Creating An Itinerary For Japan

19.April 2012

Japan

I opened the guidebook excited that I had set aside the rainy afternoon to plan out the itinerary for our upcoming trip to Japan.

I closed it about 10 minutes later completely overwhelmed. I had no idea where to start. I’ve been wanting to go to Japan for years and, reading the book, it all sounded so amazing that I wanted to do it all.

Yes! Let’s hike Mt Fuji. Yes! We should head to the north and visit a remote onsen. Yes! We’ll stay in a capsule hotel in the heart of Tokyo. Yes! Walking along an ancient pilgrimage route sounds perfectly zen-like. Yes! We can pay tribute to the victims of the Hiroshima bombing. Yes! We’ll visit temple after temple after temple in Kyoto. Yes! We’ll gorge on sushi and ramen and okonomiyaki until we burst. Yes! Let’s head to the south and see the beaches there. Yes! We’ll stay in a temple and wake to the chanting of monks. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Ahhh, but we’ve done that before. Run from place to place feeling like we need to experience EVERYTHING and staying only a day or two in a place before moving on.

This trip is to be a study in traveling slower. Less places, more experiences. More settling in and getting to know a place, less running around wondering if this temple or castle is really that much different than the twelve other ones we saw last week.

It’s about remembering what worked and what didn’t in the past and using those lessons to guide our planning this time. It’s about distilling that great must-do list into a concise list of experiences and focusing the planning on those experiences rather than on places. It means understanding how we want to feel on this trip and passing up on the ‘shiny things’ that don’t contribute to that feeling.

Easier said than done.

I want to feel that I’m learning. That I’m starting to understand how things work; how to order sake, whether to slurp or not, temple etiquette, how to open those sliding paper doors.

I want to feel that I’m taking my time. That I’m giving a place it’s due, not just rushing through.

I want to feel that I’m not missing out on anything. It’s the missing out feeling that drives me to travel too quickly. I want to prove to myself that slow travel is more rewarding.

I want to really experience food and drink. I think we are too timid sometimes and I don’t want to be scared by what looks weird in Japan. I want to try all the different kinds and styles of tofu and understand how they are different. I want to visit sake breweries and taste the difference in region and style. I want to slurp noodles in back alley ramen shops, drink in izakayas, and eat yakatori by the stickful afterwards. Of course I want sushi but also okonomiyaki, tempura and bubble tea. I want to spend the money on a Kobe steak and enjoy a multi course meal at a ryokan. This will be the highlight of every day in Japan.

I want to experience culture and history but I don’t want to roam around in museums. I find them overwhelming. I prefer to take small scale city or site tours and have a guide weave history and culture into the stories they tell of a place. I want to visit temples, take in some Kabuki theater, and stay in a traditional Japanese inn.

I want to have urban experiences – I love cities and the thought of Tokyo and all it’s districts and people is exciting. But I also love the outdoors and want to do some hiking and see what rural Japan is like.

I want to feel quiet. I know that might be difficult in a country of 127 million people but I want that zen feeling of content. I think that will come from traveling slowly, listening to how we’re feeling and ensuring that everything we choose fits the criteria.

An itinerary is emerging.

Photo Credit: BilabialBoxer

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11 Responses to “Creating An Itinerary For Japan”

  1. tunimaal @ Japan blog of a Gaijin Says:

    Nice post. I totally agree with you. Especially with this kind of country full of History, culture, art, … You need time and you need to take it slow.

    I hope you will love it and you will have a lot of fun.

    About food I do recommand you to try Rice bowl with raw egg and Natto at breakfast. I love it, but almost all foreigners hate it :)

    Ganbatte kudasai
    tunimaal @ Japan blog of a Gaijin recently posted..Soirée Izakaya et Karaoké à Shinjuku

  2. Leigh Says:

    Planning really is half the fun – and the anticipation of the trip counts for so much too.
    Leigh recently posted..Scenes from Ireland’s Skellig Islands

  3. Carmel Says:

    I think you’ll find your pace again. Just have to settle in and let it happen. Like riding a bike…? I cannot wait to see your pictures! I wish we could afford Japan in our RTW trip, but it’s just not in the cards.
    Carmel recently posted..Paella Night…Ole!

  4. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures Says:

    Eeeeek I’m SO excited for you! Planning a trip is so much fun!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..My Wedding & Honeymoon: Day 22-23

  5. Dawn Says:

    Ah, well said. I know you will enjoy every second of your trip, and just trust wherever you are is exactly where you should be.

  6. Arti Says:

    Yeah, sometimes we just cant understand where to start from. But gradually everything falls in place. Even I am going to Japan next month, probably!!
    Excited about the trip, not planned anything about it though.
    Arti recently posted..Dwarkadheesh Temple in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh

  7. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) Says:

    I completely understand feeling overwhelmed with Japan! My husband and I are currently about 4 months out from embarking on our first extended RTW trip and Japan is the first country we plan to hit. Due to money issues, we’re only planning to spend 3 weeks max there, but even limiting ourselves to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, I feel like there’s still way too much to see and do than will fit our time constraints (and of course I fret about all the cool things that we’ll be missing out on by just focusing on those three places). For such a small country, Japan is proving to be more than my Type-A planner can handle!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..What’s in a name?

  8. Margyle Says:

    I lived in Tokyo for a year and I can honestly say it is one of my favourite places on earth. Every day there was something crazy happening and I saw and learned more about myself than I ever thought possible. It is crazy, yes, but there are tons of quiet places. Check out just about any temple/shrine in Tokyo (aside from Asakusa and Meiji Jingu) and you will be amazed at how peaceful they are. If you have a chance for a small day trip when in Tokyo, I recommend climbing the very easy Mount Takao. It can be done in its entirety in a matter of a few hours and the temple at the top is worth the hike.

    There are endless number of things to see and do but mostly, just immerse yourself in the insanity. It’s amazing. Oh, and try to count how many vending machines there are:p
    Margyle recently posted..This Just In – Awesome Guy (Me) Helps Stranded Couple in Rome

    • Gillian Says:

      I am definitely looking forward to finding the peace within the city. I love crowds and noise and busyness but it’s finding the quiet in it all that is the prize!

  9. Ali Says:

    I’m trying really hard to travel slower on my trips now. I like to see as much as possible too, but I’m finding how exhausting it is to move from place to place too quickly. I’m sure you’ll find a good balance for your trip to Japan!
    Ali recently posted..Weekly Photo – My Favorite Salsa

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