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  • Shelley Dark

21. post-Japan planning

With the wisdom of hindsight, here are my thoughts on planning a trip to Japan. I've given links just for your information - they aren't necessarily recommendations - I have no links to any of these companies.

pavilion detail Shinjuku Gyoen garden


Putting together an itinerary is such a personal choice. What you and I see together isn't as important to me as how we see it. A passive experience of an iconic sight can be less exciting than an truly enjoyable visit to something less famous.


I wanted an agent to do the train bookings particularly. Inside Japan gets good reviews online, although disappointingly the employee I dealt with made mistakes in bookings and the itinerary. However the meet and greet at Tokyo airport was excellent - they sublet that to another company; the train reservations and metro cards, once we arrived in Japan, were perfect. They will do restaurant reservations, and sent very good comprehensive booklets in hard copy and an e-version. They seem to be part of Inside Asia Tours.

Nanzen-ji Temple, Kyoto

Pre-planning included reading many different online and printed lists of must-dos, I asked friends who love Japan who were kind enough to give me their must-see lists, I searched Instagram for photos of Japan and followed people travelling there. I read and re-read design guides to Tokyo - Luxe Guides, The Broad Place, and others I found online. And of course I was guided by our interests and the time we had available. With the help of Inside Japan, the itinerary was born.

Tokyo and Kyoto are must-see. The train ride up the mountain to Takayama is interesting and it was a quaint little town to start the tour. We visited the pleasant little town of Yamashiro Onsen because of Beniya Mukayu, and our few hours in Kanazawa were worthwhile. I regret not having seen Naoshima Island with its Benesse art installation and special hotel, but we just couldn't fit it in. And I'd love to see Himeji Castle (because it's all white!) and visit more craftsmen's ateliers. There's enough on my still-to-do list to fill a couple of weeks.

click anywhere on the map above

When I'm planning a trip, I use google maps to put pins in all the places we might want to see. Just click on the map above to see it again. You can zoom in and out to see Kyoto, Takayama etc. That makes it easier for me to come up with daily plans, based on the proximity of the pins.



The main advice I'd give you is that if you want to visit in cherry blossom time, book early. It's truly spectacular. We were just lucky that this year it was a week late. The cherry 'front' moves from the south to the north so consult for what's happening in your particular year just ahead of time. Golden Week in late April to early May is a no-no because it's when the Japanese people themselves travel. Autumn colour with those Japanese maples would be brilliant!

Sansho pepper plant (Zanthoxylum piperitum): it originated in eastern China and Taiwan and grows into a small tree. The small red berries, the aromatic leaves and the seeds are all used in cooking.


Qantas is the best if you are travelling from Brisbane because it's a direct flight to Tokyo (9-ish hours). The Australian eastern states time difference is only one hour. Google tells me that Qantas, JAL, Jetstar and ANA all fly direct from Australia.

G.Itoya had teeny do-it-yourself paper models like this bridge - my finger bottom left shows scale


Inside Japan said that the hotels* booked by them were the best we could get at such late notice. For me wifi inclusion is a must. Download and upload connection speeds everywhere were very good.

Tokyo Station 1914

*Tokyo Station Hotel: Part of the Small Leading Hotels of the World group. Brilliant historic hotel in a great position for proximity to the CBD and train transfers. The best buffet breakfast we have ever seen in our lives. Our room was tiny which didn't matter for a quick overnight, but if you were to stay here for longer, ask for a larger room. Ours overlooked the train station public space under the dome - others overlook the street. It was great to be close enough to the Imperial Palace to do a circumnavigation before breakfast.

*Green Hotel Takayama: The rooms were clean and large with hot tub on the balcony and I enjoyed the communal bath at ground level. The top floor breakfast room had great views but I wouldn't eat in the ground floor breakfast room. Stay in a ryokan instead.

boxes of flowers are popular in Japan, supposedly because Japanese men don't like carrying flowers

*Brighton Hotel Kyoto: This was a big slick generic hotel, with large room, excellent breakfast and well-trained staff. It was a little too far from the action up near the Imperial Palace. Try to stay somewhere near Ginza. The Ritz Carlton sounds amazing if you want to hock the kids' inheritance.

Beniya Mukayu:

Part of the Relais & Châteaux group. I booked this hotel near Kanazawa, and although my first impression wasn't what I expected, I simply adored it. Loved the decor, the garden, the history, the amazing staff and the elegant Nakamichi family who own it. Minimalist decor in neutral tones, very authentic Japanese, a Zen space. A very comprehensive set menu breakfast in either western style or Japanese, plus a kaiseki dinner is included in the tariff each night. Really enjoyed the welcome tea ceremony with our host, the tour of the garden with our hostess, and the cooking class we booked with the chef. I'd go there again in a heartbeat. or

Park Hyatt Hotel Tokyo:

Most of our destinations were near Omotesando and Aoyama and we wanted a nearby 5 star hotel. I looked at the Cerulean which was closer to the action but it looked more business-oriented. Park Hyatt isn't in the best position, but it was the best and closest I could find. It was an easy walk to the train station.The room was very large with dressing room, bathroom with separate loo, the views amazing, there was a good desk for me to work at, the decor was a teeny bit tired in a pale celadon green but certainly not objectionably so, a nespresso machine for that first morning cup, the staff were superb.

There is a weird situation with the front desk on the 42nd floor. There are doormen downstairs on the ground floor, you take a lift to the 42nd floor, and exit it into the Peak Bar with its amazing views without being aware that you are in a hotel. Then you turn your back and walk away from the view down a corridor, past a dining room, then a turn left and go past the library, and then turn right again before you arrive at the 'front desk'. There were three different desks here at different angles in a confusing room with many mirrors which took away from the sense of arrival. However that's a minor complaint. It certainly felt like home. Breakfast was faultless - you can choose buffets of western or Japanese, room service, or à la carte to the value of your inclusion. The New York Grill is upstairs, but we went up one morning to look at it and decided we preferred the soaring void above the Peak Bar.

They kindly allowed us a late checkout for our departure at 4pm.

It may sound ridiculous but what I loved at the Park Hyatt was the toilet lid (made by Toto) which raised itself when you walked into the loo - we started saying 'Hi Toto'! There are warm seats everywhere in Japan - I'm still missing them!

VISA: none needed for Australians

VACCINATIONS: nothing Japan-specific.


I rarely take currency with me, and I'm not keen on travel cards. I have a Bank West credit card which I use for travelling and load it with cash before I leave. I use it as a debit card, but press credit on ATM's. As I understand it, with Bank West there is no overseas transaction fee to use it this way, compared with 3% on other cards. And I take the exchange rate on the day. But do your own homework on this. I take another couple of cards just in case I lose this one.

In Japan, you can only be sure of getting cash from 7-Eleven ATMS and Post Offices - there is a 7-Eleven downstairs in Terminal 2 at Tokyo airport and an ATM in the far corner of every 7-Eleven shop. They seem to have a monopoly! There's also a convenience store chain called Family Mart and the ATM's at those worked for us too but can't vouch for all of them.

the Japanese have always used squares of fabric tied at the top for carrying


I downloaded an app called Japanese, which translates and pronounces the word as well. I just chose it at random and there are probably others just as good. You may have to ask a couple of people but you can generally find someone who speaks English wherever you are. Railway station staff generally speak some English - best to just say your destination clearly (in your best Japanese accent) and they'll usually be able to point the way and say the platform number.

There's rarely paper towels in public Japanese loos - we saw Japanese women using handkerchiefs and small towels from their handbags. Generally, there was loo paper.


I had a Telstra International Pass which gives you 2.2GB of data. It meant we could use the get-me-there City-Mapper app in Tokyo and search for rated restaurants close to where we found ourselves at meal times, plus google anything at any time. 2.2GB is plenty of data provided you use wifi at the hotels.


Inside Japan did all the rail bookings and issued us with reserved seat bullet train (Shingansen) tickets, Narita express train tickets from the airport in, and travel cards for the metros and suburban trains everywhere - just a pass over the turnstile and we were through. They loaded again easily when we ran out of money on them.

To work out your longer train trips, use

There's something called a Japan Rail Pass but apparently our trip didn't justify purchasing one. Perhaps yours would.