Saturday Special: 7 Cities in 7 Days

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Thanks to the lovely people over at JRPass.com, I decided to give myself a challenge and put my 7-day rail pass to good use, during my last week in Japan. Primarily stationed in Osaka and Tokyo, every day I took the opportunity to day trip somewhere new. I called it the 7 Cities in 7 Days Challenge, and because I fit so much into a compact timeframe, I became fatigued very quickly. The end of the week found me dragging through Narita airport with a head cold and a strong desire to sleep, but it was worth it because I got to see more of the country than I had originally planned.

My intention with this challenge was to show you how you can really get your money’s worth with a 7-day rail pass, even just riding the local JR lines. The key to not getting burned out like I did is to come and go when you’re ready. Don’t overdo it. So I’ve provided you a sample itinerary, but you can certainly mix and match until you find the right combination of cities you want to visit.

For train schedules, visit hyperdia.com, and for more information on the cities I visited, check out japan-guide.com.

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Nara

How to Get There: JR Yamatoji Rapid Service line from Osaka Station or JR Nara line from Kyoto
Transit Time:
1 Hour
Highlights:

  • Todaiji Temple
  • Nara Park
  • Kasuga Taisha
  • Naramachi
  • Heijo Palace

The ongoing joke is that when you ask people what do in different cities the answer will always be castles and onsens (hot springs). So when I asked my friends in Osaka what there is to do in Nara, that was the answer I got. Set myself up for that one, eh?

When I think of Nara, one word comes to mind: Deer. Miyajima (island off the coast from Hiroshima) has deer, but Nara has deer like Japan has tourists during sakura season. These aren’t necessarily docile animals either. If you feed them, prepared to be chased. Any sight of food, and they will become the best friend that you can’t get rid of. Proceed with caution.

Waiting to be fed.

Waiting to be fed.

Finally, feeding time!

Finally, feeding time!

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Kanazawa panorama

Kanazawa

How to Get There: Limited Express Thunderbird train from Osaka Station
Transit Time:
2.5 Hours
Highlights:

  • Kenrokouen
  • Ninja Museum (advance reservation required)
  • Kanazawa Castle
  • Omicho Market
  • Chaya Geisha Districts

From Osaka or anywhere on the East coast, Kanazawa is an ambitious day trip. It takes about 2.5-3 hours to get there, but it’s a beautifully charming city. This was my favorite day trip, and I highly recommend visiting if you have the time. The city is fairly spread out so to save time, purchase a one-day bus pass (500 JPY) for the Kanazawa Loop Bus that runs every 12 minutes and stops at a majority of the points of interest. One could easily spend the entire day in Kenrokouen park, but if you have time, visit one of the Geisha Districts in the evening to increase chances of a geisha sighting.

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Castle under construction

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Say a prayer

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On top of the world in Nagoya

Nagoya

How to Get There: Shinkansen Hikari line from Shin-Osaka Station
Transit Time: 
1 Hour
Highlights:

  • Nagoya Castle
  • Osu Kannon Temple
  • Science Museum
  • Port Area
  • Antarctic Museum

In Nagoya, I was lucky enough to couchsurf with a wonderful host for 2 nights. The first night, I enjoyed a local dinner and a nighttime view of Osu Kannon Temple. I ran all over the city on my only full day of exploring, and the highlights included the Antarctica Museum in the port area and Central Park running along Hisaya odori. If you visit the port area, go to the observatory but skip the maritime museum (it’s for children). Do your shopping in Sakae and pay a visit to the Nagoya castle. Nagoya is what a city should look like, and it’s one of my favorites in Japan.

Fun Fact: Los Angeles is Nagoya’s sister city, and in honor of that, there is a Hollywood Walk of Fame in Central Park.

Fun Fact: Los Angeles is Nagoya’s sister city, and in honor of that, there is a Hollywood Walk of Fame in Central Park.

Osu Kannon temple

Osu Kannon temple

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Antarctic museum

Takayama

How to Get There: Limited Express Hida train from Nagoya Station
Transit Time:
2.5 Hours
Highlights: 

  • Old Town
  • Folk Village
  • Markets
  • Yatai Kaikan
  • Higashiyama Walk

Takayama is another ambitious day trip, and what’s worse is that there isn’t a whole lot to do. Plus, it rained on the day I went, and guess who forgot her camera when she visited! Yeah, the odds weren’t in my favor that day. If I were to do it over, I would probably stay the night or maybe just go somewhere completely different instead. Takayama is one of those cities that is reminiscent of old Japan, and it doesn’t see many tourists which makes for a peaceful day trip.

Teacup balconies

Teacup balconies

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All work, no play on the Tokyo Metro

Tokyo

How to Get There: Shinkansen Hikari line from Nagoya Station
Transit Time:
About 2 Hours

From Nagoya, I headed back to Tokyo for a day of rest before hitting my last 2 cities and leaving the country soon thereafter. Previous thoughts and feelings on Tokyo can be found here.

Tourists being tourists

Tourists being tourists

Took a turn in the wrong direction & stumbled upon this home

Took a turn in the wrong direction & stumbled upon this home

Kamakura

How to Get There: JR Yokosuka line from Tokyo Station
Transit Time: 
1 Hour
Highlights:

  • Great Buddha
  • Hiking trails
  • Hachimangu Shrine
  • Beaches
  • Various Temples

When I went to Kamakura, I didn’t wear the appropriate attire, and by that, I mean stretchy hiking pants and mosquito repellent. Kamakura is very rural in many areas adorned with lots of hills, hiking trails, and of course, the Great Buddha. This town is home to a sizable elderly community and therefore is very quiet. So quiet that the sound of my shoes on the pavement is enough noise to make me feel exposed. This is a day trip not to be missed though. Come during the week when tourist traffic is light, you can enjoy the trails for yourself, and soak in the views with minimal distraction.

Happy Buddhas

Happy Buddhas

To the top we go.

To the top we go.

Hakone

How to Get There: JR Tokaido line or Shinkansen Kodama line to Odawara Station from Tokyo Station then take the Odakyu line to Hakone
Transit Time:
1.5 hours or 30 minutes respectively
Highlights:

  • Open Air Museum
  • Botanical Garden
  • Gora Park
  • Hakone Shrine
  • Hakone Glass no Mori Park

For my last destination, Japan decided to rain (literally) on my parade. To get to and around Hakone involves multiple modes of transportation including, train,  bus, and walking. Much like Kamakura, Hakone offers a lot of hiking trails, shrines, and temples. With a lot of outdoor recreational activities to enjoy, it was difficult to do so with the rain, but on a clear day, Hakone offers spectacular views of Mt. Fuji. Hakone is very popular among tourists and the Japanese alike, and rightfully so. Best to stay overnight, if you can, so you’ll have 2 full days of exploring.

Where would you go with your 7-day rail pass?

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