Saturday, 12 March 2016

Japan.... a fantastic destination, easy to see by rail


Mark, one of our Japan rail fans, gives his suggestions of how to spend 12 nights in Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka and Tokyo – feel free to speak to Mark to discuss your own travel plans.

“With three nights in Kyoto, two nights in Hiroshima and three nights in Tokyo with a rail pass included, this is how I’d spend my time in Japan!

Day 1 – UK to Kyoto
Fly from Heathrow to Osaka Kansai Airport, arriving next day. Departures from Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and other UK airports are also available.

Day 2 – Kyoto
On arrival in to Kansai airport, I would head straight for the Japan Railways (JR) Ticket Office, located just outside the main terminal building, in the station complex. Here, you can collect your JR Pass for your week’s train travel around Japan – don’t actually activate the Pass today, the helpful staff will arrange this to happen on day 4 as you will make the most of the 7 days this way (there’s no need to extend to a 14 day pass!) You’ll also be able to make seat reservations for your onward journeys throughout your time in Japan. Then buy a ticket separately and hop on a train to Kyoto (approx. 75 minutes) and make your way to your hotel.

The JR Rail Passes are brilliant – they allow you to travel on the entire JR network, which covers a huge amount of Japan. Almost all trains are covered, including many of the Shinkansen ‘bullet’ trains, which are really comfortable and punctual. I’ve also used the JR Pass on local lines around Kyoto and Tokyo, plus they can also be used on many local JR buses, the Tokyo monorail and even the ferry to Miyajima!

Day 3 – Kyoto
I’d start off my sightseeing in Kyoto at the incredible Fushimi Inari Taisha, a magical Shinto temple where thousands of wooden gates dot the hillside – this has to be one of my favourite places in the whole of Japan. From here, I would head to the Southern Higashiyama district, home to dozens of temples, shrines, gardens and streets that will leave you mesmerised – my favourites include the temple of Kiyomizu-Dera (keep an eye out for the entrance to Tainai Meguri, which is one of the oddest experiences in Kyoto!) and the traditional streets of the Sannen Zaka district – really pretty. I’d finish off the day by heading to one of the bars in Ponto Cho (Japanese beers are very good, but I’ve never got in to Sake - it will help weary feet, though!)

Holidays to Kyoto with Escape Worldwide - Fushimi Inari Taisha Temple

Day 4 – Kyoto
Continue exploring Kyoto’s amazing sights today – I’d head out to Arashiyama for the incredible bamboo groves and the beautiful gardens at the Tenryu Ji temple – as you come out of the station turn right and follow the path until you start to see bamboo! Don’t forget that your JR Pass can be used on all JR lines in the area, so I would then hop back on the train and head to central Kyoto to round off my sightseeing – next door to the station is the Kyoto Tower, which gives you great views across the city, and close by is the Higashi Honganji Temple. If you still have the energy return to your hotel via Nijo-jo Castle and Nishiki Market – I have no idea what half the foods for sale here are, but it looks fascinating! For me a stay in Kyoto is completed by taking in a traditional Geisha show – and probably a few more beers! Certain attractions require an entrance fee to be paid locally.

Day 5 – Kyoto to Hiroshima
It’s around a 2 hour journey from Kyoto to Hiroshima (quick change in Shin Osaka) so I would catch a late morning train as I would want to spend the afternoon around Hiroshima’s Peace Park. Kyoto station sells a huge range of bento boxes, so you won’t go hungry on board.
One option I would consider is catching a local train from Kyoto to Kobe, and spending a few hours there before continuing to Hiroshima - main Japanese stations are like small cities so you’ll find lockers to leave your luggage in while exploring, along with shops, restaurants and helpful staff. Kobe is one of Japan’s most attractive cities, and although the Shinkansen station is a little further out, it’s all easy to explore. There’s even a Sake museum with self-guide tours!
When you arrive in to Hiroshima make your way to your hotel. I would then head to the Peace Park, which is a very moving, thought provoking memorial to the site of the world’s first atomic bomb attack. The museum is excellent, but for me it’s the Atomic Bomb Dome that really brings things home - allow a little extra time just to take this area in. From here I would head straight to the nearest bar to set the world to rights - the 1923 Highball Bar on the corner of Horikawacho Naka-Ku is a good place to start!

Holidays to Hiroshima and Miyajima with Escape Worldwide - Peace Park, Hiroshima

Day 6 – Hiroshima & Miyajima
Today I would head to magical Miyajima - this beautiful temple and small island is also one of my favourite places in Japan! Take the JR line from Hiroshima to Mijayimaguchi station, then it’s a five minute walk to the ferry - if you hop on the JR ferry this is also covered by your JR Pass! Miyajima is easy to explore on foot and a half day here works well for me - the highlight is definitely the beautiful temple gate, which seems to float on the water at high tide.

Day 7 – Hiroshima to Osaka
Make your way back to Hiroshima JR station for your Shinkansen ‘bullet’ trainto Osaka. On arrival I would head to Shinsaibashi and Amerika-Mura, two adjacent neighbourhoods but with different feels. From here it’s a short walk to the bright lights of Osaka’s Dotonbori District, and nowhere screams ‘Japan’ to me more than Dotonbori!

Day 8 – Osaka
I’d continue my sightseeing in Osaka at the wacky Umeda Sky Building, one of Japan’s landmark buildings and a fascinating piece of architecture - the viewing platform is accessed by a rather hairy escalator! From here head to nearby Ohatsu Tenjin Shrine, and on to Osaka Jo Castle - modern to ancient in one go!
This evening I would return to Dotonbori for food, drinks and the atmosphere. Just on the south side of the canal across Mido Suji is a great little Yakitori serving grilled meats and fish with cold beer at low prices (unfortunately I don’t know the name, but look for the red & black sign, and the owner who looks like Shirley Bassey!)

Holidays to Osaka with Escape Worldwide - Dotonbori district

Day 9 – Osaka to Tokyo
Make your way back to Shin Osaka station for your Shinkansen ‘bullet’ train to Tokyo, a journey of around 4 hours 30 minutes  – when I’m making my seat reservations on this route I would ask for a seat on the left hand side of the train, as hopefully you’ll great views of Mount Fuji.

On this leg I would consider splitingt my train ride to Tokyo in to two – I would catch a fairly early train to Nagoya, one of Japan’s economic powerhouses and with quite a lot to see close to the station. Drop your luggage at a locker in the station while exploring. Just outside Nagoya station is the Midland Square Building with its observation deck, and a little further away is Nagoya Castle, so there’s plenty to see here.

On arrival in to Tokyo JR station make your way to your hotel – don’t forget that your JR Pass includes free travel on all of Tokyo’s JR lines (not the subway), including the very handy (but very busy) Chuo and Yamanote lines, and the Tokyo Monorail. Where possible I avoid travelling during rush hours in main Japanese cities, although you’ll always get on a train as there’s a queueing system in place. This evening I would head out to experience Tokyo’s zany nightlife in districts such as Shinjuku and Shibuya – there’s a real buzz in these areas once the masses of neon lights up, and personally I prefer Shinjuku with plenty of places to eat, drink and be entertained.
On arrival in to Tokyo JR station make your way to your hotel – don’t forget that your JR Pass includes free travel on all of Tokyo’s JR lines (not the subway), including the very handy (but very busy) Chuo and Yamanote lines, and the Tokyo Monorail. Where possible I avoid travelling during rush hours in main Japanese cities, although you’ll always get on a train as there’s a queueing system in place. This evening I would head out to experience Tokyo’s zany nightlife in districts such as Shinjuku and Shibuya – there’s a real buzz in these areas once the masses of neon lights up, and personally I prefer Shinjuku with plenty of places to eat, drink and be entertained.

Day 10 – Tokyo
On my first full day in Tokyo I would head straight to the Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest structure in Japan and with great views across the city – the queues can be a little long so try to avoid it at the weekend, or look out for the fast lane! From here it’s a short walk to the Asahi Beer Headquarters (there’s a great bar on the 22nd floor – definitely recommended!) and the more cultural Senso Ji Temple. From here I would head to the lively Akihabara district, with its colourful billboards and even more colourful characters – sensory overload! Continue to Shibuya to see the crazy Shibuya Crossing, where thousands of people cross at every change of the lights – as the evening starts the lights come on, and you can only be in Tokyo! Don’t forget that your JR Pass can be used on all JR lines in Tokyo, cutting the cost of getting around. Certain attractions require an entrance fee to be paid locally.

Day 11 – Tokyo
Today continue exploring Tokyo – your 7-day JR Pass has now expired, so you’ll just need to buy subway or train tickets as you go. I would start in the city centre, where you can catch a glimpse of the Imperial Palace (for me the best view is at the corner of Harumidori and Uchiboridori) and take in the upmarket Ginza district – if you get off the train at Tokyo’s main station to the west side all of this can be done on foot. Then head to Harajuka, where the beautiful Meiji Jingu Shinto shrine contrasts with the surrounding streets incredibly – the district is popular with Japan’s youth culture, so you’ll find lots of zaniness here. It’s then a short hop to Shinjuku, home to the world’s busiest station and Tokyo’s bright lights & buzzing nightlife. I’d take in a show at the renowned Robot Restaurant – it’s like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else, ever!

Holidays to Tokyo with Escape Worldwide - Tokyo Sky Tree & the Asahi Beer Hall

Day 12 – Tokyo to UK
Buy a ticket at the station and make your way to Tokyo’s Narita airport for your flight back to the UK.


All in all, this would take in all of the key highlights of this region of Japan – this is how I would spend 12 days in Japan!”

Checkout some great holidays to Japan  - http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/far_east/japan_holidays.html


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