Help planning a trip to Japan in July
June 3, 2015 9:46 PM   Subscribe

I have the opportunity (but not the requirement) to go to Tokyo in July for work. Help me decide where to go and what to do!

I'll have two days after I arrive to travel, and then two days of work in Tokyo and another few days to travel before I go home. Is it possible to go to Kyoto for the first part? Where should I go for the second part?

What is Japan like in mid-July? I hear it's hot and rainy and a lot of things are closed. Is this true? I have a lot of other stuff going on, so am considering not going. Help me find cool things that motivate me to go!

Things I like:
- Really amazing food, especially sushi
- Temples, nature, history
- Areas with a very strong and unique sense of place
- One-of-a-kind experiences that I would never find outside of Japan (there might be a lot of these!)
- Relaxation, hot tubs, meditation
- Museums that help me learn about a place
- Cool technology and design
- Martial arts

Things I don't like:
- Crowded, loud, uncomfortable places
- Confusion, hassles, getting lost

Bonus round: I'm not a huge fan of Japanese culture (at least as I know it in the West). I'm not one of those manga-loving, cute-little-stationery-set types. Are there things I would particularly enjoy in Japan that I might not know about because they aren't stereotypically Japanese from a Western perspective?
posted by 3491again to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The rainy season is supposed to last well into July this year, so it will be pretty wet and humid. I would bring linen or breathable fabric shirts.

The cutesy anime stuff really is amplified when exported overseas. Of course it's a big part of the culture but you can ignore or avoid it. I know I do.

Tokyo is pretty crowded, and you will get lost. If this does not appeal to you, try heading to a smaller provincial city. Kanazawa is now connected to Tokyo by high speed rail. It's much smaller, much less crowded, and great for walking, with really good tourist shuttles.

It has old architecture and a cool art modern art museum. You can go to the large public market near the train station and get the best sushi and sashimi in Japan. If you need a coffee there is a Starbucks across the street.

There is a hot spring cluster close by too.

Let me know if I should ramble on.

I'm sure there is someone as passionate about Tokyo as I am about Kanazawa that can provide more info about that city.
posted by Nevin at 10:57 PM on June 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Museums that help me learn about a place

Go to the Edo Tokyo Museum. It is a big historical museum and they usually have English-speaking volunteer docents. Just go to the sixth floor and ask.

Also, I think the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum is fascinating. If you have any interest in architecture, it's great. But, it also gives a great feel for the material culture over time. No cutesy woo stuff. Bring a picnic from a department store basement.
posted by Gotanda at 11:25 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Tokaido Shinkansen is something like 3h from Tokyo to Kyoto, so a day trip is feasible but staying one night in Kyoto would be better.

If you want an out of the way, tranquil experience and you can plan ahead, try visiting the Katsura Imperial Villa. You have to reserve in advance, though.
posted by sukeban at 4:44 AM on June 4, 2015

I never found things to be closed during the rainy season, and I actually liked that weather a bit better than full-on summer, though it might get annoying to walk places. It wasn't stormy or anything, just continual showers.

I would save Kyoto for the end of your trip. It's a 3.5 hour train ride and there's enough there to keep you busy for way more than two half-days! My must-dos are Fushimi Inari shrine and Kiyomizudera temple. The Philosopher's Path is a lovely walk (with another temple at one end, natch). Also walk down Pontocho at night (and stop for delicious food!)

I sometimes chuckle at Nevin recommending Kanazawa to Japan first-timers (sorry, Nevin), but in this case I think he's spot-on. Less crowded, check, great food, check, off the beaten path, check, and now the bullet train goes there. The gardens there (Kenrokuen) are beautiful.

There is a hot springs theme park in Tokyo. I never made it there personally, but I've heard great things.
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:19 AM on June 4, 2015

Yeah, but the OP said that crowds and getting lost are not desirable. You can't get lost in Kyoto but the place is really crowded these days.
posted by Nevin at 7:54 AM on June 4, 2015

You can climb Mt. Fuji over two days. The paths are only open in July and August. I did it with a friend over a weekend while I lived there, and I'm not even particularly athletic. We took a coach bus from a nearby town, you can find options for getting there online. Few foreigners actually climb Mt. Fuji, so it is a pretty unique experience in that regard.

It took about seven hours to go up, and three and a half to come down. People typically climb at night to meet the dawn when they reach the summit, which we did. It is a decent hike at a steady incline, with some rockier areas that require a bit of scrambling. It gets pretty cool near the top - pack and dress accordingly, including a flashlight if you plan on doing it at night. At the top is a post office if you want to mail a postcard, a temple, and a big crater.

The climb itself was different from other mountain hikes I've done in the Canadian Rockies here - it's a straight slope down so the view is incredible. At night with the full moon and the clouds drifting by below, it felt like flying. We bought hiking sticks and they will brand them on the way up at the different stations along the way... you may be best off mailing the stick home if you want to do this, it's probably going to be too expensive to check as luggage.

I would follow up with a trip to a ryokan and onsen to pamper myself and my feet afterwards, most definitely.
posted by lizbunny at 4:30 PM on June 4, 2015

Good advice above. Edo Tokyo Museum is easy to find, accessible to English speakers, and does a wonderful job of telling the story of the city. You could poke around the surrounding neighborhood, where several sumo stables are based. Might spot a few wrestlers or, if you're feeling bold, have a sumo lunch (chanko nabe) at a restaurant in the area. The Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum is also good fun and a quick trip from Tokyo. There are nine different regional varieties of ramen in little shops sprinkled throughout a two-level indoor recreation of 1950s Tokyo. (So, bonus: indoors during that July heat.)

Tokyo will be crowded. It does my head in every time, even as someone who grew up in a big American city. Avoiding rush/commute hours does help a little.

I love Kyoto, but make it an overnight trip if you go. Not only because of the can't-miss sights (Fushimi Inari alone...), but because some areas like the aforementioned Philosopher's Path are no less enjoyable at dusk.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 9:29 PM on June 4, 2015

Well, I am going to back up Nevin on the Kanazawa front - I think it has the charm of Kyoto without the crowds, has it's own distinct local culture (like just about everywhere in Japan) as well as being very much 'stereotypically' Japanese, and the people are great. I haven't been in July however so no idea what the heat/humidity is like.

And taking a train trip in Japan is a must-do for tourists so you might as well take it to somewhere nice :)
posted by Megami at 9:49 PM on June 4, 2015

A Mefite is currently in Nikko and apparently loves it. If you want to see temples and history, it could be a good location to go.

Kyoto is insanely crowded these days, including on the weekdays. I was at Fushimi Inari (which is slightly out of the way) a few weeks ago, and the entrance was packed. If you dislike crowds, I don't know if it will be worth it for you to make the trip over here.

The rainy season in Japan is different from the rainy season in southeast Asia. Full days of drizzly weather, with maybe a day or two of breaks in between. I also strongly recommend breathable fabrics.
posted by xmts at 11:41 PM on June 7, 2015

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