My husband and I just returned from a fabulous 12 day trip to Japan. I thought that I would share a few things that may be interesting for first time travelers to Japan.
Overall, we had a wonderful trip and would go back in the future. From our experience, traveling was easy and comfortable.
Our itinerary -
2/20 - Arrive Osaka evening, overnight Miyako Hotel Osaka.
2/21 - Traveled to Kyoto using Kansai Pass, Kyoto.
2/22 - Kyoto.
2/23 - Day trip to Nara using Kansai Pass.
2/24 - Kyoto.
2/25 - Traveled with JR Pass to Hiroshima, all day in Hiroshima, overnight at Hotel Flex.
2/26 - Traveled with JR Pass to Tokyo, stayed at Hotel Kitcho.
2/27 - Tokyo.
2/28 - Tokyo.
3/1 - Tokyo.
3/2 - Traveled back to Osaka, overnight at Miyak Hotel Osaka.
3/3 - Left for US.
Our transportation -
Before I left I did alot of research online about transportation to/from and within the cities we were going. I found the entire system to be extremely confusing and duplicative. However, japan-guide.com had a great explanation of the various passes which was very helpful in sorting it all out. We chose:
Kansai Thru Pass 3 Days - purchased at Kansai Airport. Very easy to use and it got us from Osaka to Kyoto, Kyoto to Nara, and subway travel within all the cities.
JR Rail Pass 7 Days - purchased in the US. Exchange went smoothly at Kyoto JR Rail station. We made all of our train reservations at the same counter. I would recommend getting seat reservations and it doesn't cost extra if you have the pass.
In Tokyo we used the JR Rail pass and bought individual subway tickets.
1. I'm very glad that we went first to the Kansai region (Kyoto and Nara) before tackling Tokyo. In the Kansai we focused on temples, castles, and other historical sites. By the time we got to Tokyo we were ready to explore the city and saw a whole other side to Japan.
2. Three or four days of intense sight seeing in Kyoto and Tokyo was not nearly enough to see everything. We did about three major sites a day which was plenty for the mind and body.
3. Our "Best" in Kyoto/Nara - Nara's Bronze Buddha at Todai-ji, Daisen-in zen temple complex, and the Golden Pavilion.
4. Our "Best" in Tokyo - Tsuikji Fish Market, modern architecture in Harajuku, Roppongi Hills & the Mori Art Museum
5. I wrote reviews of the hotels we stayed at on this site. We didn't have one bad experience. Beware that most rooms are smoking or have had smokers are guests. Also check to see if the larger hotels have service charges on top of the rate.
6. Our resources: Tokyo City Atlas, Rough Guide Japan, www.japan-guide.com, JNTO website, hyperdia train timetable website
Hope this is helpful. I'd be happy to share more if you have questions! Enjoy your trips! The plum trees were just blossoming when we left.