The Best of Japan in 2 Weeks: An Itinerary to Plan Your Trip

Kyoto streets in Gion district

Below you’ll find our ambitious 2 week itinerary in Japan. We packed a lot in!  So if you’re less inclined to wake up early, it’s easy to scale back.  This itinerary hit the mark for us — and can be completed all by train (and 1 bus ride).  Just note, you must purchase your Japan Rail pass (called the JR Pass) before leaving your home country.  You won’t be able to buy a JR Pass once you’re in Japan.

As with any trip, not every stop was perfect (so those have been excluded from the itinerary). And I’ll let you know if it’s worth it or not…  Such as Wasabi-flavored ice cream?  Some things should just never be combined!

This 2 week itinerary will hit most of the best sites -- seeing much of the country by train.

This 2 week itinerary will hit most of the best sites — seeing much of the country by train.

JAPAN ITINERARY

DAY 1: TRAVEL DAY
Get all the free movies in on the international flight (we love it!)

DAY 2: TOKYO

We arrived! And a little overwhelmed by the Tokyo subway

We arrived! And a little overwhelmed by the Tokyo subway

Arrive early afternoon in Tokyo.

In the evening, see the famous Shibuya cross walk scramble (massive Starbucks there)

The infamous Shibuya Pedestrian Crossing - a must at night time

The infamous Shibuya Pedestrian Crossing – a must at night time

Dinner in Shibuya at Tonkatsu Maisen Tokyu Toyoko (5 min walk – Katsu pork cutlet)

Chowing down on the first night in Japan - falling asleep but such a tender cut of pork

Chowing down on the first night in Japan – falling asleep but such a tender cut of pork

Hotel:  Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo in Ginza – 4 Nights ($161 a night). We loved being based here.

DAY 3: TOKYO

Up at 2 AM for the tuna auction - crammed in a room waiting to go in!

Up at 2 AM for the tuna auction – crammed in a room waiting to go in!

25 minutes and the tuna auction is done. Very cool experience.

25 minutes and the tuna auction is done. Very cool experience.

Wake up early and arrive at the fish market by 2/2:30 AM for the tuna auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market (ignore the travel books that say you can get there by 4 AM. Not true – the last spot was gone by 3 AM!).

After the auction, get some sushi for breakfast – plenty of amazing spots to wander around at the fish market (Sushidai is recommended by most books but that line looked insanely long and not worth it we heard from many Japanese)

Take subway to Asakusa — one of Tokyo’s oldest neighborhoods, filled with narrow lanes, and go shopping at Nakamise Dori, a narrow pedestrian lane lined with shops.  Check out the temple in Asakusa and get your fortune from the nearby stalls just outside the temple

1-2 PM Owl Café (with real owls!) called Akiba Fukurou
**Must reserve 3 days prior (9/16), by emailing: akiba2960@gmail.com

We are one with the owls at the owl cafe

We are one with the owls at the owl cafe

The owls are everywhere!

The owls are everywhere!

5-8 PM Take Urban Adventures Food Tour, meet at JR Yurakucho Station Central Gate ($120 USD pp)

Get some rest!  You’ve been up since 3 AM!

DAY 4: TOKYO

We're ready for our very wet 6 hours of biking through the heart of Tokyo

We’re ready for our very wet 6 hours of biking through the heart of Tokyo

9:30 AM -3:30 PM: Tokyo Miracle Biking Tour

7:30 PM Robot restaurant

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Inside the Robot Restaurant - totally weird but worth it!

Inside the Robot Restaurant – totally weird but worth it!

9 PM Visit Golden Gai (miniature bars in 6 narrow alleys, made only for pedestrians)

Hotel: Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo (Ginza)

DAY 5: TOKYO

Spend your full day exploring Disney Sea, which is the only Disney park of it’s kind.

Riding the special Disney subway to Disney Sea

Riding the special Disney subway to Disney Sea

Enjoying the snacks at Disney Sea -- this purple bread thing filled with shrimp (which was actually kind of amazing!)

Enjoying the snacks at Disney Sea — this purple bread thing filled with shrimp (which was actually so good.  I could have had 3 of them!)

After Disney Sea, you aren’t very far from the relaxing spa called Ooedo Onsen Monogatari (open 24/7), 20 min west of Disney

Hotel: Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo (Ginza) – night 4 of 4

DAY 6: JAPANESE ALPS/TAKAYAMA

Hop on the bullet train to the Japanese Alps – 90 minutes to town of Nagano then switch trains to Takayama

The bullet trains - zip you right into the alps

The bullet trains – zip you right into the alps

Walk around Sanmachi-suji district (cafes, art galleries, atmospheric… grab dinner)

Grilled beef is big in Takayama - particularly Hida beef (just as delicious as Kobe but not as known)

Grilled beef is big in Takayama – particularly Hida beef (just as delicious as Kobe but not as known)

Hotel: Rickshaw Inn, Takayama – 2 nights ($85 USD a night)

Inside the Rickshaw Inn - a traditional Japanese guesthouse with robes. Right in the middle of town and not bad for the price.

Inside the Rickshaw Inn – a traditional Japanese guesthouse with robes. Right in the middle of town and not bad for the price.

DAY 7: JAPANESE ALPS/TAKAYAMA

Asa-ichi Morning Market in Takayama

Morning market in Takayama - great shopping!

Morning market in Takayama – great shopping!

10 am catch bus to the Alps via Kamikochi (1 hr, 20 minute Drive) – get combo ticket for the Shinhotaka Ropeway ($50 USD pp)
– First stop, Shinhotaka Ropeway – ride tram to top of mountain (wander hiking trails)

Ropeway to the top of the mountain

Ropeway to the top of the mountain

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Hiking trails at the top of the ropeway ride

– After tramway ride/hike, be sure to go to the town of Hirayu Onsen and soak at the spa called “Hirayu No Mori” (outdoor Japanese spa).  Great location by the bus terminal to ride back to Takayama

Hot springs in Japanese Alps

Hot springs spa in Japanese Alps – called Hirayu No Mori

Vending machine to get your towels, passes and basically everything for the spa - Japanese LOVE their vending machines!

Vending machine to get your towels, passes and basically everything for the spa – Japanese LOVE their vending machines!

Hotel: Overnight at Rickshaw Inn, Takayama

DAY 8: SHIRAKAWA-GO, KANAZAWA

9 am – catch the bus to thatched roof regions (called Shirakawa-go)
– Take your luggage with you.  They have big lockers that you can easily store your luggage in at this village

Thatched roof village along the way to Kanazawa - easy side trip

Thatched roof village along the way to Kanazawa – easy side trip

A lot of fun shops in the village - including this Japanese snack store with samples (that Kevin just kept dropping on the floor!)

A lot of fun shops in the village – including this Japanese snack store with samples (that Kevin just kept dropping on the floor!)

11 am – catch a bus from Shirakawa-go to the town of Kanazawa
– Visit Kenroku Garden (closes 6 pm)
— Visit Samurai house/district

Lounging at the beautiful tea house at the gardens - such a great spot

Lounging at the beautiful tea house at the gardens – a nice place to watch the sunset

Hotel: Our hotel was the worst here, so I’m not recommending it!  Instead, book the Holiday Inn – ANA Kanazawa Sky. Seriously, the Holiday Inn is actually spectacular here (and a great price at just $100 USD with advanced booking) – 1 Night

DAY 9: KYOTO

Wake up early – and hit the fish market for sushi and catch a morning train to Kyoto (we were ready to leave Kanazawa – it was a pretty bland city, but worth visiting for the museums).

2 PM Arrive in Kyoto by early afternoon – explore markets on your own (like Gion, which is Kyoto’s Geisha district).  Go to Pontocho, a cool alleyway with shops

Shopping in Kyoto - lanterns line the entrance to one of the malls.

Shopping in Kyoto – lanterns line the entrance to one of the malls.

Hotel: Nishiyama Ryokan, Kyoto – 1 Night ($240)
– This is a Japanese Hotel, rather than a traditional Ryokan (or guest house).  It was nice, but would recommend a more traditional Ryokan since this was much more of a traditional hotel.

Lobby of the Ryokan in Kyoto - first night.

Lobby of the Ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) in Kyoto – first night.

Enjoying tea in the room at the hotel

Enjoying tea in the room at the hotel

DAY 10: KYOTO

Full day biking tour – best way to get around to all the temples (and more importantly, not get bored with all the temples!)

Best way to see Kyoto is by bicycle - it's a sprawling city

Best way to see Kyoto is by bicycle – it’s a sprawling city

Golden Temple, one of the stops on the biking tour.

Golden Temple, one of the stops on the biking tour.

Hotel:  Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shinmachi Bettei – 2 Nights ($150 USD a night)
**Central location, and our favorite hotel in Japan.  The hotel has its own Japanese spa included

Lobby of the Mitsui Garden

Lobby of the Mitsui Garden Hotel

DAY 11: KYOTO, NARA

9:30 am–1 PM Cooking Sun, Morning Bento Class (Japanese cooking course with sushi) – Total of $75 USD per person

Bento box cooking class - can't wait for lunch

Bento box cooking class – can’t wait for lunch

Our lunch creation (we will likely never replicate at home!)

Our lunch creation (we will likely never replicate at home!)

2:00 pm Depart Kyoto for Nara by train (1 hour away)

3:00 pm Arrive in Nara – Visit Nara Park (w/ famous deer)

The curious deer in Nara wander the street looking for snacks!

The curious deer in Nara wander the street looking for snacks!

A deer poses with Kevin

A deer poses with Kevin

Hotel:  Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shinmachi Bettei – Night 2 of 2

DAY 12: KOBE, OSAKA

Take afternoon train to Kobe

1 PM Kobe Beef lunch at Kobe Plaisir (Note, Kobe beef is really expensive – even in Japan.  If you go for lunch, meals can be literally half the cost of dinner with the same serving size)

Enjoying some Kobe beef

Enjoying some Kobe beef — when in Rome…

Head to the nearby Starbucks in Kobe in a historic home (relaxation!)

Starbucks in Kobe - so comfortable

Starbucks in Kobe – so comfortable

Hotel: New Japan Capsule Hotel Cabana ($40 USD per person a night)
**We had to do this – and this capsule hotel is very high end and with a gym, restaurant, swimming pool and spa!  Women are not allowed.

Kevin looks doubtful about the accommodation but it was really comfortable

Kevin looks doubtful about the pod accommodation but it was really comfortable

Explore Osaka nightlife, do some Karaoke!

In the thick of the action - pod hotel located in the heart of downtown Osaka

In the thick of the action – pod hotel located in the heart of downtown Osaka

Tons of Karaoke in Osaka - and most offer iPads with an English menu

Tons of Karaoke spots in Osaka – and most offer iPads with an English menu

Day 13: OSAKA, KURASHIKI

This day I’d recommend an early wake up and get early into Kurashiki (a historic town). We ended up getting a late start and went to the Osaka aquarium and rode the glass ferris wheel – both amazing activities! But we got into Kurashiki too late. The entire town closes by 5 PM and there is literally nothing to do.

Osaka glass Ferris Wheel - was really freaky, but loved it!

Osaka glass Ferris Wheel – was really freaky, but loved it!

This better not break!

This better not break!

Train ride to Kurashiki is about 4 hours. There is nothing to do here at night – it’s better to just visit as a day trip and continue onto Hiroshima (and wouldn’t recommend staying overnight).

Beautiful town of Kurashiki, but the place is a ghost town after 5 PM. Good as a stopover, but wouldn't stay here again.

Beautiful town of Kurashiki, but the place is a ghost town after 5 PM. Good as a stopover, but wouldn’t stay here again.

Hotel: Dormy Inn Kurashiki Natural Hot Spring, Kurashiki – 1 night ($90 USD a night)
*If you have to stay here, this is an okay hotel. 

DAY 14: HIROSHIMA

If staying in Kurashiki, leave early (8 AM) for Hiroshima (2 hour train ride)
Visit peace memorial park

A reminder of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima - the only building preserved after the blast.

A reminder of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima – the only building preserved after the blast.

Take Ferry to Miyajima Island (we didn’t have enough time here – but can easily fit in if you start the day early enough)
– Omotesando St, main shopping w/ cafes
– See “Great Torii,” free-standing gate in water, aka Itsukushima Shrine

Eat the Okonomiyaki (grilled pancake) – famous for this!

Enjoying Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savory Pancake)

Kevin waits for the Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savory Pancake)

It looks pretty gross, but a tasty and cheap dinner and Hiroshima is famous for these.

It looks pretty gross, but a tasty and cheap dinner and Hiroshima is famous for these.

Hotel: Hiroshima Washington Hotel – 1 night ($89 USD a night, doesn’t get any more central)

9 PM Fun night-time activities – must check out the crazy Japanese arcades and try your luck winning a prize
10 PM Karaoke again!  Another fun nighttime activity that you can do pretty much into the wee morning hours!

Playing the drumming game at the arcade

Playing the drumming game at the arcade

Crazy arcade prize machines - I loved the candy bar one!

Crazy arcade prize machines – I loved the candy bar one!

DAY 15: BACK TO TOKYO!

Return to Tokyo by Shinkansen train in AM (4 hours ride)

Hotel: Shinjuku Granbell Hotel ($216 USD a night)
*Great way to wrap up your trip – located in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s party zone

1-5 PM Take a Origami class at the stop Origami Kaikan.

Kevin concentrates on his paper folding skills

Kevin concentrates on his paper folding skills

After 4 hours, our origami is done (and our eyes are hurting!). Definitely not an easy class!

After 4 hours, our origami is done (and our eyes are hurting!). Definitely not an easy class!

6 PM Final dinner at the New York Grill – where the movie Lost in Translation was filmed.  Pricey, but a fantastic way to end the trip with some steak and live music.  Note, reservations are necessary and if you book a table after 8 PM there is an additional $20 USD cover to eat there!

New York Grill in Tokyo - a great way to end the vacation.

New York Grill in Tokyo – a great way to end the vacation.

Live music at the New York Grill

Live music at the New York Grill

DAY 16: TOKYO, THEN HEAD HOME

Morning free in Tokyo – explore the Harajuku neighborhood full of shops
– Must visit Oriental Market (10 am – 7 pm; closed Thurs) for all last minute gifts

Stop at the farmer’s market near Harajuku – called Farmers Market @UNU if you’ve timed it to a Sunday.  This was one of our absolute favorite stops in Japan

Farmers Market near Harajuku neighborhood in Tokyo

Farmers Market near Harajuku neighborhood in Tokyo

Enjoying some lunch at the farmer's market

Enjoying some lunch at the farmer’s market

Leave early afternoon for airport – sadly all good trips have to come to an end.

Good bye Japan

Goodbye Japan – but such a fantastic trip!

HELPFUL TIPS – WHEN ARRIVING IN JAPAN:

There is a lot you have to do once you arrive. It’s a hassle (I KNOW!) but you’ll be much happier once you get this out of the way.
– Get money from the 711 minimart as you exit the international gate.  711 is one of the only places where you can use an ATM with a US bank.
–  Buy Skyliner Pass (one way transport to city for $35 USD one way. These are timed tickets so give ample wiggle room.  We gave ourselves 30 minutes, which took us down to the wire)
– Buy 72-hour Tokyo subway ticket – these are separate from the JR pass ($14 USD). Or even better, you can buy a Skyliner Pass with the 72-hour Tokyo subway ticket as a combo for a total of $35 USD (and save $14!).
– Pick up your JR Pass (show them the paperwork and receipt. We bought a 14-day pass that we activated on our 2nd day (so we could use it the full trip)
– It’s confusing, but Tokyo has many train lines so between all these passes, you’ll be able to get around
– Lastly, if you want wifi during your trip. They rent out pocket wifi squares for about $20 USD a day.  We thought about it, but passed since we figured we’d get enough wifi at coffee shops (but mostly because we didn’t have enough time since we bought our timed pass into the city!)

Summary
The Best of Japan in 2 Weeks: An Itinerary to Plan Your Trip
Article Name
The Best of Japan in 2 Weeks: An Itinerary to Plan Your Trip
Description
Here is a 2 week itinerary to see the best of Japan - hitting spots from Tokyo, to the Japanese Alps through some of the most beautiful parts of the country.

2 Comments

  1. […] point of view and I feel like I’ve read every one of them. It was only after reading the Gourmet Globetrotter that I reserved a couple of electric bikes for touring Kyoto and opted to spend a night in Kobe. […]

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