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Dear visitor, if you know the answer to this question, please post it. Thank you!

First timer 2017/3/17 01:13
Hi all,

Me and my husband would like to visit Japan in March next year. We both very passionate about Asian culture in particular, and been dreaming to go and see Japan for quite a while. I know it's a long time until next March, but we just want to start looking and planning from now, just to be sure that we won't miss a thing. We both are in our mid-30's and we loves nature, temples, and cultures. If someone can give us some advice regarding our itinerary below, it would be fantastic. We are planning to go for 11 days, and hoping to see a bit of Japan for the first time.

The itinerary we've prepared are as follow:
•Sunday, 25th of March - Flying from Birmingham to Tokyo
•Monday, 26th of March - Arriving in Tokyo, Airport bus service from the airport to the hotel
•Tuesday, 27th of March - Sightseeing around Tokyo
•Wednesday, 28th of March - Train to Hakone from Tokyo
•Thursday, 29th of March - Sightseeing around Hakone
•Friday, 30th of March - Train to Kanazawa from Hakone and sightseeing around Kanazawa
•Saturday, 31st of March - Train to Kyoto from Kanazawa
•Sunday, 01st April - Sightseeing around Kyoto
•Monday, 02nd April - Day trip to Nara, overnight back to Kyoto
•Tuesday, 03rd of April - Train back to Tokyo from Kyoto
•Wednesday, 04th of April - Airport bus service from Tokyo hotel to the airport

From the above itinerary, it will give us :
3 nights in total in Tokyo, 2 nights in Hakone, 1 night in Kanazawa, and 3 nights in Kyoto.

My questions are:
1) How easy is to travel DIY to Japan? (our budget will not enough to use a travel agent service)
2) Will we be able to find our way from A to B easy enough, considering this is our first time visit?
3) From the itinerary above, will buying JRP save us some money?
4) Can someone give us some suggestion whether the itinerary that we made doable and not too ambitious for first timer?
5) Is it easy enough to book all the transport in advance from the UK?
6) If any of you have some recommendations on what to see, where to go, where to stay, and places to eat, please let us know, and we will be very grateful :)

Thank you in advance for all your help,
Lia

by Lia de Gaye  

Re: First timer 2017/3/17 16:31
Hi Lia,
I am traveling to Tokyo next week for my first timer too. Mar-April is best for cherry blossom. Don't miss it! Visit Ueno park, Meijigu park and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden which are surrounding by Sakura. I will stay near Ueno park for cherry blossom festival.
Lake Kawaguchiko near Mt Fuji is in my plan as well. If you really love nature. It is a must visit place.
I don't visit Kyoto which I think is too rush for travelling between Tokyo and Kyoto. Except I make a special trip to GALA ski resort. Therefore, a 3 days JR Tokyo wide pass is good for Gala Resort, Mt Fuji & Tokyo at only 10,000 yen. Hope this give you some ideas.
by James Chong rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/17 16:58
I would recommend adding a visit to an onsen ryokan and/or a temple stay (Taiyoji Temple!) to your itinerary; it find it makes you feel that you enter the culture instead of walking around it it as a spectator.
by Hoshisato rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/17 17:47
6) Why not Nikko, how about Mito from Tokyo?

Joining a programme by local volunteers would be good if you are interested in Japan culture and your budget is limited.
Search for "Aunty Meeco's House", you will find an example (sorry, I cannot paste the link, as I have no permission.)
by oxo (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/17 17:54
Due to the locations of Kanazawa and Hakone. You are better off visiting one on the way to Kyoto, and the other on the way back from Kyoto.
by hakata14 rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/17 17:59
Oops sorry, forgot to add. Since you only have 8 full days. I'd probably skip Kanazawa due to the travel time between it and other locations. You currently have about 1.5 days each of your four locations, once you take out travel. 1.5 days is probably all right for Kanazawa and Hakone. But you are missing out on Kyoto and Tokyo only doing 1.5 days.
by hakata14 rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/17 18:19
Your travel route is Tokyo-Hakone-Kanazawa-Kyoto-Tokyo. From Hakone to Kanazawa, you must go back to Tokyo and then take Hokuriku shinkansen to Kanazawa. You might better go to Kyoto from Hakone (nearest shinkansen station should be Odawara) and then Kanazawa and take Hokuriku shinkansen to Tokyo. Japan rail pass 7days should save some money. If you use Japan rail pass, you are not allowed to take Nozomi train which is the fastest train between Tokyo and Kyoto (Hakata) which is one drawback to use JR pass. However, if you split your itinerary at Odawara, you will have no problem, since all Nozomi trains does not stop at Odawara so you must take slower Hikari or Kodama in any case.

As noted, your dates are cherry blossom season, which is nice, of course, but you may have to pay more than the normal season for the accommodation, especially in Kyoto. Please check hotel booking site for the fares of late March/early April of Kyoto city this year. To avoid this problem you may want to stay outside of Kyoto. These years Osaka is also expensive, so you may better consider Otsu (10 min JR train ride to Kyoto) or Nagoya (35-50 min Shinkansen ride to Kyoto), for example. You can use JR trains including Shinkansen for free if you have JR pass valid for the days.

I may be biased since I am a Japanese, but I think Japan is one of the easiest country to travel by yourself. Especially given your route is almost covered by Shinkansen trains, which is fast, reliable, comfortable, and safe (as compared to airplanes) with sufficient information shown and announced in English. Honestly most Japanese people will not be able to communicate with you in English, but some train and hotel staff will speak some English.

Many restaurants show their foods as photo-menu, which will make you easily order, the food. Most useful Japanese word you should note is "sumimasen" which means, hello, thank you, excuse me, please, etc. Just say "sumimasen" followed by something you want to ask in English.

Enjoy your trip and planning!
by frog1954 rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/17 21:48
Your plans sound great and I think itfs definitely a good idea to start planning early.

Ifve recently returned from my first trip to Japan with two friends and enjoyed it a lot! Our itinerary included Kyoto with Nara and Tokyo as well but we did give ourselves more time per place, especially in Kyoto. For Nara a day-trip was fine. We didnft go in spring so I canft say anything about the cherry blossoms but I do second the suggestion to book early if youfre going to be in Kyoto around that time. We arranged most of our hotels via Booking.com and a few other such websites and it worked fine – do ensure that you have cash to pay with if needed, as Japan is really a bit of a cash society.

I think that itfll be absolutely no problem to arrange everything yourselves (which the three of us managed as well, with only very basic knowledge of Japanese) as long as youfre a bit organised and make sure to have something of a plan. Ifm not sure if the JRP will save you money but do consider using it – itfs easier to travel that way as a tourist without much knowledge of the language (place names and the like are also written in English letters on stations so thatfs not the trouble, but figuring out foreign ticket machines and other travel hassle could be prevented with the pass – and you can make reservations for trains/ask questions at the JPR travel booth on the stations or perhaps the airport as well). I donft think you can make train reservations in advance from the UK but you do need to order the JPR in advance.

In general people there were very helpful so if you get lost or confused you can usually find help (print out the name and address of your destinations/hotels before arrival so you could show someone if you canft find it or something).

Another thing you can consider is an university student volunteer to accompany you during one of your first days so you have someone to ask questions to and show how public transport works and stuff – plus itfs just fun to meet someone there. Theyfre volunteers, so you only need to pay their transport/entrance costs to sightseeing stuff and you could maybe treat them to lunch/dinner (and that way find a good place to eat as well).

The suggestion of an onsen or temple visit is also a great one. One of the high points of our visit was a night at an out-of-the-way ryoken with onsen, it felt as if we were really sampling the culture instead of getting caught in the general touristy places.

As for specific suggestions for restaurants or places to visitc ermc well, we enjoyed eating forest mushroom noodles for lunch at …’J’ƒ‰® (you can just copy that into google maps) in Nara when we went walking around Kasuga-taisha shrine. We liked picking the slightly less busy shrines and temples so we went there instead of Todaji Temple, but you can do both easily enough – just use a Nara Loop bus pass and you can easily get around from the station to around Nara park.
by Ronda (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/17 22:33
@James Chong thank you so much for your help. Are you doing the trip on your own or by travel agent? Would you mind to share your experience with us once you back from your trip, please? Hope you will have a fantastic time 🙂

@Hoshihato We do plan to stay in a ryokan, like I said, it's eatly day and we will start looking at accomodation soon. But Taiyoji Temple sounds amazing. We will look into it. Thank you for your help 🙂

@Oxo What a great suggestion, thanks. We will look into 'Aunty Meeco's House' and see if we can join the program while we are there. Thanks a lot 🙂

@Hakata14 and @Frog1954 Your suggestion regarding swapping between Hakone and Kanazawa does make sense. We will definitely di Hakone - Kyoto - Kanazawa - Tokyo then. And thank you for the reassurance on traveling DIY to Japan. I do know very well how helpful and lovely Japanese people are, so I'm sure we will be just fine 🙂

@Ronda How can we find out about University Student Volunteers? Any website you can suggest at all? Thank you for recommending the restaurant, we will look into it. And Nara trip as well. We both like peace and quiet, so your suggestion sounds great. Thank you 🙂
by Lia de Gaye rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/18 03:37
Kyoto - 2 days minimum, but better minimum 4 days. Also minimum 1 day for Nara & Uji. Also i think that Kanazawa is not the best for 1st trip. It's good city, but not for 1st. If you will come there - i recommend Myoryuji (Ninja-dera), Kenrokuen, also - train trip from Kanazawa to Maruoka station, which is 4 km from Maruoka castle (get it by bus or taxi or walk).
by Makashima rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/20 22:14

We just returned from our first trip to Japan with my husband. We didnft go to Tokyo but visited Kyoto, Kanasawa, Takayama and Hiroshima.
DIYcIt is easy, really, you will have a great time. You just need to be with an open mind, ready to pull someone by the sleeve if you have troubles finding a gate at the train station etc. Main thing is to note which train you are taking. If you go on the shinkansen, find the shinkansen gates etc. As for finding your way, you willcfor sure  A few times in the station we didnft know where to go and we had to stop someone with a uniform to ask for help and they were so so great and helped even without speaking English they were able to show us which way. Just be polite and respectful of course.

In the cities we got great help from our hotels about public transport. I also printed instruction on how to get to places from japan-quide pages and then in the hotels free wifi we checked from hyperdia which gates the trains leave.

Japanese people are great, so friendly. We even got asked if we need help on the streets. I guess we have a way of looking always just a bit lost .

We just had the Japan railpass and booked the seats for the trains on the previous day or just before the trip. BUT it was not cherry blossom season, so there was always space.

Some restaurants have English menu, some have pictures on the window so you just point what looks good. We took a picture with the cellphone and just showed it inside. Next time we will go with a list of foods so the waiters can point what foods they have so we can go to eat at places with only Japanese menu and no English speaking staff. For restaurants, don't judge by the appearance, had my best ramen soup in restaurant that looked like it will fall any minute ;)

One day for Kyoto for me sounds quite little, (the other day I understood will be spent in Nara). Note that the sights can close quite early so you really donft have that much time to visit. And rushing from sight to sight for me at least ruins the experience. Originally we had more things on our itenary but we ended up making things more simple. Definitely worth it, it made the trip somehow more relaxing not needing to rush from place to place. See what are the musts for you. For us it was Kanazawa because of the garden, Hiroshima and Kyoto. After that was clear, we just dropped the others. Kanazawa we visited from Kyoto so it was quite fast. The sights can be seen in half a day though so it is doable for you also. The garden and the city is very nice. After the garden and the castle we went to the market place to have lunch. The train trip to Kanazawa was also quite nice trough the mountains. There is a loop bus in Kanazawa that is so easy to use. Take a hotel close to the train station though because it is a short visit. Going there depends on your interests and priorities so I wouldn't say it is not worth for a first time visit. We had a great time there.

As for recommendations, you will find what interests you. My only advices for that is that leave enough time also to just relax and take it all in. For instance Kyoto has so many things to see that donft try to see it all, just take it easy, think which are the musts and start the days with those. Many sights close at 16:00-17:00 so get an early start and take it easy in the evenings. I donft know they have longer hours when the cherrytrees blossom though, I guess not.

Good luck with the planning, you will have a great time :)
by Seija (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/20 23:19
Well, we started our trip in Kyoto and used http://goodsamaritanclub.org/ to arrange a meeting with an university volunteer. There's also a link to a smiliar organisation in Nara somewhere on this website. I'd assume something similar exists for Tokyo but I haven't come across it.
by Ronda (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/21 00:47
It looks like you have eight days of sightseeing. That will not be enough time to "do it all" so accept that you have to leave some things for a future trip.

1) DIY: yes, go for it. You have a year so if you live near a college or university sign up for a beginning Japanese class or use podcasts or buy a copy of "Japanese for Busy People" and teach each other. You can learn enough to ask directions and understand the answer.

4) I hate packing and unpacking and wasting valuable sightseeing time on long train rides. My goal is a two-night minimum wherever I stay. As others have said, I recommend picking two: Kanazawa and Tokyo or Kyoto and Tokyo. See some of the sample itineraries for Kyoto (on this website) for suggestions of sights that are near each other.

6) if you like to walk consider staying in the Hamamatsucho area of Tokyo. There's a lovely temple, two gardens, the World Trade Center observatory and Tokyo Tower.

6) Another recommendation: rent a pocket Wi-Fi if you have smart phones or tablets. There are apps for train schedules, etc (details elsewhere in this website).

Have a great time planning!
by SkipperL rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/21 01:09
As others have said:

- try to extend your trip if you can. Even if it means having the extra days on a budget. I'm from the UK, and so I know how expensive the air fares are! That, and the number of things you're trying to cover, are really good reasons for you trying to make your trip into 14 days.

- if you can't extend your trip, try to cut out one of the destinations and do the other places in more depth. The shame about that is that with only 8 full days and the desire to visit both Tokyo and Kyoto you will end up with an imbalanced trip (and imho, a nice first trip would contain four or five places, and give you a nice balance between city, small town, countryside, mountains, coast etc, as well as a mix of capsule, business hotel, ryokan, minshuku, etc. Temples as well as Akihabara. Gardens as well as robots, etc)

- travelling independently in Japan is easy. Even with no Japanese. If you do some research (mainly into etiquette/culture), and learn a handful of simple ("sorry", "please", "that's tasty", "thank you") phrases, you'll be fine. You're planning a long way in advance, so you could even do a term or two of basic Japanese lessons.

- Kanazawa is lovely. If you like food, gardens, contemporary art, traditional crafts, etc, it's well worth the trip. However, going there for a day is bonkers. You won't even see all the main attractions, and you'll spend a long time travelling. If you're going there, I'd suggest spending a minimum of three or four days in the region and combining it with either the Noto Peninsula and Kaga Onsen, or with Shirakawa and Takayama (and Hida-Takayama onsen area).

Happy planning!
by Winter Visitor rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/21 08:05
Wow....thank you so very much all for such a great advice and recommendations. I'm sorry I haven't been able to reply one by one due to work. I'm off work tomorrow and will try to rearrange the itinerary based on what you all suggested. Again, I really appreciated all the comments. Arigatou Gozaimasu ;)
by Lia de Gaye rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/21 14:15
Hi! I've been to Japan 3 times and this is what my Japanese friend recommends :)
See
If you are visiting Tokyo, Oshiage area would be something you wouldnft want to miss! Asakusa shrine is always filled with people praying for their fortune and for a good luck in their future. You should try the Japanese way of wishing lucks and draw an gOmikujih which will foretell your fortune. You can walk from Asakusa Shrine to Tokyo Skytree where you can see a breathtaking night view with the lights of never-sleeping city. You can also enjoy a different night view from Tokyo Tower which has long been entertaining tourists with its nostalgic structure.

Do
Try your hand at making great soba at Tsukiji Soba Academy. Some even come to this academy to start their own soba restaurant, so you can taste the real delicious soba even when you are back home! Another thing would be to do zen meditation. You can escape from noisy cities and concentrate on yourself, getting a relaxing time and experience something different from your daily life. If you want to get in touch with more Japanese culture, being a Ninja would be awesome! Ninja Trick House, located in Shinjuku, is a place for you to train yourself to become a ninja. You can try throwing Shuriken (Japanese knife), using katana (Japanese sword) and a lot more! It would be one of the coolest things to do in Tokyo!

Eat
You can enjoy both delicious local and unique cultural food in Tokyo! Go to Tsukiji market for super tasty sushi! You can eat fresh fish that was just caught from the sea. Also, donft forget to check out unique themed cafes such as Kawaii Monster Café in Harajuku where you can immerse yourself into colorful atmosphere with gkawaiih and goishih sweets and pasta. :) If you want to try out many kinds of food, a walk-and-eat tour in Ueno would be fun! There are so many shops in Ameyoko street you can eat almost anything from Dorayaki to Kebab ;) You can get all these great meals for cheap price! (Ameyoko yaki for 200 yen and a croquette for 50 yen. Incredibly cheap for Japan!!)
My friends and I also found an app called Trabble which was very helpful in finding food places and attractions around Tokyo.

Accommodation
Try staying in a ryokan to experience the traditional Japanese way of life! You'll sleep on a tatami mat (has a nice woody smell).

Souvenirs
For something uniquely Japan, get a miniature Shuriken (Japanese knife), or katana (Japanese sword)! Alternatively you can also get charms from temples (Japan is full of these), or toys from gashapon (think sailormoon, pokemon and cat/dog-related toys)
Food-wise you can also buy instant ramen from Ichiran for your ramen-loving friends :) 7-11 and Daiso also has many interesting snacks your friends will wipe out in record time (speaking from personal experience here..), not to mention a variety of matcha-flavored things! Tiny bottles of Choya are also handy gifts.
If you are very practical - Japan has disposable heated eye masks. I quite like them =)

Hope this helps!!
by Ruth93 rate this post as useful

Re: First timer 2017/3/25 00:49
6) Another recommendation: rent a pocket Wi-Fi if you have smart phones or tablets. There are apps for train schedules, etc (details elsewhere in this website).

I strongly second this recommendation. We just got back from a 2 week trip in Japan that brought us to Tokyo, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Osaka, Mt. Koya, Kyoto, and Nara. The pocket wifi made everything SUCH a breeze, and our entire trip was DIY. Wouldn't have been able to do it without a smartphone and wifi though.

Hyperdia and Google Maps provided invaluable information on getting from point A to point B. Hyperdia even tells you which specific track your train will be departing from in most major stations, which was incredibly helpful (though you can't rely on this solely, since some large stations have duplicate track numbers for different lines.. e.g., in Tokyo Station there three different "track 4".. one for JR Yamanote/Keihin-Tohuku/Chuo, one for JR Sobu/Narita Express, and one for JR Keiyo. So you need to follow signs for the line and then pick your track from that line).

In short, get a pocket wifi and you'll have no problem with a DIY trip. Within a few days, most of the transportation system will make good sense and you won't have any problems getting around. Just be prepared (mentally) for your first journey through Shinjuku station ;)
by JustinDK rate this post as useful

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