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3 weeks in japan -- railpasses, tickets, or a combination?

3 weeks in Japan -- railpasses, tickets, or a combination?

We - three of us - are planning our first trip to Japan. We initially figured on getting 3-week railpasses but then I read somewhere that train reservations may be difficult to obtain for some trains around popular times, eg festivals and cherry blossom season which is exactly when we will be there (and in particular, going to the Takayama spring festival).

But if we end up getting tickets, we think it will be much more expensive than a railpass. Maybe a combination of pass or passes and tickets would work?

And overall, our trip seems quite packed, so we've tried to spend a couple of longer stretches based in Tokyo and Kyoto. Here's our plan:

March 29 - Day 1 - arrive late afternoon in Tokyo (Haneda) after 12 hour flight from europe
March 30 - Day 2 - Tokyo - sightseeing (eg Asakusa Sensoji Temple, Tokyo Edo Museum, Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, Odaiba)
March 31 - Day 3 - Tokyo - Tsukiji Market, Meiji Jingu, some of the parks and gardens for cherry blossom viewing
April 1 - Day 4 - Day trip to Nikko or Kamakura (although Shibazakura at Hitsujiyama Park in Chichibu looks tempting to visit also / instead)
April 2 - Day 5 - Tokyo - Sumo practice, rest of day to catch anything we missed above
April 3 - Day 6 - Sakuragi (near Kakegawa) for Yamaha piano factory tour, then to Hakone
April 4 - Day 7 - Hakone - Mt Fuji area, Gotemba Peace Park, Hakone ropeway
April 5 - Day 8 - Hakone - above continued, then travel to Kyoto at end of day
April 6-9 - Days 9-12 - Kyoto - sightseeing temples, tea ceremony, origami kyo-yuzen course, samurai kembu theatre (April 8 - Day trip from Kyoto to Nara)
April 10 - Day 13 - Kyoto to Hiroshima, stopping at Himeji and Kurashiki along the way
April 11 - Day 14 - Hiroshima - Peace Memorial Park, A-bomb museum, travel to Miyajima island and overnight there
April 12 - Day 15 - Miyajima island - Itsukashima shrine, explore the island
April 13 - Day 16 - Travel to Kanazawa to visit Kenrokuen, then on to Takayama to overnight there
April 14 - Day 17 - Takayama - Spring Festival
April 15 - Day 18 - Takayama - Spring Festival
April 16 - Day 19 - travel to Osaka, overnight there
April 17 - Day 20 - Osaka - sightseeing, acquarium
April 18 - Day 21 - depart for home from Kansai Airport

For the transport summary, it would be:
Tokyo
Nikko (or Kamakura or Chichibu)
Tokyo
Sakuragi
Hakone
Kyoto
Nara
Kyoto
Himeji
Kurashiki
Hiroshima
Miyajima
Kanazawa
Takayama
Osaka

One other question, we know it is a long trip from Miyajima to Kanazawa, to have a few hours in garden in the afternoon, then get on to Takayama. Any suggestions for how to do that better, given that we need to end up in Takayama that night for the Spring Festival the next day?

Suggestions and advice gratefully received!
Many thanks,
Jebster

adk
adk

Hi Jebster,

For this itinerary a 21 day JR Pass is a no brainer for sure - even if you don't go up to Takayama. Also having a JR Pass or not does not change the chance for reserving seats. Did you know that it is possible to make seat reservations right away once you arrive in Japan? You could do so directly at Narita Airport - this will give you more than enough time to reserve the seats in time.

As the trip from Miyajima - Takayama, it's a rather long one. An alternative to going to Kanazawa would be to go with the Shinkansen to Nagoya and take the train from there to Takayama, I believe that this route is shorter and you could enjoy an hour or two in Nagoya.

Hope this helps,
Daniel

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Daniel-san
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