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Unique experiences? (1-week), 2nd time 2019/12/12 04:33
I'm going to Japan again in the spring (early April) and I'll have from mid-Sunday to next Sunday-morning to travel extensively before staying in Tokyo for another 4 days before flying back home. I'll have a 7 day JR pass.

Here is my current plan. I checked Hyperdia, and all the locations are do-able. (Yes, 8 hour round-trips are fine if it seems worth it):

Sunday: Land in Narita Airport -> train to Kyoto & set up in a hostel by the station as a travel base. & try to explore at night (I considered Osaka but it's harder to get to dotonbori and I hate the stations in Osaka. I loved Kyoto's station).
Monday: Kyoto -> Takayama (going to Hida Folk Village instead of Shirakawago due to time) (we'll have 8 hrs there before taking the train back) -> Kyoto
Tuesday: Kyoto -> Kinosaki onsen (staying the night in a Ryokan. I've not done an onsen village experience before.)
Wednesday: Kinosaki -> Kyoto (1-day sight seeing in Kyoto)
Thursday: Kyoto -> Beppu & Yufuin (still figuring out if I should stay in Beppu or Yufuin)
Friday: Beppu -> Miyajima island (seeing the Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate at night & staying at a hostel on the island)
Saturday: Miyajima island -> Okunashima island stop -> Tokyo (I know this route is possible, I've done the route before without issue. Mostly doing this again to satisfy one of the people in my party's requirements of going to an animal island, and I don't mind seeing a bunch of rabbits again :))
Sunday forward: Staying in Tokyo (There is a convention I'm attending Sunday morning so I can't push extensive travel past Saturday night)

For those who have traveled Japan extensively, Do these places seem worth it? Are there other locations & experiences you'd recommend be swapped or you liked more than these places? Why?

Takayama is the one place that is really out of the way. I've heard it has a better more authentic experience to what Kyoto offers. Is it worth going if we don't go to Shirakawago and just go to Hida Folk Village to see grass huts? I hear Shirakawago isn't worth it unless you spend the night in a grass hut, and from what I see in vlogs it doesn't look that impressive unless you're going in winter.

Are there other places similar to Amanohashidate? The one-person chair lifts to a little amusement park on the hill and biking across the sandy crossing with water on both sides I found were very unique and not grandiose to the point that you can't enjoy it on a human scale and did not feel over-run with people.

I've considered Yakushima island (but it doesn't look like you can do it in a day, you need a car to get anything out of it, and traveling there alone is very expensive and time-consuming). Unless you think it truly is worth consuming half a week over. Are there any other moss-consumed places around Japan that you'd recommend?

I've also considered Kurokawa, Is this worth it over Kinosaki in April? Should I remove Takayama from the list to fit in Kurokawa, or are the experiences in Kinosaki and Kurokawa close enough that it's not worth taking Takayama off the list?

(I see a lot of responses on the forums on people's posts asking what people are looking for & what they've experienced, so I'm typing this now to save questions)
As background, I've been to Japan once before in early July with one other person and been to: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, *Miyajima island, *Koyasan, *Takaragawa onsen, Kanazawa, *Amanohashidate, Okunamashima (Bunny island), and Hakone under 2 weeks and found it easy to do and did not feel particularly rushed in any of the locations. (I put *'s next to the names of places that I particularly liked).

This time I'll be traveling with 2 other people who have not been to Japan before but have equal experience traveling other parts of South East Asia & Europe. I'm looking for places in Japan that you can't find elsewhere, distinct architecture, or different experiences, but can still be reasonably reach-able without a car and can be somewhat flexible (You don't have to reserve days in advance). I'm willing to travel over half the country to an area if the experience is absolutely worth it. I like outdoor onsens, unique architecture, islands, places with an emphasis on water or moss, gondolas/chairlifts, and interactive sight seeing of a human scale (seeing a big fancy temple from a distance or stand in front of is meh'). I hate tours & buses, but am willing to go on one to get someplace easier.
Temples don't usually interest me unless it's paired with a distinct unique surrounding (climbing to the top of Fushimi inari and the night walk through the mossy cemetery to Okunoin temple are experiences that I really liked (Okunoin temple itself and the actual temples in Fushimi Inari did not impress)).
The 2 other people in my party like unique nature, interacting with animals, and more traditional-like architecture scenery (stepping back in time kind of experience). One of them is a foodie but they also have the smallest budget. Another is particularly fond of reptiles & birds.
We are all capable of doing things fast-pace and don't mind staying in hostels. 2 of us don't mind money-splurging for worth-while experiences. One of the travelers in the group has a bad case of getting bored quickly so we naturally go through experiences in about half the time travel blogs recommend. We can enjoy tacky/kitsch things, just the wait times bother us.
by Mel (guest)  

Re: Unique experiences? (1-week), 2nd time 2019/12/12 17:08
None of them are unique experiences.

Kyoto to beppu is 5 hours. You wont have time to do beppu and yufuin in one day with big travel times.

The tori gayes are Miyajima will be still covered in construction gear.

With 8 days. I'd suggest just Kansai and Kanto region sights. Limit your traveling.
by Hakata14 (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Unique experiences? (1-week), 2nd time 2019/12/12 19:40
Everyone likes to travel in different ways but just reading your itinerary makes me tired!

Kyoto to Takayama is a minimum of 3 hours, so a round trip means 6 hours of trains in a day.
Kyoto to Yufuin is over 5 hours of travel, just for one night and then 4 hours travel to Miyajima the next morning, again for just one night.
Then Miyajima > Okunoshima > Tokyo?

My personal opuinion is that I'd want a holiday after doing this holiday! I think you're trying to bite off too much and visit too many places that are very far apart.
by Saru Bob rate this post as useful

Re: Unique experiences? (1-week), 2nd time 2019/12/12 20:15
I love Miyajima, I've been there 2 times. However, the overnight stay left me totally unimpressed: it becomes a ghost town, shops are closed, restaurant close very early, there is nothing to do.
by Ale345 rate this post as useful

Re: Unique experiences? (1-week), 2nd time 2019/12/12 20:32
So your visiting in early April (Cherry Blossoms) whilst visiting some of the more touristy locations in Japan. I hope you like crowds.....

Moving as a single person is easy - but more people add much more complexity specifically when you are moving baggage during busy tourist seasons.

I'd suggest choosing one major location in Kansai and using that as a base.

A potential option which I seem to be flogging to death is:

Tokyo --> Kyoto (a few nights)

Kyoto --> Hiroshima (with a day trip to Miyajima)

Hiroshima --> Shin-Yamaguchi then bus to Hagi (stay 2 nights)

Hagi is an interesting mix of traditional town, castle town and has a strong Meiji connection as well. There are a couple of UNESCO sites there and crowd numbers would be lower due to it being on the west coast.


Kinosaki onsen is nice and all - but I was not impressed with the quality of the water. I can't comment on Yakushima yet as I'll be visiting it over New Years. From what I've seen getting a car is needed there to see the island well though.
by mfedley rate this post as useful

Re: Unique experiences? (1-week), 2nd time 2019/12/12 21:17
Full disclosure: we couldn't find the time to get there so I don't know how good it is, but marimo may be your cup of tea.... https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6801.html

Otherwise, why don't you look at the Kumano Kodo? Leafy, mossy trails and onsen towns, as well as history and am the only UNESCO onsen.
by Sal1980 rate this post as useful

Re: Unique experiences? (1-week), 2nd time 2019/12/12 21:57
It is kind of odd to characterize Takayama as offering ga more authentich experience than Kyoto. If you are wanting traditional Japanese culture and history, Takayama canft even begin to compare to Kyoto. You just have to make an effort to minimize the negative effects of overtourism that are starting to give Kyoto a bad reputation, and you need to be very clear on what you mean by gauthentic.h But in a sense itfs a lot easier to hop on a train to Takayama than to do the careful and thoughtful research needed to experience the classic (historic/traditional) essence of Kyoto. And you indicated right up front that you donft mind 8-hours of train riding in a day. The nice thing is, at least half of that is quite scenic and enjoyable. So is Takayama gworth ith ? Well, most people like Takayama a lot. There are no ggrass hutsh there but I suppose you mean the traditional farm houses (ggassho zukurih style). So if what you really want is to go to Takayama, then why not go there, assuming you can get the train reservations? You certainly donft have to go to Shirakawago to see traditional farm houses, and you absolutely donft have to spend the night in one. They can be drafty, smoky, and noisy, and usually have shared toilet and bath facilities. (There is no question that those qualities are authentic, though.)

If you just want to see grass huts, note that Miyama is a lot closer to Kyoto, and apparently has a lot of them (although they are a different style from the ones in Hida). https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3985.html But it doesnft have some of the other attractions of Takayama, including the fairly nice and extensive town preservation districts. Takayama is way better for shopping, too, although it gets insanely crowded at times.

One observation about your itinerary is that is based on extremely popular tourist attractions. Visiting such places can sometimes be at odds with having an gauthentich experience of Japan, you know. If you want to experience the real Japan, then you have to be willing to ditch the top-ten lists, and you have to get realistic about what grealh means. Heavily overtouristed places by definition are no longer grealh in the historic or traditional sense!

If you want to go to Miyajima and see the famous torii, be sure to check progress on the renovations that are going on there. It could be a bummer to get there and find it covered up.

Beppu/Yufuin is pretty far afield from Kyoto, although at least you have an overnight there. If it were me, I would probably pick some place closer to Kansai. There are literally hundreds of possibilities. And be aware that some people absolutely hate Beppu, while some people find Yufuin to be gdisappointing.h So whether that trip is gworth ith might be a better question than whether Takayama is, probably. Think about the experience you want to have, and then do some more research.

In general, Ifd say that if you really enjoy train riding (and donft mind long days), then your itinerary isnft all that bad. Most people simply cannot relate to that much train riding in such a short period, but if you know that it will be fine for you personally, then donft listen to the many shrieks you will get about it.
by Kim (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Unique experiences? (1-week), 2nd time 2019/12/12 23:02
I can second the Kumano Kodo. It can be absolutely stunning and is what I would say is more 'off the beaten track' but is still pretty popular.
by mfedley rate this post as useful

Reading replies 2019/12/13 02:44
Thanks for the many answers! I've not heard of several of these places (granted most of the places I listed were only found because of top 30 lists :p).
To clarify, I don't think I entirely mind if something is more authentic than the other, but more if the experience is unique enough that it's worth traveling to and not something you can see an equivalent of elsewhere (and if there is a similar equivalent closer, where those might be?). As an example, I actually enjoyed the Yunessun onsen theme park. Very kitsch, tacky, touristy (though I didn't see any foreign tourists when I went), water was more lukewarm than hot, but I've not heard of other locations in Japan that one could bathe in a pool of coffee, tea, and wine. So I'd say it was an experience worth going to. Not authentic, but still a fun and different experience.

I've not considered that the Torri at Miyajima could potentially be under renovation. I actually enjoyed seeing it at night and trying to get as close to it as possible as the water receded. If I see it will be under renovation than staying on the island at night it probably isn't worth it.

I will look into the other suggestions regarding the grasso-zukuri.

I've only been to onsens in hakone and takaragawa so I probably don't have enough onsen experience to tell what is good water quality or not. Kinosaki drew my attention more because I've not experienced an 'onsen town' before and it looked a lot more scenic from pictures I've seen of other places (besides kurokawa.) Though I think I'd be more disappointed if there weren't any scenic outdoor onsens and pretty architecture vs if the quality of water was good.

I've not heard of Hagi but it looks like a very interesting place from pictures. I will look into it!

The kumano kodo sounds like a very cool experience. I read that it is more like a long hiking pilgrimage that takes 5 days vs a specific place though? Doesn't sound very obtainable if I'm trying to make the most of my JR pass within a week. Is there a particular accessible trail by the JR pass or public transportation? Is there a part of the trail that sticks out as unique from the rest? I liked Koyasan particularly for its many moss covered Graves concentrated along the path. If a majority of it is just pretty forests, I feel a similar experience can just obtained hiking in the US nature preserves.

I've also been trying to look into other interesting side stops. For example I went to the Ramen museum in Yokohama as a side stop on the train between Tokyo and Hakone. It was a fun way to break up the trip. One stop places like that would be fun to hear about if anyone has any to offer. I was going to drop by the Kowloon walled city arcade in kanagawa this time around, but I recently found out it was permanently closed :').
by Mel (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Unique experiences? (1-week), 2nd time 2019/12/13 03:32

It's not quite the same as Yunessun but if you want something similarly cheezy and kitschy there is Spa World in Osaka. It has a swim area with waterslides where you wear swimsuits as well as gender segregated themed cheezy "onsen" baths reprsenting various countries. It's not authentic at all, but super cheezy.

I like Takayama and Hida no Sato much much much more than Shirakawa Go. I think Hida no Sato is well presented and interesting. I don't know if it will catch your fancy though. I thought the view in Winter of Shirakawa Go from the lookout was nice, but not nice enough that it has made it to any of my lists on subsequent Japan trips.

I would guess if you're looking for an only in Japan unique place, you might want to consider the Toto Toilet bowl museum in Kokura since unless you are flying or taking a boat you will pass through Kokura to get to Beppu or Yufuin.

My 9 year old loved feeding monkeys in Arashiyama and doing crafts in Kyoto. It made for a nice break.

Have you thought about Tottori and its sand dunes?
by rkold rate this post as useful

Reply 2019/12/13 04:04
I have fed the monkeys at arashiyama. It was a very enjoyable experience :) . I've looked into the tottori sand dunes. There's the Indiana sand dunes a few hours from where I live back home so I wonder if the experience would be more impressive in tottori or not, but it was the sand art museum that looked like a pretty big draw for me. I've been looking to see if there were other unique things in tottori that would make it worth putting that visit over another location on my list, since it is relatively close to kinosaki and would make a nice side stop :).

I loved the dotonbori area of Osaka but I found the Osaka stations to be the most frustrating getting around and any struggles I had traveling Japan all happened in that area. So I might be trying to avoid Osaka unless I find something really drawing to go there for that Tokyo can't offer.
by Mel (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Unique experiences? (1-week), 2nd time 2019/12/13 04:57

Spa World is not near Osaka Station. You can just take the Midousuji line from Shin-Osaka Station (which I personally find much easier to navigate) to Dobutsuenmae Station.

Though honestly the best in "weird" "only in Japan" "kitschy" Japan experiences is nowhere near your current itinerary and only really accessible via car, "Jesus' Grave" up in Aomori-ken. And while not kitschy in the slightest Osorezan is also pretty uniquely Japanese, but I don't think it opens until later in April and is a PIA to get to without a car.

We regularly go to Licca Castle, where you can see how fashion dolls are made and buy limited edition fashion dolls. They use to allow cameras and recording but last trip did not outside of a small area. You would have to do that as a day trip from Tokyo though because it's also in Tohoku.

Have you thought about ninja training? Not seeing a show, but actually learning ninja style skills like throwing shuriken or scaling walls? There are at least two places I know in the Kansai area you can do that.

I wanted to check out Mikawa Mu Valley not far from Shin-Iwakuni, but I think you need a car to get there, though it seems awful trippy. But I do like theme parks, particularly odder ones.

I know @Lazy Pious use to talk about an animal park in Kobe and the BioPark on Kyushu. I suspect the one in Kobe is easier to reach with your itinerary and @Lazy Pious also loves a squirrel park up near Takayama.
by rkold rate this post as useful

Re: Unique experiences? (1-week), 2nd time 2019/12/13 05:42
Oooo :)))! These all look like really interesting places! I was looking into the Nagasaki biopark. It's quite a bit out of the way but it looks really unique. I'll have to look into the Kobe one and see how much they let you interact with animals there like they do at Nagasaki where many of the animals seem to just roam around with the people, if that would be a sufficient trade off for less travel time. It certainly seems different than zoos in the US.
by Mel (guest) rate this post as useful

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