questions & answers: general japan travel

suggestions required for first time traveler to japan

Suggestions required for first time traveler to Japan

Hi there

I am planning to travel to Japan for the first time with my family to celebrate my 40th Birthday. I am planning to travel there on July 31st until Aug 8th.

Since I will be traveling with my wife and little daughter who is 9 years old, we would want to cover places like Disney Land, Universal Studios, Tokyo City tour plus also visit the Tokyo Electronic City. These are all the places that I want to touch upon in Tokyo. Also I heard about this JR pass,

I basically want better ideas around :

  1. What places I should not miss when in Tokyo or Osaka ?
  2. Are there any other places that I should not be missing ?
  3. JR Pass - Am I better off buying Regular 7 days Pass or First Class 7 days pass ?
  4. Where do I find good deals to stay at Osaka and Tokyo

Please see my Itinerary below :

July 31st - Land at Narita Ariport - Get transferred to a hotel in Tokyo by Airport Transfer

Aug 1st - Using JR pass - Day 1 - Tokyo City tour

Aug 2nd - Using JR pass - Day 2 - Day trip to Universal Studios

Aug 3rd - Using JR pass - Day 3 - Day trip to Electronic city

Aug 4th - Using JR pass - Day 4 - Celebrate my Birthday at Disney Land

Aug 5th - Using JR pass - Day 5 - Travel to Osaka and check in hotel at Osaka

Aug 6th - Using JR pass - Day 6 - Day Trip in Osaka

Aug 7th - Using JR pass - Day 7 - Check-in at Tokyo Hotel and shopping

Aug 8th - My flight is only in the evening and I would be checking out the hotel by noon. I would most likely get transferred to the airport by Airport Transfer. Is there anything that we can do for 4-5 hours

deepinprem
deepinprem

Hi and Happy Birthday,

Well I see a number of issues with your itinerary. The first is that for your Day 2, Universal Studios is not in Tokyo - it is in Osaka.
But more broadly speaking, you are going to Japan but not really seeing Japan. It's filled with the American amusement parks that the Japanese love to go to when they can't go to America. It's up to you of course and I understand you have to keep your daughter entertained, but if I were to go to Paris the last place I'd want to go to is the Paris Disneyland. There are of course a number of other places for children in Japan that you might look at, like the Ghibli Museum.
Regarding the pass however, you are not covering the cost of the 7 day JR pass with your itinerary as it is. You'd need to go from Tokyo to Osaka and back within 7 days, and throw in a side trip or two to cover it.

For your Day 3, I presume you mean going to Akihabara. If you are a hard core techie and want to go on a shopping spree, you could spend a whole afternoon there. You can see a brief preview of the place hereOtherwise, you can get through it in less than an hour - which leaves the rest of the day.
For Tokyo, there are many places you could see that you are missing. One of the most popular is the Sensoji Temple & Nakamise St. which is carved in stone for every tourist's itinerary. If in Tokyo on a Sunday afternoon, going to see the youth with their wild fashions at Harajuku is very popular as well as next to it, Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park. There are also many beautiful traditional Japanese gardens, like Shinjuku Gyoen, Koishikawa Korakuen, Rikugien, and Hamarikyu.

Osaka is like a smaller version of Tokyo, with its own electronics district, Den-Den Town, etc. You are missing the crown jewels of Japanese culture next to it, Kyoto and Nara. Since you are already seeing Tokyo, you can largely skip Osaka during the day. After the temples of Kyoto close down around 5PM, you can zip over to Osaka for the evening. At night the city comes alive and has some great places to see, such as Dotonbori, plus the night views from the Umeda Sky Bldg, and Abeno Harukas Bldg are wonderful.
Since you are spending only 2 days in the Osaka area (3 if you want to go to Universal Studios), I'd suggest you spend 1½ days in Kyoto and ½ a day in Nara, then see Osaka in the evenings. It's all up to your interests, of course. If you'd like to see a typical 8 day tourist itinerary, you can see one here:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2400_tokyo_6.html

Of course you can adapt it to however you'd like, or choose other destinations.
Also please browse this tourist info on what you'd like to do with all your time:

Tokyo:

http://www.gotokyo.org/en/index.html

http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/regional/tokyo/index.html

http://www.ar.jal.com/world/en/guidetojapan/city_information/tyo/see/akasaka/

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2164.html

Kyoto:

http://www.kyoto.travel/

http://www.ar.jal.com/world/en/guidetojapan/city_information/uky/see/central/

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2158.html

Nara:

http://narashikanko.or.jp/en/

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2165.html

Osaka:

http://www.osaka-info.jp/en/

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2157.html

Please be aware also that you will be in Japan at the worst of Japan's summer heat - it will be muggy, sticky, humid, and very hot. Actually if you have never stayed in one before, I recommend you spend at least a night in a Japanese Inn or ryokan. There are some inexpensive ones in Tokyo, like the Kimi, the Tama, the Taito and the Tokyo Ryokan.

Toraneko
Toraneko

Hi

Thanks a lot for you detailed reply. That was really helpful.

I have just revised my itinerary based on your inputs. Please let me know if this would be OK ?

I have been to DisneyLand in Los Angeles, me and my wife have been to Disney Land Paris also. It is just my little one, who is really keen on her first time to Disney Land and we would definitely want to do both Disney Land and Disney Sea as well.

Also my other question is, JR pass is valid only for 7 days, so I am really confused from what dates to what date should i use it ? If you look at the itinerary below, Day 1 and Day 9 - I don't have JR pass, is it possible to buy any day passes there like a Day Tripper which covers off all local transport within Tokyo ?

July 31st - Land at Narita Ariport - Get transferred to a hotel in Tokyo by Airport Transfer

Aug 1st - Day 1 - Tokyo City tour

Aug 2nd - Day 2 - Tokyo City tour plus Akihabara- (JR pass - Day 1)

Aug 3rd - Day 3 - Day trip to Disney Seas - (JR Pass - Day 2)

Aug 4th - Day 4 - Celebrate my Birthday at Disney Land (JR Pass - Day 3)

Aug 5th - Day 5 - Check out from Tokyo/Travel to Osaka/Check in hotel at Osaka/Visit Dotonbori, plus the night views from the Umeda Sky Bldg, and Abeno Harukas Bldg (JR Pass - Day 4)

Aug 6th - Day 6 - Visit Kyoto and Nara (JR Pass - Day 5)

Aug 7th - Day 7 - Visit Universal Studios (JR Pass - Day 6)

Aug 8th - Day 8 - Check in at Tokyo and do shopping (JR Pass - Day 7)

Aug 9th - Day 9 - Check out at noon and proceed to Tokyo Airport (Take Airport Transfer)

Looking forward to hear from you.

Kind Regards
Premkumar (Sydney)

deepinprem
deepinprem

Hi,
If you are using a JR Pass, you would normally use it for the days of your longest travel (especially by bullet train), and arrange your busiest travel to fit in within the 7 day period.
If you want to use the 7 day JR Pass, you could use it for Days 3-9 (the 1st day you start using it counts as Day 1, even if it's less then 24 hrs). You then could use the pass for the Narita Express on Aug 9th to go to Narita Airport. For July 31st, if you like, you could use a cheap bus for 1000 yen or so:

http://www.keiseibus.co.jp/en/kousoku/nrt16.html

http://accessnarita.jp/en/home/

Or consider the Keisei train plus day pass option:
For cheaper travel within Tokyo, there are day passes. Have a look at:

http://www.keisei.co.jp/keisei/tetudou/skyliner/us/special/index.html

http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/travel/index.html#anc03

http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/pass/tokunai_pass.html

For your itinerary, at best, with your use of the JR Pass you are barely breaking even. There might be a better way for you to save money - the Japanican Bullet Train Package. It is more than 7,000 yen cheaper then the JR Pass, and you can still ride the bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka. The difference is - you can only ride the bullet train between those cities, no further and no stopping off in between. But you plan to do neither. You also get a 1 day ticket for within Osaka, but you have to pay yourself for the tickets to go to Kyoto/Nara. Not pricey though and you still save compared to the full JR Pass. You'd also have to pay yourself from Tokyo to Narita, but with the 1,000 yen bus you still end up saving money. Another difference is that with the JR Pass you can do advanced seat reservations included in the price, but not the Japanican package. However, with the Japanican package, you can take the fastest bullet train, the Nozomi, which will get you to Osaka about 30 minutes faster. With the JR Pass you must take a slower train.
It's up to you.
You can check regular rail fares on Hyperdia.

Good luck!

Toraneko
Toraneko

Hi

Thanks for your reply. I was told that using JR National pass, one can take the speed bullet train, correct me if that information is wrong. I was planning to get a JR National pass, First class one.

I think the other information you have sent me for Skyliners are all pretty useful.

Kindly confirm me on the JR National pass please ?

Also when I am at Osaka, can you confirm me that I can use this JR National pass for my commute to Kyoto and Nara ?

Thanks
Premkumar

deepinprem
deepinprem

Yes, you can take the bullet train with the full JR pass, as I mentioned (just not the fastest version, the Nozomi or Mizuho types). And yes, you can use it to go to Kyoto and Nara (as long as you are taking JR, not Kintetsu).

Toraneko
Toraneko

Hi there

Please see my detailed plan for the Japan Trip that I have planned and also booked for my air tickets and also the hotels.

I need some information around day to day activities that I have planned as per below. I have also planned based on the earlier information provided by you guys.

30 July 2015 Day 1 Land at Tokyo
and Take connecting flight to Osaka (Reach hotel by 9PM) / Check in at Osaka (Hotel Westin)/Need Airport Transfer

31 July 2015 Day 2 Start from Osaka to Kyota by bullet train and take Afternoon tour of Kyota (JR Pass - Day 1)

1 August 2015 Day 3 Start from Osaka to Nara by train and take Afternoon tour of Nara (JR Pass - Day 2)

2 August 2015 Day 4 Visit Dotonbori, plus the night views from the Umeda Sky Bldg,
and Abeno Harukas Bldg, Shopping in Osaka (JR Pass - Day 3)

3 August 2015 Day 5 Check out from Osaka and
Head to Tokyo by Bullet Train/
Check in at Tokyo (Radisson Narita) and
Evening Tokyo city (JR Pass - Day 4)

4 August 2015 Day 6 Celebrate my Birthday at Disney Land (JR pass - Day 5)/Evening Shopping at Akihabara

5 August 2015 Day 7 Day trip to Disney Seas (JR pass - Day 6)/Evening Shopping at Akihabara

6 August 2015 Day 8 Mt Fuji & Hakone 1 Day Tour from Tokyo (JR pass - Day 7)

7 August 2015 Day 9 Plan to Check out by Noon
and Take Airport Shuttle from Radisson Hotel/
Flight back to Sydney from Narita Airport is at 735PM

8 August 2015 Day 10 Land Today morning to Sydney, we come out of airport by 8AM

My questions are as below :

  1. Day 1 - I called the Westin Hotel in Osaka and inquired about the Airport transfer and they said there is an Aiport Shuttle under the bridge towards the Westside once I come out of Osaka ITM Airport (And that is FREE). This shuttle

looks like it operates every 15 min until 9:30PM. Is the information provided to me correct ?

  1. Day 4 - From Westin Hotel in Osaka, how do I go around to places like Dotonbori ? I heard that the Umeda Sky Bldg and Abeno Harukas Bldg are closer, kindly confirm if they are walkable. Do you recommend us to take any day tour to cover these places or we can just cover it by ourselves ?

  2. Day 5 - We will be travelling to Tokyo and Check-in at our hotel in Narita. This is where we got good deal with breakfast and that is the reason I booked this hotel in Narita which I believe is 1 hour away from the Tokyo city, am I

right ?

  1. Day 9 - I was just thinking, to probably do a Day tour of Tokyo on my last day there, like a half day tour (9AM to 1PM) and be back in time to head to the airport and catch our flight at 735PM ? Any Day tour that you can recommend ?
    Also my JR Rail pass would have finished, is it cheaper to buy return train ticket to Tokyo from Narita ?

  2. I am planning to get JR First Class Rail pass so that the seats are comfy and also I would be getting a first preference, do you recommend me to buy the same or a normal JR Rail pass would do for my schedule mentioned above ?

Kindly advice if there is something I should not miss to see please, so that I can plan accordingly ?

Thanks
Prem

deepinprem
deepinprem

Hi Prem,

There are a number of questions that pop up and are making me scratch my head. But to answer your questions in the order you asked them...
Regarding the free hotel transfer from Itami Airport, if the hotel is providing you a free ride, they are in charge of it and I am not in a position to say if their schedule is accurate or not. There is no reason to believe it wouldn't be though.

About getting around Osaka, as you can see on the Westin Westin website you are almost next door to the Umeda Sky Bldg. To go to the Abeno Harukas Bldg, it is too far to walk from your hotel, but very easy to reach by train or subway, and it is literally across the street from Tennoji Station. There are several rail companies you can take, but since you are going to use a JR Pass, you can go to JR Osaka Stn. (see the Westin website map again) and take the loop line to Tennoji. I believe the last time you can go enter the observation deck is 9:30 PM, so be there earlier. If possible, just before sunset is ideal to watch the city change from day to night.
For Dotonbori, from Osaka or Umeda Stn. take the Midosuji subway (you need to pay 240 yen; this is not covered by the Pass) to Namba Stn. and from there it's only a few minutes on foot. It is much, much better at night. I recommend that you go to each place after you see Kyoto and Nara, which would free up Day 4. You could see more of Kyoto or take half a day and go see Himeji and Kokoen Garden, which has Japan's finest castle. You can get there fast by bullet train and add to your savings.

What I find surprising is that you chose a hotel by Narita airport. For your last night it might make sense (but not really, if you want to spend your last morning in Japan seeing Tokyo), but as you already mentioned it is about an hour by train outside of Tokyo and about 60 kilometers away. You can use your JR Pass on the Narita Express for the round trip each day (and maybe even recoup the cost of the JR Pass) but it is an unnecessary waste of two hours of each day. Is there no other closer place in Tokyo you could stay at?

If your departure out of Japan is at 7:35 PM, then you should be at the airport between 5 and 5:30PM at the latest. The transport takes about an hour, so you could stay in Tokyo until 4 to 4:30 or so. There is a cheap 1000 yen bus you can take, but if you want to play it safe and avoid any possible traffic problem, then you could use a Keisei Skyliner Discount Ticket from Ueno Station.
Getting around Tokyo, Osaka etc is quite easy and it is more convenient just doing it yourself without paying for some tour.

I have never met anyone who found the regular bullet train seats to be uncomfortable or unsatisfactory. To me it is not necessary to pay more for the Green Seats. But if you want a bit wider seats etc, you certainly can pay the extra fee for it.

As to what to see in each place, a lot depends on your interests of course. For Kyoto the big 3 places to see are
Kinkakuji, Kiyomizudera and the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Kinkakuji you can see in 45 minutes, tops. Kiyomizudera you can be through in about 90 minutes leisurely. Fushimi Inari could take a couple of hours to all day if you want to romp over every trail. There is more than enough around each place to fill up an entire day. Other places you can look through are the Higashi and Nishi Honganji temples (near Kyoto Station and free), Toji Temple and Sanjusangendo (both near Kyoto Stn. too).

For Nara, the best is all in or near Nara Park, about 20 minutes on foot from the JR Nara Stn. The Todaiji Temple is a must-see place. Also feed the deer around it and don't miss the Kofukuji Temple and Kasuga Shrine. Also close by are the Isuien and Yoshikien Gardens, which most people storm past and don't even notice.

For Tokyo, you can use your JR Pass on the Yamanote Line which stops at numerous popular places for tourists, so it can be quite helpful if you still have time left on your Pass. One of the most popular places to see in Tokyo is the Sensoji Temple. Harajuku on a Sunday afternoon is also amazing to see the youth their in wild fashions, and the walk through Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park next to it is quite relaxing. The Sky Tree is very pricey but has the best view over the whole city - it is close to the Sensoji Temple. There are countless places to go: Shinjuku and Shibuya for shopping, and at night for the endless lights and neon, Odaiba at night for a real adventure, Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Hamarikyu Gardens, Rikugien Garden, Ginza for the overpriced shopping, Kiyosumi Garden, Koishikawa Korakuen Garden, Roppongi for the ex-pat environment, Kappabashi for the mind blowing realistic plastic restaurant displays for sale, etc.
See the links I gave above for lots more ideas.

Good luck.

an example

Toraneko
Toraneko

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