A couple of years ago, when someone asked me about Japan I was all about “yeah it is too far and not very exotic, I don’t want to go I am sure it is not worth the trip…” Then I ended up working for a Japanese Company and had to travel to Tokyo for a week and this is when I realised I was all wrong and wanted to go back asap with my best travel companion. It happened that we had friends on their world tour there during the cherry blossom season so we booked tickets and here are the things we did during the 2 week trip.
Itinerary on two weeks
Tokyo: 5 nights
Nikko: 1 night
Mt Fuji: 1 night
Hakone: 2 nights
Kyoto: 5 nights
I don’t think there is a best season to visit Japan but the cherry blossom’s one (Sakura) is definitely one of the most popular. If you are planning to go at this period, make sure to check the cherry blossom forecast as it would be a shame to miss them by one week ! The first blooms in Kyoto show up usually later than in Tokyo.
Finally, before you carry on reading, keep in mind that Japan is expensive. It might be worth saving a little bit more before going to be able to have something else than 7/11 meal deals (which are amazing by the way) and stay in a traditional Ryokan !
- Japan Rail pass: yes it is expensive but
definitely worth it especially if you are
planning to follow the above itinerary
(or take as many trains).
Aside from heavily discounted train tickets
you will get free seat reservations and for
some trains you will only need to show your pass
and that's it. Unlike us, don't forget to bring
your passport when picking the card up!
- Tokyo: for more details check the post on Tokyo
but basically I would recommend the Tokyo Subway
Tickets 24, 48 or 72-hour tickets for unlimited travels.
Tokyo is a city I have been twice so far and where I would like to go back again and again ! Check the Tokyo post for more information. Kyoto is also a city that deserves its own post check it out.
Nikko is a very small town with a very large, beautifully decorated shrine. It is definitely the main reason why you would go there but not only. Nikko could also be a day trip from Tokyo especially as it starts to be very quiet there from 5pm (cafes and most restaurants close early).
To get there
2h30 minutes by JR train
(don't forget to change at Utsunomiya,
we almost missed it) arriving at Imaichi
station (there are two stations in Nikko).
Where to stay
Nikko Cottage (your very own traditional
japanese house, the house's owner lives
across the street and is the nicest ever -
she picked us up from the station and dropped us back!)
What can't be missed
- The Toshogu's shrine
(we went there a couple of hours before closing
time the end of day atmosphere was surreal!)
- Lake Chuzenji, it is a short bus ride on a
very scenic moutain road (quite high in altitude
it was freezing up there)
- The Shinkyo Bridge, very romantic sacred bridge
(you can't walk on it!)
Where to eat
- On the shore of the lake at this traditional fish restaurant
(ask the cook about his transformer figurine,
he will be delighted to tell you more !)
- have a red bean filling sweet donut in
the shape of a fish (I cant remember the names of those sorry !
We found some just at the entrance of the shrine.
Mt Fuji, obviously it is the name of the most famous and highest mountain in Japan but it is also the name that is given to the area around the volcano (which does not help), where you arrive and stay is called Kawaguchiko!
To get there (from Nikko through Tokyo)
Early train from Nikko (6am) to Tokyo
(through Utsunomia again - 1h44).
Then the Fuji Kyuko bus
(this is where it gets tricky -
to find the correct bus: exit the train station
at Yaesu South) 2 hour bus ride.
Where to stay
As you can imagine it is a very touristy place
so you will have lots of different options.
The price range of the one we chose is quite
high but we wanted to have our first onsen experience
with the Mt Fuji as backdrop. The Fujisan Onsen Kaneyamen hotel decor
is a bit outdated but it definitly makes it better,
katas are recommended for breakfast and the rooftop
onsen is amazing (check the dates online it was male only
on the night we went I was gutted but
I had to go to the basement one which is not bad either.)
What can't be missed:
- The lake Kawaguchi (there are two or three other
lakes but no need to go to the others
this one is the biggest and most beautiful one)
- The view from the Chureito Pagoda
(we had to climb up there with our backpacks
twice as the first time the Mt Fuji was in the cloud!!)
Hakkone my favourite part of this trip (beside Tokyo), small moutain town but with plenty to do and see!
How to get there (from Mt Fuji)
It has not been the easiest thing to get there
(but so much worth it). We took a first bus from kawaguchiko
to Gotemba (Fujikyu line) then the Hakone-Tonzan bus line
for Motohakone (we stopped at Gora). It took us approx.
2 hours and 30 minutes.
Where to stay
I would recommend Gora (a very lively and central area).
We stayed in the best airbnb I have ever been to,
Megumi owns the Paseo cafe (even if you don't stay there,
go for breakfast or tea it is the cutest cafe ever!),
rents her house which is just behind
(look for the cafe on the airbnb map to find it)
and will let you use her own private onsen
(very cool to be able to be in an onsen
with your travel partner for a change!).
What can't be missed
- The Open Air Museum, I could go back to Hakone only for this museum.
I loved it (don't miss the foot bath!)
- The ropeway (not to be mixed up with the cable car for us french people 😉
very useful means of transportation too in Hakone)
must do to see the Owakudani volcano (very impressive!)
and the Lake Ashinoko.
- A boat trip on the Lake Ashinoko
(for some reasons we did not take the pirates ships -
that I believe are included with the Hakone free pass -
we took the other ones!) to the Hakone Shrine
and a very famous view onto the Mt Fuji.
- When exiting the ropeway station you can walk
along the lake to the second boat stop
(it is a bit less expensive,
very scenic and makes you loose last night's ramen).
We also did another hike on a part of the Tokyo-Kyoto
hiking path (ask for a hiking map at the tourist info center).
Where to eat
- Studio Cafe Shima, a very cosy nook to have a piece of
cake and match tea within this photography studio! Love it !
- Paseo (see where to stay above)
- Gora Brewery and Grill, beautiful setting, locally brewed beers
and delicious sushis and meat (a bit pricey but so much worth it -
dont forget to book in advance !!)
To Hakone we then took the train from Gora station (very cool train ride) to Odawara station and then Kyoto. Check my Kyoto post for more.
I hope this post includes some useful tips. Do not hesitate to ask any questions in comments if you want to know more ! Enjoy Japan !