Non-Tokyo/Non-Kyoto Japan
February 21, 2015 10:15 AM   Subscribe

My family of three (including a two year old) are headed to Japan for 8 days beginning April 8. We've spent enough time in Tokyo and Kyoto in the past that we sort of want to do something different this time. Any thoughts? Please see the inside for our current thinking.

Our main constraint is that we'd very much like to base ourselves in one city with the possibility of one or two overnights in adjacent areas that make sense. We can do a flight from Narita or Haneda on JAL to get there (tho Narita is better for obvious reasons). Yes, yes I know Japanese trains are amazing, but the add-on flight is free.

On our last trip we had one rainy day in Kanazawa, and really liked it. Our current thinking is to base ourselves there and do an overnight at Shirakawa-go. I guess our concern is if there is another day trip we should do as well? Is there something we must see? Willing to rent a car if that makes sense. Is there enough to see in Kanazawa for that many days? Remembering that the kid makes nightlife a non-option as well.

Alternately other thoughts are much welcomed. We want a city/place that isn't super modern, isn't a super big city. Also a place that's nice for seeing the Sakura blossoms would be pretty high on my wife's list. Initially we were throwing around Kyushu - but it didn't seem like there was one really good place to base ourselves. Maybe I'm wrong about that?

What about the Izu Peninsula?
posted by JPD to Travel & Transportation around Japan (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Can you get into Hiroshima? If so, I can recommend that area for lots of cool things to do. My parents lived in Iwakuni, which has a train station, which makes getting to other places relatively easy.

The Kintai Bridge is beautiful and Sakura bloom all within the park there. (I have a beautiful picture of me and the blossoms.)

Miyajima Island is a nice day trip. Torii gates, shrine, tame deer and Sakura in the hills.

Hiroshima has the peace park/museum, baseball and lots of cool stuff to see in department stores.

So that's my recommendation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:51 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Maybe Fuji five lakes? It looks like you'll just miss Fuji Shibazakura Matsuri, but it might be worth seeing a bit early.

I'm used to wandering around without a 2yo, but I also like being based in Kanagawa prefecture for going out on nature/hiking day trips. So much around that area if that's your thing.
posted by ctmf at 11:05 AM on February 21, 2015

I was at the Izu Peninsula in summer and it was very nice; I don't know what it would be like in April.
There is a new zoo called iZoo near Kawazu that has mostly reptiles. (We went there because I LOVE turtles) and it's super interesting. The 7 waterfalls course was also very nice, but maybe both of these things are not great for a two-year-old.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:02 PM on February 21, 2015

Nthing Hiroshima, there's lots to do in that area, and you could have an overnight on Miyajima which is lovely.

We also went up to Nagano, and spent some time in a small village in the Japanese alps, Hakuba. It was nice to see snow monkeys, went to a little town, Obuse, which has an amazing Hokusai museum and sake factory, and snowshoeing in the back country. We had a really nice time there. If you're willing to rent a car, there's plenty to do up there, though I don't know what the Sakura situation would be like as we were there in Feb.
posted by smoke at 1:16 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

My first recommendation would be Hiroshima, but since others have that covered, I'll throw in for Kyushu. The Kyushu Shinkansen (assuming you'll have a rail pass) is new and terrific, so you can cover ground with ease. Hakata ramen, the bubbling hells in Beppu, and the volcano off the coast of Kagoshima are all good fun, and any two year old will fall in love with Kumamon, the mascot bear of Kumamoto (which also has a kickass castle). There's also Nagasaki, which is lovely and pedestrian friendly (though hill-y).
posted by chimpsonfilm at 3:06 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Though I imagine the sakura will be gone or mostly gone from Kyushu by April 8.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 3:10 PM on February 21, 2015

Kanazawa is lovely and an amazing place, but hotels may be tough your chosen week. Brand new Shinkansen service direct from Tokyo to Kanazawa starts March 14 and there is a ton of local promotion. It'll be busy there.

Hiroshima and Fukuoka are both good choices. Fukuoka airport is very convenient.

One other option to consider is Shikoku. Get a flight to Matsuyama. Visit the very "Spirited Away" Dogo Onsen. Uchiko is a pretty little town in the hills. Rent a car and go see Kochi and the scenic coast there.
posted by Gotanda at 4:46 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I adore Fukuoka and the surrounding area. It has the highest concentration (I believe) of yatai and is truly a lovely city.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 6:34 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Ghidorah and I just spent a couple pretty lovely nights in Fukuoka, mostly because it was a city we hadn't been to, and it had a convenient airport. There's a decent amount to see and do in and around the city, and it's close enough to other places (the aforementioned Beppu, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima) to make it a good gateway city. We didn't, obviously see the whole city, and it was the middle of winter, but I did get the feeling it's not a long stay city like Tokyo or Kyoto would be.

We were given some sad/disturbing news on the yatai/food stall front: we were given recommendations for several craft beer bars, and as we were essentially vouched for by our friend, when we asked about yatai recommendations, all of the places we went to, independently of each other, told us that yatai are pretty much just a tourist thing now, and that most people from Fukuoka rarely if ever eat at them. It kind of deflated our excitement at trying them out. When we went out looking around for one, we noticed that, at least in the most touristy areas, a good number of the stalls had more people trying to attract customers than cooking. Not really the sort of thing that places with loyal clientele do. Maybe this was just us being silly, but it took away from it somehow.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:25 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hiroshima is a decent option as a base, but honestly, once you've seen Miyajima and the Peace Park, you're done. Kintaikyo is a great way to spend an afternoon, and I'd recommend Akiyoshido/dai over in nearby Yamaguchi. By the way, A-bomb Dome in Hiroshima has a bunch of scaffolding over it right now, and apparently the museum is going to have some renovation at some point soon, so bear that in mind.

Kyushu has lots to offer, and I'd recommend Kumamoto as a base. Easy to get to Mount Aso, Kagoshima (for the Sakurajima volcano), and perhaps Yakushima if you can fit it in. You could also try Nagasaki, as there's easily enough there for 2-3 days in the city (and definitely go see Gunkanjima and the penguin aquarium!)

My wildcard recommendation is Aomori. It's a super-forgotten corner of Japan, and has very little in the way of a city, but from here you can see the gorgeous scenery of the Oirase Gorge and Towada Lake. Hirosaki, known as the Kyoto of the north, is very close by too and well worth a day's visit. Renting a car is definitely the best option for Oirase, and you may want to stay overnight there too.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 7:18 AM on February 22, 2015

Visit to Koya-san. Specifically, the Okunoin Cemetery. One of the most magical experiences of my life. Imagine the most majestic old-growth forest you've ever been to, only it's also an ancient Buddhist cemetery filled with stone monuments that, over the centuries, have been slowly returning to nature. I felt like I was walking through somebody's soul.

Stay at Fukuchi-In. Beautiful gardens, friendly staff, and exquisite food.

You will not be disappointed.
posted by evil otto at 3:39 PM on February 22, 2015

Just to follow up on this we ended up going to Kanazawa for the Sakura, Shirakawa-go, and the Noto Peninsula. The last two were visited by car. It was great. And the current Fx rate, really a bargain.
posted by JPD at 12:57 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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