Have you always dreamed about visiting Japan? The Land of the Rising Sun is a unique fusion of old traditions and futuristic ideas. With so many exciting attractions as well as traditional and contemporary cultural experiences to put on your Japan itinerary, you’ll need at least 10 days in Japan to get a taste of what the country has to offer. From admiring the ethereal beauty of Mount Fuji to dancing in a robot café, once you hit the road, most people find that even 2 weeks in Japan is not enough. So to help you with your planning, we’ve put together a modular itinerary with four options: 5 days in Japan, Japan itinerary 10 days, a suggested Japan 2 week itinerary and the ultimate Japan 3 week itinerary.
It doesn’t matter when you choose to visit; Japan offers impressive scenery, timeless sights, fantastic food and culture. Also known as the Land of Shoguns, Japan is a treasure trove of castles, shrines The Land Castles, shrines and temples are alluring.
Channel your inner Samurai or geisha and discover Japan. Our itineraries cover bucket list attractions and a few off-the-beaten-track experiences we think you should not miss. It’s mainly a Tokyo Kyoto Osaka itinerary with stops in Nara, Takayama and Hiroshima.
- Japan Itinerary 5 Days
- Japan Itinerary 10 Days
- Japan 2 week itinerary
- Japan 3 week itinerary
- Japan Itinerary planning tips
Japan Itinerary 5 Days
If five days in Japan is all you can spare, there are so many things to do in Tokyo you could easily fill your entire Japan itinerary but if the pace is a bit too frenetic, a couple of days in Takayama will help calm you down.
Japan Itinerary Day 1 – Tokyo
If you love exploring megacities, then three days in Tokyo is not enough. You’ll most probably want to aim for a longer Tokyo itinerary.
Landing in the midst of a forest of skyscrapers in one of the world’s most populated cities can be daunting. A great way to orient yourself and keep your feet on the ground is to soak up the sights at Yoyogi Park. The huge park is a green oasis in Shibuya that sets the scene for what to expect in Tokyo today, with both cultural activities, such as dancing and theatre, to eye-popping sights, from Tokyo-ites walking the dogs, cats, parrots and ferrets.
Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine) Shinto shrine is a serene spot to put on your Tokyo itinerary if you need some downtime away from the hustle and bustle. The walk from the soaring gate to the shrine itself leads through a forest adjoining Yoyogi Park.
Wander around Shinjuku and ogle and the skyscrapers. Shinjuku Station is the world’s busiest railway station – over two million passengers pass through here every day. The network of laneways called Omoide Yokocho (little memory lane) is packed with food stores serving up ramen, soba, sushi and yakitori.
Unless you live in a city as large as Tokyo, seeing Shibuya Crossing at peak hour should be a fixture to any Tokyo itinerary. It’ll give you some context to the size of this megacity. Shibuya Crossing is a city showcase you need to see, especially on weekends and at night, when thousands of people cross in all directions. If you’re uncomfortable about being in the crowd, a good vantage point to watch the spectacle is from the Starbucks above Tsutaya.
Japan Itinerary Day 2 – Tokyo
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Tokyo Imperial Palace is a symbol of Imperial Japan and, ever since the original Edo castle was built on this site in 1868, it has been home to the Meiji rulers. The palace is in the heart of Tokyo on sprawling palace grounds. These days, the original moats, watchtowers, gates and walls still stand and part of the palace is the official residence of Japan’s Emperor. The public can visit parts of the Imperial Palace on an organised tour, which you can book through the Imperial Household Agency.
Tokyo Skytree (or Tokyo Tower)
For a bird’s-eye view, either put Tokyo Skytree or Tokyo Tower on your Tokyo itinerary. The observation decks of Tokyo Skytree (the tallest building in Tokyo) offer sweeping bird’s-eye views of the city. The view looking down from Tokyo Skytree (or Tokyo Tower), will take your breath away and a wow experience on your Japan trip. The Tembo Deck is 350m high and you can also walk the dizzying heights of the glass-covered Tembo Galleria from the 445th to 450th floors to reach 450m.
Japan Itinerary Day 3 – Tokyo
Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji Fish Market is the place to go to watch Tokyo’s famous tuna auction. The market is one of the biggest fish markets in the world and is a spectacle to see. There’s an Outer Market, which has shops and eateries, and an Inner Market (where the auction is held). Only 120 visitors are allowed to see the popular auction each day so get there at 5 am to make sure you get in. Note that the Inner Market is closing on 6 October 2018 and moving to Toyosu (opening 11 October).
If you love electronics and gadgets, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store in Akihabara. It’s the place to shop for the latest cameras and new electronics. Akihabara also captures Tokyo’s wild side, as the streets are a parade of strange fashions and fantasy cafes that have become part of Japan’s modern-day culture. Pop into a cat café, owl café (fancy a cup of coffee while you pat an owl?), maid café (where the staff dress as butlers and maids) or manga café. If you only have time on your Tokyo itinerary for one cafe try the Robot Restaurant, to see the robot show.
More than a touch of old Edo can be found in the backstreets of Asakusa (浅草), which is a hub of history and culture dating back to the Edo period. In the past, Asakusa was the centre of kabuki theatre. Now, you can explore on foot or take a guided rickshaw (jinrikisha) tour but make sure the main attraction in Asakusa, the 7th-century Sensoji Buddhist temple, is on your Tokyo itinerary.
Japan Itinerary Day 4 – Takayama
Travel by train from Tokyo to Nagoya on the Shinkansen Nozomi and on to Takayama (4 hours).
A contrast to frenetic Tokyo, the slow pace in historic Takayama provides the opportunity to calm down and admire ancient customs, like carpentry, brewing sake, lacquerware and pottery.
The first thing to do in Takayama is to take a leisurely walk for a few hours around Takayama’s Old Town, comprising buildings, houses and structures that date back to the Edo Period.
A fabulous way to soak up the traditional Japanese atmosphere is to stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) such as Honjin Hiranoya, which also has an onsen, or Temple Hotel Takayama Zenko-Ji, for a serene temple stay.
Japan Itinerary Day 5 – Takayama
Start the day by sampling local fruit at the Miyagawa Morning Market, which is a hub of local activity.
Stroll around Takayama to soak up the traditional village scene admiring the dark timber beans and soaring pillars.
Museums worth seeing are the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall (for Takayama Festival floats0, Kusakabe Folk Museum (the former home of a wealthy merchant) and Takayama Jinya (Edo era government building).
The Takayama Festival has been part of the region’s culture since the 16th century.
Overnight in Takayama and enjoy another relaxing soak in an onsen before heading off to Osaka. If it’s your first time, here are some Japanese onsen tips.
Japan Itinerary 10 Days
10 days in Japan is just enough to do the Tokyo Kyoto Osaka itinerary with a balance of popular tourist spots and cultural experiences. After the first five days, you’ll be looking forward to visiting Kyoto and Osaka.
Japan Itinerary Day 6 – Kyoto
Travel by train from Takayama to Kyoto via Nagoya (3.5 hours).
Famous for temples, shrines and gardens, Kyoto is one city in Japan you could spend weeks exploring and not be bored. Kyoto has 17 World Heritage sites and plenty of museums, galleries, boutiques, gardens and shops.
Your Kyoto itinerary should include one of the many experiential activities, such as Samurai lessons, sushi cooking classes, traditional Japanese tea ceremonies or cycling tours to see temples.
Remember Memoirs of a Geisha? One way to get into character is to dress up like a maiko or geisha and wander the streets of Gion.
Strolling through a historic hanamachi, or geisha districts is a highlight of a visit to Kyoto. Kyoto is a very safe city to walk around, even at night, and spotting a geisha wandering through the streets is a delightful surprise.
Gion is a convenient and atmospheric district to stay. There are many guest houses and ryokans to choose from. Here’s how to rent an apartment in Kyoto.
Another fun activity for your Kyoto itinerary is to channel your inner Samurai by taking a kendo class. Kendo is a Japanese martial art using bamboo swords.
Japan Itinerary Day 7- Kyoto
Of the 1000-plus temples in Kyoto, the Ryoanji Temple and Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) are two worth putting on your Kyoto itinerary, especially if it’s your first time visiting Kyoto.
Golden Pavilion is a beautiful Buddhist temple with a golden hue. The two top floors are swathed in gold leaf and the Golden Pavilion is reflected in the glassy Mirror Lake. Once the home of the family of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (during the late 14th to early 15th centuries), the Golden Pavilion is now one of the most recognised Kyoto landmarks.
Ryoanji Temple is a Zen temple with lovely Zen rock gardens that are quite famous in Japan. It’s a lovely spot to include in your perfect Japan itinerary to contemplate the past, present and future of Japan while admiring the poetry of the temple and garden’s design.
Arashiyama’s most famous attraction is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which is an impressive thing to see. The bamboo grove is a quintessential Kyoto landmark but there are a few other sights in Arashiyama worth checking out too. For a half-day trip to Arashiyama on your Kyoto itinerary, you could squeeze in the Tenyuji Temple, which is on the World Heritage list, and hang out with the monkeys in Arashiyama Monkey Park.
Japan Itinerary Day 8 – Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine
There’s a good reason most visitors to Kyoto will have the Fushimi Inari shrine on their Kyoto itinerary. The Shinto shrine has the most impressive vermillion tori gates in Japan. It’s a good hike up the mountain and, if you take your time, you’ll want to allocate about three hours to admire the small shrines and torii gates along the way. The fabulous view of Kyoto from the top is well worth the effort.
Another of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, Nijo Castle (also known as Fushimi Castle) was built in 1601 by the first Shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. Within the castle, the Ninomaru Palace was the residence and offices of the shogun. The sprawling castle complex is interesting to explore, especially the nightingale floors. These floors were built to squeak in a certain way to announce the arrival of unwanted visitors, such as thieves or assassins.
Day 9 – Nara
Travel by train from Kyoto to Nara on the JR Nara Line (1 hour)
Nara has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Japan’s largest Buddha and Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden structure.
Nara’s top historical treasures are Todaiji Temple, which is one the Seven Great Temples of Japan, and Daibatsu, the world’s largest bronze statue.
The options are to stay in Nara for the night or take the JR Yamatoji Line Regional Rapid Service from Nara to Osaka (1 hour).
Day 10 – Osaka
Japan’s third largest city has its fair share of city attractions. Osaka is more compact than Tokyo and easier to get around. If you don’t have much time to spend in Osaka, it’s possible to experience both ancient and modern delights in one day on a whirlwind Osaka itinerary.
Home to the country’s most well-known castle, Osaka Castle should be one of the stops on any Osaka itinerary.
Construction of the castle began in the 16th century by Samurai warrior Toyotomi Hideyoshi and was where the Battle of Sekigahara was fought.
Osaka Castle fell to the Tokugawa clan, the last of the shoguns. Inside is a museum focusing on the history of the region and the park around the castle is a lovely spot for a stroll.
Dotonbori is packed with restaurants, bars and flashing lights. Osaka’s version of Times Square is where you can experience the wacky sights of neon Japan. From 3D models of sea creatures to pachinko parlours, a walk around Dotonbori will give you a glimpse of modern Japan.
Osaka is a fabulous city to try Japanese street food and a fun thing to do is to take a street food tour with a local foodie guide. Regional foods to taste in Osaka are Takoyaki (octopus balls), Okonomiyaki savoury pancakes, Kitsune udon, which is no popular throughout Japan, and some of best sushi in the world.
For a Japanese pod hotel experience, try the Asahi Plaza Capsule Hotel, which first opened in 1979.
Depart Osaka on day 10 or add another day to your Osaka itinerary.
Japan 2 week itinerary
If you can stay for two weeks in Japan, another day in Osaka is full of fun before heading to Hiroshima. Hiroshima is a significant city that will open your eyes to the past and make you think about the future.
Day 11 – Osaka
Universal Studios Osaka
If you’re travelling with the family, or are a fan of theme parks, you might want to add Universal Studios to your Osaka itinerary. The amusement park is packed with fun for all ages and gets pretty busy. Harry Potter fans will want to spend time in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Day 12 – Hiroshima
Take the Shinkansen Nozomi from Kyoto to Hiroshima (1.5 hours).
The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima at 8.15am on 6 August 1945. It exploded at a height of 600m in the air, 160m southeast of the Atomic Bomb Dome (which was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall).
Atomic Bomb Dome
The Atomic Bomb Dome is purposely maintained in the exact state of destruction caused by the bomb as a reminder of the significant event that changed the world.
From the Atomic Bomb Dome, follow the Peace Trail on a walk through the tranquil Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to various monuments, such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the Memorial Cenotaph and the Statue of the A-Bomb Children.
Day 13 – Hiroshima
The 16th-century Hiroshima Castle, built by feudal lord Terumoto Mori, was destroyed during the Hiroshima atomic bombing. In 1958, the castle keep was rebuilt and turned into a museum showcasing Hiroshima’s history. However, the castle’s Edo era stone walls and inner fences remained intact.
Itsukushima Shrine is the focus of one of the most scenic spots in Japan. The shrine on Miyajima Island is a World Heritage Site and is incredible to see during high tide, when the torii gate, in particular, looks like it’s floating on the ocean.
Day 14 – Hiroshima
Return to Tokyo from Hiroshima on the Shinkansen Nozomi (4 hours) to connect with your international flight.
Japan 3 week itinerary
If you can spend 3 weeks in Japan the keep on going south. The train will take you to Nagasaki and it’s a short flight to the idyllic island of Okinawa.
Day 15 – Nagasaki
Day 16 – Nagasaki
Day17 – Okinawa
Day 18 – Okinawa
Day 19 – Okinawa
Day 20 – Okinawa
Day 21 – Tokyo
Japan Itinerary planning tips
Best Time to visit Japan
Japan has distinct seasons and each season has its unique attractions. Spring is the season to see cherry blossoms but it’s also packed with tourists, while autumn (September to November) is also a beautiful time of year to see the changing leaves and is less crowded than spring. Winter in Japan is stunning, even if you are not a skier or snowboarder, and summer in Japan can get rather steamy especially in the cities.
How to get around Japan
Most top-tier international airlines have direct flights to Japan from many cities around the world. Most visitors arrive in Tokyo, where you can get a train from the airport to the city centre.
The easiest way to travel around Japan is by train and a Japan Rail Pass will allow you to travel on all JR trains in Japan, including the high-speed Shinkansen bullet trains and the Japan Rail (JR) Narita Express (NEX) from Tokyo Airport to the city.
Choose a 7, 14 or 21 days Japan Rail Pass but remember to buy it before you go as they are not available for purchase in Japan.
Tipping in Japan
Tipping in Japan is not customary, and in some places, tipping might even be considered as bad manners.
Food in Japan
Japanese food is delicious and the food is important in Japanese culture. If you’re spending 2 weeks in Japan you’ll have a smorgasbord of choice. Besides sushi, Udon, soba, matcha and miso soup, your trip around Japan will allow you to discover the local cuisine of each region.
Osaka is known for okonomiyaki and takoyaki while Kyoto is famous for kaiseki restaurants.