We will be in Japan in late July for 1 week (Flying in and out of Tokyo). I'm interested in visiting smaller towns, countryside, beaches, mountains, hot springs, unique landscapes, great good and architecture, etc. Is train the best way to travel? Any suggestions, ideas, tips would be very much appreciated!! Thank you.
I highly recommend checking out Arashiyama in Kyoto, because it has Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, KT PARK and an amazing river all in one. If you're really into sight seeing and experiencing something unique, go on the Hozu River Boat Tour aka the Pleasure Boat ride. It has a cool name, you're in a river and you're witnessing the work of the Japanese Gods that created such an amazing piece (or pieces) of land. It's hot like hot sauce out there though, so be prepared to sweat your eyebrows off as humidity is typically over 80%.
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If you intend traveling outside of Tokyo, make sure you buy a Japan Rail pass before you get to Japan-it is so worthwhile for travel on shinkansen. Trains in Japan are punctual, fast and clean and the best way to get anywhere. While in Tokyo, get a pasmo or suica card for travel on the train/subway. The machines have an English option-Y500 deposit plus any extra funds will be refunded at the station office before you go. Himeji has a great castle, don't miss Kyoto (wonderful temples,Gion-might see geishas and fabulous old buildings, visit En teahouse in Gion for a tea ceremony-some waitresses speak English. Hiroshima (Peace Museum) and Miyajima, (JR pass covers the ferry to Miyajima) Nara(amazing temple. Beware of the deer!) Beppo on the south island very interesting-can have a hot sand bath on the beach. Nagasakiinteresting. Day trips from Tokyo to consider-Nikko, Kamakura, Mt. Fuji (or can stay near there overnight). Tip-Look for Lawsons and 7 Elevens convenience stores for cheap bento box lunches. 7 Elevens also have ATM's which accept overseas cards-most banks don't. Major post offices will also have ATM's which accept foreign cards. Don't rely on credit cards outside major cities-also make sure you take your cash in lower denomination notes.Lots of small businesses struggle to change the larger notes. Make sure you try the izakayas-great for a drink and cheap meal. Make sure you get to the 100 yen stores-they sell beautiful fans for about $1 which make great gifts.
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As you're just in Tokyo for one week, you may not want to go much further than the prefecture. I would suggest heading to Hakone which is nearby and gives fantastic views of Mount Fuji. Also, worth heading to is Kamakura which has beautiful shrines and temples. Yokohama is worth a visit, and you can see a baseball game here which will be cheaper than seeing in Tokyo city centre.
Take a look at my travel website, for other things to do outside of Tokyo: http://bit.ly/1bI4mGk