Travelling to Japan, in November
September 5, 2014 2:35 AM   Subscribe

We (myself, husband and 10 year old son) are hopefully making a return trip to Japan in November. While we were planning on mainly visiting Shikoku and Kyushu, we are open to suggestions. MeFi has been awesome on the travel front before, so hoping you can help again.

I have been in Japan at various times of the year, but not November. We were hoping for skiing somewhere, even Hokkaido, but it looks unlikely. So we are going to head South instead.*

We will hopefully have the full month of November to trip around. I speak very basic Japanese, and my son and I can read hiragana, at least phonetically.

We are hoping to be fairly budget conscious with this trip.We have a lot of that kind of information generally sorted - when we travel we usually buy our food in supermarkets, we walk a lot etc. and I am trying to organize couchsurfing hosts in Japan (not that there are many). But do you have any specific recommendations especially if they relate to Shikoku and Kyushu.

Also - any tips/suggestions/whatever for that part of Japan in general? I will admit I am finding it hard to find interesting/quality information for traveling to Japan that is not focussed on Tokyo/Kansia/Hokkaido. The kind of things we are interested in are onsen, historical sites, food, meeting Japanese families (has anyone tried Nagomi visit before?) and Japanese culture in general. A mix of outdoor activities, historical or cultural visits and some quirkiness would be our ideal family holiday.

*Though my penpal, who lives in Saitama-ken, really wants me to visit her...
posted by Megami to Travel & Transportation around Japan (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

On Shikoku you have to go to Dogo Onsen, a spectacular building in an onsen-resort district of Matsuyama that feels surreally set apart from the modern city, people wandering the streets at dusk in their bath yukatas. I managed to navigate the facilities with my really basic Japanese, and its an amazing experience. The building has since become famous for being the setting of Spirited Away, so it might be really overrun now, I dunno.
In Takamatsu, the Ritsurin Koen gardens are very famous very deservedly, any time you spend looking at the Inland Sea from any perspective, in the villages on the Honshu coast of it and island hopping through it is time well spent. There were some quirky as hell temple complexes, I will try to find details at home.
posted by runincircles at 4:26 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

We drove from Fukui (where I live part of the year) to Kochi, in Shikoku this past April. It was pretty awesome indeed (I also run a travel planning business that pays for our trips to Japan).

Kochi is pretty hard to get to, and everything is spread out, so if it were me I would, as runincircles suggests, head to Matsuyama. Very touristy, but on the beaten track, and can be incorporated into a trip to Hiroshima. I would budget 3 days of your itinerary, excluding travel from Tokyo to Matsuyama, and back to Tokyo from Hiroshima.

Or you could use Kansai as your base for a Shikoku excursion.

Once again, while I thought Kochi was pretty awesome, you really need a car to make the most of the investment of the time and money it takes to get there.

For fall colours, November is a great time to go. The hills are all orange, and the weather is still quite warm during the day. On the Japan Sea Coast at least, the weather suddenly changes in early December, becoming cold, windy and wet. But until then, southerly high pressure systems keep the air crisp and cool.

Since you're probably going to want to go to Kyoto anyway, you could take a trip on the train up to Miyazu and Amanohashidate on the Japan Sea (we live near there).

The train goes through low mountains that make up much of rural Kyoto prefecture, and you'll see some beautiful fall colours. You'll end up in Miyazu, a beautiful seaside town with the best seafood in Japan, far better than any seafood you will eat in Tokyo or Kyoto.

Near Miyazu there is also Amanohashidate, the "floating bridge of heaven", which is a nice walk through a pine grove on a long sandbar. You can can stay the night in a hot spring in Miyazu.

From Kyoto you could also take the train up to Kanazawa, a beautiful old castle town with lots of walking. There are some hot springs nearby.

You may want to plan to have Osaka as your base of operations. At this time of year Kyoto may be booked with leaf peepers. Osaka also allows you to plan trips to Matsuyama and Hiroshima, or up to Kanazawa. The train to Miyazu leaves from Kyoto.
posted by Nevin at 7:15 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know Kyushu well. Nagasaki and Beppu ("The Las Vegas of Japan" with loads of wonderful onsen) are the don't-miss places there. Also, Kumamoto castle and Mt. Aso in Kumamoto-ken.
posted by hush at 11:18 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

For skiing, go to Hokkaido. Also, November may be a little early for the Ice Festival in Sapporo, but if your timing coincides, it would be worth your while.
posted by mule98J at 12:12 PM on September 5, 2014

This is way off the beaten track, and I have not been there in winter, but a lovely place to stay in rural Shikoku is Shimanto Gakusha. It's an old school on the Shimanto river that has been converted into a hostel/vacation spot. In the summer, they have kayaking, arts and crafts, and various workshops. The area is very rural and very beautiful, and there are excellent hiking/walking spots. I paid for my stay there by doing chores (kitchen help and light cleaning), and I found it a really friendly place, great for culture and just meeting regular folks.

This is way farther out than Kochi, though. Speaking of which, a good, convenient, and cheap place to stay in Kochi is the Los Inn, near the main train station. I lived in Kochi for a few months and could offer local things to do if you are interested.
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:59 PM on September 5, 2014

Definitely Shimanto. Quite a few years ago went on a fishing experience (体験) there which was great. We pulled crab and lobster traps and then ate 'em for lunch. Can't find the link, but go to the tourist info and ask for the fishing cooperative. We stayed here which was a reasonably priced but not fancy place that at least got you baths looking out over the Pacific.
posted by Gotanda at 7:54 PM on September 5, 2014

I used to live in Kyushu and hush mentioned most of my favorite spots.

If you do make it to Mt. Aso, you can also sidetrack about an hour south to a cool little town called Takachiho which has a beautiful gorge, and some very interesting Shinto mythology connected to their local shrines. Kumamoto Castle is massive and worth seeing. Kumamoto's version Kyushu ramen is my favorite too - they use roasted garlic. Kumamoto is also the land of basashi, horse-meat sashimi, if you can handle it.

I guess with the new Kyushu shinkansen, you can get all the way down to Kagoshima, too. I never made it that far south, but may be nice. I heard there are some beautiful spots near Sakurajima. Or if you have more time, make the trek down to Yakushima.
posted by p3t3 at 11:04 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not a Japan expert, so I am not sure if the place I suggest is in the area you mentioned in your post. But I highly recommend visit the kumano trail. You can do just part of it as the entire trail is quite long. It's a great mix of the outdoors, tiny onsen towns, religious shrines and general awesomeness. A little off the beaten track, but well worth it IMHO.
posted by wcmf at 12:58 AM on September 6, 2014

Thanks for all the great suggestions so far people.
Nevin - we have been to Kyoto before (and I have been to Kanazawa) and had not planned to go as we really want to see new places. But that might be a good plan that you outline. Is it worth it to hire a car? My husband seems to have no problems driving in foreign countries, but my only worry is road signage in Kanji.
posted by Megami at 1:14 AM on September 6, 2014

Oh, and I found this this morning, would love people's opinions on the suggestions:
Sample Itineraries from Tourism Shikoku
posted by Megami at 1:48 AM on September 6, 2014

A lot of people don't bother renting cars because of the rail pass deals and extensive train networks, but yeah, I can see why you might want one in Kyushu/Shikoku. I think just plan out the places you want to see, and if the public transport is not convenient in some of the areas, then think about a car.

Road Signage is always shown in both Kanji and Romaji/English for the major routes and intersections, but the bigger problem is many smaller streets have no signs whatsoever, Japanese or English. As long as you consult maps though, I've never had big problems. People will always help if you get lost.
posted by p3t3 at 3:07 AM on September 6, 2014

Oh, and regarding Kyushu onsens - Beppu is the old standby. I've stayed here before, nice, but there are tons all over town. The ones further up the mountain have better view overlooking the town. Also between Beppu and Oita (about 30 min out of town), there's Takasakiyama - a mountain full of semi wild monkeys running around. A bit nuts, but kind of fun, and right next to an Aquarium too.

A lot of Japanese tourists now go to Yufuin for onsen. It's near Beppu, and newly developed but in a very "traditional" style, and tucked up in the mountains. But I don't recommend Yufuin, the town is very small and there are tons of tourists. Kurokawa, near Mt. Aso, is much nicer, and maybe my favorite in Kyushu. It can be expensive to stay in the hotels there, but if you just stop by for the onsen it's not too much.

Another cool Kyushu onsen is Unzen, near Nagasaki. You can walk around and check out some of the sulfur deposits and natural springs near most of the bath houses.

And rethinking car rentals - If you're into mountain scenery and taking your time getting from place to place, there are some great driving areas, like through the Kuju region toward Mt. Aso- I forget the route, but you can come down to the Aso basin via the plateau overlooking it from the north. There's a rest area just before descending with an awesome view. Driving down to Beppu from the overlooking mountain is fun; Kumamoto has some great coastal areas too; you can see dolphins near Amakusa. Basically you can choose the route, whereas trains just take the direct route from town to town.

BTW- I'm totally jealous and might start planning my return visit. Looking at my old photos now :)
posted by p3t3 at 6:20 AM on September 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're passing through Toyama Prefecture (in the Hokuriku region of Honshu), after checking out the traditional houses and Japanese Alps, , you may want to look at the Kurobe Gorge route (funicular! cable car!) and also the YKK zipper factory tour in Kurobe.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:36 PM on September 6, 2014


Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Kurobe Gorge are two separate things.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:49 PM on September 6, 2014

If you enjoy modern art, then the Isamu Noguchi museum in Mure might be interesting for you. Contact them for appointments.

Nearby is the Benesse Art Site and Chichu Museum on Naoshima, and island in the Seto Inland Sea. Again, for modern art lovers, it's a top destination in Japan, imo. If you call now for reservations, you might be able to even stay at the museum, although it is quite expensive. A very unique experience to stay in a modern art museum.
posted by gen at 11:06 PM on September 9, 2014

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