Home >> Japan Travel >> Japan Winter Self Drive Trip with Kids (December 2015) – Itinerary Outline

15 Days Japan Road Trip - Bumble Bee Mum

I realise I never did a trip summary of our Japan road trip back in December 2015.  Since it’s time of the year to plan for year end trips again, maybe it’s a good time to revisit this particular trip!

When planning for a trip in mainland Japan at the end of the year, I had specific events that I wanted to visit, including:

  • Tokyo German Village Winter Illumination
  • Toki no Sumika Winter Illumination
  • Nabana no Sato Winter Illumination
  • Ashikaga Flower Park Illumination
  • Kiyomizudera Autumn Special Night Visit
  • Jingu Gaien Gingko Festival
  • Snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park

As you may have noticed, many of the events involved illuminations.  Illumination is a BIG THING in Japan, particularly in December.  So whenever I visit Japan at the end of the year, I would try to fit in as many illumination events as possible.

Read more: Our 7-Days Illumination Trip by Rail in December 2007

Read more: Japan’s Largets and Most Popular Illumination Events

It was a rather adventurous trip, I would say.  We drove more than 2000km, visited a Hello Kitty onsen, drove on a beach, stayed in a traditional Japanese farmhouse, discovered Japan’s only boathouses, came face-to-face with a Capybara and within arms length of a lion.

So here you go, our itinerary for our 15-Days self-drive trip around Japan in December:

Day 1: Narita – Chiba

Tokyo German Village

Day 2: Chiba – Tokyo

Mother Farm

> Read our review of Mother Farm


Day 3: Tokyo

Tokyo Fire Museum

> Read our review of Tokyo Fire Museum

Shinjuku Gyoen

Jingu Gaien

Thomas Town Shinmisato

> Read our review of Thomas Town Shinmisato

Day 4: Tokyo – Yokohama – Gotemba


> Read our review of Zoorasia

Ashinoko Skyline

> Read our review of Ashinoko Skyline

Toki No Sumika

> Read our review of Toki No Sumika’s Slow House Villa

Day 5:  Gotemba – Kyoto

Hamamatsu Fruits Park

Nabana no Sato

Day 6: Kyoto



Yasaka Shrine


Kiyomizudera in Autumn - Special Night Visit - Kyoto Japan - Blog Review 14

Day 7: Kyoto – Osaka – Kyoto

Universal Studios Japan

Day 8: Kyoto

Nishiki Market

Arashiyama Monkey Park

Arashiyama bamboo grove

Day 9: Kyoto



Maizuru Tore Tore Seafood Market

Kyoto Illumiere

Day 10: Kyoto – Kanazawa

Kayabuki no Sato

Wakasa Fisherman Wharf

Kanazawa Higashichaya District

Day 11: Kanazawa – Noto Peninsular

Omicho Market

Chirihama Beach Drive

Day 12: Noto Peninsular – Toyama – Nagano

Himi Banya

Toyama Kitto Kitto Market

Kaiwomaru Park

Day 13: Nagano – Gunma

Ryuoo Ski Park

Jigokudani Monkey Park

Hello Kitty Onsen

> Read our review of Hello Kitty Onsen

Day 14: Gunma – Ashikaga

Cafe Floresta

> Read our review of Cafe Floresta

Gunma Safari Park

> Read our review of Gunma Safari Park

Ashikaga Flower Park

Day 15: Ashikaga – Tokyo – Narita



Below are links of official websites and telephone number / map codes (for GPS) of destinations in this post:

More posts from the same trip:

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15 Days Japan Road Trip - Bumble Bee Mum


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Supposed to be a stay-home mom, but hates staying home. Definition of parenting is bringing the boys out for 'experiential learning' in Singapore, Japan and wherever else in the world her husband can afford to pay for.


  1. I didn’t know there was a German village in Japan! That sounds so interesting!

  2. Wow, what an incredible trip! I love how much travelling you do with your children, it’s very inspiring 🙂 And that first photo of those gorgeous leaves took my breath away, stunning!
    Marcella ~ WhatAWonderfulWorld recently posted…Lima Street Art TourMy Profile

  3. val says:

    Hi there!
    your itinerary really inspires!
    i m hoping to travel to Japan this december as well..and i m worried about whether it would be too cold for an 18 month old. How was the weather like when you were there? 🙂

    • bumblebeemum says:

      The temperature in mainland Japan, unless you go up to the mountains, is pretty mild. In the cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, I would say about 10 degrees celsius during the daytime on average. If you hit the rural regions, it may dip to 0 degrees. But it’s not the sub-zero freezing kind like in Hokkaido for sure. With proper winter wear, I think it is manageable for a first-time winter vacation with kids. 🙂

  4. Ruth says:

    What an epic roadtrip! I know you have posted individual articles but putting everything together make you look at the trip from a different perspective. December looks like a great time to visit Japan.
    Ruth recently posted…Walking Vienna’s Old TownMy Profile

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I know right.. Every time I put together a summary of my trips, I’m like wow.. I went to so many places! Hahaha.. But when I’m there, I don’t really feel like we went to a lot of places, because we only visit like one or two places a day?

  5. Looks like quite the action packed trip! You all must have been exhausted after all of that fun! Your kids seems to be loving the travel and you give me hope that one day I can continue my travels with a family! Thanks for sharing and linking up for #wanderfulwednesday 😀
    Lauren Bonheim recently posted…Support Local Shopping in BarcelonaMy Profile

  6. I love the look of the illuminations! It seems to be something that Japan does particularly well. I still want to stay in one of those mushroom houses with the light up blue domes!
    Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad recently posted…Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise: Best Bits and Top TipsMy Profile

  7. Ahila says:

    The Ashinoko skyline and Arashiyama bamboo grove look amazing!
    Ahila recently posted…Special Six: Stockholm ArtMy Profile

  8. Beautiful photos. We hope to go next year #mondayescapes
    Wandermust mummy recently posted…Top 10things that makes a luxury hotel luxurious! My Profile

  9. This looks Amazing! so much information thank you! I love the photo of the Acer tree!
    Donna Vallance recently posted…My Sunday Photo, The Shard.My Profile

  10. Wow what an amazing trip and such incredible photos, I have pinned this so much fabulous information in one, thanks so much for linking up #MondayEscapes
    Sarah Christie recently posted…Monday EscapesMy Profile

  11. I would love to explore more of Japan! What a fantastic trip and pleased to see you managed to get around by road ok. After we finally managed to hire a car (language issues) we got totally confused by the whole toll things and it was all a bit of a disaster! #mondayescapes
    Elizabeth (Wander Mum) recently posted…Temple Of The Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka My Profile

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Haha.. I thought the toll system in Japan, even with language barrier and all, was a lot easier to figure out then the toll system in Australia. Ah well, hope it was not THAT disastrous to mar your trip. :p

  12. Upeksha says:

    I’m thinking of a trip to Japan next year, so really glad to have come across your blog! It all looks amazing – I hardly know where to start! Any tips for a first time visitor? Thanks for sharing. #mondayescapes
    Upeksha recently posted…Descending to Hell’s GateMy Profile

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Most first timers go to Tokyo – Kyoto – Osaka, that’s it. If you are taking return flight to Tokyo, you should look into using the Japan Rail Pass which is great value for money! 🙂

      Japan-Guide.com is a great website for first-timers:
      They have these red dots next to each attraction? For first-timers, go for those with two or three red dots. 🙂

  13. Japan really seems to be a hot destination at the moment. This post is brilliant – a comprehensive round-up of all your others – so helpful for readers and future planners!
    Trish @ Mum’s Gone To recently posted…Douglas comes home to Threave CastleMy Profile

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For a few years after the 2011 earthquake, people avoided Japan like a plague. But yes, the tourists are slowly returning now. It’s a really gorgeous country with a very intriguing culture. Most people who have been there want to go back again.

  14. Cindy says:

    Oh wow, we’re hoping to make it to Japan next year so I’ve pinned this for inspiration, loads of great ideas and places I’d love to visit here. Thanks for sharing! #MondayEscapes

  15. Serene toh says:

    I am thinking of doing a self drive in December with my 2 boys ( 6 years and 2 years) from 15 dec 2016 – 4 Jan 2017.
    Am planning to use your road trip as a guide , skipping Kyoto and adding in Disneyland , Gifu region visiting the famous shirakawa village instead.
    Do you think it’s realistic ?
    Are there any tips / safety precautions advice for self drive ?
    Which car rental company would you recommend?
    Thanks to hear from you any useful advice.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Do you have a rough itinerary? You have quite a lot of time, so I think a drive all the way to Shirakawago is definitely feasible. But not sure what other places you are planning to visit enroute?

      Driving in Japan is pretty easy. The drivers are generally courteous and rule-abiding. If you are from Singapore, they drive on the same side of the road as us so you will find little problem driving in Japan. I rented our car from TIMES car rental and they were pretty good.

  16. weesan says:

    hello! can i ask, does it make sense to drive from Kyoto to Nabana No Sato?
    My family (me, hubby and my 72yo mum) will be travelling from SG in Dec 2016 to Osaka/Kyoto (staying Kyoto for a few days), then we plan to go to Nabana No Sato for a day, before heading up to Tokyo for another few days and departing to SG from TOkyo. I am thinking just for a change in the mode of transport, to self drive from Kyoto to Nabana No Sato and then returning the car at Nagoya before taking the JR train to Tokyo. Will this work? Do you know how much the toll fees are? I know the train fee is Y5,600/pax, and bus ticket Y1,700/pax from Kyoto to Nagoya/Nabana No Sato… also do you have a recommendation of a place to stay overnight near Nabana No Sato or Nagoya before we head to Tokoyo? Many thanks!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hmmm.. There will be a drop-off fee if you pick up a car from Kyoto and drop it off at Nagoya and drop-off fees can be extremely expensive. I would drive to Nabana No Sato if I was planning to do a day trip there from Kyoto. But for one-way, I would use the train / bus.

      I can’t remember what’s the toll fee between Kyoto and Nabana No Sato. The toll fee between Chubu Airport and Kyoto is 4860yen based on Nexco website:
      So I would think between Kyoto and Nabana No Sato would be about 3000-4000yen?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Oh yes, regarding accommodation, I would just find a hotel near Nagoya station. Use a hotel comparison site like Agoda / Booking.com etc to find a hotel within your price range near Nagoya station.

  17. Mandy says:

    Love, love, love those images! I thought I wanted to visit Japan during the spring to see cherry blossoms, but not you have visions of illuminations and gorgeous fall foliage dancing on my screen. <3. Thanks for sharing your itinerary in pictures. It was a lot of fun seeing and I imagine will be super helpful if ever do take a trip to Japan at this time of year! 🙂
    Mandy recently posted…Laundry 101My Profile

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Everyone knows Japan for their cherry blossoms, but really Japan is a beautiful country to visit any time of the year. No doubt cherry blossoms are beautiful (believe it or not, I have never been to Japan during cherry blossom season before!), but cherry blossoms season is actually the most crowded and expensive time to visit Japan. When we visited in early December, it was relatively cheaper and the illuminations were really amazing. We thought we were too late for autumn foliage, but turned out we were still in time – lucky us!

  18. Nie says:

    Hi there,

    I plan to drive to Fuji-Q Highlands from Tokyo (in particular, Ueno station) and then to Hakone to visit the Open-Air Museum and Yunessun, only head back to Shinjuku. Plan to visit the Mt Fuji region and Hakone for 4 days and only return to Tokyo.

    I had checked out Tocoo website for the car rental and I realized that the ETC card rental has to be collected and returned to the same location? I hope I don’t get the wrong information though.

    And, I read your post once about your self-drive to Mt Fuji region, did you rent the car with snow tires? Is that necessary to get those with snow tires?

    I checked out Times Car Rental and wish to give it a try but it could only allow pick up at the airport, I assume? Any other car rental company that you may have recommended other than Tocoo that I am currently looking at now?

    I will be travelling with a 5yo and 3yo, so I get one junior seat and one child seat, respectively? I saw yours are child seats for two boys, how old is your elder boy, by the way?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Firstly, I suggest you pick up and return the car to the same location within Tokyo. Toyota and Nissan have rental offices near Ueno station.

      I have never rented an ETC card from Tocoo before. But if you rent the ETC card from the car rental company direct, it is possible that they would require you to return to the same outlet your pick the car up from.

      TIMES doesn’t have a lot of rental outlets within Central Tokyo, as compared to say Toyota or Nissan.

      My kids were 4 and 2 year old last year. Does your elder child use a booster seat (they call it junior seat in Japan) or child seat back home? It’s best to rent the type of child seat that they are used to sitting so that they are more comfortable during the long drive.

  19. dinno says:

    I was planning to drive from Nabana no Sato to Nagoya city in the night during last week of December ? I am not sure if it is safe to drive when snow. Can you advise ?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      It rarely snows in Nagoya in December. I probably wouldn’t worry so much about it. Of course weather is unpredictable, and if it does snow, just follow the cars in front of you to stay on the road and drive slow.

  20. wardah says:

    hi there. would you recommend to drive for a first time tourist in japan from tokyo to hakuba? should we take the train instead? we have a 9 month old infant travelling with us and staying over for a day.

  21. Hi, I’m planning to drive from Narita to Hakuba in winter and we intend to visit the Snow Monkeys there too.. We had experience driving in Japan but not in winter. Any advice for driving at Japan in the winter?

    Thanks for so much tips and links on your blog posts!

  22. Stephy says:

    Hi , I’m planning a trip to Japan this year with my 2 kids aged 3 & 5. Would like to travel to Kyoto, Osaka, mt Fuji, hakone n Tokyo. Roughly how many days enough to cover these areas? Or is it better to split these areas into 2 trips? Advisable to self drive or train?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hmmm.. I would recommend splitting into 2 trips. Kyoto + Osaka in one trip, Tokyo + Hakone + Mount Fuji on one trip.

      You can use the train to get between cities. Within major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, it is usually advisable to use the train. But if you’re exploring areas outside of the major cities, such as when you’re in Hakone / Mount Fuji region, driving would be much more convenient.

  23. cath chua says:

    is it easier to drive around these areas you listed compared to Hokkiado in December?

  24. winnie says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum,
    1) Can you advise me on car rental from NO BRAINER Travel and Budget Rent A Car. It seems these 2 options are cheapest car rental from Hokkaido New Chitose for month of August.
    2) My flight out is 9.20 am and the car rental company mostly open at 8.00 am for me to return. Most is kind of 10 min drive from car rental outlet to airport (which they will send) except for Toyota which is premium. Do you think I have enough time to clear security & immigration to boarding gate at New Chitose airport? I am kind of worried.
    Thank you.

  25. Michelle says:

    Hello! Thank you for sharing your trip here, I’ve been having a hard time looking up road trips for Japan in December.

    I’d like to ask, did you have much difficulty with weather and driving? Particularly, im concerned about snow.
    Contrary to kids, I’ll be travelling with my parents who are in 60s-70s.
    I’m worried about extreme cold and snow driving. Any advice is appreciated.
    Thank you in advance 🙂

  26. Mei Tay says:

    Hi BBM,

    We are a group of 4 adults + 2 toddlers and we are planning to visit Osaka, Kyoto and Hakone, mt fuji. We are planning for 8-9 days.

    Do you think i should just focus on Osaka and Kyoto area? I would really like to visit Hakone too.

    What would be your recommendation? Would renting a car make sense for such a big group?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      8-9 days seem a bit long for Osaka and Kyoto only. My kids were a bit bored of Kyoto after like 2 days. Lol… But Hakone / Mount Fuji is quite a distance from Kyoto and it will become too rushed if you try to squeeze that in. With the extra time you have after visiting Osaka and Kyoto, I would suggest going to Nagoya instead. There are a lot of nice attractions for kids at Nagoya, such as Legoland Japan and the SCMAGLEV & Railway Park. If you do Osaka + Kyoto + Nagoya, 8 – 9 days should be just right.

      If you’re visiting Osaka / Kyoto / Nagoya, there is no need to drive. You can just use the trains.

      • Mei Tay says:

        Thank you for your reply!

        1. Which area(near which station) would you recommend we stay in Osaka for easy travel to Kyoto and main Osaka spots? I am thinking to stay at Namba so we can have easy access for food and shopping but would it be troublesome for travelling to Kyoto?

        2. I would like to split kyoto visits into two days
        1 day to visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple(is Nishiki Market walking distance for lunch?)and after noon at Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine.
        another day to visit Arashiyama.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          1. In terms of train transport, I would think Osaka station would be most convenient to get around Osaka and also to neighbouring cities like Kyoto, Kobe and Himeji. There are direct trains from Osaka station to these 3 stations.

          2. Nope, Nishiki Market is not within walking distance of Kiyomizudera. If you are headed to Kiyomizudera, you can wander around the Gion district. There are a lot of interesting restaurants and cafes in the area, and it’s a nice scenic area to just walk around. I personally prefer Gion to Nishiki Market.

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