Paul's Travel Pics

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Japan - 15-Day Slow Trip Thru West-Central Japan

This is the INDEX PAGE of our 2nd Japan Trip, with links to approximately 30 posts covering a wide region.

Presented here is a self-guided trip through Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe, Uji, Himeji, Nagoya, Kanazawa, Hida Takayama, Shirakawago, Matsumoto, Kamikochi, Tsumago, Magome and more, with in-depth focus on regional food and local culture.


Broiled Unagi with a Twist - Nagoya's Hitsumabushi
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Traveling the Ancient Nakasendo Highway - Part 4: Magome-juku
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Traveling the Ancient Nakasendo Highway - Part 3: the Hike towards Magome
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Traveling the Ancient Nakasendo Highway - Part 2: Tsumago-juku
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Traveling the Ancient Nakasendo Highway - Part 1: Narai-juku
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Curious About Horse Meat in Matsumoto
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Hotspring Hopping in Oku-Hida Onsengo
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A Day-Trip to the National Park at Kamikochi
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Hida Takayama - Restaurant and Hotel Reviews
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Wish We Had More Time in Hida Takayama!
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Shirakawago - Guesthouse and Restaurant Reviews
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The Photographer's Paradise of Shirakawago
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Gokayama - Japan's Shangri-La in the Mountains
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Kanazawa - Restaurants, Budget Hotel and Transportation
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Kanazawa - the Beauty of Japan's Other Side
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The Ultimate Kyoto Experience - Renting the Eco-House Machiya
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Northwest Kyoto's Hidden Gems
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Kyoto - Restaurant Reviews
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Kyoto - Practical Trip-Planning Mini-Guide
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Festive Kyoto - the Aoi Matsuri
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Savouring the Tea Capital of Japan - Uji
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Nara: Part 2 - The Insider's Nara
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Nara: Part 1 - The Tourist's Nara
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Kobe Beef in Kobe -- A Step-By-Step Photo Sequence
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Taking the Long Way up Himeji Castle
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The Old Master of Osaka Style Broiled Unagi
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A Random Review of Osaka's Local Cuisine
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Osaka's Flamboyant Alleys
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We're Back from Japan
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PRE-TRIP POSTS

Last Update Before the Big Trip!

Tentative Itinerary

Kansai Wins the Poll -- We Will Go To Kansai!

77 comments:

Peter said...

Thanks! the photos look so sharp. What camera did you use this time?

Paul said...

Hi Peter,

Thanks for the compliment. I used a Canon 30D with the 17-85 kit lens, a rather entry-level setup.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul

Two months ago I had booked this dirt cheap fare to Japan for late May, and then had to decide where to go. Having already gone to the Kansai region and Tokyo, I wanted something "rustic" and "authentic" and really wanted to go to Kiso Valley and Shirakawago. But I wasn't sure, until I saw your beautiful, gorgeous blog. That made my mind up for me and I'm going! Your blog was extremely useful in terms of planning where to stay and how to get to and from places.

Anyways, in case you're wondering, my itinerary looks like this:
- Narai from Tokyo, then
- Tsumago (Fujioto)
- Magome (Tajimaya)
- Takayama (Ryori Ryokan Hanaoka)
- Shirakawago (Kidoya)
- Gokayama (Goyomon)
- Kanazawa (Dormy Inn)

I'm taking the plane in less than two days to Tokyo. Coincidentally you also went to Japan around this time last year right? This time round there is some concern with swine flu, so hopefully it will die down soon.

Anonymous said...

Silly me. I forgot to say a big "Thank you!"

本当にありがとうございます。

Paul said...

Dear anonymous:

I'm glad that my experience has influenced at least one fellow backpacker to do the Kiso Valley. If you're staying a night at Narai, please let me know how your Ryokan goes. That's where I wanna stay if I ever find myself in the vicinity again ... such a beautiful region.

とんでもないです。よい旅を!

Paul

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul

Unfortunately we're not planning on staying at Narai (we'll take the first train out of Tokyo and spend a few hours there before going to Tsumago), so I can't update you on the accommodation there.

Just to let you know, when I booked the room at Ryori Ryokan Hanaoka, the email their website provided bounced back; the email that you provided, hanaoka@vesta.ocn.ne.jp, did not bounce back, but no one replied either, so I booked through JALAN. I was given an option of two different room sizes.

As for accommodation at Gokayama, luckily I didn't have to fax! Thanks! I sent an email to goka@shokoren-toyama.or.jp. which you provided listing details of my stay and my preferred minshuku. After a few days I didn't hear from them, so I sent them another email with some details in Japanese, and then everything was done.

For Shirakawa-go, I tried to email the official-looking Tourist Association in Shirakawa-go, but the email provided on their website bounced back. Then I tried to fill up their online form to explain we need a room. I wrote the email in English with all the details they would need, but I got a reply in Japanese asking if I was serious about booking and to fill up some details. For some reason which I cannot remember now, I decided to book Kidoya through Japanese Guest Houses' website.

I have the impression that if I email in English some places are terribly reluctant to respond: Shimo-Sagaya at Tsumago-juku never replied to me; Ryori Ryokan Hanaoka at Takayama didn't reply to me; the Gokayama tourist association took two emails before they replied to me.

It was somewhat stressful booking those places, I have to say, but thanks to the information you provided things went a lot more smoothly. Thanks!

Serene

Paul said...

Serene,

While I'm glad that everything worked out at the end for you, it's sad to see that so many of these places aren't ready (or willing) to welcome the non-Japanese-speaking world yet.

You're probably getting on the plane by now. Best of luck on your trip !

Paul

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul

We have completed our trip! It was absolutely brilliant! My personal favourite among all the places I visited is Kiso Valley. I pretty much hated Shirakawa-go at first because there were a tonne of tourists, though it is very beautiful in the early morning. Gokayama is gorgeous, and much more peaceful than Ogimachi; I loved it. We passed by Suganuma and it looked so beautiful I regretted not going there.

I am extremely pleased that I went there. Lots of nice memories and pretty pictures. Thanks so much, Paul, for all the information you provided on the blog!! Your blog made our trip possible.

Serene

P.S. Sorry for not have updated earlier. I went for another trip immediately upon touching down from Japan; I'm actually still not home.

Paul said...

Serene,

I'm happy you enjoyed Kiso Valley as much as we did. Such a special place isn't it? In my mind it's one of the few very special places in the world that really touches my heart ... along with Gokayama of course. Sometimes I daydream about staying there for the rest of my life.

Good luck on the rest of your trip. You're lucky to have so much vacation time!

Paul

Anonymous said...

Paul -

Sophie again -- back with some more questions. We are leaving for Japan very soon and are hoping to stay at the Iya Valley Camp Site. That said, with neither of us speaking any Japanese, how much of a problem do you think this will be? We tried to figure out the website, but can't even seem to grasp how much it is per night. We're planning to get there by taking the JR and then the bus via Deai to the Minami-Hinoura Station. Is this difficult in terms of getting around on foot once they leave us?? We have also looked into staying at the Awa Ikeda Youth Hostel - is this a nice place? -- but they don't do online booking. Do you think it's risky to just "show up"? Also, if you can recommend any other cheap (but nice!) places in the area, please let us know.

Thanks thanks thanks,
Sophie

Paul said...

Sophie,

We just got back from another long trip -- sorry for missing your question. By the sound of it you probably have found the answers to your questions already!

Paul

Thomas said...

Hi Paul,

Firstly, thank you for your absolutely brilliant blog. One of the finest i've come across. My father & I are planning a wk in japan in october and are planning on doing a very similar trip to yours but in reverse. I thought I'd run it by you & see if you thought it would be possible & if you had any suggestions. Thank you in advance for any advice you may have.

Day 1 - Tokyo to Megame-Juku
Day 2 - Magome to Tsumago-juku
Day 3 - Tsumago-juku to Narai-juku
Day 4 - Narai-Juku to Matsumoto to Oku-Hida Onsengo
Day 5 - Oku-Hida Onsengo - Kamikochi day trip
Day 6 -Oku-Hida Onsengo to Hide Takayama
Day 7 - Hide Takayama to Tokyo

I am in the midst of emailing all relevant accomodation options and arranging transportation. Do you think this itinary would be achievable?

Many thanks to you for all your wonderful information. My email is thom_moore@hotmail.com if you could contact me there.

Regards, Thomas

Paul said...

Hi Thomas,

I don't see any real problem with your itinerary, and you're probably aware of the length of the train trip from Tokyo to Magome and from Takayama back to Tokyo. So on the first day unless you plane arrives before noon at Narita, you may end up missing the dinner at your Ryokan at Magome. And on Day 7 you'll have to allow for about 6 hours to comfortably travel from Takayama to Narita Airport ... and arrive there 2 to 3 hours before your flight. As long as you're aware of this there shouldn't be any problems.

Cheers,

Paul

AnJ said...

Dear Paul,

Just back from Japan and used your blog to help plan our trip.

Thank you so much for your fantastic photos and invaluable details. Some of our highlights, thanks to you, included sushi at Yamasan in Kanazawa, a great stay at Tajimaya in Magome, jumping off the bus early on the way to Kamikochi, a detour to the beautiful Shirakawa-go (unfortunately Shiaogi was closed!) and a tasty, convenient dinner at Katsukura in Kyoto.

Keep up the fabulous blog. We'll be sure to stay tuned for your next installment.

Take care, A

Paul said...

AnJ:

Thanks for your comments -- I'm glad that we share the same taste for good food at reasonable prices. Keep traveling!

Paul

Chew said...

Hi, I happened to chance upon your wonderful blog and found it to be really helpful for planning my Japan trip. I would like to ask if you used any JR Pass for your trip?

Paul said...

Chew:

On my trips I've always kept the focus on one particular region of Japan at a time (eg.8 days in Kanto only; 7 days in Kansai only; 8 days in Central Japan only). So the only JR Pass I needed was the regional passes. In Kansai we found the 2000-yen-a-day pass to be very useful, especially for getting between Kyoto and the Kansai Airport, or from Kyoto/Osaka to Himeji and back. In Kanto we used the 730 yen day pass for the Yamanote Line. I know a lot of people buy the 28,300 yen JR Pass, but we happened to have never needed it.

Paul

prin said...

Hi Paul,

Again.. I can't get enough of ur blog! One of the best I've seen for Japan.. It's been incredibly helpful.

A complete Japan newbie, I'm going to get 2 days (more like 1.5) for Takayama & Shirakawago..
At first, I was planning to spend the bulk of it in Shirakawago but once I've found this section of your blog, I'm wondering if I should spend the night at the Ryori Ryokan Hanaoka you reviewed or in Hisamatsu(or)Juemon Minshuku in Shirakawago?

If you had to choose, which would it be? Wow, I'm super indecisive! Already asked your thoughts between Hisamatsu vs. Juemon in your Shirakawago post..then adding this to the mix!
Would really appreciate your opinion!

Again, thanks so much for this blog.. it's just marvelous :)

Paul said...

Prin:

Sounds like you're the same Prin who left a message on the Shirakawago page asking about seeing the matsuri at Takayama and traveling to Shirakawago? If you are, please refer to my reply for details ... if you're traveling exactly on those days around the matsuri, you choice will be limited by which hotel/ryokan you're able to get a reservation for, and whether you're able to sort out your transportation beforehand.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Just wanted to say thank you for the fantastic and informative blog! We are heading to Japan next month and amongst other things we'll be visiting Yudanaka, Matsumoto and Takayama. Your blog has proved invaluable, although i think i may have to give the horsemeat a miss!!

Happy travels and thanks again
J

PeterS said...

Paul,
I have to add a congratulation note on your blog too. Excellent work!
We are planning our mid May, first trip to Japan, from Vancouver (are you my neighbour?:).
After spending some time on your pages I tried to follow your advice for the Kanazawa-Takayama-Tsumago area. I have boooked already the first 5 nights in Tokyo (will include day trips to Nikko and Nakone) and last 5 nights in Kyoto. I am left with 5 nights to spend in the area.It will be tight and I am planning to rent a car to help us jump quickly from place to place. We are in our late 50's & no backpackers. The plan is:
day 1: train from Tokyo to Nagoya, rent a car and go to visit Magone-Tsumago. Sleep in Tsumago(or Magone?)
day 2: short visit to Narai, castle in Matsumoto and drive to Oku Hida Onsengo. Bath and night spent there.
day 3: go to Takayama, spend day there and overnight stay.
day 4: Go to Shirakawago and Gokayama . Car will help to jump between the 2. Sleep in Shirakawago (or Ainokura?)
day 4: go to Kanazawa, spend the day there and overnight stay.
day 5: We reserved night in Kyoto.
Should we drive back to Nagoya or return car with penalty in Kanazawa? This may free-up some time.
We speak no Japanese but I will try to reserve at some of the suggested ryokans.
I would greatly appreciate your opinion or any suggestions that you may have. Thanks.

Paul said...

Hi PeterS:

You know how spoilt we Vancouverites are when it comes to exposure to different cultural and culinary influences ... your next door neighbour could be me, and your Italian-Canadian co-worker possibly has a brother-in-law who owns a agri-tourism villa in Puglia. You know how amazing our mix of culture is!

Your itinerary makes sense and the freedom of a car should afford you the time and flexibility to appreciate each town. I've never rented in Japan and so I don't know how much of a penalty you'd be expected to pay by dropping it off at Kanazawa. And be aware of highway tolls and parking charges too.

Between Shirakawago and Ainokura, the former is more commercialized with more stores and a hotspring bathhouse within the village while the latter feels more like an isolated hamlet (drive 10 minutes to the nearest hotspring bathhouse). Ainokura is slightly closer to Kanazawa but not by very much. Hope that helps in your decision on where to spend the night.

Paul

Claudia said...

Guten Tag Paul,

What a wonderful blog - it's a pleasure reading your posts.

I love to stay in traditional settings, but fear that this will be difficult in Japan. Not only do I not speak Japanese, but I'm also a vegetarian (no meat, no fish)... Do you know if ryokans accept/ cater to vegetarians?

Greetings from Munich - Claudia

Paul said...

Claudia,

Vielen dank! It's my pleasure to exchange experiences with travelers from other parts of the world.

Many ryokans would be able to cater to guests who don't eat beef/pork/chicken, but fish is a staple food of the Japanese and so that's quite tough. Sorry, I don't really have similar experiences to offer in terms of choosing Ryokans.

But as a strict vegetarian, you probably should try Japan's own highly-developed branch of vegetarian cuisine, Shojin Ryori. This is a very traditional branch of cooking developed by buddhist monks, and are still offered in many temples, some of which you can stay in. So this probably fits your criteria of staying in a traditional setting and adhering to a strict vegetarian diet. The keyword you want to search for is "Shokubo", or temple lodging. It's easier to find these temple lodgings in cities with a high concentration of temples (eg. Kyoto, Takayama).

Take a look at the official Koyasan website -- this will give you a good introduction.

http://www.shukubo.jp/eng/index.html

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Just wanted to say I love your blog. We'll be going to Japan in october and I only found your blog after we made up our mind what to do. But luckily we came up with a very similar schedule to yours, so now I have a lot of fun looking forward to all the lovely things we will see and eat. Thanks for that!
Just one very important question: isn't it time for your next trip??

Jos

Paul said...

Hi Jos:

Thanks for dropping by. Yes we've taken a couple of trips after the last entry, not in Japan, but in two other continents. I should stop slacking off and start posting something after the end of the summer.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks much for the invaluable information you have posted on your website.

I would like to try book Aiso Ryokan in Uji but when I went to its website following the link that you posted and clicked on the button for sending the ryokan an email, it didn't work. Can you provide the ryokan's email address?

Please send it to helenluk@gmail.com.

We are planning to spend five days in Kyoto before spending two days in Fukui and two days in Kanazawa around the last week of November. And then from Kanazawa, we'll head to Shirakawa-go. Do you think we need two days for Fukui (for the Echizen crabs) or Kanazawa? Is it worth cutting short one day at either one of these places and squeezing in a day to visit Gokayama?


Many thanks advising,
Helen

Paul said...

Helen,

Aiso's email address is:
ajirogi3-4@lilac.plala.or.jp

In my opinion Kanazawa is worth at least a couple nights. Fukui vs. Gokayama are apples and oranges, and really depends on whether you want to trade one more day of tasting Echizen-gani crab vs. one more day of authentic Japanese farmhouse life. It all depends on what your trip's theme is I guess.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
Really great blog i feel like i am there too!!! Thank you!
My wife and i will be traveling to Japan in April for 1st time, we are really looking forward to this trip i am sure it will be fantastic!!
we are arriving in Narita and planning to spend 3 days in Tokyo, after that we will activate the JR rail for 7 days and travel to Kyoto where we will spend 4 nights with a day trip to Nara.
After that we are thinking to travel from Kyoto to Yudanaka and stay for 2 nights in Shibu onsen in a traditional ryokan with trip to the snow monkey park and checking all the onsen around town etc...
My question is: Do you think is worth to spend 2 nights in Shibu onsen considering is April and there are chances we wont see any monkeys at the park and i am not sure what else we can see around the area??
Can you please advise us??
Thank you very much!!!
Dave

Paul said...

Dave,

Congrats on your upcoming vacation. I haven't been to Shibu Onsen, but I hear it's quite an authentic Onsen town in addition to its proximity to Jigokudani. Two days would be great if you're the type of traveler who appreciate some downtime. Otherwise there are quite a lot of great places within 3 hours of travel in Central Japan. When in April are you traveling? I don't imagine you're planning to visit Takayama during the spring festival?

Paul

Caroline Chang said...

Dear Paul, contratulations on your wonderful blog! Me and my husband are heading for Tokyo, Magome, Kyoto and Shirakawa-go in march (I had read about Kiso Valley and Ogimachi in National Geographic guide, but I must say that I really made my mind when reading your blog. Can I ask you if you have travelled on JR pass or if you bought each train ticket in Japan? I'm a little hesitant in buying the pass, since it seems that buying the tickets one by one, without seat reservations, would be cheaper. Thank you for your attention! Best, Caroline - Brazil

Caroline Chang said...

Dear Paul, contratulations on your wonderful blog! Me and my husband are heading for Tokyo, Magome, Kyoto and Shirakawa-go in march (I had read about Kiso Valley and Ogimachi in National Geographic guide, but I must say that I really made my mind when reading your blog. Can I ask you if you have travelled on JR pass or if you bought each train ticket in Japan? I'm a little hesitant in buying the pass, since it seems that buying the tickets one by one, without seat reservations, would be cheaper. Thank you for your attention! Best, Caroline - Brazil

Caroline Chang said...

Dear Paul, contratulations on your wonderful blog! Me and my husband are heading for Tokyo, Magome, Kyoto and Shirakawa-go in march (I had read about Kiso Valley and Ogimachi in National Geographic guide, but I must say that I really made my mind when reading your blog. Can I ask you if you have travelled on JR pass or if you bought each train ticket in Japan? I'm a little hesitant in buying the pass, since it seems that buying the tickets one by one, without seat reservations, would be cheaper. Thank you for your attention! Best, Caroline - Brazil

Paul said...

Caroline,

As you know the JR Pass is worthwhile only if you plan to spend more than 28,300 yen on JR trains over 7 calendar days. We've never done that on any of our trips to Japan, especially in Central Japan where many routes have to be carried out by bus.

If you're only using a JR Pass for Tokyo-Nakatsugawa (near Magome), Nakatsugawa-Takayama (on the way to Ogimachi), and Takayama to Kyoto, then it may not add up to 28,300 yen. But let's say if you plan to take a return trip to Tokyo within those 7 days, it will save you some money.

It's easy to calculate the fare -- just go to www.hyperdia.com and enter all your trips within the 7 days, and add them up to see if they're cheaper than the pass.

Good luck!

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
Just wanted to say how amazing your travel blog is- so detailed, so inspiring. Thank you! Best travel blog I have ever read.
We are planning to go to the peninsula of Noto Hanto, on a day trip with a very early start in a rented car. ( staying the night again in Kanazawa). Would you have any recommendations on what to visit other then the usual and more importantly where to have breakfast and lunch :-) by any chance?
Thanks Paul, Keep writing, you are so good at it!
Anouk

Paul said...

Anouk,

Thanks for your compliments. I have to dig up the little bit of research that I did while planning our Central Japan trip. We gave up visiting Noto Hanto due to time constraint, but here are a couple of links to restaurants that caught my interest:

Kodawari and Shimbuku are both located on the east side of Wajima. The first one is a little eatery specializing in seafood, and the second is a sushi place. I thought Wajima is right on the Sea of Japan coast and was interested in the seafood, but the timing just didn't work out for us. Hopefully you'll discover your own favorite restaurant there!

http://r.tabelog.com/ishikawa/A1704/A170401/17000836/

http://r.tabelog.com/ishikawa/A1704
/A170401/17000847/

Good luck,

Paul

Claudine Co said...

Hi Paul, I've been meaning to write for a long time, but I wanted to thank you for this amazing set of posts about your Japan visits. My husband and I have recently returned from a trip there (Osaka, Takayama, Shirakawa-Go, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Nara, Beppu and Tokyo). Your blog has been better than any guidebooks we purchased. Our trip happened to be scheduled 2 weeks after the Tohoku quake and tsunami, which led us to consider postponing the trip. We ended up going, and shifting our schedule so that we spent the first 2.5 weeks in Central and Western Japan, and only then did we move to Tokyo for our last 4 days. Thank you so much again for being our "virtual guide" -- this blog is such a fantastic service to the community.
Best regards,
Claudine (San Francisco)

Paul said...

Claudine:

Thanks for writing back! Glad to hear that you returned safely from your recent trip, and that you had a great three weeks in Japan. Japan is really in need for tourism dollars especially this year. Interesting to see that you traveled all the way to the hotsprings of Beppu!

Paul

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much Paul! Very helpful! we'll be trying a lots of your restaurant recommendations! Anouk!

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Your central Japan trip looks fun and interesting!! May I know did you self-drive or take public transport??

Also it is possible to share your itinerary?

Thank you!!

Paul said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for visiting. We used public transportation, mainly JR trains and Nohi Bus, for our trip to Central Japan.

My basic itinerary is listed in the article below:
http://paulstravelpics.blogspot.com/2008/02/tentative-itinerary.html

Our sequence of visit was Kanazawa - Gokayama - Shirakawago - Takayama - Kamikochi - Okuhida Onsengo - Matsumoto - Narai-juku - Tsumago-juku - Magome-juku - Nagoya.

Hope that helps in your planning.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for replying.. May I know was the frequency of the public transport frequent? How long did you have to wait for the bus?

Also, do you think it is possible for visit Gifu, Nagano, Shizuoka prefectures in 15 days?

Thanks for your time!!

Paul said...

Dear Anonymous,

In a lot of rural places buses run only several times a day. Instead of waiting for buses, it's usually better to find out the bus schedule before your trip and plan the optimal use of sightseeing time around it.

Gifu, Nagano and Shizuoka are fairly close to one another. 15 days should be enough for a very good tour of these three prefectures.

Paul

Brian said...

Hi Paul,
I was looking at going to Shirakawago and kanazawa and i stumbled across your blog. The pictures look Amazing and after seeing them i'm definitely going.

I am planning a 10 day trip comprising of mainly kyoto and the surrounding places and i intend to spend 2 days at Shirakawago and Kanazawa.

I intend to head out early from kyoto and reach kanazawa abt 10ish. from there take a bus to shirakawa and spend the night there. then i'll take the bus back at 1020 the next day and explore kanazawa for the rest of the day before heading back to kyoto.

I'll be heading there during the first week of march and hoping to see snow at shirakawa and kanazawa. Is that possible?

Also what do you think of the 2 day itinerary. do you think we will have enough time to cover both shirakawa and kanazawa?

Thanks in advance Paul!

Brian.

Paul said...

Brian,

Three days will be better, as Kanazawa isn't small and has quite a lot to offer. But you can do Kenroku-en and Higashi Chayagai in about 3 hours if you're in a rush and can only afford 2 days. 1 night in Shirakawago is enough for most people.

February in Shirakawago is usually quite snowy (Light-Up Festival weekends are planned for Jan and Feb). In early March you may still see some residual snow, if the weather cooperates. Kanazawa is at sea level and you'll need extremely good luck to see snow over the pine trees at Kenroku-en.

Paul

Brian said...

Wow Paul! That was a really speedy reply! thank you so much for that and the advice! sadly im only in japan for 10 days and 2 days is all i could afford in that area..

i was asking cuz i hear that the view of Kenroku-en can be pretty miserable at that time when im visiting since its like a transition between winter and spring..

Anyways really appreciate the advice that u have given! thanks loads again Paul! wish me luck with the snow!

Brian.

Paul said...

Brian,

There is still the all-season scenery such as the pavilions, stone lanterns and bridges, lakes etc. So don't worry even if you don't get any snow. Well I wish you luck anyway!

Paul

Jie Jie said...

My trip was so many months ago, but thanks to your blog I had an idea where to go and what to see. It wasn't as intensive as your itinerary, as I did so much less. Kanazawa was beautiful, and my Toyama-Takayama-Nagoya train ride was breathtaking. And with my hectic city-hopping to watch concerts, my Takayama stay was the most relaxing during my trip.

Paul said...

Jie Jie,

I'm glad you enjoyed Kanazawa and Takayama in the midst of city-hopping. The relaxing atmosphere of Takayama was one of my wife's favorites as well. And it's great to hear about the scenery on the train from Takayama to Toyama ... I haven't had a chance to do that yet.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul,
at short notice, I got a dirt-cheap flight from Germany to Japan. No wonder, with this not being the real tourist season ;-)
I love your travel blog and pictures, as they are covering exactly the region I will be going to. I'll have to skip a few places due to traveling exclusively by bus and train, but will keep the link to your blog for friends and a future visit during a warmer season.
Great job!
Julia

Paul said...

Hi Julia,

If you're heading for Central Japan you're going to see a lot of snow in this season. Wish you an enjoyable trip. Gute Reise!

Paul

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul,

I came upon your post while planning for a japan trip for late may this year. I really enjoyed the wonderful pictures ! Already in my plan are takayama (been there 10 yrs back), shirakaga-wo), kamikochi, kyoto, tokyo. Do you think it will be worth going to kamikochi and kanazawa ? Is kanazawa similar to kyoto ? We are hoping for some diversity in sights.

Btw, i started to read your other blogs and the places that you go are awesome ! We did Xian and Datong, but never had time for Pingyao and the hanging temple..Now i'm tempted to plan another trip to beijing to see the rest of the sights ! & We had such fond memories of canadian rockies we visited in may 07. Really nice cos there was still some snow and ice !

Paul said...

Hi Anonymous,

Yes some parts of Kanazawa will look somewhat similar to Kyoto or Takayama. But I think the uniqueness of Kanazawa is a combination of the gold-leaf making and other traditional crafts, and the regional seafood off the Sea of Japan coast. There's also the Kenroku-en, 21st Century Art Museum etc.

Kamikochi is a pristine, but popular national park. If you enjoyed the Canadian Rockies you'll probably enjoy Kamikochi, though the most spectacular views will require some hiking.

You're actually among a very small percentage of foreign visitors to China who took the time to see Datong (for the Yungang Grottes I assume). The Hanging Temple was impressive too, though the Pingyao area was definitely our favorite memory of Northern China.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
Thanks for the reply. We'll probably stopover in kanazawa for the day for the gold leaf making, seafood and the geisha district.

Which ryokan would you recommend : the one in takayama or uji or S-go ? As we are travelling with 2 kids and they usually pay adult prices, we have to limit to probably 1 or 2 nights in ryokan.

Re the 3 days pass between kamikochi and takayama at around 6500yen, where can i get more info online ? i cant seem to find it anywhere. I was wondering if the pass would be useful as i'm planning to do a daytrip to kamikochi from takayama.

Thanks so much again and I really love your blog :) Am looking forward to see your other interesting destinations !

Paul said...

Dear Anonymous,

Right now there's only a 4900 yen pass between Takayama and Kamikochi, valid for 2 days. I don't see it on the English site of Nouhibus, but the Japanese version is here:

http://www.nouhibus.co.jp/jikoku_pdf/takayama-kamikochi.pdf

If you only have time or budget for one night of traditional Japanese accommodation, I would recommend Shirakawago as that is a unique experience even for the Japanese. Choose one that serves dinner and breakfast around a Irori heath if possible.

Paul

Anonymous said...

hi Paul,

many thanks for your reply.

I tried to email the hida information to book both the S-go and Ryori ryokan hanaoka in takayama after reading your reivew. Sadly, they informed tht Ryori ryokan hanaoka has closed down :( Could i bother you to check the jalan website for more information ? I think many readers will be so disappointed by this news :(

Paul said...

Dear Anonymous,

Are you Paiyan? In any case, it's confirmed now that Hanaoka has closed down.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

i'm not Paiyan.

Close enought, my chinese name is Jiayan.

Giancarlo Napoli said...

Hi Paul,

Congratulations on such a super blog!! I feel we´re somewhat kindred spirits in terms of interests (I´m thinking specifically about food and photography!)

We´re off to Japan for two weeks from the end of July, and I´ve been loosely planning things for the past few months. The problem is, the more guides/reviews/blogs/suggestions I read, the more I want to do. I guess that´s the nature of the beast, but I appreciate that keeping things simple will give us the most enjoyable experience.

I´ve got the outline of my itinerary if you wouldn´t mind giving it the thumbs up and offering a few suggestions - I see you´ve done that in the past with other posters, so completely appreciate it if you´ve had enough and decline. ;)

I´d love to see Kanazawa and do the walk between Tsumago and Magome, but I just don´t think time will allow. At the same time, I think we´ll be sitting on trains more than enough already.

So, I´m thinking:

- (TOKYO)
Land at Narita 0900
Acclimatise and explore.
Staying in Shibuya.

- (TOKYO to KYOTO)
Capsule 9 hotel for the night.

- (KYOTO to MIYAJIMA)
Morning in Hiroshima to see peace memorial?
2 nights at Iwaso ryokan booked and paid.

- (MIYAJIMA to KOYASAN)
Leave Miyajima early morning – around 10.00?
Get to Mt. Koya around 15.00?
Spend the night.

- (KOYASAN to KYOTO)
Via Nara.
3 nights?
Day trips incl. Uji?

(KYOTO to TAKAYAMA)
Spend the night at Hanaoka.

(TAKAYAMA to TOKYO)
4 nights in Tokyo before flying home.
I´ve been here before, but my girlfriend hasn´t so we´ll be looking to do the fish market, Kamakura, maybe Nikko but maybe we´ll be all templed-out by the end of the trip.

First night in Tokyo and 2 nights in Miyajima are already booked. The rest is completely flexible.

We´re both seasoned backpackers, so we´ll be choosing some cheaper options in Tokyo at the end of the trip because most of our budget will be blown of food. In fact, it´s all about the food...

Thanks for your time mate, and keep up the good work! :)

Regards, Giancarlo

Paul said...

Giancarlo:

Great to see another food enthusiast! I'm sure you'll have the time of you life in Japan. Your trip covers such a wide geographic area that I'm sure you'll enjoy the regional differences in the food.

Hanaoka has closed down. I don't know if this is permanent or not, but that's extremely unfortunate for food lovers. But if you're a beef fan you can still head to the beef specialty places like Maruaki or Kitchen Hida for the famous local beef. Not cheap though.

If you want to visit Nara and Uji, you'll probably need at least a half day in Nara, plus at least 3 hours in Uji. You might as well spend the day in Nara, spend the night in Uji, then move onto Kyoto for 2 nights.

What's the purpose of that one night in Kyoto between Tokyo and Miyajima? There are plenty of capsule hotels in Tokyo as you know, and the train trip from Tokyo to Hiroshima is only about 4 hours (somewhat more efficient than stopping in Kyoto and then beginning another trip towards Hiroshima). If you spend 2 at the beginning in Tokyo perhaps you can shave one night from the end and spend it elsewhere.

Paul

Hwee said...

Hello Paul.

You have a really great blog, with the detailed itinerary, directions, and food pictures. They came in really handy when I visited Tokyo 2 years ago. Thank you so much!

I am now very tempted to follow your West-Central itinerary, but only have 6 nights to spare, arriving & departing from Osaka.

I wonder if you could advise if the following schedule is feasible and recommended?

Day 1 - Osaka to Kanazawa
Day 2 - Kanazawa to Shirakawago
Day 3 - Gokayama to Shirakawago to Takayama
Day 4 - Takayama to Tsumago
Day 5 - Tsumago to Magome
Day 6 - Magome to Kyoto ...I have not figured out the transportation for this yet.
Day 7 - Kyoto to Osaka for flight back home

Thank you in advance for your 'enlightenment'!

Hwee (Singapore)

Paul said...

Hwee:

You probably know that your itinerary is very tight and will give you minimal time for sightseeing at each destination. But in terms of transportation I think it's doable.

If you're not planning to stay in Gokayama on Day 2, I really don't see the need on Day 3 to travel from Shirakawago to Gokayama back to Shirakawago then onto Takayama. Gokayama's charm is really in its authentic farming village character in the evening and early morning, but if you go there in midday you'll probably be disappointed as it's not as picturesque as Shirakawago. You may as well skip Gokayama and spend the entire day in Takayama, which also deserves your time.

Magome to Kyoto is easy -- local bus to Nakatsugawa, train to Nagoya, then Shinkansen to Kyoto. If you take the 8:00 local bus like we did, you'll end up in Kyoto probably around 11:30.

Paul

Anonymous said...

your blog is great! photos are gorgeous and there are useful information that i will definitely use for my next year trip to japan.

エイプリル said...

Hi Paul,

I live in Kansai and am always looking for new and interesting places to visit. Your blog has given me so many ideas!

Today I went to Saga in Kyoto following your recommendations; it was wonderful and I was completely charmed by Otagi Nenbutsuji. :) Thank you so much!

Paul said...

April,
I'm glad you enjoyed Otagi Nenbutsuji. I envy your life in Kansai ... please enjoy it to the fullest for those of us who don't get this privilege!

Paul

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
As with the other comments your blog and pics are great....quality and detail is fabulous. Its helped me plan our itinerary and I was wondering if you can let me know any feedback on our itinerary...I am wondering if I should sacrifice Kanazawa for Shirakawago but your pics of the town are soo enticing I am torn. I do like the idea of traditional experience in shirakawago tho....aahh too much to see.
We arrive 24March and are travelling with our 4yr old which affects our pace, also we will have a 14day jr pass.:
3n Tokyo ( inc 1 day disneyland)
2n Takayama
2n Nagano
1n Kanazawa
5n Kyoto ( incl day trips to Ukai, arishyama & osaka)
1n Kinosaki ( for traditional onsen experience)
2n tokyo
we have friends in Nagano to visit so it throws our itinerary out a bit with extra travel but I am not sure of a better way to fit it in with Jr Pass. Trying to avoid the bus ride over the mtns from Nagano to TAk as its extra cost. At least we see new scenery on the train between Nagano - Kanazawa....is that worth the extra travel for 1 n Kanazawa or do u think we should head straight down to kyoto and use that extra night for S-go?
Once I have booked our accom and finalized the routing I will need to allocate hours of reading on yr blog regarding the amazing food options we can't miss :)
thanks Gretta

Paul said...

Gretta:

Are your dates for visiting your friend in Nagano set in stone? Or can you move it around? One possibility is to take advantage of the Shinkansen to travel first from Tokyo to Nagano, then Nagano to Kanazawa (less than 4 hours by train if you time it right). Take the bus from Kanazawa to Shirakawago (day trip), then another bus to Takayama. This would satisfy your desire to visit all these places, but will likely decrease you time in Kyoto. Also, do you mean Ukai as in cormorant fishing or Uji as in the capital of tea? I'm not sure if Ukai is available that early in the season ... it's more of a summer thing.

I would skip Kinosaki and stay at an Onsen Ryokan in Takayama instead (eg. Hiranoya), if all you want is a traditional Onsen experience.

Paul

Anonymous said...

HI
Thanks so much for the reply. I meant the Uji, sorry, the tea place - so glad I discovered that in your post it looks great.
I think your routing is a good idea, I had that as an option but just waiting to hear from my friends if we can move our visit around. It involves less total travel time, I even considered Kiso valley as well as we are not far from there but its too hard to do with a 4yr old.
I included kinosaki as it seems like a unique traditional japanese experience to wander around onsen hopping in a yukata in a small traditional town. Probably could do it in Shibu Onsen as well.
I just have to decide on what to do and accept we can't do it all :)
Thanks again for replying

Anonymous said...

Paul Great Blog in all aspects. I have 2 queries. Firstly is it practical to go to Nara and Ugi in a one day trip from Kyoto? If not which would you choose?
Secondly, we plan to go to Kamikochi and I have read that it is possible to walk there frem the top of the Shinhotaki Ropeway. Do you have any knowledge of this. Thanks in anticioation. David Hill.

Paul said...

David,

Doing both Nara and Uji as a day trip from Kyoto would be a huge rush, yet it's probably doable if you start out very early in the morning and are content with seeing only one or two top sights in each city (ie. Todaiji in Nara, Byodoin in Uji plus the tea shops). Plan on getting to Nara by 09:00, leave for Uji in the early afternoon, then return to Kyoto in the evening.

I assume you're visiting Kamikochi in the summer season, and that you're a seasoned hiker. Though it is possible to hike from the top of Shinhodaka Ropeway into Kamikochi, this is not a short hike and you can't expect much in terms of English signages. See the map in the link below, in Japanese. The orange cable-car at the top left is the Ropeway. You need to hike up, pass the Nishiho guesthouse, to the summit at Maruyama (1.5 hours), then take the long descent towards Kamikochi (icon of Imperial Hotel at bottom right). The people running the Nishiho guesthouse should be your best source of info -- consider spending a night at Nishiho guesthouse and get good maps if you're going to attempt this hike.

http://www.nishiho.com/tozan.htm

Paul

Anonymous said...

Paul Thank you for your useful response to my queries. We will make a really early start and go to Nara first. We are keen on Uji so will fit tat in later in the afternoon.
Having considered your advice on hiking down to Kamikochi we may give it a miss. Our party of 4 will all be 70 give or take a year and while it sounds a great hike we may restrict our hiking to Kamikochi.
I have done a lot of planning on our Itinerary and we will lock in our accommodation soon so any comment you may have would be appreciated. Here it is:
Tokyo 4 nights
Takayama 4 nights
Ainokura 1 night
Kanazawa 3 nights
Kyoto 5 nights
Hiroshime 2 nights
Himeji 2 nights
As you can see we have avoided too many large city's. What do you think.

Paul said...

David,

You're welcome. Are you sure you want to spend 4 nights in Takayama and none in Shirakawago? (I assume you're planning on visiting Shirakawago on a day trip then moving to Ainokura for the night?) Also Himeji isn't a very interesting city aside from the castle, whereas nearby Kurashiki can also serve as a good base if you already have a JR Pass. Google it up and see if you like the place.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Forgive me for asking this but how do you afford to travel so much?

Paul said...

Hi Anonymous,

On a daily basis ... give up eating out. Give up Starbucks. Give up other costly hobbies. And when traveling ... sleep cheap when possible. Take public transportation like the locals. Eat where the locals eat ... don't most backpackers do the same? ;)

Paul

Anonymous said...

aloha paul. just found this blog. fantastic info and pics. thanks for sharing.

btw, i will going to tokyo next week, and plan to visit a few of the restaurants mentioned in your tokyo blog.

again, mahalo. ken

Joyce said...

Hi Paul,
I'm really interested in your 15-day trip through west-central Japan. Do you have a detailed itinerary (day by day) that you can share?
Thanks,
Joyce

Paul said...

Hi Joyce,

I have posted a rough itinerary here:

http://paulstravelpics.blogspot.com/2008/02/tentative-itinerary.html

The 15 days were spent like this:
D1: arrive at KIX - Osaka
D2: Osaka
D3: Osaka - Himeji - Kobe - Osaka
D4: Osaka - Nara - Uji
D5: Uji and Kyoto
D6: Kyoto
D7: Kyoto
D8: Kyoto - Kanazawa
D9: Kanazawa - Gokayama
D10: Gokayama - Shirakawago
D11: Shirakawago - Takayama
D12: Takayama - Kamikochi - Hirayu Onsen
D13: Hirayu - Matsumoto - Narai - Tsumago
D14: Tsumago - Magome
D15: Magome - Nagoya

Let me know if you wish to know the details of particular legs of the journey.

Paul