Amagisou – This ryokan is a hidden gem in the middle of the Izu Peninsula. Easily accessible without a car, we were able to train Tokyo down to Shimoda and back up to this ryokan without any issue since they have a shuttle bus. The bus will pass the popular loop de loop bridge, too! The ryokan backs up to beautiful waterfalls that are open only to the ryokan customers after sunset. We combined this trip with a hike on the Jogasaki Coastline. That hike took over two hours, so be sure to pack a water and some snacks including a bat to whack your way through the spider webs.
Shibu Onsen and Jigokudani Monkey Onsen – Not a skier, I always thought Nagano was a prefacture I would probably miss; however, I came across the monkey onsen on Instagram and just had to see it. On the way back, we stopped and walked along the main road in Nagano. We found an amazing dumpling cooked over an old stove (irori), and walked the pitch black path underneath of the main temple.
Osaka – Stay at the Conrad for the best view! and don’t forget to buy that Osaka Free Pass… The evening walking tour was an unexpected highlight to the weekend. Go hungry, amazing food in Osaka.
Juniko and the Twelve Lakes, Aomori Prefacture – For our friends that like to hike, we booked this amazing adventure off Rakuten Travel. We had a Japanese guide and took about a four hour hike, complete with a picnic lunch. This is some of the most beautiful blue waters I have ever seen in the forest. It’s a truly unique experience full of amazing panoramic views. Part of the ride is booking the Resort Shirakami train that rides along the coastline. There are three trains in this collection of cars so hopefully you get a different one up and back. They each have their own unique look and beer!
Fox Village and Kokeshi Doll Museum – Avoid the Fox Village like the plague. Not worth your time and cash, but the Kokeshi Doll museum is. My advice here in Shiroshi, is to find an amazing onsen/ryokan, pay the 4000 yen taxi ride it is to get out there and enjoy the wilderness.
Lake Suwa Fireworks Competition – My husband and I took an overnight trip to Lake Suwa and we were blown away (no pun intended) by the amazing fireworks display set to short bursts of music. There’s also a nifty glass museum nearby. The bus was surprisingly comfortable and a unique way to make your way around the area on such a busy weekend. Driving may have been a pain!
Kurobe Gorge Railway trip – This was by far my most complex train trip yet. Be sure to book in advance both the first shinkansen up to Toyama Prefacture and the local train (Kurobe Gorge Railway). We were able to buy tickets at the gate for the connecting local train and it was very easy to navigate your way from the bullet train station. We stayed at the onsen at the end of the train ride on the last stop. It was quaint, quiet, and charming. Not much English here but we were able to get by with our bad Japanese!
Nagoya and Takayama Mountain Town – What a charming trip this was. You don’t need much time in Nagoya, although I suggest leaving time for the Nabana-no-sato Christmas Lights display (see post at the bottom of this page). We stayed at the Marriott by the train station and loved it so much! Amazing bar at the top with some great views and entertainment. We carried on north the next day to Takayama and had some amazing Hide beef during our trip. There is quite the night life there in town thanks to the somewhat new yokocho area nearby to the station. Again, this town has a perfect tourist map detailing everything. Leave time to have early mornings at the markets with tons of fresh apples and crafts. We stayed at the hotel nearby (Ouan, I believe is the name) to the train station with an onsen area on the 12th floor. It was surprisingly beautiful for the price we paid and we were not disappointed!
Karuizawa – A big fan of Terrace House, I just had to come to Karuizawa. We took a night out of the city and splurged for a room at the Marriott with it’s own onsen in the back… we were not disappointed. Karuizawa is way easier with a car, but again, it’s Japan and there are cabs around. Of course the outlets are a highlight here, the slopes if you’re into them, but we really took the time to eat soba from the show, relax, and take in the outdoors.
Kurashiki and Okayama – Two charming old towns of Japan. Kurashiki is known for its denim and pottery production, since Okayama area has its own special Bizen pottery. Talk about a charming town to visit… I recommend staying at the Dormy Inn if you are on a budget, and splurging for a cocktail at Bar Legend in Okayama.
Okinawa – You need a car to fully enjoy Okinawa. We spent our time on the northern part of Naha (Main Island) and we took a day drive to the Kouri Island, which is oh so charming. The museum is well worth the cost of admission and make sure you stop for a burger at the joint right by the causeway, dre x dre. If you have time and can island hop, awesome, I’m headed back for Miyakojima. If you stay on the main island, the aquarium gets cheaper after 4 and there is a beautiful small beach right outside with a gorgeous view of the sunset.
Kyoto – I always thought Kyoto was overrated, I must have been doing something wrong. Kyoto is one of Japan’s most charming cities, even though it is crawling with tourists. We loved the temple Daigo-ji which is a bit off the beaten path. This is how I recommend you do Kyoto. Do less, and see more of what the city looked like before the mobs of people. I have heard great things about the boat ride near the bamboo forest, but can’t speak to that myself.
Nabana-No Sato/Pearl Road/Ise Shrine – If you are a fan of driving, I urge you to copy this weekend away. We had the most beautiful time at the illuminations in Nagoya and continued our drive down to Toba, where the famed diving women do their thing. We left there after a refreshing onsen to go to Ise Grand Shrine which was stunning… leave a good two hours to explore the yokocho/old town area while you’re there. The street lobster was the best we have had in Japan.