Itinerary, Accommodation & Transportation
If someone asked me, several years back, what was the place in this world I would like to visit the most, the answer would be Japan.
This far far away country, full of volcanoes, kimonos and sumo fighters has been a dream of mine for ages. And finally, the time arrived to pack my bags and set off on the trip of my life. For days before the departure, I could not believe it was truly happening. Back in times when my parents were growing up in Slovakia, travelling to a country so distant would have been unheard off. Of course, that was communism and we’ve moved miles away from such regime. Or at least we’d hope!
I must admit, I have never organised such a big trip before. Months before the trip took place, I spent hours conducting research, organising accommodation and transportation. To be honest, it was driving me absolutely mad. I knew what I wanted to see, eat and experience but squeezing it all into a 16-day trip was a real challenge. Knowing I was organising the trip of my life was making this preparation period easier to handle! I must say, I admire all the travel agents in the world for being capable of doing this on daily basis, for strangers!!!
Japan Trip Planning
Consulting many friends and guides, every single source of information suggests to plan your Japan trip well in advance. Planning becomes even more important if you are visiting during the highest season of the year, the Sakura (cherry blossom) season. That was exactly my intention – to enjoy the cherry trees in full bloom while having a proper Japanese picnic underneath their branches.
If you want to visit during the famous Sakura time yourself, make sure to check the sakura forecasts. The ideal Sakura viewing times vary in different parts of Japan.
However, becoming one of the many foreign tourists visiting the country at this time brings disadvantages. Booking a nice, relatively cheap accommodation in Tokyo or Kyoto is a mission impossible. It becomes even more of an issue when you travel with a partner = the cheaper alternatives, such as hostels, are no longer a possibility.
Finding Accommodation in Japan
There are quite a few websites which offer a good selection of hotels, hostels or ryokans (the traditional Japanese In’s) in Japan. Being European, I first started consulting Booking.com. However, I soon realised that the rates nor the size of their inventory in some Japanese locations is sufficient. That is when you need to start exploring the untested waters, such as Agoda.com or Japanican.com. Although these two websites are fairly unknown to a European traveller, they are both very popular in Asia.
Airbnb is also an option. However, it might not be the cheapest nor the easiest alternative, considering the lack of spoken English in Japan.
Generally speaking, the accommodation is very clean and simple. Our objective was to focus on discovering the beauty of the country on the exterior, not hotel interiors. Therefore, the comfort of our hotels was not a priority, except for a couple of nights in a Ryokan and a traditional Japanese temple.
**Learn more about the hotels in Japan HERE
Traveling around Japan is super easy once you purchase your Japan Rail Pass. It allows you to hop freely on almost any intercity Shinkansen or use the main circular metro line in Tokyo, Takayama. If you are a first time visitor to Japan and want to visit the main attractions around the country, JR Pass is the way to go. It can save you a lot money and stress!
The National JR Pass does not offer free transport to the more remote places of Tokyo, such as the districts of Odaiba or Kitazawa, neither within other Japanese cities such as Kyoto or Osaka. If you want to spend more time in these areas of Japan (e.g. Hakone, Osaka & Kyoto, etc.) you have the possibility to purchase Regional JR passes.
**If you want to learn more about the affordability and worthiness of JR pass, take a look HERE
16-days Japan Itinerary
The most frustrating moment of planning a trip to Japan was the realisation that I won’t be able to see everything.
My original plan was to visit: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hakone, Koyasan, Miyajima, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Nikko, Nara, Takayama. Unfortunately, this way most of the trip would be spent in transport, getting to all these places.
Instead I decided to be pickier.
In spring, most of the cities in the mountainous area of Japan are relatively hard to access. To avoid hours spent switching trains, I first eliminated Kanazawa and Takayama – two beautiful, traditional cities north-west from Tokyo.
Next step: day trips from Tokyo and Kyoto – a visit to Nikko and Nara. As a first time visitor, I thought I’d spend some quality time in the major cities first. The decision making came down to travel distance and the offer of attractions. Nikko, a 2-hour train ride from Tokyo, is known for its world heritage shrines and temples. Nara, about an hour South of Kyoto, is famous for its extensive park roamed by semi-wild deers. Nara ended up the winner. I love friendly animals!
The final itinerary for my 16-day Japan trip looked like this: