Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Japan 2015, Week 1 - Itinerary

I like having a plan when we travel.  Not a rigid, minute-by-minute itinerary, but a solid framework or outline to provide some structure to our days.  It saves us from wandering around, trying to figure out what to do - and there are about 3 million options at any given time in Japan, so, multiply that by 20 days...going without a plan would be somewhat insane.

Developing an itinerary for our first trip to Japan in 2013 was a much bigger task, even though it was a shorter trip.  We didn't really know what to expect, didn't know how long getting places would take or how long we'd want to spend there, and didn't want to create a plan that didn't allow for random adventuring.  This time, we have the advantages of experience, more time, and just more confidence that we'll be able to get where we want to go and enjoy the crazy journey.

Here's the plan for week 1, with some helpful planning advice mixed in:

Day 1: Travel
  • Depart MSP (13 hours)

Day 2: Travel/Narita Airport/Yokohoma
  • Arrive at Narita
  • Pick up modem for Internet (ESSENTIAL for Americans traveling to Japan!)
  • Pick up JR Rail Passes (these need to be purchased outside of Japan and then redeemed when you arrive.  We'd argue that these are another essential for Americans traveling to Japan.)
  • Narita Express to Yokohama Station (JR - 90 min)
    • You can find all the transportation schedules using Hyperdia.  This is an awesome and essential planning site (there are apps for iOS and Android too).  When searching for Shinkansen trains (nobody really says "bullet train" in Japan, as far as I can tell) that are compatible with the JR Pass (i.e. won't cost extra money), select "More Options" and DE-select "Airplane", "Nozomi", and "Private Railway" - that combination will exclude everything you want it to.
  • Yokohama Station to Sakuragicho Station (JR Keihn Tohoku Line - 3 min)
  • Walk to our hotel (2 min) - we find and read as much information for this type of thing as possible.  In this case, we learned that our hotel does not have any English signage, but is very easy to find due to its proximity to the station and unique architecture (we've looked at day time and night time photos from several angles.)  We also have a small notebook we use to write down important information like the names of hotels in Japanese.
  • Check in at Yokohoma Sakuragicho Washington Hotel, double room with a bay view ($85/night via Booking.com)
  • Get dinner
  • Explore the area

 In 2013, it took us several hours to get out of the airport.  We didn't know where to get our JR Passes exchanged and nearly waited in the WRONG really-long-line before just asking and realizing we needed to wait in the really-long-line downstairs (and "downstairs" is all the detail we really remember, but I think that is a very important detail - and we also just know what a JR Office looks like - so I think it should all go smoothly.)  That being said, it's hard to say how long the really-long-line will be and, thus, hard to estimate when we will arrive at the hotel.

Day 3: Yokohoma
  • Wake up by 8 am
  • Breakfast in the hotel room to save time and money (and also the snacks we pack and eat insure we'll have space in our luggage to bring other things home!)  In addition to things like granola bars, fruit snacks, and trail mix, we are also bringing instant oatmeal.  Since the Japanese love tea, hot water is very easy to find (most rooms have an electric tea kettle) so it's a good option for breakfast.  Easy Mac (not easy to find in Japan) would likewise be a good option.
  • Cup Noodles Museum
  • Sakura Dori (cherry blossoms should be in full bloom!)
  • China Town
  • Ookagawa Sakura Festival
  • Sankeien Garden Cherry Blossom Night Viewing 2015

 Something to note about cherry blossom season is that you're likely to find large festivals just wandering around in Tokyo and Kyoto (and I'm guessing most places).   We didn't account for this in 2013 and mostly just rushed through them on our way to other things.  This time, we are finding out about as many as we can and planning to make an effort to utilize them to sample Japanese foods while enjoying the sakura.

Day 4:  Yokohoma
  • You can assume most mornings will look like day 3 ☺
  • Possibly take the JR Train to Shinjuku to visit the Shinjuku Gyoen - we did this a few mornings on our 2013 trip and it was really magical so we may try to get there while the sakura is at its prettiest!
  • Yokohoma Flea Market 
  • Ramen Museum
  • More exploring in Yokohoma
  • Night time sakura festival (sakura viewing at night is called yozakura and it's very beautiful!)

Day 5: Day trip to Kamakura
  • Make our way to Kamakura via JR and spend the day exploring the area

Day 6: Tokyo
  • Sakuragicho Station to Iidabashi Station in Tokyo (you can easily find any of the places I mention on Google Maps, by the way - we use Google Maps HEAVILY for ALL of our adventures.)
  • Move to our hotel in Tokyo - Hotel Metropolitan Edmont ($125/night via Booking.com)
    • We will probably be too early to check in so will likely just store our luggage and head out for more adventures.
  • Head over to Sumida Park (via JR Trains whenever possible - local subway when it's not...sorry for not providing more details here, but as I said earlier, we don't plan in that level of detail.)
  • Sumida Park Cherry Blossom Festival
  • Sumida River Boat Ride to Hama Rikyu
  • Take the Yurikamome Train across the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba
    • We didn't make it to Odaiba in 2013 so this is all new to us - it's not a huge area so we plan to explore it "thoroughly" (I don't even know what that means in a Japanese context!)  
  • Explore Odaiba
    • Panasonic Center
    • Toyota showroom - Megaweb
    • Palette Town
    • Venus Fort
    • Diver City - with the Gundam robot statue
    • Aquacity and Decks
    • Trick Art Museum
    • Odaiba Kaihin Koen - Statue of Liberty
    • Fuji TV
    • Miraikan - National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation
    • Lunch/dinner somewhere fun, like the Hello Kitty Pancake Party, a Maid Cafe, or King of the Pirates (yarrr!)
  • Head back in the direction of our hotel (again, Google Maps is your friend if you want a visual - that's what we use and you can too!)
  • Rikugien Garden - Weeping cherry tree and feudal lord's garden light-up event

Day 7: Sanrio Puroland and Western Tokyo (weather pending)
  • Iibadashi Station to Tama Center Station
  • Sanrio Puroland!!!!!!!  aka Hello Kitty Land ☺  
    • Since this is an INDOOR theme park, this is a very tentative plan - we definitely do not want to spend a beautiful day inside, especially during sakura season!  This is an easy trip from Yokohoma or Tokyo - and it's even do-able from Osaka.  We will adjust our plans accordingly!
  • Explore Tama
  • Squirrel Park (!!!)
  • Tama Center Station to Kichijoji Station
  • Inokashira Park 
  • Kichijoji Station to Nakano
  • Explore Nakano Broadway 
  • Chidorigafuchi sakura
  • Yasukuni Shrine

Day 8: Day trip to Hakone
  • Make our way to Hakone and spend the day exploring the area
    • Hakone Open Air Museum
    • "Round Course" - ropeway cars, pirate boats!!!

...and that's our plan for week 1!

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