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Making the most of 2 months in Japan 2019 2018/11/20 13:56
Hi All,

I just discovered japan-guide - such a great resource. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this.

I'm currently planning a two month trip in Japan, aiming for some time around mid April - mid June 2019. It's still a long way away and I'm not a fan of over-planning holidays, but I'm hoping that you guys could share some of your knowledge with me so that I can understand what my trip would entail.

For context - I'm a backpacker (Japan will be part of a longer 12-month trip, which I'm currently on) and I'm usually on a budget, but I'm willing to splash out a bit more in Japan. Still, I will stay in hostels as much as possible. I'm a solo traveller and prefer options where I can meet people.

I've visited Japan once before, and did the usual tourist trail of two weeks between Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima, but I'm happy to visit all of these cities again and try to immerse myself more. I have a reasonably good understanding of Japanese culture, however I'm only a beginner in terms of the language (I just passed the JLPT N5 test last December - but I'm willing to put in a bit more study time). I'd love to meet some locals and challenge myself to increase my communication skills.

I'm thinking of using the 'Great Traverse of Japan' (https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2400_traverse.html) as a base and maybe padding it out a bit / adding some more cities to fill out the full two months. I like to mostly travel without a strictly set plan, so that I can spend more or less time in a place depending on if I like it or not.

My questions:
1) How should I tackle the extended Golden Week? Should I perhaps try to base myself in Tokyo/Kyoto and take it all in, or is that a terrible idea? I don't really have a problem with crowds, and I'm willing to book my accommodation in advance (now, if it's required).

2) Are there other parts of the country which deserve my attention outside of the great traverse itinerary?

3) Are there any cool festivals/events going on in the April - June timeframe which are worth my attention?

4) Are there any other interesting travel activities which you've done in Japan which you'd recommend? Homestays, volunteering, language classes, long hikes etc?

Thanks so much for your time.

Cheers
Tim.
by tborsje  

Re: Making the most of 2 months in Japan 2019 2018/11/20 20:46
Hi Tim,

You have asked a large number of questions here. A possibly better idea in the future is to ask one major question every couple of weeks in a main post. I'll try and take a stab at where to visit.

This question really depends on what you find interesting and want to focus on. My main suggestion is to start south and slowly make your way north.

As you have a bit of time, I suggest that using bus passes will be a great way to keep costs down and travel at a bit of a slower pace as a result. Your unfortunately not coming at the right season for really cheap train travel - which is the 18 Free Kippu (5 days that you choose of train travel) which really opens up travel if you are not in a rush.

As I've visited all but two prefectures in depth, I'll mention my main city highlights which may give you some ideas.

Kyushu (I have not visited Kagoshima or Kumamoto yet): Nagasaki, Kitsuki Peninsula, Takachiho

Chugoku: Hagi, Matsue, Bitsu Takahashi (the castle here is unique), Soto Sea Islands, Okayama

Kansai: Kumano Kodo (Kii Peninsula), Nara

Chubu: Noto Peninsula (best with car), Takayama, Sado Island, Izu Peninsula

Kanto: Kamakura, Nikko, Kusatsu Onsen, Mt Koya

Tohoku: Aizu Wakamatsu, Yamadera, Dewa Sanzan, Hiraizumi (mainly for the history in buddhism), Tono, Kakunodate, Hirosaki

Hokkaido: Hakodate, Nobiribetsu (stay at the Daiichi), Daisetsuzan, Rishiri & Rebun Islands....

I've also posted over 200 posts on Japan which can be viewed on my profile (click on my name).

This forum is a wealth of knowledge with people here knowing knowing more than I do or even most Japanese people (that's because there are some Japanese people on this forum as well!) who have helped me with many of my difficult to answer questions.
by mfedley rate this post as useful

Re: Making the most of 2 months in Japan 2019 2018/11/21 02:01
Hi Tim, great questions and really jealous on your two-month trip around the country.

It seems I cannot compete for others who have much more information and experience than I do, but i will try to contribute. Here are some tips on no particular order based on me travelling to Japan over the years.

In addition to buses, one way is to take advantage of the ANA flight pass which I had used twice on my recent trip in October. As you are from Australia, as long as you fly into Japan, have a foreign passport, and a 90-stay visa then you are eligible. For example, for two flights from Tokyo to Akita and Shonai to Tokyo, it cost me CAD$132. That is WAY cheaper than flying within Canada!! That can save you loads of money and still do the Great Traverse Itinerary. JAL I believe have something similar.

Regional buses are also really cheap and agree. A bus trip from Sendai to Tsuruoka cost 3000 Yen, which is faster and cheaper than by rail. If you can take advantage of the regional JR Rail Passes then do so. JR Rail pass seems like the go-to for every tourist. I've been to Japan several times and I always rely on the regional JR Passes. I've used the JR East Rail Pass (Tohoku) which allows 5 flex days within 14 days.

If you can avoid Golden Week in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and maybe Nagoya then that would be ideal. Too many tourists and too many accommodations booked solid. I would suggest going outside of any tourist areas and big cities and go to more remote locations. This is especially important given you are going to be in Japan during the entire cherry blossom period from north to south.

I really liked Yamadera and Three Dewas and those are great places for intense stair climbing and spirituality. I also love Sendai for its smaller size but you get all the city amenities. I also recommend Hakodate due to the European influences. Noboribetsu I recommend but if you are on a budget I would not recommend staying there as the prices are pretty high. I stayed at the Dai-Ichi and cost 29000 Yen (granted it included in-room dinner service).

I noticed you are a backpacker and are on a budget. If you can, I would have a buffet breakfast at hotels. You don't need to stay at a hotel but you pay slightly more. These buffet breakfasts are really high quality and fill you up with both western and Japanese cuisine. That way you can save on lunch as well and have smaller portions like onigiri as a snack. I've also visited the most out of the way supermarkets in residential areas to do some casual food shopping. Way cheaper than going to an upscale supermarket for the same product.

If you cannot find hostels, staying at a business hotel in a small city actually is price competitive and easier to find. Since you can understand some Japanese, I suggest you going to jalan.net (Japanese version) and search for cheap hotel rates. You'll find some hotels are super cheap. They also include capsule hotels too and some hostels are posted there. The English version is not very good I find as they don't include the special deals.

Ok that is all the tips I have. If I can think of more and this link is no longer active I will DM you directly. Good luck and most important, have fun with the trip planning!

Cheers,
(also) Tim.

by Villagemayor rate this post as useful

Re: Making the most of 2 months in Japan 2019 2018/11/21 06:15
Two months of travel in Japan. I am also jealous.

I would agree with previous responder about starting at one end of Japan and working your way the other.

Japan's 3 main islands have 8 regions - Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku and Kyushu. You could spend a week at each. Sometimes a day more, sometimes a day less etc. Some you can fly though as you have already visited those, allowing more time at others. Fly to either Sapporo or Kagoshima, and begin your journey.

To keep costs down, I would uses highway buses (or other means you are comfortable with) to move large distances between major cities. And then inexpensive local buses and trains within those cities/regions.

You can go with a pretty loose plan as you have suggested you wanna do. I think with the time you are allowing yourself, that style of planning should be find. As for Golden Week, I think that style of planning works in your favour. The fact that you are flexible means you have so many more options available to you.

Enjoy your trip.
by hakata14 (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Making the most of 2 months in Japan 2019 2018/11/21 08:03
I second the Hirosaki suggestion. I heard it can be beautiful up there during peak sakura season (late April - early May).
Have a great trip!
by Andrea (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Making the most of 2 months in Japan 2019 2018/11/21 20:15
Hi there. I only visited Japan once for two weeks, I'm so envious of your two month trip (though I'm doing my best to move to Japan ti work). From what I understand, Takayama has a huge festival in mid-April, I heard it's one of the top3 festivals in Japan.
I also agree with other posters on doing a cross the country journey, but I would recommend starting in Kagoshima and ending in Sapporo. Not the other way round. I say this because of weather, that way you will have great chance a better weather your whole stay, besides, Hokkaido in June and the whole summer is beautiful with all the summer flowers.
From the places I enjoyed most was Koyasan and Miyajima Island. Wish I had more time in Kyoto to explore, 3 days was not enough, and I went on high season which means lots of people which was unpleasant (one day I'll return just for the low season to enjoy it more, I felt sad because Kyoto is a wonderful city, and I didn't enioy it as much as I could).
I recommend Mt. Fuji (Fujigoko+Fuji Five Lakes). Doing a whole Japan trip and not seeing Mt. Fuji close is a crime xD.
I hope you enjoy your trip a lot!
by catiasmteixeira rate this post as useful

Re: Making the most of 2 months in Japan 2019 2018/11/21 21:49
by . (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Making the most of 2 months in Japan 2019 2018/11/22 02:12
Thanks for the responses!

Firstly thanks everyone for the cities/regions suggestions. I'll start to look through them now; I have a lot more research to do!

I agree that starting south and making my way north seems like the way to do it, due to the weather. I'll start in Kyushu/Okinawa and make my way slowly north, aiming for Hokkaido towards the end of my time.

I'm happy to get busses and slow/regional trains if it saves me a lot of cash - I used a rail pass for my previous trip so I've already enjoyed the amazing shinkansen. I'll have a look into the flight passes too - there might be some long travel legs where flying might be worth it. Also regional rail passes, however I really only want flexible passes where I'm not rushed to go between locations in a short amount of time.

Regarding accommodation, I have spooked myself a bit by going into Hostelworld and looking up some dates in mid April and seeing places already booking out! This is very, very different to the sort of backpacking which I'm doing at the moment, where I either book my next accommodation 1-2 days in advance, or just show up and ask (I'm in Central America at the moment). I assume this is due to sakura season. Thanks for the recommendation for jalan.net; I'll also use that.

I'm also definitely keen to see Fuji-san; it has completely covered in cloud the previous time I was in Japan!

I'm still just not sure about tackling Golden Week. I love the idea of trying to be amongst the festivals and other celebrations, but it would probably be convenient to not move much for the 10 days to avoid transport issues. So that leaves the issue of where to base myself for the whole time... Perhaps I'll try to book some stuff in advance in Fukuoka and other places in Kyushu to make sure that I have a plan for just this busy period. The Dontaku festival in Fukuoka looks cool.

My other option for Golden Week is to actually fly up to Kyoto or Tokyo for the time, so I can [i]literally[/i] not move for the ten days, and also be more confident that there's plenty of activities going on during the days/evenings. That's a bit inconvenient though, and costly.

Thanks again for the comments so far - I'll keep reading!

Cheers
Tim.
by tborsje rate this post as useful

Re: Making the most of 2 months in Japan 2019 2018/11/22 07:02
You pick a good time to travel, and whether it is south to north or vice versa is up to you. For warmer weather, I'd probably do the former, and you can also see some of the spring flowers. You might not see much if any of the cherry blossoms, but few people explore the other wonders that come out - the wisteria, the azaleas, roses, etc. I would definitely not divide your time equally between Japan's various regions - they are not at all the same and spending the same time in Shikoku as you would in Tohoku or the Chugoku region makes little sense.
Regarding Golden Week, what you need to know is that it doesn't have to be as bad as some make it out to be - the mass exodus of people from big cities at the beginning and return at the end is something you should try to avoid if possible. But if you are not going in the same direction and not fighting the Japanese over the same seats, then you can still have a fairly easy time.
Given the long length of your trip, basing yourself the whole time in just one area is severely handicapping yourself. The extreme opposite of barnstorming the country and staying at a different place every night is not much better though, and will likely cause you to eventually burn out. Most likely something in between would work better for you - pick one or a few bases in a given area and do some day trips that way.
As far as the sample itinerary page you linked to, you can use it for some ideas and suggestions, but in the end, if you want the best trip you can make, you need to tailor it to your own specific interests and travel pace. Not to mention if there is someplace at a specific time you want to be, such as to attend a festival. The other big question you have to ask is if you think you will return to Japan again someday. You won't see the whole country in 2 months (nobody can) - so if the answer is yes, it would likely serve you better to pick a given part of the country and leave the rest for a future trip - Japan will still be there.

Are there many places left out of it? There's a whole mountainload of places left out. There are many good places listed, but I could list a bigger number of places it didn't. As for what you should see and do, it is up to you to do your homework and make a plan - this whole site is a good start. But also look at www.jnto.go.jp for more ideas, as well as the official websites of cities and prefectures - they pretty much all have a good tourism guide with places listed nowhere else. Tripadvisor also has a large database. Youtube has some great channels to view.
https://www.youtube.com/user/ChannelAGG/videos
https://www.youtube.com/user/thejapanfaq/videos
https://www.youtube.com/user/hanazakurasakura/videos
For some festivals, you might look at
http://www.japanvisitor.com/japanese-festivals/festival-april
http://www.jnto.go.jp/special_events/eng/index.php

For other activities, I highly recommend getting involved in some. You mentioned hiking, and in a country with close to 70% being mountainous, there is no shortage. You could browse here for example.
https://japanhike.wordpress.com
Or you can combine some sights with some hiking, like seeing the wondrous Akiyoshido Cave along with the hiking at Akiyoshidai on the surface.
https://youtu.be/DqIKC9S8TFQ
Trying your hand at some folk crafts or cultural activities is another idea, like
http://www.ti-yanesen.jp/en/
Or even in the cities, Tokyo has a big number of beautiful historical gardens to visit.
https://goo.gl/tAECfM

Visiting some hot springs is an excellent way to immerse yourself in Japan (sorry for the pun). Even just visiting a supermarket is insightful - look at what Japanese buy and eat, plus how much they pay. Walk through a typical residential neighborhood and see how they live.

You still have lots of time for research and planning, so make your dream trip come true.
by Ken (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Making the most of 2 months in Japan 2019 2018/11/28 14:25
Definitely try and base yourself somewhere during the golden week, you don`t want to be traveling because there will be lines and traffic jams everywhere. As for the events there`s the Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo in and around that time. There are many cool things you can do in Japan, maybe you can get some ideas from this site.

Check out https://www.go-a2b.com/ for cool tips, awesome places, and some best kept secrets in Japan. It really helped me plan my trip.
by A2B (guest) rate this post as useful

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