Japan 3 weeks - itinerary review
We're a couple in our early thirties, traveling to Japan for the first time for 3 weeks (mid Nov - early Dec). We've done a decent amount of research and talked to friends who've visited, and we decided to do a Studio Ghibli inspired(ish) tour of Japan. Must-sees for us are the Ghibli Museum, Yakushima (inspiration for Princess Mononoke), Dogo Onsen (Spirited Away), and the Totoro House in Nagoya. Another wishlist item is to see the snow monkeys near Nagano and visit an outdoor onsen, preferably with some snow outside but we realize that might be unrealistic in late November/early December. Overall, we're covering a lot of ground, and we're trying to balance that by having less activities/sights per day - it's OK if we don't see every temple / castle / shrine. Please review our itinerary, this is a first draft and we focused on the broad strokes, i.e. how to connect our must-sees in Matsuyama, Yakushima, Nagoya and Nagano. If you know of any other Studio Ghibli sights in Japan, we'd love to hear about it. Thanks for your feedback!
Arrive in late afternoon, head to Tokyo. Sights TBD.
Day 2 and 3
Tokyo Sights (TBD), possibly day trip to Kamakura
Take train to Hiroshima, explore museum / park. We are thinking of purchasing a 14 day JR pass and activating it here, it will last us till midnight of Day 17.
Take ferry to Matsuyama, go to Dogo Onsen and explore area. Return to Hiroshima for the night. Q: Is it worthwhile staying here overnight?
Take ferry to Miyajima, return mid-late afternoon. Take train to Kagoshima. At this point, send luggage to hotel for Day 8. Spend night in Kagoshima (Q: anything to see there?)
Day 7 - National Holiday
Take ferry to Yakushima, hike Shiratani Unsuikyo. Stay overnight. Q: any accommodations recommendations?
Morning hike on island, take ferry back to Kagoshima after lunch. Take train to Kurokawa or Beppu onsen. The Beppu onsen area is close to a bakery modeled after Kiki's Delivery, but I read it's more commercial compared to Kurokawa. Any suggestions / advice?
Spend relaxing day in onsen area, ideally visiting multiple onsens with different types of water. Take train to Kyoto / Osaka
Day 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Spend 5 days in Kyoto/Osaka/Nara area, including one overnight stay in Koya-san at a temple. This is currently the least planned portion of our trip, and we'd welcome any suggestions. Our main goals are to see some temples/shrines/castles (the rest of our itinerary doesn't feature those much), go to the Deer park, dress up in a kimono, go to a tea ceremony, and eat, eat, eat. Q: Should we base ourselves in 1 location (Kyoto or Osaka)? Should we go to Koya-san at the beginning or end of the 5 days?
Send luggage to Day 16 or 17 hotel. Travel to Nagoya, visit the Totoro House. Stay in Nagoya. Q: is this worthwhile? Would it be better to travel onwards to the north?
Travel to Takayama to visit Hida Folk Village (love architecture and crafts), travel onwards to Kanazawa. Stay overnight.
Day 17 - JR Pass expires @ midnight
Explore Kanazawa in the morning, leave in the afternoon for Nagano. Head to ryokan near the snow monkeys park, relax for the evening.
Go to snow monkeys park, visit Kanaguya Onsen (said to be where Miyazaki came up with Spirited Away) if possible, take train back to Tokyo (purchase one-way fare).
Day 19, 20, 21
Spend remainder in Tokyo. Go to Ghibli museum (+ bakery where they sell Totoro cream puffs), take a day trip to Hakone. Other sights (TBD, and suggestions welcome)
Go to Narita for late morning flight.