Tokyo/Hiroshima trip advice
February 5, 2010 6:06 AM   Subscribe

I’m going to Japan for the first time in late March and I would appreciate some travel advice.

I will land in Tokyo at about 5 pm after a long flight and have to be in Hiroshima the following evening for dinner. My plan was to stay overnight in Tokyo then get the train to Hiroshima the next day.

Where should I stay in Tokyo? Ideally it would be easy to get to from Narita, easy for the train the following day and somewhere I could walk around to get even a little of the flavor of the city. I would be OK paying ~$100 in the US for a room.

How do I book train tickets? I’ve been to and (I think) they want to sell me a 7 day pass when all I want is a round trip. Is there a better English language website I should be using? What time should I plan to leave Hiroshima by train to be on a 6 pm flight from Narita?

What should I see/eat in Hiroshima?
posted by Fiery Jack to Travel & Transportation around Tokyo, Japan (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Eat okonomiyaki in Hiroshima! It's the local specialty, and it's everywhere. Most places cook it right in front of you, and some even let you cook it yourself.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:17 AM on February 5, 2010

Hiroshima will be quite the haul back to Narita airport. I think, even by bullet train (shinkansen) it will take 3-4 hours. I would recommend leaving early in the morning to give yourself ample time for the international flight or do something similar as when you come.

Stay overnight in Tokyo the night before you leave for a less rushed commute.
posted by seppyk at 6:20 AM on February 5, 2010

First off, I'd get a copy of the Rough Guide to Japan, or to Tokyo specifically if that's the only place you'll be. It will answer most of the logistical questions you might have and is very well put together.

The Japan Travel Bureau was extremely helpful for me when I booked my last trip to Japan, and they have an English-language website to help you arrange for a rail pass. However, unless you plan to travel significantly between cities or go on a lot of day trips outside of Tokyo, it isn't really worth it to get one.

My number-one piece of advice before traveling to Japan, incidentally, is to try your best to learn Katakana -- the "alphabet" used to write foreign words. If you can learn to read it, you'll be able to read signs with borrowed English words, menus in restaurants that serve foreign food (for example, I was able to order very handily at an Indian restaurant while I was there) and all kinds of other unexpected places. It's extremely handy and not that difficult -- if you have an iphone, there are even several apps for helping you learn it.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:57 AM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: Hyperdia has an English online rail timetable.

Your best bet is to visit the tourist info office at Narita Airport when you land, and ask them to schedule trips for you.

Staying overnight in Tokyo before you fly out seems like a good idea.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:38 AM on February 5, 2010

The Japan Rail Pass is a fixed ticket, 7, 14, or 21 days, that covers all Japan Rail (but not private) trains. It covers some shinkansen, but only the slower ones. To go from Tokyo to Hiroshima, you'd want the express train.

There are business hotels in and around Shinagawa, from a transportation standpoint. You can get the Narita Express to Shinagawa, and there is a shinkansen station as well. It's not the most amazing part of Tokyo, though.

You could, alternatively, take the Narita Express to Shinjuku, stay in one of the hotels in that area, then get on the Chuo (orange) line in Shinjuku Station heading for Tokyo in the morning, then get the shinkansen. You'd get more of the "Hey, I'm in Tokyo" feeling by staying in Shinjuku. Again, there should be a good number of business hotels in the area where you can stay for $100.

How long are you staying in Hiroshima? How much time will you have for sightseeing? If you can, check out Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima. It's the one with the torii gate in the water. Very famous, picturesque. There will probably be cherry blossoms coming out if you're lucky, and the area has loads of cherry trees.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:08 AM on February 5, 2010

While in Hiroshima, take an hour or so to visit the Peace Park. It is both an educational and very moving experience. There is a streetcar line that goes right past it.
posted by Old Geezer at 9:41 AM on February 5, 2010

I rode the shinkansen from Hiroshima all the way back to Tokyo a few years ago, and it took all day, finally getting in after nightfall. This was not my first trip to Japan - as one with a bit of experience on this topic, think you'll need a lot of luck making that dinner engagement in Hiroshima unless you can find a night train (but those are surprisingly uncommon).

Your profile doesn't give your location but if coming from Europe or America you'd better account for jet lag in your schedule. Ideally you'd spend your first whole day in Tokyo, then go on to Hiroshima the next day. You'll need some time in one of the main JR station offices to arrange your Railpass. You buy a voucher outside Japan, but then it takes about an hour for the actual railpass to be activated. Yes, you should get a railpass, you'll save big bucks -- but maybe money is no object? If so, just arrange a connecting flight to Hiroshima, way less hassle that way (even so, may involve getting from Narita to Haneda airports.)

However, given your very tight itinerary, my suggestion on where to stay in Tokyo is Ueno. It's one of the biggest station complexes, and the closest terminus for Narita trains. There's a JR office where you can do the railpass thing, and relatively inexpensive lodging is available around the station.

Given jet lag, best thing to do your first morning (when you wake up in the wee hours) is to catch a subway to Tsukiji and have a sushi breakfast. Nothing else will be open for several hours. By the time you get back to Ueno, the JR office will be open and you can activate your railpass. I guess you can do that now at Narita, but I always use the Keisei line 'cause it's cheaper than JR to/from Narita airport.

Good Luck and Gambatte!
posted by Rash at 10:41 AM on February 5, 2010

We stayed at the Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku when we were in Tokyo. It's literally three minutes' walk from Shinjuku station, one of the major overground stations in Tokyo. You can get the Narita Express train from the airport to here, and we found it really handy not to have to negotiate the subways with baggage. I think we paid around £60 per night, booking through Expedia or some similar website. I think it would be perfect for you as a base to come staright to for the night before you leave for Hiroshima. In order to get the bullet train to Hiroshima I think you'll have to go from Shinjuku station to Shinagawa (but don't take my word for it!) but that's easy enough. They speak English in the hotel too, which is helpful. Plus, you'll definately get a feel for Tokyo by walking around Shinjuku at night - it's crazy!

As for the travel - the JR pass, as others have said, basically gives you free train travel on all JR trains, for a specific number of days. It makes sense to buy it if the cost of your round trip from Tokyo to Hiroshima and back exceeds the cost of the pass - which I'm not sure it would. You can look up fares on Hyperdia, I think.

As Kokoryu mentioned, the people at the tourist offices will happily book your train tickets for you. When you arrive at the airport, go to the JR travel office and ask them to book you seats on a return train to Hiroshima from whatever JR station in Tokyo you will be staying near. I think you can get your Narita Express tickets from the same place too, or if not it's easy to find. Everything is generally well-signposted and most people in service positions seemed to speak a little English, although it will be helpful if you learn some basic phrases, and carry a phrasebook.
posted by schmoo at 11:27 AM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: What time should I plan to leave Hiroshima by train to be on a 6 pm flight from Narita?

It takes a little under four hours by Shinkansen Nozomi (the fastest bullet train) from Hiroshima to Shinagawa Station. And Shinagawa is a little over an hour's train ride away from Narita Airport if you're lucky. So if you want to be at the airport two hours before your flight to be on the safe side, you'd have to get on a Shinkansen that leaves Hiroshima at around 10:30 am.

I don't mean to snark, but I can't tell from your post... You are planning to stay overnight in Hiroshima after your dinner appointment, right? Because going back to Narita to get on a 6 pm flight on the same day is impossible.

The above recommendations are all good if you've got some extra time and energy to spare, but it sounds like you're on a tight tight schedule, so if I were you I would just stay in a business hotel near Tokyo or Shinagawa stations because then you wouldn't have to worry about lugging your stuff around extra trains (JR, subway, etc.) to get to the Shinkansen stations. Shinjuku is fun, yes, but the station is HUGE and complicated and always super crowded. I imagine it would be a pain to have to navigate for the first time when you're exhausted from a long flight, lugging around lots of luggage, and have to leave for Hiroshima the next day.

The trip to Tsukiji that Rash suggested would fit into your schedule nicely, and even if you stayed in a hotel near Tokyo station, it's still not far.
posted by misozaki at 5:08 PM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: In general, shinkansen tickets are available right up to the departure time, and going to the JR ticket desk at any major-ish train station will be easy for buying them same-day or the night before. No sweat.

The above suggestions to stay in Shinjuku are nice, but Shinagawa is more convenient to the shinkansen, Tsukiji is a fantastic idea, and you will find Tokyo really easy to travel around if you choose to leave the neighborhood (even if you speak zero Japanese).
posted by whatzit at 5:36 PM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: Staying near Tokyo Station is your best bet simply because of its central location and importance as a transfer point. There are also plenty of hotels to fit your budget. The APA Hotel Nihonbashi-Ekimae is just to the east of Tokyo Station (the side closest to the Shinkansen platforms), and you can get a room with breakfast included for about 7500-8500 yen (US$80-90). I would avoid Shinjuku because, as misozaki mentioned, it's complicated and an unnecessary detour for you. Shinagawa is also an option, but it tends to be even quieter than the area around Tokyo Station at night, for what it's worth.

Yes, the train ride to Hiroshima is a long one (four hours even by the fastest Nozomi services, and closer to five on the Hikari you can use with the Japan Rail Pass). However, even if you wanted to fly to Hiroshima, the airport is so far away from the city center it would take you just as long to get there, and would be more inconvenient to boot. Bring a book or two and enjoy the scenery, or break your trip in half and stop off at Himeji (to see Himeji Castle) or Kyoto for a few hours. As far as ticket prices go, they don't change depending on time, so in mid-March you should be able to find even an unreserved seat (they're cheaper than the reserved ones) without a problem.

To make it to Narita in time for your flight you should leave Hiroshima no later than 11 AM, I would say. Narita doesn't tend to be as crowded as US airports are so arriving 1-1.5 hours ahead of time should be enough. Making the trip even earlier if there is some kind of delay on the line between Tokyo and Narita is also a good idea.

While you're in Hiroshima, the obvious thing to eat is of course okonomiyaki with yakisoba noodles inside (the Osaka version omits the noodles). "Nikutama" with pork mixed in is the standard, but you can order it with all kinds of ingredients. Other regional specialties are oysters and a kind of spicy ramen (or rather tsukemen, with the noodles served in a separate dish); Bakudanya is probably the most famous, and there's a branch located within Hiroshima Station near the Shinkansen gates.
posted by armage at 7:17 PM on February 5, 2010

unless you can find a night train (but those are surprisingly uncommon)

Sadly, there are no longer any more night trains that pass through Hiroshima; the last ones stopped running last March. The closest you can get now is Okayama via the Sunrise Seto.
posted by armage at 7:20 PM on February 5, 2010

It takes a little under four hours by Shinkansen Nozomi (the fastest bullet train) from Hiroshima to Shinagawa

But note that when I did this in 2004, the RailPass was valid on any shinkansen EXCEPT the Nozomi. Maybe things are different now?
posted by Rash at 3:13 PM on February 6, 2010

It takes a little under four hours by Shinkansen Nozomi (the fastest bullet train) from Hiroshima to Shinagawa

But note that when I did this in 2004, the RailPass was valid on any shinkansen EXCEPT the Nozomi. Maybe things are different now?

No, you're correct -- the Hikari is the fastest service you can use with the pass. For the OP it's a good deal, even if he's only doing a round trip from Narita to Hiroshima, since he saves about 12000 yen with the 7-day pass—more if he does some sightseeing.
posted by armage at 4:23 PM on February 6, 2010


We're going in late March and I could barely find a budget hotel room at all!
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:13 PM on February 10, 2010

Also, Armage, I just looked up that APA hotel you cite and 12,000 yen is the cheapest price I'm seeing. Didn't look up availability.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:18 PM on February 10, 2010

Hmm, I tried March 14 for one night using this link. Prices started at 7900 yen with breakfast (last result on the page).
posted by armage at 3:27 PM on February 10, 2010

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