Japan has amazing food which you find at every corner, fast Shinkansen trains and a good local public transport system. You can gawk up at modern skyscrapers and sleep on futons in traditional ryokans. There seems to be a system and rules for everything and on the contrary, you might be amazed about the crazy, crowded and colorful places there are, usually right near a calm shrine. Be surrounded by pink blossoms in spring and catch some of the best powder skiing conditions in winter. Plus, catching a glimpse of mysterious Mt. Fuji is an impressive experience all year around.
I loved every minute I spend in Japan. There is so much to see and two weeks in Japan won’t be enough. The chance is big that you will want to return after your first trip (if only to be able to eat more of this delicious Japanese food). Nevertheless, if you only have a short amount of time in Japan, this guide will help you to experience many of the highlights in a limited time.
Enjoy and eat some gyozas and noodles for me.
Before going to Japan, read my post about general tips for traveling in Japan. And what to do if you arrive late at Narita or Haneda airport.
Your perfect two weeks in Japan
There is no way you can see everything of Japan in two weeks. However, with this itinerary, you can feel satisfied every day to fully have experienced Japan. Just be sure to check the weather and adjust the plan accordingly. For Mt Fuji related actions you’ll have the best outcomes during sunshine and it’s worth to get up really early. And now, have fun exploring. I wished I could go again right now as well.
For internationals, it’s easiest to fly to Tokyo (Haneda or Narita airport). Many flights arrive early in the morning or late at night. If you arrive in the morning; no problem, check in to your hotel and start sightseeing, or leave your luggage in a coin locker somewhere. If you arrive late at night it might be a bit tricky to check into a hostel/hotel. Perhaps spending the night at Haneda airport might be an option? Otherwise, book your accommodation with booking.com or airbnb and receive $15 to $25 as a welcome gift in return.
Day 1, Tokyo
If you are jjet-laggedanyway and won’t be able to sleep, why not head to Tsujiki fish market in the morning? When you’ve had your fillings of sashimi or sushi, you should use the opportunity to explore the rest of the Ginza area. It’s a bit like 5th Avenue in NYC but you will most likely encounter your first robot at the entrance to a big store. Shiodome is also within walking distance. At the Panasonic show-room there are free lockers for your luggage (100 yen depot) and the a/c in the store felt nice. Otherwise, seeing an exhibition about all the things Panasonic produces didn’t interest me too much. In case you are then ready for a green space, head to Koishikawa Korakuen garden. If you are in posession of a JR pass, you could then take the green Yamanote line and do one circle around the center of Tokyo (this will take about 1 hour). Unfortunately, a lot of it is in tunnels but you nevertheless get a brief overview of the different districts, while relaxing your feet.
Day 2, Tokyo
Start at 8 am at the Tokyo Sky Tree. You will be amazed at how quiet it is in this area. Before 9 am you won’t even be able to have breakfast (however, in the evening, everything is open until 9 pm or midnight). You could pay $20 to ride up to the observation deck or you could save the view for later and do it for free on the observation deck of the government building.
Instead, take a walk along the canal. In Sumida Park, you can visit a shrine and then walk along the river towards the Asahi building with its flame on top and the Asakusa area. This is especially nice during the cherry blossom time. Next to Asakusa station you will suddenly land in a busy street market where all kinds of sweets are sold. If you walk all the way to the end, you get to Sensoji temple, which is a very busy place. From there, take the subway over to Tocho-mae Station. At the government building, you can take an elevator up to 202 m to a free observation deck, from where you have an amazing view over the city of Tokyo.
Then, ride on to Harajuku, where you find an absolutely crazy street. It’s a very busy and colorful street and you can find all your dessert dreams there. When you have filled your stomach, you could have a look at the modern mirror gate at the entrance to Tokyo Plaza, or take a walk through the forest to reach famous Meiji Shrine. By now, your feet will be tired but it’s worth it to ride one more stop to Shibuya and obnserve the swarm of people at the Times Square of Tokyo. Also, if you like the movie Hatschi, this is the station where you can take a picture with the statue of this loyal dog.
Day 3, Hakone
It’s time to leave Tokyo for a day trip to the Hakone area. There are a few nice onsens in that area and several hikes you can do, to see Mt Fuji. Read more about our hike to Mt. Kintoki here (blog post is coming soon).
Day 4, Fuji Area
It’s time to rise very early and catch a train to the lake Kawaguchiko area at 7 am. Get off at Otsuki to board the Fuji tourist train. This costs extra but it is a fun experience and has many nice stops along the way, where you can hop on and off. Chureito Pagoda was one of my favorite spots in Japan because the view on Fuji was amazing.
During cherry blossom season in early April, you absolutely have to go to this valley! If you are here in late April or early May, you can catch another bus at Lake Kawaguchiko and ride to a colorful moss valley. They even hold the Shibazakura flower festival, which would be a fun experience. Otherwise, this area is good to train for Fuji hikes or extend one day and visit Fuji Highlands amusement park.
Day 5, Tokyo
Have a calmer day in the Tokyo bay area and walk across the impressive Rainbow Bridge (1,5 km one way), for example from JR Tamachi station. On Odaiba Island you find a small beach, a statue of liberty (yes, really :)), several shopping malls and the science museum. On architectural feature of the museum looks like the death star in Starwars. Later in the evening, visit Oedo Onsen and spend the night in a hot spring spa. A blog post with tips for your onsen visit will follow soon.
Day 6, Kyoto
Board the Shinkansen to Kyoto in the morning and you will arrive at the big, modern glass building about two hours later. During your remaining half day, you have enough time to visit the orange gates of Inari Shrine. For dinner, you can return to the north side of the train station, where many restaurants are located within walking distance and on the top floor of the mall above The Hub Pub. The restaurants mostly serve meet dishes and breaded Japanese style cutlet but also the other usual choice.
Day 7, Kyoto
Explore Kyoto by starting early at Kiyomizudera (water temple). It’s a huge tourist circus but nevertheless impressive. There are many stations for you to collect some good luck and make a wish, for example at the water source, which is devided into three streams to drink from.
Walking back down from the hill, you will pass many souvenir shops where you are also encouraged to taste everything. More temples and statues which bring good luck if they are touched are in the Higashiyama area. Further, you can visit Gion and spot a Geisha running from one old-fashioned house to the other. If you are hungry, head on to the covered shopping mall and market area around Nishiki street. By now you are probably tired from all the walking and it’s high time for a Shiatsu massage. With newly charged batteries, you can visit the remaining temples and shrines.
Day 8, Nara
Sleep in a little and then board the train for a day trip to Nara. Most of that tourist-swamped city is covered by Nara deer park. If you simply walk around and visit the most important shrines, you won’t be able to avoid the freely roaming, tame deers.
Day 9, Journey to Beppu with a stop along the way
Today you head south with Beppu as your aim. On the way, you could stop at Kawachi Wisteria Garden (河内藤園, Kawachi Fujien). This is only interesting when the wisteria flowers are blooming in late April. Otherwise you could spend the first half of the day in Kyoto again and visit Arashiyama with the famous moon bridge and have a relaxing time at bamboo grove. Afterward, you then also take the train to Beppu.
Day 10, Beppu
Buy a bus day pass and pass to visit all the special hot springs (hells) and have a look at this spectacle of nature. Once you are finished looking at the colorful boiling water ponds and smell like sulfer yourself, it’s time to pick an onsen and relax for a while again. How about a mud bath at Hoyo Land? Or an onsen with a nice view over the ocean and milky blue water?
Day 11, Osaka
Board the train in the morning and head to Osaka. Drop off your luggage and then explore the park around Osaka castle. Enter the castle and learn something about Osaka’s history. In the early evening, head to Umeda Sky Building and take the elevator to the observation deck. Take pictures while the sun is still up and then again during and after sunset.
Day 12, Osaka
Visit Osaka’s aquarium, which is the biggest one in the world and is home to two whale sharks. Afterward, you can lose yourself for the rest of the day in Osaka’s shopping malls. Buy some souvenirs and eat all your favorite Japanese foods once more.
Day 13, Kyoto
Head to Kobe and spend $75 on a lunch for the best beef in the world. It’s worth it to pay a little more for a tender part of the Kobe Beef. Then, you have time to explore more of Kobe or you need to grab your luggage and take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.
Day 14, Bye bye, Japan.
If you are from Europe or America it will take you at least a day to get home. However, if you have more time in Japan, check out some of the day trips from Tokyo. I will write about them soon.
Have you visited other cities or places during your vacation in Japan? What did you like best?