Japan 2023: Partner Itinerary

A 16-day plan for Japan at the beginning of cherry blossom season, complete with business hotels, hot spring Japanese inns, a nice hostel, a lovel hotel, and a temple stay.

As I mentioned sometime in my Japanese (re)learning progress, I'm planning to go to Japan in February! I'll first be solo for 30 days, based in Kyoto, until the second half of March. Then my partner will join me for 16 days. I finally finalized the plans for the partner time. Whew! This time of the year worked best for us with our work schedules as well as the nice weather and cherry blossoms viewing (桜花見). Here it is:

  1. (2 nights) Meet partner in Tokyo
  2. (3 nights) Tour Kyoto, surrounding areas (Nara, Arashiyama), stay in Shimogyo
  3. (1 night) Tour Osaka, stay in a ryokan between Osaka and Koyasan
  4. (1 night) Tour Koyasan in Wakayama
  5. (1 night) Tour Osaka
  6. (3 nights) Tour Hiroshima, surrounding areas (Miyajima, Okunoshima)
  7. (1 night) Tour Kyoto, stay in Gion
  8. (2 nights) Tour Nikko
  9. (1 night) Tour Tokyo
  10. (1 day) Fly out of Tokyo in the afternoon

Where I've already been

Kyoto is where I was stationed when I studied abroad 12 years ago. I really liked it there – excellent public transportation, so much historical culture, less modern hustle and bustle compared to Tokyo; that said, I'm sure there will be tourist crowds, especially during 桜花見. Same with Nara.

Koyasan was by far my favorite place to see back then. I'm so excited to go back there and show it to my partner.

I spent a few days in Tokyo with friends, checking out restaurants, the Imperial gardens, Ikebukuro, and Akihabara.

Not listed above: Shikoku, Nagoya, Kobe, other surrounding Kyoto attractions, probably some others I've missed.

Where I haven't been

In Kyoto: Arashiyama! What a shame (back then).

So there will be a nice mix of old and new experiences for me, and all new for my partner (it's his first time ever!). I hope after 30 days alone I'll have had my bearings enough to confidently show him around, both in terms of the language and physical logistics / cultural mannerisms. The other exciting thing is, this time around, I will have a lot more adult money, as well as a smartphone with Internet and GPS! Oh my goodness.

Okunoshima is also known as うさぎ島, or Rabbit Island. We love bunnies, so this was a must... It helps that it's not too far from Hiroshima, which seems like a responsibility to visit as an American.

Nikko was hyped by my coworker who had been before. Looks pretty sweet, so I was glad  I could fit that in towards the end of our trip.

Osaka seemed like a nice place to stop by in between long commutes from Kyoto, Wakayama, and Hiroshima. What I'm must excited about Osaka is the food scene, though curious to see if there's anything else worth experiencing.

The lodgings

We'll mainly be staying at a mixture of semi-nice (3-4 stars) business hotels and 温泉旅館 (onsen ryokan).

One exception is a stay at a temple in Koyasan – this is known as 宿坊(shukubo), and it seems to be the exclusive way of lodging in Koyasan (with maybe a sprinkle of guesthouses). I'm really excited to relive the temple life for a night – it'll be nostalgic for me, as that was the primary form of lodging for me as a student.

Another exception is, funnily, the same Airbnb (basically a super nice private hostel – reviewers think it should be classified as a hotel) where I will be staying by myself in Kyoto. It happened to be the most affordable choice for 3 nights for its location and quality.

Finally, I managed to squeeze in a night at a nice love hotel. It's probably nicer than the usual ones to appeal to tourists like me, but hey, it is still legit, and it should still be a different and fun experience, especially for the price: it was the same as a nice business hotel I was looking at, with the addition of a private sauna, spa bath, and karaoke machine!

I needed to balance price and amenities with how much there is to do (and how much we'd expect to do) in the surrounding area. For the first stay in Kyoto for 3 nights, I expect us to be moving around most of the day and just crashing in bed at night, so the affordable but still comfortable and accessible option seemed best. I had similar reasoning for whenever I chose business hotels (Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto part 2).

When I chose ryokans, these were in more remote areas where there isn't much nightlife or choice in outside restaurants. Ryokans in these areas tend to be of higher quality anyway (compared to, say, Tokyo) for the price (though they're still typically expensive). These areas include Nikko and an area between Osaka and Koyasan.

I did manage to find a business hotel in Tokyo for our first 2 nights that has an open-air bath, though, so that's a pretty cool hybrid... and I hope a lovely intro to Japan for my partner.

Why arrive in and depart from Tokyo?

Yes, there's a bias towards Kyoto and western Honshu... so why use the Tokyo airports?

When I studied abroad, I flew straight to Kyoto. It made sense since I had to meet my classmates there, and our base was stationed there.

I originally thought to do the same planning this tourist trip, but I noticed there was a noticeable difference in price and ability to fly non-stop from Northeastern U.S. to Tokyo.

And friends?

I have some friends I haven't seen in a long time in Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka. I should be able to connect with them during my solo time, but I hope we can squeeze in a dinner or so with my partner, too when he is there.

More details to come on the solo itinerary.

I sincerely hope the borders remain open this whole time.

See other posts on my Japan 2023 trip.