Sunday, March 6, 2016

Tokyo and Kyoto Sample Itinerary: Planning for the essence of Travel in Japan

Many of the first time travelers in Japan, while the main destination is modern Tokyo, will always try to fit ancient Kyoto or Osaka into their busy itinerary. Being a working professional with a busy schedule, I find it difficult to come up with vacation time longer than two weeks. With a short vacation time in mind, I have listed my own itinerary in 2012 as well as my suggested travel planning. Briefly, I flew from Los Angeles to Kansai international airport near Osaka; after touring in the Kansai area, I took the ultra modern bullet train from Kansai area to Tokyo; after touring in the Tokyo area, I flew home from Tokyo Haneda airport back to Los Angeles.
Traveling between Tokyo Tower and Kyoto Tower



- To read about my recommendations of affordable, Reasonable, Convenient hotels in Tokyo, visit: Affordable Cheap Reasonable Hotels in Tokyo
- To read about my recommendations of affordable and reasonable hotels in OSAKA, visit: Osaka Reasonable Affordable Hotels
- To read about my recommendations of reasonable, affordable, and convenient hotels in KYOTO, visit: Kyoto reasonable, affordable, and convenient Hotels
- To read about my recommendations of best food in Tokyo, visit: Best food in Tokyo Japan



Plan for 6 to 11 day Kyoto/Osaka/Kobe and Tokyo Tour
Google Route Map 
In 2012 I traveled to Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Tokyo areas without using JR pass. I did not purchase a Japan Rail Pass because I tend to plan too much sightseeing while using a JR pass and I needed a slower pace vacation  I was able to keep the cost of transportation down by limiting the bullet train ride to only once. 


How many days do you need for Tokyo and Kyoto Japan Trip?
Assuming your vacation is only 7 to 14 days; I recommend planning a minimum of 3 to 4 days in Tokyo plus at least 3 days in Kyoto or 4 to 6 days for Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe.





Sample Itinerary for Essence of Japan travel for first time visitors
Day 1 to 6 Kyoto or Kansai area (based on previous written blog post: Osaka Consult)

Day 1 (Kyoto)
Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto
Morning: Kyoto Kiyomizu Temple and Ninenzaka
Early Afternoon: Golden Pavilion 
Evening: Gion Geisha Spotting
Night Time: Pontocho bar area



Day 2 (Kyoto)
Thousands of Torii at Kyoto Fushimi Inari Shrine
Morning: Kyoto Fushimi Inari Shrine
Early Afternoon: Nijo Castle or Kyoto Imperial Palace
Evening: Nishiki Market
Night Time: Kyoto Tower




Day 3 (Kyoto)
Sagano Scenic Railway near Kyoto Arashiyama
Morning: Sagano Scenic Railway and Bamboo Forest 
Early Afternoon: Tenryuji Temple and Togetsukyo Bridge
Evening: Yasaka Shrine
Night: Kyoto station shopping and food court. 




Day 4 (Osaka)
Osaka Castle
Morning: Osaka Castle
Early Afternoon: Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shrine
Evening: Doutobori Food Paradise
Night Time: Umeda Sky Building Night View




Day 5 (Kobe)
Kobe Beef in Kobe
Morning: Kitano Ijinkan area
Early Afternoon: Nada Sake Brewery District
Evening: Kobe Beef in Kobe, Nankinmachi Chinatown, and Kobe Harbor area
Night Time: Kobe Rokkosan Rokko Cablecar Night View



Day 6 (Osaka)
Bustling Food Paradise at Osaka Shinsekai Tsutenkaku Tennoji area
Morning: Osaka Kuromon Ichiba Morning Market
Early Afternoon: Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum (author of Atro Boy) 
Evening: Tenma Shopping Street/Arcade
Night Time: Tsutenkaku Tower and Shinsekai area





Transportation between Kansai Kyoto/Osaka/Kobe and Tokyo
Ultra Fast and Modern Shinkansen Bullet Train
A. There are many options of traveling between Kansai to Tokyo. I chose the fastest and the most comfortable method of Nozomi Shinkansen Bullet Train that took me from Osaka to Tokyo in merely 2.5 hours. One-way bullet train ticket cost me about $140 USD in 2012.

B. One other popular option is taking the overnight or day time bus that takes you from Kansai to Tokyo over 8 hours; the overnight bus usually departs from Kansai at around 11pm and arrives  in Tokyo at around 7am. The overnight bus option could save you one night of hotel stay but the bus ride might not provide quality sleep at night. One-way bus ride costs between $40 to $80 USD.
*Willer Express (site in English)

C. Budget airlines domestic flights between major cities have become very affordable recently. The downside is that getting from the city to the airport could be costly and it is very time consuming. One way flight usually costs around $50 usd to $100 usd according to the flight comparison site: Wego.com





Day 7 to 11 Tokyo area (baseline on previously written blog post)


Day 7
Asakusa Nakamise Shopping Street
Morning: Asakusa Temple
Early Afternoon: Akihabara for Electronics/Anime/Maid Cafe
Evening: Tokyo Tower
Night Time: Nightlife in Roppongi



Day 8
Bustling Street of Tokyo Shinjuku Kabukicho
Morning: Tsukiji fish market for your gastronomy adventure.
Early Afternoon: Trolling in Ikebukuro area
Evening: Ginza for your luxurious shopping experience.
Night Time: Shinjuku Kabukicho, Tokyo's infamous entertainment district. The real sleepless town/district. Enter at your own risk...



Day 9
Life size Gundam Robot in Tokyo Odaiba
Morning: Meiji Jingu Shrine
Early AfternoonKichijoji area
Evening: Odaiba man-made island of Tokyo bay 
Night Time: Tokyo City View Observatory.



Day 10
Tokyo Shibuya Scramble Crossing
Morning: Spend some time enjoying hotel buffet breakfast if your hotel offers it.
Early AfternoonHarajuku kawaii wonderland
Evening: Trolling in Shimokitazawa area.
Night Time: Shibuya area to experience the scramble crossing and Hachiko statue.



Day 11 (part Yokohama)
Street Food Vendor at Tokyo Ueno Ameyokocho
Morning: Ueno Ameyokocho
Early AfternoonYokohama area for Ramen Museum
Evening: Yokohama Chinatown.
Night Time: Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory






Kyoto Guided Tours: good options for busy travelers
Getting around in Kyoto is not difficult but it might be time consuming to go between sightseeing spots. In order to be efficient with your limited vacation time, consider joining some of the day tours Viator.com has to offer.
Tourists tranform themselves into Kimono ladies in Kyoto Thanks to Kimono rental shops.
1. Gion Walking Tour in Traditional Kimono
2. Kyoto Cooking Class, Sake Tasting and Nishiki Food Market Walking Tour
3. Gion by Night: Culture Performance with Dinner
4. Arashiyama and Sagano Morning Walking Tour
5. Japanese Tea Ceremony with a Tea Master
6. Kyoto Full-Day Sightseeing Tour including Nijo Castle and Kiyomizu Temple





Recommendations
1. Tokyo to Kyoto round trip bullet trip tickets cost about the same as a 7-day JR pass. Consider purchasing a 7-day JR pass if you are planning to go back and forth between Tokyo and Kyoto by bullet train. 
2. It only takes 20-30 minutes to go from Osaka to Kyoto or Kobe; therefore I highly recommend travelers to group Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe travel together. 
3.  I recommend flying from home to Kansai International Airport and then return home by flying out of Tokyo Narita or Haneda Airport. 
4. Prioritize the most important sightseeing spots within the limited time before planning the "path off the beaten road" Less traveled paths are perhaps less convenient and more time consuming.
5. I would always recommend staying in Osaka due to its easy access to Kyoto and Kobe; consider staying near Kyoto station only if you are only visiting Kyoto while in Kansai area.
6. If you are not using a JR pass, consider staying near JR Osaka/Umeda station due to the convenience and affordability of local trains to Kyoto and Kobe.
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