I just bought a ticket from May 5th to May 18th (two weeks) in/out Tokyo
1. What cities should I visit on this trip?
2. What are some suggestions of key things/events to see?
3. What type of train ticket should I get?
4. Suggestions for hostels?
You could perhaps spend 2 days in Tokyo - one each at the beginning and end of your trip. From Toyko you could get the Shinkansen to Kyoto; allow a few days for Kyoto if you like temples as there are loads to see there. From there you could continue on towards Hakata (Fukuoka) which is a vibrant city worth visiting, and from there you can travel easily to Hiroshima and Nagasaki - both have excellent museums dedicated to the atomic bombs that were dropped there and are cities worth visiting in their own right. If you like hot pools (onsen) you could also visit a little place called Beppu which is not far from Fukuoka.
I stayed in the Tokyo International youth hostel in Tokyo which was fine. I don't recall the names of any of the others I stayed in but I generally stuck to the hostels listed in the Lonely Planet guide and they were all pretty good. The price often includes breakfast and evening meals. Some hostels are strict and have rules such as making all guests get up at the same time and leave the hostel during the day. one hostel I stayed in in Kyoto had a rigid schedule of when you had to get up, bathe etc, and the orders were announced over a loud speaker at 6am - not good if you are recovering from jet lag!
I'd strongly recommend buying a Japan rail pass if you intend on travelling around; this will save you loads of money on train fares. You can also use it on the local network in Tokyo (but not on the subway). This must be bought before you enter Japan and validated on arrival; you can do this in the office in Narita airport.
[ Edit: Edited on 19-Apr-2009, at 22:49 by bex76 ]
Looks like May 3, 4 and 5 are National holidays in Japan.
Tokyo, Kyoto, Himeji Castle and Mt. Fuji would have to be highlights, but there are so many other
places to see and things to do.
For 2 weeks in Japan, I would suggest a 1 week JR pass which currently costs about 28,300 YEN.
Check out http://gojapan.about.com/od/airtravel/a/japanairpass.htm
It gives info on discount domestic airfares on JAL and ANA for overseas visitors to Japan, and it gets better if you are
flying into Japan on a 'oneworld' or 'star alliance' airline.
Well worth a look and it might only cost about $100 USD to fly to Hiroshima from Tokyo if booked outside Japan (getting to Haneda airport from downtown Tokyo is a breeze).
If I was back in Japan for 2 weeks in May I'd -
spend 2 days in Tokyo on arrival
Fly to Hiroshima for 1-2 days then activate my railpass at Hiroshima station
Shinkansen to Himeji (3-4 hours would be enough) the on to Kyoto.
Himeji castle is one of the major sights of Japan. Kyoto was amazing. Did dinner in upstairs outdoors restaurant in Gion
which wasn't cheap. Next day did the LP walking tour of shrines/temples followed by the Gion walking tour at dusk and night. Visited Nijo-jo, the Golden Pavilion and the Silver Pavilion before leaving the next morning for Takayama in the Japanese Alps. Stayed 2 nights (nice town with old architecture and some nice temples) then bussed through Alps to Matsumoto for the medieval castle (almost rivals Himeji) and the Ukiyoe museum (great).
Railpassed from Matsumoto down to Otski and private train to Kawaguchi-ko train station at base of Fuji. Had booked the Sunnide Hotel ($130 AUD double room) but it does cheaper for backpackers (about $80 AUD, I think).
Fuji might be pretty busy in May even after holidays but an awesome sight if the weather is clear.
You could use railpass to get from Kyoto-Nagoya-Takayama then bus through to Matsumoto then Fuji (see above).
You can catch a bus from Kawaguchi-ko back to Tokyo but I bussed down to ??? and took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo cause I love riding that train so so much!!!
One place I really liked back in 83 was Kamakura. Easy train ride fom Tokyo and nice place to stay (big Buddha) with nice walks through hillside temples.
Tokyo's sights I visited were -
Shinjuku - views from 41st? floor of Metropolitan building and the nightlife of east Shinjuku (bars, restaurants, crazy
street punk bands)
Shibuya - my favourite place - have an evening coffee in Starbucks overlooking the station and watch the people cross the road and bars and standup sushi bars and cheap noodle shops and....
Harajuku - gotta go on a sunday afternoon and watch the crazy makeovers plus the rockers dancing close by and Yoyogi Park beside the railway station
Try http://www.japan-guide.com/event/ cause it looks as though the Sumo tournament is on in Tokyo from May 10-24 and the Sanja Matsuri Shinto festival in Tokyo May 15-17.
Sanja Matsuri Festival is known as one of the top festivals in Tokyo. The main feature of the festival is the parade of about a hundred mikoshi (portable shrines) by Ujiko (inhabitants of the neighbouring community) at Asakusa Shrine. A couple millions of people come to the festival every year.
Thank you for the detailed response. I will further look into the airlines. Looks like a great opportunity to collect a few more miles
I was aware of the holiday on the 5th (day my friend and I fly in) but not of the consequences. Do you know if finding hostels on this holiday will be challenging? Do you have any suggestions mitigate around this potential problem?
Fraid I can't help with hostel info.
I think the last hostel I ever used anywhere in the world was the one in Kamakura which was great back in 1983.
I used toyoko-inn budget hotel chain mostly for the 5 weeks back in late 2007.
Probably too expensive ($75 USD single or double) for your budget but very good value if you can afford it.
Wish I was back in Japan.
I have a few friends in Japan who have let me stay at their place while traveling. Should I bring a sleeping bag?
I just came back from the trip to Japan, you should definitely visit Ginza in Tokyo if you enjoy shopping!
I also visited Kyoto and this city is where you might have seen the true "Japanese sceneries" and this city is the must place you should go to!
If you have bit more free time, try visiting a professional baseball game in Japan or Sumo!
Enjoy your trip!