Japan has been on Nate‘s travel list for as long as we have talked about traveling. We’d heard how much people love this set of islands off the east coast of mainland Asia, but we WERE NOT READY for the gem that is Japan.
At the time of our travels (March/April 2020), there was no quarantine in Japan. We flew in from Melbourne two days earlier than planned because flights were being restricted OUT OF Australia. And we didn’t want to get stuck for the foreseeable future. So much was still unknown at the time.
What we did know though, was that Japan was a go, and our road trip was still on. We followed Japanese guidelines and *almost* none of our plans were canceled, thankfully. My sister was supposed to meet us during our Japanese road trip, we would have had to risk her flights getting canceled. So that was a HUGE bummer, but also very understandable.
Before we get into the Japanese road trip itinerary, you must understand Japan as a country. It was hands-down the cleanest country I have ever been in. Nearly every restaurant or shop had a hand-washing station as you entered, there was hand sanitizer everywhere on the subways, people wear masks, and there is no trash….like, anywhere. You received hand wipes in your bag at the local 7/11.
Like, WHAT? It honestly felt like the safest place we could be during a pandemic. Who knows if that was true, but it certainly felt that way. We were willing to be quarantined there if it came down to that. Which it didn’t (until the very end)…But we’ll get there.
After Japan we were supposed to head back down to New Zealand for a 23 day road trip, but that was canceled during our time in Japan. So, our Japanese road trip was 21 days long, with a few days in Tokyo on either end of the road trip.
Japan is larger than you might think. In 21 days it just wasn’t feasible to get up to Hokkaido and the northern regions, or down to Okinawa and some of the southern regions. So we kept it between Tokyo and Hiroshima.
You could travel faster than this for sure, but with me still having to work and us liking to travel a bit slower, this was truly the perfect itinerary.
As you’ll see in the coming blogs, it felt very much so like we had Japan to ourselves. There were still plenty of local tourists, but not many foreigners. As I said, we arrived in a twilight zone of sweetness with no restriction or quarantine.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity under unfortunate circumstances. Which you’ll see in the coming Japan blogs.
Without further ado let’s get into the itinerary + need to know details. This is a very simple breakdown and that includes the locations we stayed, hotels, and rental car services.
Car rental: We rented a Subaru Crosstrek through Budget at the Haneda Airport. It was just over $1,600 for 22 days plus the toll card. They picked us up via a shuttle to and from the airport to the actual car location. Customer service was great.
Tolls: We bought the scan card with our car and opted to just be charged via our rental. Tolls aren’t cheap. But you see why. The roads, signs and rest stops along the highways are NEXT LEVEL. Everything was super high quality and well ran.
Rest stops: There are tons of rest stops. Our car’s navigation told us any time there was going to be road work, what type, and where rest stops were at. These are hands down the nicest rest stops I’ve ever seen. Nothing even comes close.
Speed limits: 60km was pretty standard. Which. Is. Not. Fast. There were cameras along the highway but you know when they’re coming because there are signs. And our car told us as well. So, you do you…
Time of year: We were in Japan March/April and it was PERFECT. In avoiding “golden week” in Asia, we accidentally booked during cherry blossom season. Which turned out to be UH-MAZING. We got the best of both worlds in spring – snow in the mountains, but sunny 70 degree days elsewhere.
Arriving in Tokyo: 3 Full Days
We flew in and out of Tokyo, because this was easiest. You could fly in and pick up your car immediately. As we had to go back to the airport from Tokyo to get our rental.
From airport to Tokyo:
We took the skyliner to JY line (4000 yen total for two people)
Stay at the Blossom Hotel
Getting to our car rental from Tokyo:
JR line to Nippori then get on the Skyliner to terminal 1 – pick up car (see above)
Drive to Nikko
Stay at Nikko Akarinoyado Villa Revage (private onsen baths were a HUGE plus here)
Activities: (we did all of this in our one day there – you will see soon in the Nikko Blog)
Drive around to: (see full Nikko blog post coming soon)
Drive from Nikko to Takayama:
Stay at Tabina Hotel
Drive Takayama to Tsumago – Less than 2 hours
Stay at Hotel Hanasara – due to the ‘rona, we didn’t use their hot spring, but heard good things. They also had a shuttle to and from Magome.
Drive Tsumago to Kyoto
Icoca card 2000 yen pp
Stay at Aoi Hotel Kyoto (4 star hotel)
Drive from Kyoto to Hiroshima:
Stay at the Grand Prince Hotel
Drive to Nara:
Stay at Piazza Hotel, Nara – wonderful location and hotel
Drive from Nara to Hakone
(three days was too much – but we also must consider that things were starting to close at this point)
Stay at Hakone Hotel – having a lake a Mt Fuji view room did not suck. Highly suggest if you can swing it.
That’s it! Back to Tokyo!
When we got back to Tokyo, they had entered a quarantine. It was like a completely different city from when we left. So we promptly caught early flights back to the states. Our travels were cut short, but we figured we’d much rather quarantine at home with friends and family than in Japan even though it might just be our favorite country ever.
We can’t say what it’s like during a normal cherry blossom season (when we were there), but even with millions of tourists, I imagine it’s just as charming.
Japan has the most pleasant mix of new and old. 5g and cutting edge technology AND beautifully maintained temples and shrines dating back thousands of years. Add in the natural beauty, from islands to mountains, with the cleanest, and LARGEST cities you’ve probably seen…there’s nowhere like it (to my knowledge). Oh, and the people and food are both AMAZING.
We were so fortunate to see this gem in a perfect sliver of time.
Can’t wait to share the rest with you.
Would you ever do a Japanese road trip? If so, pin this post for later.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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