From Kyoto’s tranquil temples, wooden teahouses, and historical charm to Tokyo’s neon lights, arcades, and futuristic atmosphere, there’s simply too much to see and fall in love with.
There’s even too much to eat! From fine wagyu beef and exquisite kaiseki cuisine to always-fresh sushi and even vending machine ramen.
The sheer amount of fun, culture, and activity Japan holds is truly endless. Many travelers simply don’t know where to start when it comes to planning their trips. And it makes sense why–the country is jam-packed with things to see and do.
In this detailed 2-week itinerary of Japan, I’ll share exactly where my family and I went for our first time in Japan. Prior to the trip, I had done extensive research spanning a few weeks. Yes, you heard it right. A few weeks of constant research!
This trip covers the highlights of Japan (with a few off-the-beaten-path attractions sprinkled in) and is ideal for first-time visitors to Japan. You’ll get to experience a bit of modern Japan in Tokyo, the traditional sides of Kyoto, Hakone, and Mount Fuji, as well as eat your way through Osaka!
This itinerary also works well for return visitors who want to revisit their favorite cities and discover some new activities. So let’s get right into it!
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JAPAN 2 WEEK ITINERARY: OVERVIEW
I spend my first trip to Japan with my family of 4. As this was our first time in Japan, we wanted to experience as much as we could in two weeks’ time without feeling rushed or beat up from traveling too fast.
We decided to visit two main areas (Kyoto side and Tokyo side) and planned for a few day trips from these two home bases.
We kicked things off in Kyoto (5 nights total) with day trips to Osaka and Nara, and then ended our trip in Tokyo (5 nights) with an overnight stay in the Mount Fuji and Hakone area.
This itinerary is a great intro to Japan and is jam-packed with fun things to do, so follow along if you’re looking for some Japan trip planning guidance!
The cities you’ll be visiting on this itinerary include:
Kyoto – Nara – Osaka – Tokyo – Hakone
FLIGHT / TRANSPORTATION TO BOOK FOR THIS ITINERARY
First things first–for a trip like this where you start and end in two different parts of a country, we’re going to have to figure out flights and transportation.
Obviously, we’re going to need to figure out how to get from Kyoto to Tokyo. These two cities are quite far away from each other and will require a ride on the high-speed bullet train (approx 2-hour trip).
Though the train is fast, train tickets are quite expensive (especially if you’re used to dirt-cheap travel throughout Europe). A roundtrip bullet train ride is going to cost roughly $180-200 USD alone.
If you want to avoid taking the expensive bullet train twice, you should book a flight that arrives at one end of Japan and leaves from the other.
The example flight below is what I booked for my most recent trip to Japan. I started out in the Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto) region, then made my way over to Tokyo by train, and ultimately flew back to the USA out of Tokyo.
Multi-city flights can be slightly more expensive than if you were to book a round-trip flight arriving and departing from the same airport. However, it may save you the time and money needed to travel by train once in Japan.
Example multi-city flight itinerary from Los Angeles, CA:
- Flight 1: LAX Los Angeles, CA to KIX Osaka, Kansai, Japan
- Flight 2: NRT Tokyo Narita, Japan to LAX Los Angeles, CA
If you’d rather save money upfront on the flight and book flights arriving and leaving from the same airport, and you don’t mind spending the time to take the bullet train again to get back to your starting point, then something like this would work:
Example round-trip flight itinerary from Los Angeles, CA:
- Flight 1: LAX Los Angeles, CA to NRT Tokyo Narita, Japan
- Flight 2: NRT Tokyo Narita, Japan to LAX Los Angeles, CA
Once again, the long-distance bullet trains (shinkasen) are not cheap. A roundtrip bullet train ride is going to cost roughly $200 USD, so keep that in mind when choosing flights.
If you do get a round-trip flight from the same airport, then you’ll have to opt for a round-trip bullet train ride. In this case, consider the national Japan Rail Pass, which will give you unlimited transportation all throughout Japan.
The Japan Rail Pass is the mother lode of all travel passes, allowing you unlimited use of all JR trains from Kagoshima in the south of Japan right up to the northern tip of Hokkaido.
You can ride various forms of transportation, including the Shinkansen (bullet train), local JR commuter trains, JR buses, and even JR ferries.
Is it worth the money? Ultimately, if you are going to be riding the shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto and back, you’ll save money in the long run by getting the 7-day or 14-Day JR Pass (ranges from $215 to $360 USD depending on the length of days your pass is good for).
Pro Tip: If you’re hesitant about dropping that amount of money without a little more research on whether or not you’re getting the best value, you can use the Hyperdia website to find train times and costs.
Once you plan out your entire itinerary, add up the costs listed for each train you’ll take and compare these to the cost of a pass. If the costs are similar, then just get the pass.
Why do I recommend this? Because it’s so much easier to be able to hop on and off trains when you like and not worry about purchasing tickets each time or refilling your train card with money!
IMPORTANT NOTE: You will need to book Japan Rail Passes in advance before you arrive in Japan.
Japan transportation logistics are a beast to tackle, so don’t skimp on preparing for this part of the travel planning.
MAP OF JAPAN: 2 WEEK ITINERARY
Okay, let’s move on to the fun stuff– getting into the actual 2-week Japan itinerary!
The below itinerary starts in Kyoto and ends in Tokyo. You can certainly do this the other way around, starting in Tokyo and ending in Kyoto or Osaka. You’ll just need to adjust your flights to fly to the correct airport!
DAY 1 – KYOTO: GET YOUR BEARINGS
Land at Kansai Airport (KIX)
Pick up bags, go to JR ticket offices to buy train tickets to get from the airport to Kyoto. Buy an Icoca IC Card (convenient transportation card for JR subways, trains, and buses) and the Haruka ticket (to get from Kansai Airport to Kyoto/Osaka/Kobe/Nara area).
You will be buying tickets for the JR Haruka limited express train to get from the airport to Kyoto. The IC card will be the card you use for transportation throughout your entire trip.
Take the train to Kyoto, which takes approximately 77 minutes via JR Haruka limited express train.
Check into your Airbnb or hotel
Freshen up, unpack, and relax. Chances are at this point, you will be jetlagged. Meaning you will either be tired or might not be able to sleep. Do your best to adjust to the time shift and don’t plan any paid attractions on your first day.
You’ll want to start your trip off with a light stroll around Kyoto. Below are some highlights that I visited on my first stroll through Central Kyoto.
Let’s start by roaming around one of the six major entertainment districts in Kyoto. Miyagawa-cho is a large entertainment district on the banks of the Kamo river, almost as large as Gion.
For first-time visitors, the Miyagawa-cho district is a great place to begin. This charming neighborhood is located just east of Kyoto Station, and it is known for its traditional shops and restaurants.
Visitors can stroll down cobbled streets lined with traditional Japanese houses, or browse the wares of local artisans. There are also several temples in the area, including the picturesque Sanjusangen-do temple, which is home to 1,001 statues of Buddhist deities.
There are several ochaya (teahouses) and oikya (geisha houses) here. If you are here between the hours of 5:30 and 6:00pm, you might catch a glimpse of the maiko (geisha in-training) and the geiko (geishas) walking from their homes to their place of work!
How to get there: Miyagawa-cho is located in Higashiyama Ward, from Miyagawa-suji 2-chome to 6-chome.
Minamiza Kabuki Theater
The Minamiza Kabuki Theatre (Kyōto Shijo Minami-za) is Kyoto’s most famous theatre and one of the city’s must-see cultural landmarks in Gion. It is the birthplace of kabuki, one of Japan’s most renowned performing art forms.
Kabuki, for those new to Japanese culture, is an art form that combines drama, dance, and music in an extremely stylized manner. Kabuki plays are often based on traditional stories or myths, and they are usually performed by male actors.
The theater was founded in 1610 as Shijō Minami-za, and it has been used for kabuki performances ever since. The current building dates from 1929, and it remains one of the most important kabuki theaters in Japan!
Kabuki performances are still held at the theater several times each month, so if you are interested in seeing a kabuki performance, be sure to add the Minamiza Kabuki Theater to your Kyoto itinerary and do a little bit of research ahead of your trip to see if there’s a show playing.
Aside from kabuki plays, concerts, rakugo (traditional comic storytelling) performances, and sometimes even geisha performances are held here.
The theater also features a few restaurants, where guests can enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine while watching the kabuki performance. You may also eat and drink at your seats during the intermission. In addition, the theater offers a variety of souvenirs for sale, including kabuki dolls and scrolls.
Nishiki Market is where you go for all things food-related, spanning from knives and cookware to fresh produce and seafood.
This market is housed in a narrow, five-block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. If you’re looking to discover Kyoto’s gastronomic specialties and culinary delights, definitely don’t miss this market!
It’s a great place to pick up some sweets, dried seafood, picked goods, and even sushi.
Some of the shops will give out samples and some of the food stands will sell small dishes and skewers meant to be eaten right then and there. There are also a few small restaurants within the market.
Yasaka Shrine, also known as Gion Shrine, is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. It is famous for its ornate architecture, and for being one of the most popular sites for hosting traditional Japanese festivals.
This shrine is well known for its summer festival, the Gion Matsuri, which is celebrated every July and is quite possibly the most famous festival in all of Japan.
In front of the shrine sits a stage decorated with hundreds of lanterns that get lit up in the evenings. Admission is free so be sure to stop by to appreciate the tranquil atmosphere here!
You can explore the shrine grounds while marveling at the intricate architecture, or take part in traditional activities like writing wishes on ema prayer boards.
Next up, head over to Pontocho Alley, one of my favorite spots to eat in Kyoto!
Pontocho is a narrow alleyway packed with restaurants, bars, hostess clubs, karaoke establishments, and traditional teahouses.
Many of the buildings in Pontocho date back to the Edo period, and the alley has a distinctly traditional feel–it’s got all the old-timey Kyoto vibes.
Pontocho Alley is the perfect place to experience Kyoto’s traditional atmosphere, and it should definitely be visited at least once during your 5 days in Kyoto.
The restaurants offer a wide range of dining options from affordable yakitori-style dining to traditional and upscale Kyoto cuisine. Most of the restaurants on the east side of the alleyway have a view of the Kamogawa river. Some even offer a dining platform over the river.
Whether you’re looking to spend a few bucks or an arm and a leg, there is something here for everyone, making it an ideal place to grab dinner!
Don’t have enough time to see all of the above spots in one day? No worries, jot them down on your itinerary for later–these spots are super central so it’ll be easy to pop back over on any following day of your trip.
DAY 2 – KYOTO
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Start your second day in Kyoto with the ultimate torii gate experience! The Fushimi Inari Taisha is a Shinto shrine in Kyoto famous for its thousands of orange torii gates that seem to go on forever.
The trails here lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. If you’re looking to get a quick bout of exercise in, this is your chance (sightseeing while hiking? Yes! Killing two birds with one stone).
If you’d rather skip the hike, not a problem–most people just come here to see the torii gates.
Arrive bright and early, ideally before 7:30am if you want to avoid throngs and throngs of tourists. Personally, I would recommend arriving at 6am. No joke, the Fushimi Inari Shrine brings crowds like I’ve never experienced before.
If you’re looking to take a light stroll and snap some photos, feel free to stay near the entrance of the torii gate-covered hiking trail (where all the other tourists tend to huddle). However, if you want to get away from the crowds, keep walking upward on the walking path.
After finishing your exploration and/or hike, leave the way you came.
Take some time to peruse the souvenir stalls by the entrance and grab some breakfast/snacks around the area before heading to the next must-see landmark.
You’ll find hot dogs, pancakes, and an assortment of snack stalls lining the path to the shrine. Interestingly, we found lots of “western” options being offered at these stalls.
Pro Tip: If you want to get your hike on, do note that you will be climbing up a mountain, so dress accordingly (or just be prepared to sweat in your day clothes). The hike to the summit of the mountain and back takes about 2-3 hours, however, you can turn back at any time and return the way you came. Don’t forget to bring bug spray.
Kiyomizudera, or the “Pure Water Temple”, is one of the most celebrated and beloved temples in Japan. It also boasts absolutely gorgeous views in the spring and fall!
In the spring, it’s a popular spot for viewing cherry blossoms. I went during the fall, and the eruption of seasonal colors I witnessed among the trees was breathtaking!
Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall. This stage will give you stellar views of the surrounding trees as well as the cityscape of Kyoto.
While you’re here, don’t miss the Otowa Waterfall, located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams you can drink from, each said to have a different benefit (success, love, and longevity).
You’re going to want to just drink from just one stream, because drinking from all three is considered greedy!
While strolling through the temple grounds, you’ll also find the three-storied Koyasu Pagoda and the Jishu Shrine (dedicated to the god of love and matchmaking).
If you’re here during the autumn season, Kiyomizudera also has special illuminations during the second half of November.
Explore The Higashiyama District
Around the entrance of Kiyomizudera, you’ll find busy streets lining the Higashiyama District, perfect for strolling and exploring!
Make sure to visit some shops in the area, selling products ranging from pottery and ceramics to local sweets to souvenirs.
If you’re interested in bringing home a little lucky cat, this is a great place to get one!
Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka Preserved Streets
Steps away from Kiyomizudera, you’ll find a set of traditionally preserved streets that are both charming and relaxing to stroll through. They are by far Kyoto’s most attractive streets, in my opinion!
These pedestrian-only streets are lined with beautifully restored wooden-facade cafes, teahouses, and shops selling locally made crafts and souvenirs. The traditional atmosphere makes for one of the most peaceful strolls in the entire city.
The shops and restaurants tend to open around 10:00 and close around 5:00pm or 6:00pm.
Pro Tip: If you’re not interested in shopping or eating, it would be a much less-crowded experience to go early in the morning. You’ll be able to get that perfect shot of the empty, tranquil streets without crowds of tourists everywhere.
Walk along Philosopher’s Path
If you enjoy being among nature, one Kyoto itinerary must-do is taking a walk along Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku No Michi). This pedestrian path is lined with cherry trees and leads to one of Kyoto’s most iconic temples, Nanzen-ji.
The path got its name from the philosopher Nishida Kitaro who was known to take walks along this very path to think and reflect on life.
The best time to visit is during cherry blossom season when the trees are in full bloom, but the path is also lovely in autumn when the leaves change color. Either way, a stroll along Philosopher’s Path is a great way to appreciate the natural beauty of Kyoto!
Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
After exploring the preserved streets to your heart’s content, head over to Kinkaku-ji Temple— one of Japan’s most iconic buildings. This temple was originally built in 1397 as a residence for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.
Known as the Golden Pavilion because of the fact that it’s completely covered in gold leaf, this is a must-see while you’re in Kyoto!
It’s another super-crowded landmark, but it’ll be easy to snap a few photos without other people in view.
There’s a path that will take you around the pavilion and through some peaceful garden areas. The park is a beautiful place to walk around and admire, so make sure you have at least 1-2 hours to just stroll around.
There is also a little courtyard with ice cream, snacks, and bathrooms.
If you’re looking for an intro to the many art forms of Kyoto, head to Gion Corner, where you can catch a 1-hour display of seven traditional performing arts, including a tea ceremony and a dance by two maiko.
The event also highlights floral arrangements, comical theatre, puppetry, koto musical instrument, and court music.
Performances are usually scheduled for 6pm and 7pm. Go early to secure your tickets and get good seats (seats are not tiered, so you’ll want to sit in the front).
After the show, you can wander around the narrow alleyways of the Gion District. Gion is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geiko and maiko entertain.
There are a few different experiences you can have while you’re in Gion.
The shopping streets between Sanjo and Shijo are where most people go in the evenings for bar hopping in Gion.
If you’re looking for the more quiet, traditional lanes lined with teahouses – try Hanami-koji and Shirakawa-Minami dori.
DAY 3 – ARASHIYAMA / KYOTO
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is one of the most photographed sights in the city. A visit to this bamboo forest is best paired with a visit to the Tenryu-ji Temple. They are two popular attractions located literally right next to each other (more on that below).
The best time to visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is early morning or late on weekdays, as you’ll find much fewer visitors.
Since I had trouble finding detailed steps on how to get there for my own trip, I’m sharing more detailed instructions here.
To get to the bamboo grove, just pretend you’re heading to Tenryu-ji Temple. If you’re interested in visiting, feel free to explore here first. To get to the bamboo forest, exit the north gate of Tenryu-ji Temple and take a left into a path that leads into the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
You’ll then walk for less than 5 minutes in order to reach the forest. The path isn’t clearly marked and the grove doesn’t start immediately at the street, but just keep walking and you’ll run into it. Once inside the forest, you can walk for a bit until you come across a shrine.
You’ll need about 1-1.5 hours for this excursion.
This temple was ranked first among the city’s five great Zen temples and is now registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Tenryu-ji Temple is renowned for its incredible garden landscapes and mountain views, and if you visit during peak foliage, the changing leaves are truly a sight to see.
The temple complex includes several buildings, including a main hall and a five-story pagoda, but the highlight is the garden, which is considered to be one of the finest examples of a Zen garden in Japan.
There is an entrance fee, but you can get tickets for just the garden, just the temple, or both. As always, get here early!
Iwatayama Monkey Park
Disclaimer–I have an obsession with monkeys, so this just had to be on my Japan itinerary (any chance I get to be steps away from monkeys, I’m in!).
The Iwatayama Monkey Park is home to over 120 Japanese Macaque monkeys. This is not a sad zoo, as the monkeys are free to roam in their natural habitat in the countryside. It’s truly a sight to see and be among their presence, especially if you love monkeys!
Not to mention the dozens of baby macaques hanging out happily with their mothers… the sight of them is too cute to not see for yourself. There is a feeding hut, where you can buy food to feed the monkeys from inside the fenced hut. It is such a fun experience!
Allocate about 2 hours for your visit. Do note that you’ll have to briefly hike up to the top to where the monkeys are, so dress appropriately.
Togetsukyo Bridge and Shopping
After visiting the Arashiyama landmarks, stroll along the Katsura River and enjoy the view of this historic wooden bridge. Walk across the bridge, where you can enjoy amazing views of the river, mountains, and hills surrounding you.
When you’re across, you’ll find a ton of various restaurants, shops, and ice cream booths selling matcha soft-serve. Spend an hour or two perusing and eating up all the soft serve you can fit in your belly.
Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street
If you still have energy after all the walking you’ve done today, I’ve got more for you. Walk north to the Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street.
You guessed it, it’s a preserved street (from the Meiji period), lined with traditional townhouses that have since been converted into souvenir shops and restaurants.
This charming street offers a historic glimpse of what a merchant town would have looked like in the Meiji period. Most of the thatched-roof buildings here are now restaurants serving kaiseki (Kyoto haute cuisine, which is expensive and a luxury experience).
Adashino Nenbutsu-ji Temple
Adashino Nenbutsuji is located at the end of the Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street. The temple was founded in the early 9th century and was meant to be a temple dedicated to the repose of souls who have died without families to remember them.
Today, the temple grounds are covered by hundreds of stone statues to commemorate these souls. In the back of the temple, a short path leads through a bamboo forest.
There is a small entrance fee to the temple. If you don’t want to pay it, you can still visit and enjoy the peaceful and lush grounds.
Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple
A ten-minute walk north of the Adashino Nenbutsuji, the Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple is famous for its 1,200 stone statues of rakan, devoted followers of Buddhism, each with a different facial expression!
In addition to its beautiful statues, the temple also features a stunning garden with a pond and a waterfall. The garden is particularly lovely in the springtime when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
There is a small entrance fee to the temple, but it’s well worth a visit.
Arashiyama Boat Rental
Boat rentals are a favorite for couples or families with kids. Not only are they a good way to get away from the crowds that flock to Arashiyama, but you can also get a different perspective of the landscape, from the river!
I highly recommend getting out there on the water if you have the time to spare, especially on a nice and sunny day.
Boat rentals can be made from either side of the river. Rentals are by the hour. A small boat fits three people and costs approximately 1400 yen/hour.
At this point, you’ve done a lot for the day. Head back to Kyoto for dinner before kicking your feet up and hitting the sack.
DAY 4 – NARA / KYOTO
Kyoto Free Walking Tour
Start your day off with a free walking tour of Kyoto. Tours typically start at 10:30-11am daily and last approximately 3 hours. Tours are tip-based, so tipping at the end is common ($10-15/person is good).
Tour companies such as Kyoto Free Walking Tour hold specialized tours with specific topics spanning from the “Gion & Higashiyama Tour” to the “Fushimi Inari Night Tour”.
Others like Kyoto Localized, are more generic and will give you an overview of all of Kyoto.
If you’re up for a day trip, then visiting Nara is a no-brainer. Nara is a great day trip from Kyoto, as it’s only about an hour away by train.
Nara was the first capital city in Japan, so with that significance comes a lot of historical landmarks, including some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples. Dedicate a few hours to exploring a few of the shrines located within the city.
A must-visit landmark is Todaiji, a large temple that houses the largest statue of Buddha in Japan, and Nigatsudo at sunset, offering one of the most beautiful views in all of Nara.
Visit a few more shrines and temples of your choice before heading to Naramachi, the former merchant district of Nara, for some souvenir shopping. Here you’ll find boutiques, shops, cafes, restaurants, and a few museums lining the narrow streets.
The most popular spot in Nara is probably Nara Park, which is home to over 1,000 tame deer. You can buy crackers to feed them, but be warned that they can be pretty aggressive!
The famous deer that inhabit the city can be found all over the place, so don’t worry about adding them as a specific activity. They’ll be in the parks, outside the temples, near shopping streets, literally everywhere.
A day trip to Nara should take you no more than six hours.
Grab dinner back in Kyoto
At this point, you can head back to Kyoto for dinner and dessert. If you’re a fan of matcha or green tea, now is your chance to eat up as many green tea desserts as you can!
OTHER KYOTO ACTIVITIES
Got an extra day or want to swap out a few activities from the itinerary above? Here are a few other activities that might pique your interest:
- Take a half-day guided bike tour of North Kyoto with lunch
- Experience a traditional tea ceremony – you get the chance to wear a kimono
- Participate in a tea ceremony with a geisha or maiko
- Toei Kyoto Studio Park
- Visit Nijo Castle
- Stroll around Maruyama Park – a great place for a picnic!
- Walk around with kimono
- Visit the Eikando Zenrinji Temple
- Visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum
- See cherry blossoms at Maruyama Park (seasonal)
- Hike from Kurama to Kibune (+ outdoor baths at Kurama Onsen)
- Take a Japanese ramen cooking class
- Day Trip to Hiroshima & Miyajima
DAY 5 – OSAKA
Today is the day when you get to eat your way through Osaka. You’ll be taking the 30-minute train ride from Kyoto to Osaka to explore this hustle and bustle of a city. Come with an open mind and more importantly, come hungry!
A little bit about Osaka: Osaka is known for its food and lively atmosphere. It’s a very different feel compared to Kyoto!
If you’re starting your trip from Kyoto, take the first train of the day to Osaka station. From there, let’s get to exploring Osaka!
Shitennoji Flea Market
I love local activities, so naturally, I went out of my way to find an activity that only locals knew about– the Shitennoji Flea Market which happens on the 21st and 22nd of every month in Shitennoji. If you’re in town during these dates and enjoy treasure hunting, definitely check it out!
I saw so many gorgeous kimonos for sale, as well as wooden sculpture antiques, porcelain, and many other goods splayed out on tables (many that wouldn’t have fit in my luggage, sadly).
It was a lot of fun to peruse the isles of treasures and you can find things there for bargain prices!
Be sure to head to the food stalls when you get hungry. Now’s your chance to get your first taste of regional specialties such as takoyaki (octopus dumplings) or okonomiyaki (savory pancakes).
HEP FIVE Shopping Center
HEP FIVE is a quirky, whimsical shopping mall aimed at teenagers and younger adults.
Even if you don’t end up shopping, it’s great for a quick visit to see the enormous red whales hanging in the atrium area! There is also a Ferris wheel on the roof that you can ride.
We came here specifically to have lunch at the Gudetama Cafe (no longer open unfortunately). We love Gudetama and his eggy-ness, so it was only natural that we got to eat him.
Amemura, or the American Village, is another lively and youthful area in Osaka. It’s full of Japan’s take on American culture and therefore makes for great people watching and window shopping.
Here, you will find dozens of shops catering to fans of urban apparel, hip-hop wear, as well as lolita, goth, and punk clothing. There are lots of cafes, bars, and restaurants in the area too.
If you’re missing “international” food, you’re in luck, because you’ll find a high density of pancakes, burgers, pizza, and artisan coffee here!
Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade
Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade and the surrounding Shinsaibashi area is Osaka’s premier shopping area.
Spanning 600 meters long, the Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Arcade is the quintessential shotengai (covered shopping arcade). This huge shopping area combines chain retail stores and trendy boutiques with expensive department stores and designer fashion labels.
While the main arcade can be quite overwhelming (you better have some shopping stamina), it is worth taking a peek to see what’s on sale. If you have more in you, wander off to the side streets to explore the smaller, quieter mom-and-pop shops!
After you’re done shopping and taking in the sights for the day, head to the Dotonburi District for dinner and a stroll.
Dotonburi is an explosion of color, neon, entertainment, and food. One of Osaka’s most popular tourist destinations, this street runs parallel to the Dotonbori Canal. It’s what people picture when you talk about the city of Osaka.
At night, it is lit by hundreds of neon lights and mechanized signs, including the famous Glico Running Man sign and Kani Doraku crab sign. While there are plenty of restaurants along Dotonbori to choose from, street food is the real highlight!
If you haven’t had it yet, don’t miss trying local specialties like okonomiyaki and takoyaki.
After the food and neon light overload, train back to Kyoto for a good night’s rest before you move on to the rest of your Japan itinerary or fly home.
OTHER OSAKA ACTIVITIES
To truly experience Osaka, you’ll need at least a few days to even scratch the surface. For my next trip to Japan, I’m going to dedicate at least 3 days to Osaka.
As soon as I stepped foot within the city limits of Osaka, I quickly found that one day was simply not enough. There’s too much I want to eat there–it’s really a foodie’s paradise!
If you’re lucky enough to have a day or two extra, I would recommend spending more time in Osaka. Here are a few other fun activities to do in Osaka:
- Osaka Castle
- Cup Noodles Museum
- Street Go-Kart Group Tour in Osaka
- The Pokemon Center
- KFC All-You-Can Eat Restaurant
- Bar hopping at night
- Nightlife Osaka Food Tour
- Deep Backstreet Osaka Tour
- Universal Studios Japan – you can’t miss Super Nintendo World!
- Shinsekai and the Tsutenkaku Tower – this popular district was built to resemble both New York and Paris!
DAY 6 – TOKYO: GET YOUR BEARINGS
Take the shinkansen to Tokyo
Take the high-speed bullet train from Kyoto Station to Tokyo Station. The whole trip only takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes.
If you want to avoid the hassle of storing your luggage somewhere upon arrival in Tokyo, time the trip so that when you get to Tokyo, it’s already time to check in to your accommodation rental or hotel.
That way, you won’t need to lug your luggage around town as you explore.
Grab a Late Lunch / Cat Cafe
Since you’ll likely be arriving at Tokyo Station, make your first stop Rokurinsha, even before you head to your lodging.
It’s the epitome of what a quality tsukemen should be, not to mention it’s so conveniently located, right in the Tokyo Station! This is our go-to tsukemen spot every time we’re in Tokyo. Rokurinsha is located in the ramen alley and easy to find because of the long line.
Be prepared for a wait–it’s almost certain you’ll have to wait at least thirty minutes in line but is completely worth it.
Check in to your hotel / accommodation
After filling up on a quick late afternoon meal, it’s time to check into your hotel! Drop off your bags, freshen up, and take a quick rest if you need to.
Chances are at this point, you will be jetlagged, meaning you will either be tired or might not be able to sleep. Do your best to adjust to the time shift and don’t plan any paid attractions on your first day.
You’ll want to start your trip off with a light stroll around Tokyo! Below are some highlights that I visited on my first stroll through the city.
Visit a cat cafe
After checking in, you can spend some time strolling around your hotel. Need an afternoon pick-me-up? Why not head to a cat cafe to get a caffeine fix while petting some kitties!
We visited Cat Cafe MOCHA in Shinjuku, but there are plenty more dotted throughout Tokyo.
Monta in the Taito neighborhood exceeds the typical cat cafe expectations, and Temari no Ouchi is a super-unique option as it’s set up as a pint-sized cat village.
Free Walking Tour of Tokyo
Walking tours are a great and affordable option for travelers looking to learn more about Japanese history and culture. There’s really no better way to get your bearings in Tokyo than with a free walking tour!
Tokyo Localized has a wide variety of tours that take place throughout the day.
If you’re in Tokyo later in the day, there are nighttime walking tours too! One of our favorite walking tours to date is the Shinjuku Night Walking Tour which takes place nightly at 7pm. Another night tour to consider is the Shibuya Night Walking Tour.
If you’d rather do a walking tour in the daytime to get a better overview of Tokyo, they also have the following tours: Flagship Walking Tour of Tokyo, Meiji Jingu & Harajuku Tour, and Asakusa Walking Tour.
These walking tours typically last approximately 3 hours. Tours are tip-based, so tipping at the end is common ($10-15/person is good).
Pro Tip: I try to do a walking tour each time I visit Tokyo–I even do multiple tours per trip! There is so much history to learn about in Japan, and each tour focuses on something different so the content is not repetitive.
Shibuya Crossing is one of the busiest intersections in the world. Located in the heart of Tokyo, Japan, the crossing is used by thousands of people every day.
On an average day, Shibuya Crossing sees over 2,500 people crossing at the same time! The intersection is so busy that it is often referred to as the “scramble crossing”, due to the fact that pedestrians are allowed to cross in all directions, regardless of whether or not there is a traffic light.
Make sure to walk across Shibuya Crossing on your first or second day, then head to the nearby Starbucks for an awesome view from above!
DAY 7 – TOKYO: HARAJUKU / SHIBUYA / SHINJUKU
Yoyogi Park Run / Meiji Shrine
Right next to the bustling streets of Harajuku is a beautiful place of tranquillity and peace–Yoyogi Park. Start your morning off right with a light jog around Yoyogi Park.
This park is one of the largest city parks in Tokyo, and right in the middle of it sits Meiji Shrine. We were staying in an Airbnb near this area, which made Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine quite easy to get to on foot.
The entrances to the shrine grounds are marked by massive torii gates. They are breathtaking to see, especially given that they’re backdropped by tall trees and the beautiful greenery of the surrounding forest.
On the way to the main shrine up the hill, there is a teahouse, a cultural hall, and large stacks of sake and wine barrel offerings to the royal deities. Meiji Shrine is open from sunrise to sunset each day with no closing days. Admission is free.
If you’re not staying in this area, run to the nearest park around you–there are tons of parks and gardens in Tokyo!
Visit The Harajuku District
After freshening up and getting a quick bite of food to eat for breakfast, spend a few hours in the colorful, quirky, fashion-forward district of Harajuku.
There are tons to do in Harajuku, and you can spend literally hours here strolling, taking photos, and people-watching.
Head to Kawaii Monster Cafe for a crazy colorful cafe experience, grab a crepe from one of the many crepe stands along Takeshita Dori, shop for very unique clothing/costumes, go vintage/thrift shopping, or take kawaii (cute) pictures at Purikura along with the rest of the Japanese teenager girls!
Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) is a narrow, roughly 400-meter long street lined by shops, boutiques, cafes and fast food joints targeting Tokyo’s teenagers. This is where you can endlessly spot people in cosplay/costumes. It’s the quintessential Harajuku experience and birthplace of many of Japan’s fashion trends.
Aside from the many vintage stores in the area, a few of our favorite shops to browse include La Foret (13-floor store containing numerous small clothing and culture boutiques) and Kiddy Land (huge toy store featuring tons of Japanese brands including Studio Ghibli, Hello Kitty, Gudetama and Rilakkuma).
Visit the Shinjuku District
Shinjuku is a major business and entertainment district. Imagine towering skyscrapers, neon signs, and bustling, vibrant streets filled with local shoppers, tourists, and commuters.
Shinjuku is most known for its nightlife and shopping and is definitely worth a visit.
Take the train over to Shinjuku Station, but don’t leave the station quite yet. What you’ll notice is that this train station is huge. There are close to 1,000 shops and restaurants in the station’s two underground malls and 4 department stores. Spend some time getting lost among the shops and restaurants!
Once above ground (and once you’ve gotten your fill of shopping), start your Shinjuku exploration with a skyline view of the city from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, for free!
The 243-meter tall building has two twin towers, and each houses an observatory deck at a height of 202 meters. Each observatory has a cafe and a souvenir shop.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Head over to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden for an afternoon picnic lunch on one of the massive lawns.
You can buy a variety of take-away items at the gourmet food hall in the basement level of Takashimaya department store, just south of the Shinjuku Station.
This was by far one of my favorite gardens in all of Tokyo, so I’d highly recommend you visit!
Once inside the garden, grab a map and check out all the major gardens, such as the French and English gardens as well as the Japanese Traditional gardens featuring ponds, pagodas, and a teahouse.
There’s also a charming Taiwan Pavilion where you can go inside and look out the second-story windows.
There’s a small entrance fee of 500 yen to enter.
Omoide Yokocho (Piss Alley) / Golden Gai
Round off your evening with some yakitori and ice-cold beer on Omoide Yokocho (Memory Alley), also known as Piss Alley. Yep, that’s quite an unappealing name!
Omoide Yokocho is a small, intimate alleyway in the heart of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. It’s the perfect place to take a trip back in time and experience a bit of old-world Japan.
The alley is lined with tiny bars and eateries, each one crammed with patrons enjoying their meals, drinks, and conversation.
While the area may not be as seedy as it once was, it still has a charmingly rough-around-the-edges vibe that makes it worth a visit.
Food stalls are usually open from 5pm to midnight. Follow up with some bar-hopping around the charismatic Golden Gai bar district.
Optional Night Activity: Robot Restaurant
First, I must say, the show is so kitschy and made for tourists. But because it is so wild, energetic, and random, it is also somehow great. Sadly enough, I do recommend it if you like weird entertainment!
Get your Robot Restaurant tickets here–but skip the dinner option and eat elsewhere.
2022 UPDATE: Robot Restaurant is temporarily closed until further notice.
DAY 8 – TOKYO: TSUKIJI / GINZA
Tsukiji Fish Market
Welcome to the world’s largest, busiest fish market! If you happen to be jetlagged and find yourself wide awake at 4-5am, it’s not too early to head to Tsukiji Fish Market for the live tuna auctions!
The Tsukiji Outer Market is a great place to discover all of Japan’s traditional foods. Here you’ll find a mixture of wholesale and retail shops along with numerous restaurants lining the streets.
No visit to Tsukiji is complete without a sushi breakfast. There are plenty of sushi counters and any stand will be good here. No need to hunt or stand in line for hours unless you’re a diehard foodie (in which case you can wait in line for Sushi Dai or Daiwa-Zushi).
Want to experience this place on a deeper level? Opt for the highly-recommended and best-selling Tsukiji Fish Market Food and Culture Walking Tour.
If you want to catch a real kabuki show, head to Kabuki-za Theater. The traditional art of kabuki is something unique and, of course, best appreciated by watching a play.
Since these plays are done in Japanese, it might not make sense for you to book tickets for the whole show (usually three hours).
No worries, they sell single-act tickets. They are reasonably priced available only on the day of the show and limit the time of your experience so it does not get too exhausting.
Don’t fancy a show? You can still go through the Kabuki-za Gallery with a voice guide to learn all about the art on display. There is a rooftop garden on the 5th floor and on sunny days, it’s a very wonderful place to spend some time.
teamLab Borderless has got to be one of the coolest and most interactive museums I’ve been to in my entire life. It’s an immersive digital art museum that features multiple 3D art exhibitions that seamlessly flow from one exhibition room to the next.
Everywhere you turn, you’ll find that the museum is covered with vibrant, colorful, and vivid designs—truly transporting you into a world of its own! With over 10,000 square meters of art to enjoy, you’ll need to allow about 3-5 hours to wander and see it all.
Explore Ginza for some shopping
If you like upscale, then you’ll like Ginza. There’s hardly a corner in Ginza that doesn’t have an upscale fashion boutique or Michelin-starred restaurant sitting on it!
In fact, there are more Michelin-starred restaurants in Ginza than anywhere else in Tokyo. Ever heard of the popular 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi? One of the most famous restaurants in Tokyo, Sukiyabashi Jiro, holds 3 Michelin stars and is located right in Ginza.
For those of you more interested in shopping, you’re in luck! Walk down Chuo-dori in Ginza and you’ll get a taste of Tokyo’s most prestigious shopping, including Japanese department stores like Mitsukoshi and Matsuya to international brands like Dior and Prada.
Aside from all the high-end boutiques you’ll effortlessly stumble upon, there are a few stores that are just fun to check out. One of those is the 9 stories tall Itōya Stationery Store (Japanese people love stationery).
Don’t miss the flagship Uniqlo in Ginza, standing 12 stories tall. There are also huge duty-free stores such as Laox, located in the Ginza Yamato Building.
My absolute favorite store to visit and spend a few hours hunting for souvenirs and snacks? Don Quijote! Don Quijote, Donki for short, is a massive discount store chain instantly recognizable by its mascot – the adorably kooky blue penguin above its doors.
They sell just about everything you can think of. Do yourself a favor and step inside if only for a few moments. It’s such an experience!
Yurakucho Restaurant District
Need a break from the glamour of Ginza? Head over to the restaurant district of Yurakucho for some old-school Tokyo vibes and some yakitori and beer!
Though this is only a 5-minute walk from the Ginza station, you will feel worlds away. Since it’s located between a luxurious shopping district and a business district, Yurakucho has a very unique atmosphere that blends both neighborhoods together.
From high-end sushi restaurants to casual Izakayas, there is something for appetite in Yurakucho. Don’t miss Yakitori Alley!
The district is also home to a number of popular bars and clubs, making it a great place to enjoy a night out on the town.
Want to take your Yurakucho eating experience further? Join in on one of these handpicked tours featuring Yurakucho:
Tokyo by Night: Japanese Food Tour – Discover Tokyo’s nighttime food scene and sample local specialties like succulent grilled meat skewers, sweet cakes and refreshing sake on this 3-hour food tour.
Walking Food Tour in Yurakucho, Shimbashi and Ginza – Sample yakitori accompanied by drinks and enjoy food tastings plus dessert at popular and traditional venues. Start amid Yurakucho’s rustic charm, continue on to modern Ginza, and finish your tour among a maze of local eateries in Shimbashi.
DAY 9 – TOKYO: UENO, ASAKUSA, AKIHABARA
Ueno Park / Tokyo National Museum
Ueno Park is a large public park next to Ueno Station in central Tokyo. This is one of Tokyo’s most popular and lively cherry blossom spots with more than 1,000 cherry trees lining its central pathway (usually in bloom during late March and early April).
Ueno Park is also home to many important museums, including the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and the National Science Museum. It is also home to Ueno Zoo, Japan’s first zoological garden.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Ueno area, why not take a walking tour? A 90-minute guided walking tour of the Ueno Park area takes place every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday at 10:30am and 1:30pm.
Tours depart from Ueno Green Salon, located between JR Ueno Station and the National Museum of Western Art.
Visit the shopping street of Ameyoko
After exploring the park grounds, head over to the bustling shopping street of Ameyoko.
This bustling market street is located in the U district of Tokyo and is home to a variety of shops and stalls selling everything from clothes and souvenirs to fresh produce and seafood.
Ameyoko is especially famous for its bargain prices, so it’s the perfect place to pick up some souvenirs or unique items that you can’t find anywhere else.
Historically, Ameyoko began as a black market during World War II but has since transformed into a popular shopping area, known for its discount prices and a wide array of products for sale (clothing, accessories, groceries, dessert shops, and food stalls).
If you’ve been missing matcha ice cream, head over to the popular tea shop, Cha no Kiminoen, for a green tea soft-serve fix!
By now, it’s obvious that temples are literally all over Tokyo. However, Sensoji is the oldest and most famous, boasting almost one and a half millennia of history!
This area also features Tokyo’s biggest souvenir market as well as the Kaminarimon Gate, instantly recognizable by the massive red chochin lantern. There are many ways to visit the Sensoji Temple and its surroundings, but the simplest path is to start from the Kaminarimon Gate and move upwards.
After snapping a million photos of the lantern from the Kaminarimon Gate, head on up to Nakamise Dori. Nakamise Dori is a lively traditional shopping street that runs from the Kaminarimon gate right up to Sensoji Temple.
Being one of Japan’s oldest shopping arcades, you will definitely feel that traditional Tokyo charm as you stroll through the strip. There are about 90 stores lining the 250-meter long strip, making it an ideal place to hunt for Japanese gifts and souvenirs.
There are also many food stalls along Nakamise Dori, including stalls selling freshly made hot drinks, rice crackers, dango (sweet dumplings made of sticky soft rice flour), and age-manju (fried buns with a sweet bean paste filling).
From there, head over to the temple itself. It’s worth going up the stairs and wandering around. The main temple closes at 5pm; stalls close around 6pm.
Want to learn more about the deep history of Asakusa and Sensoji Temple? Check out this handpicked tour:
Tokyo Asakusa Rickshaw Tour – Climb aboard a traditional Japanese rickshaw for unforgettable views and stories of the Asakusa district in Tokyo. Your guide will steer you to some of Tokyo’s many iconic sites while illuminating the history behind them all.
Akihabara is the perfect place to spend an afternoon people-watching and taking in the anime culture. Akihabara used to be Tokyo’s electronics district, but in more recent years, this district has become wildly famous for being the center of Japan’s anime and manga culture.
This neighborhood is bustling, loud, and full of comic book stores, video game stores, and anime gift shops. In addition to the otaku shops, you can find manga cafes as well as the cosplay-themed maid cafes, where waitresses dress up and act like maids or anime characters.
Maid cafes are popular with both men and women but aren’t cheap to visit! Some cafes, like the @Home Cafe, offer English speaking maids.
If you’re actually in the area to do some electronics shopping, check out Akiba Yodobashi, the most colossal discount electronic store ever.
Don’t leave before visiting GiGO Akihabara 4, the most iconic and nostalgic Sega arcade in Japan! TAITO Station Akihabara is another arcade game venue you can check out in the area.
DAY 10 – OVERNIGHT STAY (OR DAY TRIP): HAKONE AND MOUNT FUJI
Hakone, 75 minutes away from central Tokyo, is well-known as a relaxing and scenic sightseeing destination. It’s one of the most convenient day trips from Tokyo!
So what is it known for exactly?
Hakone is an area encompassing Lake Ashi and the mountains around Gora. It’s famed for its views of Mount Fuji, the Hakone Shrine, and hot springs and onsens galore.
Sure, it’s touristy, but this is a spot that definitely can’t be missed. Especially if you’re looking for a quick bout of rest and relaxation.
If your main goal is getting a clear view of Mt. Fuji, then your best strategy would be to do a day trip and pick your day based on the weather forecast.
Enjoy a ryokan experience
People who want a bit of relaxation in their trip will often stay overnight in Hakone at a ryokan. If you want to stay at an onsen ryokan, you’ll have to opt for an overnight stay.
So what is a ryokan exactly? A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, typically featuring tatami floors, futon bedding, and communal baths. A stay at a ryokan can be a truly unique experience, offering visitors a chance to disconnect from the outside world and immerse themselves in Japanese culture.
Guests are free to relax and enjoy the amenities of the ryokan, which may include gardens, hot springs, or tea ceremonies.
In the evening, a multi-course meal is served in the guest’s room or in a shared dining area. The dining experience is usually quite amazing.
Let me tell you, I love the ryokan experience. It’s a bit more expensive than a normal hotel stay, but that’s because it truly is an entire experience.
One night is typically all you need to fully enjoy relaxing in yukatas, soaking in public or private baths, eating a relaxing in-room dinner, and ending your stay with a traditional Japanese breakfast. Two awesome ryokans in Hakone to consider booking are:
- okcs Retreat Hakone villa – the splurgiest option on this list, but so worth the $!
- Hakone Fuga
- Tensui Saryo
If ryokans are not your thing, a day trip to Hakone is fine.
Explore the natural sights
In terms of exploring Hakone, start at Hakone Gora Park and walk the Old Tokaido Road along Lake Ashi, where you can view and strike a pose by the famous Hakone Shrine. On a clear day, look up for beautiful views of Mt. Fuji by the shores of Lake Ashi.
Then, hop aboard a pirate ship (yes a real pirate ship!) and cruise on Lake Ashi for more views of Mount Fuji and the surrounding mountains.
Ride the Owakudani Ropeway
Hakone is a region of mountains, forests, and hot springs. The Owakudani Ropeway is one of the best ways to see this scenic area. At Togendai, hop onto the Owakudani Ropeway (a cable car).
The ropeway takes passengers up Mt. Kamiyama to Owakudani, where you’ll be able to see the sulfurous Owakudani valley, a sweeping geothermal area created by the eruption of the Hakone volcano 3,000 years ago.
At Owakudani, you will find even more Mount Fuji views as well as the region’s specialty food–black eggs, hard-boiled in natural sulfurous hot springs!
This is one of the most popular things to do in Hakone, and it’s easy to see why. The views from the ropeway are simply stunning, and they offer a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo for a day.
After a day of exploring, head back to your ryokan for a nice, long hot spring soak before dinner and bed.
Rather do a day trip than an overnight stay? Consider visiting Hakone with a guide:
Hakone Day Trip Private Tour – This tour will show you around all the highlights of the hot spring town and also take care of all the transportation!
Other Hakone activities worth mentioning:
Pro Tip: Hakone is not fully covered by the Tokyo Wide JR Pass. It’ll take you to Odawara, the gateway to Hakone. If you’re going to do the whole loop, you can purchase the Hakone Free Pass at Odawara (5,000 yen per adult).
The Hakone Free Pass by Odakyu Railway is a discount pass for exploring Hakone. It provides unlimited use of Odakyu-affiliated buses, trains, boats, cablecars, and ropeways in the Hakone area and discounted admission to selected tourist attractions on two or three consecutive days.
This pass can be purchased at Odakyu Line station offices where station staff are available and Odakyu Sightseeing Service Centers. They can also be purchased from the ticket vending machines at Odawara Station.
DAY 11 – RETURN TO TOKYO / RELAX AND PACK
If you’ve opted for an overnight stay in Hakone, train back in the morning or after a delicious lunch. Once back in Tokyo, make sure to take it slow today.
We usually reserve our last day for souvenir shopping, taking it slow, and getting our final meals-of-choice in. What you do today is completely your choice!
Maybe there wasn’t enough time to hit up some of the spots in this itinerary, or perhaps there were other activities that piqued your interest! Spend your last day doing these activities!
To get an idea of what else there is to do in Tokyo, check out the next section of this post.
You’ll also need to reserve some time for packing and maybe even last-minute souvenir shopping. It’s your last chance to eat good food, so you should prioritize eating too!
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN TOKYO
Other Tokyo activities worth mentioning:
- Fall Evening Illumination at Rikugien Garden (seasonal)
- Yayoi Kusama Museum
- Samurai Museum
- Edo-Tokyo Museum
- Spend a day at the DisneySea or Tokyo Disneyland parks (Hint hint: DisneySea is the first of its kind across the world!)
- Visiting the Ghibli Museum if you are a Studio Ghibli fan (book far in advance)
- Sanrio Puroland – Visit all your favorite Sanrio characters at this indoor theme park.
- Visit the artsy neighborhood of Nakameguro
- Day trip to Nikko from Tokyo (Edo Wonderland in Nikko is a ton of fun)
- Shop for homewares at Kappabashi Street – expect restaurant supply stores galore!
- Attend a Sumo tournament at Ryoguku Kokugikan
- Shop at the Oedo Antique Market – held near Tokyo Station twice a month, with stalls selling wonderful antique and vintage wares.
- Shop for vintage clothes at the Shimokitazawa neighborhood
- Take a dip at Koganeyu’s communal baths – This hip public bath has 3 pools, a sauna & an outdoor plunge pool, plus a bar serving artisan beer!
- Eat your way through various depachika (underground food halls) across the city.
- Buy a ton of sliced sandwiches and ramen from the convenience stores and eat them in your hotel room. They are absolutely delicious, especially compared to what we have in the USA.
DAY 12 – GO HOME
Today is the day when you must say goodbye to an epic adventure in Japan. It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?
The JR Narita Express train is the easiest way to get from Tokyo to the Narita Airport (from Shinjuku, Shibuya and Tokyo Station) It costs 3000 yen (approximately $22 USD) and takes ~60 mins. If you bought a JR pass, you can use it for this ride.
A more affordable option, the option we normally go with since we don’t always get the JR pass, is to take the “Airport Bus TYO-NRT”. These buses operate multiple times per hour between Narita Airport, Tokyo Station, and Ginza Station.
The one-way fare is 1000 yen (approximately $7-8 USD) during the day and 2000 yen (approximately $15 USD) for late-night and early-morning departures.
WHERE TO STAY IN KYOTO
When deciding where to stay, there are a few things to consider. Kyoto is a large city, and it can be difficult to navigate if you don’t know your way around. Here are two areas I recommend staying in.
If you’re planning on doing a lot of sightseeing, you may want to stay near the Kyoto Station area. Kyoto Station is centrally located and easy to get to from the airport. This is nice because it means you won’t need to lug your bags through town too much!
It’s also adjacent to many of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, including the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle. Here are my top hotel recommendations by Kyoto Station:
- Henn na Hotel Kyoto Hachijoguchi – “Henn na” means “strange” in Japanese, and upon check-in, it’ll be quite apparent why this hotel is called that. The front desk is “staffed” by two animatronic velociraptors! This hotel is quirky and a ton of fun.
- Richmond Hotel Premier Kyoto Ekimae – Located just 2 blocks from Kyoto Station, this hotel offers comparatively larger rooms than other hotels. The breakfast buffet is also great here!
- Mimaru Kyoto Station – If you’re looking for an apartment-style hotel, this is an awesome option. The ultra-modern, clean, and comfortable rooms are perfect for families.
If you’re looking for a more traditional experience, there are a number of ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) in Kyoto that offer guests a taste of traditional Japanese culture.
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, typically featuring tatami floors, futon bedding, and communal baths. A stay at a ryokan can be a truly unique experience, offering visitors a chance to disconnect from the outside world and immerse themselves in Japanese culture.
Guests are free to relax and enjoy the amenities of the ryokan, which may include gardens, hot springs, or tea ceremonies. In the evening, a multi-course meal is served in the guest’s room or in a shared dining area. The dining experience is usually quite amazing.
Many of these ryokans are located in the Higashiyama district, which is known for its centuries-old temples and shrines.
If you’re open to a different type of lodging experience, these are good ryokan options to consider:
- Ryokan KANADE – Traditional Japanese ryokan with some nice modern amenities. Use of the rooftop onsen is typically included in the room rate.
- Yuzuya Ryokan – This one’s definitely a splurge, but it’s a lovely ryokan with the perfect location, right in the heart of Gion. The food is exceptional (you should opt for both breakfast and dinner).
WHERE TO STAY IN TOKYO
Choosing where to stay in Tokyo can be confusing because it’s just such a massive city. We can help with that.
In terms of neighborhoods to choose from, Shinjuku is our favorite area to stay in Tokyo because it’s so central and has many attractions within walking distance. Shibuya is another convenient base but can be too crowded for some people.
No matter where you choose to stay, just make sure it is within walking distance from the JR Yamanote Line (loop train line that hits all the major attractions and parts of town).
Staying around this train line will save you so much time and money, trust me. You won’t have to transfer to buses or taxis after hopping off the train or walk for days to get you back to your lodging.
JR Kyushu Hotel Blossom Shinjuku ($$) – has an awesome breakfast buffet, and in the most perfect location (just a 3-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station); twin and full-sized bed options.
Mimaru Tokyo Shinjuku West ($$) – offers apartment-style hotels that are perfect for people traveling with family members; 6-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station.
Tokyu Stay Shinjuku East ($) – super affordable and modern hotel with delicious breakfast options; 11-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station; twin and queen-sized bed options.
Kimpton Shinjuku Tokyo, an IHG Hotel ($$$) – features facilities inspired by New York-themed designs, such as a restaurant, a fitness center, terrace and an onsite bar. 7-minute walk from Shinjuku Station; king beds are available here!
The Millennials Shibuya ($) – For the adventurous travelers who want to try sleeping in a capsule bed, this hostel is hard to beat! While not the most varied breakfast, it is free. 4 min walk from Shibuya station.
Shibuya Stream Excel Hotel Tokyu ($$) – Great location surrounded by restaurants and close to Shibuya Station (train station is just under the building). Hotel is modern and very clean, and the room had a spacious; king-sized beds are available here!
Hyatt Regency Tokyo ($$) – Awesome location (Shinjuku station is right in the hotel basement), awesome city views, and even more awesome breakfast. King-size beds are available here!
EXTRA DAY TO SPARE? TOKYO VS KYOTO
If you’ve got an extra day or two to spend in Japan and are deciding where to spend that extra time, it’ll likely come down to choosing between Tokyo or Kyoto. Here’s a quick breakdown of each city.
- Tokyo is modern, while Kyoto is traditional.
- Tokyo is huge, so exploring tends to take a lot of energy and train travel to see “everything”. Kyoto is more compact, so exploring tends to be more relaxed.
- Tokyo is about 30% more expensive than Kyoto for travelers.
If you prefer bustling big cities, high-tech, neon lights, and nightlife, spend your extra day in Tokyo. If you’re more interested in temples, shrines, gardens, geisha culture, and nature, spend your extra day in Kyoto.
I personally love the old-world charm of Kyoto.
On my next multi-week trip, I do plan on skipping Tokyo (since I’ve been there twice), spending a lot more time in Kyoto and Osaka, as well as spending a few days in Kyushu (known for its rejuvenating hot springs, dramatic mountains, and peaceful beaches).
There’s simply too much to see and do in the amazing country that is Japan!!!
JAPAN: ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST
- Japan Rail Pass | If you’re traveling across Japan (like to/from Tokyo), the national pass can be worth the money.
- Icoca (IC) Card (or Suica Card) | Super-convenient rechargeable cards that can be used on all major trains, subways, and buses throughout Japan. You can even use them to pay for stuff at the convenience stores! Cards can be purchased from train station ticket vending machines or ticket offices.
- Pocket WiFi | If your phone carrier does not provide free international data, you’ll probably want to avoid those exorbitant roaming fees. Get around that by renting a pocket WiFi. Many hotels offer this as part of your stay, but in the case that they don’t, you can rent your own.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great landmarks of Japan. The last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Travel Adapter | If you’re traveling internationally, you’re going to need one. This one here is tried and trusted. It allows for a normal plug and has two additional USB ports.
- Jet Lag Prevention | Chances are you will be jetlagged during your first few days in Japan. Don’t let the long flight and time change weigh you down! Here are a few preventative options that’ll help:
- Comfortable Walking Shoes | You will be doing a lot of walking in Japan.
- Cash and credit cards
- Important travel documents | Passports, visas, flight tickets, medical cards
- Lastly, be sure to save space in your luggage for souvenirs and snacks to bring home!
JAPAN TRAVEL INSURANCE
This is a no-brainer. When traveling internationally, be sure to get yourself some travel insurance.
I’ve heard of too many unfortunate experiences where friends and family have had baggage lost/stolen, hotels canceled, or have had unexpected medical emergencies while traveling where they’ve had to cut their trips short. My partner even had his shoulder dislocated while surfing in Mexico, resulting in a huuuge emergency room bill!
Without travel insurance, you would have to pay out of pocket for these mishaps. This is why I get travel insurance for all my international trips now!
One of the best budget-friendly travel insurances for those traveling outside their home country is SafetyWing.
SafetyWing Insurance provides coverage for unexpected illness or injury, including eligible expenses for hospital, doctor or prescription drugs. This means that if you get ill or injured, they will cover the medical expenses.
In addition, it provides emergency travel-related benefits such as emergency medical evacuation (much needed if you like to go hiking / trekking in the wild), travel delay, and lost checked luggage.
- WayAway | This site compares flight ticket fares from hundreds of agencies. You’re going to get the best prices on the market, at least $10 lower than those on Skyscanner, Kayak, and Priceline.com. The best part is? The WayAway Plus membership. With the membership, you’ll get up to 10% cash back on airline tickets, hotel bookings, car rentals, and other travel services.
- DEAL ALERT! Use code ‘travelswithelle’ for 10% off WayAway Plus.
- Booking.com | Honestly, this is my go-to accommodation booking site. This site has free cancellation and no prepayment required on reservations which is huge for me. It also has amazing abilities to filter accommodation options by rating and price. Honestly, it’s shaved off so many hours of endless research for me and has made booking hotels and other accommodations a breeze.
- Viator | Viator is a huge online marketplace for all things tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, ATV tours, sailing trips, walking tours, hot air ballooning, and more.
- Go City | Go City offers great value-for-the-money attraction passes in various destinations around the world. Whenever I want to play tourist in a city, I always check to see if Go City operates in that city. The money you can save with this pass is unreal (as opposed to buying admission tickets for various attractions separately).
- Bookaway | This is my go-to transportation resource when I’m traveling to lesser-known destinations and need to figure out how to get from point A to point B. Bookaway is super useful when you have absolutely no idea how to get around between cities or even between countries! Just type in your starting point and destination and it’ll show you options on how to get there by train, bus, ferry & more – as well as allow you to book your transportation right then and there!
- SafetyWing | SafetyWing is by far one of the best travel medical insurance for travelers as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those heading abroad.
- World Nomads | Also a great travel insurance company if you’re looking for the most comprehensive travel insurance out there. Their coverage is very comprehensive, making it a good choice if you are more adventurous and plan on partaking in thrill-seeking activities or plan on moving around with lots of electronics and expensive gear.
Hope this 2-week Japan itinerary has helped make your trip planning a million times easier. Safe travels abroad!