I have to admit that when I was in Norway several years ago with far more time than money and encountered ads for a “Norway in a Nutshell” tour on my last day there I was appalled. How could anyone think of condensing a large area with an amazing variety of climates, geography, and traditions into such a trivial concept? While I still disagree in principle and generally believe in diving deep into one area rathar than spreading thin across several, I also appreciate that with limited time there can be some value in a quick trip through a variety of areas.
When some visitors came to Tokyo recently for a week or so I found myself trying to come up with the best way to enable them to get a feel for both the city and the country, and the nutshell concept came to mind and offered a fairly straightforward solution: dive into Tokyo but break it up with a few relatively light trips to see other sides of the country and hopefully tie in with their interests. While not the “see and do everything in one day” promised by the ad in Oslo, it did provide a framework to start planning within, and eventually my version of “Nippon in a nutshell” took shape:
First stop, by default: Tokyo. Several days worth interspersed with other activities.
Next: a day trip to Kamakura to break through the southern suburb belt and become acquainted with “older” Japan.
Then: Breaking through the western suburb belt with a day trip to Oku-Tama and the tranquility of a rainy day in the mountains.. only to be shaken back to reality with a stop off in one of the suburban centers on the way home.
Next on the list: A 2 night mini-trip to Kyoto and Hiroshima. From a window seat on the Shinkansen the trip itself gives an impressive overview of the geography (not nearly as good as from some of the local trains, but worth the trade-off), and these two cities provide incredible and easily graspable perspective into Japanese culture.
Finally: a bit more of Tokyo.
There are of course endless variations possible; Kyoto in particular could easily be worth spending several days in, and I have utterly ignored major parts of the country. Creating a frame defines and excludes, and the art is to be able to define what you want while recognizing what is being excluded.