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Ultratram

Planning trip to Japan! Advice welcome.

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Ok....here is the general plan so far.

 

Plan for next spring( not during golden week) I want to arrive in haneda on a monday and leave from same airport friday. I am planning 2 nights in akihabara, a night in kyoto, and a night in osaka. I am still debating on taking plane from osaka back to the states instead of haneda. 

 

In akihabara I am reserving train room at washington hotel but I need recomendations for hotels in kyoto and osaka.

 

In Tokyo I will mostly be sight seeing on keikyu line. I plan on seeing the Mikasa memorial ship.

 

Kyoto will mostly be to see museum and castle.

 

Around osaka I really want to ride and see a 103 series so either hanwa line or ride part way on the nara line on the way to osaka then ride expresses the rest of the way. Probably only see one.

 

Need advice on rail pass. 

 

Advice, thoughts, ideas welcome. Thanks.

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Most of the time, flying from or to Osaka is more expensive than Tokyo.  However, you occasionally find exceptions. 

 

Most airlines let you book up to about 330 days in advance.  So what you need to do is identify the day or days you want to leave and return, and then check places like Momondo and other travel sites that find flights for you and when you hit that 330 day mark, start checking regularly.   You will see ups and downs.  No need to buy yet but it helps you get a feel of what is good and what to expect.  Of course, you may find an absolutely rippin' good deal in doing this and you may want to just grab it.  

 

That happened to me last year.  We went in December, and end of March  I found $750 RT to Narita from SLC and $860 to KIX (Osaka) from SLC.   Since that was by far the cheapest I had ever seen from SLC I ended up buying them that far in advance.  Only once after did I see cheaper, and it was only a couple bucks.  So be ready if you get that 1 day only deal that some airlines throw out there.


There are also services (don't remember off hand their names since I am not subscribed to any) that will track your favored itineraries and send you a notice when good deals show up.

 

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I have a friend that travels and suggested using kayak app. That's what I am using right now to find flights

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18 hours ago, Ultratram said:

I have a friend that travels and suggested using kayak app. That's what I am using right now to find flights

 

There may be better choices.    (I have not really used Kayak a lot but have looked at it and compared on previous flights and other sources like Momondo were usually much better deals).

 

If you have a credit card with points that runs their own travel booking facility online you may want to watch that as well.  Sometimes those have as good or better deals than the typical online places (I found my super deal on the Chase one for example)

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I use google flights or Skyscanner. Google Flights also checks websites such as Kayak, and compares it to other sites, so you get the best fare.

 

Your trip is kind of short, I would not recommend a fast trip like you are suggesting so you can't take in all the things that Japan has to offer. But that's my take.

 

Whether a JR pass is worth it, check out this calculator to see whether it is cheaper to buy Japan Rail pass or ordinary JR tickets. https://www.japan-guide.com/railpass/

 

I would also recommend checking out the Japan Bus Pass http://willerexpress.com/st/3/en/pc/buspass/ which includes overnight buses saving you time and money in hotel rooms.

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Posted (edited)

 As suggested by Yavianice I would aim at trying to spend more time there, a trip as short as you have planned you would barely get your toes in the water so to speak, I would recommend you try and stretch it out to 10 days at least as you would not be able to accomplish much of what you want to do in such a short time. There are too many distractions when you go there and you will burn time without even realising it, we have been there twice the first time 19 days and the second time 25 days and we still didn't get to do all the things we wanted to do.

 

With tavelling I would suggest flying into Haneda and leaving via Kansai so you don't waste time travelling back to Tokyo from Osaka, also with going down to the Kansai region I would suggest you stay in either Kyoto or Osaka, it is only 40 odd minutes or so between these two cities using Rapid or Limited Express services on JR, Keihan or Hankyu lines, that way you avoid wasting time switching hotels. Personally my choice would be to stay in Kyoto as it is a beautiful city and there is a lot to see there, you can also catch a limited express to Kansai airport from Kyoto station. When you go to Nara you could also visit Fushimi Inari on the way there as it is on the same line, given you want to catch a 103 Series you would have a pretty good chance of catching one along the Nara Line as it is one of the last refuges for them in the area, we caught one in 2015 on a local service to Fushimi Inari, we then caught a Keihan 2600 Series to Kiyomizu Gojo so that we could visit Kiyomizu Dera.

 

With the JR Pass it is worth it if you are travelling a lot by JR services and using Shinkansen frequently, if not you are better of just paying for the trains as you use them especially if using the private lines, we tended to use Suica or Pasmo cards more when we were in Tokyo than we would the JR Pass.

Edited by Das Steinkopf

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I'd agree with the above.  So if you cannot add more time.  Just to Tokyo or just do Osaka/Kyoto.  With only three full days and a few half days.  I see no point in wasting 3/4 of a day with long distance travel and checking in and out of hotels.

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Ok I will probably room in osaka and go to the kyoto museum by rail. Thanks so much for the help.

 

My trip is still not until next spring but I think I will get the most out of the days I can. Perhaps extend ....but my vacation time from work is limited throughout the year.

 

I have my first hotel scheduled. The Akihabara Washington hotel train room! I will have to rent some trains, but if I feel really silly I could bring one of my own kihas. 

 

💡I know how to fill out custom forms but I am also afraid I may end up finding some train set ( or what not) too big for luggage.  Has anyone mailed stuff to themselves before?

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That hotel room looks amazing, I've never heard of it before!   Another "only in japan" experience. 

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12 hours ago, Ultratram said:

 

I have my first hotel scheduled. The Akihabara Washington hotel train room! I will have to rent some trains, but if I feel really silly I could bring one of my own kihas. 

 

Why would you bother renting some trains when you have at least a dozen hobby shops within walking distance from the hotel, you could go and buy some new trains and test them out on the layout instead.

 

12 hours ago, Ultratram said:

 

💡I know how to fill out custom forms but I am also afraid I may end up finding some train set ( or what not) too big for luggage.  Has anyone mailed stuff to themselves before?

 

 My trick from my last trip was to have a slightly smaller suitcase with your clothes etc packed inside another suitcase, that way when you go shopping you still have your suitcase for your clothes and sundry items and a whole bag reserved for your model rail purchases.

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Posted (edited)
21 hours ago, Ultratram said:

 

I have my first hotel scheduled. The Akihabara Washington hotel train room! I will have to rent some trains, but if I feel really silly I could bring one of my own kihas. 

 

 

That's awesome. I thought about that when we were planning our visit to Tokyo. My wife said "No way". I think that's just the perfect hotel room. Don't worry about bringing trains. I bought a bunch of trains as 'souvenirs'. They still remind me of our trip, and are just that little bit more special because of it. They'd probably be even more special if you have memories of playing with them in Tokyo. Also, you'd go home knowing that all your trains are tested and working. 

 

BTW, we stayed in an Airb'nb. It was nice and sort of gave us a flavor of living for real in Tokyo. At least it made it easier to pretend 🙂

 

Edited by gavino200

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I stayed in the Shin-Osaka Station Hotel Honkan https://goo.gl/maps/prxbFxxzGR72. It's a typical Japanese business hotel. A wonderful breakfast (traditional Japanese or Western style) can be included. Other than that the hotel is very clean, everything works... and if you are in the right room you get unobstructed views to the Tokaido main line and the Osaka loop line 😉 To go to Kyoto just walk 300m to the station and take a Rapid or Super Rapid service. Sit at the front and enjoy!

 

I agree with my fellow Aussies that one should spend more than 4 days in Japan, but well, vacation time is what it is.

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That's quite a rush trip, but as others said, a vacation time is what it is.... I reckon a week is best for absorbing the most of Japan in Tokyo and Osaka alone... 

 

If you intend to fly into Haneda Tokyo and exit from Osaka it would seem like a Rail pass might not pay for itself, seeing it is only one shinkansen trip. A return trip will cover the cost of the pass. That said, maybe you could also think about how you might want to do this trip, whether it is more cost savings to change hotels and fly in and out from different cities (I think it costs more to do 2 single flights than one return flight?), or more cost effective to stay in one hotel for all 4 days (means no dragging of luggage and all those inconveniences) and get the rail pass to maximise travel. Yes option 2 might sound silly since it will mean spending more time on the trains, but if you look at the overall cost efficiency it might work out better... 

 

Example for my previous trip, I intended to fly into Kyushu Fukuoka and exit via Tokyo, but it was too expensive to do 2 single flights and there was a return flight in and out of Fukuoka on offer. Since I will get a rail pass anyway, it seems more cost effective to do the return flight, and used the overnight flight time lapse (we took an overnight flight and arrive in Japan in the morning, which means most hotels wouldn't allow for checking in) to zoom ourselves on the shinkansen over to Tokyo and work our way back up to Kyushu... 

 

Hope that helps!

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5 hours ago, gavino200 said:

 

BTW, we stayed in an Airb'nb. It was nice and sort of gave us a flavor of living for real in Tokyo. At least it made it easier to pretend 🙂

 

 

I agree with the Airbnb recommendation, especially if you are travelling with kids.  The hotels here are not the most comfortable or spacious and I have mostly sworn off of using them except when travelling alone for business.  One problem with Airbnb these days though is availability.  Last month the government introduced regulations on short term rentals which resulted in 80% of places being removed from Airbnb overnight, so they are a bit harder to find than they were earlier this year.  

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We stayed in an AirBnB in the Tokyo area.  Was nice for the price.   Unfortunately those new regulations will make it harder.   That was the several days before Christmas.  We did another overnight trip to Tokyo and one night in a hotel out kind of by Disneyland (that train stop) that I got for free with points -- actually 2 rooms adjacent as we thought originally my 2 SILs would be there with us.  It was nice for a standard Japanese hotel.

 

I've stayed in a variety of hotels in Japan.  They are often small (which is not a problem as we are basically just sleeping and washing up there), and have harder beds (unless Disney or run by an American or Western company like Hilton).  Because of the "hard bed" problem I pay particular attention in reviews about the beds.

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I've stayed in Kyoto for a year recently. And I often visit Osaka, several times a year from the USA for work. In fact, I was last there a week or so ago, and filled half a suitcase with tatami, trains (16 car N700A; Yamabiko; Kato Kirara; Modemo Randen - last two are doubling up what I have), Tomix track and the new TNOS system. I was going to mail stuff to myself (as I've done at the end of my year stay), but fortunately I'm allowed three suitcases for free on United. 

 

If you're on a budget, Kyoto is usually more expensive than Osaka for hotels because they get 50 million tourists a year and also it's a much smaller city. But as others have pointed out, it's not a problem to stay in Osaka as it's less than an hour away (Keihan, Hankyu, JR the main options).  The railway museum is a bit of a walk from Kyoto station. There are many buses at Kyoto Station. You can also rent a bicycle near Kyoto station for 800 yen on upwards. Probably the fastest way of getting around Kyoto. I had a bike and was always faster than the trains and buses. Keihan is useful for Demachiyanagi (near Kyoto University where I lived). Hankyu takes you straight to Shijo - heart of the shopping district, next to the river. For Osaka, there are lots of hotels in Den Den town (where the train stores are), near Nipponbashi and Namba. Namba station is a big transportation/shopping hub.  Food is significantly better (selection, price) in Osaka as well. The airport Nankai train also goes from Namba. If you're rich, the Swisshotel is nearly right above the station, don't even have to go outside. Umeda is the end point for Hankyu from Kyoto, but less interesting for model railways then Den Den town, but the big Yodobashi is right there across the street from the Hankyu dept store. Plus the twin Grand Front complexes and the JR Osaka station complexes. However, I usually stay in Uehonmachi, very convenient for Kintetsu.

 

For local buses, private rail lines, Osaka Metro and Kyoto local lines, purchase of a stored-value ICOCA card is a good bet as it works on nearly everything, and you never have to fish for change. You can buy the card at all the major stations. There is a 500 yen deposit. Refundable.

 

Toyoko Inn is a good-priced national chain business hotel (join their membership). I'm personally fond of the Daiwa Roynet hotels, a step up from Toyoko Inn quality, but not as expensive as international chains (also a member). Central Inn (I think that's their name) is also recommended by university colleagues as being convenient and a good deal for central Kyoto.

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6 hours ago, sandiway said:

If you're on a budget, Kyoto is usually more expensive than Osaka for hotels because they get 50 million tourists a year and also it's a much smaller city. But as others have pointed out, it's not a problem to stay in Osaka as it's less than an hour away (Keihan, Hankyu, JR the main options).  The railway museum is a bit of a walk from Kyoto station. There are many buses at Kyoto Station. You can also rent a bicycle near Kyoto station for 800 yen on upwards. Probably the fastest way of getting around Kyoto. I had a bike and was always faster than the trains and buses. Keihan is useful for Demachiyanagi (near Kyoto University where I lived). 

 

I agree 100% about renting a bicycle being the best option in Kyoto.  Last time I visited (7 years ago) with my wife we spent a few days on rented bikes and it was great.  The central part of the city is flat so its easy to pedal around, you aren't bound by public transport schedules, you can go directly to your destination and you can avoid the massive crowds on the buses and trains.  

The only downside is that a lot of the main attractions are either in hilly/mountainous areas on the outskirts of town (like Hiei san) or in areas that are way too crowded to be traversed on anything but foot (like around Kiyomizu Dera).  And of course if you are a railroad fan riding the trains is a cool experience in itself (though in Kyoto a lot of the sites are not near stations).

 

When we went there was a place just on the south side of Kyoto station behind a pachinko parlor that was the best for renting bikes, I did a blog post about them at the time and I think the info is still up to date: http://ablogofsean.blogspot.com/2011/04/kyoto-trip-part-13-kyoto-by-rental.html 

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Bikes are good if you are hitting multiple locations each day. But since said traveler has only a day in Kyoto and only hitting two sights. I fail to see a need.

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14 hours ago, sandiway said:

For local buses, private rail lines, Osaka Metro and Kyoto local lines, purchase of a stored-value ICOCA card is a good bet as it works on nearly everything, and you never have to fish for change. You can buy the card at all the major stations. There is a 500 yen deposit. Refundable.

 

Just a note.  You can also pick up the ICOCA cards at the airport and they even have a bundle with a JR ticket from the airport.  Also, ICOCA and SUICA cards are interchangeable in terms of use.  So if you land in Tokyo, and get a SUICA card, it will work fine in Osaka area where ICOCA is the standard.  And vice versa.   


We have ICOCA cards and we used and filled them at SUICA stations in Tokyo with no issue.

 

 

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4 hours ago, chadbag said:

 Also, ICOCA and SUICA cards are interchangeable in terms of use.  So if you land in Tokyo, and get a SUICA card, it will work fine in Osaka area where ICOCA is the standard.  And vice versa.   


We have ICOCA cards and we used and filled them at SUICA stations in Tokyo with no issue.

I can confirm this is correct. I have both SUICA and ICOCA cards. SUICA from my year at Tokyo University a while back.

 

The ICOCA cards at KIX might be by default special, e.g. have some touristy design. My wife has one from when her sister visited us in Kyoto.

It's possible they're also available in the city, but I'm not into that stuff.

 

Now if the ICOCA card somehow gets a bit damaged, e.g. proximity to magnetic fields?, some stations, e.g. Keihan Sanjo or Shijo, seem to know how to recover them.

I have had that happen once. They manage to read out the balance and give me it in cash. Not sure if they will be able to do that with SUICA. Anyone know?

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8 hours ago, katoftw said:

Bikes are good if you are hitting multiple locations each day. But since said traveler has only a day in Kyoto and only hitting two sights. I fail to see a need.

That's a good point. However, part of the charm of Kyoto can be from riding the bikes through the city along the rivers, e.g. Kamo, and seeing the crowds as you traverse between the sights. Lots of bikes there. BTW, there is free bicycle parking (up to 2 hours IIRC) at the back of the Kyoto Yodobashi inside the building at the ground floor level. Handy to know.

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11 hours ago, Sean said:

you can go directly to your destination and you can avoid the massive crowds on the buses and trains.  

The only downside is that a lot of the main attractions are either in hilly/mountainous areas on the outskirts of town (like Hiei san) or in areas that are way too crowded to be traversed on anything but foot (like around Kiyomizu Dera).  And of course if you are a railroad fan riding the trains is a cool experience in itself (though in Kyoto a lot of the sites are not near stations).

 

When we went there was a place just on the south side of Kyoto station behind a pachinko parlor that was the best for renting bikes, I did a blog post about them at the time and I think the info is still up to date: http://ablogofsean.blogspot.com/2011/04/kyoto-trip-part-13-kyoto-by-rental.html 

There are many convenient places for renting bicycles around Kyoto station. The biggest attractions have many people on foot and the streets leading up to the main gates are full of souvenir shops. So yes Kiyomizu-dera and Fushimi-Inari shrine are packed, and it's best to park the bicycles and walk the last bits. Fushimi Inari is of course very close to Keihan and JR. However, Kinkaku-ji is not convenient by train. Good by bicycle. Also by bus.

 

When a friend visited from the USA, I rented a bicycle with a few extra gears for him early in the morning with extended hours. The plan was that once he hopped off the Shinkansen at Kyoto station and stashed his luggage in a locker, I'd take him on bicycle into Shiga Prefecture and we would circumnavigate Lake Biwa and be back in time for dinner, about 200km. Unfortunately, he got tired going over the hill from Yamashina into Otsu, and we only did a small loop of Lake Biwa using the big bridge. Shame since the nicest part of Like Biwa in my opinion are the northern bits and he never got to see the beautiful uncrowded road over there.

 

For those spending more than a day in Kyoto, a nice walk is from the center of Kyoto up over Mt Hiei into Shiga Prefecture, down the hill and take the Keihan train on the Lake Biwa side all the way to Otsu and then transfer to the Keihan that goes back into Sanjo station (and then becomes part of the Kyoto subway). I've done it several times. The Kyoto trail is a nice 80km hike in the hills around the city. You can start from the Fushimi Inari shrine, and it's 70km from there, finishing up at a railway station in western Kyoto.

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5 hours ago, sandiway said:

That's a good point. However, part of the charm of Kyoto can be from riding the bikes through the city along the rivers, e.g. Kamo, and seeing the crowds as you traverse between the sights. Lots of bikes there. BTW, there is free bicycle parking (up to 2 hours IIRC) at the back of the Kyoto Yodobashi inside the building at the ground floor level. Handy to know.

I completely agree with you about riding the bikes through nice locales.  But said traveler only has one day available to him, so spending 800 yen on a bike to only use it as public transport is spending more money than a bus and subway would cost.

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Just curious, when Americans go through home customs should they declare their purchases and pay tax on them? Duty, sales tax whatever tax?

 

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