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First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/18 08:30
Thank you very much for your insights in advance. I am planning our family's first trip to Japan. After borrowing many Lonely Planet books from my local library, I still have a lot of questions and hope this forum can help me. The following are some information:
Duration and # of Traveler
1. Overall duration: 19 days, 18 nights: 7/1 (arrive in Osaka KIX) - 7/19 (depart 9:00 pm NTR Tokyo)
2. My husband, myself, two sons (14 & 9) and my dad. I love culture and museum, but my older son, being a typical American teenager, is not. : ( He is into food, Japanese comics, video games)

1. Overall schedule for our three weeks trip: I original plan for Osaka & Kyoto area; Alpine area; then Tokyo. But since we will leave Japan on 7/19, I want to experience Gion Matsuri, so may need to be back to the Kyoto area. But it is really worth making the trip back? Will the kids enjoy it amid the hot weather?

Plan 1 If no Gion Matsuri
7/1: arrive in Osaka KIX 3:30 pm. Stay: Osaka
7/2: Osaka - Himeji Castle and Arima Onsen. Stay Osaka
7/3: Osaka - Nara, stay Osaka
7/4: Osaka - Kyoto. Stay Kyoto
7/5: Kyoto, stay: Kyoto
7/6: Kyoto, stay Kyoto
7/7: Kyoto, stay Kyoto
7/8: Kyoto - Nagoya: stay Nagoya
7/9:Nagoya - Magome - Tsumago. How long is the trip? I want to walk from Magome - Tsumago. Is it possible? Stay: Tsumago
7/10: Tsumago - Takayama. Don't know whether this is possible on public transit and how long it will take.
7/11: Takayama & Hida. I read there is some Onsen not far from Takayama, worth a day trip? Stay: Takayama
7/12: Takayama - Shirakawago - Kanazawa, stay Kanazawa
7/13: Kanazawa - Tokyo
7/14 - 7/18: Tokyo and Vicinity: including Nikko, Hakone, Mount Fuji, etc.
7/19: leave for NTR around 4 pm since our flight leaves at 9 pm

Do I allocate too many days for Tokyo areas?

Plan 2: Go for Gion Matsuri
7/1: arrive in Osaka KIX 3:30 pm. Stay: Osaka
7/2: Osaka - Himeji Castle and Arima Onsen. Stay Osaka
7/3: Osaka - Nara, stay Osaka
7/4: Osaka - Nagoya, stay Nagoya
7/5: Nagoya - Magome - Tsumago. How long is the trip? I want to walk from Magome - Tsumago. Is it possible? Stay: Tsumago
7/6: Tsumago - Takayama. Don't know whether this is possible on public transit and how long it will take. Stay: Takayama
7/7: Takayama & Hida. I read there is some Onsen not far from Takayama, worth a day trip? Stay: Takayama
7/8: Takayama - Shirakawago - Kanazawa, stay Kanazawa
7/9: Kanazawa - Tokyo, stay Tokyo
7/10-7/14: Tokyo and Vicinity: including Nikko, Hakone, Mount Fuji, etc.
7/15: Tokyo - Kyoto: Stay Kyoto
7/16-7/18: Kyoto
7/19: leave for NTR at noon since our flight leaves at 9 pm

3. Transportation: to buy or not to buy JR Pass based on the places we plan to visit. Which JR pass? For the Japan Alpha part, should we better off renting a car?
3. Lodging recommendation. Since we are a party of 5, will AirBnB our only choice to avoid paying for two hotel rooms, which will cost over $300 per night based on what I see from Expedia?

Thank you for your patient to read through this long posting.
by LingBay  

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/18 16:17
I canft answer your main question because I havenever been at the gion Matsuri but Ifll give a try to your other questions:

- instead of changing hotels between Osaka and Kyoto you could stay the entire time in Kyoto. I see that from Osaka you are anyway mainly doing daytrips. The one to Nara is just as easy from Kyoto and the one to Himeiji takes maybe 15-30 min longer from Kyoto. Just an idea to avoid changing hotel.
- some hotels have bigger rooms (I have seen for 4 people but 5 might be stretching it). Airbnb is kind of semi illegal nowadays in Japan. There is a registration process and only properly registered places may still rent. Not sure how much Airbnb is enforcing this. A few years back when this rule was introduced a lot of people got their Airbnb reservation cancelled last minute.
- Tsumago Access & Walk to Magome: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6077.html
- the onsen in the mountains by Takayama you are referring to: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5942.html (if it were me, yes totally worth a trip)
- from google maps it looks like a car would be best between Takayama and Tsumago but I have to admit that I didnft research it thoroughly.
- on this decision as well as the gion Matsuri decision will also depend which and if any train pass to get: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2357.html
- you have 5 days in Tokyo in your plan 1 and list a number of side trips. I would say these 5 days are the bare minimum if you want to do all these side trips. Even if not, Ifd say 3 days in Tokyo plus 2 daytrips would be a bare minimum.
- you do have a full day in Nagoya, I personally would add that day eg to Kanazawa, but it depends on what attracts you guys to Nagoya (the castle youfll have seen already a better one in Himeiji.

Enjoy planning your trip to Japan!

Do I allocate too many days for Tokyo areas?
by LikeBike (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/18 23:48
Hi!

I'm from the USA too. I am going to assume with your strong interest in onsen, no one in your group has a tattoo. I know many people in the US who have them (including my sister) but I will never get one because I want to be able to enjoy all onsen!

To add to what @LikeBike said, Kyoto has seen a huge accommodation boom and there are actually now lots of official apartment hotels vs. Osaka where I've just not seen that happen with accommodations. I've personally not stayed in them because I am a party of 2, but from the images on line they look great. Some of the ones I've seen include: The Hotel Gentle Fox, 22 Pieces, Yutaka, and I've know I've seen a bunch more on Booking.com. These places all should be able to handle 5 people since some of them offer two bedroom units. Someone else on this board really liked the Hotel Anteroom and the prices are low enough you could do separate rooms pretty easily aka under $100 for some rooms. I am not getting paid to say this, but in general I like to use Booking.com because they include tax with their prices and not all booking websites do *cough* Expedia and Hotels.com *cough*. I've also booked directly with some Japanese hotels since sometimes that is cheaper. It can really vary. I got a much better rate at the Candeo Kashihara on their website vs. Booking. Tokyo is more expensive, but there are some decent cheaper hotels where you could probably afford 2 rooms for under $300

The great AirBnB cancellation was actually only June 2018 I know because it was pretty much the period I was in Japan and I met several tourists affected by it. I was not, since I had booked hotels and/or ryokan. However when Orange County, CA changed their AirBnB rules I had one cancelled on 4 day notice, which is one reason I just don't trust them on International trips. I would think an AirBnB that is an actual private house or in more far flung areas, might be safe, but Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka have very strict rules.

I tend to be in Japan close to Gion Matsuri, but I've not yet made it. We're going a little earlier to Kyoto since we're more interested in hydrangea festivals.

Like @LikeBike, I've been to Hirayu onsen and loved it. It really feels a world away. Depending on where you are staying in Takayama there will be onsen as well. I've stayed 2x in the Associa which I think is where @Lazy Pious tends to recommend. They have two floors of onsen.

There is a bus between Tsumago/Magome and Takayama I believe. Otherwise you can take the train up to Matsumoto where there is definitely a bus. I really liked Matsumoto and so did my 8 year old, though she enjoys limited time in museums. The castle though is quite nice. If you rent a car, the drop-off fees are going to run you about 10,000 yen or more outside the rental car price. That seems to be the going rate if you don't return in the same prefecture you rented in. You do not want a car in any major city since parking is high and a PIA.

Unless you have something you actually want to do in Nagoya it seems bizarre to go there since it's only 30-45 minutes away from Kyoto by shinaknsen. You could easily go directly from Kyoto to Takayama or to Magome/Tsumago. I know there is an actual tour from Takayama to both. Last trip to Takayama we went directly from Kyoto.

My daughter loved Hida no Sato folk village. They have some participatory games and other exhibits. I've been to Shirakawa Go once (February 2010) and it seemed like a huge tourist trap at the time. It was scenic, but mostly seemed to be shops and restaurants. I've not been back since I didn't find it rewarding.

I love Kanazawa. We went to the Myouruji (the ninja temple) in Kanazawa last Summer. My daughter wasn't into it because you don't get to try out all the hidden doors and tunnels but I found it fascinating.

If you're traveling between Magome/Tsumago and Takayama have you thought about going somewhere actually cooler like Kamikochi or do your sons not like outdoorsy hikes?

I'm not a fan of Hakone. If you want a ryokan with onsen I would look for one near Magome/Tsumago or Takayama.

I would not take away from Tokyo since that is where your oldest son is likely to enjoy himself most. Though Kyoto does have a manga museum. My daughter and I are looking into the new VR Ninja experience in Tokyo. (She's into ninjas right now) We were debating going to Nikko Edo Wonderland, but instead are now looking at a different ninja experience. I have been to Toei Movie Park in Kyoto. It's cheezy but we thought it was fun. Sometimes you just get overwhelmed with too many temples and shrines.

Honestly, unless you are planning to climb Mt. Fuji, are going to Fuji Q Amusement Park, and/or there is some sort of flower festival, I've yet to see the appeal of Kawaguchiko. It seems like a 2 hour bus trip one way to walk around and see dinky museums and a few more temples and shrines. I think your 14 year old is just not going to enjoy it, unless you are going to the amusement park, which to be fair looks awesome. If I knew my daughter could go on all the rides I would go lol

I hope this helps!

by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/19 01:29
Going by Booking, assuming you stayed in Kyoto from the July 1-8 I've found the following places to stay that are all under $2100 (7 nights x$300) for 5 people. I have not stayed in any of these places, on nearly all my trips to Japan I've either been solo or a party of 2, so I am not going to pay as much for a 500 sq foot room for 2 people.

The Hotel Imagine Kyoto at $2092. The Hotel was built in 2018 and it looks very clean and modern.
The Mimaru Kyoto Horikawa Rokkaku $1550 another clean and modern looking hotel built in 2017. If you go non-refundable it drops to $1388 It does have a kitchenette.
The Apartment Hotel Kamo Riverside $1091 the location is not as good as the other places I found
The Mimaru Kyoto Shinmachi Sanjo $1762 drops to 1573 for non-refundable similar to the Mimaru above in terms of looks and year built.
The Hotel Gentle Fox's 2BR has sold out for your dates but you can get 2 1 BR Suites for $1541 or ~$1341 if you go non-refundable.

If you already know your route and have airfare I would probably do the one of the non-refundable ones for closer to $1300 since that brings you under $200 a night and will help you in Tokyo which is much pricier.

If you change it to two rooms, there are a lot of options under $2100 from the Hotel Royal Park Sanjo where I have stayed to just so many options under $2000. Anything under $1400 is only $200 a night which is hard to find in many popular cities in the USA.

For Tokyo to stay under $300 a night you will probably need 2 rooms. Assuming you are in Tokyo Saturday July 13-19 I found:

Daiwa Roynet Nishi Shinjuku for $1516 for 2 Standard Rooms

The Hotel Sardonyx in Ueno is $1710

The Richmond Hotel in Suidobashi is $1524

Hotel Mystays Kanda is $1168

The Hotel Saibo Nihonbashi might be within your price range.

While it's a bit more than you wanted to spend the Hen Na Hotel in Tokyo might make your older son happy with the robots that check you in.

In general, I would try to keep all your stays in Tokyo, should you decide to over night elsewhere in between, to at least 2 nights at a time, since I've found it really hard to book single night stays in Tokyo in July. This is the first time I've encountered this issue and it's sort of pain.

Part of the problem is in many hotels in Japan you're a party of 5 adults. Children between 6 and 11 are only sometimes free in rooms. 14 year olds are rarely free, Tokyo Disney might be the only place where that is so. I'm also thinking you're hitting a vacation time for the Japanese, because Tokyo hotels which are $170 for my dates for a double are more like $270 for yours. This will affect many places you're looking at for those dates, because you're looking at pretty common vacation destinations.

Depending on how often you use buses it might not be worth it to get any sort of rail pass outside the JR West special Haruka ticket with ICOCA Card (though for your youngest son, you can not take advantage of that deal because otherwise he will be charged adult train/subway/bus fares.) I don't know if there is any 7 day period you are doing enough travel to make it worth it.

Good luck!
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/19 07:18
Thank you very much for LikeBike and rkold for the detailed information. My itinerary will look more like the following now since we decide to save Kyoto to the last for the Gion Matsuri festival.
- Arrive KIX, Osaka for 3 night. day trip to Himeji, Nara, Kobe & Arima Onsen
- Japan Alpha from Osaka, will 4 nights enough? Need to work through the exact stay
- Alpha -> Tokyo, stay in Tokyo 6 nights, with day trip to Nikko, and probably one more
- Tokyo -> Kyoto. stay in Kyoto for 5 nights
- Leave Kyoto - NTR on the last day. Flight leaves NTR on 9:30 pm
With this itinerary, will a JR pass worthy? 7 days, 14 days or 21 days?
Thanks a lot for your insights.
by LingBay rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/19 11:18
Whether a rail pass is worth it depends on what defines the Japanese Alps to you and where exactly you are going and how many nights you are spending some place and what exactly you are doing.

If you're planning to be in Kyoto for the Matsuri it would behoove you to book ASAP since you are a group of 5.
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/19 11:36
For the Alpha, there are the places that I want to hit:
- Kamikochi
- Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
- Kanazawa
- Takayama

We can either come from Osaka or Tokyo. Still need to figure out the details. So much information on transportation - my head is spinning. : )
by LingBay rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/19 11:52
Hi!

It's Alps, not Alpha.

It is going to be really hard to do all 4 of those things with the time you have allotted.
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/19 16:14
@rkold, excuse my typo as I must thinking this is the alpha version of our travel plan. : P

I modify our plan again and hope this version is more reasonable. Based on this version, maybe we should buy a 21 days JR pass?

Part 1: Osaka, 3 nights, with two excursions to Himeji & Arima Onsen, and Nara
Part 2: Tokyo: 5 night, with a day trip to Nikko for now.
Part 3: Alps 6 nights total: Tokyo – Matsumoto, 1 night; Kamikoch, 1 night in onsen after hiking; Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, to Kanawaza; Kanawaza 2 nights total, Kanawaza – Toyama, 2 nights
Part 4: Kyoto: 4 nights
Last day: Kyoto -> NTR -> home

Hope this plan works. Thanks for your insight.
by LingBay rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/19 17:07
just a small recommemdation in toyko for your teenage son:
* go to the digital art museum (https://borderless.teamlab.art/jp/)
i am sure, he will love it. but reserve very long in advance!
by Glimpigumpi rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/19 22:07
I am going to assume that the Toyama after Kanazawa was a typo and you meant Takayama?

Just be aware this trip is going to be very pricey and you are not going to find an onsen hotel for under $300 for 5 adults in Kamikochi. When I was looking in Kamikochi (late June is cheaper than mid July) it was $200-$300 a night for most hotels and ryokans for 2 adults (me and my 7 year old.) The rates did include dinner and breakfast. You are 5 adults. We ended up renting a cabin. It is self-catering though and you need to pay to use the bath. We also spent one night in a ryokan near Kamikochi (Nakanoyu) because they covered our transit from Matsumoto to their ryokan and drove us into Kamikochi for free though you need to leave super early in the morning for Kamikochi via their transit. We paid on our own to get from Kamikochi back to Matsumoto.

Using the Japan Rail Pass calculator on this website whether a 21 day pass pays off for you is a close call.

https://www.japan-guide.com/railpass/

Just be aware you will need to pay out of pocket for:
The bus from Matsumoto to Kamikochi (roundtrip, the bus is 4550 yen one way per each of the 4 adults in your party and 1 child at 2280) ==20480
The Alpine Route from Shinano-Omachi to Toyama (9400 yen one way per each of the 4 adults in your party and the 1 child 4700) ==42300
The bus from Kanazawa to Takayama (3600 yen per adult and 2000 for the 1 child) 16400 yen. I guess if you had a rail pass you could take the train from Kanazawa to Toyama and then the train from Toyama to Takayama but be aware that the train from Toyama is not all that frequent and Toyama Station itself while clean and new and modern is not terribly interesting. The bus from Kanazawa to Takayama should allow you to stop off at Shirakawa Go should you want to, otherwise you will be paying additional for that should you want to once in Takayama.

I believe the pass calculator assumes you take JR from Tokyo to Nikko. You can also get there by Tobu. It's how I went when I visited. It doesn't take that much longer and doesn't involve any transfers. The pass also covers transit within the Nikko area in case you don't want to walk everywhere. Nikko is cooler than Tokyo in the Summer but it's still pretty hot and humid or at least was in August when we went.

The plus of paying out of pocket for tickets (like from Kyoto to Tokyo or Osaka to Tokyo) means you can use the Nozomi which are a lot more frequent and faster than the Hikari and Kodama. Hikari are 2x and hour while there are more like 5 or 6 Nozomi an hour. Of course the other option if you don't have a pass is you can fly from Itami or KIX to Narita thus bypassing Tokyo entirely. There are special fares of ~10,000 yen for tourists.

Have you talked to your children about their interests? I have not been excited to do the Alpine Route (for example) because a day of different types of transit is just not something my child is going to enjoy. Heck, I'm not sure I enjoy it, which might be one of the reasons I find Hakone easy to skip.

The day you go to Himeji it might make sense to get this pass:
https://www.westjr.co.jp/global/en/ticket/pass/kansai/

and depending on where you stay in Osaka this ticket combo might make sense:
https://www.westjr.co.jp/global/en/ticket/icoca-haruka/

You will need to get your youngest son a child Suica card separately if you want him to have his own Suica.
Sometimes private lines are best. You can take Kintetsu from Osaka to Nara and the Kintetsu Nara Station is much closer to all the sights in Nara than JR Nara.

Good luck!
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/20 13:00
Thank you so much for the great information, rkold! Can you give me the information of the cabin that you rent in Kamikochi? Is there cabin for five people? Also the osen in Nakanoyu? So you spend two days in Kamikochi? I probably will skip Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route this time since I feel chaning five different transportation for a group of 5 and rushing through everything in one day is too exhausting.

I do not release how expensive transportation can be for this trip. :O

So now is my latest travel plan. : )

Part 1: Osaka, 3 nights, with two excursions to Himeji & Arima Onsen, and Kobe (husband and kids) while my dad and I go to Hiroshima for a day trip
Part 2: Tokyo: 5 night, with a day trip to Nikko for now.
Part 3: Alps 5 or 6 nights total: Tokyo – Matsumoto, 1 night; Kamikoch, 1 night in onsen after hiking; -> Takayama, 1 or 2 nights, either to Kanawaza, and stay there for 1 night, or do Magome - Tsumago, either stay there for one night, or go straight to Kyoto
Part 4: Kyoto: 4 or 5 nights, with a day trip to Nara
Last day: Kyoto -> NTR -> home

Thanks a lot for the help. I feel that I am getting somewhere.
by LingBay rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/20 22:10
Hi!

Our trip was different. We did 2 nights in Kanazawa, then 1 night at the Nakanoyu, then 1 night at the campground, and then 2 nights in Nagano before heading to Tokyo.

This is Nakanoyu:
http://www.nakanoyu-onsen.jp/spa/

I booked it via Booking.com. We paid a little more for a room with private toilet, no rooms have private baths because of the onsen. They will meet you with advance request at 14:45 at Matsumoto Station. The food was decent and abundant.

We then spent one night at Konashidaira Campsite in a Cabin A with private toilet.
http://www.kamikochi.org/plan/accommodation (look for the campsite and there is a link to the English info page.) All cabins outside the B can hold 5 people. However you are going during Summer Season (July) while I went during "off" Season (June) So I paid 12,000 yen and you will pay 34,000 yen. If the larger 2nd floor cabins are available you could rent one of those for 34,000 as well.

You can also look at some of the other locations in Kamikochi to get some idea of the prices for your group. I know @Lazy Pious loves the Kamikochi Onsen Hotel. I suspect it is more, but it will include meals.

@LikeBike stayed over night (I merely day tripped) at Hirayu no mori, which is just outside of Kamikochi and has a great onsen.

Yes, transport in Japan can get pricey, it especially can be pricey when you are a large group. You're also traveling long distances and backtracking which is adding to your cost. The transport within each city is usually decently priced. It's cheaper to travel around Tokyo via train or subway than any US city I can think of. You are traveling hundreds of miles. You are traveling the equivalent of LA to SF (Osaka to Tokyo) and then SF back to LA (Kyoto to Narita) outside of any other travel you are doing. Since you are 5 it might be worthwhile to see how much a rental car would cost. There are large drop-off fees but the fact you are 5 people might make up for it. I would not want a car in Tokyo or Kyoto or Osaka where parking is expensive and hard to come by, but it could perhaps be cheaper for your Alps trip. Just be prepared for 10,000-20,000 for drop off fees.

If you want to do Tsumago and Magome it makes sense to do them when you are near Matsumoto vs. Takayama unless you are doing on the bus tours out of Takayama. Otherwise it seems silly to cross back and forth through the alps on the same roads numerous times. If you want to do Tsumago and Magome it might make sense to do:

Tokyo to Magome/Tsumago 1 night, Magome/Tsumago to Matsumoto 1 night, Kamikochi day trip night Hirayu onsen. Hirayu onsen to Takayama 1 night, and then Takayama to Kanazawa via bus. You can add nights as you need and have available. You would then need to make sure a rail pass is still worth it since you would be using bus from Matsumoto to Kanazwa. There is a special discount bus pass that would cover this.

http://www.alpico.co.jp/access/ticket/701.html or

http://www.alpico.co.jp/access/ticket/pdf/panf701[1].pdf

It's 5500 per adult and 2750 per child. It will cover all buses from Matsumoto to Takayama to Kanazawa. It would allow a stop off at Hirayu onsen and Shirakawa Go. At Hirayu you can pay for a round trip bus for Kamikochi. You can not back track but it's actually a really good deal. From Kanazawa it's a Limited Express train ride down to Kyoto.
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/24 17:35
Thank you so much for the detailed information. With the great input there, I change our plan again, mainly dropping off some stops in Japan Alps, we decided on the final itinerary:
1. SFO - KIX, Osaka for 4 days
2. Osaka - Kanazawa, stay 1 night
3. Kanazawa - Takayama, stay 2 nights, visit Shirakawa-gō on the way to Takayama; then the next day rent a car and drive to Kamikochi. Is it possible to do hiking and visit Shirahone Onsen (Kokyo Notemburo public onsen) after the hike?
4. Takayama - Matsuyama - Nagano - Shibu Onsen (a) by bus. Stay in Shibu Onsen
5. Visit the snow monkey park then arrive in Tokyo by train, stay in Tokyo
6. Tokyo: another five nights in Tokyo, do a day trip to Nikko, Kamakura and or Hakone, and may visit Disney Sea
7. Tokyo - Kyoto, stay 4 nights (7/15-7/18), experience Gion Matsuri
8. Kyoto - NRT. Leave at noon for 9 pm departure

I think I am quite set for Okasa, Tokyo, and Kyoto. But may need to think about the Alps part more.

Is I can only choose Kamakura or Hakone, which one is better for a family with kids?

Thanks again for your great input.

by LingBay rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/24 17:54
Is I can only choose Kamakura or Hakone, which one is better for a family with kids
Let me start by saying that I love Kamakura and have probably already spent 2 weeks there(over many separate trips). However that said in your itinerary I would go toHakone. You will have seen temples already galore, but have you see an active vulcano? You can do that to some degree if you do the big Hakone loop over the mountain which involves several different means of transport including a plastic pirate ship.
You can do Hakone as daytrip but youfll need to start your day early. Although no longer a teenager nothing I master to do , so if your family is the same an overnight stay might be better.
Kamakura in turn is very convenient as daytrip.
by LikeBike (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/24 18:56
Thanks for the quick response, LikeBike. Then I will cut one day off Tokyo and go to Hanoke, stay one night, then from there to Kyoto. While in Tokyo, I will plan only one day trip to Nikko. Thanks for the great info.
by LingBay rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/24 22:01
Personally,

Unless you're going to Yunessun in Hakone, I would do neither. I really like Kamakura but if your older son is really an "average" US teen he's going to be over temples and shrines by that point, so Kamakura is not all that appealing. I personally find Hakone dull. Unless your boys are really into small gardens, small museums or taking lots and lots of different forms of transit, that is what you will be doing. The big thing in Hakone is the transit circle route involving train, funicular, ropeway, boat (my least favorite part) and then bus.

Now, if your family loves that sort of transport thing, then do Hakone. If you are just going because you want to onsen or go to Yunessun, you can day trip! A friend who was too shy to visit a non-bathing suit onsen with me went to Yunessun with me from Tokyo. After spending all the day time hours there she went back to Tokyo and I continued on to Kansai. You can substitute another onsen for Yunessun, it doesn't matter. Hakone takes a day when you want to do the transport loop, particular with the small museums and gardens. Just going to Hakone from Tokyo is only about 2 hours. But honestly if you're just going to use an onsen, I would try Kusatsu instead, the onsen are nicer.

BTW many people do Kamakura as a day trip from Tokyo. It's only 1 hour from Tokyo. One thing you can do is split up and part of the family stay in Tokyo while another part goes to Kamakura. So say you and your father could see Kamakura while your husband takes the boys to the new VR ninja experience.

You can not drive into Kamikochi. It's car free. You will need to drive to the Hirayu Parking Area, park the car and then pay for the shuttle bus to Kamikochi. http://www.kamikochi.org/plan/access#car
So you will be paying: Rental car, gas, Hirayu parking fee, and plus an additional 2050 fee per adult round trip to Hirayu parking and 1030 for your younger son. (see here: https://www.nouhibus.co.jp/english/routebus/kamikochi_line.pdf )

It's 5040 per adult to take the bus from Takayama to Kamikochi. There might be a pass that includes more things.

If you have the time, you can certainly then take your car and continue onwards to Shirahone. https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6042.html

Just be aware that day guest hours to use onsen can be limited and make sure to give yourself plenty of time and gas to make it back to Takayama. You could also just visit all the many beautiful onsen in the Okuhida area or take the Shin Hokata Ropeway or heck, both @LikeBike and I loved the Hirayu no Mori onsen near the parking lot.

Looking at your new itinerary, I would think a rail pass is not going to pay off. As you have in terms of long distance train travel: Osaka to Kanazawa 7130 yen (non-reserved seat, since this is a starting station getting a seat is not that hard. I've done it.)
Matsumoto to Nagano 3000 (reserved, the price is cheaper unreserved)
Nagano to Tokyo 8400 yen (reserved so you can take a Kagayaki or Hakutaka)
Tokyo to Kyoto round trip 27600. (roundtrip)
Tokyo to Narita (3000 yen)


However, you might benefit from the following:
https://www.japanican.com/en/special/tours/shinkansen/index.aspx

Which would allow you to take the much more frequent Nozomi. The seats are non-reserved, but from Tokyo to Kyoto that won't be an issue, and I would think you can manage it from Kyoto to Tokyo since you will have so many more train options as well.

Now whether to get a pass or not goes out the window if you have expensive day trips planned that are not mentioned in the above itinerary (like Matsushima from Tokyo or Hiroshima from Osaka.)

Good luck and I hope you have booked lodging for the Gion Matsuri already.
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/29 12:27
Hi rkold,

Thank You! Thank You so much! The information is so detailed! I will definitely study them and reach back to this forum for more insights. : )
by LingBay rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/29 15:42
I just did it, booked one night (cottage) at Hirayu no Mori onsen. So need advice on that part of trip. We will stay in Takayama for two nights (7/6 &7/7) , then one night in the No Mori onsen (7/8). Need your suggestions on hiking in Kamikochi. I know that most tour groups will do the trails along Azusa River from Taisho Pond to Myojin Bridge. We will likely do it. But is it possible to take the ropeway to the top of Nishi-Hotakaguchi, then hike back down to Kamikochi? If I want to do both, should I plan our day as the following:

7/8 Morning, send luggage to No Mori onsen at the post office? ( is it doable?) leave Takayama around 10 am and arrive at Shin-hotaka ropeway. Ride the ropeway to Nishi-Hotakaguchi, then hike down to Kamikochi. 4 hours? Ride the bus to No Mori onsen (40 minutes?). Relax in the onsen

7/9: bus to Kamikochi and do the trails along Azusa River from Taisho Pond to Myojin Bridge. How long will it take? 2/3/4 hours?

Where should we stay on 7/9 then? Should we take the bus to Matsuyama or Nagano or can we go straight to Tokyo?

Thanks so much for your insights.
by LingBay rate this post as useful

Re: First Time to Japan, Gion Matsuri or not? 2019/3/29 23:24
Hi!

I can't answer your question on Kamikochi since I have no idea what your fitness levels are and I've not personally done the hike down into Kamikochi from the top of ropeway. It POURED while I was in Kamikochi. I only did the round trip from Kappa Bridge to Myojin Bridge. It was too wet to want to spend more time outside. I found the "hike" on the paths super easy and I would not consider it "hiking." I think the trip back from the ropeway involves a few ladders so it would depend on how well you think your party can navigate that. Again, how long it takes will depend on your group, your abilities and your wishes. I don't know you or your family so I can't estimate.

Again, are you just walking? Taking pictures? Trying to do this as fast as possible? Getting a fancy tea and cake set at one of the cafes? Shopping at the big gift shops near the hotels? Only you know your group.

You can stay in Matsumoto or Nagano, they're both nice and not so far apart. I would pick one based on price and availability. I stayed in the Metropolitan in Nagano and it was quite lovely. I would happily also stay in Matsumoto. In your case I might, pick Nagano over Matsumoto just because you want to visit the snow monkeys the next day. From Matsumoto, you're looking at 1 hour to Nagano + getting to Shiba onsen. But again it really depends on your interests. Just make sure you look at hotels in MATSUMOTO **NOT** MATSUYAMA. Matsuyama is a city on Shikoku and *REALLY* far from Nagano.

If you're not trying to see the snow monkeys anymore than sure you can go onwards to Tokyo as well. There are direct buses from Kamikochi to Tokyo (you can look up the times) or you can take the bus-train combo route to MATSUMOTO and from there you can catch a train or bus directly to Tokyo. Since you're on a budget, you might find somewhere cheaper to spend the night in Matsumoto or Nagano over Tokyo though. So for example, you can get two rooms for your large group at the Nagano Metropolitan for the night of the 9th for $200 total. Matsumoto also had some $200 options for your group. Matsumoto is one of those places I might risk an AirBnB since it is likely to be a stand alone unit or a stand alone unit on property owned by the AirBnBer. I also don't believe smaller cities like Matsumoto and Nagano have the same restrictions more popular tourist areas like Kyoto, Tokyo, and Osaka have in place.

If you are only spending 1 night in Hirayu you are unlikely to be able to use Takyuubin. It generally takes one day for items to arrive. Instead you would takyuubin your bags on the morning of 7/8 to Tokyo so they arrive at your hotel on the 10th. Take a small overnight bag with you from Takayama to Hirayu with some clothes for 7/8 and 7/9 and then meet your bag on 7/10.

Most hotels offer takyuubin at reception. I know some convenience stores offer the service as well. I am pretty sure the post office just sends packages via mail.

Good luck!



by rkold rate this post as useful

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