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!
DAY 1: TRAVEL DAY
Get all the free movies in on the international flight (we love it!)
DAY 2: TOKYO
Arrive early afternoon in Tokyo.
In the evening, see the famous Shibuya cross walk scramble (massive Starbucks there)
Dinner in Shibuya at Tonkatsu Maisen Tokyu Toyoko (5 min walk – Katsu pork cutlet)
Hotel: Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo in Ginza – 4 Nights ($161 a night). We loved being based here.
DAY 3: TOKYO
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: email@example.com
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
9:30 AM -3:30 PM: Tokyo Miracle Biking Tour
7:30 PM Robot restaurant
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.
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
Walk around Sanmachi-suji district (cafes, art galleries, atmospheric… grab dinner)
Hotel: Rickshaw Inn, Takayama – 2 nights ($85 USD a night)
DAY 7: JAPANESE ALPS/TAKAYAMA
Asa-ichi Morning Market in Takayama
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)
– 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
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
11 am – catch a bus from Shirakawa-go to the town of Kanazawa
– Visit Kenroku Garden (closes 6 pm)
— Visit Samurai house/district
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
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.
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!)
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
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
2:00 pm Depart Kyoto for Nara by train (1 hour away)
3:00 pm Arrive in Nara – Visit Nara Park (w/ famous deer)
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)
Head to the nearby Starbucks in Kobe in a historic home (relaxation!)
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.
Explore Osaka nightlife, do some Karaoke!
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.
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).
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
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!
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!
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.
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!
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
Leave early afternoon for airport – sadly all good trips have to come to an end.
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!)