Planning Family Japan trip
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26 / M / on your lap, purring
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Posted 9/28/13 , edited 10/18/13
[10/18/2013 mod edit: I'm leaving this because we didn't catch it sooner (generally threads that ask for help/advice aren't allowed) and it has some good info. For future requests of this sort, please post in the Japan Help Thread --lorreen]


I'm in charge of planning my family's roughly 10 day trip to Japan for summer 2014. I was wondering if anyone had success using any travel/tour agencies like http://www.kensingtontours.com/ or any others.

Some things I'd like to do:
-A night + day in Kyoto. Aside from seeing shrines, what else is there to do there?
-A night at a traditional Japanese inn with hot springs. Where would be the best place to do this?
-A few nights in Tokyo:
****One reserved for bar hopping with my brothers. Which places are good for this?
****A day for shopping and seeing the city by foot/subway. Obviously Akihabara for me, but what other places are good? Shibuya,Harajuku, Ginza(too upscale?)
-A day reserved for hiking up Mt Fuji.
-A day trip to Hiroshima
-Any other suggestions?
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46 / M / Bay Area, CA, USA
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Posted 9/28/13
There's potentially tons and tons of stuff to do-- it really depends on you and your family members' interests. Going to your library and borrowing a Fodor's or Lonely Planet guide to Japan might be a good place to start researching the sorts of things available. Japan really is my favorite travel destination. I've been there three times already, and never get tired of it-- and I've still only been to Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and various points in between (the "usual" places, for the most part)-- there's still the Tohoku region, the mountains and western side of Honshu, plus all of Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kyushu, and Okinawa. With babies, I won't be travelling internationally for a while, but I've the rest of my life still to fit it all in when the kids get older.

Anyway, I've used Asian Transpacific Journeys (http://www.asiatranspacific.com), which seems similar to Kensington Tours-- they'll do custom journeys in Asia (including Japan, of course), even for single individuals, as well as families and groups. I've no affiliation with them-- just a satisfied customer who used them for my past two trips. They might be slightly cheaper than Kensington, based upon what I'm seeing on Kensington's site for their Japan tours. The complete total cost for my Japan trips with ATJ (back when I was single) ranged between US$5000 and US$7000, which included my airfare, souvenirs and so on for 12-14 day trips. With double occupancy or more in a hotel room since you're travelling with family, I'd guess your per-person rate would be less for the same level of service. ATJ will do as much or as little as you wish, ranging from doing the whole thing for you and having a private guide (which would likely cost a small fortune), or just arranging hotels. I had ATJ arrange only my hotels as well as train tickets and such between major destination cities, as well as a few tours in some of the cities. Otherwise, I was on my own, which is my preferred style. ATJ will also accommodate special requests (for fee-for-service, of course). In 2007, I wanted to attend one day of the sumo Aki Basho in Tokyo, and said I wanted the closest seats they could get me. They managed to get me a whole box (4 seats) in the A section in the Kokugikan about 10 rows back from ringside-- $450+ just for the ticket at face value. While a box fits 4 people theoretically, they're actually very small. With just me, I was able to stretch out a bit and really enjoy myself. I got there at like 8 or 9 am, and stayed until the very end around 6 pm. It was great.

This is the doyo iri ceremony for Yokozuna Hakuho that day. In 2010, I wanted to attend a kabuki performance and wanted tickets as close to the front as possible, whatever the cost. ATJ got me seats in the second row from the stage (sorry, no photos-- not allowed during performances). You might consider giving ATJ a try.

I'm no expert, but love going to Japan, and would be glad to recommend something if that'd be helpful to you. More specific questions, or some statement about what particular sorts of things interest you or that members of your family want may be better though. One thing I'll say right now is that unless you're very fit and a fast hiker/climber (and maybe you are), you might want more than a day for Mt. Fuji. I started from the way bottom (not the 5th station like most), and took a bit over two days, including one night on the mountain itself. With only 10 days, you also might not want to cram too much in that time, and end up so rushed during your vacation that you feel you need another vacation immediately after to recover from your vacation! Anyway, enjoy planning your trip (something I always find fun) as well as the trip itself!
yurple 
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Posted 10/15/13
While you're in Tokyo I recommend day trips to Nikko and the Hakone region. Nikko feels like a different world from Tokyo, since the former is at the base of mountains and in general feels much quieter and more ancient. Doing the circle tour around Hakone was a lot of fun, since you get to experience a bunch of different modes of transportation: train, cablecar, ropeway, boat, bus, walking.

My itinerary was as follows:
1: Arrive in Tokyo in the evening, slept early for the fish auction.
2: Tsukiji fish auction, wandered Chiyoda, Akihabara.
3: Explored Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya.
4: Day trip to Nikko.
5: Explored Ueno, museums, Sensoji temple, Nakamise street.
6: Day trip to Hakone.
7: Train to Kyoto.
8: Explored east Kyoto, Inari shrine.
9: Day trip to Nara.
10: Day trip to Arashiyama (west of Kyoto).
11: Train back to Tokyo, flight.

For a first-time visitor I actually wouldn't change much of that itinerary. It lets you explore lots of Japan, not just the urban areas but also some of the more serene towns and natural areas. But as sushipath says, it really depends on what you want to see and do.

I also planned and booked everything myself with the help of various Internet resources, most notably http://www.japan-guide.com/. I've found it the best way for total immersion anywhere I travel, since you're completely on your own for everything.

For train tickets, I recommend getting the Japan Rail Pass. I worked out the cost once and I don't think you save much money, but it is well worth it for the convenience. We were able to take almost any Shinkansen train anywhere and at any time, which made the day trips to various places a lot more flexible.
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Posted 9/27/14
Closing now since it's almost a year old, and more recent info can be shared in the Japan Help thread.
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