Heading to Japan in March for a few days... Tips?

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by Starry, Jan 11, 2016.

  1. Starry macrumors member


    Jul 18, 2011
    I'm heading to Japan in late March for 5/6 days and am having trouble making up a good itinerary. This is a "mini" overseas trip so I'm trying to save as much money for my next trip in the summer, keeping it as budget as possible. I've never gone overseas for less than 2 weeks so we are really crunched for time. I was hoping on taking the 9-hour long bus from Tokyo to Kyoto but have a nagging feeling this is a bad idea. The bullet train is very expensive but not sure if it would be worth it? With the bus, we would save two nights of hotel in both Tokyo and Kyoto plus a much cheaper fare. We would lose time and convenience. Maybe we should just stay in Tokyo? It's my dream to go to Kyoto but it's so far and expensive... I may not return to Japan for years, who knows. So I want to take advantage of this opportunity but don't want to ruin the trip with 2 travel nights. We are spending total of 3 days traveling TO Japan(overnight in Shanghai) so we have very little time in the actual country. Any advice for this situation or general tips for a first time visitor to Japan(and Asia in general!)? My dad has been to Japan and China a few times but never as a leisure traveler so that helps a little, I guess, haha.
  2. citizenzen macrumors 65816

    Mar 22, 2010
    I've never been to Japan, so this is less about the destination than the plan. If you only have 5-6 days, I'd be inclined to focus on one area. You could still enjoy 1-2 hour side trips. I just wouldn't want to devote that much time traveling in country.
  3. Macky-Mac macrumors 68030


    May 18, 2004
    If I'm understanding your post, you're thinking of an over night bus trip followed by a frenzied day of exploring Kyoto and then getting on a bus for a 2nd overnight trip back to Tokyo? :eek:

    Pay attention to your feelings.....this IS a bad idea.

    You might consider Nikko instead of Kyoto. It's a site with lots of old temples and shrines, so you can get a good dose of "old" Japan, and it's a reasonable day trip out of Tokyo
  4. nebo1ss macrumors 68030

    Jun 2, 2010
    I did the Tokyo Kyoto trip by the bullet train a few years ago and did an organised tour of Kyoto. Actually it was an all in tour which included the train ride. Personally I would not want to spend that amount of time on a bus plus the ride on the bullet train is quite an experience. I was there on business and did it all in a weekend out saturday morning back sunday night. Kyoto is well worth seeing.
  5. puma1552 macrumors 603

    Nov 20, 2008
    You should just be getting a Japan Rail pass, you can ride all JR lines unlimited for the duration of the pass, including the bullet train. They are/were available in 1/2/3 week denominations. One 2.5-3 hour trip to Kyoto and back and it will have paid for itself. The Nozomi is the fastest of all the bullet trains, but I can't remember if the JR passes allow you to ride Nozomi or if those are excluded.

    You need to get these before you arrive in Japan, you can get them at any travel agency.
  6. Tech198 macrumors G5

    Mar 21, 2011
    Australia, Perth
    if its for anything but a business trip, leave your tech at home..... u don't need 'em 24/7
  7. mkaake macrumors 65816

    Apr 10, 2003
    This. So long as your country/visa match the requirements (any inbound US passport qualifies), the Japan Rail Pass is invaluable. I've done this on my last few trips to Japan, and it makes getting around fast and simple - and it opens up so many more opportunities for a trip. It takes about 2 hours from Tokyo to Kyoto, which if done early morning and late evening don't really take away from your time experiencing the cities at all. If you're not adverse to waking up early, you can leave Tokyo around 6am and be in Kyoto around 8am.

    Once there, if you're visiting Kyoto anyway - they do offer a day pass for tourists for unlimited use of local bus and subway lines - if you're trying to keep costs down, this is also a huge boon.

    Fair warning - anywhere along the Shinkansen lines - weekends book up quickly in hotels. For business trips, we're struggling to find open hotels in Kanazawa and Kyoto 6 weeks in advance of a trip - and you're talking about cherry blossom season - so get on those fast.

    But yes - with the rail pass, completely worth it. In fact, if you have the rail pass, I'd consider doing a night or two in the Kyoto region, and possibly spending one evening in Himeji, allowing you to hit Hiroshima on the side (hour each way from Himeji). The castle in Himeji is fantastic.

    Another excellent place to visit if you've got a rail pass and a little bit of time is Mount Tateyama (and the Kurobe dam) - it takes a solid day to go all the way through the pass, down to the dam, and back - but it is absolutely stunning.

    <edit> two last notes - rail passes you can purchase online - but you must purchase and receive them before arriving in Japan. There's several places out there, just shop around for whoever has the best price at the time. Second, if you're not familiar with it, check out Hyperdia.com - you can look at all available routes between places you're considering visiting - and bear in mind that the trains are accurate to the timetables within a few seconds. So you can truly plan out a day and know when you can be somewhere.
  8. Starry, Jan 13, 2016
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2016

    Starry thread starter macrumors member


    Jul 18, 2011
    Almost, we would be spending 1-2 nights in Kyoto. But I give up on the bus trip, it is a bad idea, hahaha. Nikko looks beautiful, I'll have to see how easy it is to access but thank you for the advice :)

    Did you purchase it through JTB-USA? I saw a cheaper Tokyo-Kyoto bullet train pass from Japanican for tourists. Thank you for the input, sounds about the same amount of time we want to spend in Kyoto.

    I found a cheaper pass for around $180 from Japanican for just Tokyo and Kyoto. I think I read somewhere Nozomi is excluded... Not sure if we'll be taking the train elsewhere other than local trains and from Haneda. Thank you for the input!

    Definitely not, haha. My iPhone will get the job done. I never travel with any tech other than my phone and DSLR. Less chance of it getting stolen.
    --- Post Merged, Jan 13, 2016 ---
    We're going to go with a rail pass. Two hours is very reasonable and I really like that we can be there by 8 am, leaving a lot of time to see the city well. Do you recommend doing Kyoto by way of bus and subway? Or a guided tour? I've read the city is pretty well connected but we always like to take "hop-on hop-off" bus tours whenever we travel but haven't found any in either Tokyo nor Kyoto.
    I'm trying to book a cheap ryokan(>$100) in a central location but they're all either booked, far from center, or expensive. I'm honestly going crazy over this trip. I'm a lot more used to Europe as I've been four times and going without a tour there seems so much more easier than this trip. From accommodations to getting around, everything seems so much more complicated. I never anticipated the prices to be so high for everything even with the low value of the yen. I've never been to Asia before either so this is all new for me. I don't speak a word of Japanese so that doesn't help either. I wish we had more time in Japan. There's so much info and things to do with so little time. :confused: I truly appreciate all the helpful information you've given me, I'll look into all the sites you mentioned above while I try to plan this trip out without going crazy. :eek:
  9. puma1552 macrumors 603

    Nov 20, 2008
    You might still want to consider a regular JR pass as it also covers all local trains everywhere, pretty much every little trip you're going to take within Tokyo will be covered as well and those are going to add up quick.

    Can't comment on guided tours, but one thing to know about Kyoto is that the bus is the primary way to get around, behind Kyoto station there is a huge bus terminal with signs in English saying where each bus goes as far as famous temples/shrines/tourist locations, and every ride is a flat 220 yen (or at least it was 220 yen a few years back, may be a bit more now). Only downside - at least the times I was there - was that I never quite figured out how to go from location A to B to C, it always seemed like I had to get on a bus, go to a place, then come back to the station and get on another bus to go somewhere else. Whatever you do in Kyoto, spend some time in Gion and Pontocho (the most famous two Geisha districts) and hang around the river right in that area. Extremely beautiful and very traditional part of Japan.

    Also if your trip is at the end of March, everything is booked because it's the verge of cherry blossom season (albeit maybe just a tad early), which is why you are having trouble finding accomodation, particularly in Kyoto.
  10. mkaake macrumors 65816

    Apr 10, 2003
    There's an all day bus/subway pass that's 1000 yen (so a whopping $8) which would be handy.

    On my last trip, the lines for the buses were long enough that I shied away from it. It's the second cheapest way to get around though. On that trip, we were a bit time limited, so we went with taxis. Visiting 5 locations ended up running about 7000 yen total, and it's not too common to find taxi drivers with passable English - so if you go this route, you need to print out ahead of time the names of the places you want to be taken (in Japanese ;) ), or you're going to struggle getting there.

    If you enjoy walking, you can see quite a bit on foot. One of my trips I did this - checked my luggage at the station for the day (was on my way to the airport, and stopped at Kyoto in the morning) - 800 yen; and then walked up the main strip. You can see a few temples, shrines, a very nice garden, Nijo castle, and the imperial palace. Not too many people enjoy that much walking though.

    A guided tour would be tough there (a bus based one) - some of the sites get so busy, there's just no way I could limit myself to the time limits imposed to get back to the bus.

    So best option is likely to just take a little patience and use the 1 day bus pass. They've got a good overview of the bus system here:


    Including a rather large map of the city showing the routes and larger tourist attractions.

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