One Week In Japan...
May 17, 2015 6:21 PM   Subscribe

At the beginning of August work is sending me to Tokyo for a week, for the first time ever, so my wife is coming out and we're going to steal another week away from the family to have a break. What to do for that extra week when you've never visited Japan before?

I guess we'll get to see a bit of Tokyo in the evenings, and will take the weekend so I can see it in the daylight. But what to do with the next five or six days, assuming we're flying back to London on the Saturday or Sunday?

My initial thoughts are Kyoto and Hiroshima, but suggestions for 'must-see' places and itineraries will be very welcome!
posted by 43rdAnd9th to Travel & Transportation around Japan (11 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Not advice on where to go, but just a few travel tips for traveling in August...

If you are coming to Japan in August, be sure to take it slow. It is the hottest and most humid time of the year, with temperatures going up to 40 Celcius. Since sightseeing in Japan consists of lots of walking, take care against heat exhaustion!

It is also the peak season of travel in Japan, especially around Aug 14-17, which is an unofficial holiday period in Japan. It is also the time of the year when people go back to their hometowns. If you want to book hotels or trains, you'll need to book as soon as possible. Many, many people will be traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto/Hiroshima to go see their families.
posted by xmts at 6:39 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I live in Japan part of the year with my family, and although we live fairly close to Kyoto we never go there that much. Recently on a drive through the city on my way back home to the coast via Ohara, in the mountains just north of the city, I thought to myself how nice it would be to rent a place for a week or so in the northern part of Kyoto City and just hang out.

So my idea: stay in the Kitayama neighbourhood of Kyoto for a few nights. It's actually kind of centrally located to some of the attractions in the center of the city, and to the northwest - attractions that are hard to get to actually if you arrive at Kyoto Station.

As for Hiroshima, be aware that the commemoration on August 6th is going to be huge - it's the 70th anniversary this year of the bombing. It will be difficult to find accommodation in the city I would wager around this time.

Something else to consider is that places like Kyoto and Hiroshima are packed with tourists these days, thanks to the cheap yen, a sustained push by the Japanese government to attract more tourists, and the general quality of the "Japan experience" compared to other countries in East Asia.

This past spring we traveled by train to Nagasaki and everything everywhere (even out in the boonies) was packed.

Kyoto will be more of the same, although the northern part of the city (Kitayama) is more residential, and also quite a lot more beautiful than the southern part of town near Kyoto Station.

You know, for a romantic trip I would suggest taking the train up to Niigata, and the making your way to Murakami, an onsen town right on the beach. If you can go a little further up the coast the onsen town of Atsumi in Yamagata is also quite romantic, and Tsuruoka just to the north of that is positively magical, thanks to the "Dewa Sanzan."

I could write literally forever about all the cool places to travel in Japan - I run a travel business - so I'll leave it at that.
posted by Nevin at 6:43 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I spent about two weeks in Japan about 10 years ago, visiting a friend who lives there. At the time I was there, the Atom Bomb Dome in Hiroshima was being reconstructed (that is, restored to its post-bomb dilapidated state, not actually fixed) so we couldn't visit it. The Peace Museum is an absolute must if you go to Hiroshima (though you will never want to go through it again once you're done; it's quite affecting), and the eternal flame monument thing is nearby too.

We visited 5 largish cities between Fukuoka City and Tokyo (those two plus Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima; also some more rural places in eastern Kyushu). I remember a smattering of different castles, some of which were restored after being bombed. Some were basically museums on the inside, others were more faithful reproductions; I found the more museum-y ones less interesting. Most memorable was Nijo Castle (it has assassin-proof nightingale floors!) and the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, and Sanjusangendo temple. Miyajima island is also very much worth the ferry trip. Osaka I mostly just remember eating very good okonomiyaki, and a very kind hotelier with a horde of small dogs.

You should consider buying a JR rail pass. It's pretty inexpensive and lets you board any JR train, including the shinkansen (bullet trains), at no additional cost beyond the pass itself. Back when I went to Japan you had to buy the pass before you got there, and it cost around $300, but you'll need to do your own research on that front to see what the price and procedure are now. Individual shinkansen tickets are quite expensive, the pass pays for itself very quickly if you are going to be doing a fair bit of moving around.

Other practical concerns that spring to mind are mostly to do with money and language. Most Japanese people speak some English (it's widely taught in schools) though the quality of the spoken English varies widely. I was with a fluent Japanese speaker the whole time I was there, so I basically only learned to say excuse me (useful when in busy train stations and so forth) and thank you. My impression was that big-city dwellers were not particularly wowed by foreigners (in the rural areas we were quite the oddity), though if you find a good izikaya, people are often quite happy to try out their English skills with a native speaker. People are generally nice or just politely indifferent. Japan is quite expensive, and you have to make sure to notify your credit card companies you'll be traveling there so that you can use your cards to obtain cash from ATMs. I admit my working knowledge of this is circa a decade ago, so it's quite possible this is less of a hassle now.
posted by axiom at 7:10 PM on May 17, 2015

Did you search previous AskMes? I found them immensely helpful when traveling in Japan a few years ago.
posted by univac at 7:16 PM on May 17, 2015

- Watch a baseball game
- Hike Mt Fuji (probably not to the summit unless you're in good shape and willing to use 2-3 days in transit / accommodations)
- Instant Ramen Museum
posted by meowzilla at 7:34 PM on May 17, 2015

We did a very similar trip 4 years ago (same time of year, Tokyo for work reasons but extended for fun with the partner). Tokyo was great, but Kyoto was where I enjoyed myself more. We both wished we had set aside more time to spend in Kyoto and the surrounding area.

And, I agree with others, I thought I knew hot -- but the heat/humidity then, it was something entirely different. Prepare for it. Take it easy.
posted by safetyfork at 7:35 PM on May 17, 2015

Seconding the baseball game. Even if you don't like or even really understand the game (like me), it's a crazy fun atmosphere.

I'd return to Kyoto just to stay in this place again.

As others have said, the heat is crazy at that time. We escaped it briefly by staying in Koyasan, a kind of pilgrimage mountain near Osaka where you stay in traditional monasteries - but well accustomed to & prepared for tourists (both Japanese and foreign) so don't worry, you're not expected to be up meditating at dawn or anything (unless you want to).

I'm sure there are other ways of escaping the heat, eg heading North to Hokkaido and/or up into the mountains.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:10 PM on May 17, 2015

if I were going in the summer, I'd go to Naoshima for a couple of days.
And then I'd spend the rest of the time in Kyoto in spite of the heat because there is so much to see.
posted by mumimor at 1:36 AM on May 18, 2015

Several previous AskMes have good stuff, but as xmts says--book rooms now. Hotel space is getting tight at the best of times, and you're coming during a peak season. If you change your plans in the next few weeks you can always cancel.
posted by Gotanda at 2:23 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Takayama is gorgeous in August. So is Kyoto, but be aware that it's also that single most unpleasantly muggy place I've ever been. If your schedule lines up, (you didn't specify your exact travel date, so you may be a little too early,) Daimonji is not to be missed.
posted by fifthrider at 7:07 AM on May 18, 2015

A trip to Hiroshima is worth it, but there really isn't much to do besides a stroll around Peace Park and the A-Bomb Museum. I highly recommend spending half a day there, then taking a two hour train ride (back toward Tokyo) to Kurashiki to spend a night or two there. The Edo-era merchant town is beautiful and enchanting, and a peaceful break from the hustle-bustle of Tokyo.
posted by rivtintin at 4:12 PM on May 18, 2015

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