Have you been to Japan and seen the popular tourist spots? Then it’s time to dive deeper and go off the beaten path. This is a sample itinerary for a week using the JR Railpass. We took this trip in early April, which is typically the best time to see the cherry blossoms across Honshu.
It includes some of the most important as well as lesser known Sakura spots. Of course, with the Japan Railpass, it’s all about riding trains. So on this trip there are a few trains other than the standard Shinkansen. Finally, as you might expect, good food and delicious ramen.
On this trip we cover:
- Cherry Blossom in Kyoto
- Food in Shizuoka
- Sakura and Drinks in Kyoto
- Sushi in Kanazawa
- Ramen around Kyushu
- Evangelion Anime Shinkansen and Marine View
Route in Short
The trip covers the island of Honshu, the main Japanese island, as well as Kyushu in the south. As for cities we will pass through and stay in the following one:
Nagoya → Kyoto → Shizuoka → Tokyo → Kanazawa → Fukuoka → Nagasaki → Osaka
In one week, this trip covers 3588 kilometers and would have cost 115,100 yen without the Japan Railpass. Obviously, the JR Railpass is a must.
The JR Railpass gives you unlimited rides on Japan Railways trains for the time period you choose. There are options for 7, 14 and 21 days. Fares and seat reservations are included. There is one major restriction: The fastest Shinkansen service called “Nozomi” is not covered by the pass. Once you compare the regular prices of Shinkansen tickets, the JR Railpass quickly becomes worthwhile.
The JR Railpass must be booked and purchased before entering Japan. You will be given a voucher to exchange for the actual Railpass. This can be done at major JR stations and often at airports such as Narita. At the time of conversion, you must prove your eligibility by showing your tourist visa stamp in your passport.
We will be preparing a detailed article on the Railpass soon.
Day 1: Nagoya → Kyoto → Shizuoka
On this trip we got our Railpass at Nagoya Station and started our trip from there. Since Sakura was in full bloom that day, we decided to go directly to Kyoto, as this city offers some beautiful spots.
We took the Hikari Shinkansen from Nagoya Station to Kyoto Station. The Hikari covers the 150km in about 40 minutes and usually makes one more stop than the Nozomi service.
In Kyoto, there are plenty of options for viewing the cherry blossoms. We chose the Heian Shrine and the Philosopher’s Path, both located in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto. We took the subway to Higashiyama and walked to the shrine and the Philosopher’s Path.
We took another Hikari to Nagoya and switched to a Kodama service that runs the 185km from Nagoya to Shizuoka in 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Since we arrived in the evening, we didn’t have much time for sightseeing, so we went straight to dinner. We took the JR local trains to Shimizu Port to get some fresh and original seafood. Since the Japanese like to eat and drink at the same time, we did the same and had some local Shizuoka Oden afterwards.
Restaurants of the Fishmarket at Shimizu Port
We had planned this day flexibly in advance. Depending on the state of the cherry blossom, we changed it. Since Sakura was at its peak in Kyoto, we went there. If it hadn’t been, we would have spent more time in Shizuoka to catch beautiful views of Mt. Fuji, which is usually visible across the bay.
[ToDo] Link Hotel
Day 2: Shizuoka → Toyko
In the morning we took another Shinkansen Hikari to Tokyo. This service covers the 180 km in about 1 hour. You can also take a Kodama which has more stops and takes a little longer.
From Toyko station we went directly to Ueno to drop off our luggage at the hotel. At that time, business hotels in Tokyo were quite expensive. The area around Ueno typically offered good prices not too far from downtown.
Of course it’s time to see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto. We chose the Aoyama Cemetery, which has some of the most beautiful trees in Tokyo. It can be reached by the Ginza subway line at the Gekkanmae station.
We walked along the trees all the way to Shibuya. There are many restaurants. There is also my favorite restaurant Abura Soba*. Abura Soba is a variation of ramen without broth, just with an oily sauce. If you like soup ramen, this soupless version is a real recommendation.
After filling our stomachs, we took the Yamanote Line to Ebisu. There is the headquarters and museum of what we think is the best brewery in Japan: Yebisu. The museum is nice but rather small. But they have a tasting room where you can try some seasonal beers.
For the evening we went to Shinjuku for typical Japanese food and drink. We started with yakitori, grilled chicken skewers, and beer at an izakaya. Followed by a Nihonshu bar called YATA. They run a few shops around the country with the same system. For a fixed price of 2000 yen you can try as much Nihonshu as you want for 1 hour. It’s a pretty fair deal and a chance to dive into the different tastes and flavors that good quality Nihonshu can offer. Outside of Japan, Nihonshu is typically referred to as Japanese Sake.
After drinking, it is time to eat. Ramen is a great way to end the evening. In Shinkuju there is a very unique area called Golden Gai. It consists of very narrow alleys and lots of small and tiny bars and restaurants in buildings from another time. We had some great ramen there.
Unfortunately, there was a fire in Golden Gai a few years ago that destroyed many of the original wooden houses.
*It seems nowadays the shop is not there anymore. As they were running a couple around the city there should be still some. On the next visit to Japan we will check them out.
Summary of Restaurants
Day 3: Tokyo → Kanazawa
Since we have the Railpass, we don’t want to spend too much time in one city, so we left for Kanazawa the next morning. We took a Kagayaki service on the Hokuriku Shinkansen, which covers the 450 km in about 2 hours and 30 minutes. The ride is pretty cool as it leaves Tokyo heading north and goes through the Japanese Alps and Nagano before reaching the other coast, the city of Toyama and finally Kanazawa. This section was the latest addition to the Shinkansen network at the time. There are plans to extend the line from Kanazawa to Osaka.
What is special to see or do in Kanazawa, you may ask. It is said that sushi and sashimi are much better on the north coast. Why is that? We can only guess. But probably because there are fewer people, less industry and less pollution.
So of course enjoying seafood is on the list for Kanazawa. Since we arrived just before lunch, we were able to get some delicious sushi at a recommended restaurant in the train station. It wasn’t cheap, but it was really delicious. A totally different experience than eating sushi in the center of a huge city like Tokyo. In general, lunch menus are much cheaper than dinner menus. So if you are on a budget, it might be a good idea to try lunch.
Sakura was also in full bloom that day. So we took a long walk to the castle and its park. It was packed with people as the cherry blossoms were amazing here. Heaps of trees with traditional castle buildings are always great to see. You can spend the whole afternoon walking around.
Sushi Lunch: http://s.tabelog.com/ishikawa/A1701/A170101/17009145/
Sashimi Izakaya: http://s.tabelog.com/ishikawa/A1701/A170101/17009401/
Day 4: Kanazawa → Hakata
This day is only about traveling by train as we want to make it down to the southern island of Kyushu and its capital Fukuoka. To avoid confusion, the city is called Fukuoka, the train station is called Hakata. It’s the terminus of the Sanyo Shinkansen. So the longest Shinkansen lines from Tokyo end here. Since we stayed in Kanazawa the night before, our trip included a few trains and transfers.
We started around 8am and took the limited express Thunderbird to Shin Osaka. “Shin” means “new” and refers to Osaka’s new train station. In Osaka, the Shinkansen does not stop at the main station, but a little outside the center. Shin Osaka is also served by the subway, local trains, and other long-distance trains. The first leg from Kanazawa to Osaka took about two and a half hours.
With only a short stop there, we boarded the Sakura service of the Shinkansen to Hiroshima. The trip took about 1 hour and 30 minutes. The total distance from Kanazawa to Osaka was 600 km.
Since Hiroshima is famous for its okonomiyaki, we took the opportunity to have one for lunch at the station. We had visited Hiroshima itself on previous trips. So this time we didn’t plan to stop here but to continue directly.
That’s also because we found a really exceptional train and were lucky enough to be able to make a reservation. It was the Kodama 741 leaving Hiroshima at 14:02.
This Shinkansen train comes in a special design inspired by the famous anime “Evangelion”. The exterior is painted in a typical purple color that refers to one of the characters from the series. Inside, there are design elements from the series on the doors and window blinds. Car #1 is an exhibition room with some characters and information about the series. This train only ran once a day from Osaka to Hakata. So it was a special and unique experience to ride it.
Unfortunately, this train made its last run in May 2018.
Hopefully JR is setting up another special Shinkansen.
Since this train was a Kodama service that stopped at every station, the 280km from Hiroshima to Hakata took about 2 hours.
Arriving there at 4 p.m., we only had time to check into the hotel and go straight to dinner.
We started the evening at an Izakaya specializing in vegetable dishes and continued to a Nihonshu bar serving only local sake. One must know that Nihonshu can be compared to wine in Europe in the sense that there are many regions making there own local ones. As with wine, the taste, style and quality vary from region to region depending on the water, rice and other ingredients.
As Kyushu and Hakata are famous for ramen, we ended the day with some great ones.
Vegetable Izakaya: http://s.tabelog.com/fukuoka/A4001/A400103/40035420
Day 5: Hakata ↔ Nagasaki
This was a more traditional sightseeing day. We took the Kamome Limited Express to Nagasaki. The trip takes just under two hours for 150 km. Recently, parts of this trip have been covered by a new Shinkansen service.
We got off one station before the final stop, called Urakami, and took a walk through Nagasaki, past some of the monuments commemorating the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Japanese soil.
For lunch we had the regional specialty Nagasaki Champon, which is also ramen noodles in a chicken and pork based soup topped with vegetables and seafood. For us, a nice one-time try, but not on the list of our favorite ramen styles.
In the afternoon we went to another very unique place called Gunkanjima, which means Battle Ship Island. It’s a small island about 15 kilometers off the coast. The island was a coal mine until the mid 70’s. About 5000 people, the workers and their families, lived on this island right next to their place of work, so a lot of residential buildings etc. were built on this small island. After the coal production stopped, the buildings and the island were abandoned. The climate, sea air and typhoons quickly worked on the buildings and created a new spooky atmosphere there. You can take a boat with a guided tour to this island. It’s a real recommendation and a mix of impressive industrialization but also terrible working conditions including forced labor during World War 2.
After that island we went back to Hakata as we also stayed there for that night to make Hakata some base after a lot of traveling. Dinner of course: Ramen.
Day 6: Hakata → Kagoshima → Kumamoto → Hakata
This day is a special day in all our memories of traveling in Japan. No sightseeing, just trains and ramen.
It was a day trip from Hakata down south on the Shinkansen to eat the unique and only local Maguro Ramen in Kushikino near Kagoshima. This was followed by delicious pork based ramen in Kagoshima itself. Finally, on the way back to Hakata having another local ramen in Kumamoto.
You can find the details about that day here:
Day 7: Hakata → Osaka
The last day of our JR Railpass. So we have to go back to the main island. We could have taken a direct service from Hakata to Osaka, but we found another cool thing in between.
Between Hiroshima and Mihara, the Setouchi Marine View ran along the coast. This was a refurbished train with a marine theme. The exterior was painted in light blue with marine design elements. Nice wood design in the interior. The seats are not like normal train seats but more like a couch in your living room. The ride also offers extraordinary and spectacular views of the rugged coastline as the trains run close along it.
The Setouchi Marine View travels about 90 km in 2.5 hours from Hiroshima to Mihara. From Mihara, we had to take a local train for 30 minutes to get to Fukuyama to board a Shinkansen to Osaka.
Arriving in Osaka ended our use of the JR Railpass for this trip. We calculated that we traveled about 3500 km and would have spent 115,000 yen if we had bought the tickets individually instead of using the JR Railpass.
Osaka has too much to offer to describe in this post. Check out our other blog posts about our various visits to the vibrant city of Osaka and the Kansai area.
|Hotel A’bant Shizuoka
|Check out at Booking.com
|HOTEL MYSTAYS Ueno East
|Check out at Booking.com
On that trip you get around many places in Japan in just 7 days. As many of the locations focused on Sakura beginning of April is a recommended time for this trip. It takes the JR Railpass to quite a maximum. So you should enjoy trains and train rides when following this trip idea.
Train Trip Details
|Train & Type
|SHINKANSEN HIKARI 507
|SHINKANSEN HIKARI 474
|SHINKANSEN KODAMA 670
|JR Tokaido Line Home Liner 6 for NUMAZU
|JR Tokaido Line
|JR Utsunomiya Line for KOGANEI
|Yamanote Line/Blaue Linie
|SHINKANSEN KAGAYAKI 521
|LTD. EXP THUNDERBIRD 10
|SHINKANSEN SAKURA 553
|SHINKANSEN KODAMA 741
|LTD. EXP KAMOME 7
|LTD. EXP KAMOME 36
|JR Kagoshima Line for KAGOSHIMA-CHUO
|JR Kagoshima Line for KAGOSHIMA-CHUO
|SHINKANSEN SAKURA 562
|SHINKANSEN SAKURA 564
|SHINKANSEN SAKURA 542
|SETOUCHI-MARINE-VIEW 1 for MIHARA
|JR Sanyo Line for OKAYAMA
|SHINKANSEN SAKURA 550