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Japan Itinerary Review Request (Gifu, Kyoto, Tokyo)

Hi RS Travelers! Thank you in advance for your time! We would love to hear your thoughts on our tentative Japan itinerary plans. My husband and I are going to Japan for two weeks at the end of November.

We love enjoying food and drink wherever we travel and appreciate the local experience. We are both uncomfortable with touristy areas and want to avoid crowds when possible. Aside from that, we both enjoy jazz, and play Go and do crafts for fun.

We will be traveling with family the first five days of our 12-day trip, they love onsen and they have named Shirakawa-go as their preferred destination.

We’ve put together a possible itinerary and would really appreciate if you could take a look and provide any comments, feedback, or any additional recommendations!

11/25 FRI: Arrival

  • Arrive at Narita at 1345
  • Travel: Narita > Tokyo (NEX, 1 hr), Tokyo > Nagoya (JR shinkansen, 2 hrs)
  • Arrive at Nagoya, join up with family
  • Eat histumabushi for dinner

11/26 SAT: Nagoya

  • Visit Nagoya Castle (close to opening time, 0900)
  • Visit Satsuki and Mei’s House in the Expo 2005 Commemorative Park (close to opening time, 1000)
  • Eat miso katsu for lunch
  • Travel: Nagoya > Takayama (JR Hida limited, ~2.5 hrs)
  • Arrive at Takayama, checkin onsen ryokan

11/27 SUN: Takayama / Okuhida

  • Visit Asaichi Morning Markets (start at 0700)
  • Visit Higashiyama Walking Course
  • Visit Matsuri no Mori museum (start at 0900)
  • Eat Hida beef, drink Hida beer / sake for lunch
  • Travel: Takayama > Okuhida Shin-Hotaka (Nohi Bus, 1.5 hrs)
  • Arrive at Okuhida, Shin-Hotaka
  • Visit Shin-Hotaka Ropeway, ride full loop
  • Sleep in onsen ryokan (likely Shin-Hotaka for the alps view)

11/28 MON: Shirakawa-go

  • Travel: Okuhida Shin-Hotaka > Takayama (Nohi Bus, 1.5 hrs); Takayama > Shirakawa-go (Nohi bus, 50 mi
  • Arrive at Shirakawa-go
  • Visit Ogimachi
  • Sleep in Gassho-Zukiri

11/29 TUE: Osaka

  • Travel: Shirakawa-go > Kanazawa (Nohi bus, 1.5 hrs); Kanazawa > Osaka (JR limited express, 2.
  • Bid farewell to family
  • Visit Shinsaibashi
  • Visit Dotonbori
  • Visit Shinsekai
  • Eat okonomiyaki, takoyaki, kushikage

11/30 WED: Kyoto

  • Travel: Osaka > Kyoto (JR shinkansen, 15 min
  • Visit Gion District (check out specialty shops)
  • Visit Kyoto Handicraft Center
  • Visit Higashiyama District
  • Visit Kiyomizudera (fall leaves illumination)
  • Visit Koudaiji (fall leaves illumination)

12/01 THU: Arashiyama Day Trip

  • Travel: Kyoto > Arashiyama (JR, 20 mins)
  • Rent bikes
  • Visit Enrian Temple
  • Eat yudofu kaiseki
  • Visit Bamboo Groves
  • Visit Monkey Park Iwatayama
  • Travel: Arashiyama > Kyoto (JR, 20 mins)

12/02 FRI: Kyoto

  • Visit Fushimi Inari Shrine
  • Visit Nishiki Market
  • Visit Kinkakuji Temple
  • Eat parfaits at Cafe Karafuneya
  • Visit Pontocho District (eat at restaurant by the river)

12/03 SAT: Chichibu

  • Travel: Kyoto > Tokyo (JR shinkansen , 2.7 hrs); Tokyo > Chichibu (Red Arrow, 1.5 hrs); Chichibu > Onohara (local, 10 mins)
  • Rent bikes
  • Visit Chichibu Yomatsuri

12/04 SUN: Tokyo (Western)

  • Travel: Onohara > Chichibu (local service, 10 mins); Chichibu > Tokyo (Red Arrow, 1.5 hrs)
  • Visit Yoyogi Park
  • Visit Shibuya (Tokyu Hands)
  • Visit Shinjuku (Eat at Omoide Yokocho and/or Golden Gai)

12/05 MON: Tokyo (outlying and Northern)

  • Visit Ghibli Museum
  • Visit Asakusa District
  • Visit Senso-ji Temple
  • Visit Nakamise Street
  • Visit Rikugien Gardens (evening light-up)
  • Eat high end sushi

12/06 TUE: Tokyo (Central)

  • Visit Tsukiji Market (just the outside with restaurants), eat sushi
  • Visit Ginza (Itoya)
  • Visit Akihabara
  • Visit Yurakucho (Yurakucho Go Center, Eat casual izakaya dinner)

12/07 WED: Day Trip (Open to suggestions)

  • Possible: Odaiba, Yokohama, Kawagoe

12/08 THU: Depature

  • Ramen Street
  • Depart from Narita
Posted by
5019 posts

Wow. First observation: while I admire your efforts to plan in detail, I am thinking that 1) you have too many activities planned on many days; and 2) in my experience, when traveling overseas, things don't always go perfectly as planned - I can easily see your day with 5-6 bulleted items falling apart if you miss a connection, get lost, etc. (all of which happen to me). Bottom line: your plans appear unrealistic to me. I would suggest you anticipate that things will not run perfectly like a Swiss watch (or a Japanese one either :) ). Stepping back...

You did not mention how much experience you have traveling in Japan (or overseas generally). Maybe you really know your way around Japan and you're much better at making details work and staying on schedule than I am (I've been to Japan twice and have traveled a lot internationally, so I have at least some experience - you may have more). But if you are not very experienced with Japan, I'd be careful with your plans in general.

Some specifics...

You're flying from LAX to NRT and then you're off for a bit of a train ride immediately. I hope you sleep well on long flights, you may be a bit exhausted upon arrival. I have not been to Nagoya, can't help you there. We liked Takayama. I REALLY liked the Hida beef - look for the restaurant with the giant cow statue out front, yummm. The morning market is fun. We also enjoyed Shirakawa-go - it's beautiful. Keep in mind that you will be there in the winter - days are short, you will probably encounter some unfavorable weather (we were there in October and we did - both rain and snow). By 11/30, you may not see much pretty fall color - we were there in mid-October and a lot of the color had peaked. Be prepared for cold/wet weather.

Be sure you get tickets far in advance for the Ghibli Museum, they are often sold out for many days in advance (it's a tricky process - it helps a LOT if you can read Japanese).

You mention your love of jazz...as a listener, or a musician? I only mention this in case you play...you can get an incredible deal on Japanese-made instruments (the US dollar is strong). Last winter, while in Tokyo, I bought a very nice instrument and paid about half of what the same model would cost me here in the USA (technically, you are supposed to declare such things on arrival and pay duty...I'm told it's common to skip that...). Anyone shopping for an instrument would do well to look in Tokyo's music neighborhood.

Bottom line: be careful not to overschedule your days - there's only so much one can squeeze in, and your plan looks exhausting (at best) to me. Expect things to go off-plan, they probably will. But it's an amazing place, so much to see and do. Have fun!

Posted by
21 posts

Hello David,

Thank you for your thoughtful reply! We have traveled moderately internationally, but I definitely understand that things may not always go to plan. I'l prepare myself mentally for when or if things push us back!

We do rest well on long flights and are happy to hop on a train to Nagoya if it saves us a bit of time, but we do anticipate it to be a long first half a day. Thank you for the recommendation for the cow statue Hida beef place in Takayama, sounds like we can't miss it! And yes, the reminder about the daylight - it looks like sunset will be for around 4:30pm those days, so we will be conscious of that when catching the sights that require sunlight (cable cars, anything that closes early, etc).

We are both listeners and musicians; which Japanese instruments did you see and purchase? Between us, we play percussion, violin, basic viola, Chinese violin, guitar, piano. However since my husband is a film composer any "interesting" instruments are always good to check out in case their sound will fit in a project. Which area of Tokyo did you find these? My internet search yields a district called Shimokitazawa, would that be it?

Thanks again for your help and advice!

Sincerely,
Angela

Posted by
565 posts

Sorry, but I agree with David. This is way too much activity and moving around. I don't like all the one night stays, and the weather in November can be quite cool and rainy. I think you are going to need to decide what can be trimmed from this list or risk feeling disappointed you didn't fulfill your itinerary. There really isn't any way this can be done to the letter. Is your family planning the first five days? If so, it's quite alright to tell them you are jet-lagged and need more rest. If you don't feel you can, then you're going to have to cut some things from your solo travel. I work night shift, and can travel to different places quite easily as I have permanent jet lag, and I still struggled in Japan with sleep.

Posted by
5019 posts

Angela,
There are probably several neighborhoods that have concentrations of musical instrument shops. The neighborhood I used was Ochanomizu - it's near Akihabra (one stop west of Akihabara on JR line). This is, apparently, a university area, lots of young people in the streets. There were all sorts of music-related shops - some selling CDs, some selling instruments. Walk down the street, one shop is crammed floor-to-ceiling with bass guitars - nothing else. Next door a bookstore. Next a shop selling only electronic keyboards. Next, brass instruments. A noodle shop. Woodwinds. Electronic instruments and accessories...you get the idea. A really fun neighborhood to wander for anyone with an interest in music. I was looking for something specific (a particular flute, hand-made in Japan for the Japanese market, not sold in the US) and had done some research online before my trip, so I knew the price and had a specific shop I was headed for. I think you should find shops for all of the types of instruments you listed, although if you are looking for something specific, I would suggest you either do research online before your trip, or you need to know a lot about instruments and prices (in the shop I bought my horn, nobody spoke any English, and I speak no Japanese; I had exchanged emailed with them previously - thank goodness for Google Translate - so I knew what to expect). I had a specific item in mind, they had practice rooms to test in - I played for about 2 hours before they started giving me the stinkeye at closing time; I finally pulled out my credit card and walked out the happy owner of a great new instrument that would have cost me twice as much at home for something comparable.

The specialization in the shops is incredible. You will feel like a kid in a candy store.

You listed Asakusa as one of your Tokyo destinations...yes, an interesting neighborhood, cool temples and other things. Do you know about Kappabashi, another neighborhood nearby? It's Tokyo's "kitchen-town". Streets lined with one specialized shop after another - small shops crammed with: one shop for knives, another shop for plates, one for pots and pans, one for placemats - yes, an entire shop that only sells placemats and nothing else. A whole neighborhood like this. We spend hours wandering these shops, buying kitchen goodies to bring back home (some of which turn out to be just laughable and silly - that kiwi fruit gizmo comes to mind...) most of which are awesome. Amazing selection, really unique things, some good prices but again, you need to know the price at home to compare. Anyway, put Kappabashi on your list (10 minutes walk west of Asakusa).

Japan is awesome - I can't wait to go back. You will have a great time.