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Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

Macon, Georgia
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Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

We are a family that has traveled all over the world, we like to go places that trains and other tourist don't go i.e. Unusal. We are planing to fly into NRT rent car drive to Mt Fuji few days. Kyoto a few days, and then somewhere in Japan Alps. I would apprecaite thoughts and suggestions. Thanks

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1. Re: Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

I wouldn't recommend renting a car at Narita. I'd suggest waiting until you're ready to leave Tokyo to go to Hakone/Fuji & afterwards to the Alps. You have to consider tollways and the crazy confusion of the expressways through Tokyo. Oh and of course, 'The Parking Issue' in Tokyo.

I wouldn't recommend renting to sightsee around Kyoto city (parking & traffic issues) but would certainly suggest renting to drive in greater Kyoto - eg. Miyama-cho the northern mountainous area of Kyoto with some narrow roads & tiny hamlets.

But please note: there is no place in Japan that tourists don't go , it's more a matter of numbers and seasonal variation.

I'v seen buses & cars having to reverse back down a mountain to allow traffic to pass on the narrow mountainous roads in 'remote parts' of Japan.

Car rental in Japan is expensive, so are tollways. Car rental firms are outside major rail stations but be aware some firms aren't foreigner friendly at all & may flatly refuse to rent to you if you call or try & book - even if a Japanese person rings for you (despite the company appearing on Tocoo). Having said that, I've rented from Toyota (Kanazawa) & they were great, very helpful & foreigner friendly.

Edited: 03 May 2012, 16:54
Kootenays, British...
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2. Re: Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

We're heading over to the Japanese Alps in a couple of weeks. I don't like driving in Japan so we're getting around by train mostly. In Japan trains go to a lot of (relatively) less traveled areas. I've never felt that I couldn't get off the beaten track just because I'm using public transportation. In fact, unless you are fluent in Japanese I wouldn't try and drive on the more remote roads as not all signs are in English once you're off the major highways.

Some of the spots I'm particularly interested in seeing this trip are Takayama and Gokoyama (I understand that we'll have to hike a couple of kilometers in to the Ryokan there). Of course, there's also Nagano and Matsumoto nearby. I'm looking forward to a bit of hiking and bike riding as well instead of just sightseeing.

We're also going over to Kanazawa and I'd also like to get out on the Noto Penninsula and try some of the famous onsens.

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3. Re: Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

Redtrail & River; it's easy & a joy to drive Noto. Roads are quiet. It's less travelled than other places, very rural; terrific fresh seafood meals, the culture and festivals are more folk based, less extravagant. It's a good insight into the older Japan. People are very down to earth & welcoming, maybe because they value the effort you've made to get there.

Unless you enjoy lengthy waits & long bus rides maybe 2+ hours then car is your only option to get around Noto as they've closed down train lines that used to run. ( Noto line now terminates at Anamizu ) Beware as some websites are outdated & say you can easily get around Noto by train, not so.

Option: is also to rent in Kanazawa to drive to Gokayama too.

SF
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4. Re: Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

I am not sure if any of your family speak and read at least a little Japanese.

Also, when you say off the beaten paths. you mean for foreigners. Japanese have explored just about every corner. If they had a tiny Vidalia Onion field, they already would have bus loads of tourists daily.

I have traveled around the world, too but I wouldn't recommend to drive in major cities in Japan as a first time tourist because too inconvenient for parking, too congested streets, only few street names and too expensive for gas & toll. Only good thing is if you are lost, you won't end up in unsafe places you find in many cities in US. Cheaper & faster public transportation is the way to go.

If you lived there, go ahead. It is like driving in busy San Francisco financial & China Town downtown but without street signs.

You need to have a paradigm shift. .

On the other hand, when outside of major cities, rent a car and explore the places less traveled by foreigners yet.

Tokyo, Japan
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5. Re: Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

As others have suggested, it is no fun driving in large busy cities in Japan, especially in Tokyo and Kyoto, unfortunately. It won't be suicidal even if you cannot read Japanese, but surely self tormenting. Any Japanese would tell you why would you have to do it, when trains are available? Yes, on family occasions, we (Japanese, locals) sometimes drive into Kyoto, but it's rather agonizing when we sometimes take an hour for 15km or so just to approach the central area, and then another 30 minutes just to find a parking lot of a temple that we intend to visit. And do you intend to do this without reading Japanese?

In the countryside, the story is a bit different. Highway tolls and petrol are expensive, and the ordinary old roads are narrow, but it is at least fun to drive. But that does not mean trains cannot reach most of the countryside, or that they are less convenient than cars. Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Southern Kyushu is actually one of the few places I'd recommend renting a car and drive.

Edited: 05 May 2012, 18:04
Tokyo, Japan
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6. Re: Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

If you are firm on driving into large cities, such as Tokyo and Kyoto, I recommend doing so very early in the morning or late in the night. That way, you can avoid traffic jam. In Kyoto, avoid Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

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7. Re: Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

I love driving too but rarely do it by choice in Japan - eg. Noto's train line had closed. For me the petrol (gas) prices were relative to what we pay in Australia but for someone from the USA it may come as a shock. (The tolls may also surprise you too.)

On many occasions we've had to change plans or abandon them altogether because we couldn't get a parking spot after circling for an hour or the road was gridlocked (think Kamakura or Kibune in Kyoto during Summer) A not insignificant factor in the reason I love travelling in Japan so much is the rail system itself.

Amazinga is right, the Japanese traverse every inch of their land and have done for centuries and therefore, " You need to have a paradigm shift. ."

One of the great joys and adventures in Japan is experiencing the excitement of the world's best rail transport system. River, for you and your children to miss out on this experience would be to miss a big piece of the Japan experience. It's not about getting from A to B by train in Japan it's all about experiencing great service unseen elsewhere in the world, there's also the efficiency, the idiosyncratic & out-of-the- way rail stations, the individualism of the different local lines, the musical chimes to hurry you on to the train, the bento & news stands, the onboard refreshment trolleys, the local products on show at country railway stations, and scenery too. But most of all when travelling by train you are immersing & interacting with Japan and its people, not isolating yourself in your car.

But if you haven't picked up on it yet, may I reiterate "there is no place in Japan that tourists don't go."

Edited: 06 May 2012, 03:17
Kootenays, British...
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8. Re: Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

I plan to cycle on Noto so lack of trains isn't a problem.

While you say the Japanese have traveled 'all over Japan', which of course is true on one level, I find that when I speak to individual Japanese they often haven't seen as much of the country as I have in just a few trips. Long work hours keep many people pretty close to home so I find it pretty easy to get 'off the beaten path' of most Japanese tourists as well.

Edited: 06 May 2012, 03:27
Kanazawa, Japan
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9. Re: Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

Maybe those individual Japanese haven't been to these places, but you can bet lots of others have, and will be there. It is possible to find tourist attractions without any other visitors, but you need to be pretty generous about what you consider a "tourist attraction" in that case.

I've never actually driven in Tokyo, but I have in Osaka, and a couple of times in Kyoto, and it has plusses and minuses. Parking can be tricky, but even worse is the traffic in the rush hour in Kyoto. Took us half an hour to crawl a road I should have been able to do in five minutes. But at least we could sit down, which might not have been possible on the train.

If you don't use expressways, you'll average at best no more than 50 kph on the open road, even in the countryside.

10. Re: Off the beaten path, Driving Fam of 4 /2 teens Japan Alps

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