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Getting the most out of 7 day Japan Rail Pass


A few words about me. I have been to Japan several times already, thus I visited a good chunk of the most popular sites. This time around I am mostly looking for more unique experience - perhaps going to less popular places and experiencing local side of Japan.

I will spend 9 days in Japan from middle of December:

Day 1 - Land in Tokyo and tour its streets for a day.
Day 2 - A day trip from Tokyo without using a Japan Rail Pass. Perhaps Mt. Fuji? I know it's not a climbing season, just visiting its surroundings if it's worth it. P.S. I have been to Nikko before and enjoyed it a lot.
Or stay in Tokyo and go to Ghibli Museum/Disneyland, but it's probably too cold for amusement parks in December?
Days 3 to 9 - Activate Japan Rail Pass.

During days 3 - 9 I am planning to go South of Tokyo. In have been to Miyajima, Hiroshima, Osaka, Nara and Kyoto, but I would like to stay in Kyoto again for a day. My plan is to stay only a day in each city, perhaps doing two cities in a day. I have done it before and it worked out pretty well.

To sum, any recommendations for days 3 - 9? So far I thought of Kyoto and Fukuoka only. By the way, the weather in December should be perfect for visiting an onsen. Any recommendations?

For leaving Japan I have Tokyo and Osaka as options. Possibly Fukuoka as well, but it's not a preference.

I know I am a bit vague, but hopefully you will come up with something.

Thanks a lot!


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    If you can enter Japan at Tokyo and leave Japan from KIX with the same or comparable airfare, then it would save you a lot of time and travel. And if you go from Tokyo to Kansai, down to the Chugoku Region and back to Kansai, you do make a 7 day pass pay off. If you are landing at Narita and not using a rail pass, then a cheap way into the city is the Access Narita Bus for 1000 yen.
    For the Mt Fuji area, climbing right now is simply impossible unless you're a professional with tons of proper gear. But you can see the area, either the Fuji 5 Lakes area or the Hakone area.
    If not using a pass for there, you can get a cheap direct bus from Shinjuku to the Fuji 5 Lakes, or a Hakone Free Pass by Odakyu train from Shinjuku. There are however over 3 dozen day trips you can take from Tokyo. Kamakura or Izu are 2 ideas, or if you want an onsen, you can get a Tokyo Wide Pass and go see Kusatsu for a day.
    The Ghibli Museum often sells out of tickets fast - many buy theirs a month prior. I can't see why anyone would fly around the world and go to an Americana theme park, but it's up to you. It will be chilly but not frigid.
    For Kansai and beyond, there are tons of great places. You did not mention seeing Himeji which has the best castle in the country plus the really nice Kokoen Garden. You could make it a full day by adding in Mt Shosha, or half a day, and add in Kobe for the other half.

    Another idea is doing an overnight at Koyasan. It will be cold by that time, but the Okunoin Cemetery is one of the most surreal places you will ever see in Japan. Many stay at a temple overnight; though if too pricey there is a guesthouse there too.

    Another option is seeing Iwakuni and the stunning Akiyoshido Limestone Cave in Yamaguchi - simply the best in Japan.

    Fukuoka has some good sights as well, including the Nanzoin Temple, still not that well known, yet one of the most fantastic you will ever visit. There has been so much disinformation put out by others that there is nothing there or the only good thing is the food. You can easily fill up a day there, and many good places are not far from a train or subway station.

    Beppu & Yufuin are 2 areas a couple hours away famous for onsen. Or there in Unzen in Nagasaki, plus others. It's all up to what you like.

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    Thank you so much for your fantastic response.

    I'll do my homework now and get back to you with something more concrete.

    Thanks again!
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    A quick update.

    What I'm certain about is that I'm arriving in Tokyo and departing from Osaka. I won't be using my pass on the first and last days of the trip. I'll start using it on Day 2. I looked into Hakone (which seems to be recovering from typhoon) and Fuji 5 Lakes. Unfortunately, both trips aren't fully covered by JR Pass (Hakone Free Pass seems to be a much better deal), thus I'll skip them.

    Considering your other suggestions now. Some gems between them!
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    P.S. It goes without saying that I'm also skipping amusement parks and Ghibli Museum, these trips could easily be done without JR Pass.
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    What's your take on Gifu/Inuyama (supposedly has one of the oldest wooden castles) and Kanazawa (promoted as cultural capital after Kyoto)?
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    edited December 2019
    I've been to both. Inuyama Castle is one of only 12 in Japan that's an original surviving castle - all the rest are reconstructed fakes. It's small and quaint, but has a nice view from the top. Nearby though is the real jewel - Meiji Mura. It's the finest open air museum in the country with late 19th century buildings from all over the country rescued from destruction. It gives an amazing look at 19th century Japan, and especially a unique blending of western and Japanese architecture.
    Kanazawa also has some excellent sights - Kenrokuen is widely regarded as the finest traditional garden in Japan, plus its preserved old samurai districts are highly prized. Nothing rivals Kyoto, but both have some of Japan's very best.
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    Thanks again for a great reply. You seem to be very knowledgable with an exquisite taste.
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    This is what I came up with:

    Day 1 - Landing in Tokyo. Night out.

    Day 2 - First day of JR Pass. Kanazawa (staying)/Toyama/Takaoka/Kaga Onsen (visiting).

    Day 3 - Hikone/Kyoto (staying)/Otsu(?). P.S. Since moving around in Kyoto is rather complicated, what would be the best sights to see in Kyoto in winter?

    Day 4 - Himeji/Kobe (staying).

    Day 5 - Okayama/Onomichi/Yamaguchi (staying). I'd like to add Iwakuni, but probably it will be too much even for me.

    Day 6 - Akiyoshido Limestone Cave. Fukuoka (staying)/Nanzoin (Buddha)/Dazaifu (museum)

    Day 7 - Nagasaki/Unzen (staying)/Shimbara

    Day 8 - The last day of JR Pass. Kagushima/Sakurajima/Osaka (staying).

    Day 9 - Osaka. Light shopping, souvenirs, etc. Departing.

    I was also considering Kumamoto/Aso, but the crater seems to be closed at the moment.

    Obviously some days may seem a bit optimistic, but it's better to drop places rather than ran out of ideas.

    Few concerns I have are traveling with big luggage and the weather. Both will slow me down more than I expect perhaps. There are stop-overs before I reach my stay for a night, thus I'll have to use lockers at the stations over and over again (what could get pricey) or I'll have to move around with a darn luggage.

    By the way, any suggestions and modifications are more than welcome, as nothing is set in stone yet.

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    It looks pretty busy and might work if you have a fairly brisk travel pace - don't underestimate the time it takes in transit. Your Day #2 for example looks seriously overloaded.
    I stayed in Otsu once during the cherry blossom season - a nearly unknown option among most and just 10 minutes from Kyoto Stn. Getting around Kyoto in winter is no big deal, though overall it is more of a hassle compared to other cities. Stick to one area and you can get a lot more done. The best bang for the buck is the Higashiyama area - loads of many great places all pretty close to each other. I've found that taking a taxi here and there, while pricey, is pretty efficient and convenient, and a quick way to get to a subway station or temple that would normally take a long time by bus or on foot. It depends where you are going. Just one day in Kyoto is not giving the city its due, though. There are some sights like Fushimi Inari and the Sagano Bamboo Grove that are open 24/7 and easy to fit into any schedule (and you can avoid the tourist mobs by going very early or in the evening). Others like Kiyomizudera are open at 6 AM, plus the Honganji temples and Kamo Shrines are open around dawn, so if you don't mind the very early start, you can in fact fit a lot in.
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    For luggage, you can forward your stuff with a takuhaibin service - most hotels can set it up, and most convenience stores are also drop off points.
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    As always, thanks for the input.

    I agree about Day 2. I've been flushing out the schedule and doing a bit more research about the places, thus dropping Takaoka, Toyama and not even sure if it's worth visiting Kaga Onsen. I wanted to hit the public bathhouse, but somehow it doesn't look that special.

    I could replace Day 2 altogether with Gifu/Inuyama.

    What's your feeling about the other days? Perhaps something stands out as not worth visiting? Or simply something doesn't look reasonable?

    Thank you for your time.
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    Well, since you ask, you are not clear on some specifics, such as what you are doing in Okayama. The big sight of the city is the Korakuen Garden. The castle next to it is OK, but pales in comparison to Himeji.
    On the other side of the city is the Kibitsu Shrine which is a gem of a place, but you don't go into detail about your plans. Some people rave about Kurashiki but I didn't find it especially exciting. You can see for yourself and perhaps you might think differently.
    Onomichi has its temple tour which is not bad but not the highlight of anyone's trip. Iwakuni though I found quite appealing; but again, everyone has their own tastes.
    Your Day 6 looks doable with an early morning start. The transit time has to be considered though. For Dazaifu the temple never really closes, but if you want to see the big museum there, you might arrive too late or with little time to leisurely see it.
    Your Day 7 looks like the most difficult though - I really don't see how you can see Unzen, Nagasaki and Shimbara. Perhaps the first 2 and drop Shimabara.
    For your Day 8, the main sights are the Sakurajima volcano and Senganen Garden, so it looks OK though when all is done you might be arriving in Osaka in the late evening or night.

    Be aware that you can better coordinate your train departures by using a site like Hyperdia.

    Hope that helps.
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    Thank you for your valuable insight. I'm taking them all in and slightly rearranging my itinerary.
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    To address the specifics:

    In Okayama I was indeed planing to see the garden. It looks beautiful in the video and would be perfect for an enjoyable stroll. However, considering it's winter time, I'm questioning if it's really worthy to make a stop there?
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    Winter is definitely not the best time of year to go see it. It still is nice though. Whether you'll be satisfied with going there though is not something I can really answer.
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    Understood. I'll go for diversity instead.
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    By the way, is it possible to exchange the voucher for JR Pass a day before I actually want to start using it?
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    Yes, easily done - you just set a future date as your first day. Many people do this.
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