>After numerous versions, ruthlessly pruning here and there, I’ve drafted this almost confirmed itinerary to Japan. Takayama and the Kiso Valley is out – with great regret from me and relief from KH who was reluctantly contemplating the 3-hour hike on the Nakasendo! Never mind, just gives me one more reason to go back!
So here goes:
Arrive in Tokyo. Leave bags in lockers in Tokyo station. Visit Sensoji, maybe Sengakuji near Shinagawa, Shibuya (definitely). Collect bags and check into hotel after nightfall. Looks very likely that we will stay at the Family Fifty Inn again – because of its proximity to Tokyo Disney Resort. And also because for the price, it offers good value with a decent brekkie spread. Think big boiled eggs with orange centred yolks, free flow of juice, coffee, tea and salad with my favourite goma sauce. Far better than any continental brekkie spread I’ve had in Europe!
Disneyland. We’ll buy a two-day passport but our strategy remains the same – grab the good fastpasses EARLY and that means, an early start. So looks like we’ll get to see the surreal sight of petite Japanese girls in whalebone corsets, laced up boots and heels and big Pooh Bear hats making a dash for it once the gates open at 8.30 sharp! I will leave it to mom and the sister if they wish to come with us, otherwise, they’re free to explore Tokyo on their own.
Take the 0948am shinkansen to Nagano. We’ll arrive around 1116am, (by the way, all these times are taken from the super rail-trip planning tool Hyperdia which calls up ALL train connections in Japan in seconds! The marvels of the internet!) which means we have time to walk up to Zenko-Ji and grope our way to the path of eternal life (or something like that) before taking another train, one-hour, to Yudanaka Station. Aim to arrive by 1500pm or so. Which gives us time to leave our bags, change into our yukatas and hit the baths! We’ll have all night to make the circuit of 9 sentos in the area, but must also make room for a nice kaiseki dinner in the ryokan. This is where I think I might splurge a bit on better accomodation in a good ryokan with the works.
This will be a day of hard travelling. We will leave Shibu Onsen early to catch the 0920am train to Nagano. From there, we will take the train up to the coast of the Sea of Japan, changing trains at Naoetsu. We will pass through mountain scenery en route down to the coast. From Naoetsu, we might stop at Kurobe for a short trip down the scenic Kurobe gorge, if we have time. If not, then its all the way to Kanazawa, the rain capital of Japan! We’ll probably not have time to do much except check-in but that’s good, because we need a break from all the travelling and trains.
This is where we wander around Kanazawa. Top of the list at 8am when its gates open is the top-rated Kenrokoen! Said to be Japan’s loveliest garden. We must get there early to beat the crowds of tour groups. Other places to see if we have the time: Omayajinja, Myoryu-ji or aka the Ninja temple! Also nice to visit the Samurai quarter, see Nomura House, which is a samurai house now open to the public. We might also visit Higashi Chaiya, the old geisha quarter. Kanazawa is a big town, but its old quarters are left intact because it was not bombed in WW2, hence the preservation of many pockets of old houses and buildings which are worth wandering and getting lost in.
Leave Kanazawa on the 0904am train to arrive at Kyoto 1109am. Leave bags in the hotel and then sightsee. Likely to go to Kinkakuji and Ryoanji in the northwest of Kyoto. If we have the energy, Nanzenji is likely to be nicely lit up during the autumn season. Its open till 2100pm I think, so we should have some time to explore.
A full day’s sightseeing in Nara, feeding deer in the deer park, the gi-normous bronze Buddha in Todaiji and the world’s oldest surviving wooden structure – Horyuji. Back to Kyoto for the night.
Leave bags in hotel but pack smaller bags for the next couple of nights. Head for Koyasan. Overnight in a shukubo on Koyasan. Walk through the ancient cemetery of Okunoin at dusk.
Leave Koyasan and head for Osaka. We should have the second half of the day left in Osaka. Time to do a bit of shopping or visit the Umeda Sky Building and the floating garden observatory? Or go a bit further to the outdoor museum of old Japanese houses (Ryokuchi Koen), since we’re giving the Hida area a miss and won’t see the gassho zukuri of the Shirakawago region. Whatever our plan, we’ll keep it free and easy so nothing is really planned for the second half of the day.
We could either spend the day in Universal Studios. Or move on to Himeji for the morning and then finishing it (it takes about 1.5hrs to finish Himeji castle on a tour), move on to Hiroshima and Miyajima for the night. We are likely to reach Miyajima by 3pm if we leave Himeji by 1pm latest. So this will allow us time to see Itsukushima at its quietest. At night, when the crowds are gone and the lanterns on the gallery lit, Itsukushima looks elegantly beautiful. We might splurge again on a ryokan here in Miyajima.
Day 12, 13 and 14
Walk around Momijidani to see the autumn colours, take the ropeway up to Mt Misen and down. Leave Miyajima by noon to Hiroshima, where we will spend the afternoon at the Peace Park. We can leave Hiroshima late, taking the shinkansen down to Kyoto for the night. This is where I am not very sure about the itinerary and will tweak it a bit more.
Option 1 – If we spend a day in Osaka at Universal Studios, then the subsequent days get pushed backwards. Which means we will not have one more day in Kyoto but will have to take the overnight train back to Tokyo, arriving in the morning of the 28th at 0708am. In time for a sushi brekkie at Tsukiji and then hopping on the Narita Express to the airport to catch our flight back to KL and Singapore. This also means we will take our bags with us and not leave them in the hotel in Kyoto as said earlier.
Option 2 – We go as planned to Himeji etc but on day 12, we spend the day in Hiroshima, returning late to Kyoto for the night. On Day 13, we spend the day sightseeing in Kyoto and on Day 14, take the early Hikari Shinkansen, zooming back to Tokyo in time to make the 10.30am N’EX to Narita. I’m just worried that we might be cutting it a bit thin here and it does seems like a hard day of travelling considering that we would be spending about 3 to 4 hours on a train, followed by 7hours on a plane and then in transit for another 2hrs or so before flying an hour again. Does seem like a really long day, and I can expect grouchy kids, which would NOT be fun on long connections.
The night train option looks increasingly interesting since the experience will also be a novel one for the kids – to sleep on couchettes in a moving train. Price-wise, we’ll have to pay a supplement for the couchettes and this should be more expensive than paying for accomodation. But might be worth it for the time saved and the experience.
So how does this look?