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21 Day JR Pass suggestions please for a Japan newbie

Hello hello!

We will be in Japan this Feb 16-Mar 8 ..it is our first time in japan. I wanted to get some feedback about using the most of JR pass and best routes
We will be in tokyo for 2 nights then thinking of the following:
Tokyo to Kawazu (for the early blooming cherry blossom festival) , 1 night
Kawazu to Kyoto , 6 nights
Kyoto to Oita / Beppu area to especially visit living legend samurai swordsmith, 3-3-4 nights in the area
Oita -Hiroshima, 1 night
Hiroshima-Kanazawa, 1-2 nights
kanazawa - monkey mountain (nagano) - and back to tokyo, 1-2 nights

What is your suggetions please for best route making the most with our JR pass and if you have other itinerary suggestions would appreciat it. Thank you!


  • Hi,
    You'd clearly get some very good savings off of a 21 day pass for your plans. The routing is pretty much cut and dried - take the Tokaido and Sanyo bullet train lines all the way down and back to Kyoto, then take the Thunderbird limited express train to Kanazawa.
    From there, you can take the bullet train to Nagano and Tokyo.

    Your timing is very good to see the Kawazu blossoms, but please note that you'll hardly be alone - nearly two million people go to see them in total. If you are interested, your timing might be good to see the plum blossoms or ume. One of the best places is the Kairakuen Garden in Mito, just north of Tokyo.

    Since you are already seeing Tokyo, you can largely skip Osaka during the day. After the temples of Kyoto close down around 5 PM, you can zip over to Osaka for the evening. At night the city comes alive and has some great places to see, such as Dotonbori, plus the night views from the Umeda Sky Bldg and Abeno Harukas Bldg are wonderful.
    On another evening, you could also go and see Kobe.

    Instead, I suggest you take at least half a day and see Nara - it was also a former capital and has some of Japan's best sights. Missing the Todaiji Great Buddha would be a tragedy. Nara Park has a lot of other great places, such as Kasuga Shrine, Kofukuji Temple, the Isuien and Yoshikien Gardens, and feeding the many deer in the area.

    Going to see Himeji (with Japan's finest castle) and Kokoen Garden next door also makes a nice half day trip.

    You can see regular fares, routes and schedules on Hyperdia.

    You can see previews of some of the best places to see in Japan on:

    There are also loads of other tips on

    Best wishes.
  • Hi Tenjin, thank you so much for your feedback! I will have a look at your suggestion :)
    Cheers :)
  • Hi Aquintey.

    JR Pass for 21 days is definately the go and great value. We got back from around 3 weeks in Japan about a month ago and did a similar trip. We started with 1 night in Tokyo because our flight got in early in the evening and weren't prepared to start moving too far. Got the Narita Express and stayed at the ANA Keisie which is super close to Ueno Station.

    Left the next morning early to Odawara dropped our bags at our Ryokan near the station where we stayed for 1 night and got a Hakone free pass and did the cable car, ropeway, pirate ship and train which was a fantastic experience and a great place to see Mt Fuji. A must when visiting Japan. The Castle is an easy walk from the station too.

    Next day took the Shinkansen to Kyoto and stayed 5 nights. Did a day trip to Nara, which is worth the trip. Did heaps of temples, shrines, museums like Kiyomizu-dera, the Golden Pavillion, Fushimi Inari-taisha and wandered around Gion where women in Kinomo's were everywhere and also went to the Theatre to see a traditional play. There is also a Monkey Park on a hill just outside town which is worth a visit to feed the monkeys (I recon it's as good as the Snow Monkeys in Nagano which is a big trip out of the way when you have limited time in Japan).

    Then off to Hiroshima for 2 nights. One full day is plenty of time to see this remarkable reborn city. The A-Dome building, Peace Park and Museum are all in the middle of the city and easy to access. Don't bother with the castle - Odawara, Himeji or Osaka castles are better - it was rebuilt after the bomb.

    Then we went to Okayama for 2 nights. Himeji castle is easily accessed from here and there is also Naoshima Island with it's art and museum which is really cool.

    Next was Kanazawa for 3 nights. Higashichaya Old Town is a great sight as is the Kenrokuen Garden, Nagamachi District and lots of other sights. Takayama is also not far away and a beautiful little village called Shirakawago which has 25o year old buildings in the snow and we were lucky enough to be there on an evening when the whole town is lit up in lights, one of the most beautiful places i have ever been to.

    You could then head to Nagano for a day or two but I'd stay in Yudanaka if you wanted to see the Snow monkeys (it's a cute little town) or even better head to Nozawa Onsen for a couple of nights. It's a fantastic town with heaps of snow and is pretty close to the Monkey hill. It is one of the only ski towns that was a town before skiing started in Japan in the 1920's and is full of traditional houses and Ryokans to stay in and more than 10 public Onsen's to warm up in.

    Then to Tokyo, the biggest city in the world. There is so much to do in Tokyo that it is hard to know where to start. I have had more than 30 days in tokyo over the last 10 years and still find new things to do. You can go go-carting in the street, see a Sumo tournament, Tokyo Skytree for an amazing view (or the Metropolitan Govt Building veiwing level which is free), Fish markets, Shibuya Shinjuku Harajuku Akihabara Ryogoku Rippongi. Take your pick :)

    All the travelling is covered by the JR Pass but make sure you book you Shinkansen tickets as early as possible as some of the trains get booked out if there is a lot on. We were there at Christmas and New Year and needed to book sometimes 3 or 4 days in advance to get seats when we wanted. You will be travelling on Chinese new Year so be careful

    Once you've been to Japan, if your like me, you won't be able to wait to start planning your next visit. There is so much to see and experience.

    Have a great trip


  • thanks blair for great tips and info!
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