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Almost two years ago I wrote about your first trip to Japan. I talked about where you should go if you’re planning a 1-2 week trip, the route, and what you should do. Apparently a lot of people took my advice, because now I’ve been getting emails ever since from people who did that trip and now they want to know what to do for their second trip. I think the second trip is a lot more difficult to lay out for you (since now you kind of know what you like doing in Japan, so you should plan a bit for yourself I think) but I’m going to attempt it here. Let’s go back to Japan for round 2!

Things To Know

There are a few important things to know about how I’m laying out this guide / post:

The Route

As I mentioned before, it’s much harder to come up with an itinerary for someone visiting for the second time. This particular route is one that I personally like because it gets you to some places that the regular Japan tourist probably wouldn’t venture. It gets you outside of the regular Tokyo-Osaka-Kyoto circuit, and you have a chance to see a big change in weather / temperature.

There is one problem with this route, though: You’re missing out on all of Western Japan in favor of the North / Northeast. So, keep that in mind when you’re deciding your second trip. Personally I like the North over the West, though, so that’s the whole reason why we’re focusing our time there during round two!

JR Pass

Just like with your first trip to Japan, you’re going to want to get a JR Pass. I’ve always used JRpass.com in the past, but I’m sure any of the JR Pass websites should get you what you need at a reasonable rate. For this trip, getting a JR Pass is 100% necessary. It may seem like a lot to spend ~$500 on a two-week ticket, but it’s going to save you so much in the long run. We’re going to be covering more distance via Japan Rail compared to last time, so don’t forget to order one of these!

Finding Places To Stay

Also like last time, I’m not going to go into much detail on where to stay. That’s going to be up to you. I’ll give you information on the general area, you find a hotel / ryokan / hostel inside that area.

Packing

I’d recommend packing a small rolling suitcase or backpacking it. You’ll be on the train a lot, so big luggage is just going to cause trouble. Pack light, wash your clothes often, and enjoy the ease of smaller luggage. If you have anything that you want to take back with you (and you will), I’d recommend sending it to yourself via postage, or just waiting until you’re in Tokyo / the airport to do your shopping.

Day 1: Fly Into Narita, Transfer And Fly To Sapporo

airplane-to-narita

Photo by id_1325

This time around, we’re just going to fly into Narita and then leave right after to go to Sapporo. Due to potential delays and all that, there are a couple of options here.

  1. You could just do a direct flight to Sapporo, if that’s something you’re able to do.
  2. You could schedule a transfer for soon after you get in.
  3. You could schedule a transfer for later in the evening (if you arrive in the morning) or the early next morning.

I like “the next morning” personally, but it’s up to you. Point is, we’re flying into Narita (because I’m assuming that most people fly into Narita – if you’re not, then adjust accordingly) then getting on another plane to Sapporo. Note that this flight to Sapporo should be ONE-WAY.

Sidenote: If you have the time, and you should, be sure to go pick up your JR Pass at the airport station. You can get them in Sapporo too, but it’s easier if you just get it out of the way.

Days 2-4: Sapporo, Otaru, Nikka Whiskey

otaru

Photo by Kevin Poh

Welcome to Sapporo! I hope you found a nice place to stay. Depending on when you visit, it may be very cold and snowy or it may be moderately warm and sunny. Whichever it is, there’s fun things to do in both situations! I’d recommend spending your days doing something like this:

  1. Explore Sapporo: There’s a lot to see and do in Sapporo, though most of them have to do with food. Be sure to eat some Jingisu Khan, go to the fish market and have some of the best seafood / seafood donburi you’ve ever tasted, go up the TV tower, visit Ramen Republic AND Ramen Alley, go to the Sapporo brewery, eat some melon, some soft serve, and some melon soft serve, and see the “Boys, Be Ambitious” statue (there are sheep and stuff too).
  2. Otaru: Once you’ve gotten Sapporo out of your system, be sure to go to Otaru. It’s a moderately short train ride to the North and you get some awesome ocean views as your train rides right along the coast. If it’s winter and stormy out… the waves crash up against a wall just feet from the train. It’s awesome. In Otaru, at least in the summer, there are tons of shops. The place is pretty famous for its seafood, its various sweets companies (like, ridiculously famous and crowded), and canal. There’s plenty to do here and you can easily spend most of a day walking around.
  3. Nikka Whiskey: If you don’t spend your whole day at Otaru, or you have priorities more in line with mine, you’ll want to keep riding the train to Nikka Whiskey Distillery in Yoichi. You will be able to taste some of the best whiskey you’ve ever had, and the tour/story of the place is pretty interesting too. Be sure to go to the bar and sample everything in the book. Don’t be tempted to buy any alcohol-related souvenirs (unless you’re planning to drink it while in Japan), though. You can’t mail alcohol in Japan, and carrying these bottles around will be a pain. You can buy pretty much everything Nikka at the duty free stores in the airport, and they’re often cheaper too.

There’s more to do in and around Hokkaido, depending on when you’re visiting. If you’re there during the winter, things like skiing and snowboarding will be options. If you’re there during the summer you might want to explore the outer reaches of this Northern Island, or go to Showa Shinzan for some hot spring time.

Days 5-6: Travel Day / Hakodate / Aomori / Sendai

apples-aomori

Photo by kimubert

Since we’re taking the train from Sapporo, you’ll have a lot of time to stop, look around, and then get back on (thank you JR Pass!). Do keep in mind that during the winter trains are often delayed, so make sure you’re flexible! Whatever you do, I’d recommend stopping and staying in one of these places for one or two of the nights, otherwise you’re in for a 12ish hour train ride back to Tokyo.

  1. Hakodate: This city was the first in Japan to open its ports to foreign trade back in 1854 so it has some interesting architecture and influences going on. That being said, there was a huge fire in 1934 that wiped out a lot of it, so keep that in mind. It also has the Goryoukaku Fort, which is an awesome star-shaped fort (hard to see from the ground, though). The history of this fort is pretty interesting too, but I’ll leave that to your own curiosity should you choose to follow it.
  2. Aomori: Probably my favorite place of the three, this city is at the Northern edge of Honshu (the main island) and also where the shinkansen starts and ends, depending on which direction you’re going. If you can get to Aomori, the rest of the ride back towards Tokyo should be pretty fast and easy. I don’t think you could spend several days here (at least on a 2-week trip), but if you do be sure to check out the Modern Art Museum, the Jomon Museum, and anything you can find that’s apple related. Basically, Aomori = Apples, so if you’re here during apple season then… good for you! Also be sure to try the vinegar, black garlic, and whatever other foods you can get your hands on. Aomori food is pretty awesome, and will be a nice refresher after all the Jingis Khan, beer, and seafood that you ate in Sapporo.
  3. Sendai: Of course there’s Sendai as well, which is very close to where the Tohoku Earthquake of 2011 hit. The city itself is pretty much business as usual, though if you go outside the city to try to visit places like Ishinomaki (to go to Cat Island?) you’ll still see a lot of cleared land from where the tsunami hit. There’s plenty to do in Sendai, though when I’m there it’s usually to go to Cat Island, so… there you go. Sendai is also a good spot to stop for the night if it’s getting late and trains are running out.

Days 7-10: Travel, Tokyo, Mt. Fuji

fuji

Days 7-10 are going to depend on how long you spent in Northeast Japan. First you should spend some of it traveling to Tokyo. If it’s early enough, keep going to Mt. Fuji. If not, stay the night and then leave again in the morning. Don’t worry, we’ll be back.

In terms of “Mt. Fuji”, though, there are a lot of options. There are so many places on and around Mt. Fuji that are worth visiting that I’d need an entire other article or two to go through them. So, you’ll need to do the research for that on your own. It’s going to depend on things like whether or not you want onsen, whether or not you want to climb it, or whether or not you want to ride roller coasters. If it’s the last option, then be sure to go to Fuji-Q highland. There’s onsen there as well. Two of my favorite roller coasters are at Fuji-Q, and I don’t say that lightly.

Anyways, spend a couple days in and around Fuji. If you run out of things to do here you can always move on to the next section early and then go back to Tokyo a little early too.

Days 10-12: Things You Missed

snow-monkey

Photo by spDuchamp

These days are for things that you missed last time. What did you want to do that you couldn’t? Snow monkeys? Nikko? What else? There had to have been something, even if it’s just going back to Tokyo to sit in an arcade all day to play Gundam Extreme.

Alternatively, you could also head West for a day or two. I wouldn’t go too far (as that will be another trip… let’s say your third one), but feel free to look around and see the things you want. These are free days after all, and Mt. Fuji provides a nice “middle ground” between Tokyo and the West.

Days 13-14: Tokyo, Shopping, Going Home

waving-goodbye

Once again there has to be some time for shopping / Tokyo touristing. There’s always a lot to do in Tokyo, though I tend to avoid the city as much as possible. Come back, get your omiyage done, and head on out. Don’t forget to pick up your Nikka Whiskey at the duty free shop in Narita (and leave some space in your suitcase as well).

For A 1-Week Trip

To turn this into a 1-week trip instead of a two, you’ll want to cut out the Fuji part, the “things you missed” part, and then shorten up your time during days 5-6 to just one day if you can. Of course, you can now adjust more appropriately on your own since you’ve been to Japan before and know what you like and don’t like, but that’s where I’d use the ol’ trip razor.

I hope this helps some of you to plan your second trips to Japan! Let me know in the comments what kind of second trips you’d plan if it were you. Surely it will help out some other people planning second trips who don’t have the same tastes as me :)

hokkaidofestival-1280

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  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    That’s kind of funny, because for me there was never a second trip to Japan. Or shall I say that my second trip is still ongoing?
    My first Japan trip was 3 weeks long. And then I moved to Japan. Now, I’ve been here for over 6 years, travelled to all 47 Japanese prefectures, visited over 100 Japanese castles, many sights twice or three times …. and still find new things to discover. ;)

    I’d say for a second trip to Japan it really depends on your interests and the season!
    I get tons of e-mails from people asking me to help with their Japan itinerary, but it DOES make a huge difference if you plan a winter trip … or a spring one, for example! ^___^

    If anybody has specific questions, feel free to ask me. Maybe I can help. :)

    Hokkaido is definitely awesome. I’d either visit in winter for the Sapporo Snow Festival, in May for cherry blossoms or in summer.
    Tohoku is great, too. I’m a huge Tohoku fan and would especially recommend it in spring. Be careful as the sakura bloom later than in Tokyo or Kyoto!

  • Tim

    Last year I went to Hokkaido for a week. I flew into Narita. Took the overnight train to Sapporo (free with JR pass). From Sapporo I connected to a train to Wakkanai. I caught a ferry to Rebun Island. Stayed there overnight. Went hiking the next day (beautiful!) before taking a ferry back to Wakkanai and staying overnight at a manga-themed hostel.

    The next day I caught the first train to Asahikawa and then a bus to Daisetsuzan National Park. Hiked around my hostel that day and the next day hiked up to the peak Asahidake, which included a stop at a natural hot spring. Took the bus back to Asahikawa and then a train to Furano where I stayed overnight.

    Rented a bike in Furano and visited all the touristy locations–cheese factory, vineyards, grape juice factory, Farm Tomita. Ended the day with Furano’s Hesomatsuri–Belly Button Festival and dinner at Yama no Doxon, an awesome local brewpub. Stayed overnight in Furano again.

    The next day I went to Otaru. Visited the canals, the orgel museum/shop (crazy!), and a local German-style brewery. In the afternoon I went back to Sapporo and just did a walking tour of popular sites. That night I took the night train back to Tokyo.

    I had to cut a lot out of my itinerary (wish I had stayed for another night on Rebun!) but overall it was an awesome trip.

    This summer: Shikoku!

  • Lava Yuki

    Wow that sure is cramming in a lot! Im really slow when it comes to travel, ill spend a while in one area seeing everything, like a week in Hokkaido, and a week or two in other regions. I really want to go to the Hokkaido Yuki Matsuri on day, and Kyushu. Ive only been to the Kansai and Kanto areas so far.

  • DAVIDPD

    When I travel I prefer a much looser structure. I do not like feeling rushed when I visit somewhere for leisure. I might write down a couple places to visit, but mostly when I have been to new places I will wander around and enjoy my time as it comes. // Hokkaido 2014.

  • http://www.psychomelody.com/ Psychomelody

    So you’re just going to skip Iwate? That’s too bad. I love that place… How about a trip to Yokohama? We could FINALLY meet up and I’ll make you buy me ramen or something for that 2007 thing :)

  • Michael Richey

    I definitely echo the “pack light” advice! It makes the trip a lot easier and thus more carefree and enjoyable.

    I had heard of the black garlic from Aomori but not the vinegar. Definitely want to try both.

  • Kalasin

    My husband and I carried backpacks for our 3 week trip to Japan that involved a lot of train time. However, we ran into a British couple in Nikko that had cottoned on to a brilliant idea. They were keen to collect a lot of stoneware while they were in Japan, so had brought proper hardcase luggage. However, they just forwarded their luggage from hotel to hotel using Yamato Transport, and so only had to carry super light backpacks for their train rides and day trips. Definitely something worth looking into!

  • Sam Hong

    i actually live in the town right next to Nikka Whiskey! it’s a small town called Niki 10 minutes away. if you come during spring/summer/fall we’re known for fruits so you can try a whole bunch of different fruits

    my couchsurfing account should be linked to this account (FB) so if anyone needs a place to crash, and the timing is okay, i’d be cool with opening up my extra 8 tatami room for guests (comfortably fits 4 people)

    and great blog by the way! i’ve been reading your stuff time to time since you started years back!

  • Kavita

    I’ve just caught up on your previous post and then read this one.

    If it’s of interest, here’s the itineraries I planned for our first trip and second trip to Japan, in autumn 2012 and 2013 respectively.

    First trip – 17 nights:
    1 Arrive Tokyo early evening
    2 Tokyo
    3-4 Takayama
    5 Nara
    6-10 Kyoto
    11 Koya-san
    12 Osaka
    13 Hiroshima/Miajima
    14-18 Tokyo

    Second trip – 19 nights:
    1 Tokyo
    2-7 Kyoto
    8-9 Osaka
    10-11 Kumamoto
    12-13 Kurokawa Onsen
    14-15 Yufuin Onsen
    16-17 Fukuoka
    18-20 Tokyo

    Both itineraries worked really really well. You can see we adored Kyoto and feel it deserves so much more time than most visitors give it. Of course, it depends on one’s interests and travelling style.

    We used JR Pass for trip 1 but it didn’t make sense for trip 2. We rented a car for several days in Kyushu.

    I’ve shared a fair bit about our trip at http://www.kaveyeats.com/tag/japan if that’s of interest.

  • EspadaKiller

    This is a informative article for me, especially I’m actually planning visiting Sapporo at the end of this year. Thanks!

  • Brittany

    I just read your article about the first trip to Japan. I’m going to Japan for the first time this summer with a friend to visit her daughter and son-in-law who are currently living in Nagoya. We are going to go to Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and back to Nagoya.
    I’m really excited, but have one question. I have red hair, how badly will I stand out? o_O