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Japan vacation, End of January till mid Febuary

about 5 years ago
2 responses

Howdy everyone,

First, thanks for any help you might be able to give. My wife and I have browsed through the forums and still need a bit of help on our trip thats coming up here within the month. Any thoughts, advise or help would be very much appreciated!!!

Here's our itinerary and rough travel plans so far. We are unsure yet the best modes to travel, whether it be JR or other, and if theres other places along the way that we NEED to check out (side note, we are intrigued with design, culture, fashion, nature, etc, any thoughts for these would be great), advise is very welcome.

January 30th arrive @ Narita in evening, 19:00. Do we stay here or travel straight into Tokyo City (long travel and potential jet lag, traveling from the USA)?
Jan 30/31st through Feb 2/3rd Tokyo City (Where to stay, what to see?)
Feb 2/3rd through 4/5th, train from Tokyo City to Kyoto
Feb 4/5th through 10th, car, bus, or train to the Japan Alps for ~week of skiing. Within this area we were thinking a hotel/lodge "base" would be best but we would like to travel around within Hakuba, Nagano, and nearby ski resorts, Hiuchi Chamant, Nozawa Onsen, Seki, Myoto, Tsugaike. Would bus be best?
After that its pretty much back to Tokyo (probably via JR) and then Narita and home on Feb 14th.

We thought about more travel within Japan but frankly want to be able to spend a bit of time in each place and most time in the Alps to ski. (Are we crazy not to be visiting Hokkaido?)

Anyone with any thoughts or recommendations would be again much appreciated! Thanks for your time!

TOM Bender

1951 posts
about 5 years ago
Expert button 2

Hi Tom,

I think you've got a great looking trip ahead of you and don't think it's necessary to visit Hokkaido (if just for the snow) as there is some great skiing in the Alps.

General comments

  1. I recommend staying in Tokyo on the first night. Yes you will have to travel into town, but Narita is not a very interesting place and so I think it's better to bite the bullet and get into town (1 hr trip by train).
  2. Hotels are pretty tough to recommend as they depend on a lot of factors, but based on your interests, I recommend looking for places in Shibuya, Aoyama, Meguro/Naka-Meguro and Daikanyama. Shinjuku is close by, but doesn't have much in the way of design/culture/fashion (more times-square). Roppongi is nice for a night out but maybe not to stay, and the area around Tokyo station (Marunouchi/Ginza) is maybe a bit too "businessey".
  3. For things to do I really recommend a guidebook of some sort. Tokyo changes all the time and so a good guide book like the lonely planet city guides are a good way to plan your trip before you go. In addition to this, I think the 'must sees' for you while you are there will be Harajuku/Yoyogi park, Tsukiji fish market and Roppongi Hills. You'll also probably really like wandering around the Omote-Sando area.
  4. For your skiing area Nagano and Nozawa are both on the same line, however Hakuba and others are separated by mountain ranges which will require a change at Matsumoto and back up into the alps if travelling by train.

Ski options

  1. Hakuba + surrounding area
  2. Gala Yuzawa + surrounding area
  3. Nozawa onsen + trips to Nagano/Gala Yuzawa

Gala Yuzawa is easiest to reach from Tokyo/Kyoto as it sits on a bullet train line. Gala is huge with over 20 different areas, and has good access to lots of further ski towns by rail by bus. For a more traditional stay, Nozawa Onsen is hard to beat and you'll still have access to Nagano and Gala Yuzawa. Hakuba is a bit of a wildcard choice I think. It's a wonderful hidden alpine village, but this comes at the price of access by train being time consuming. As with Gala-Yuzawa, Hakuba offers a variety of ski resorts all within bus distance (Happo-one, Hakuba 47, Hakuba Goryu, Sanosaka, Iwatake, Minetake and Highland).

Gala-Yuzawa will have better facilities, but will be more crowded due to easy access to Tokyo. Hakuba will have decent facilities and is likely to be quieter than Gala-Yuzawa, with Nozawa Onsen being somewhere in the middle, but perhaps less suitable for travelling around to different places.

Travel options

As a recommendation for your travel, lets breakdown your JR costs, assuming you'll go to Hakuba and stay in Shibuya:

  1. Narita airport terminal 1 > Shibuya: ¥3,110 (85mins, 93km)
  2. Shibuya > Kyoto: ¥13,420 (176mins, 514km)
  3. Kyoto > Hakuba: ¥13,000 (293mins, 395km)
  4. Hakuba > Tokyo: ¥10,990 (288mins, 344km)
  5. Tokyo > Narita airport terminal 1: ¥3,140 (58mins, 79km)

JR ticket cost: ¥43,660 for 5 legs

Based on your above travel alone, I don't think a JR Pass will be vastly better value than single tickets. A 7 day pass (¥28,300) between Tokyo and Hakuba would make sense if you spend a further ¥1880 on JR tickets during that time, and 14 day pass (¥45,100) would make sense if you did another ¥5000 of rail travel between the 1st and 14th. As you mention that you'd like to take things at a leisurely pace and enjoy the alps I think you need to weigh up the benefits of flexibility the JR Pass gives you with the possibility of you wanting to visit further locations than you list.

Well, I hope this helps and you have a great trip!

2 posts
about 5 years ago

Mari, thank a ton for you help and insight, this will definitely put us on our way in true fashion!

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