Spouse and I are planning a vacation to Japan this coming spring, likely early May.
I was given a few recommendations in an unrelated thread but as we’re getting serious, I would love your favorite areas.
We likely want to spend most of our time in major cities (so probably Tokyo/Kyoto) with trips to the country being out-and-back. We want to eat all the best food we couldn’t find in America. We’re going to Ghibli Park and will likely fail to get limited tickets to the Ghibli Museum.
We also want to hit more cultural/religious/historical sites, but our knowledge on this area is especially lacking.
Please help me out so I can start a list for research!
Beginning list - I will likely sort this later and call out some things I plan to do, right now just assembling info:
Japan visitor hotline for assistance
Philosopher’s Path (Kyoto) - temples
Fokuoka - pork ramen, nearby on-sens, could overnight at
Sapporo - specialty soup curry, cable-car to top of nearby mountain
Hiroshima or Nagasaki - very likely museum/etc. related to bombing
Buy rail pass ahead of time for cheaper
Hike Mt. Fuji
(Per my friend who lived in Japan - Osaka best for food, Kansai is her favorite region, Kyoto has the most culture/shrines, Hiroshima is worth it. Nara is “a must-have day trip”. Tickets for the Pokemon Cafe (probably not too interested) or Universal Japan (maybe interested) are difficult to get, make sure you know the specific date you want and get them early.)
Visit the original Nintendo building (Kyoto, no tour, just the building)
Samurai Museum (Kyoto)
Skytree Tower (Tokyo)
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (Tokyo)
Disney Tokyo (likely just 1 day) - Tickets available 2 PM exactly 2 months prior to the date
Ghibli Museum - Tickets drop 10 AM JT on the 10th of the month, for the following month, 9 PM ET on the 9th
Back in 2020, I landed a killer deal for some nonstop tickets to Tokyo. The airline allowed me to change my tickets twice once COVID hit, but on the third change they wanted to either give me my money back or have me pay the difference. I took a refund. I will book another trip there when I see a good deal.
Like you, we planned to use Tokyo and Kyoto as bases for travel
Lots of great places to eat in Tokyo, with over 400 Michelin rated restaurants (you can look up the Michelin guide for those). Even some hole-in-the-wall place will be amazing. I did have some bad sushi once (from a non-recommended place), so maybe go where the locals eat. In Tokyo you can take trains/monorails anywhere and there’s often employees to help tourists work the train system if you’re a bit nervous. There’s also a Japan Visitor Hotline, which you can ring for tourist information/help.
The Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto is worth it for all the amazing temples. On websites like TripAdvisor, you can see the top places to go in Kyoto, of which there are many. The aquarium at nearby Osaka (12 minutes by high-speed train) is impressive.
Fukuoka in the west, has a great pork ramen soup. Nearby are some on-sen areas. If you overnight in an on-sen (hot springs), it’s great for a couple to stay.
Sapporo in the north has a specialty dish - soup curry - which has more European ingredients because the climate is more European-like. You can take the cable-car to the top of the nearby mountain, which gives you good views.
One of my favorite types of restaurant was shabu-shabu (Japanese hot-pot) where you cook thin slices of meat in boiling stock at the table yourself, dip it in sauce and eat each piece with rice while it’s still hot.
My wife and I have a favorite unagi (eel) restaurant that we’ve been to several times in Ueno, Tokyo. They have a several course meal, which also includes miso soup, sashimi and sushi.
Keep an eye out for robata restaurants. It’s a type of barbecue restaurant originally from the north but is becoming very popular in Tokyo.
I prefer udon noodles but like to mix up the noodle experience every so often by trying soba noodles.
Japan has lots of fun non-alcoholic beverages that you can buy in vending machines on the street every couple hundred feet. They have small cans of coffee, bottles of tea and white sports drink such as Calpis or Pocari Sweat. The vending machines store them both hot (the red buttons) or cold (the blue buttons). It’s fun trying them out and as the portions are small you can try quite a few of them in one day.
If you’re planning to hike Mt Fuji, note that it has a very limited season, July and August if recall correctly, so I think you are out of luck if you plan to go in May.
I haven’t seen much of Japan but had a bit of serendipitous luck when I needed to be in Nagano. I couldn’t get any accommodation there at all and ended up in small town north east of Nagana called Yudanaka, about 50mins away by local train. It turned out to be full of hot springs and it seemed that a lot of the places had reciprocal arrangements so you could visit different hotels’ springs without paying any extra. The train ride was lovely and the town charming. And as a bonus it turns out that’s where Snow Monkey National Park is! Highly recommended if you happen to be in the area and would like a laid back day or two.