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Thoughts on 2 week itinerary for a 1st timer to Japan

Thoughts on 2 week itinerary for a 1st timer to Japan

Old Jan 31, 2024, 7:30 am
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Originally Posted by Keyser
Planning a trip to Japan. This will be my first trip & will be traveling with my wife & 2 kids aged 11 & 9. We haven't decided whether to go in June or December. In June we will only be able to go for 10 days while over Christmas/New year we can stretch the trip out to 2 weeks. I'm getting the award space I want for 4 tickets both for June & December so I need to decide quick & book before the seats go away. What are the advantages & disadvantages of traveling to Japan over the summer or winter?
Quick and short response. Others will follow with detailed responses.

June is the rainy season in Japan, can be muggy and soggy overcast weather. But this is mother nature, the extent of rain during the rainy season varies every year, and cannot predict what this year will be. But because of that June is considered off-season and places will be less busy.

December/New Year will be a busy season. Hotel prices will be higher and busier than in June. New Year is the biggest holiday in Japan, and driving in/out of big cities around New Year is usually met with traffic jams. Near Tokyo highway going out of the city usually experiences traffic jams up to 40 km (25 miles) long. This past New Year, Dec. 29, 30, Jan. 2, and 3 were the dates with miserable traffic in/out of the large cities. FYI, if you decide to drive in Japan during New Year.
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Old Jan 31, 2024, 7:35 am
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Originally Posted by Keyser
Apologies for piggybacking on this thread but I have a similar question so thought I would ask here rather than starting a new thread.

Planning a trip to Japan. This will be my first trip & will be traveling with my wife & 2 kids aged 11 & 9. We haven't decided whether to go in June or December. In June we will only be able to go for 10 days while over Christmas/New year we can stretch the trip out to 2 weeks. I'm getting the award space I want for 4 tickets both for June & December so I need to decide quick & book before the seats go away. What are the advantages & disadvantages of traveling to Japan over the summer or winter?

The plan would be to visit Tokyo & Kyoto for sure. Maybe one more place if we are going for the longer duration in December.

I was looking at ways to travel within the country & am undecided on the mode of transport. One option would be to fly between Tokyo - Osaka. I'm once again getting plenty of award space so this would be the cheapest way for me. The second option is taking the train from Tokyo to Kyoto & back. This would be more expensive but I am open to taking the train in Japan & have been told this is something I must do as a first time visitor. The third option would be to rent a car. A 5-6 day rental would again cost the same as taking the train but would give us the added flexibility of moving around on our own schedule. I'm comfortable driving anywhere & use this as our general mode of transport between cities no matter where we go so I've driven in Asia, Europe, US, Middle East, Africa, etc without any problem. Having said that, how easy or difficult is it to drive in Japan & what would the drive be like between Tokyo & Osaka/Kyoto?

Still undecided on hotels as of now. Was initially looking to use Bonvoy points so that would mean sticking to Marriott properties. This would also mean booking 2 rooms wherever we go since none of the properties will accommodate 4 people in a room. The second option would be to book an apartment wherever we go. There seem to be tons of options on hotel. com & Vrbo but I'm unsure which area of the city would be best & which areas to avoid.

Finally, what are the things that are a must for a first time visitor, keeping in mind that I have 2 small kids with me (one of who is obsessed with Pokemon so is counting the days before we go)? We have been to Disney Land & Universal in the US so that is of no interest to us.

I'm looking to pull the trigger & book my tickets this weekend so any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
So much to answer -- but I'll give you a few things to think about:

1) The rainy season in Japan typically begins the first week of June and runs to mid July. It will be VERY hot and VERY humid. I have visions of the kids wilting (we are typically out of Japan in the summers due to this).
2) December is our second favorite month in Tokyo (we live here) -- humidity is low and the weather is typically sunny and pleasant -- but cool. Average high temps of around 10-15 usually - cooler at night.
3) Definitely take the Shinkansen at least once -- we use it all the time and love it as it is so much more relaxing (to us of course). Flying domestically in Japan is quite easy -- but don't forget the expense of getting from the airport to the city -- some are quite far away and taxis are not cheap.
4) Rental cars are pretty easy as well -- just make sure you have an international drivers license -- or a license that is accepted for rentals in Japan. Just a note -- parking in major cities can be expensive and sometimes difficult to find...
5) Pack as lightly as you can -- the more luggage you have the more of a pain it is to get around...
6) On the hotels -- see if you can find ones with "family" rooms -- or book a suite if possible. There are hotel rooms that will accommodate 4 -- but perhaps not available for award travel -- and yes they are a bit harder to find -- especially at global chains like Marriott...
7) Renting an apartment is also an option -- if you go this route I would suggest you determine the sites you want to see and then figure out where to find an apartment. We live in central Tokyo and our building does not allow any short term rental apartments (MANY buildings have this rule). I won't go in to all of the reasons why in Japan things like AirBNB are not as popular -- but they aren't as plentiful or as well located as they are in other countries around the world.

Last edited by bmwe92fan; Jan 31, 2024 at 7:45 am
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Old Jan 31, 2024, 5:48 pm
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Originally Posted by bmwe92fan
3) Definitely take the Shinkansen at least once -- we use it all the time and love it as it is so much more relaxing (to us of course). Flying domestically in Japan is quite easy -- but don't forget the expense of getting from the airport to the city -- some are quite far away and taxis are not cheap.
4) Rental cars are pretty easy as well -- just make sure you have an international drivers license -- or a license that is accepted for rentals in Japan. Just a note -- parking in major cities can be expensive and sometimes difficult to find...
+ 3 & 4 - If you are considering long distance driving cost performance, also check the highway tolls and gas costs. https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2354.html has a chart for approximate tolls and there's ways to lookup current tolls based on route. Take the highway and do not opt for local roads to save on tolls. The added stress & increased drive duration is not a good trade off unless you have sufficient time, no need to accommodate kid bladders, and need to be frugal. There are youtube videos showing Tokyo - Osaka route via freeway but in short, the toll roads are well maintained and there's highway rest stops (aka roadside stations) with gas stations, electric car chargers, restrooms and food options. Some are themed quite nicely and fun for kids.
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Last edited by freecia; Jan 31, 2024 at 5:55 pm
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 6:23 am
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Originally Posted by AlwaysAisle
Quick and short response. Others will follow with detailed responses.

June is the rainy season in Japan, can be muggy and soggy overcast weather. But this is mother nature, the extent of rain during the rainy season varies every year, and cannot predict what this year will be. But because of that June is considered off-season and places will be less busy.

December/New Year will be a busy season. Hotel prices will be higher and busier than in June. New Year is the biggest holiday in Japan, and driving in/out of big cities around New Year is usually met with traffic jams. Near Tokyo highway going out of the city usually experiences traffic jams up to 40 km (25 miles) long. This past New Year, Dec. 29, 30, Jan. 2, and 3 were the dates with miserable traffic in/out of the large cities. FYI, if you decide to drive in Japan during New Year.
Thanks for the quick inputs. We were leaning towards December in any case, just for the simple reason that we would be able to extend an extra 4 days. But June sounds like a month we need to avoid in any case so this makes our case for December even stronger.

I understand driving can be a pain around the new year but it still makes sense for us since we like the ability to be able to move around on our own schedule.
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 6:32 am
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Originally Posted by bmwe92fan
So much to answer -- but I'll give you a few things to think about:

1) The rainy season in Japan typically begins the first week of June and runs to mid July. It will be VERY hot and VERY humid. I have visions of the kids wilting (we are typically out of Japan in the summers due to this).
2) December is our second favorite month in Tokyo (we live here) -- humidity is low and the weather is typically sunny and pleasant -- but cool. Average high temps of around 10-15 usually - cooler at night.
3) Definitely take the Shinkansen at least once -- we use it all the time and love it as it is so much more relaxing (to us of course). Flying domestically in Japan is quite easy -- but don't forget the expense of getting from the airport to the city -- some are quite far away and taxis are not cheap.
4) Rental cars are pretty easy as well -- just make sure you have an international drivers license -- or a license that is accepted for rentals in Japan. Just a note -- parking in major cities can be expensive and sometimes difficult to find...
5) Pack as lightly as you can -- the more luggage you have the more of a pain it is to get around...
6) On the hotels -- see if you can find ones with "family" rooms -- or book a suite if possible. There are hotel rooms that will accommodate 4 -- but perhaps not available for award travel -- and yes they are a bit harder to find -- especially at global chains like Marriott...
7) Renting an apartment is also an option -- if you go this route I would suggest you determine the sites you want to see and then figure out where to find an apartment. We live in central Tokyo and our building does not allow any short term rental apartments (MANY buildings have this rule). I won't go in to all of the reasons why in Japan things like AirBNB are not as popular -- but they aren't as plentiful or as well located as they are in other countries around the world.
Thanks for all the inputs. Its greatly appreciated.

Sounds like we should avoid June. We are used to extreme heat, coming from India, but it doesn't make sense to go from one hot & humid place to another. I think we will stick to our December schedule, which in any case was giving us 4 extra days.

While we do want to experience the Shinkansen at least once, our first preference would be to get a rental car. I have an international license & the plan would be to use the car to drive from Tokyo to Kyoto & back. We don't plan on using the car within the city as I can understand parking can be a problem.

Unfortunately we are not light travelers. My wife travels as if we are moving so I've gotten used to lots of heavy suitcases. This is another reason I was keen on getting a rental car since luggage on trains, planes & taxis will be a problem.

All the rooms & suites I've found on Marriott will accommodate a maximum of 3 people. So once again I am faced with the option of either getting 2 rooms or getting an apartment. The apartment route seems like a better option to me but like I said before, I'm a little lost on which areas to look in. This is where I needed some help. What are the sites that I should be seeing in Tokyo & Kyoto? We are pretty comfortable with taking public transport to move around the city.
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 6:39 am
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Originally Posted by Keyser
I understand driving can be a pain around the new year but it still makes sense for us since we like the ability to be able to move around on our own schedule.
If your plans only involve Kyoto and Tokyo, I don't think that a car offers much advantage in terms of flexibility of schedule - Trains between the two cities depart every five minutes or so, and take around two and a quarter hours. Making the same trip by car means having the flexibility to make the journey door-to-door but it will take several hours longer than the train. Within each city there are well developed transportation networks and lots of taxis.

Of course, there are folks who just love to drive, and if that's you then I won't try to dissuade you. Someone mentioned videos on YouTube. There are lots, but here's one of a couple who rented for five days, as you appear to be considering. They took a route through Kanazawa to get to Osaka. I would consider something like that to be a better use of a car than just going straight from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka, but to be honest, in both cases the routes are well served by high speed rail. Cars really come into their own when you go off the beaten track IMHO. But again, if you really like to drive then have at it.

Edit - Link to the video that I mentioned:

Last edited by jib71; Feb 1, 2024 at 7:05 am
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 6:44 am
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Originally Posted by freecia
+ 3 & 4 - If you are considering long distance driving cost performance, also check the highway tolls and gas costs. https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2354.html has a chart for approximate tolls and there's ways to lookup current tolls based on route. Take the highway and do not opt for local roads to save on tolls. The added stress & increased drive duration is not a good trade off unless you have sufficient time, no need to accommodate kid bladders, and need to be frugal. There are youtube videos showing Tokyo - Osaka route via freeway but in short, the toll roads are well maintained and there's highway rest stops (aka roadside stations) with gas stations, electric car chargers, restrooms and food options. Some are themed quite nicely and fun for kids.
Cost is not really a factor in this situation. 4 return tickets on the Shinkansen will probably cost me around $600. I am getting a large rental car for $300 for 6 days so even if I end up spending another $300 on tolls & gas then I'm still coming out even.

Time is of the essence since we only have 2 weeks so I'm happy to pay the tolls & get to my destination quicker.
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 6:48 am
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December is much better than June, as many had pointed out.
With 4 people, a car is better than trains.
To stay in Marriott hotels in Japan, I'd suggestion not to stay in Tokyo. Instead, look at Yokohama (assuming you had a car/ or not), cheaper and more convenient. If you want to go to visit Tokyo, then use trains.
Marriott had added many new properties in small cities (yet close to bigger ones). I'd be looking at them if I had a car.

Near Christmas time, all cities are very festive.
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 6:54 am
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Originally Posted by allset2travel
December is much better than June, as many had pointed out.
With 4 people, a car is better than trains.
To stay in Marriott hotels in Japan, I'd suggestion not to stay in Tokyo. Instead, look at Yokohama (assuming you had a car/ or not), cheaper and more convenient. If you want to go to visit Tokyo, then use trains.
Marriott had added many new properties in small cities (yet close to bigger ones). I'd be looking at them if I had a car.

Near Christmas time, all cities are very festive.
Won't have the car when staying in Tokyo. The primary purpose of the car is to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto & back.

Having said that, I am not opposed to staying in Yokohama if it would be easy getting to Tokyo using public transport.
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 8:11 am
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Originally Posted by bmwe92fan
December is our second favorite month in Tokyo (we live here) -- humidity is low and the weather is typically sunny and pleasant -- but cool. Average high temps of around 10-15 usually - cooler at night.
Which, if I may ask, leads me to wonder what your favorite month is and why. (We're beginning to plan on a Japan trip for the first time in many years...)
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 8:24 am
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Originally Posted by mtimmer
Which, if I may ask, leads me to wonder what your favorite month is and why. (We're beginning to plan on a Japan trip for the first time in many years...)
Our favorite month is November - warm, dry days and cooler evenings - and of course the fall foliage is beautiful. Also the pollen is low (we both have allergies).

We are avid tennis players and play outdoors year round -- December is a bit cool for us in the mornings but everything else is still great. By the end of January the pollen starts up again -- which is why we are back in NYC now!
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 11:57 am
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Originally Posted by mtimmer
Which, if I may ask, leads me to wonder what your favorite month is and why. (We're beginning to plan on a Japan trip for the first time in many years...)
Hi,

I was in Tokyo in December ( beautiful weather - on two days it was warm enough at lunchtime to walk with just a shirt on ( otherwise a jumper would do). Fall colours were very good in Tokyo as well as the christmas/winter illuminations. Although in 2019 i was in tokyo in late November and it was overcast/damp for 5 of 7 days.

I was also in Hiroshima/Tokyo mid January ( cool but beautiful weather- in places some early plum blossom flowers were blooming and in a couple of places in Tokyo ( Shnjuku, Tokyo Dome City and Midtown Hibya the winter illuminations were still up ( the christmas tree in odaiba, tokyo is lit all year iirc)

Mid April is also nice ( in 2019 , it was just after peak sakura time in Tokyo, the blossoms were falling but still beautiful)
Regards

TBS
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 2:39 pm
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Originally Posted by Keyser
Cost is not really a..

Time is of the essence since we only have 2 weeks so I'm happy to pay the tolls & get to my destination quicker.
then there is no choice really. The Shinkansen is the fastest and most efficient way from the centre of Tokyo to Kyoto. Period. Don't waste time with driving. It's silly for a first trip to Japan when you will just be doing the typical first timer things to japan.
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 3:20 pm
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Originally Posted by Keyser
Unfortunately we are not light travelers. My wife travels as if we are moving so I've gotten used to lots of heavy suitcases. This is another reason I was keen on getting a rental car since luggage on trains, planes & taxis will be a problem.
There are luggage delivery services (takkyubin) you can use to send bags ahead to your next destination. Prices are very competitive and I wouldn't worry about bags getting lost. I've shipped bags to/from inns deep in the countryside without any issues. IMO, renting a car just to haul bags between Tokyo and Kyoto adds unnecessary time and logistics to your schedule.
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Old Feb 1, 2024, 5:25 pm
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First it was all about flexibility of schedule, then time was of the essence (but not so much of the essence that the OP would save himself 8+ hours), and now it's for ease of transporting the wife's wardrobe. I think the OP is looking for an excuse to drive. I say let him discover for himself the joys of the Tomei expressway in holiday traffic.

This thread has inspired me to write my best ever Haiku (i.e. my only ever Haiku):
Japan is Japan.
Foreign tourist is foreign.
Finally they meet.
(Unless they don't).

Last edited by jib71; Feb 1, 2024 at 5:39 pm
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