Looking at traveling to Japan in 2014 before embarking on a RTW trip. As Air Asia are offering cheap flights from Melbourne to Osaka at the moment that will be the first stop! Then I am thinking I will fly out of Tokyo.
Can anyone recommend any highlights of Japan that I should put on my list of things to visit and do?
Looking at staying in Japan for about 12-15 days.
Is the JR Rail pass the best way to go?
You're itinerary in Japan will greatly depend on budget. If not done right, Japan can be EXPENSIVE, and you might have to limit your time if you don't have the funds.
Your biggest cost by far will be transportation, and this will limit how many places you can see. I don't know much about the rail pass, as I've never used one, but I'm told they are a pretty good deal, especially If you plan is to see as many towns as you can in two weeks. The easiest way to tell is to go on the Japan Rail website. You can look at train schedules and prices, and work out an itinerary buying individual tickets. If the rail pass would be cheaper than buying all individual tickets, then go for it. I'm pretty sure you can get a 7-day pass, which could work in combo with buying individual tickets. You could spend the first few days around Osaka-Kyoto area, which doesn't require expensive tickets, then get your money's worth out of a 7-day pass going all over the country, and end up in Tokyo for your last few days after the pass runs out. However way you do it, if you need to save money, this is where you really need to plan in advance.
Your next biggest expense will be accommodation, but there are plenty of hotels in the main tourist areas that can cut costs. I recommend K's House network.
So as of where to go - I wouldn't spend too much time in Osaka. It's a fun intro to the country, but I wouldn't spend more than a day. It's really just a big city. If you want traditional Japanese culture and history, then Kyoto can't be missed. It's considered by many to be the highlight of the country, and for good reason. Spend at least 2 days there, 3 if you can. Nara is also a great little historical town, and lovely for a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto. If you like castles, Himeji is also close and a must see. Hiroshima is often on tourist itineraries, and it's a wonderful city, not just for the A-bomb historical aspect, but it's also a very vibrant and interesting city. Next to it is Miyajima, which is also work a visit.
Another area that I loved is Gifu and Nagano. Takayama is a wonderful town, and Shiragawa is a great place to see traditional rural culture. If you like hiking, anywhere in the alps is wonderful. I went to Hakuba for a few days and did some great hikes. Matsumoto castle makes a great stop as well. I'm not sure about transportation in these areas though - I was lucky enough to have my own car so I could easily get out to the countryside.
And of course Mt. Fuji and tokyo are must see.
Thanks for all the information Degolasse! Very helpful!
Will filter through it when I get a chance!
I'll check out the K's House Network as well!