2020/02/09

My Google Map of a Japanese journey in style (Part 1: itinerary)

Location

Criss-cross Japan in 3 weeks: “2nd Golden Triangle” & 3 rural additions

When planning our 3-week Japanese journey (together with my husband), I aimed at a mix of popular places (Tokyo and Kyoto) and some quieter, more rural ones to encounter a different side of the country – and to take a break from the crowds. As always on our trips, I strived for staying at hotels and dining at restaurants that promise to travel in style, what was easier said than done! As Westerner in Japan, you have no feel for what is good and what might be less so. But after a ton of research, I finally managed to put together an itinerary that let my husband and me participate in – as I think – some of the best what this country has to offer.

General

No other place on earth is comparable to Japan. It developed its own unique character due to its long period of isolation from the rest of the world. And this makes it such a fascinating place to travel. At the same time, almost everything appears unfamiliar to you and it is hard to make the right choices in terms of itinerary, hotels and restaurants. Finally, after a lot of work, my Japanese journey was ready, and I am happy to say that it worked out quite well for my husband and me.

As in the past, I used Google My Maps to document our trip. All the things we did as well as all the places we stayed and dined can be found in one map complete with short descriptions and pictures. If you love the finer things in life and simultaneously look for value for money – at least most of times –, then it might be just right for you too!

Before I share my Google Map of Japan with you, I will give some information as to the route and activities to be undertaken in the individual stops. As far as the hotels and restaurants (with tips how to find them) of our Japanese journey are concerned, you will learn about my highlights in this regard in other blogposts to follow.

Route options

If you have, say, eight days available for your Japan trip, then the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Tokyo – Kyoto – Osaka might be the right choice, although of course this time (and this route) will not allow you to experience the true beauty of Japan as you definitely should visit smaller places too.

In case you have two weeks at your disposal for your Japan visit, there is a lesser known yet also well frequented itinerary, the “Second Golden Triangle”, which takes in the towns of Takayama, Shirakawa-go and Kanazawa, amidst the Japanese Alps, in addition to the three cities of the “Golden Triangle”. This route gives you the chance not only to get to know the big cities but also smaller towns and to step back in time as well as to travel deeper.

As we had three weeks for our Japanese journey, we opted for the mentioned “Second Golden Triangle” plus three additions to immerse ourselves even more into the culture, and these were the following ones: Hakone (for Mount Fuji view & national park), Kiso Valley (for Magome and Tsumago, two old postal towns with traditional wooden houses) and Yakushima Island (a subtropical island off the southern coast of Kyushu, which is covered by cedar forests with some of Japan’s oldest trees).

Final itinerary

In this paragraph, I let you know about our exact route – and some problems we had been faced with in the process of booking accommodations and transfers.

As most travelers to Japan, we flew into Tokyo but instead of staying here for a few days, as most people do, we headed directly to Hakone and made Tokyo our last stop before flying out three weeks later. The reason for this was the enthronement of Japan’s new Emperor that took place on our arrival and due to this the lack of suitable hotel rooms at this time.

Hakone can quite easily be reached from Tokyo and is one of the prime places to view Mount Fuji – weather permitting – and home of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park with many attractions.

Next was the lesser frequented Kiso Valley, running alongside the mountains of the Central Alps, where you find the best-preserved post towns in Japan. This place was also the reason for renting a car for the first eight days of our journey (from Tokyo to Kyoto). And no, we did not encounter any problems while driving in Japan, on the contrary, it went smoothly due to a good signage (almost always in English too), a great GPS, well behaved Japanese drivers and low speed limits.

We remained in the mountainous area and went on to Kanazawa
and Takayama,
both located amongst the Japanese Alps and equally called “Little Kyoto” (along with some other towns too). In-between we also visited two villages in the Shirakawa-go region and in a neighboring one. Again, we had to make changes at the itinerary (logically Takayama would be first on the way to Kyoto) as the Kanazawa marathon took place on our initial arrival day – and again no hotel rooms available …

Kyoto,
as mentioned, was next on the list complete with a side trip to Nara
(Japan’s first permanent capital, by train) and the place where we (reluctantly) returned our rental car (we had been so flexible while using it). From this point of time, we mainly got around by train.
For this purpose, we had acquired a Suica Card on our arrival in Tokyo, a prepaid smart card that can be used for most public transport and shopping (e.g. 7-Eleven, very recommended, not comparable to the ones outside of Japan).

A short train ride later from Kyoto, and we arrived in Osaka,
with another side trip to Himeji (castle, by train),
and further on to Fukuoka (Kyushu) by Shinkansen where we immediately boarded a plane to Yakushima,
a lesser traveled, subtropical island famed for its old cedar forests. One more time we were forced to make adjustments at our travel plan, originally we wanted to fly out from Osaka, but all the flights from here on our date of departure were already gone one day after being ready for booking, most probably due to a long weekend taking place at this point of time!


And, as said, our Japanese journey ended in Tokyo,
after flying out from Yakushima via Kagoshima, which was no big deal.


So much to our Japan itinerary. In the following a few words to the things you can do on the route we opted for.

Activities

Detailed information on attractions are to be found on my Google Map. Here, I will go into the general nature of things to do in the different places.

In Hakone, a mountainous town not far from Tokyo, it is all about viewing Mount Fuji, the holiest mountain in Japan, and exploring the natural and man-made wonders of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.

Kiso Valley is the place to experience a great example of historical rural Japan with the charming old postal towns of Magome and Tsumago, which are connected by part of the Nakasendo Trail. This is a super hike to do with lots to see and it is not too strenuous. I will go more into details in one of my next blogposts.

Kanazawa and Takayama are both towns – the former a large town, the latter a small one –, which were spared by the World War II and therefore have lots of wooden merchant houses, which are delightfully preserved. Kanazawa has in addition to this a famous garden and a samurai history. Between these two towns, you can find three villages (OgimachiAinokura
and Suganuma) with A-frame farmhouses known as gassho-zukuri, which is quite a sight.

Kyoto is the city in Japan that is from a cultural point of view the most important one with its more than 1,600 temples. It is recommended not only to visit the top attractions but also to go to less popular ones as this allows you to escape crowds. Sightseeing in Kyoto involves a lot of walking as many highlights are close together. Work your way from one neighborhood to the other. A side trip to Nara with its important (and large) temples complete with an abundance of deer is quite a worthwhile thing to do, in my opinion half a day is sufficient for this. For a three and a half-day itinerary, refer to my Google Map in the next paragraph.

The neighboring city of Osaka is quite different from Kyoto as here it is all about shopping, from very whimsical shopping streets to “normaler” ones. A side trip to Himeji to see the beautiful castle is well-worth doing.

Yakushima, a short distance away from Kyushu’s south coast, is a secluded and largely unspoilt nature paradise famed for its old cedar forests. And luckily, you can see its main sights in a few days. Activities include driving around its perimeter and hiking (attention: quite hilly with steep climbs and extremely wet climate). More about our stay here can be found in one of my next blogposts.

Last but not least, the megacity of Tokyo is impressive just because of its sheer size. Must-dos to realize its dimensions are taking in its panoramic views, be it from Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo City View and Sky Deck or others. Work your way from one neighborhood to the other and visit the particular attractions. This involves long walks but also using the subway and busses quite often. Have a look at my Google Map below where I propose a three-day route.

This is it what I wanted to share with you about our Japan trip regarding itinerary and activities. I will not go further into the well known places in Japan just as Kyoto or Tokyo, so much has already been written about them on the internet. However, there will be a post about our stays in the lesser visited spots of Kiso Valley and Yakushima Island in the time to come.

But here and now to my Google Map of Japan I keep telling you about.

My Google Map of our Japanese journey

My apologies for making you wait until the end of my blogpost for my Google Map of our three-week trip across Japan in style complete with all our activities, hotels and restaurants including short descriptions and pictures, but it is finally here (do not view pictures with Safari, they do not show with this browser):


If you are not only interested in the itinerary and things do in the particular places, then stay tuned. My next three blogposts will be about the topics of hotels
and restaurants,
including tips how to find them, in Japan. So much can be said in advance, it is no easy thing as Westerner to figure out where to stay and dine in style in the land of the rising sun.

Date of visit: November 2019



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The post My Google Map of a Japanese journey in style (Part 1: itinerary) first appeared on Swiss Traveler

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