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19 days November (cities + landscape) 2019/5/12 22:24

We are a couple travelling for Japan for the 1st time this November. We are looking to see some of the "Japan essentials" but also experiencing the nature and landscapes (and hopefully some autumn colors :)).
I have already bought (and read) the Lonely Planet guide and I have been checking a lot of threads in this forum (really incredible to see so many people being helpful :))

So now I have a first draft of the itinerary and would love hearing your opinions. My questions at this stage are:
1- is this itinerary doable without spending the whole day in trains or buses - at this point we are not thinking about renting a car (but maybe it is worth it for the Honshu part?).
2- regarding accommodation: we would love to experience staying at a ryokan with an onsen at least for 1 or 2 nights (it would be our "luxury" indulgence during this trip) and we are not sure where it would be best to do it (Nikko? Takayama? Kamazawa?)
3- also, we really love hiking and we are looking for nice paths (ideally medium level, 3 to 5 hours) during our trip, so any suggestions about this would be more than welcome :)

So for the moment it looks like this:
Day 1 - arrival at Tokyo Haneda at 11h35am, day in Tokyo
Day 2 - Tokyo
Day 3 - departure for Nikko, day at Nikko visiting temples
Day 4 - Nikko (hiking suggestions here?)
Day 5 - coming back to Tokyo and heading for Nagoya
Day 6 - Nagoya > hike between Tusamago and Magome (where should we spend the night?)
Day 7 - Takayama
Day 8 - Takayama - hiking (or onsen village nearby?)
Day 9 - Kamazawa
Day 10 - Kamazawa to Kyoto
Day 11 and 12 - Kyoto
Day 13 - Nara (night there)
Day 14 - Nara to Koya (hike and night in a buddhist temple - suggestions?)
Day 15 - Koya (hike?) + late afternoon and night in Osaka
Day 16 - Osaka - Himeji and heading back to Tokyo (even if we arrive late)
Day 17 to 19 - Tokyo
Day 20 - departure

Thank you very much in advance for your help!!
by PaulaMM  

Re: 19 days November (cities + landscape) 2019/5/13 11:32
I think overall doable.

A few comments:

Day 5 - coming back to Tokyo and heading for Nagoya
Day 6 - Nagoya > hike between Tusamago and Magome (where should we spend the night?)

I personally feel that the hike between Tsunami and Magime is overrated looking at the fact that it is quite hard to reach. I would probably replace by a hike in Nara prefecture if you want cultural and light hiking.

But if you are set for Magome /Tsumago I would try to use day 5 as travel day and get from Nikko all the way to magome / tsumago and sleep there.

Day 8 - Takayama - hiking (or onsen village nearby?)

I liked Hirayu onsen.

Day 13 - Nara (night there)

While I like Nara and have spent myself several nights there if you are staying in Kyoto before I would reconsider if you really need to change hotels for that 1 night.
Actually you could do all your Kansai activities (except Koyasan) from just one hotel in Kyoto and then do Koyasan at the end before departing.

Also have a look if you can get an open jaw ticket returning from Osaka instead Tokyo. Reducing your backtracking and just adding the Tokyo days at the beginning which might actually be nice to have a few days in Tokyo first before starting to travel around. Alternatively, specially if you arrive at Narita, you could consider to start at Nikko and the work slowly southwards.

Enjoy your trip to Japan!
by LikeBike (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: 19 days November (cities + landscape) 2019/5/13 11:39
Sorry, I forgot. You mentioned car rental for gHonshuh. Your entire trip is on Honshu so not sure which part you meant? Nagoya-Tsumago-Takayama? If yes, look into drop off fees and compare time by train vs car via google maps.
by LikeBike (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: 19 days November (cities + landscape) 2019/5/13 12:04

To add a bit to what @LikeBike said, because it's getting late for me.... If you're in the Magome and Tsumago area it's going to run you 4-5 hours I believe to reach Takayama. You need to get back to JR and then take the train to Matsumoto and then transfer to a bus there. If you're interested in Hirayu onsen or the Okuhida area in general, it might make sense to visit on the way from Matsumoto since Hirayu onsen should be a stop on the bus route.

I was looking into some hikes in Nikko at one point. I think one of the lodgings I was looking at, The Nikko Teddy Bear house, offered some interesting lead hikes. We've decided to skip Nikko this trip, but it is something to look at. If you're there when it's koyo time around Lake Chuzenji and the Irohazaka Route, it will be quite pretty but also possibly quite crowded.

Takayama to Kanazawa can also take a couple of hours. You either need to take the Limited Express to Toyama and transfer there to the shinkansen or take a direct bus. The train can be faster you just need to make sure you make one of the 4 or so Hidas that do that route.

I like Nara, and I could totally see why someone would want to spend the night there and I think a few people on this forum like overnight in Nara more than Kyoto.. However.. if you're overnighting in Nara in hopes of speeding up your trip to Koya-san, it's not going to happen. The fastest way from Nara to Koya-san involves back tracking almost into Osaka to catch a limited express private line Nankai train. You can get from JR Nara to JR Hashimoto Station (to transfer to the Nankai line) but the route is circuitous and slow. It's mostly local trains with odd schedules and it will take you longer. There are some interesting walks. It's more than 1 day but... https://www.japan-guide.com/ad/yamanobenomichi/ I'm planning to do part of this route over the Summer.

Also, you're really not spending a lot of time in Kyoto. You have 1 full day and part of 1 day, but depending on when you reach Kanazawa the day before and what you want to do there, you might have limited time in Kyoto that partial day.

Nikko has some high end ryokan with onsen or there is always the nearby Kinugawa onsen. I know there are onsen ryokan in the Tsumago and Magome area and i've stayed 2x at the Takayama Associa Hotel which has two floors of onsen. There are also onsen ryokan in Hirayu (I've only day tripped there but the onsen were lovely) as well as in the Okuhida region.

I agree with @LikeBike about seeing about an open jaw ticket. I don't have a direct flight to KIX from my home airport, but it actually cost less to fly: my airport to Tokyo to Itami then Tokyo to my airport than it would have cost for a round trip from my airport to Tokyo.

Good luck!

I looked into renting a car in Takayama and dropping it off in Matsumoto 2 years ago. The drop-off fees were around 10,000 yen.
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: 19 days November (cities + landscape) 2019/5/19 21:11
Hello @LikeBike and @rkold,

Thanks a lot for your super helpful tips! It has taken me a couple of days to actually check all the possibilities you mentioned :)

So I think that we will then probably not do the Tsumago / Magome part and stay longer in the Takayama area to enjoy the landscapes and also spend a night at a ryokan onsen in Hirayu (I've checked in internet and it looks like there are really amazing places!).
I had also overlooked the possibility of going to Matsumoto but I think I would need to include it in my itinerary :)

I had planned a night at Nara because it seemed to be a very touristic place and I thought that spending the night there would allow us to see it differently than only spending the day, but maybe it's not such a good idea as the day after we will be heading to Koya-san. I will need to take a closer look to that :)

Also, we have already our flight tickets to and from Tokyo (Haneda airport), so it's too late to buy an open jaw ticket... And I will also probably change the last 3 days in Tokyo and put them at the beginning of the trip.

I actually have a question about Tokyo / Mt Fuji --> do you think it's worth to include in our itinerary one night in Kawaguchi-ko or just do a day trip there?
Or what do you think it's the best way to see Mt Fuji (or try to see it, as I have read that very often it's hidden in the clouds)?

Last question (for the moment :)) --> is there an app that would be useful for planning our hikes? Asides from Japan-guide.com, I know "All Trails". Some other suggestions?

Thank you very much in advance for your answers :)

by PaulaMM rate this post as useful

Re: 19 days November (cities + landscape) 2019/5/19 21:23
If you donft mind changing hotels, sleeping in Nara is nice. Specially if that enables you to get an early start and be at the Daibutsu at opening hour.

I personally love Nara prefecture and have stayed probably about 3 days in Nara itself, plus probably around a week in inner Nara prefecture.

But with your itinerary I am not seeing it as terribly convenient.

Regarding hiking I am not into hiking (but cycling as you might have guessed) but my husband is. He has been using a book called Hiking in Japan and then just locally bought maps. The maps are in Japanese only, but if you know how to read a map plus use some google translate it is fine.
We also bought some Japanese hiking books for additional ideas. They come with maps and pictures and all. So actually are relatively easy to follow even without Japanese. As my husband specially likes onsen (me too, but not the hiking part before) we got some hiking plus onsen guidebooks.

An app for weather that I normally use is tenki.jp.

Enjoy your trip!

by LikeBike (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: 19 days November (cities + landscape) 2019/5/20 01:34

I have never overnighted in Nara and this upcoming trip is my explore more of Nara prefecture trip. However, I've just noticed lots of people think that staying in Nara the night before will get them closer to Koyasan when in actuality it will not. My first trip to Japan I stupidly decided since I was already in Hashimoto, it would be faster to get to Kyoto by just taking the train up. It took a long long long time and I would have been better off switching to the Nankai line to Osaka and then taking the train from there.

If you are not worried about spending the additional money to take the Nankai line as well as the JR line you can get from Nara to Gokurakubashi where the cable car to Koya-san is located in about 2.5 hours. You take the train from JR Nara all the way to Shin-Imaniya in Osaka and then switch to a Nankai line train to Gokurakubashi. It is a shorter trip than from Kyoto, but not as short as the trip from Osaka.

I think part of the problem with hikes is what one person considers a hike another person considers mountain climbing or just an easy walk. So it can be a bit hard to figure out what you're looking for. So for example, despite the person who wrote this blog not really feeling it, I'm keen to do this hike. I travel with a child and it looks fun. https://www.halfwayanywhere.com/hikes/japan-hikes/hiking-mt-ibuki-ibuk... Other children on the course is a bonus.

I've personally never gone to Kawaguchiko. It's not ever really appealed to me outside the amusement park and climbing Mt. Fuji. I'm not ready to do the latter and my daughter doesn't make enough height lines for the former to make sense. I've personally been quite content with seeing Mt. Fuji from Tokyo. I don't know why, but most of my trips to Japan I end up seeing Mt. Fuji from Tokyo, even when I go time periods one would not expect to see it. (Like late June!) But I also feel like nothing can beat the time I flew past Mt. Fuji when I was going from Chubu Airport to my home country. I'm hoping we'll get a decent view on our Narita to Itami flight.

But this is just my opinion. I am sure there are people who love Kawaguchiko. I just would rather increase my time somewhere like Kyoto or Nara or Kanazawa or Matsumoto.

Good luck!
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: 19 days November (cities + landscape) 2019/5/20 06:26
Hi. I am one of the people who prefers Nara, I would stay there over Kyoto any time as it is less crowded.

Your plan looks good. I agree that tsumago magome isn't really worth the effort. If you want takayama autumn colours you may find them peaking in the first week of November so personally I would go there first then maybe stay a night at Hikone (not Hakone) and move on to Kyoto and Nara from there.

I did the trip in that order last year although I left out Kyoto.

Have fun!

Rkold, thanks for the tips on Izu. It was really good. Reminded me of Kyushu
by Lazy Pious (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: 19 days November (cities + landscape) 2019/5/20 12:01
I know this is off topic but.. I don't remember what I recommended about Izu but I'm super glad I was able to help you! :D

I'm not perfect and I definitely have my very strong opinions, but I love trying to answer questions on this forum and help people because I love Japan and I love trying to help and do my best to always try and give thoughtful advice.

I hope you enjoyed your trip @Lazy Pious and I can't believe how soon it is to mine! I've started making a list of all the people I need to buy gifts for and which branches of Lupicia carry teas I want to try.

OP I really liked Matsumoto. I was honestly hoping to spend my upcoming trip just in Chubu and Tohoku, but my child insisted she wanted to go to Kyoto. I think she likes the cafes there. I'm sort of glad she insisted because I'm excited to see more of Nara-ken. I sort of wish we could do the whole 35 km walk, but I'm thinking that would take 6-7 hours, though I guess if we started at 9 it would be possible. I adore Kanazawa, Matsumoto and Nagano. I think Nagano is incredibly underrated.

Good luck!

by rkold rate this post as useful

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