This was probably my longest Japan trip ever since 2007.
Either I lived in Japan or my trips were partly business trips to Japan, so I barely could add 1-1,5 weeks of private vacation afterwards.
3 weeks is a very good time frame for a Japan trip in general – if you can afford it.
And it really wasn’t that expensive! Actually, my summer vacation in Hokkaido (2 weeks) did cost more although I lived in Japan at that time and didn’t have to pay for an international flight.
For this trip I’ll guide you slowly from Kanto to Kansai walking part of the Nakasendo and the famous pilgrim path Kumano Kodo. I also used the 14 days Japan Rail Pass for the first time in my life. So, it’ll be a good reference for those who intend to use it.
Days 1-2: Tokyo (Oct 30-31, 2017):
I arrived around noon at Narita International Airport.
Although it was a Monday, the lines at the passport control were insanely long.
The lines in front of the JR center where I wanted to grab my Japan Rail Pass were even longer. If you don’t need the pass right away, I highly recommend you exchange your voucher somewhere else. It will save you a lot of time. :)
I didn’t do much on this day because it was already getting dark once I arrived at my hotel and I also was sick ..
The next day I went shopping in Harajuku.
As always many cute clothes, but all too small for me.
In the photo above you see the Sailor Moon store which can currently be found inside of Laforet.
Later I went to Shibuya. As it was October 31, they had their yearly Halloween thing going on there. Unfortunately I missed the Kawasaki Halloween parade this year – but I’ve seen it twice already.
As I had to leave Tokyo early, I couldn’t stay until it got dark.
Luckily there were already many people in front of the JR Shibuya Station. Later it got insanely crowded, as every year.
Day 3: Magome / Tsumago (Nov 1, 2017):
I left Tokyo in the evening of October 31. Generally, I prefer to do all the travelling during the evening, especially in winter when it gets dark as early as 16:30. In my eyes, you don’t miss anything when you travel then. If you travel in the morning, you usually have to get up very early just to arrive at your next destination around noon – and if you have luggage with you, you even have to check into your hotel first. Not my kind of travel style.
My first destination was Magome.
This has been on my bucket list for almost a decade now. I just never could squeeze it into my previous itineraries thus far.
Magome and Tsumago are two of the famous “post towns” in the Kiso Valley along the Nakasendo.
The Nakasendo used to be a very important path between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. You can even walk the entire Nakasendo from Tokyo to Kyoto nowadays – if you dare!
It’s very common to start in Magome (Gifu Prefecture) and walk to Tsumago (Nagano Prefecture) along the Nakasendo. The trail is about 8 km long and it’ll take you 2-3 hours to complete. It’s not a difficult trail. While it doesn’t really matter, it’s recommended to start in Magome as you don’t have any steep slopes that way.
There’s also a baggage forwarding service between Magome and Tsumago. If you can’t walk that much, there’s also a bus running between those two post towns. As I stayed at “Plaza Hotel Sakae” in Nakatsugawa, I just left my luggage there. If you prefer to stay in one of the post towns, then maybe the baggage forwarding service comes in handy.
If you want to, you can walk even more of the Nakasendo, e.g. from or to nearby Kiso-Fukushima. Another famous post town that a lot of people visit when they’re in the Kiso Valley is Narai, but I skipped that one.
One of my highlights was the “Wakihonjin” in Tsumago. The way the sunlight comes in is just so stunning.
If you’re on a budget and don’t want to enter all the buildings, at least visit this one.
A guide will explain all about this buildings from the 19th(!) century, but in Japanese. I’ll write a detailed article about this in the future, so please stay tuned!
Day 4: Naegi Castle + Ena Gorge (Nov 2, 2017):
I actually spent 2 nights in Nakatsugawa, because there was more I wanted to explore. Instead of continuing with the Kiso Valley and Nakasendo tour, I opted for the nearby castle instead. Of course, I couldn’t resist!
The Naegi Castle Ruins are just a walk + bus ride away from Nakatsugawa Station.
There’s an observation platform with stunning views of the Kiso River and Kiso Valley.
It’s definitely one of those hidden gems that almost nobody knows about.
In fact, there were barely any people. A Japanese grandpa asked me what I’m doing in such an inaka (‘countryside’) and I said I love exploring such remote sights as I’ve already been to all main spots of Japan’s 47 prefectures. He was impressed when I told him that I’m sharing my adventures on a blog with foreign people who’re interested in Japan. ;)
My next stop was “Ena Gorge” in Ena City, not too far from Nakatsugawa.
It’s famous for its beautiful landscape and uniquely shaped rock formations.
You can take a boat tour to explore the gorge. There are also some other sights nearby (e.g. Ena-kyo Wonderland) and the area has some nice hot springs.
To be honest, I was a little disappointed. I was expecting more and I did calculate too much time for this. I was basically finished with my day around 14:30. (^-^’) …
Day 5: Magose-toge (Nov 3, 2017):
After leaving Gifu Prefecture, my next destination was Mie Prefecture. I wanted to do part of the Kumano Kodo again.
With only 3 weeks at hand, there’s no way I could have done the whole thing, so I just picked parts of the Kumano Kodo that looked interesting.
In fact, a few routes of the Iseji were closed due to the damage the previous typhoon had caused ….. The region along the coast in Mie and Wakayama Prefecture is unfortunately very prone to damages caused by typhoons…
I first chose to try the “Magose-toge” which starts at Aiga Station and ends at Owase Station.
The entire trail is about 6,5 km long ant takes about 2.5 h. I also did a detour to the summit of Mt. Tengurasan. The view from up there was absolutely worth it! I was finished around 13:30, had lunch and then also visited the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Center. It’s a great place if you’re planning to walk the trail. They have a lot of information available, also in English. Right next to it is the “Yumekodo Hot Spring“. That’s where I treated my aching muscles. Please note that they don’t allow tattoos there.
Day 6: Matsumoto-toge (Nov 4, 2017):
On the next day, I chose to do the “Matsumoto-toge” which is probably one of the easiest trails, but very picturesque.
The entire trail is about 4.5 km long and it’ll take about 2 h from Odomari Station to Arii Station.
You’ll come along Oniga-jo, a scenic spot of rock formations and a gigantic rock wall formed by nature.
Walking along the beautiful Shichiri-Mihama Beach, you’ll see the Shishi Iwa (Lion Rock) which is one of the many World Heritage Sites you can enjoy along the Kumano Kodo.
Finally you’ll reach Hana-no-iwaya Shrine which is said to be one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan!
For this I had planned an entire day, but that wasn’t necessary at all. I was finished around noon and I really took my time! I decided to walk the entire trail back to Odomari Station and started the Kannon-michi Pass from there. The trail is about 3,8 km and takes less than 2 h. Unfortunately I had to give up halfway as the trail was blocked by fallen trees and it was about to get dark at some point, so I just did half of the trail and returned to Odomari Station. Quite frustrating.
If you have a car, you can actually cover a lot more of the Kumano Kodo than I did! But it was nice to travel at a slower pace for once. :)
Day 7: (Nov 5, 2017): Shingu
I’ve been to Shingu before when I decided to visit the Kumano Sanzan many years ago.
This time, I wanted to explore Doro-kyo which runs along the extremely beautiful Kumano River. However, when I arrived at the bus stop in the morning, I was told that the speed boats aren’t running and the gorge is closed due to the damage caused by the recent typhoon ….. I had to come up with an alternative quickly, so instead I opted for a pilgrimage boat tour.
I was actually lucky because usually you need to reserve in advance. There was still a spot available.
The Kumano River is extremely beautiful anyway, so you get to enjoy the nature, but also witness the damage caused by recent typhoons.
After the boat tour I took the bus that runs from Shingu Station all the way to Kumano Hongu Taisha.
I intended to get off at “Kawayu Onsen“. Unfortunately, they gave me the wrong bus timetable (that was valid until just a few days ago). And the bus I was riding did not stop at Kawayu Onsen. I ended up at Hongu Taisha instead and as it was already too late, I had no other choice but to return to Shingu. That was really frustrating. I wish I had a rental car for this trip….
Guess I need to visit the area a third time!
Instead I went to “Kamikura Shrine” in Shingu City, something I couldn’t fit into my schedule when I visited last time.
As it’s mentioned in “Chronicles of Japan” it must be one of the oldest shrines.
It’s a spiritual place that might boost your power, but first you need to climb up over 500 steep stone steps to get there.
Day 8: (Nov 6, 2017): Mt. Gozaisho + Yunoyama Onsen
My next stop was Tsu City in Mie Prefecture. As always I travelled in the evening and checked in at my hotel quite late. I stayed 2 nights at Toyoko Inn Tsu-eki. Toyoko Inn is a hotel chain that I highly recommend for foreign visitors. The website is available in different languages. Reservation is very easy and if you get a member card you can collect points and get to stay a night for free as a reward. I’ve been using them for over 11 years now and keep using them whenever I can.
From Tsu I took a train to Kintetsu Yunoyama Onsen Station and from there a bus to Sanko Yunoyama Station which is just a short walk away from the ropeway up to Mt. Gozaisho (~ 1200 m). There’s also a highway bus directly from Nagoya.
You could also hike, but you need proper mountain gear for that. It’s very steep and slippery – and thus great for hiking fans who want to challenge themselves a little.
Because of the altitude you can enjoy autumn colors in early November. Apart from stunning views, you can also observe unique rock formations.
At the foot of Mt. Gozaisho, you’ll find Yunoyama Onsen Town.
Early November is a great time to visit as the leaves are about the change colors.
There are several onsen facilities, many of them are open to visitors. There’s also a small onsen information center where you can grab a pamphlet. It’ll let you know the opening hours and prices of each facility.
I decided to hop into the rotenburo of “Hotel Yunomoto” which is very close to the ropeway station. Luckily I had the open-air bath all to myself.
Another popular destination (and it’s also a stop on the bus that runs between the train station and the ropeway) is “Aqua Ignis“. It’s actually so close that you can walk to the station – which I did on my way back.
It’s a huge facility with lots of nice restaurants, cafés, sweets shops and there’s also a spa and a ryokan. If you don’t hike, but use the ropeway, you’ll easily have time to visit there as well.
I also went into the spa – which was nice – but crowded. But that was to be expected as it was already dark by that time.
Day 9: (Nov 7, 2017): Tsu Castle + Akame 48 Falls
I admit it, the main reason I wanted to visit Tsu was Tsu Castle. This has been on my list for a very long time, but I just couldn’t fit it into my itinerary thus far.
From Tsu Station you can take a train and get off at the next station which is called “Tsushimmachi”. From there it’s a 15 mins walk to the castle grounds.
Tsu Castle was originally built in the 16th century. Unfortunately, nothing is left nowadays. One of the yagura was reconstructed in 1958, though. The castle moat and walls as well as the small Japanese garden inside the castle grounds are quite nice.
My next stop were the famous “Akame 48 Falls” (赤目四十八滝).
It’s a 4 km long trail through the forest, with giant salamanders and lots of waterfalls in Akame-cho of Nabari City.
Personally I was a little bit disappointed. None of the waterfalls were really impressive. In fact, I found the entire trail a bit boring. However, there are some nice onsen nearby. Unfortunately I had to catch the last bus back to the station and so I couldn’t hop into any.
Day 10 (Nov 8, 2017): Arima Onsen
I had to leave early that evening because my next destination was a bit further away. I travelled from Tsu in Mie Prefecture to Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture. As I had the Japan Rail Pass, it wasn’t a problem at all. I wanted to stay in a ryokan in Arima Onsen, but as my arrival was so late and most ryokan have their last check-in before my arrival time, I decided to stay near Sannomiya Station instead.
Although I used to live in that area, I never went to Arima Onsen. I always assumed that it would be crowded on my days off.
Finally I decided to go, but on a weekday! I was lucky because it was ladies’ day in the two major onsen facilities, so it was cheaper.
Arima Onsen is one of the oldest hot spring resorts in Japan and because of its proximity to Kobe, it’s very popular among locals. It’s famous for its two types of onsen water. “Kin no yu” (gold water) is brownish (see photo above) and is said to heal skin problems and muscle aches. “Gin no yu” (silver water) shall heal muscle and joint issues.
While there weren’t any autumn colors yet in Kobe City, the leaves were at their peak at Arima Onsen as it’s at a higher altitude.
Arima is a small onsen town, so you can easily walk to all the sights. There are several smaller shrines and temples, narrow streets with shops, various hot spring sources and a nice park with autumn leaves.
Once you’re done with exploring the onsen town, you could relax the rest of the day at “Taiko no Yu“.
That’s a huge onsen facility with various spas, saunas, shops and restaurants. Once you have registered, you can change into the comfy clothes you received upon registration. All you’ll take with you is a wristband with the key to your coin locker, those clothes and a towel (and maybe your smartphone). You won’t need anything else. The wristband can be scanned and when you check out, you can pay for everything you’ve spent.
As it was raining heavily the entire day, I was happy that this facility existed. I spent a very relaxing afternoon there. Not cheap, but a nice experience!
All in all, I didn’t like Arima Onsen that much. There were a lot of Asian tourists. Most onsen were crowded and unfortunately I had to experience yet again that some Asian tourists simply don’t care about onsen etiquette. I prefer the more remote onsen where this usually doesn’t happen. ;)
Day 11-12 (Nov 9-10, 2017): Kinosaki Onsen
I left Kobe and checked in at “O Hotel Toyooka” in Toyooka City. I wanted to stay the night in Kinosaki already, but all the available ryokan have a check-in time that was too early for me (e.g. until 21:00). But Toyooka is very close to Kinosaki Onsen, so it wasn’t a problem. The next morning I took the train to Kinosaki Onsen Station and checked into my hotel there before starting to explore the area.
If you’re in Kobe, Himeji or in the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture, then definitely consider a detour to Kinosaki Onsen.
It’s famous for its 7 public bath houses. If you stay in a ryokan, you’ll get a pass that lets you enter all 7 for free. You’ll also receive a yukata and geta from your hotel, which makes hopping from one onsen to another much easier. As it was extremely cold that day, I decided to keep my normal clothes.
But the sound of the geta added to the great atmosphere.
Some of the bath houses also offer a free foot bath in front of their facility, like here at “Yanagi-yu“.
At that time (November 2017), 2 of the 7 bath houses (namely “Mandara-yu” and “Kou-no-Yu“) were closed due to damage caused by the recent typhoon (sounds familiar, eh?)….
As I went during a weekday and also during the daytime, I had most of the onsen all to myself, so I was able to take photos.
Please note, that usually you’re not supposed to take a camera or a smartphone inside at all! I never do it either unless there’s really nobody around. Then I go back to my coin locker to get my smartphone. ;)
One of my favorite onsen was the one at “Gosho-no-Yu“. You can enjoy a waterfall while soaking either in the outdoor bath or inside. (left photo)
“Ichi-no-Yu” offers an outdoor bath in a cave. (right photo)
That was also quite the experience!
But my favorite public bath house was “Sato-no-Yu” which is right next to Kinosaki Onsen Station.
They have a large foot bath outside and a spacious inside bath with a sauna. But the best thing is the rotenburo on the roof!
I stayed at “Kinosaki Higashiyamasou” which offers Japanese-style rooms. It’s sometimes hard to find ryokan like that which offer rooms for only ONE person.
The breakfast was brought to my room. This is just a small part of it. Extremely delicious and almost too much to eat!
As I stayed 2 days in Kinosaki, I wanted to use the first day for onsen hopping and the second day to explore the area some more.
You can rent a bicycle near the station – which I highly recommend if you don’t have a car. I went to explore the “Genbudo Cave Park” which is basically between Toyooka and Kinosaki.
The caves where huge and the shapes were impressive. And with the autumn colors it was certainly a highlight.
On the way to the caves, there’s also a stork observatory. I was lucky enough to see a few, but they were too far away to take photos.
And just a few hundred meters away from the observatory, I found this shrine with a floating gate. I love these.
Back in the town center of Kinosaki Onsen, I took the Kinosaki Onsen Ropeway.
The view from up there is stunning. You can see Maruyama River which ends up in the ocean. There’s also a temple up there called Onsenji (onsen temple).
Later that day I also biked to “Kinosaki Marine World“, but only to enjoy the ocean view. They already were closed when I arrived there.
Famous local food is crab and Tajima beef. Of course, I tried both.
If you need more information, there’s a great tourist information center right across the station and they can speak English as well!
Day 13 (Nov 11, 2017): Private Stuff in Kansai
Because it was on the way, I quickly stopped by at one of my favorite Japanese castles: Himeji Castle
It’s probably the castle I’ve been to the most.
Himeji City sure has changed in the past few years. I was really surprised! I stayed the night at “Via Inn Himeji“.
I took a break on that day and met with friends etc.
Day 14 (Nov 12, 2017): Minakuchi Castle + Koga Ninja
My next stop was in Shiga Prefecture. Originally it would have made more sense to put this after my stay in Tsu and then go to Hyogo Prefecture. However, as I had to fit in the schedule of my friends as well, I couldn’t do it any other way. And because I had the Japan Rail Pass, it didn’t really matter. But if you plan to do something similar, please take this into consideration.
I’ve been to Shiga Prefecture many times, but there were still some places I wanted to visit.
While Mie Prefecture is famous for the Iga ninja, Shiga is famous for the Koga ninja. I always wanted to compare those two, so I just had to visit.
On the way there was also a castle I was interested in – and it was only a short walk from my hotel. I stayed at “Hotel New Mifuku” – which is probably one of the best hotels I’ve ever been to!
Minakuchi Castle was built in 1634 by Tokugawa Iemitsu. It served him as a stopover during his travels between Kyoto and Edo. It’s not a mountain castle, but built on a plain. As with most castles, nothing much is left. A yagura was reconstructed in 1991 and serves as museum now.
The castle is just a short walk from Minakuchi Jounan Station.
After visiting the castle, I took a train to get to Konan Station. I rented a bicycle and went to the Ninja House (Ninjutsu Yashiki) which took about 10 mins.
It’s about 300 years old and all the ninja traps can still be observed. The staff will explain all the ninja traps and also about the weapons, clothes etc. in detail. You’ll also get to drink special ninja tea which you can buy in the souvenir shop. The souvenir shop also features various shuriken and other ninja related things.
I’ve been to many different ninja houses already e.g. in Iga-Uneo or Kanazawa, so it’s not so interesting for me anymore. If you’ve never been to one yet, definitely go!
You can also take a train from Konan Station to Koka Station and walk for 30 minutes. There’s also a free shuttle bus, but you might have to call so that they come to pick you up.
The ninja village was a huge disappointment. There were mostly kids dressed up as ninja playing around. Some foreigners also dressed up to have photo sessions, but that was about it. It’s definitely not a place where you can learn something about the Koga-ryu. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you travel with little kids.
Day 15 (Nov 13, 2017): Omihachiman
I actually had planned 2 days for the Koka region, but all of that was easily done in one day. So, I spontaneously decided to finally visit Omihachiman which had been on my bucket list for a very long time now.
Omihachiman is a small castle town on the eastern shore of the beautiful Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture.
The town is famous for its Hachiman-bori, the canal area, which was used by the Omi merchants as transportation hub.
Nowadays, tourists can take a boat tour.
The district near the canal area features old merchant houses from the Edo Period as well as a few Western-style buildings.
With a short ropeway trip you can explore the summit of Mt. Hachiman from where you can see the beautiful Lake Biwa.
You’ll also find the ruins of the castle, but unfortunately there’s really nothing left.
Day 16-19 (Nov 14-17, 2017): Tokyo + Jogashima
I left Kansai again and went straight back to Tokyo – or rather Kanagawa. I decided to stay in a hotel near Yokohama instead. That’s usually cheaper and if you have some day trips to e.g. Hakone, Kamakura or anything else in Kanagawa, this makes even more sense.
I spent 3 days in Tokyo, shopping and meeting friends.
The photo above shows Akihabara in the evening.
On one day I did a day trip from Tokyo to the beautiful Miura Peninsula.
To be more precise, I went to Jogashima.
It’s a small island connected to the mainland only by a box-girder bridge.
It offers some easy, but beautiful nature trails with breathtaking views of the ocean and various interesting rock formations.
At nearby Misaki Port, you definitely should try the fresh seafood!
The area is especially famous for tuna.
In fact, there’s a “maguro ticket” that you can obtain which will save you money when travelling from Shinagawa. It includes the train rides, bus ride, a bowl of tuna and discounts for some other things such as the onsen at Jogashima Keikyuu Hotel. You can obtain that ticket at bigger Keikyuu stations, e.g. Shinagawa.
There are also a lot of stray cats. I really enjoyed this island. It was totally my thing.
On a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji, Oshima and the Boso Peninsula.
The island is quite small, so you could also walk to all the destinations. There’s also a bus. I first used the bus, but then walked from Misaki Port over the bridge to Jogashima. It’s totally doable in one day without having to rush.
This concludes my autumn trip 2017 from Kanto to Kansai. I hope you enjoyed it.
How much did this trip cost?
People often ask me how much money they’ll need for their trip. I always struggle to answer, because I often forget to keep track of my spendings.
This time I did it properly, just for you. So, for those 19 days I spent a total of 2400 € (~ 2900 $US). This includes everything, but my private shopping for souvenirs, clothes etc.
I wasn’t on a very tight budget, but I also didn’t splurge. Can you do that trip spending even less money? Certainly!
Please note that thanks to the Japan Rail Pass (14 days) I only paid 336 € ($ 410) instead of 480 € ($ 585). So, I saved around 75 € ($ 92). And I could have saved even more if I had not only travelled from Kanto to Kansai, but also to Kyushu or Tohoku. My Rail Pass was valid from October 31 to November 13, so it covered the long-distance trips from Tokyo to Kansai and back. The Japan Rail Pass is quite awesome if you do long-distance trips. Always make sure to calculate if it’s worth it for your individual itinerary.
As for food, I sometimes just grabbed some cheap conbini or supermarket food. I think I might have skipped lunch once or twice.
An average of 40€ ($ 50) for one night at a hotel or ryokan is not bad either. If you mainly stay in big cities or popular tourist spots, that will be more expensive. As I mainly travelled to more remote locations this time, the average hotel costs were lower.
The flight was not a direct flight. I used British Airways this time, so I had a short stopover in London.