Japan Itinerary (Redux)

24.May 2012

Japan

Japan ItineraryPhoto Credit:  halcyonsnow

Ok, I really mean it this time!

Turns out it is three years, almost to the day, that I posted our original Japan itinerary intended as the last country of our RTW trip. We abandoned Japan back then (and rightly so) as our backpacker budget was already stretched thin and we found that we adored SE Asia; it’s cheap accommodation, fabulous food and great weather drawing us to stay, if not forever, then at least as long as absolutely possible.

We always said, though, that our next big trip would be to Japan. Abandoned once, but never forgotten.

After determining what we wanted to get out of our trip we set to finding those places that would give us culture and history but also a good dose of urban activity. I think we’ve done a good job; staying put for days at a time and then moving through smaller centers to get a feel for rural Japan also.

Through some grace of good luck there happens to be a direct flight from Calgary to Tokyo three times a week – that makes Tokyo the first stop. We’ll spend three nights getting our bearings, eating the first sushi and generally getting lost I’m sure. I’d prefer an apartment over a hotel but the short stay might limit that option.

Seven nights in Kyoto follow. I’ve been told that a week is barely long enough to explore the cultural center of Japan. We will definitely get an apartment for this week an spend our time wandering the city, chasing Geiko, and visiting as many temples as possible.

Nara is usually a day trip from Kyoto but after a week and a half of city dwelling we want to start on a more relaxing path. A visit to the Great Buddha in the company of the famous deer of Nara should put us on the path to enlightenment…no? A small guesthouse here will be our home for two nights.

I have been intrigued lately by the idea of meditation retreats; silent ones in particular. I like the idea of quiet contemplation at this point when I seem to have all kinds of ideas jumbling around in my head. I somehow think that things would become clearer if only I were silent long enough to hear myself. I’m probably not ready to commit to a multi-day retreat yet (nor would it be likely I could convince Jason it’s a good idea!) but I do like the idea of staying in temple in the Koya-san region just south of Nara. Here, we can stay in a temple and take part in the morning ceremonies with the monks. It’ll give me a taste of a retreat without the long term commitment…perfect for me!

I believe that when you visit a place you should visit the good and the bad. I couldn’t visit Germany without remembering the Holocaust and visiting a concentration camp, or spend time in Peru without learning about the Shining Path; I think it’s a travellers responsibility to acknowledge all facets of a place so a visit to Hiroshima is necessary. It’s not all doom and gloom though – we’ll also visit Miyajima and the ‘Floating Temple’ and visit the town of Saijo just outside of Hiroshima to sample sake from the many breweries in the area. Four nights seems like a long time here but we plan on taking our time, especially with the sake.

A day of traveling through the mountains will take us to Takayama, a small city that boasts of traditional buildings, morning markets, sake breweries and stunning mountain scenery. Time to slow it down again here and just take it as it comes.

From here it gets even slower as we make a one night stop in Magome before hiking the ancient trail to Tsumago the next day. I want to stay in a traditional ryokan in the mountains and this place sounds just about perfect. Nestled in the mountains on the once populous route from Tokyo to Kyoto these towns are steeped in history and should offer some quiet distraction as we head back to Tokyo after this.

Five days remain and Tokyo remains barely scratched. We’ll find an apartment and explore all that Tokyo has to offer. From back alley izakayas and yakitori stands to upscale sushi; the Tsukiji fish market, the Imperial Palace and Harajuku; day trips out to Hakone and quiet days sampling beer an sake. After almost four weeks in Japan we’ll really be ready to tackle one of the biggest, and densest cities in the world!

I think it’s a good mix of rural and urban, food and culture and, although it moves a little quicker than I originally intended, it slows down often enough to let us settle in a little bit.

Do you have any Japan itinerary advice? Think there is somewhere we are missing? Something we absolutely have to do or see? Let me know in the comments, or on our Facebook page!

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19 Responses to “Japan Itinerary (Redux)”

  1. Akila Says:

    I like this itinerary. You’ve got a good pace with some great spots to see. Make sure that you find a good tofu restaurant in Kyoto – it’s an incredible experience!
    Akila recently posted..why take guided tours

  2. Vicky Says:

    Sounds like a great plan! When are you heading over there? We are starting our backpacking trip in Japan (not exactly budget friendly but who know’s when we’ll be in that corner of the world again). We’re planning on only spending two weeks there though due to how expensive it is (splitting up our time between Tokyo, Nikko, Takayama, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Himeju, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Shimoneski – where we’ll catch a ferry to South Korea). I’m sure we’ll be running around like crazy at each stop, but since it’s the first country we’re going to I’m hoping the adrenaline will carry us!
    Vicky recently posted..Cool Programs For Making Travel Maps

    • Gillian Says:

      I checked your itinerary Vicki and don’t think we’ll overlap as you are leaving from the south. We arrive in Tokyo on 31Aug. I’ll be reading what you write about it though!
      Gillian recently posted..I’m So Proud Of You

  3. Carmel Says:

    That sounds perfect. I feel like everyone around me is traveling right now!
    Carmel recently posted..Healthy White Bean, Avocado & Tuna Wraps

  4. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) Says:

    This itinerary looks great! It really looks like you’re going to get to sample the many facets of Japan, and I like that you’re heading off the beaten path and going to some of the destinations that aren’t as heavily touristed. And you’re leaving for Japan at the end of August, right?

    I have a friend who lived in Japan for 2 years, and she keeps telling me that I should absolutely get a JR pass for our time in Japan, but I can’t get my head around the cost of it. I know that if we only take bullet trains it is a huge money saver, but it seems like you really have to be picking up and traveling every single day in order to get your money’s worth with the 7-day pass. Just another way in which Japan is crazy expensive…
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..China Visa Woes, Oh Noes!

    • Gillian Says:

      The JR Passes are very expensive but I recently read a blog post where someone had a pass but also counted up what it would have cost them without it and the difference was remarkable – the pass cost them less than half of what the trains would have cost! Turns out that a 21 day pass is about 1/2 the cost of an airline ticket from Calgary to Tokyo!! It’s just one of those things to suck up though I think – that’s why we’re going now, so that we can afford it!
      Gillian recently posted..Creating An Itinerary For Japan

  5. Amy Says:

    Sounds like a great itinerary with a good mixture. You are hitting a lot of my favorites from Japan – I was very smitten with Tokyo, Takayama, and Hiroshima. We spent 4 days in Hiroshima, as well, and I thought it was a great amount of time because there is more to the city than the memorial. You may want to consider checking out Shriakawa-go as a day trip from Takayama – it was a highlight for us. There is tons of great food in Japan – I still remember our meals at Tempura Arima in Kyoto and Myogaga in Takayama vividly.
    Amy recently posted..Our Trip by the Numbers

  6. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures Says:

    I don’t know much about Japan, so I can’t offer advice. Was just there for 5 days. But it sounds like you have a great plan!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Macau: Day 2 (Part 3)

  7. Alouise Says:

    Japan looks like an amazing country. You’re itinerary sounds great too, although I’m sure you’ll find plenty of more things to see and do that you never thought of. I still can’t believe there’s a direct flight from Calgary to Tokyo.
    Alouise recently posted..Around Edmonton – Rutherford House

    • Gillian Says:

      I know – I love that there is a direct flight. Normally ‘Budget Girl’ (me) would insist on the cheapest flight no matter what the routing but, on a flight that is already so long I caved and agreed that the direct flight would be the best option!
      Gillian recently posted..Japan Itinerary (Redux)

  8. Anwar Says:

    I love Japan! one of my favorite countries in the world. If you have any questions I can probably answer quite a bit on Tokyo as while i haven’t been there in about a year, i used to go quite often for business. Miyajima is also one of my favorite places in Japan as well, it is beautiful but watch out for the deer antlers! Are you going to be staying on the island overnight or staying back in Hiroshima? There are a few Ryokans on the island but it can be very quiet on the island(either good or bad depending) after the last ferry leaves. I would recommend trying Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima as its different from other places although i think the best I had was in Osaka. I would look at a japan rail pass possibly and see if it ends up saving you money. Generally I found the 7day pass to be cheaper than a round trip between Tokyo and Hiroshima on the shinkansen. I would also recommend getting a Suica card for your travels around in Tokyo. I’m a big fan of the little Yakitori places in Azabu Juban and Shimbashi if you find yourself in either of those areas. Check out an onsen in Japan for sure. Kamakura makes a nice day trip from Tokyo. A stop in Himeji is great on your way to or from Hiroshima to see the beautiful castle (a UNESCO site) there. The inside of the castle (at least when i went) was quite bare but the castle and the areas around it are gorgeous. Oh and a lot of the ATMs wont work with cards from US/Canada so do take note of places you can get money out. My recommendation would be to find a citibank (in tokyo there are few i usually went to, one in Ginza 4chome, one in omotesando, and one near the akasaka mitsuke metro station) or Japan Post (their atms work too). Ahh I could write so much on the topic but the comment is already getting way too long! I wish you a wonderful time there, it is such an amazing part of the world…

  9. tunimaal @ Japan blog of a Gaijin Says:

    It seems to be an awesome trip. I really hope you will enjoy it and you will have a lot of fun. Japan is such a great country with so many things to see, to try, to do, to eat, to discover…. Have a lot of fun ;-)
    tunimaal @ Japan blog of a Gaijin recently posted..Prejudices about Japanese: reality or fantasy

  10. Leigh Says:

    Gillian it sure looks like you’ve put some effort into planning this trip – and I know how time consuming that is. I can’t offer even one small tidbit of advice though if you need anymore suggestions I can contact my friend who is half Japanese and get her take on a country she’s visited several times.
    And four weeks will feel like such luxury away from the routine of it all. Are you counting the days yet?
    Leigh recently posted..#FriFotos – Five Canadian Waterfalls

  11. holly Says:

    I am so happy that you 2 are finally making the trip to Japan… I cannot wait to hear all about it!

  12. Ali Says:

    I’ve never been to Japan, but Andy really wants to go, so I’m curious to see how your trip goes. Sounds like a great itinerary!
    Ali recently posted..Thoughts on One Year of Unemployment