DIY Trip: Japan Itinerary

DIY Trip: Japan Itinerary & Travel Guide for 4, 7, 10, 14, and 21 Days

I’ve managed to travel to all 7 continents now, and from all of my adventures, one of the countries that I will never get tired of revisiting for multiple times would be Japan! As a timeless destination, I am forever enamoured by its ancient traditions that are perfectly fused with its vibrant modernity. Not to mention the lush nature and exquisite cuisine that Japan has and I’m sure that I’ll still barely ‘scratch the surface’ even if I spend my lifetime exploring it in its entirety. With that said, it does seem daunting to whip up a Japan itinerary — but then again, not really! Japan may be vast but it’s totally possible to make the most of it with whatever time you have.

TRIVIAJapan has 4 main islands: Hokkaido, Honshu (the largest where Tokyo is found), Kyushu and Shikoku. These areas are all divided into 47 prefectures that are grouped into 8 regions (chihō). For instance, the capital of Tokyo is within the Tokyo prefecture and under the Kantō region. Whereas the popular cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Nara each have their own separate prefecture (under the same name) and are all under the Kansai region.

As of this date, I think I have already visited Japan for more than 10 times and I still can’t get enough of it! Hopefully with what knowledge I have, I can help you plan a great trip with ease and speed.

Rest assured, the Japan itineraries in the latter section of this post is totally customizable to fit any number of days that you might be spending.

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Where to Stay in Japan?

Come and check out my lists below that feature the top recommended choices for cheap to luxurious accommodation choices in the country:
Best Hotels in Tokyo
Best Hotels in Kyoto
Best Hotels in Osaka
Best Hotels in Hiroshima

Top photo from Patrick Foto/Shutterstock
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Pre-Travel Guide for Japan

What is the currency in Japan?
Japanese yen (JPY / ¥) wherein ¥100~ is equal to USD $1~ or about €0.80~ or Php 50.00~ (this is as of January 2019). In the event that you want to exchange your money to JPY, I highly advice that you do NOT exchange your money at the airport since the rates there are not competitive.

So what should you rather do? Either exchange your money at a bank or at a money exchanger in your home country or in Tokyo’s city center. Better yet, just withdraw from an ATM with your debit/credit card (do one big withdrawal to minimize fees with your bank). Speaking of cards, a lot of Tokyo’s establishments accept credit cards but it’s always advisable to have cash on hand because a lot of smaller shops do not accept international credit cards.

When is the best time to visit Japan?
Honestly…? Any time! After all, Japan is a ‘year round’ destination. But depending on your preference, below are the country’s seasons…

  • Spring: (March to May) With little rainfall, clear skies and mild temperatures, this is one of the best times to visit Japan! And of course, how could anyone forget the famous sakura or cherry blossom season? It usually happens in late March to early April, so you should schedule your trip during this period if you want to see everything clad in picturesque pink petals. Beware though because this is high season, so do expect higher prices and bigger crowds. It’s the same as well during Golden Week (concentration of national holidays) which happens late April to first week of May.
  • Summer: (June to August) Be prepared for high humidity and smoldering heat (with June being rainy season). If you want to escape this, head on ever to the mountains or to the northern island of Hokkaido.
  • Autumn: (September to November) This is yet another great time for visiting Japan; besides, I personally love it when the trees turn into warmer hues. September though is usually the time when typhoons visit the country, so it could be best to plan your trip somewhere late October to November (it’s also the best time for seeing the full autumn colors).
  • Winter: (December to February) As the temperatures drop, prices and airfares also drop. Take note though that it can get very chilly; but, supposing you’re not that sensitive to the cold, this can be a fun time given all the amazing ski resorts and festive atmosphere.

How to get to Japan?
International visitors typically arrive at Tokyo’s Narita Airport (NRT), followed by Kansai Airport (KIX) which is south of Osaka. To get to any of these points, I recommend browsing through Skyscanner to find the best flight deals from your point of origin. If you’re from the Philippines like me, Skyscanner also scans through the budget airlines such as Air Asia and Cebu Pacific in order to find which of the 2 has the cheapest rate on the dates you choose.

From Narita Airport to Tokyo, you can:

  • Ride a shuttle that goes to major hotels in the city (around 3,000 yen = $30~)
  • Ride the train. Depending on what district you’re heading to, the price can vary. If you want to head off to Tokyo Station, riding the Narita Express will take 55 minutes and priced at around 2,900 yen = $28~
  • Ride a taxi, which would be the most expensive at the range of 20,000 to 30,000 yen = $195~ to $295~.
  • Go for a private transfer if you want utmost convenience and ease, especially without having to drag your luggage around. This works best if you’re coming together with other people so that you can share the cost and save more. (Uber is also a possible option to take, but a private transfer is usually at a better price — more so if you want a bigger car).

Where to best stay (for accommodations)?
To search for the best hotel accommodation in Japan at the best prices, I suggest checking out Agoda and Booking.com. But if you’re rather interested in renting comfortable houses or apartments, check AirBnB.

If you want particular hotel names per district, I prescribe that you read my lists below:
Best Hotels in Tokyo
Best Hotels in Kyoto
Best Hotels in Osaka

Best Hotels in Hiroshima

For starters, how can I go around Tokyo or Japan?
You could flag down a taxi, an Uber, ride the bus, rent a bike or go on foot; but if you want to be efficient and fast, the trains are the way to go! Now, Tokyo’s train system is dense and extensive — so it can be very confusing. However, all throughout my stay in Tokyo, I’ve managed to make it less complicated by simply using Google Maps (mapping my point A and point B and then checking out the directions for the subway/train/bus. It even has real-time walking navigation and an offline option!)

TIPS:
– Google Maps doesn’t work offline if you want routes or transportation schedules, so I recommend that you get a pocket WiFi or a SIM Card to stay connected online.
– Tokyo’s trains typically open around 5AM and close somewhere around midnight. If you don’t have an IC Card, purchasing local rail lines and subway tickets can only be done with cash or coins at the ticket machine. Credit cards are only applicable when buying long distance bullet train tickets.
– If you’re traveling by train during rush hour, be wary that it can get crazy crowded. If you’re a woman, you can ride the carriages that are designated only for females (this is only during weekdays until 9AM).
– You will notice that on escalators in Tokyo, people stand on the left side so that those who are in a hurry can pass on the right. But when you’re in the Kansai area (Kyoto, Osaka, etc.) it’s the other way around.
– When riding taxis, the left rear door is operated automatically by the driver so don’t try to open or close it by yourself.

Speaking of which, when it comes to local train tickets in Tokyo, there are several types that you can choose from but what I would highly recommend is that: if you’re only planning on traveling INSIDE Tokyo, buy the prepaid IC cards (like Suica) that can be used in any train or bus in the city. On the other hand, if you’re traveling outside of Tokyo, that’s a different matter since I would then recommend that you consider buying a Japan Rail Pass or JR Pass for unlimited rides. To see if buying this train pass will be worth it for your Japan itinerary, go and read my guide here.

How is the internet connection in Japan?
Japan has one of the fastest internet connections in the world so you’ll be assured of great connection wherever you go. To add, most places even offer FREE WiFi — but in order to consistently stay connected online during your Japan trip, get your own pocket WiFi or a SIM Card.

Should I get a visa to visit Japan?
If you’re NOT a citizen of any of Japan’s exempted countries, you are then required to avail a visa beforehand.

If you’re from the Philippines, you can read my guide on how to get a Japan visa in Manila here.

Helpful Japanese phrases
Japan may be one of the most developed countries in the world, but there aren’t a lot of people who speak English since everyone loves and prefers to speak the local language. However, this should not discourage you from traveling to this country because apart from the fact that there are a lot of apps that will help you understand and speak Japanese (e.g. Google Translate, etc.), the Japanese themselves are also gradually making improvements. In fact, my recent trip surprised me when the same places in Tokyo that I’ve visited in the past years suddenly had ample English-speaking staff and signs (I think this can be contributed to the fact that the city is gearing up for the coming 2020 Olympics).

Anyhow, below are some helpful Japanese phrases that will help you along the way! And even if you do encounter a Japanese who can speak English, it doesn’t hurt to say a word or two in their language.

Hello: Konnichiwa (Kohn-nee-chee-wah)
Thank you (normal): Arigatō. (Ah-REE-gah-tohh)
Thank you (less formal): Arigatō gozaimas (Ah-REE-gah-tohh goh-zahy-mahs)
Thank you (informal): Dōmo (DOHH-moh)
Yes: Hai (Hai)
No: Iie (E-eh)
Goodbye (long term): Sayōnara (Sah-yohh-nah-rah)
Goodbye (informal): Ja ne (Jahh neh)
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Excuse me: Sumimasen (Soo-mee-mah-SEN)
I’m sorry: Gomen nasai (Goh-men-nah-sahy)
Is there someone here who speaks English?: Dareka eigo ga hanasemasu ka? (Dah-reh-kah ey-goh gah hah-nah-seh-mahs kah?)
Help!: Tasukete! (Tahs-keh-teh!)
Cheers!: Kanpai! (Kan-pie!)

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Japan Itinerary

It can be a daunting task to plan a Japan itinerary because the country is undeniably packed with SO many interesting places, picturesque sights, good food, fun activities, and colorful culture among many others!

For starters, I will list below summarized itineraries that are typically done for X number of days, and then it will be followed by a tabbed section that shows the things you can do in each area or city in order to fill up the travel days that you have.

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••• 4 DAYS
It’s preferable to just stay in one place like Tokyo — especially if it’s going to be your first time in Japan. However, if you rather want to explore the Kansai region, you can stay in Kyoto or mix in Osaka with a side trip to Nara. (For other areas that you can explore are: Chubu region, or Niigata, etc. Make sure to check the ‘Extras‘ tab below for other ideas.)
TIP: If you’re only spending 4 days in just Tokyo, then you don’t really need a Japan Rail Pass. But if you’re exploring Kansai, it can be cost efficient to get a JR regional pass. It really depends, so you should read through this article.
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••• 7 DAYS
If you don’t want to rush yourself, you can simply spend 7 days in Tokyo; otherwise, it is totally possible to squeeze in Kyoto and/or Osaka too if you’re willing to do a fast-paced trip. Ideally for this, you will spend 4 days in Tokyo and 3 days in Kyoto and/or Osaka.
TIP: It’s a good idea to get a JR Pass for this. But then again, it really depends, so you should read through this article.
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••• 10 DAYS
Doing 5 or 6 days in Tokyo, and 5 or 4 days in Kyoto + Osaka + Nara (Kansai area) would be great for this number of days. If you don’t mind a fast-paced trip, you can even squeeze in a trip to Hiroshima by lessening your days in both Tokyo and Kansai. Either way, feel free to mix things up.
TIP: It’s a good idea to get a JR Pass for this. Read through this article to see if it’s worth it for you.
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••• 14 DAYS
Consider doing 5 days in Tokyo, 5 days in Kyoto + Osaka + Nara, 2 days in Hiroshima and 2 days in any region you want (check Extras Tab — or spend 7 days in Tokyo and 7 days in Kansai Region. Otherwise, just prolong your days in Tokyo because that city is just so massive with so many things to do! It’s all up to you).
TIP: It’s a good idea to get a JR Pass for this. Read through this article to see if it’s worth it for you.
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••• 21 DAYS
With this number of days, you’ve got all the time to take things easy! So feel free to extend the days per area and make sure to check the ‘Extras‘ tab to see other destinations you can explore. When planning out your route, do make sure to check travel times and connectivity to avoid future hassles.
NOTE: In my first trip to Japan I spent about 20 days there as I explored Tokyo (6), Kyoto (3), Osaka (2), Nara (1), Hiroshima (3), Takayama (2), Magome-Tsumago (1), and Kinosaki (2). For this, I only used a 14-day JR Pass since I spent 6 days in Tokyo and it was cheaper to just buy single tickets in the subway.
TIP: A 14-day or 21-day JR Pass is costly at first sight — but it could totally help you save up more depending on your itinerary. Make sure to do some calculations to see if purchasing single tickets is better or not. See this article  for more info.
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ADDITIONAL TIP: To further save up on time when you’re visiting multiple cities, please consider booking a flight out of Japan in the nearest international airport on your last day so you don’t have to travel back to Tokyo’s Narita.

So for example, if you end your Japan itinerary somewhere in Kansai region (Kyoto, Osaka, etc.), go and book a departure flight from Kansai Airport instead. Of course, this depends if the ticket is not more expensive compared to a roundtrip flight that’s all done in Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Either way, if you don’t mind the additional travel time and you’ve got a Japan Rail Pass, it’s absolutely  fine to travel back to Narita after your trip.

NOTE:
– The following section is in a tabbed format; so, in order to see the next day’s contents, just click the headings below.
– I will mainly highlight the so-called “Golden Route” that comprises of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka followed by Nara and Hiroshima, and then format them under a 14-day itinerary. After all, they are the typical spots that are visited by the vast majority of first-time tourists in Japan.
– Rest assured, I will also cover other regions in Japan under the ‘Extras‘ tab below so that you can consider these places if you happen to have more days for your trip, or if you simply want to see more than the typical.

Tokyo Itinerary and Side Trips

The way I see it, Tokyo can be a separate country on its own given how massive it is. That being said, keep in mind that going from one place to another within this urban city can often take 30 minutes to an hour — or even more! (Always check by Google Maps to verify your travel times).

Therefore, even if it is humanly possible to go to ALL of the attractions listed below per day for your Japan itinerary, it’s best that you don’t because you will definitely be running around. This is why I suggest that you pick out the top spots that you really like and then save the rest for later or for other days (in case you have more days in Tokyo).

READ:
– Top Things to do in Tokyo (Per District)
Best Hotels in Tokyo
Best Cherry Blossom Spots in Tokyo
10 Things Foreigners Must Know About Japan

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Tokyo Itinerary

◘◘ Day #1 (West of Tokyo)
The Tokyo Metropolis comprises of 23 special wards and the city’s top highlights are found in only a few number of these wards. For ease of discussion, I will divide Tokyo into two: the west and the east. Below are the west’s top attractions…

SHIBUYA. This is referred to as a major nightlife area but it’s also a major shopping and entertainment venue especially because of its strong youth presence towards fashion and culture.

  • For attractions
    • ★ Shibuya Crossing: Found in front of Hachiko Exit, this is arguably the most prominent landmark of the district and the most filmed spot in the area. If you want to get a good view of it, go to the QFRONT building where a big Starbucks cafe is found. It’s best to come during rush hour to see an impressive sight, but be prepared for crowds inside the cafe. Nevertheless, if you want more of a higher bird’s eye view, go to Shibuya Hikarie shopping mall’s Sky Lobby at the 11th Floor.
    • Hachiko Statue: Hachiko is the name of an admired Akita breed dog in Japanese culture back in the 30s who exemplified superb loyalty to his owner even after his owner’s death. Up to this day, Hachiko has been remembered for these amazing traits and that’s why this bronze statue of him that was put up in 1934 in front of Shibuya Station remains to be a well-revered point in Japan.
      ALTERNATIVE: If you want less of the crowd, there’s a bigger statue of Hachiko along with his master, Professor Ueno, at the grounds of UTokyo or University of Tokyo.
  • For quirky fun
    • Karaoke: You must NEVER leave Japan without trying a typical Japanese karaoke! If you’re not from Asia, karaokes are not like the ones that you see in Europe or the USA where the person goes on stage and sings in front of strangers in a bar as they sing along to the song on TV — NO. Asian karaokes are more personal and ‘closed’ so you can unleash your singing powers in a sound-proof room with people that you actually know. Of course, these Japanese karaoke rooms are high-tech and are even well-decorated depending on the place you go to (and yes, they have English songs — some of them even have Filipino tracks). Rainbow Karaoke in Modi is incredibly stylish yet cheap, Karaoke Kan is famed for being the location of the movie (Lost in Translation)’s karaoke scene, or for the more standard chain, Big Echo is a good one.
    • Love Hotel Hill: This is where you can find the biggest concentration of love hotels in Tokyo, and though it’s not a typical item on a ‘things to do in Tokyo’ list, it can be an amusing thing in itself especially if you’re traveling with your loved one — largely because of how the rooms are delightfully themed. Just be warned though that some love hotels don’t accept same-sex couples or even two foreigners. Nevertheless, you can ‘rest’ in a room for 1-4 hours at around 1,500 yen ($15~) per hour or ‘stay’ in a room overnight for as low as 7,000 yen ($68~).
  • For nightlife: Two of the most brilliant clubs would first be the mammoth super club ageHA with over 4 dance floors, an outdoor pool, and an outdoor dance tent; and second, the laser-filled Womb club with its identifiable giant mirror ball.
  • For shopping
    • ★ Don Quijote, Loft, and/or Tokyu Hands: These shops are great to include in your Japan itinerary if you’re looking for cheap souvenirs, novelty items, stationaries and more!
    • Center Gai, Koen Dori, Spain Slope, and/or Shibuya 109: The first 3 are distinct shopping streets in Shibuya, whereas Shibuya 109 is a complex that you don’t want to miss out if you want to do some serious shopping!
    • Shimokitazawa: This nearby district is a great ‘bohemian’ spot if you’re looking for vintage and second hand items and clothes.
  • For food
    • Ichiran Ramen: A famous ramen (noodle soup dish) place that gained popularity worldwide because of its solo booth style of dining. Rest assured, the ramen tastes superb here and worth a try!
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HARAJUKU. Famed for its fashion scene, quirky culture, cosplay shops, and so much more!

  • For attractions
    • Meiji Shrine: Dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji (1st emperor of Japan) and Empress Shoken, the vast Meiji Shrine is a great tranquil ‘escape’ from the hectic Harajuku. As a visitor, you can partake in the routine Shinto acts: buying amulets, writing out your wish on an ema (wooden plates), and making offerings at the hall. For proper behavior when visiting a shrine, you can read this guide. (TIP: If you want to witness a traditional Japanese Shinto wedding, head here around 10AM and try your luck!)
    • Yoyogi Park: A typical meeting place for Japanese people from all ‘walks of life’. Since it’s just near the trendy Harajuku, you will normally find crowds of band members, lolitas, cosplayers, and fashionistas in interesting clothing (they’re sometimes concentrated around Jingubashi or the bridge near Meiji Shrine). Taking photos of these people in fancy clothing is perfectly fine, but it’s best if you ask for permission first since not all of them are there to please the crowd — they’re usually just there to hang out or do practices etc.
  • For shopping
    • ★ Takeshita Dori: The birthplace of Japan’s fashion trends, this is a narrow street that’s filled with captivating shops and cafes. It’s an extremely sought-out place in Tokyo (especially by fashionistas) so it can get very crowded here especially on weekends. Some of the things you shouldn’t miss out? The entrance — take a photo here as you see yourself flashed on the screen.
    • Cat Street: If you want to stray away from Takeshita Dori’s crowd, this is the next best place to be.
    • Omotesando: If Paris has Champs-Elysees, Japan has Omotesando. If Takeshita Dori is more for low to mid-level shoppers, Omotesando is more for the older or wealthier shoppers. (TIP: Drop by Espace Luis Vuitton Tokyo which is found on the top floor of its building to find an amazing art space — not to mention that the bathrooms are really fancy haha).
    • Daiso Harajuku: This is one of Japan’s famous 100-yen variety-store shops that offers affordable housewares, toys, stationery, decorations, bento supplies, gifts and more!
    • Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku: This is a multi-story shopping center that recently became even more popular because of its kaleidoscope-like entrance that’s made of dozens of tilted mirrors. Don’t miss out as well on its rooftop terrace area on the 6th floor if you want views over Harajuku.
  • For quirky fun
    • Maison de Jullieta: Kawaii (cute) culture is a ‘thing’ among the Japanese and one of those kawaii fashion styles would be the sweet lolita look. In Maison de Jullieta in Harajuku, you can dress up as one — complete with costume, makeup and hair arrangement at a price of around 10,000 yen ($97~)!
    • Kawaii Cafe: In line with Harajuku’s colorful splash of colors and eccentric atmosphere, there exists the Kawaii Monster themed cafe! With over 5 separately themed areas, the cafe is like a rainbowholic’s paradise where every corner is filled with kawaii decoration and Instagram-worthy scenes.
    • Purikura: Purikura runs like a photo booth — but ‘leveled up’ in a Japanese kind of way and it’s widely popular among females. Through these machines, you can take photos of yourself or your friends in a studio-esque booth; after which, you will be digitally-enhanced. By that, I mean automatically Photoshopped in a kawaii manner: bigger eyes, whiter skin, and narrower face.
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ShinjukuOmoide Yokocho from aon168/Shutterstock
SHINJUKU. As a major city center, Shinjuku has the busiest train station in the world (Shinjuku Station), it houses the administration center for the Tokyo government, and holds a plethora of amazing thing to do in Tokyo!

  • For attractions
    • Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building: Towering at 243m, this structure has two towers and each of these have an observatory which visitors can visit for FREE in order to get a bird’s eyeview of Tokyo. I recommend the southern tower since it shows a better ‘side’ of Tokyo (closes at 5:30PM), whereas the northern tower is best for night shots since it closes later into the night (until 11PM).
    • Shinjuku Gyoen: Best visited during sakura and fall season, this place is just a stone’s throw away from Shinjuku station and it is surely one of the city’s largest and most favoured parks. In here, you will find three different gardens, a traditional Japanese landscape garden, a French garden, and an English landscape garden.
    • Samurai Museum: As a Japanophile, I have also been enchanted by the culture and history of the samurai (or bushi) — Japan’s notable military warriors.  Adults can enter for a fee of 1,800 yen ($18~) in order to see the impressive exhibits; but the highlight of this place are probably the experiences that you can try: photo shoot with basic samurai gear (500 yen $5), sword battle performance with an actor (free), samurai calligraphy lesson (500 yen or $5~), and professional photo shoot with full samurai gear (starts at 32,000 yen or $320~).
  • For nightlife
    • Omoide Yokocho: This is commonly called as “Piss Alley” but rest assured, it is not as disgusting as it sounds. Based next to the train on the west side of Shinjuku Station, this is a place that’s almost similar to Yurakucho near Ginza — except that Omoide Yokocho features more varied tiny eateries that serve ramen (Japanese noodle dish), sushi, kushiyaki (skewered grilled meat), among many others. The shops predominantly only speak Japanese; but as a foreigner, it’s not hard to just point your order to them.
    • ★ Golden Gai: Made up of a network of 6 narrow alleys connected with even smaller passageways, Golden Gai is a fascinating site to go to for a drink. With over 200 tiny bars and eateries, it can undoubtedly provide you a glimpse of Tokyo’s past. However, don’t let the looks of these bars fool you; though they are small (fitting only around 5 customers), the prices are not exactly cheap. After all, they typically serve well-off clients such as celebrities, musicians, artists, etc. But don’t back out just yet because even if most bars only welcome their ‘regulars‘, you as a foreigner can still get to experience the glory of Golden Gai because there are those who welcome non-regulars — this is best signified by the English menus that they would display outside their bar. (Take note that these bars don’t open until around 9 or 10PM).
    • Kabukicho: This is the entertainment and red-light district in Shinjuku which is sometimes called as the “Sleepless Town”. Unlike Amsterdam that features prostitutes on windows of their buildings, Kabukicho has a more subdued collection as it only includes hostess clubs, love hotels, massage parlours and more. Unless you want to avail these kinds of services, as a regular tourist, I just find this as an interesting place to see in Tokyo. Rest assured, I felt entirely safe walking around here since it didn’t feel seedy. Truth be told, one particular thing about Kabukicho that I best liked to see or observe were the pachinko parlors. (Pachinko is an insanely popular game in Japan that somehow resembles pinball.)
  • For quirky fun
    • ★ Robot Restaurant: Tokyo, the land of the weird (as some would say), lives up to its name because it does offer several themed restaurants like that of The LockUp (prison-like), Zauo (fish for your own food), and Alice in Wonderland Restaurant (self-explanatory). But the most entertaining and bizarre themed restaurant I’ve visited? That would be Robot Restaurant in Kabukicho area. A structure of glitz, lasers, and robots, my ‘ordeal’ in this restaurant was… undescribable — in a good way!
    • Godzilla: Japan’s famous giant monster and pop culture icon, Godzilla, can be seen here in Shinjuku atop Toho Cinemas. It’s a nice spectacle because he looks like he’s taking a peak from the building above — seconds away from wreaking utter havoc.
    • Animal Cafes: Plenty of people would recommend that you go to Tokyo’s well-liked animal cafés such as those of a: cat café, owl café, rabbit café, goat café, etc. (There are lots of them found around Shinjuku such as Cat Cafe Calico, etc.). I don’t like them though because I’m uncomfortable with the idea of keeping multiple animals in such a small space with strangers that they’re not that accustomed to — but, I leave it up to you to decide what you would do.

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AsakusaPhoto from Phattana Stock/Shutterstock

◘◘ Day #2 (East of Tokyo)
ASAKUSA. This is said to be the center of Tokyo’s shitamachi (“low city”) — which means that it’s an ‘olden’ district where you can get a feel of how Tokyo was in the past decades.

  • For attractions
    • ★ Senso-ji Temple and Asakusa Shrine: Take note that a shrine is dedicated for the Shinto faith, whereas a temple is dedicated for Buddhism. These two places are the main highlight in Asakusa with Senso-ji being the oldest temple in Tokyo. There is also an impressive “Thunder Gate” called as Kaminarimon (which is a symbol of Asakusa and Tokyo) in front of the temple.
    • Sumida River and Park: For a leisurely stroll, go over to Sumida River and lounge by Sumida Park which stretches on both sides of this body of water. Like what you’d expect, there are cherry blossoms here which come alive in spring, and then during July on its last Saturday, this becomes a great spot for viewing the Sumida River Firework. (If you see a golden building with an odd golden structure on top that looks like a tear drop, that’s the Asahi Beer Tower with its ‘Asahi Flame’.)
  • For activities
    • Kimono rental: This is your chance to try on Japan’s elegant traditional wear: a kimono! Putting on a kimono can be VERY intricate, but don’t worry because there are rental shops spread out throughout Japan (catered both to men and women) that let you wear it outside for a day for a price that starts at 5,000 yen ($46~).
    • Rickshaw ride: To complete your kimono look, I recommend that you rent a traditional Japanese rickshaw which will take you around key spots in Asakusa.
    • Tea ceremony: Highly influenced by the principles of Zen Buddhism and a well-respected hobby, the Japanese Tea Ceremony (also known as the ‘Way of the Tea’) is a traditional cultural activity that is elaborate and refined, and in which matcha or powdered green tea is prepared and drunk by a host. To be frank with you: this is a very long ceremony where you will sit motionless for hours as you follow a set of guidelines… but it is a striking example of Japan’s amazing culture that is exceptional for immersing one’s self with. For a good place to try this in, go to Nadeshiko.
    • Hanayashiki: If you’re up for it, this is said to be Japans oldest amusement park (built in 1853).
  • For food and shopping
    • ★ Nakamise shopping street: Stretching at about 250 meters from Kaminarimon to the main grounds of Sensoji Temple is this picturesque shopping street with over 50 shops that offer local specialties and the usual array of tourist souvenirs.
    • Shin-Nakamise: Also called as “New Nakamise”, this runs perpendicular to the Nakamise Shopping Street and it is line with various shops and restaurants.
    • Asakusa Kagetsudo: This is a famous melon-pan store that has been running since 1945. Melon-pan is basically a sweet baked bread with an outer layer that looks like a melon — so it’s just named that because of its appearance and not because it tastes like a melon. When you buy from this store, it is best to eat it when warm.
      .

 

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AKIHABARA. Dubbed as the otaku* cultural center and tech shopping district of Japan, walking through Akihabara’s main street called as Chuo-dori will already give you an idea of what this district is all about. You see, Japan may have an amazing olden culture, BUT it has also developed an equally amazing modern culture over the recent years, and it is in Akihabara that you can get a glimpse of this somewhat wacky ‘evolution’.
*Japanese term for people who have obsessive interests commonly towards anime and manga. A synonymous word in English would be ‘geeks’.

  • For quirky fun
    • Maid cafe: A lot of people in Tokyo love to cosplay — a form of roleplaying where people wear costumes to represent a character (often found in animes and mangas). One of the good ol’ favorites of the Japanese when it comes to cosplaying or ‘dressing up’ are waitresses dressed in those frilly Victorian maid costumes. In line with their ‘character’, they will even act as if they’re servants and then treat others as their masters. Now apply that idea to a café, splash it with small games, cutesy demeanor, brief performances and picture-taking with ‘customers’ and that’s where you get the famed maid cafés of Japan. A great place to try in Akihabara would be @Home Cafe.
    • ★ Arcades: We have tons of video game arcades in the Philippines — HOWEVER, they’re not as insanely amazing, bright, exciting, and numerous like what Tokyo has! One of the most known gaming arcades in Tokyo would be Taito Station. (You could also do purikura inside these arcades).
  • For shopping
    • Yodabashi: If you have time to visit only 1 tech gadget store in the district, then this 9-storey building is your best bet! After all, it is proven that their items are usually cheaper than in Europe or even the Philippines.
    • Mandarake or Tokyo Anime Center: Mandarake, a gigantic 8-floor complex that is full of merchandise related to anime and manga, is the best go-to space if you’re a hardcore otaku or at least a knowledgeable one at that; whereas I believe that a visit to the Tokyo Anime Center is best done first by people who have no idea of the otaku scene in order to gain a better understanding of it.

SUMIDA. The most noteworthy attraction that you should visit in this ward would have to be the following:

  • Tokyo Skytree: At 634m, this is the tallest tower in the world. It is primarily a television and radio broadcast site for the Kanto Region; but for travelers, you can visit the large shopping complex, aquarium, and planetarium that are located at its base. And of course, for sky-high views of the city, Tokyo Skytree has two observation decks and you can purchase your tickets here.
  • ★ Ryogoku: If you are curious about Japan’s national sport of sumo (wrestling), then you must head to this place which is its so-called historic center. You can find here Tokyo’s sumo stadium (Kokugikan), sumo stables and other sumo-related attractions. If you want to watch official matches, come around January, May or September. (TIP: Try chanko nabe in any of the restaurants in the neighborhood. This is basically a hot pot dish that is a staple food of sumo wrestlers.)

* * * * *

Chureito PagodaChureito Pagoda from Shutterstock.com

◘◘ Day #3 (Mt. Fuji)
It’s time to check out Mt. Fuji or ‘Fuji-san’ (it’s how the locals commonly call it). As the country’s tallest peak, it has been considered as one of the most iconic sights in Japan so it would be a good idea to dedicate this day for it. There are several ways for seeing this active volcano in all its glory (including riding a Tokaido shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka if you sit on the right, 40min before Shin-Fuji Station or going to Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station) but below are the best locations for viewing it.

NOTES:
– Some people do one of the places below as a day trip, while others as an overnight trip to also experience staying in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). It’s totally up to you, but naturally, if you’re short on time, making it as a day trip would be enough.
– Clouds often block the view of Mount Fuji so you often have to consider yourself as lucky if you get a clear view of it. It is said that visibility tends to be better during the colder seasons of the year than in summer. Otherwise, it’s great in the early morning or late evening hours compared to the middle of the day.

  • ★ Hakone: (1hr from Tokyo) This is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and it is famous not only for its natural beauty and lake views of Mt. Fuji, but also for its hot springs (onsen). Other attractions that you can check out here are the: huge scenic torii gate by the lake, Owakudani (sulfurous vapor rivers), Hakone Shrine (the area’s most famous Shinto shrine), Hakone Tozan Railway (scenic mountain railway line) and Hakone Ropeway (great views over the active Owakudani valley).
    • For a hassle-free experience, you can take a Hakone day tour of Odawara Castle and Lake Ashinoko including a Hakone Pirate Ship experience.
  • ★ Fuji Five Lakes: (2hrs from Tokyo) The Fuji Five Lakes is a region that lies at the northern base of Mount Fuji and among them, Lake Kawaguchiko is the easiest to access with a lot of interesting things to do. This is a great inclusion to your Japan itinerary especially if you also want to try out a typical Japanese onsen (given that it’s a hot spring resort town). Don’t forget to also try the Kachi Kachi Ropeway for panoramic views of the area.
    • For a hassle-free experience, you can take a Mt Fuji day tour this lake region with inclusion of Kachi Kachi Ropeway, fruit picking and wine tasting.
    • A different option is to rather go to Chureito Pagoda (pictured above) which is still part of Fuji Five Lakes but not found within Lake Kawaguchiko. This spot is a favorite among photographers especially during spring or autumn and it’s easy to see why!
  • Kamakura: (1hr from Tokyo) Apart from offering great views over Mt. Fuji, Kamakura is also well known for its Great Buddha bronze statue that towers at around 11 meters. If you’re into nature, this coastal town also has great hiking trails and beaches. Not to mention that it holds numerous temples and shrines like the famous Hasedera Temple and Hachimangu Shrine.
  • Enoshima: (1hr from Tokyo) This is a touristic island that offers a variety of attractions (Enoshima Shrine), beaches, parks, observation tower and caves (Iwaya Caves).  If I say so myself, doing a Kamakura + Enoshima day tour would be ideal if you want to check out both of these towns.
  • Fuji Shibazakura Festival: (2hrs from Tokyo) This is a famous time-limited event that is usually held at Fuji Motosuko Resort from the middle of April to late May. If you have the time, I recommend doing a sakura tour to this festival as it features over 80,000 blooming shibazakura (pink, red, white mountain phlox flowers) over 6 acres of sloping hills. Pair this off with a great view of Mt. Fuji and it instantly becomes an Instagrammable spot!

* * * * *

Nikko

◘◘ Day #4 (Other day trips outside Tokyo)
Below are other interesting day trips that you must see near Tokyo!

  • ★ Nikko: (2hrs from Tokyo) As a town found at the entrance to Nikko National Park, it is most famous for its Toshogu Shrine which is elaborately decorated. Other than this, due to its mountainous terrain, sights like the Kanmangafuchi Abyss (walking trail through a gorge) and Shinkyo Bridge (sacred bridge leading to Nikko’s shrines) are a must to do for your Japan itinerary.
    • For a hassle-free experience, you can do a Nikko day tour that includes stopovers at Tochogu Shrine, Kengon Falls & Kinugawa Onsen. Make sure to use my code ‘IAMAILEEN’ to get 10% off!
  • Yokohama: (1hr from Tokyo) This is Japan’s second largest city and it has one of the world’s largest Chinatowns. A lot of visitors also tend to include Yokohama to their Japan itinerary because of its Cup Noodles Museum and Ramen Museum. Otherwise, Yokohama’s waterfront is a sight to see if you just head to the city’s park.
  • Kusatsu: (3hrs from Tokyo) This is a sound trip to make if you want to visit one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resorts. In fact, Kusatsu Onsen is blessed with large volumes of high quality spring water which makes it popular among locals and tourists alike. You will love the atmosphere here as you find almost everyone wearing yukata/kimono on the streets. Otherwise, when winter comes, the town becomes a great ski resort to visit.
  • Chichibu: (2hrs from Tokyo) This city is a great place to escape to if you want to get away from Tokyo’s bustle. After all, its forested mountains provide impressive nature views and hiking opportunities. One of the most sought-after events here though are its Chichibu Night Festival in December and its Hitsujiyama Park in Spring (for its beautiful pink moss park).

* * * * *

ChidorigafuchiChidorigafuchi photo above from Shutterstock.com

◘◘ Day #5 — or more (Tokyo Extras)
Naturally, there’s more to Tokyo than the sights I’ve mentioned in days #1 and #2 above. So in order to fill up your Japan itinerary with other activities for your extra days in the capital, below are some considerations that you can make.

WEST OF TOKYO.

  • Roppongi Hills
    • Mori Tower: As the centerpiece of Roppongi, Mori Tower is primarily an office building; but its lower floors are filled by more than 200 shops and restaurants and its top floor has an observation deck that will give you a glorious view of Tokyo (entrance is at 1,800 yen ($18~) that’s open from 10AM to 11PM (1AM on Fridays and Saturdays).
      • Below Mori Tower, you will find a giant spider sculpture called Maman which means ‘mother’ in French. This is made by the artist Louise Bourgeois.
      • Tokyo Midtown is yet another building that you can go into if you’re up for more shopping and entertainment.
      • During Christmas, head to the area in Mori Tower that faces Keyakizaka Street in Roppongi Hills to see a great view of Tokyo Tower being illuminated by the street lights. Whereas if you go to Tokyo Midtown, you will find the Starlight Garden that has over 280,000 lights that are magically spread out on the grounds!
    • ★ Tokyo Tower: At a height of 333 meters, this is like a replica of the famous Eiffel Tower. Made after Japan’s post-war rebirth, this used to be the country’s tallest tower — until Tokyo Skytree was made in 2012. Despite this fact, the tower’s prime location is still a splendid place to see a panoramic view of the city. There are 2 observatories here: the main one at 150m high and the special one at 250m high. Entrance is at 900 yen ($9~) for main observation deck and 1,600 ($16~) yen for both decks. To book your tickets, go here.
    • Nightlife: Clubs and bars in Roppongi can be a dizzying encounter for a first-timer; so it’s actually preferable if you visit this with a local. Otherwise, just a bit of advice: avoid the men (generally African men) who would try to push you into going to their clubs! More often than not, those are seedy ones and later on, they might even overcharge you. For the best clubs to go to, I suggest Jumanji55, V2 Tokyo, or Club Brand Tokyo which all have a good mix of locals and foreigners.
  • Hie Shrine: You don’t need to travel all the way to Kyoto to witness a Shinto shrine with multiple iconic red torii (traditional Japanese gate) because you can find this right in the heart of Tokyo! (Otherwise, there’s also a similar one called as Nezu Shrine).

EAST OF TOKYO.

  • Marunouchi: Chiyoda is referred to as the political center of Tokyo and it is here in Marunouchi where you will see the aforementioned government institutions.
    • Imperial Palace: This is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan and it’s actually a massive park surrounded by moats. It contains buildings including the palace, private residences of the Imperial Family, offices, museums, and more.
    • Chidorigafuchi: Located just at the northwest section of the Imperial Palace is this moat section. This area is highly recommended during sakura season as it is one of the best spots for hanami (cherry blossom viewing). To add: they regularly light up the trees at night during that period and then you can even rent boats there!
    • Tokyo Central Railway Station: This is the busiest railway station in Japan in terms of number of trains per day and it’s quite a sight to see! For starters, you’ll instantly find this building because of its red brick appearance — a look that survived from when it was first opened in 1914.
  • Odaiba: As a man-made island, it was orginally built to protect the city against possible sea attacks; today however, the island transformed into a futuristic business and residential area.
    • DiverCity Tokyo Plaza: This is a dining, entertainment and shopping complex which also features attractions related to the famous Gundam anime series. Truth be told, it also has a life-size Gundam statue in front of its building.
    • Fuji TV AreaThis is called as such because of how the Fuji TV Building (one of Japan’s biggest TV stations) towers above everything else. As a visitor, you could definitely go into Fuji TV’s observatory deck that’s located in the circular portion of the establishment. Other things to see around here would be the shopping mall of Decks Tokyo Beach and the scenic Rainbow Bridge (which looks dashing at night, and where you can also find a replica of the Statue of Liberty.)
    • Palette Town: If you’re up for some serious entertainment and shopping spree activities, I suggest that you head on to Palette Town! In here, you can find the following venues: Venus Fort (a mall that looks like a European town), Toyota Mega Web (car showroom where you can test drive cars), and Leisureland (large gaming complex).
      • TeamLab: Yet another Instagrammable attraction, this interactive museum is well-known for digital and light art.
    • The Soho: This is an Instagram-worthy office building that’s famed for its colorblocked hallways.
    • Oedo Onsen Monogatari: If you can’t afford to go to a hot springs resort town, this is the next best thing for your Japan itinerary! This is basically a hot spring theme park that emulates the atmosphere of the Edo Period. You can enjoy various types of indoor and outdoor baths, restaurants, massage, games and other entertainment while wearing a yukata (traditional Japanese wear).
    • Tsukiji Market: Fish is a big business in Japan and the Tsukiji Market is a marvelous point for observing this lively industry as well as taste its fresh produce. To date, this market has been divided into two, one of which is still found near Tsukiji Shijo Station and the other near Odaiba. If you want a guided day tour here, book an experience with KKday.
  • GINZA:  Tokyo’s most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district.
    • Yurakucho: Yurakucho is a striking yet relaxing contrast to the nearby upscale Ginza district, mainly because of its traditional-looking restaurants that are built beneath the train tracks of the JR Yamanote Line — called as Gado-shita (which literally means: below the girders). As a visitor, I assure you that one look at Yurakucho will make you feel as if you’ve taken a trip back in time during Japan’s early postwar period! Nowadays, a lot of Japanese salarymen have made this location as their favorite dining place after work as they flock to izakaya (Japanese-style bars highlighted by their red lanters called as akachochin) and yakitori (grilled skewered chicken dishes) restaurants.
    • Chuo Dori: As the main shopping street in Ginza, you will find here all the major brand shops, department stores, and restaurants possible. Come night time, you will definitely be feasting upon its blinding yet beautiful neon lights. Some of the notable buildings here would be that of the Wako (that has the iconic Hattori Clock Tower), Hermes, Dior, and Zara among many others.
      • If you want the best ‘festive’ experience of this street, I suggest walking through here on weekends from 12PM to 5PM (until 6PM during April to September) because it is customarily closed to automobile traffic — an event known as ‘Pedestrians’ Paradise’.
    • Depachika:  This is a combination of the words depato (department store) and chika (basement). In Japan, most of the big department stores such as that of Mitsukoshi have their basement floor made into some sort of food market — but actually, if I have to describe it myself, I will call it as a ‘food theme park’ because you can get to have a fun yet quick introduction into the VAST variety of Japanese food there — including square watermelons and insanely priced strawberries! Anyhow, the stalls are very generous with giving away samples too; so if you’re on a budget, you really don’t have to buy something (though it will be respectful to do so, naturally haha).

OTHERS (NEAR TOKYO)

  • ★ Disneyland and DisneySea: For some good ol’ fun with your family and/or friends, check out Tokyo’s popular Disneyland and DisneySea for your Japan itinerary. You can visit both theme parks but it’s best to dedicate 1 day for each place. If you can only visit one, I personally think that DisneySea would be a great choice because it is one of its kind in the whole world!
    • To book discounted tickets, reserve with KKday.
  • Sanrio Puroland: Enter the kawaii world of Japan’s famous Sanrio characters comprising of Hello Kitty, Gudetama, Melody and so many others! It’s primarily geared towards kids, but if you’re a Sanrio fan, this theme park is ideal for people of all ages! I’m a huge fan of Gudetama and I fell in love with this place instantly.
    • To book discounted tickets, reserve with KKday.
  • Ghibli Museum: This is the animation and art museum of Miyazaki Hayao’s Studio Ghibli which is one of the country’s most famous animation studios that produced world-known movies like Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro.
    • To book discounted tickets, reserve with KKday.

Kyoto Itinerary and Side Trips

Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan — nevertheless, it has retained that former glory with its great historic value alongside countless temples, shrines, gardens, imperial palaces, traditional wooden houses, and more! If I may add, this is also the city that is well known for its formal traditions most especially that of the geisha (or geiko) who are Japan’s famed professional female entertainers.

Best Hotels in Kyoto
Best Cherry Blossom Spots in Kyoto

Fushimi InariFushimi-inari from Patryk Kosmider/Shutterstock
◘◘ Day #6
Take note that it takes around 3 hours by bullet train (shinkansen) to get to Kyoto from Tokyo. With that said, the ‘things to do’ for this day should be fewer, but depending on your arrival time, it’s still possible to do a lot. Go and pick from my suggestions below…

  • Nijo castle: Also called as Nijojo, this is the former residence of the first shogun (military dictator) in the Edo Period during his stays in Kyoto. Today, this castle is divided into 3 areas: the Honmaru (main circle of defense), the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defense), and the gardens. What’s great about the castle grounds too is that there are over 400 cherry blossom trees so it is quite a sight during spring season. (Admission is 600 yen).
  • Nishiki Market: Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, this is a long yet narrow shopping street that features over 100 lively shops and restaurants. This is a great spot to visit for your Japan itinerary if you want to buy any fresh produce or Kyoto specialties. As a market with a long history, this is also a great place to mingle with the locals.
  • Kyoto Imperial Palace: This great expanse used to be the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family until 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. Given that this is within the Kyoto Imperial Park, it makes for a leisurely stroll to go through the space which is full of ponds, gardens, and weeping cherry trees. (Admission is FREE).
  • Manga Museum: If you’re fascinated about Japan’s manga (comics) culture and history, this could be a quaint stopover. Sometimes there are even artists who set up exhibits and offer sketches or portrait drawings of the visitors. (Admission is 800 yen).
  • ★ Fushimi-inari: This is a Shinto shrine in Kyoto that you absolutely must NOT miss!  As one of the most important shrines in southern Kyoto, it is widely popular for its dense red torii gates that number in thousands. Basically, it snakes around the trails and the main buildings up until it leads to the forest of Mount Inari (hike takes about 2 to 3 hours but you’re free to walk anywhere). Also, as the name states, this is dedicated to ‘Inari‘ who is the Shinto god of rice. Inari’s messengers are said to be foxes and this is why you’ll find a lot of fox statues around the shrine.  (Admission is FREE).
    • For a hassle-free experience, you can do a guided Fushimi-inari tour that includes stopovers to Arashiyama and Nara. This is only ideal if you don’t have much time in Kyoto.
  • Pontocho: This is a dining area that’s packed with restaurants offering wide range of choices from local to foreign cuisines. Take note though that most establishments open from around 5PM to 11PM only. If you come in the warmer seasons, most of the places build temporary platforms over the river for open air dining (called kawayuka).

* * * * *

Kyoto ItineraryHigashiyama from Prasit Rodphan/Shutterstock
◘◘ Day #7
Time to make full use of this day in exploring Kyoto’s other important sights!

In my opinion, though it is possible to do all of the sights below in one day, it’s still a good idea to pay heed to the time especially if you plan to do a kimono rental too because it will lessen your hours of exploration (given that putting on a kimono takes some time).

  • ★ Higashiyama District: Found along the slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains is this preserved historic district which proves to be a great way to experience the feel of ‘old Kyoto’. You’ll definitely find a lot of shops and restaurants that will cater to your fancy!
    • Kiyomizudera: This is a famous temple in Kyoto that’s listed under the UNESCO World Heritage and it is best known for its wooden stage that stretches out to the hillside as it offers great views over the cherry and maple trees below it — so imagine how the site will be like during spring or autumn! (Admission is 400 yen).
    • Kiyomizu-michi: This is the name used to refer to the main street in the district. One particular shop you must not miss is Nama-Yatsuhashi which makes the most popular Kyoto Sweets.
      • Other streets to check out in the district are Sannenzaka / Sanneizaka and Ninenzaka.
  • ★ Kinkaku-ji: Lauded as the ‘Golden Pavilion’, this is — indeed — a structure that’s mostly covered in gold leaf. This Zen temple actually used to be the retirement villa of a shogun. Today, you would absolutely enjoy its impressive architecture as it overlooks a picturesque pond. Before leaving, don’t forget to go through the gardens and check out Sekkatei Teahouse to enjoy some matcha tea and sweets. (Admission is 400 yen).
  • Ginkakuji: On the other hand, though this is referred to as the ‘Silver Pavilion’, it’s not really in silver — it never was. Many believed that it garnered its name after the building was built to contrast the Golden Pavilion. Either way, this remains to be a popular spot for many.
  • Philosopher’s Path: This is a pleasant stone path (near Ginkakuji) that is a must to visit during cherry blossom season. Its name was derived from Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who used to practice meditation while walking this route.
  • ★ Gion: This is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district and it is filled with traditional shops, restaurants, and ochaya (teahouses) in which geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha and maiko [geiko apprentices]) work. Apart from the charm of this place, a lot of visitors come and visit with the hope of glimpsing a geiko or maiko — however, not a lot of people know that often times, what they will witness are tourists who are just dressed up as one (to learn more about this, read my post here).
    • Hanami-koji Street and Shirakawa Area: The most popular places within Gion, so don’t forget to wander around here.
    • ★ Gion Corner: Ideally, one of the ultimate experiences in Kyoto is to dine with a maiko or geiko, but since this is often expensive and exclusive, the next best thing you can do to ensure that you witness a real maiko or geisha is to visit Gion Corner. Aimed at foreign visitors, this place offers cultural shows that introduce traditional Japanese arts such as the tea ceremony, ikebana, bunraku, Kyogen comic plays, and maiko dances.
    • Shijo Avenue: Bisecting Gion district is this popular shopping area that sells local souvenirs and gifts.
    • Gion Matsuri: This is the festival of Yasaka Shrine and it is said to be the most famous festival in Japan! Therefore, if you happen to be in Kyoto in the month of July, you’re in for a treat because they celebrate during the whole month (with the highlight being July 17 as they do a grand procession of floats called as Yamaboko Junko).
  • Kimono rental: Much like Tokyo, Kyoto has a lot of kimono rental shops too. If you only have the budget to do one kimono experience, I highly recommend doing it in the unique atmosphere of Kyoto than in Tokyo’s Asakusa!
    • Another option is to do an oiran (courtesan) rental or photoshoot.

* * * * *

ArashiyamaBamboo groves from Guitar/Shutterstock
◘◘ Day #8 — or more (Arashiyama)
Arashiyama is particularly popular during spring and autumn season — nevertheless, it’s a year round destination due not only to its close proximity to Kyoto but also to its natural setting! In order to make the most of your Japan itinerary, don’t forget to check out the following Arashiyama highlights…

  • Bamboo Groves: I’m sure you’ve seen photos of this place and it is famous for a reason: it really makes for a nice scenic walk or bicycle ride! If you happen to have the budget to rent a kimono in this area as well, then it is a must to take photos in this path. To avoid the crowd, I recommend coming during early morning.
  • Togetsukyo Bridge: Translated to ‘Moon Crossing Bridge’, this is an iconic landmark within Arashiyama due to how it is backdropped by the forested mountains. There is even a park by the river which is speckled with cherry trees.
  • Monkey Park Iwatayama: The entrance to this park is found south of the Togetsukyo Bridge. Be wary that it’s a bit of an uphill climb — but which only spans for about 10 minutes. In this place, you will love the fact that there are over a hundred monkeys roaming freely in the open area. I particularly loved my experience here as I also fed the monkeys from a designated area. To add, this is also a great vantage point for panoramic views over Arashiyama. (Admission is 550 yen).

The center of the district is quite compact so I suggest taking your time in strolling around. Other places of interest that you can check are: Tenryuji Temple and Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street. (Want a guided Arashiyama tour packaged together with Nara? Check out KKday).

If you still have some more time, there is an option of doing the Sagano Scenic Railway which is a sightseeing activity on an old-fashioned train. Most people usually take a guided tour for this which is partnered together with a Hozugawa River Cruise so that the end point still remains to be in Arashiyama.

* * * * *

EXTRA or Substitute Activities While in Kyoto

Daigoji Temple

Got some more time? Check out these other places…

  • ★ Daigoji Temple: A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site that is hugely popular specially during autumn or spring time due to its picturesque surroundings. Sure enough, with its beautiful grounds, landscape gardens, hiking trails, and so much more, it instantly makes for a worthy destination for your Japan itinerary.
  • Toji Temple: This is yet another one of Kyoto’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and what’s notable about this temple is its 5-storied pagoda which is said to be the tallest pagoda in Japan.
  • Shojuin Temple: This has rose to popularity among young females in Japan primarily because of its Instagrammable heart-shaped window called as ‘inome’ window in its guest hall. What’s more, the temple’s ceiling has beautiful pieces of splendid patterns. (Admission of 400 yen).

Osaka Itinerary (with Nara)

Osaka has the 2nd largest metropolitan area after Tokyo and as a part of the Kansai region, it is best known not only for its grand shogunate castle but also for its nightlife and street food.

Best Hotels in Osaka
Best Cherry Blossom Spots in Osaka

Nara ParkNara Park from beeboys/Shutterstock

◘◘ Day #9 (Nara)
It only takes about 1 hour by train to get to Osaka from Kyoto. After you check in to your Osaka accommodation, venture out on a day trip to the nearby district of Nara (which only takes less than an hour). If you’re not up for that, you can interchange this with day #10.

Nara is the first permanent capital of Japan, after which it was moved to Nagaoka, later to Kyoto and then to Tokyo. Today, this district is famous for its historic treasures and adorable deer park.

  •  ★ Nara Park: This is a large park in the center of Nara and it is home to more than a thousand of wild free-roaming deer. In Shinto religion, they are considered messengers of gods and Nara made them as a symbol of their city. Just be wary though because the deers here can be aggressive (especially when it comes to food), but they’re generally calm. If you want to feed them, deer crackers are sold all over the park at a low cost.
    • TIP: Try bowing down to the deers and often times, you will find that they bow back! It is said that back in the olden times, the locals have bowed down to them as they were (like I said) regarded as messengers of God. After generations, they have retained this Japanese custom especially when they expect some food.
  • ★ Todaiji Temple: Found adjacent to Nara Park, you’ll first enter this temple’s towering Nandaimon Gate with fierce looking statues that represent the Nio Guardin Kings. This is followed by the main hall, the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) which is the world’s largest wooden building housing one of japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha.
  • Horyuji Temple: This is one of the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures and a designated UNESCO World Heritage.

If there’s still time, head on over to the nearby Mount Yoshino — even more so if you’re in Japan during its sakura season. Besides, this is regarded as the country’s most famous cherry blossom spot given the 30,000 cherry trees found on its slopes! Truth be told, Mount Yoshino together with the nearby Mount Koya and Kumano have been designated as a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site since 20014.

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Osaka CastleOsaka Castle from Nonthachai Saksri/Shutterstock

◘◘ Day #10+ (Osaka)
It’s time to explore Osaka’s top wonders, namely…

  • ★ Osaka Castle: An iconic Japanese castle that played a major role in the unification of the country during the 16th century. Nowadays, however, the castle tower is entirely modern on the inside (even featuring an elevator) but its historical features are still intact. (Admission of 600 yen). Beside it is the Nishinomaru Garden with over 600 cherry trees with an admission of 200 yen.
  • Umeda Sky Building: This is a spectacular 173-meter tall building that consists of 2 towers that are connected by a ‘Floating Garden Observatory’ on the 39th floor. (TIP: Don’t miss out on the cool photo opportunities on the long escalator that leads to this observatory!)  In the basement of the building, you’ll also find a restaurant floor that emulates the early Showa Period of Japan.
  • ★ Minami (Namba): This is Osaka’s most famous entertainment district offering the following landmarks…
    • Dotonbori: This is an immensely popular street that runs parallel to the Dotonbori canal. In here, you’ll find a wide array of shops, restaurants, food stalls, karaokes, and more! Make sure that you visit here at night because it is when it really comes alive! Another spot you must not miss here is the famous Glico Running Man sign and the gigantic Kani Doraku crab sign.
      • If you see a long line, don’t hesitate in ligning up too because most of the time it means that it’s a pretty good place! (Of course, if you don’t mind waiting).
    • Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade: This nearby area is Osaka’s premiere shopping center that combines retail stores, boutiques, department stores, etc.
    • Hozenji Yokocho Alley: This narrow path has a number of interesting restaurants and izakaya (informal Japanese pubs) that is somewhat reminiscent of Kyoto’s Pontocho alley.
  • Shinsekai: If you want a less crowded version of Dotonbori, this is the place to go to for your Japan itinerary. Notable here are the Tsutenkaku Tower (the symbol of the district) and the kushikatsu (an Osaka specialty of various battered deep fried foods)

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EXTRA or Substitute Activities While in Kyoto

 

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Got some more time? Check out these other places…

  • ★ Universal Studios Japan: This is the first Universal Studios theme park that has been built in Asia. Now, if you ask me, out of all the USJ parks I’ve been to all over the world, this one in Japan blew me away! With over 8 gigantic sections (including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), there is more than enough to keep you entertained!
  • Hirakata T-SITE: This is a commercial complex near Hirakatashi Station that has beautiful architecture. Inside it is the famous Tsutaya Bookstore that has over 150,000 books and which also has become a recent hit in Instagram for its charming interiors.
  • Osaka Aquarium: This is an incredible aquarium that displays over 15 tanks, each representing specific regions of the Pacific Rim. For instance, the central tank that represents the Pacific Ocean is 9 meters deep and is home to a whale shark which is the main attraction of the aquarium!

Hiroshima Itinerary and Side Trips

This is the city that was largely destroyed back when an atomic bomb was dropped over it during World War II. Great efforts were taken to rebuild the city and today, Hiroshima is well known for its aspirations of tranquility with its Peace Memorial Park.

Best Hotels in Hiroshima
Best Cherry Blossom Spots in Hiroshima

HiroshimaA-Bomb Dome from Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
◘◘ Day #11 (Hiroshima)
Please take into account that it takes more or less 3 hours to get to Hiroshima from Osaka. Once here, below are landmarks that you can include on your Japan itinerary…

  • ★ Peace Park: This is one of the key features of the city and at a large scale of over 120,000 square meters, this used to be the commercial and political center of Hiroshima before the bombing. After that horrific event, the park now holds vast gardens and various structures such as…
    • Peace Memorial Museum: Comprises of 2 buildings that goes through the history of the city and the events that happened from the nuclear bomb. When I visited here, most of the exhibits were upsetting — and for good reason because it wanted to serve as a reminder of how we should never take peace for granted.
    • A-Bomb Dome: This is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. When the bomb exploded, this is one of the few buildings that still stood and remains so today. (This is also a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site).
    • Cenotaph: This is an arched tomb dedicated to the A-Bomb Victims who died. Underneath it is a stone chest that holds the register of their names that number over 220,000. On the anniversary of the bombing, a ceremony is held at the park every year along with an observed silence at 8:15AM (the exact time of the bombing).
  • Hiroshima Downtown: This is a bustling downtown area with Hondori Street as its main feature. As you venture about on this place, do try the city’s specialty which is the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki — a delicious savoury pancake containing various ingredients.
  • Hiroshima Castle: This was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945 but it was rebuilt and nowadays, it holds exhibits about the castle’s history as well as Japanese castles in general.

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Miyajima IslandMiyajima Island from Shutterstock.com

◘◘ Day #12 (Miyajima)
Just a 1-hour ride away by train and ferry from Hiroshima is the small island of Miyajima. It’s particularly famous for its giant torii gate that seemingly floats on the water during high tide — making it as one of Japan’s best views. Most people do this as a day trip but you could also stay overnight to experience a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).

  • ★ Itsukushima Shrine: This centuries-old shrine is known worldwide for its iconic ‘floating’ torii gate that is built over the water. From the Shinto shrine itself, you will find that it has various buildings including a prayer hall, main hall, and noh theater stage.
    • If you want the best view, be mindful of the timings of the tides during your visit. High tide is obviously when it it is most picturesque, but low tide has its charm too because then you can walk up to the gate and see it up close.
  • Mount Misen: Rising at 500 meters, it offers spectacular views over the island and even towards Hiroshima. Apart from the ropeway, you could also take one of the 3 hiking trails that lead up to the mountain namely…
    • Momijidani Course: shortest but also the steepest and goes mostly through the forest.
    • Daisho-in Course: offers the nicest views and not as steep as the other two.
    • Omoto Course: any of these 3 hiking trails takes about 1 to 2 hours to reach the summit.
  • Daisho-in Temple: Found at the base of Mount Misen. There is an interesting Buddha ritual here wherein as you walk up the temple steps, you spin the metal wheels with inscribed sutra as it is believed to have the same effect as reading them.
  • Omotesando: This shopping street is the busiest place in Miyajima in which you can find souvenir shops, food stalls and restaurants.

Other Destinations and Trips

Obviously, there is more to Japan other than the famous destinations of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Hiroshima. So if you have more days on your Japan itinerary, consider filling it up with any of the following destinations!

(My favorites are marked with a ★).

Niigata Itinerary

Chubu Itinerary

◘◘ Day #13 and onwards

NORTH OF JAPAN.

  • ★ Hokkaido: With magnificent unspoilt nature, Hokkaido is a haven for a lot of outdoor lovers, most especially during winter time as it is a great place for skiers and snowboarders (most especially the ski resort town of Niseko). Moreover, the capital of Sapporo holds an annual Snow Festival where they feature large snow sculptures. Of course, Hokkaido doesn’t disappoint in spring and summer either with attractions like Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park, Furano lavender fields, Tenjin Wisteria, Sapporo Lilac Festival and more.
  • ★ Niigata: This is a prefecture within Chubu or Central Japan and it is one of the country’s top culinary and getaway hotspot. I went on a travel spree here before and I loved my stay! To see a complete itinerary guide, see here.
  • Nagoya: Also found within Chubu region is Nagoya which is known for its towering castle. Other notable sites are as follows: Korankei, City Science Museum, Atsuta Shrine, and Railway Museum. For food, check out Sekai no Yamachan, a famous izakaya (Japanese pub) in the city that serves flavorful “legendary chicken wings”.
  • Kanazawa: This is the capital of the Ishikawa prefecture and it boasts historical attractions as well as its ‘Kenrokuen‘ — said to be one of the 3 best landscape gardens in Japan.
  • Kiso Valley: Nestled within Nagano prefecture is this valley which holds an ancient 70km trade route called as Kisoji which was later on combined with other routes forming the 500km long Nakasendo. Today, nearby post towns of Magome, Tsumago and Narai are flocked by visitors not only to hike through the Nakasendo but to also revel in the traditional stone paths and wooden buildings of these quaint towns.
  • Matsumoto: One of Japan’s finest cosmopolitan cities that still have that rural feel. Rest assured, this is the kind of place that can keep you occupied, what with its stunning castle, captivating districts, and enchanting vistas.
  • ★ Shirakawa-go: There is no shortage of picturesque traditional villages in Japan and some of the best from them all would be the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama.
    • For more info, read here.
  • ★ Takayama: If you’re looking for a thoroughly old and authentic traditional Japanese village, traveling to the city of Takayama in Gifu Prefecture is a must. Truth be told, due to its well-preserved antiquity, it has earned the title of being Japan’s “Little Kyoto” — a title which I agree with!
    • Things to do in Takayama
    • Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route: If you’re up for incredible and unique nature activities in Japan, it’s a MUST to visit the stunning mountain sightseeing route that’s commonly referred to as the “Roof of Japan”. A crowd favorite as of late is its grand ‘Snow Wall’ that’s open from mid-April to late June! For more info, read here.
  • ★ Yamanouchi: This is a municipality in Nagano prefecture that has the below notable attractions…
    • Jigokudani Monkey Park: Have you ever seen those adorable photos online of monkeys bathing in a natural onsen (hot spring)? Well, this is the place where you can find them! The monkeys are called as Japanese Macaques or ‘Snow Monkeys’ and they are very accustomed to humans so you can watch them play up close in this park (which is their natural habitat). The park is open all year but if you want the best photos of the monkeys, come during January to February when the park is covered in blinding white snow and the monkeys come bathing in the hot spring.
      • You can do this as a day tour from Tokyo with KKday.
    • Shibu Onsen: An old-fashioned hot spring town
    • Shiga Kogen Resort: The largest ski resort in Japan.

* * * * *

SOUTH OF JAPAN.

  • ★ Kinosaki: Located about 3 hours away from Kyoto, this is a pleasant onsen town which has a great atmosphere. I stayed here before for 2 nights and I loved strolling around the town in my yukata and geta (wooden clogs), feeling like a local! After all, everyone (locals and foreigners alike) who visit the town almost always wears the same attire when going about the place onward to the public baths.
  • ★ Okinawa: As Japan’s southernmost prefecture, this is often a choice destination of locals during the summer due to its abundant marine wildlife, pristine beaches and beautiful coral reefs. Consequently, snorkeling and scuba diving are the top main activities when in these islands.
  • Himeji: This place is most famous for its Himeji Castle which is typically considered to be Japan’s most beautiful surviving feudal castle. Because of this, it is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national treasure.
  • Kobe: As the capital of Hyogo prefecture, I guess the first thing that pops into your mind now is the popular mouth-watering Kobe beef, a famous local brand of wagyu (Japanese beef) meat. Truth be told, you can eat Kobe beef in any restaurant around Japan who is accredited to sell it so you don’t necessarily need to go to this place — however, if you’re a true aficionado, this place is great to see! Either way, as a port city, Kobe is well liked not only for its tasty local beef but also for its sake breweries, Mount Rokko, Chinatown, Harborland and more.


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Booking Essentials

Overall

Japan Itinerary

There really is SO much to see in Japan! …But I believe that my travel guide here is already a good start. Please feel free to tweak this itinerary and make full use of my extra activity suggestions in order to make your trip shorter or longer and better fitting for your travel style.

Enjoy and do let me know how your trip goes!

How about you?

  • What do you think of this Japan itinerary?
  • What are the top things that you would LOVE to do?
  • Or have you already been to Japan? How was it? Any other travel tips to add?

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36 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this tips, i am just going to have a trip to Japan and i am really very motivated by this post. I will share it my friends which are going with me.

    Reply
    1. I'm very happy to hear this! Hope it helps :D

      Reply
  2. Nice information to travelling to Japan !

    Reply
    1. Hope it helps!

      Reply
  3. Hello, i've been to Japan twice already (kanto and hokkaido area) and I agree with you that you will never get tired of revisiting because of the countless sights to see, the different festivals per region and all the mouthwatering foods that they serve...I plan to visit again during the cherry blossom festival (spring) and the autumn festival hopefully this year up to early next year, so this blog of yours will be of great help to me in exploring the kansai, tohoku and others...

    Reply
    1. I'm glad you agree! I also plan to visit again (I really can't get enough of it haha!). Let me know how your trip goes!

      Reply
  4. I have always wanted to go to Japan. My dad was stationed over there for many years when he was in the military. He said it was so beautiful over there.

    Reply
  5. I have not done nearly enough traveling in the past few years. Seeing Japan would be amazing. This travel guide makes it feel like my dreams of a Japanese vacation are so much more real.

    Reply
    1. I really hope you get to visit!

      Reply
  6. Wow what a thorough itinerary you have here for Japan! I had no idea that Japan had quite so much to offer! It sounds incredible!

    Reply
    1. Japan is THAT amazing! I hope you get to visit :D

      Reply
  7. What a great guide! I've always wanted to visit Japan. Your guide really helped out a lot with planning! I really love your photos too!

    Reply
    1. Thanks, Kendra! :D

      Reply
  8. This post is amazing! And the photos even better! I was looking for more info about a trip to Japan and this guide is full of interesting and useful information.

    Reply
    1. Yay, thanks! Hope this helps you :D

      Reply
  9. A trip to Osaka is on my travel bucket list. Thanks for assembling such a detailed trip guide. This will definitely come in handy.

    Reply
    1. Awesome, I hope you get to go!

      Reply
  10. I have always wanted to travel. Japan is such a beautiful place. What an awesome adventure.

    Reply
    1. I wish you couldvisit soon!

      Reply

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