Changing Travel Plans, Discovering New Places



Rob Dyer promo The Real Japan

I hope you enjoy reading this guide.
If you need help planning your Japan trip
click here.

Changing travel plans can lead to new discoveries. Don't fight it. Go with the flow and learn from the experience. Don't be a slave to a plan.

We recently completed a 16 day Japan adventure. It was one full of discovery and variety, friends, family, seeing a friend's band perform their first gig in Japan and me DJing in Tokyo

Changing travel plans

Travel wise, what worked especially well this time was taking in several short and one-day trips, rather than building an itinerary around one major trip, as we've often done before. 

However, some things didn't go as planned during our 2 week tour and so I thought I'd share some experiences and lessons from the trip with you.

Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, Takahashi

Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, Takahashi

New plans, new discoveries

My wife and I had worked out an itinerary for 16 days which included pre-booked accommodation. Travel we were more fluid on, as the bulk of our transit was by train – facilitated by a (7-day) Japan Rail Pass – so we'd booked no trains in advance.

As we began our adventure, it became clear that one of the (what I'd hoped to be) major highlights of our 2 week tour around the Chugoku region, a visit to Takeda Castle in Asago, referred to locally as 'the Machu Picchu of Japan', may not work out as planned.

SEE ALSO: Japan Rail Pass Ultimate Guide

Japan Without Japanese Audiobook eBook bundle The Real Japan Rob Dyer

The castle in the sky

Takeda's location at the top of a mountain and the surrounding landscape mean that at certain times of the year, notably in the autumn (the time of year we were visiting), early in the morning the castle is surrounded by a ring of clouds, making it appear that the castle is floating in the sky, suspended by the clouds.

Once here it became clear that:

  • to observe the clouds when they are there, since we were not staying in Asago the night before, would require a very early start to catch a train to get to the location in time for viewing the possible clouds, and
  • due to the weather conditions it was almost certain that there would be none of the clouds the location is famous for. Hmm...
Takahashi The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Overlooking Takahashi from Bitchū Matsuyama Castle, Okayama Prefecture

Don't be a slave to a plan

Takeda Castle is actually just a ruin. 

So, if the weather wasn't going to provide that picture perfect moment, the appeal of getting up very early, travelling from Kobe to Asago – just to get to the location (probably somewhat knackered) to find no magic clouds and some ruins, kind of put a different spin on that potential 'highlight'.

Rather than be slaves to a plan, we decided to abandon the idea of visiting Takeda Castle this time, and replace it with something else.

Japan's highest castle

A little bit of additional internet research revealed that Takahashi (in Okayama Prefecture which was already in our itinerary) had its own 'castle in the clouds' in the form of Bitchū Matsuyama Castle.

Moreover, it is higher up than Takeda. At 430 metres above sea level, it's actually the highest castle in Japan. And the views from the top confirm that.

Unlike Takeda, Bitchū Matsuyama is still standing, and although the castle itself is relatively modest by Japanese castle standards, it is in fine condition (having been extensively repaired by a citizen's restoration group established in 1929).

Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, Takahashi

Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, Takahashi - Japan's highest castle

Moreover, the ascent to it up through the steep, winding mountain forest path, with its wild monkeys and expansive views, is a major part of its appeal, making it a no-brainer to switch out Takeda and replace it with Bitchū Matsuyama instead.

So, although it wasn't in our original plan, the day spent at Bitchū Matsuyama Castle became one of the highlights of the tour. And we still have Takeda to visit on another adventure. 😉

Inclement weather

The weather during some of this trip was a bit more inclement than we'd hoped.

During November, around the Chugoku region, the weather tends to offer up plenty of clear blue skies, glorious (and warm) sunshine, and little wind. Temperatures can fluctuate between the mid 20ºs to low teens.

But this time, we had some colder days (not a problem in itself - just chuck on a scarf) and more rain than usual – which does tend to spoil days built around walking around outside.

SEE ALSO: 2 Week Tour of Chugoku – 16 Day Itinerary


A mountain spa resort 

Due to the fluctuating weather, we realised that to get the most out of this particular adventure we'd need to flip the days of some plans around to make the most of those days when the best weather was forecast.

As part of this re-jigging, we added a half-day trip to Arima Onsen – a mountain spa resort town famous throughout Japan for its onsen (natural hot springs).

This was rustled up when we saw that a good run of glorious weather would continue the next day when, in our original itinerary, we had nothing planned. An hour on the internet the night before turned up all the basic information required to book an impromptu half-day trip.

SEE ALSO: A Luxury Spa Day at Arima Onsen (That Won't Break The Bank)

Arima Onsen The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Arima Onsen, is an ancient hotspring nestling in Mount Rokko

The visit to Arima was an absolute delight.

Even the journey getting there was a treat in itself.

Only 40 minutes north of our base in Kobe, it's easily accessible by the local bus (Hankyu company) which steadily winds its way back and forth up and then over Mount Rokko, offering vast views from the sides and the top of Rokko mountain back down into the natural harbour of Kobe.

Arima itself is hidden, tucked away behind Mount Rokko.

RELATED: A Luxury Spa Day At Arima Onsen (That Won't Break The Bank)

Lessons From These Experiences

I guess the main lesson from these experiences, was a reminder that as much as we like to plan to ensure we get the most from our travels in Japan, it's good to remain flexible.

Moreover, being flexible can result in making what at first feels like a disappointment (not visiting Takeda Castle) seem like an irrelevance when the replacement (in Bitchū Matsuyama) is better even than I might have hoped.

Have you ever made some great discoveries by changing your plans? If so, tell us about them by leaving a comment below.

RELATED: 2 Week Tour of Chugoku – 16 Day Itinerary

Rob Dyer The Real Japan

About the Author

A writer and publisher from England, Rob has been exploring Japan’s islands since 2000. He specialises in travelling off the beaten track, whether on remote atolls or in the hidden streets of major cities. He’s the founder of


Leave A Comment / Ask A Question

Book Your Trip: Japan Travel Essentials

Click to See My Recommendations

Book Your Flight
Find the best flight by using Skyscanner. It's my go-to flight search engine because it has the most comprehensive global search options.

Book Your Accommodation
I frequently use as they consistently offer the cheapest rates and most flexible cancellation options for hotels and guesthouses. Use Hostelworld if you're looking for budget-priced options.

Book Your Japan Rail Pass
The best official agent by a country mile is Clear and easy to use website. Excellent customer service.

Book Your WiFi
I never travel in Japan without pocket WiFi. Get Ninja WiFi for unlimited internet everywhere, use Google Maps, supports up to 10 devices.

Book Your SIM Card or eSIM
Order your physical
SIM Cards or eSIMs to stay connected and in touch while in Japan.

Book Your Hire Car
Rent a car in Japan without speaking or reading Japanese via's Car Rental portal.

Ready To Book Your Trip?
Check out my Recommended Japan Travel Resources. The list covers all the essentials. It’s filled with carefully selected travel resources. And I only include the best travel resources - those I use myself or recommend to my clients.

Need Help Planning Your Trip?
Japan Travel Store includes essential travel items as well as my books, travel guides and more.

Leave A Comment / Ask A Question

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}