7 Japan travel ideas: Tokyo Disney news & more

Takanawa Gateway City, ryokans, Fantasy Springs at DisneySea, Kyoto, and Shinkansen extensions

Keeping up with Japan travel ideas led to a lovely morning: I’m writing this shortly in the aftermath of squeals and wide eyes from my two pleasantly surprised children.

In 2023, our family of four enjoyed 45 days in Japan. (It was our first visit as a family, and also Aster’s first visit altogether. Jodie, Connor, and I visited Japan in 2013, when Connor was a chubby, barely-walking toddler, and Aster wasn’t on the scene yet.) Whether Tokyo Disney, feeding deer in Nara, or hanami during an entire month in Osaka, our month and a half in Japan secured the Land of the Rising Sun’s spot as our family’s favorite country.

Ever since we left Japan in April 2023, we’ve been planning our return.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve figured out that we’re coming back to Japan in October 2024. We plan to stay in the country for about 90 days (the amount of time US citizens can be in the country under their standard visa on arrival).

This morning, just before I sat down to write this, we booked our hotel for Tokyo Disney Resort. Connor’s eyes got really big, and he could hardly speak. Aster went into full bouncing and squealing mode when she saw the Tokyo Disney logo.

Japan, we can’t wait to come back. We’re working on our Japanese, learning more about Japanese culture, history, and mythology, and doing plenty of at-home training with fave Japanese-style dishes.

So, for this latest update of travel news and new travel developments, we’re sharing an all-Japan edition of Japan travel ideas.

Frozen, Tangled, and Peter Pan have now come to life in Fantasy Springs at Tokyo DisneySea

Fantasy Springs opened at Tokyo DisneySea on June 6, 2024

A highlight of our 2023 trip to Japan was visiting Tokyo Disneyland once—and Tokyo DisneySea twice. Among our top priorities for returning to Japan? We knew that DisneySea’s new Fantasy Springs, which brings together attractions around Peter Pan, Tangled, and Frozen, was set to open in 2024.

On June 6, 2024, Fantasy Springs officially opened, making it the eighth port at DisneySea, and the largest expansion since the singular Disney park opened in 2001.

From roast beef-flavored popcorn to a treat at the Snuggly Duckling, we can’t wait to get in here.

If at any time we hear so much as a snippet of “Show Yourself” from Frozen 2, expect to find me crying. But they’ll be power tears.

About Tokyo Disney Resort

Where to stay in Tokyo Disney, Japan

Technology, culture, and people meet at Takanawa Gateway City, opening March 2025 in the heart of Tokyo

Right in the heart of Tokyo, the Takanawa Gateway City urban development is being constructed around themes of environment, mobility, and healthcare. Facilities calling Takanawa home will include a hotel, cultural facility, commercial spaces, offices, residences, and an international school.

The central location also can make it easy to access Tokyo’s public transportation system for exploring the city and its outlying areas. Plus, Takanawa’s 845,000 ㎡ (90,000  sq.ft.) site is next to the Takanawa Gateway Station on the Yamanote Line, the main ring line that encircles Tokyo. The Takanawa area also was prominent 150 years ago, as the site of Japan’s first railroad line. Today, Takanawa visitors will be only 14 minutes from Tokyo International Airport (Haneda Airport).

Access to Haneda Airport and the Yamanote Line will make it easy for visitors to Takanawa not only to get around Tokyo, but to use Japan’s rail network for exploring more of the country. Japan travel ideas come to life in the heart of the city itself, with a tourist information center. In addition to handling JAPAN RAILPASS and JR EAST PASS, info center staff can provide sightseeing advice.

With the main opening ceremony set for March 2025, Takanawa will open and other facilities will come online as they are completed.

Where to stay in Takanawa Gateway City, Tokyo, Japan

2 less traveled prefectures lead to traditional Japanese inns

Japanese culture and cuisine come alive in ryokans

Our second family trip to Japan will focus on parts of the country beyond the common first-timer triangle of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. The kids are also old enough for us to consider including more ryokans, or traditional Japanese inns. During our first visit to Japan in 2013, a stay at a ryokan in Matsumoto led to some of our dearest travel memories of onsen (baths), Japanese breakfasts, and a comfy tatami room in the heart of the city.

We’re looking forward to drinking tea in quiet, tranquil settings, and soaking in the mineral rich waters of an onsen bath. As we consider Japan travel ideas, here are here are 5 less traveled prefectures, along with intriguing ryokans such as Hoshino Resorts, to consider:

Tochigi Prefecture (north of Tokyo)

Encompassing part of the cedar-filled Nikko National Park, Tochigi is home to Edo Wonderland, a Japanese cultural theme park in Nikko that showcases the life and culture of the Edo period.

Ryokan: Near the scenic Ryuokyo Gorge overlooking Kinugawa River from a high hilltop is KAI Kinugawa, a hot spring ryokan with a wide courtyard and interiors brimming with regional artwork. Artful, thoughtfully made, multi-course kaiseki meals feature mountain and river delicacies such as wild boar and cherry salmon.

Where to stay in Tochigi, Japan

Oita Prefecture (northeast corner of the island of Kyushu)

Just 10 km inland from the small city of Beppu lies the onsen town of Yufuin. Visitors can start their stay with a relaxing tour through the countryside, on a horse-drawn carriage ride from JR Yufuin Station.

Ryokans: Oita is renowned for the quantity and high quality of its natural hot springs. Among its many ryokan are 3 KAI properties: KAI Aso, KAI Beppu and KAI Yufuin. 

Situated amongst a landscape of beautifully terraced rice fields is KAI Yufuin, a restful hot spring ryokan where guests can enjoy the open sky as they relax in the outdoor baths fed by the Yufuin Hot Springs.

Selected for Travel + Leisure ® It List 2023, the annual award for the world’s best new hotels, KAI Yufuin’s spacious wraparound veranda gives the ryokan the feel of a traditional farmhouse. Inside, kaiseki meals feature fresh game and regional vegetables.

Where to stay in Yufuin, Japan

Rainy Season brings to life 3 million flowers at the Shimoda Park Hydrangea Festival

On the southern Izu Peninsula southwest of Tokyo, Shimoda City makes a convenient stop for 1 or 2-night trips. For example, on the Limited Express Odoriko from Tokyo Station, you can arrive in Izukyu Shimoda Station in less than 3 hours.

Every year from June 1–30, the city hosts a Hydrangea Festival in Shimoda Park. With a panoramic backdrop of Shimoda City and Shimoda Port, the park displays approximately 3 million blue, pink, and white colorful hydrangeas (ajisai in Japanese) in full bloom.

Naturally, flower watching is best accompanied by something tasty to eat. Also on offer are early summer delicacies such as kinmedai (sea bream) and akaika (red squid).

Where to stay in Shimoda City, Japan

Hokuriku Shinkansen extension improves access to Kanazawa, Tsuruga, and points in between

Around 3 hours from Tokyo, you can now immerse yourself in parts of Japan not as heavily visited, such as Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture and Tsuruga in Fukui Prefecture. In March 2024, a new extension of the Shinkansen high-speed train expanded access to this enthralling region.

The attractive but relatively unknown Hokuriku area will become more accessible from both Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka with the extended Shinkansen. If you are planning to visit Osaka and Kyoto, we recommend using Hokuriku Shinkansen trains and enjoying the attractions of this region. More rail access makes it all the easier to bring your Japan travel ideas to life.

Where to stay in Hokuriku, Japan

Walk Japan launches Kyoto: Mountains To The Sea

During all our years living in the USA’s Pacific Northwest, Jodie and I have always appreciated how the region has vibrant cities with quick access to astoundingly beautiful nature. A similar ethos lives in Japan, especially in the Kyoto Prefecture.

While the old capital can be an unparalleled way to encounter Japanese history and culture, the city is just the beginning

Since 1992, Walk Japan has curated guided walking tours throughout Japan’s less-traveled regions. Over 30 years later, Walk Japan’s guides have helped tens of thousands of people from around the world experience Japan’s natural beauty, history, society, and culture.

Walk Japan has now launched its Kyoto: Mountains to the Sea tour. This 8-day small-group tour explores Kyoto Prefecture beyond the city. Visitors experience the region’s lush countryside, especially the foods and crafts that many people come to Kyoto to enjoy in the city.

From Kyoto City, the tour follows ancient trails through valleys and high passes, culminating on the rugged Sea of Japan coast at Amanohashidate, considered one of Japan’s three classic vistas. En route, it passes through little-known villages and aside historic temples and shrines. Daily walking distances range 8–16 km, along mountain trails and quiet country lanes. This Level 4 tour is suitable for anyone who “leads a reasonably active lifestyle.”

Up to 12 walkers finish each night in a Japanese inn, with meals made from local ingredients such as Kyoyasai heirloom vegetables, Miyama ayu sweetfish, Tanba buri yellowtail, and saba mackerel.

About Walk Japan

Where to stay in Kyoto, Japan

Banyan Tree debuts into Japan with its first property in Kyoto

Speaking of Kyoto, the global hospitality brand Banyan Group opens the new Banyan Tree Higashiyama Kyoto, slated to welcome guests beginning later in 2024. Marking the debut of the Banyan Tree brand in Japan and located in the historic Higashiyama Ward of Kyoto City, Banyan Tree Higashiyama Kyoto will feature 52 guestrooms, the signature Banyan Tree Spa, and two dining experiences.

Nearby attractions include the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Kodai-ji Temple. The site boasts the rare Higashiyama Onsen hot spring, making it a cherished retreat for many. Redeveloping this property aligns with Banyan Group’s commitment to preserving cultural heritage and sustainability for future generations. The hotel also includes a Noh stage, as a venue for traditional Nohgaku, contemporary art performances, and musical events.

About Banyan Group

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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