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Japan Trip Planning Summer 2024

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Hey everyone! Have you been to Japan? We visited in 2010 and had a fantastic time. It was our last international trip before we had a kid. Travel was so much easier and carefree back then. We visited Tokyo, Izu Peninsula, Kyoto, Miyajima shrine, Himeji Castle, Takayama, and Hakone in 11 days. That trip was too short, but it was the best international trip we took as a couple. We loved Japan and always wanted to go back to explore further.

*The image here is from Narita. We had an 8-hour layover in 2019 and took advantage of the free Narita Airport Transit & Stay program.

Anyway, Mrs. RB40 is turning 50 this year. I asked where she wanted to go and she said Japan. All right! 2024 is a great time to visit Japan because the Yen is way down against the USD. In 2010, the exchange rate was about 80 Yen to 1 USD. This year, a buck will get you 150 Yen! Wow, that’s a nice deal. It’s the perfect time to revisit Japan. Also, we’re way better off than in 2010. We can splurge a bit this time.

Japan can be intimidating because it is so different from the U.S. However, our last trip was very easy. We don’t know any Japanese and we got by just fine. Everyone was so nice. This time, I’m learning a bit of Japanese with Duolingo. It should help us communicate better. Also, our last trip was a whirlwind. We moved around too much. It was exhausting, but we could handle it because we were young. These days, Mrs. RB40 doesn’t like moving to a new hotel every night. She’d rather travel at a more relaxed pace. Ideally, we would spend a month in a city before moving on. However, Mrs. RB40 is still working full-time. She can only take 3 weeks for this trip.

Relaxed travel

Most of us have limited vacation time. That’s why we try to cram as much as possible into a vacation. On our last trip to Japan, we changed hotels almost every night. We crammed in as many sights as possible. By the end of the trip, we were exhausted. The only relaxing day we had was in Hakone. It was stormy and we relaxed at our pricy ryokan. It was great.

This time, we’ll try to relax more and travel at a slower pace. We don’t feel like we need to see everything anymore. Our main priority is to decompress, eat amazing food, rejuvenate in hot springs, and soak up the unique Japanese culture. Of course, we’ll hit a few sights and pick up a few souvenirs along the way.

I’m the planner for this trip. Mrs. RB40 loves to travel, but she refuses to do any planning. She absolutely hates travel planning. I guess she’ll have to find a travel agent when I’m gone. Hahaha…

Overview

I already purchased our flight tickets. We’re heading over to Japan at the end of June, right after RB40Jr gets out of school. When he was younger, we didn’t mind taking him out of school to travel. However, he needs to keep up with school now. Previously, I prefer to travel during the shoulder seasons because everything is cheaper and less crowded. From what I read, summer isn’t the best time to visit Japan because it can be hot and humid. But what can you do?

Here is the basic outline of our Japan trip.

We’ll fly into Osaka and spend 9 days there. This will be the relaxing half of our trip. After that, we’ll fly north to Hokkaido and make our way down to Tokyo by train. This half will be pretty busy. We’ll go from town to town and change hotels almost every night.

This is where I need your help. Our flight is already booked, but the rest of the program is pretty flexible. I haven’t purchased the JR pass or train tickets yet. Also, our hotel booking can be canceled before June. If you know Japan well, I’d love to get some feedback on my itinerary.

Osaka – 9 nights

We’ll start our trip off in Osaka. I booked a room for us at the Dormy Inn Namba near Dontonbori. This midrange business hotel has an onsen (hot spring bath) and provides complimentary ramen, ice cream, and yogurt drinks. Mmm… I’m looking forward to it already.

This segment of the trip will be pretty relaxed. We’ll need a few days to get over jet lag anyway. Below are some of the things on my activity list. All these are flexible so we can change or take a rest day as appropriate.

  • 2-day Osaka Amazing Pass. This pass provides public transportation and tickets to various popular sites around Osaka. We’ll visit Osaka Castle, the Umeda Sky building, a Ferris Wheel, a river cruise, the Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum, and the Tsutenkaku Tower. I’ll have to check the list and see what else is good.
  • Day trip to Kyoto. Kyoto was amazing the last time we visited. Unfortunately, I heard it’s overrun with tourists these days. We already saw most of the main touristy spots last time, but missed Kiyomizu-dera and Ginkakuji. I’d like to visit those two temples and walk along the Philosopher’s Path.
  • Day trip to Nara. I know about the deer park, but that’s about it. I’m sure there is plenty to do in Nara for a day trip.
  • Check out the Aizen matsuri (festival) in Osaka and explore the area around Aizen-do shrine.
  • Maybe another day trip to Kyoto to browse the flea market at the Kitano Tenmagu Shrine. The Samurai Ninja Museum is right near there. That should be a lot of fun.
  • We may visit the Osaka Aquarium and/or Universal Studios.
  • The Cup Noodle Museum sounds like fun, but it’s out of the way. It’ll take about an hour to get there from our hotel. It probably isn’t worth the trek.
  • In the olden days, travelers hiked between Tokyo and Kyoto on the Gokaido (the Five Routes.) I would like to find a nice hike on the old walkway. If you know of a good hike near Osaka or Kyoto, let us know. I read about a hike from Takao to Arashiyama. I don’t think that’s part of the old old routes, though. BTW, we visited the Arashiyama bamboo grove on our last trip. We got there at dusk and there was nobody there. Mrs. RB40 thought it was spooky and we didn’t stay long. I heard it’s packed full of tourists today.

Hokkaido to Tokyo – 10 nights

We’ll catch a flight from the Osaka Airport to the New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. This 2nd half of the trip will be pretty hectic.

Noboribetsu – 1 night

We’ll take the train to Noboribetsu, one of the most popular hot spring resort towns in Japan. It should take a little over an hour. I reserved a night at a nice ryokan for us. The kaiseki dinner and a soak in the hot spring water will get us ready for the next part of this trip. It’ll be a nice relaxing break.

Sapporo – 2 nights

After a traditional breakfast at the ryokan, we’ll head to Sapporo, the biggest city in Hokkaido. Sapporo is famous for ramen, beer, and the annual snow festival. Unfortunately, there won’t be any snow in July. We’ll have to make do with ramen and Sapporo beer.

In Sapporo, I reserved a room at the Ibis Style, a mid-range business hotel. We’ll check out Mount Moiwa ropeway, Odori Park, and the Sapporo Clock Tower. I also want to try Hokkaido specialties such as soup curry, Miso ramen, Genghis Khan (Mongolian grill), zangi (fried chicken), yubari melon, Hokkaido crab, and ice cream. Mmm…

Hakodate – 1 night

My plan is to purchase the JR East South Hokkaido pass online. This pass is valid for 6 consecutive days. It’ll enable us to ride many trains, including the high-speed shinkansen. We’ll use the pass to make our way down to Tokyo. I’ll activate it on the day we leave Sapporo. The express train from Sapporo to Hakodate will take about 4 hours.

Hakodate is surrounded by the ocean and is a haven for delicious fresh seafood. We’ll visit Goryokaku and Mount Hakodate. Apparently, fresh raw squid is the local specialty. I’ll try it and let you know how it goes…  

Next morning, we’ll take the shinkansen to Aomori. This will take a couple of hours.

Aomori – 1 night

Aomori is famous for their apples and nekke-don (seafood rice bowl.) I reserved a room for us at the JAL hotel near Aomori station. We’ll visit A-Factory to check out their cider and explore the area around Aomori Bay. The Nebuta Museum looks interesting too.

Next morning, we’ll head to the Furukawa market to try the nekke-don. You can purchase 12 tickets for 2,000 yen and exchange them for food. A bowl of rice cost 1 ticket. After that, walk around the market and exchange the tickets for fresh seafood toppings. I never tried raw fish for breakfast, but I’m game.

Akita – 1 night

We’ll take the Resort Shirakami train from Aomori to Akita. I heard this is one of the most beautiful train rides in Japan. The track follows along the scenic coastline of northern Tohoku. There is a bar and a small art gallery in the middle of the train. You can try sake and browse local souvenirs. Also, there is a 15-minute stop at the Senjojiki Rock Plateau station. Tourists can get off and stretch their legs a bit at the beach. This relaxing ride will take about 5 hours. It isn’t a fast train.

If time permits, we may get off at Juniko station to check out Aoike, the blue lake. Then come back to the station to catch the next train to Akita.

I don’t have any plan for Akita City. We probably won’t have time to do anything there. I booked us a room at the Dormy Inn Akita. We can soak in the onsen and chill out that evening.

Sendai – 1 night

Next, we’ll catch the morning shinkansen to Sendai. The ride will take a little over 2 hours. Once we arrive in Sendai, we’ll leave our luggage at the hotel and head to Matsushima Bay. I read Matsushima Bay is one of the top scenic destinations in Japan. They have great oysters there. We’ll spend the day in Matsushima Bay and head back to Sendai in the evening.

I booked a room for us at the Hotel Metropolitan Sendai. It’s right next to the Sendai station. We’ll head out to Nikko early the next morning. This trip will take about 3 hours.

Nikko – 1 night

Nikko is a popular day trip destination from Tokyo. Nikko’s shrines and temples are a UNESCO World Heritage site. I reserve a room for us at a ryokan next to Lake Chuzenji. This is about 30 minutes away from the main Nikko station. We’ll explore the famous temples, hike a bit, and then go soak in the hot spring at the ryokan.

I plan to hang out in Nikko before heading to Tokyo in the afternoon.

Tokyo – 2 nights

I reserved an Airbnb room for us near Ueno station. This is the most convenient location for transportation to Narita airport. The small Airbnb apartment looks more spacious than a hotel in that price range. We’ll probably be worn out from traveling at this point. I don’t have a lot of plans for Tokyo. We probably will hang out near Ueno and Asakusa. I want to shop for a good kitchen knife and a couple of matcha tea bowls.

Whew! Just writing this 2nd half out is exhausting. I might need to cut out some of these stops. Let me know if you have any suggestions. Japan is such a great tourist destination. There are so many things to see and do. I’d love to live there for a few years.

Have you been to Japan? Do you have any recommendations for a great restaurant we can’t miss? Let me know.

Image credit Natasha Jenny, Seiya Maeda

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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