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Is my itinerary ok and which rail pass should I get?

Hi, this 8-19 December is my family’s (2 adults 3 kids) first trip to Japan for 12 days. I have the draft itinerary:

Day 1 Saturday: arrive at 4pm at Osaka Kansai Airport . Overnight in Osaka. Which area should I stay?

Day 2 Sunday: take train to takayama (via Gifu as I heard that the jr limited express train has scenic views) Leave luggage at train station. Take bus to Shirakawago. Overnight in shirakawago.

Day 3 Monday: explore Shirakawago then take bus to takayama. Collect luggages. Overnight in takayama.

Day 4 Tuesday: day trip to shinhotaka ropeway. Overnight takayama.

Day 5 Wednesday: takayama morning market then set off to Nagano ( train via Toyama or bus to Matsumoto then train to Nagano?) overnight Nagano.

Day 6 Thursday: see snow monkeys( should we get snow monkey 1 day pass?) overnight in Nagano.

Day 7: take train to Kyoto ( overnight Kyoto)
Day 8: Kyoto (overnight Kyoto)
Day 9: Osaka
Day 10: USJ
Day 11: Osaka
Day 12: fly back home from Osaka kansai airport.

May I know if 7 day jr pass is suitable for me? Which day should I activate it?
Should I get Ithe 5 day takayama-Hokuriku pass? Which day should I activate it?
What about Icoca card? Do I need it?
I wish to stay in Accommodation with Onsen experience, where and which one do you recommend?
Kindly advise me. I am feeling quite lost. Would like to book accommodation once my itinerary is set.
Thank you in advance!


  • Hi,
    I will try to answer your questions.
    First, if you want the least hassle Sunday morning, it would be better to find a hotel near Shin-Osaka Stn to stay the night before.
    Now comes your plans - and you have some very painful trips in store.
    Osaka to Shirakawago is going to take you 4½ hours if you are wildly lucky. More realistically with some wait time included, you are talking about 5 hours on trains and buses. Your kids will likely be going nuts.

    Shirakawago only takes a few hours to see - and don't miss the overlook over the village. You can walk it but it would be a steep climb up, or you can take a bus up there. If you want to see other villages like Gokayama, it will take more time. Expect Shirakawago to be flooded with Chinese tourists during the day.

    For Takayama, expect a massive number of day trip tourists during the afternoon, but from the evening the place becomes a total ghost town.

    For Day 5, if you are going to Nagano City it makes more sense to take the train via Toyama if you have a rail pass. Timewise, both the train and bus are about the same.
    By my calculations, you are still about a thousand yen short of making a 7 day JR Pass pay off. You might want to get it anyway just for the convenience of not buying tickets all the time. You can activate it at KIX (although there may be a long line of people) or in Osaka, and designate Day 2 as your first day. But if you choose to take the bus from Takayama to Matsumoto, then forget it - just use cash and buy regular fare tickets.

    You could get the Icoca & Haruka discount ticket to get to/from KIX and around Kansai.
    If you choose to get the Takayama-Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass , you'll need to go via Kanazawa (not Nagoya) and see Shirakawago before Takayama, but at least the buses are covered. It can only take you as far as Takayama, and you'd need to pay regular fare tickets the rest of the way.
    There are many places with onsen in the area - Gero is very close by. There is also Yamanouchi (where the monkeys are) which has Yudanaka and Shibu onsen. There is no shortage of them in the region.
    You also have 3 days for Osaka which for me looks excessive. Keep one for USJ, and I suggest you take at least half a day to see Nara Park. Missing the Todaiji would be a tragedy, and your kids would likely love to feed the many deer there.

    You can find regular rail fares, routes and schedules on Hyperdia.
    Under "More Options", be sure to uncheck the Nozomi box if on a JR Pass since you can't ride that train using the pass.

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

    There are also loads of other tips on

    Best regards.
  • Thank you Tenjin, it was so kind of you to give me lots of advice. I have more questions :

    1) if Osaka to Shirakawago is too Long to travel, where do you suggest to stay overnight in between before we set off to Shirakawago? Takayama?

    2) if we decided not to get the 7 day jr pass, do I get to reserve the seats which I purchase before departure? Will it be easier if the jr pass allow us to reserve seats in advance? Do I have to pay cash only? Can we pay by credit card?
    Many thanks
  • First, I would merge Osaka into one. I mean I would do Osaka in the beginning and Kyoto at the end, or the reverse.

    There are several onsens in Yamanouchi. Among them, Shibu Onsen is popular for a visit to Snow Monkey Park. You could walk to the Park from Kanbayashi Onsen. If you are interested in Zenkoji Temple or Togakushi, Nagano should work fine as well.

    There is a chain of onsens from Hirayu Onsen to Shinhotaka Ropeway, called Okuhida Onsengo. I heard a good reputation of Fukuji Onsen in the middle of the path. If you are interested in Matsumoto Castle, you should choose the route via Matsumoto. Otherwise, you could use a direct bus from Hirayu Onsen to Toyama through Okuhida Onsengo.

    It is true that the views along the JR route between Gifu and Takayama are fantastic. Take a special train called Wide View Hida. The seats are designed to enjoy the scenery. There are direct trains from Kyoto and Osaka.

    There should be many combinations, but here is my plan.
    KIX - Kyoto
    Kyoto - Takayama
    Takayama - Shirakawago
    Shirakawago -(Toyama)- Fukuji Onsen (Shinhotaka Ropeway)
    Fukuji Onsen -(Hirayu Onsen)-(Matsumoto)-(Nagano)-(Yudanaka)- Shibu Onsen (Snow Monkey Park)
    Shibu Onsen -(Yudanaka)-(Nagano)-(Tokyo)- Osaka (USJ)
    Osaka - KIX
    KIX-Kyoto by a JR Haruka. Kyoto-Takayama by a Wide View Hida. I choose a longer route via Toyama from Shirakawago to Fukuji. I just want to avoid a backtracking. If you want to take a seaside route via Toyama from Fukuji Onsen to Shibu Onsen, it would cost more. That route includes a Shinkansen, but its duration is similar to that by the route via Matsumoto. I may take a fastest Shinkansen, Nozomi, for the part between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka. You may have a more chance to see Mt Fuji with a higher possibility of sunny days in winter. The most economical route would be through Matsumoto, the route via Kanazawa should follow.

    As an extreme, here is one of the most economical sets.
    KIX - Kyoto, 1880 yen by JR local trains
    Kyoto 830 - 1252 Takayama, 4200 yen by Nouhi Bus
    Takayama - Shirakawago, 4420 yen/roundtrip by Nouhi Bus
    Takayama - Hirayu Onsen, 1570 yen, by Nouhi Bus
    Hirayu Onsen - Shinhotaka Ropeway, 890 yen * 2, by Nouhi Bus
    Hirayu Onsen - Matsumoto, 2370 yen, by Nouhi Bus
    Matsumoto - Yudanaka, 2300 yen by JR local and Nagaden trains
    Yudanaka 2115-657 Namba, as low as 4860 yen, Nagaden Bus
    Namba - KIX, 920 yen by a Nankai local train

    Arima Onsen could be another choice. There is a ropeway between Arima Onsen and Mt Rokko. It is said night views there, overlocking Osaka Bay, are excellent in winter. The last ropeway is at 17:10, while the sunset is around 16:50. You have to get back rather quickly once you enjoy the night views.
    There are many direct buses to Arima Onsen either from Osaka or Kyoto by JR and private companies.
  • Thank you Luisjp for your detailed reply! Really appreciate it😊 I will need to study it as there are more options now.
  • Hi,
    1) Are the lockers in Nagano station big enough for big sized luggages? We intend to visit the snow monkeys before check-In to our hotel.
    2) Will will be coming from Ainokura, taking the 7.45 am bus to shin-Takaoka then the Shinkansen to Nagano.

  • Sorry I missed out a few words in question 2:
    Will we have enough time to visit the monkeys?
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