I’ve written countless itineraries for friends so many times that I believe I should start my own tourist agency. And yet here I am offering itineraries and tips for everyone! Just because I don’t wanna waste all the files I already wrote for those who asked. Enjoy planning!
Coming from the tropics, I always thought I was completely a beach girl. I never knew what the fuss was about trekking or why people loved the mountains so much. I guess that’s because I’ve never seen much beautiful mountain scenery.
Kamikochi made me a believer. It has multiple breathtaking sceneries packed into one haven. The main trekking route starts from a lake, follows the river, goes through marshes and ponds, and all the while looking at the glorious snow-trickled mountain. It was so beautiful that I can’t stop talking about it to anyone willing to listen!
So I’ve put all the main points first before our full itinerary below!
What is there to see?
Japan Alps, Taisho Pond, Kappa Bridge, wild ducks, monkeys
What is there to do?
Mild trekking, camping (can be rented), onsen, chillax, photography
What to wear?
In summer, it’s pretty warm during the day and a bit chilly at night, around 18 degrees when I was there. Japanese wear hiking outfit but regular comfy clothes and rubber shoes are fine if you will just hike around the area, about 10 kilometers max. After the end of the trail (Hiroo) is the start of the mountain climbers, where there is a sign that says full hiking gear is suggested.
What to bring?
Extra layer of clothes, cash, insect repellant, sunnies, hat, towel, raincoat/waterproof jacket
How to get there from Tokyo?
1. Get yourself to Matsumoto, Nagano either by bus or JR Express train Azusa. Train costs around 7000 one way and takes about 3 hours.
2. At Matsumoto, purchase a roundtrip ticket (about JPY4000) to Kamikochi, it saves you money. Get on a local train that goes to Shinshimashima.
3. From Shinshimashima get on a bus to Kamikochi, the last stop.
Where to stay?
If you can, stay near Kappabashi area. It’s easily accessible and yet still so close to the mountains. Cheaper rooms are at 8000 per person with breakfast and dinner. If you’re staying another day, try staying a different place, say a mountain hut for some interesting experience. Camping is also possible. Some facilities provide complete camping gear and have a big ofuro (Japanese bath) and proper bathrooms nearby. A place near Kappabashi bridge also has wooden cabins. Their tents are rented out at 8,000 and can be shared among 3 people.
Where to eat?
Nearby the main tourist areas are restaurants. Set meals from 900yen above. Don’t expect to find convenience stores anywhere. But if you need to buy any thing you can find stores at Kappa bridge and Myojin bridge.
Who is it for? It’s really for everyone. It’s for mild hikers, real climbers, nature lovers, photographers, you name it.
So today is the last day of our Kamikochi trip, and luckily, the sun is up!! And so were we at 6 am. We stayed at a mountain hut called Kamonjigoya and I did not want to risk any bears or whatever earlier than 6AM.
First, breakfast! Staying at a mountain hut, I’m pretty sure it’s not easy to prepare a meal with no market nearby to buy anything. It was a simple dish. I asked the staff how they get their supplies, and I found out that once a week, they head out to Matsumoto, a couple of hours away by car, to purchase their groceries.
Our American neighbors sadly did not eat any of those on the plate on top! But no worries, if you can’t eat it, Myojinkan right beside the Myojin bridge sells bread and some snacks.
So we said our final good byes, and headed off to Myojin Ike.
I loved this pond! It was 7 AM and there was no one else around at that time! It’s inside a temple so you need to pay for the entrance. It’s right beside Kamonjigoya. This place is probably full around lunch time. Glad that I got to enjoy it peacefully with no crowds. They have a very clean wash toilet by the way. Good to drop by before a long day’s hike!
So our route going back is the northern path of Azusa river. It’s very easy to follow.
There are so many pretty spots on the way! Yesterday was rainy and had a totally different atmosphere, and now that it’s sunny we got to see a different side to Kamikochi as well! I just love the fact that there was a lot of streams and ponds on the way.
Like this little stream! Very soothing and cool. It was around 9 AM when we left Myojin Ike, and we met a lot of hikers going in the direction towards Myojin Ike. People greet “Konnichiwa” when they meet hikers along the way. I’ve never said konnichiwa so much in an hour in my life I think.
And then there is another spring with green plants growing in it.
And another emerald colored body of water!
This mountain was totally covered in fog yesterday! And now it stands majestically!
This was where the monkeys were playing yesterday in the rain. I didn’t see any monkey today. Maybe they were feeling so hot that they decided to nap somewhere else instead.
And so we reached Kappabashi area around 11:15! It was scorching hot but that did not stop us from staying under the sun to take in the amazing view! We had lunch at Gozenjaku Hotel (again) before the people rushed in at 12. We had ramen and chicken oyakodon.
And we had to say goodbye to beautiful Kamikochi!
We had checked the schedule in advance and reserved seats at no extra cost (different ticket from the fare ticket). We arrived ten minutes before the schedule time of departure. They called our numbers that was not related to our position in the queue at all. So lucky we reserved seats!
I made the best decision by sitting on the right side, which made sure I had the view of Taisho Ike when we passed by it. I had only seen it in its misty elegance, but not yet in its full glory. Good thing I did, because it was breathtaking, and it was exactly like how it was in the brochures, just perfect!
It was a very enjoyable and refreshing trip! Rain or shine, Kamikochi will leave you in awe!
Japan lures travelers with the promise of its beautiful scenery, rich culture, fast-paced tech lifestyle, friendly people, and safe streets. While most people agree that a few weeks is required to really enjoy Japan, I think it is possible to enjoy Japan in 5 days and scratch the surface of treasures Japan has to offer.
For a complete basic tour of Japan, I would definitely recommend at least five full days. Try arriving early in the morning, and leaving late at night. If you can, book a flight that arrives in Tokyo (Haneda instead of Narita) and leaves from Osaka. You can cover Tokyo and Kyoto with 5 days.
Day 1-2 “City Exploration” Tokyo
Day 3 “Nature and Relaxation” Hakone or Kawaguchiko (overnight or day trip)
Day 4-5 “Ancient Japan” Kyoto
Tokyo Leg: Choosing where to go
Tokyo is HUGE. For sightseeing activities there is no such thing as a main area. Anywhere within Tokyo can be your hub, since the trains are well connected and you can easily get a transportation pass.
Suggested Tokyo Itinerary
Harajuku-Omotesando for some trendy culture
Tokyo Station-Imperial Gardens
Asakusa-Nakamise (try to be here in the evening for Skytree)
Roppongi for some modern architecture
Odaiba or Yokohama for the view of Tokyo Bay (only if weather is nice)
Shibuya or Shinjuku for some very bright city lights in the evening
There are many things in Tokyo. You really have to choose or you will end up wasting time. For example, I do not have a need to go to the electric town in Akihabara. The itinerary is simply my preference, if you would like to add some anime-related spots or Disney Sea, then just tweak the itinerary.
Suggested Day Trip or Overnight Trip from Tokyo
Day 3 – Hakone or Kawaguchiko for Mt. Fuji views, nature, hot spring
Hakone version (around 2 hours away from Shinjuku):
Ashinoko Lake Sightseeing Cruise (included in the Hakone Pass)
Mt Fuji Views
Cable Car to an onsen mountain
Try Onsen (Hakone is a popular onsen town)
Stay overnight in a Japanese ryokan (or go back to Tokyo)
Kawaguchiko version (around 2 hours away from Shinjuku):
Lake Kawaguchi Park
Mt. Fuji Views
Flower Garden depending on season
Stay overnight in a Japanese ryokan (or go back to Tokyo)
How to choose? If you intend to stay overnight and prioritize convenience, onsen and ryokan, choose Hakone. If you prioritize seeing a complete Mt. Fuji, choose Kawaguchiko, and do a day trip. For a basic trip I would choose Hakone. For sakura season I would choose Kawaguchiko.
Suggested Kyoto Itinerary
Day 4 Take an early bullet train to Kyoto, takes about 3-4 hours. You can get on the Odawara station near Hakone.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Gion – Pontocho (see some maiko/geisha) late afternoon
Golden Pavillion (Kinkakuji), Imperial Palace Gardens
Arashiyama (don’t forget the bamboo grove)
Please don’t remove anything in this Kyoto list! This can easily be done via bus, or try renting a cycle such as J-Cycle.
When you’re done, hop on a train to Osaka and catch your very late evening flight. Osaka City is less than an hour away by regular train from Kyoto. If you decide to spend the night in Osaka, explore the city’s good food and fun atmosphere. Or visit Osaka Castle.
Japan Transportation Tips
JAPAN: If you will ride the shinkansen twice, like going to Kyoto and back to Tokyo, please purchase the JR Rail Pass. It will be worth it. If you will be following my itinerary as is, there is no need for the pass.
Tokyo: Tokyo is best explored by trains. JR Rail Pass can be used. If not, purchase either a JR Day Pass to get on most JR Lines or a Metro Day Pass to get on most subways. Decide based on the station nearest your hotel.
Hakone: JR Rail Pass can be used to get there, but going around requires bus tickets. If not using the JR Rail Pass, I suggest the Odakyu Sightseeing Pass. Please check the post dedicated to Hakone.
Kawaguchiko: JR Rail Pass can be used to get there, but going around requires bus tickets.
Kyoto: JR Rail Pass can be used to get there, but going around requires bus tickets. There is a 1 day bus pass for 500 yen that you should buy from the Kyoto station. I suggest renting a bicycle to go around!
How much for a Japan Trip?
4,000 yen a day for decent food + minor expense
1,000 yen a day for local transportation
7,000 yen a day for midrange accommodation
20,000 yen for a 1 way regional travel (shinkansen and day trip from Tokyo)
Which translates to roughly 100,000 yen for 5 days in Japan if you’re okay with it. Although Japan can be enjoyed at a much lower cost, if you follow the Tipid Tips below.
1,000 yen a day for food at the numerous fast food joints, especially beef bowl shops. Make sure there are pictures out side and the price is shown.
1,000 yen a day for local transportation. Get the pass and walk where the pass can’t take you.
2,000 yen for dorm guesthouses. There are lots in Asakusa area.
5,000 yen for a night bus to Kyoto. 3,000 if you’re lucky on a weekday.
And you’re looking at under 25,000 yen for 5 days if you really want to do it extremely cheap. If you need help, I can write in more detail next time.
Please stay tuned for detailed itineraries and tips on the individual places.
Hakone is a great side trip from Tokyo! If you were thinking of staying in Tokyo for 3 days, I suggest you do a side-trip to Hakone. You’ll enjoy both one-day trip and an overnight trip.
9:00 Get on Odakyu train from Shinjuku bound for Hakone
11:30 Arrive in Hakone Yumoto, the onsen town
11:30 Get on the Tozan Train bound for Gora
12:00 Arrival at Gora
12:00 – 13:00 Lunch at Gora area
13:00 Get on Hakone Tozan cable car and get off Owakudani
14:00 Get on ropeway to Togendai for Lake Ashi
14:30 Do the Lake Ashi Sightseeing Cruise and get off at Motohakone Ko
15:00 Explore Ancient Cedar Avenue, Hakone Jinja
16:00 Get on Hakone Tozan Bus bound for your accommodation
Allot enough time to enjoy your onsen accommodation and the elaborate dinner they tend to prepare for you!
Transportation: Purchase the 2-day free pass from Odakyu Sightseeing Center in Shinjuku at JPY 5140. It’s near the West exit of JR. Even if you’re coming back the same day, it’s still worth it. There’s also a 3-day pass at JPY 5640. This includes all the transportation mentioned in the itinerary above. Regular trains to Hakone take 2 hours. If you want a more touristy experience there is a “Romance Car” train that is slightly more relaxing and costs an additional 890 yen. Do purchase that when you buy your ticket so that you won’t have problems on the train. I got charged higher than the suggested price.
Accommodation: Onsen hotel? Ryokan? Guesthouse? For first-timers I suggest going to a ryokan or an onsen hotel. This is where you can try on the yukata (Japanese robe), the onsen (hot spring), and kaiseki dinner (Japanese course dinner). If you do not want to spend money, stay in a guesthouse and simply add a daytime onsen in the itinerary. Try Yunessun.
Onsen: It is typically public and gender-segregated. You take your clothes off in the locker area, shower completely with soap in the shower area, and get in the onsen when you are squeaky clean in all areas. It’s really great in any weather. If you want a private one, you pay extra usually for an hour or so for a family bath.
Food and Shopping: Gora and Hakone Yumoto have places to eat lunch and dinner and places to buy souvenirs. Sometimes your accommodation has souvenirs for sale at a similar price.
Convenience Stores: This is countryside so don’t expect Tokyo convenience.
Budget will ultimately be decided by your accommodation. Top class hotel chains would cost 25 thousand yen per person a night. But I have stayed at a really great ryokan with superb Japanese service and cuisine at only 13,000 yen a night per person. Pensions usually mean B&Bs and prices differ dramatically. It’s usually the same price as a ryokan, but the ambience is more of a western log house. So ideally allot 20,000 yen for a hassle-free Hakone trip.
Doing Hakone Cheap
Stay in a guesthouse/minshuku/inn and buy food from a convenience store when you get a chance. You could slash your accommodation to just 5,000 yen a night (no meals). Just make sure you still go to an onsen! You’ll be spending around 12,000 yen in total.