Author Topic: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan  (Read 6463 times)

Case

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advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« on: March 23, 2016, 11:33:00 AM »
This summer my wife and I are going on vacation to Japan and I was wondering if people with knowledge on the area can weigh in on ways to have a semi-frugal, good time.  I say semi-frugal, because we don't want to cheap-out on this one; we already live pretty frugally, but if we don't make the most of this trip then I feel like we are wasting our time.  That said, I understand that the rule of diminishing returns applies to most situations (incremental increase in quality for big increase in price), and so some fun/cost optimization is ok.

Our tickets are purchased and we are arriving at Tokyo/Narita airport.  We know for sure that we are going to visit Tokyo and Kyoto; the latter because we are attending an academic conference there.  Probably 1 week in Kyoto, 1 week in Tokyo, and 1 week remaining to fill up.  We figured we'd use AirBnB's for a decent portion of our lodging.  It seems like the the bullet train is the best way to get around although rather expensive.

Thoughts?!?

IllusionNW

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2016, 01:59:43 PM »
Look into the JR rail pass. Train travel is otherwise pretty expensive. Also, you can eat well by going to the food courts in the basement of department stores.

Kwill

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2016, 02:40:03 PM »
I hope you have a great trip!

Overnight highway buses can be a good, inexpensive option for travel between Kyoto and Tokyo, though they might be tricky to navigate if you don't speak Japanese. If you Google highway bus Japan, you should find several options with English-language websites. With those, the further in advance you book, the better. You can get around for a fraction of the cost of the bullet train. But if you're not on a strict budget, yes, the bullet train would be faster and more comfortable, especially if you don't sleep well on buses.

I've never used the JR rail pass. I have the impression that it limits you to the slower trains and so might not be the best bargain if you are doing most of your travel in a few long-distance days. Also, I don't know the limits on which rail lines are included or excluded. Look into the details, though. Lots of people seem to use this.

International debit cards work in ATMs at 7-11 stores and post offices, so those are good places to withdraw cash. Also the airports have ATMs that work with international cards.

You can get prepaid phones at Narita, but once you leave the airport, you may have a very hard time getting a phone or SIM card without proof of residency. You may be able to get by without phones if you're just there for a couple weeks. I'd at least take a smartphone for email and Skype.

I'd check the various options before committing to Air B&B. Most of the time I've stayed in either long-term accommodations or with friends, so I don't have a good sense of hotel prices. But there are lots of options out there. Maybe check booking.com?

Around train stations, there are lots of fast food Japanese places with photo menus and machines to buy meal tickets. These are easy to use and have the kind of quick, cheap, hot comfort food Japanese meals (around $5) that you can't get in the States. You wouldn't want to do that for every meal, but I think they're fun. I wish there were some near me now. Right now. Here is a page with little intros for the big fast food chains. Yoshinoya and Sukiya are the type I'm thinking of in particular, but there are little places like that for curry and ramen and all sorts of things. https://www.tofugu.com/japan/japanese-fast-food/

Nederstash

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2016, 03:41:16 PM »
Summer is a cheap time to go, because you're going after the cherry blossom season and it's relatively humid and warm. Definitely get a JR pass. It'll get you to all the cities you want and you can use it on the Yamanote line in Tokyo. It's cheaper than a return ticket Tokyo-Kyoto and you can use it for 7 days. Also, in Tokyo get a metro card. Much cheaper than separate tickets and the city is far too big for walking everywhere. Hotels/ryokan can be quite cheap as well, do your research on booking.com. I stayed in hostels on my first trip and never paid over 15 USD a night. Second trip was hotels/ryokan and I kept it under 25 USD a night (single room). Oh and from Narita, get the Keisei line instead of the express. It's slower but it'll save you a pretty buck.

People say Japan is really expensive but I never had that experience. Maybe I lucked out on the exchange rate two times in row. The Japanese are really neat and cleanly so even cheap hotels are generally not dirty. But always read the reviews on booking sites...

wepner

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2016, 05:58:20 PM »
It's for sure WAY cheaper to go to Kyoto from Tokyo by overnight bus and you aren't missing out on too much that way. The shinkansen is pretty cool but its not a must do in Japan IMO. I never got a rail pass but I've heard they are pretty useful. There isn't a discount for getting a metro card as far as I remember, but it's way more convenient and you can get back, at least most of your deposit when you leave.

Make sure you go to Kamakura when you are in Toyko.  A Ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) is super cool and would be worth it to stay a night somewhere, bonus points if it has a hot spring.

yakamashii

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2016, 06:44:49 PM »
If you're going to do Tokyo-Kyoto once plus some modest side trips here and there, you may come out ahead with the 7-day JR Railpass over the 14- or 21-day passes. From my experience with visitors (people I know, and people I didn't know before but helped), buying more than needed is common.

That said, there is peace of mind in not having to do the math or fish around for money for every train ride, and knowing that it's all covered ahead of time. If your attention is consumed with all the other parts of this foreign culture in addition to the other person with you, it may be worth it to cover the whole trip with the Railpass. To check up on your destinations and do some math, try the Jorudan site:

http://www.jorudan.co.jp/english/

Tokyo Metro (subway) offers 600-yen day passes, and other passes that allow you to use the other subway company's lines and JR lines:

http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/value/1day/index.html

Pair this with Jorudan to do the math and see if/when the passes would be worth it.

Highway buses typically cost 50% of the Shinkansen over the same route. Overnight buses add the bonus of saving on a hotel night. They are far more comfortable than Greyhounds. One negative is that drop-off times are typically pretty early in the morning, when convenience stores are about the only thing open. And drivers don't worry too much about keeping to the schedule if they're ahead of time - I've been dropped off 60-90 minutes early several times, and there's about as much to do in cities at 5:30 as there is at 7:00.

I've had mixed experiences with AirBNB and have found it difficult to beat Toyoko Inn in terms of value. Toyoko Inn will charge around 8,000 yen for two people and include a decent breakfast. To beat that significantly with AirBNB, you may have to share a room or a toilet, and either way you're on your own for breakfast, which Japan doesn't do very well. Your mileage will most certainly vary, and meeting people and tackling challenges are probably part of the reason you're taking this trip, so AirBNB is probably a good bet for you. I travel for business, and a bad night of sleep and other unpredictable events cost me more than the 1,000 or 2,000 yen I'd save with a decent AirBNB place. Just throwing this out there.

You may have heard about onsen (hot springs), and I implore you not to miss that experience. If it's just you and your wife, you will not be able to enjoy it together unless you rent a private bath someplace, but for the cheaper version of public bathing, sento (public baths) are truly Mustachian. Tokyo and Kyoto are full of them.

http://www.tokyo-sento.com/
http://www.sentoguide.info/baths/kyoto/kyoto

Super-cheap AirBNB with questionable or no bathroom + sento? Very Mustachian.

Tetsuya Hondo

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #6 on: March 23, 2016, 06:53:51 PM »
For cheap eats, hit the ramen, okonomiyaki, katsudon joints, train stations (even the stalls on platforms have good food - look for ones with lines of people getting the same thing to identify the speciality there), markets, and... convenience stores! It's all good. Really. If you can eat it in Japan, it's probably going to be good. Ok, I wouldn't over do it at convenience stores (Lawsons, 7-11, Familiy Mart - as a bonus they all have ATMs that take American cards) but they work in a pinch and can have some shockingly good fried food. The packaged stuff is fun too and best enjoyed with a tall can of Yebisu. As others said, the basement of department stores always have good fast and cheap options.

There are lots of hotels in Tokyo and Kyoto that are reasonably priced. Tripadvisor has been good to me in finding those. That said, a ryokan is money well spent. I only stayed one night in one but I felt like I was there a month... in a good way. I also had the best breakfast I've ever had. Kyoto, not Tokyo, is the place for that.

If you're in Kyoto, Nara is worth a day trip. If you want to try a splurge kaiseki meal in Kyoto, the best deal in town is probably Giro Giro, which hits all the kaiseki high notes without the stuffy atmosphere and price tag.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2016, 07:30:33 PM by Tetsuya Hondo »

Kwill

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2016, 03:55:51 PM »
Highway buses typically cost 50% of the Shinkansen over the same route. Overnight buses add the bonus of saving on a hotel night. They are far more comfortable than Greyhounds. One negative is that drop-off times are typically pretty early in the morning, when convenience stores are about the only thing open. And drivers don't worry too much about keeping to the schedule if they're ahead of time - I've been dropped off 60-90 minutes early several times, and there's about as much to do in cities at 5:30 as there is at 7:00.

One place that is open at that hour is the internet cafe that will probably be near the train station / bus stop. If you want to try an internet cafe, the morning after an overnight bus could be a good time. The big internet cafes will offer showers and hot beverages as part of the hourly rate, and if you sign out the shower key, you should also get shower gel, shampoo, a disposable razor, and maybe a disposable toothbrush and tiny toothpaste. The computer access, manga, movies, etc. are almost just a bonus. You might be charged extra if you don't have your own towel, though.

limeandpepper

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #8 on: March 24, 2016, 10:01:41 PM »
Posting to follow, have enjoyed reading the responses so far.

My partner and I considered going to Japan during our multi-month travels in Asia a couple years back, but we were basically doing things on a whim (i.e. hey we have 2 more weeks in Thailand, so we better start deciding where to go next?), and so we didn't have the time to work out an ideal itinerary and research how to keep costs low in a country like Japan, e.g. whether to get the rail pass or just buy as we go. Would love to visit Japan sometime when we have the time to figure out how to do things right.

kunostories

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #9 on: March 25, 2016, 01:26:25 AM »
So far, you're doing it right. Tokyo and Kyoto are the best destinations. Skip Osaka. While in Kyoto, take a day trip to Nara and visit Tōdai-ji and chill out with the deer that roam the city park areas.

Everything you need to know about visiting Japan can be found on this website. I referenced it a lot before going and it's spot on.

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

EconDiva

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #10 on: March 25, 2016, 09:02:23 AM »
Eat lots and lots of yakisoba!  Oh soooooo good :)

dapperdanj

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #11 on: March 25, 2016, 04:26:08 PM »
A few tips:

  • Get the Hyatt Visa card, and use your free nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo/Shinjuku. $75 for a thousand bucks of hotel stay, and it's one of the greatest hotels there is!
  • +1 to ramen. Also, in Kyoto, there are a bunch of Japanese curry + rice joints near the university. Those are cheap, filling, and delicious!
  • Check ahead for train deals - there are sometimes combo passes from airports into town that can be pretty cost-effective
  • If you're really going to go for it, get a Sapphire Preferred card and the new 35k point Starwood Amex, and use that for hotels as well. Sleeping is going to be a big expense, so if you can points anything, you should!
  • In Tokyo you can get a surface rail pass, and you can use that to get almost anywhere in town on the ring line. We used that instead of the subway and it worked well

Have a blast. Japan is wo

Amesenator

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #12 on: March 25, 2016, 05:13:04 PM »
Great tips!

Have any of the experienced Japan commenters ever walked/trekked on one of the old post roads (e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/20/travel/in-japan-hiking-an-ancient-trail-to-see-rural-life.html)?

Nederstash

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #13 on: March 27, 2016, 01:06:06 PM »
Great tips!

Have any of the experienced Japan commenters ever walked/trekked on one of the old post roads (e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/20/travel/in-japan-hiking-an-ancient-trail-to-see-rural-life.html)?

The link doesn't work, but I'm assuming they mean the old trail through the Kiso valley? Magome is one of the old towns there I think. I haven't done that, but I've read it's highly recommended.

Amesenator

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #14 on: March 27, 2016, 02:07:42 PM »
Sorry the link doesn't work - yes, the article discusses traveling through Kiso. Sounds marvelous,

redbird

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #15 on: March 27, 2016, 03:26:13 PM »
So far, you're doing it right. Tokyo and Kyoto are the best destinations. Skip Osaka. While in Kyoto, take a day trip to Nara and visit Tōdai-ji and chill out with the deer that roam the city park areas.

Everything you need to know about visiting Japan can be found on this website. I referenced it a lot before going and it's spot on.

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

I actually recommend going to Osaka if you're into anime, video games, and other pop culture. I like Den Den Town better than Akihabara personally. It's less crowded and you can actually find some better deals.

I recommend taking a thermos or some other refillable bottle to use for water. Japan is VERY hot and humid in the summer, and the Japanese kinda cheap out on the A/C sometimes so it can be almost as hot, or sometimes even hotter, than outside when you're in stores. You don't want to get dehydrated. You'll be able to take it with you pretty much everywhere if it has a lid/is close-able, to include to restaurants.

Unless you take the slow overnight buses, you're going to be best off buying the JR Rail Pass. It will pay itself off in only 1 trip between Tokyo and Kyoto. When you are in Tokyo, you can take the train everywhere you want to go. It's clean, fast, reliable, and decently priced. Same is true for Osaka. Kyoto has limited train service within the city itself. You're going to have to walk and/or take buses to places you want to see.

Tom Bri

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #16 on: March 27, 2016, 05:10:05 PM »
It's just me, but I'd say stay away from Tokyo unless you have something specific you want to see there. It is much more expensive than other parts of Japan, and in my experience not very friendly.

I suggest visiting any of the smaller seaside towns and spending a few days in a ryokan. Also, there are lots of neat mountain villages and small towns. People tend to be friendly and inquisitive in these places, though finding English speakers is harder.

I second the suggestions above re the onsen experience, and getting a rail pass.

Do you have anyone there who can smooth things for you? A Japanese person who can call a ryokan and make sure they have space. Generally, Japanese people are very friendly and helpful, so don't be afraid to stop a cop or train station personnel to ask for directions.

halftimer

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #17 on: March 27, 2016, 06:33:35 PM »
I found this site very helpful for a recent Mustachian trip to Tokyo and Kyoto  https://tokyocheapo.com
The starter page has photo guides for getting to Tokyo from either airport, with cost comparisons and lots of info about the rail packages available https://tokyocheapo.com/business/internet/beginners-guide-to-tokyo/

Unlike the other replies - we did do the Shinkansen, and skipped the JR rail pass. The bullet train was one of the key 'sights' on our list so we do not regret that.   Definitely have food at 7-11 and Sukiya and department store basements, they are easy and cheap and will free up your yen for some awesome shabu shabu or other splurge meal.

In Kyoto - I recommend climbing up to Arashiyama Monkey Park. It is a small entrance fee, and a half decent workout. The trail is lovely, and the view at the top and the monkey interactions are so worth it.  http://monkeypark.jp/en/
Of course it doesn't hurt, that this is just past the bamboo forest, and by the lovely Oi River.

Case

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #18 on: March 29, 2016, 02:15:47 PM »
This summer my wife and I are going on vacation to Japan and I was wondering if people with knowledge on the area can weigh in on ways to have a semi-frugal, good time.  I say semi-frugal, because we don't want to cheap-out on this one; we already live pretty frugally, but if we don't make the most of this trip then I feel like we are wasting our time.  That said, I understand that the rule of diminishing returns applies to most situations (incremental increase in quality for big increase in price), and so some fun/cost optimization is ok.

Our tickets are purchased and we are arriving at Tokyo/Narita airport.  We know for sure that we are going to visit Tokyo and Kyoto; the latter because we are attending an academic conference there.  Probably 1 week in Kyoto, 1 week in Tokyo, and 1 week remaining to fill up.  We figured we'd use AirBnB's for a decent portion of our lodging.  It seems like the the bullet train is the best way to get around although rather expensive.

Thoughts?!?

Thank you all for the detailed responses.  This info has/will help a lot.

Shinkansen-wise, I think we will probably use; I have been on it before but my wife has not and so I think it would be a fun experience for her.  We will need to find a way to optimize our JR rail pass though... we have to travel from Chiba to Kyoto early on in the trip, and then there will be a week where we are in Kyoto (so we wont be using the JR lines very much if at all)... and then we'll be returning to Tokyo towards the end of the trip.  We probably wont use the overnight bus but appreciate the suggestions.  THe main issue is that my wife and I are terrible light sleepers, and I doubt we'd be able to sleep even if it is a luxurious bus (though prove me wrong?).  I don't think losing sleep is worth it on an international trip.  Otherwise I'd probably be down for it.

I think we'll be trying to take the suggestions to both see and not see Kyoto/Tokyo.  We have to see Kyoto (work) and I want to see Tokyo because it seems like it represents everything that is Japan and I probably wont get to come back to Japan any time soon.  However, we are thinking about spending several days in more report cities/towns, perhaps in the Japan Alps.

We'll have to do some price comparisons for Toyoko Inns vs Air BnBs.  We don't mind small rooms, but I think we would like our own private toilet/bath and it's unclear from some hotel/ryokan websites if the rooms contain private bathrooms.
I'm also hoping to spend a night or two in a ryokan.

The water bottle idea is a great one, and we'll definitely be doing that!

We'll probably try to go to an onsen too (not sure if my wife is down with that though!).  One question is, where do you put your passport while in the baths?  I'd be nervous about leaving it anywhere not locked up.... and generally prefer to have it on my person at all times.

Foodwise, I look forward to consuming everything possible.

Kwill

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #19 on: March 29, 2016, 05:14:45 PM »
We'll probably try to go to an onsen too (not sure if my wife is down with that though!).  One question is, where do you put your passport while in the baths?  I'd be nervous about leaving it anywhere not locked up.... and generally prefer to have it on my person at all times.

There's usually a locker area in the changing room. Really small local place that are more like public bathing houses might just have baskets or something, but mostly I think there will be lockers anywhere you are likely to go. Japanese people won't be carrying passports to onsen, but they'll be carrying wallets, cell phones, etc. that need to be stored safely. Bonus tip: If you have glasses and dip them into the water, they'll stop fogging up.

If you want to be able to read a little bit before you go, this site is particularly useful. Even if you only do the free sample chapter, you'll be better off in terms of getting around. http://kanji.koohii.com/

Stashing Swiss-style

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #20 on: March 30, 2016, 03:22:19 AM »
Posting to follow.  My 14 year old son is desperate to go to Japan and I have been trying to work out how we can afford a 2-week trip with the 5 of us in October.  It seems it might be possible if I follow all the great advice given so far!

Doubleh

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #21 on: March 30, 2016, 06:47:00 AM »
Having lived for some months in Tokyo and visited Kyoto for a few days, I would question spending a whole week in Kyoto. It is an amazing city and you literally can't walk without stumbling into another UNESCO world heritage site so there is no shortage of things to do. But I personally found that after a couple of days I started to suffer from "temple fatigue" and believe this is relatively common.

By far the highlight of my time in Japan - if that is the right word - was a weekend in Hiroshima. This included a visit to the unbelievably moving peace museum and just generally taking in the sights of what is a bustling and cosmopolitan city, a world away from how I had imagined a nuclear bomb site to be. I definitely would consider carving off some of your time to go here, you won't regret it.

And yes as far as food goes its pretty much all good. Don't be afraid of photos or models, they are not a sign of bad food. High prices and English on the menu are a sure sign of overpriced tourist trap. What you want to look for are street food, small rooms which look like someone's house, seats at the bar and one or two specialist dishes. I can almost taste the ramen...

dodojojo

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #22 on: March 30, 2016, 08:24:46 AM »
I lived in Japan for two years...in the 90's (though I have visited twice in the 2000's) so I've refrained from offering any outdated advice.  But since you're visiting with your wife, have you considered trying a love hotel?  I never did but I remember some fellow English teachers using them in a pinch because they were actually cheaper than a regular hotel.  And think of the novelty factor.


dodojojo

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #23 on: March 30, 2016, 08:32:48 AM »
Another value meal option is the teishoku restaurants for business workers or "salaryman."  It's basically cafeteria food for the millions of office drones, often men.  They rush to the restaurant, pay a set price of about 600-700 yen (this was about 10 years ago) and pick up a protein, a couple of side/vegetable dishes, miso soup, rice and tea.  Seating is usually cafeteria style--long tables shared by all.  The salaryman will wolf down their food and run.  I love home-style Japanese food and I would eat teishoku lunch a million times over a Mickey D happy meal.

Having said all that, definitely splurge a little and enjoy some of the finer fare in Japan.  So delicious!

Case

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #24 on: March 31, 2016, 11:14:11 AM »
Having lived for some months in Tokyo and visited Kyoto for a few days, I would question spending a whole week in Kyoto. It is an amazing city and you literally can't walk without stumbling into another UNESCO world heritage site so there is no shortage of things to do. But I personally found that after a couple of days I started to suffer from "temple fatigue" and believe this is relatively common.

By far the highlight of my time in Japan - if that is the right word - was a weekend in Hiroshima. This included a visit to the unbelievably moving peace museum and just generally taking in the sights of what is a bustling and cosmopolitan city, a world away from how I had imagined a nuclear bomb site to be. I definitely would consider carving off some of your time to go here, you won't regret it.

And yes as far as food goes its pretty much all good. Don't be afraid of photos or models, they are not a sign of bad food. High prices and English on the menu are a sure sign of overpriced tourist trap. What you want to look for are street food, small rooms which look like someone's house, seats at the bar and one or two specialist dishes. I can almost taste the ramen...

I actually have been to Kyoto/Tokyo before, when I was young (14), and I absolutely remember the temple fatigue.  Especially for young kids who probably don't give a shit about that type of stuff, it gets repetitive fast.

We are only spending a week in Kyoto because we are htere for a work conference; we'll go see a few temples to get the experience, but don't plan to go crazy.

I'll think about Hiroshima; it wasn't originally on the list, but we might consider it.  It could add some additional travel time as Hiroshima is pretty far west.

yakamashii

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #25 on: March 31, 2016, 10:53:54 PM »
Hiroshima is a hair under two hours from Kyoto on the Shinkansen, and still under five hours from Tokyo (assuming you'd go right back to Tokyo from there). It has:

-Peace Park, A-Bomb Dome and museum
-Miyajima/red torii gate in the ocean
-Delicious okonomiyaki
-Lots of lovely canals and walking areas
-One of the only natural-grass baseball stadiums in Japan walking distance from the main station
-Costco right next door to the stadium. Grab a smoothie and observe Japanese consumers at work!

Villanelle

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #26 on: March 31, 2016, 11:44:06 PM »
If you are looking for something mellow while near Tokyo, you might consider Hakone.  There's a route you an take that include a cable car up the side of the mountain, a rope way, a boat across a lake.  And you can stop and eat the famous black eggs (if it is open again--I know it was closed for a while due to volcanic activity).  It's very pretty.  There's also some interesting museums and other sites, and plenty of ryoken.  We stayed in one with both the regular onsen as well as several small private onsen, which were co-ed so husband and I could spend that time soaking together.  It's much more mellow, but has some gorgeous scenery. 

It's also not far from Odawara Castle (check to see if it is open/covered in scaffolding).  I personally didn't love this, but lots of people do.

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #27 on: April 01, 2016, 04:05:15 AM »
Just to reiterate with the JR Pass, you must get the voucher before you travel to Japan and must bring your passport and the voucher when you swap it for the pass [I was stuck behind a slow moving line of tourist looking for JR Passes who had not done the above and it was really frustrating - more so because everyone tried to argue the case as if they were the first person this had ever happened to]. When you swap your voucher for the pass, if you have a list of trains you want to take you can book all the tickets and seat reservations at that point. The staff were helpful and spoke great English (they may have been relieved that we had vouchers and weren't shouting at them though).

We stayed at a Ryoken near Hakone with its own onsen and SO and I had it to ourselves both evenings.

totoro

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Re: advice on semi-mustachian trip to Japan
« Reply #28 on: April 01, 2016, 04:24:41 AM »
We just arrived back yesterday friends m a 3 week trip for a group of seven. Did all Airbnb except in Hiroshima where we stayed at the world friendship centre and had a talk with a bomb survivor and guided tour of the peace park. Airbnb worked out great for our large group of two adults and five teens (about 20 dollars a night each).  We had the green 2-week Jr. pass and ordered Japanese SIM cards in advance for our unlocked phones but you could rent pocket wifi instead (google it).  Free cell service is not easy to find everywhere and we needed the Internet for train schedules and transit and sometimes reading kanji.  The trip was wonderful and not too expensive - lots of free things to see and do too. Food is wonderful.  Easy to get templed-out though. We visited some of the big cities but also the country side too and staying with a Japanese country family for two nights was fun.  I'll post some more information once I get over my jet lag.