where to travel in Japan
January 14, 2017 2:17 PM   Subscribe

If you had 12is days in Japan this spring, as a first-time traveler there, where would you go? What would be the must sees on the first time? Other than seeing some of Tokyo, of course, I do want to see Hiroshima. Other than that, what should I see and do? Just me and a guidebook.
posted by jtexman1 to Travel & Transportation around Japan (32 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Hiroshima's really optional for the the first-time visitor IMO. After a few days in Tokyo, take the bullet train to Kyoto, and stay there several days, perhaps a week. Maybe after a night in Osaka, then head back to Tokyo for the remainder of your trip.
posted by Rash at 2:23 PM on January 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

And don't stay in the same hotel while you're in Tokyo -- move around. Start in the east, near Asakusa, in the Yanasen district, or maybe in inexpensive, nearby Minami-senju, or even near Ueno. Then also stay a couple nights over in Shibuya and/or Shinjuku.
posted by Rash at 2:33 PM on January 14, 2017

Nara (near Kyoto) has some lovely art and temples. And DEER.
posted by pantarei70 at 2:40 PM on January 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

I went through a walking tour company and did a lodge-to-lodge piece of the old postal road between Kyoto and Tokyo after spending two days in Kyoto. It was wonderful-- mountains and Temples and countryside. (3 days of walking)
posted by frumiousb at 3:01 PM on January 14, 2017

posted by sandmanwv at 3:08 PM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Kyoto, no question. Specifically, you need to go to Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Take the train from Kyoto to Hiroshima and stop in Nara and Miyajima on the way.
posted by lydhre at 3:15 PM on January 14, 2017

I would recommend splitting time between Tokyo and Kyoto. You could do a few day trips from both (Nikko or Kamakura/Hase from Tokyo, Nara and maybe Osaka from Kyoto). There's plenty in each city to use up 4-5 days without deeply scratching the surface of either. If you want to memail me, I can dig up old itinaries for you, so you can see some daily options.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:48 PM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just agreeing with the Kyoto recs. When I went to Japan for about 9-10 days (a dozen years ago, so I probably don't have more specific useful advice), I split my time between Tokyo and Kyoto and was really happy with that decision.
posted by tiger tiger at 4:10 PM on January 14, 2017

I was SO bored in Kyoto. We had budgeted out a week and I was ready to go after one day. I loved Nara and wish I had stayed there longer. Hiroshima was devastating to me and I am very glad I went. I also had a ton of fun in southern Fukuoka/Beppu area.
posted by Marinara at 4:13 PM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding the rec to stay in the Asakusa area of Tokyo also.
posted by Marinara at 4:14 PM on January 14, 2017

There's a volunteer guide network in many places. We organised a guide in Kanazawa, which was a great way to see the city highlights. And it was free - we did tip our guide, but got the very strong impression that this was unusual and we'd over-tipped. (Kanazawa is a fab day stop by the way - uncrowded, a compact and beautiful old town, and an interesting gold leaf industry - we bought a gold plated golf ball!)
posted by superfish at 4:14 PM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would recommend Hiroshima. And, if you want something a little different while you are there head over to Matsue and Izumo from Hiroshima. Both are beautiful and a bit off the beaten track. Matsue has an original castle and is wonderfully walkable. Izumo Grand Shrine is really something.

Superfish's rec of Kanazawa is also good. The contemporary art museum there is very good if that's your thing.

Schedule a meetup?
posted by Gotanda at 4:18 PM on January 14, 2017

The lion's share of what's worth seeing in Kyoto are temples and temple grounds. The temple grounds are worth seeing for the architecture, but mostly for the gardens (which interact with the architecture, ofc).

Locals also seem to enjoy dressing up, particularly in southern Higashiyama when I was there (the fall busy season). I would totally have rented a traditional kimono with my sister but alas, she was not down for it.

We did 4 days in Kyoto, 1 in Nara. That felt right, although I think I could have taken Kyoto slower. (I'm like that. I would have bored the stew out of upthread bored person.)
posted by billjings at 4:57 PM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah: if you go when the spring or fall colors are out, it will be gorgeous. But also crowded.
posted by billjings at 4:59 PM on January 14, 2017

When you're in Tokyo, make some time for a print party with MeFi's own woodblock100. I did this with my family on our first day in Tokyo and it was both fun and a good low-key first day activity.
posted by mogget at 6:11 PM on January 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

At the risk of telling more people about it and thus ruining it, spend a few days at a Ryokan in Shinkoku. It's you, the mountains, the steam baths and simplicity. You're welcome.
posted by floweredfish at 6:17 PM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's kind of off the wall, but I've always wanted to see the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama.
posted by Tamanna at 10:35 PM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nijo castle is a different side of Kyoto to the temples, and it has a nightingale floor. And I warn you, the transport in Kyoto is annoying - the train lines are easy to use but generally don't get you where you want to go, so buses are more helpful. The golden and silver temples in particular are out of the centre a bit.

In Hiroshima, go to Miyajima for even more deer and a floating torii, and go to the building that has two floors of nothing but ramen restaurants.

Nara is, indeed, much nicer than Kyoto. Do climb through the nostril.

And close-ish to Tokyo there are several day trips:
- Nikko - which is, at its core, even more temples and shrines, but in addition I recommend the monastery building and the imperial villa)
- Enoshima - monorail! - a suspended one, in fact - and an island to walk around. Not a lot of excitement, though, but you may be able to fold it in with
- Kamakura - great Buddha statue, lots of temples (!) of which I recommend the bamboo one since you'll get templed out at some point and that's more a garden experience, and a nice walk through the woods and/or past the temples if you get off at Kita-Kamakura station
- Hakone - there's a whole day long loop you can take around the area with a pirate ship over the lake, and it's famed for its hot baths, but the only time I went to the area I got so engrossed in the sculpture park that I didn't manage to go any further

In Tokyo, if you're willing to get naked for a bit, there is a bath house on Odaiba called the Oedo Onsen. As well as the (sex separated) Japanese baths it has an indoor Edo-era street with food and other stalls. You do have to wander around in a yukata for the duration. I also like the Shinjuku-gyoen, a traditional Japanese garden worth taking some time to explore. I wouldn't personally get up for Tsukiji market's fish auction, but I would definitely go over there for sushi in one of the hundreds of shops in the area, and I found a few pottery shops around there too. I would also recommend the river bus (suidobasu) when you need to go to Asakusa - it's a more interesting ride than the subway.

On the Shinkansen line to Hiroshima the main attraction is Himeji castle, worth a visit. Osaka is also on the way and also has a castle, but after it burned down the last time - a common problem with Japanese castles - they rebuilt it in concrete...

If you *really* want to go out of the way - and this takes travel planning, though the train alone is worth the money as it weaves up the mountains - then there's a village inland of the Shinkansen that is famous for its pottery, has koi carp swimming in all the roadside gutters and a temple on a hill. It's very much the Japanese tourist trail, which makes it different - Westerners don't seem to find their way in that direction. The name escapes me, but I'll leave this here to see if this rings a bell with anyone else.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:38 PM on January 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

I just wanted to second How Much Is That Froggie In The Window's suggestion of Miyajima.

I thought Miyajima was such a beautiful and peaceful place that I did everything I could to fix it in my memory, so that I'd have a peaceful place to return to in my mind any time I was stressed. That was more than two decades ago, and I still return to the memory several times a year.
posted by yankeefog at 1:28 AM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I vote Tokyo with day trips (as How much is that foggie in the window suggested), and Kyoto with day trips (Osaka for example).

Some travellers visit new places every day, that is, they go to five or six cities on a short trip. I don't recommend this, because you spend more time travelling and going in/out of hotels than actually seeing anything.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 1:53 AM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

How much is that froggie in the window is thinking of Tsuwano. It is rather lovely.

My favourite place between Tokyo and Hiroshima, admittedly somewhat off the direct route, is the art island of Naoshima, which you get to by ferry from Uno, which you reach by local train from Okayama, which is on the shinkansen. I think I stayed overnight in Okayama both times I visited, rather than starting out from Tokyo that morning. Easily a day's worth of wandering and art and peaceful sea views - though make sure the day isn't a Monday, as all the museums will be shut. Chichu Art Museum and the Go'oh Shrine are my personal favourites.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:34 AM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Came back to mention Nara since it is very close to Kyoto and is a great day trip. Nara was the imperial capital prior to Tokyo and Kyoto and is famous for its Deer who openly roam the city. The deer are so used to people that they will even how before accosting you for treats and food. Nara is also right on the Shinkasen line and was one of my favorite places!
posted by floweredfish at 5:32 AM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

My standard suggestion is similar to the above, lots of time in Kyoto (though if you like food and beer, give Osaka some time), as well as at least a day for Nara.

Hiroshima is a good distance from most things you'd want to see on your first trip. I mean, Fukuoka is nice, and I've been told Kyushu is great, but you're probably looking at Tokyo and Kyoto as your mains.

When it comes to Tokyo, and partly this is because I'm so used to it, I really don't feel there's a ton to do. You can walk from Asakusa to Ueno (with a stop in Kappabashi for the kitchen stores), then stroll down to Akihabara in a single, longish day. And yeah, Shibuya and Harajuku, but it's not really my thing. What Tokyo is great for is a base for day trips. Kamakura, Nikko (and onsen in Kinugawa), Yokohama, or getting up into the mountains in Gunma or Nagano.

I guess I'd say maybe five or six nights in Kansai, then the rest in Kanto, and definitely a meetup.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:11 AM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Go to the sumo!
posted by corvine at 11:36 AM on January 15, 2017

If I were to go back to Japan, I'd spend a day and a night at Naoshima — I went there on a day trip from Kyoto, and just really wished I had been able to stay the night on the grounds of the Benesse art site or at least on the island.

I think it depends a lot on your interests. For me, Tokyo was a bit too much, though I stayed in Asakusa, which was nice, and did the walk Ghidorah suggests which was my best day in Tokyo. But I'm not so much of a pop-culture aficionado, and crowds stress me out.
Kyoto was wonderful: rent bikes there, and see all the temples. Eat tofu. I didn't even like tofu before I went to Kyoto. Also see Kawai Kanjiro’s House. Before I went to Japan, having only seen photos, I didn't really understand the beauty and humanity of Japanese architecture. at this house there is a really lovely atmosphere which you have to experience!
We also went on a day trip up into the mountains which were really beautiful. I always like to see the landscapes of new countries, somehow you "get" them better when you have a sense of the topography, IMO.
posted by mumimor at 12:34 PM on January 15, 2017

When you're in Tokyo, make some time for a print party with MeFi's own woodblock100. I did this with my family on our first day in Tokyo and it was both fun and a good low-key first day activity.

Can second this. Did this with a large group a year ago and it was a total blast, Dave is wonderful.

Tokyo is wonderful, Sapporo is fun but not great for a first visit, Kyoto is breathtaking and great to explore as a contrast to Toky. Miyajima and Nara are great for daytrips from Hiroshima and Kyoto respectively. Highly recommend the Hiroshima peace park.
posted by rosary at 4:02 PM on January 15, 2017

I do too, actually; as well as all the okonomiyaki there, but the problem is it's so far from Tokyo. If you have the time to work it in, by all means; but take into account the shinkansen from there back to Tokyo takes a whole day.
posted by Rash at 9:11 PM on January 15, 2017

A bit of advice about the shinkansen: It's wonderful. It's incredibly novel. You should definitely ride it at least once. It's great if you've got the Japan Rail pass. It's also still nowhere near as fast as flying, and nowhere near as cheap. Haneda to Osaka is less than an hour flight, and costs about 6000 yen for an LCC like Peach, Jetstar, or Vanilla. The shinkansen is twice that, and three times as long. Unless you're building in the train trip as (needed) downtime, you might be better off doing day trips (like Hiroshima, or Kanazawa) by plane. With an LCC, obviously baggage is an issue, but if you do a day trip, you can leave everything at your hotel and just take a day pack. Domestic flights here are surprisingly low hassle, something I've really only discovered in the last couple years.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:56 PM on January 15, 2017

I would definitely disagree about flying vs. Shinkansen - in my experience the train is much faster if you're going from Tokyo to Kyoto, and it's pretty much the same if you're going from central Tokyo to central Osaka. The plane may be slightly cheaper if you get a good ticket price.

If you're in central Tokyo you have to get to Haneda Airport, and you're supposed to get there at least half an hour before your flight leaves (an hour is a safer margin during busy times). Then you have to get from Kansai Airport to Kyoto, which takes well over an hour, so the whole trip takes much longer. The shinkansen takes two hours and eighteen minutes from Tokyo to Kyoto, and it's much more comfortable.

Also at the moment the cheapest flights I'm seeing are almost 10,000 yen, so not really much cheaper than train fare after you add in airport-to-Kyoto transport.
posted by Umami Dearest at 12:57 AM on January 16, 2017

As for sightseeing, I would spend a few days in Kyoto, and the rest of the time in Tokyo - there's far more to see and do in Tokyo, and it's not so tourist-infested. I wouldn't advise staying in Asakusa either - it's kind of quaint, and filled with tourists, but not a particularly nice area in general. It's not very good for restaurants or shopping compared to other neighborhoods. Shinjuku and Shibuya are better options, or Shimbashi if you want a bustling downtown vibe with local people instead of tourists.
posted by Umami Dearest at 1:03 AM on January 16, 2017

I will also second the recommendation for the Cupnooodles Museum in Yokohama. Yokohama is definitely worth a day trip from Tokyo - it's very easy to get to, but the waterfront area has its own special character.
posted by Umami Dearest at 1:06 AM on January 16, 2017

Lots of great answers here. When I was there several years ago, I did Tokyo-Kyoto-Hiroshima-Osaka-Tokyo over about 2.5 weeks. Kyoto (with a day trip to Nara) was a highlight of my trip, would definitely suggest both.

I'm headed back this spring for two weeks, headed back to Kyoto and Tokyo again but no plans beyond that yet - might try to see more of Tokyo and surrounding areas this time.

A word of advice if you're considering Kyoto though: book accommodations early, especially if you're planning to be there in late March/early April. Rooms book out quick for cherry blossom season.
posted by photo guy at 6:04 PM on January 16, 2017

« Older Starbucks...sans coffee?   |   Should I stay or should I leave (my veterinarian)? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.