kyoto or Matsumoto to begin a week in Gifu/Nagano - thoughts?

Here is where I need some help sharpening this itinerary and taking into consideration the season etc.

Coming from Hokkaido, what is our best route if I want to hit Tsumango/Magome, Nagano, Jigukadani, Shirakawa-go, and Takayama? I would also like to see either Matsumoto castle or Himeji and I’m curious which one would be recommended most. We can spend anywhere from 5-8 days in the area. (I’m trying to avoid the Takayama area around Oct 9-10 because of the festival. I’m worried about the crowds with my parents).

I want to end up positioned in order to continue for the last week and a half of our trip between Kyoto, Hiroshima, Naoshima and Hakone. For this portion I was thinking of 4 nights in Kyoto (Nara day trip), Possibly Seeing Himeji castle on the way to Hiroshima If we ended up skipping Matsumoto castle, And spending the night in Hiroshima Then we would continue on to Naoshima/Teshima for 2 nights (Avoiding Mondays and Tuesdays when they close). Alternately, we could spend the second night in Okayama To visit the garden and to be better positioned for a train to Hakone in the morning. Then we will go to Hakone and spend two nights before flying out from Tokyo.

I would appreciate any input especially on how to arrange our time in the last half of the trip. I intentionally put Hokkaido early in the trip so we could get the leave changing at the national Park which happens early in the season. I started with five nights in Tokyo to give us time to get over jet lag meant to really explore the city. I would really like to be in a walkable neighborhood with character and restaurants. Suggestions?

We have a total of 30-31 days and I’m trying to consider the pace with a multi generational group. Having said that, they are all very experience travelers.

Posted by
3287 posts

Keeping in mind that our trip to Japan was in in 1987, here are some thoughts.
How comfortable will you be driving on the left? You will need a fairly large vehicle for 5 people, and signs are in (duh) Japanese, unlike most of western and central Europe, where you can at least make out place names, even though you don’t speak the language. As an aside, you will get the experience of being an adult illiterate. Quite mind-boggling!
Himeji Castle is an easy stop on the way to Hiroshima. In my opinion, one Japanese castle is plenty, especially since you will want to include a visit to the palace at Nara. There is a toy museum in Himeji. Your kids will probably love it.
While in Hiroshima, leave some time (half day?) for an excursion to Myajima.. It’s a very short boat ride, perhaps 10 minutes. There’s wonderful museum of folk art, showing rooms of hand-crafted furniture and ceramics.
One thing I absolutely loved in Japan was the existence of experiential craft centers in places where a particular craft was practiced. For example, we were able to make rice paper, do indigo tie-dying, and have an origami lesson. I don’t remember where these happened, but I think, with the internet, you could find such places.

Posted by
131 posts

Our trip was in 1986 so I'm sure things have changed. However we had already traveled a lot in Europe by car before that trip. There is no way we would have been comfortable driving in Japan. But it sounds like you have definite ideas as to where you want to go so you are probably more of an expert on Japanese driving and signage. My only other advise would be make sure you remember jet lag may not hit until 3-4 days into the trip. With kids that could be an eye opener. Sounds like a great trip.

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks for the info. I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving myself, but my husband drives a fire truck for a living so I feel pretty safe in his ability to handle the unexpected! I’ve taken another look at our last week, and I am leaning towards finishing with four nights in Kyoto, Then on to two nights on the art islands, one night in Hiroshima, and then seeing Himeji castle on our way to Hakone for our final two nights.

So that means the third week of our trip we need to cover Gifu and Nagano highlights, And I will be launching that leg in Sapporo, and ending it in Kyoto 7-8 nights later. Suggestions for the best route through Nagano/Gifu between those two poles?