See the Better of Tokyo, Kyoto, & Osaka

Are you able to embark on a bucket record journey by the Land of the Rising Solar? This final 14-day Japan itinerary has been particularly designed for first-time guests to make it simpler to sort out planning such an epic journey, and in addition put together you for the sensory overload you’ll expertise upon arrival.

I do know planning a visit to Japan can really feel very overwhelming, however don’t let that dissuade you from visiting. There’s a purpose why Japan is commonly one of many first international locations in Asia that Westerners select to go to. It’s culturally completely different sufficient to move you to a world of historical traditions, whereas its ultramodern cities nonetheless really feel acquainted sufficient to make anybody comfy navigating a big metropolis really feel at dwelling. With most indicators and prepare bulletins supplied in Japanese and English, getting round is pretty straightforward and any communication gaps could be bridged by the marvels of Google Translate.

This two-week Japan itinerary covers a few of this island nation’s hottest locations together with Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, with day journeys to Nara, Hiroshima, and Miyajima, making it an ideal introduction for first-time guests.

This Japan itinerary provides you a full style of Japan — from the traditional and culturally vibrant shrines and temples of Kyoto to the pulsing metropolis of Tokyo, with its futuristic sights, neon lights, and towering skyscrapers, and the vivacity of the Osaka avenue meals scene. You’ll go away Japan enchanted, with a full sense of its attract and an understanding of why overseas guests are flocking to Japan in droves.

Torii gate in Miyajima

2-Week Japan Itinerary

This text is written in partnership with Allianz Travel Insurance. We extremely advocate buying journey insurance coverage for each journey, particularly when touring internationally, which is why I’ve been a loyal buyer of Allianz Journey Insurance coverage for a few years now.

Word: This submit might comprise affiliate hyperlinks. In the event you click on a hyperlink and make a purchase order, I’ll obtain a small fee. All opinions are my very own.

How lengthy you spend in Japan usually is determined by how a lot trip time you’ve gotten and your funds (see my article about how a lot a visit to Japan prices.) However in case you are visiting from the US (or any vacation spot of a ways), you’ll in all probability need to benefit from your time within the nation to make that lengthy flight value it (see my recommendations on what to pack for an extended haul flight.)

That is why I extremely advocate spending a minimum of two weeks in Japan on your first go to. I’d counsel spending 5 days in Tokyo, 5 days in Kyoto, and three to 4 days in Osaka. This provides you with a few further days for day journeys or extra sights inside a metropolis (for instance, should you wished to go to Tokyo Disney or Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.)

Family in front of Shrine in Tokyo

What to do once you arrive in Japan

Earlier than you arrive in Japan, full the varieties required for customs and immigration on the Visit Japan Web site. After completion, you’ll obtain a QR code to indicate upon arrival and also you received’t have to fill out any extra paperwork on the airplane or within the immigration space. This makes your arrival fairly painless.

In the event you fly into Tokyo, you’ll arrive at both at Narita Airport (NRT) or Haneda Airport (HND) in Tokyo. Narita is over one hour from the town middle, whereas Haneda is rather a lot nearer. In both occasion, taxis from the airport might be fairly costly and it pays to look into various transportation choices.

Since we flew on Delta, we arrived at Haneda Airport, which is linked to Tokyo through a monorail or prepare choices. We didn’t need to cope with transferring trains and metros with our giant baggage after a full day of journey, so I booked the Airport Limousine Bus, which offered door-to-door transfers from Haneda airport to our lodge (the Hilton Tokyo) at a really inexpensive fee.

Earlier than you permit the airport, there are a couple of necessary issues you must do first!

  • Go to an ATM and withdraw about 50,000 Yen to begin. Keep in mind you need to withdraw as a lot as you assume you may want in a single chunk versus a number of smaller withdrawals to keep away from further charges. Whereas Japan has moved to be extra contactless post-Covid, there are nonetheless many smaller eating places, retailers, and meals stalls that solely take money. And even the high-tech machines you employ to get your IC Playing cards solely take money (weird, I do know!)
  • Buy an IC Card. An IC Card is a chargeable, pay as you go journey card that’s used to entry public transportation together with metros, busses, and a few ferries all through Japan. Many merchandising machines additionally settle for IC playing cards as cost and you too can use them to lease lockers in prepare stations. There are completely different flavors of IC playing cards such because the Pasmo or Suica card. Some require a 500 Yen deposit. Nevertheless, on the airport, you should use a touch-screen machine (with an English possibility) to buy a Welcome Suica card, which doesn’t require a deposit. You should pay money to load cash onto your IC card. I’d advocate placing about 3,000-5,000 Yen on every card to begin for a 14-day journey.
  • Needless to say every particular person in your get together wants their very own card. You can not use the identical card to swipe a number of folks by a turnstile. Once you go to make use of the cardboard, you faucet it on the reader on the turnstile after which faucet once more to exit the station. On a bus, you sometimes solely faucet it to exit.
  • Decide up a cellular hotspot or worldwide SIM. Except you might be using an eSim, it’s possible you’ll need to reserve a mobile hotspot or buy a global SIM card on your two weeks in Japan. These work out to be cheaper than paying for many worldwide calling plans. For instance, Verizon expenses me $10/day for information and throttles the velocity after a sure threshold is met. However, we rented a cellular hotspot from Ninja WiFi for $98 for limitless information for 14 days. This allowed all three of our units to remain linked for a lot lower than we’d pay for one telephone’s worldwide plan. There are lots of retailers to lease a hotspot or buy a SIM card on the airport and also you simply drop it off earlier than your flight dwelling.
  • Change your JR Move vouchers. In the event you plan on utilizing a Japan Rail Move, you must buy it on-line earlier than you permit dwelling. You’ll be despatched a voucher that you simply trade upon arrival in Japan at sure JR ticket places of work. The ticket places of work within the airports will trade your voucher for a cross, however it’s possible you’ll want to go to a JR ticket workplace at one of many main prepare stations to make seat reservations (relying on which degree cross you buy.)
  • Provided that the price of the JR Move goes up considerably within the fall of 2023, you actually need to do some math to see if getting the cross continues to be worthwhile versus shopping for particular person tickets. We used our JR Move for the bullet trains between cities, in addition to native trains in Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima (and the ferry to Miyajima). In Tokyo, we solely used our IC playing cards however you too can use JR trains in case you are taking day journeys or relying on the place you’re going inside the metropolis. Additionally remember that in case you are touring with checked baggage measurement baggage, you have to a baggage reservation on the bullet trains (and these are restricted), or you possibly can prepare to ship your baggage forward.

Japan Itinerary: Tokyo

Okay, now let’s dig into the precise Japan itinerary, beginning off with Tokyo. Tokyo is admittedly in regards to the ultramodern, so hit a couple of historic spots however save plenty of that for Kyoto, so that you don’t get shrine fatigue, and benefit from the uniqueness of recent Japanese tradition.

I’ve included the highlights right here, however for all the main points, restaurant suggestions, and suggestions, make sure you additionally learn my 5 Day Tokyo itinerary.

Asakusa gate

The place to Keep in Tokyo

We had been very proud of our keep on the Hilton Tokyo in Shinjuku. It was a 10-15 minute stroll to Shinjuku station (one of many busiest on the planet) however in a quiet, enterprise space away from the intense lights and grittier areas near the station. We may entry two completely different metro traces by an underground passage immediately from the lodge. The lodge additionally presents a free shuttle bus to Shinjuku station each 20 minutes throughout hours of operation, should you don’t need to stroll.

Discover different locations to remain in Tokyo:

Tokyo Day 1

Father and daughter on the streets of Shinjuku at night

Since you can be drained, after arriving from the airport, take a stroll to discover the neighborhood and recover from jetlag. You possibly can take within the sights round Shinjuku station or take within the views from the free observatory on the South Tower of the Tokyo Metropolitan Authorities Constructing (positioned very near the Hilton Tokyo.) This was the tallest constructing in Tokyo till 2007, and it nonetheless presents gorgeous views.

For dinner, I’d advocate lining up at about 4:45 pm (you’ll in all probability be hungry and wish an early evening anyway) at Fuunji. This no-frills ramen and dipping noodle store is common for a purpose. There are solely a couple of dozen seats and also you order from a merchandising machine (money required), then hand your ticket to the particular person behind the counter and line up behind prospects on the counter and look forward to an open spot.

One other close by possibility is Udon Shin, however that is additionally very talked-about (you’ll quickly study that Japanese folks like to line as much as eat far more than drained vacationers!). It would be best to run over there and get a ticket as quickly as you arrive at your lodge with a return time (usually 5 hours later.)

Tokyo Day 2

Begin off day two with an introduction to Japanese tradition — each historical and fashionable. Begin off with an introduction to Buddhist and Shinto traditions on the Meiji Jingu Shrine.

Meiji Jingu Shrine

Tokyo itinerary - Meiji Shrine

Situated within the lush and quiet oasis of Meiji Jingu Gaien Park, the Meiji Jingu Shrine was established in 1920 to honor Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, who performed essential roles in modernizing Japan through the Meiji Restoration. After passing by a towering torii gate, you’ll wind your method by the park to the shrine.


Colorful fruit and tea drinks with red straws

Your subsequent cease to get an introduction to fashionable youth tradition in Japan is the Harajuku neighborhood. This space has grow to be synonymous with avant-garde vogue, avenue model, and distinctive subcultures. The primary thoroughfare is Takeshita Avenue, which is lined with colourful retailers, quirky Kawaii boutiques, and classy cafes, attracting each locals and vacationers alike. It is usually the place you can see a few of the Instagram-worthy snacks comparable to rainbow cotton sweet at Totti Sweet Manufacturing facility and rainbow crepes at Santa Monica crepes.

If you wish to choose up some vogue objects that don’t appear like the whole lot you see within the U.S., make sure you cease into the retailers at CuteCube and SoLaDo. You’ll find extra upscale, acquainted manufacturers alongside Omotesando Avenue, which runs perpendicular to Takeshita. The LaForet Harajuku shopping center on Omotesando additionally presents flooring upon flooring of inexpensive teen vogue and Kawaii clothes. Kiddyland is a good spot to select up toys and character items, and Graniph has cute and enjoyable t-shirts and baggage for teenagers.

I’d advocate lunch at A Happy Pancake. These meringue pancakes are mild, fluffy, and scrumptious, topped with the whole lot from fruit to ice cream.

One other common factor to do in Harajuku is cease at one of many many animal-themed cafes. We stopped into the Harry Harajuku hedgehog cafe and I used to be happy to see how the animals had been handled on this store by giving relaxation time, requiring visitors to put on gloves, shut supervision of how the animals had been handled, and the power to undertake the animals.

Reminiscence Lane / Omoide Yokocho 

couple in Omoide yokocho

End up your day with a stroll by the slim alley of Omoide Yokocho, often known as Reminiscence Lane. This space invokes emotions of outdated Japan, with tiny little eating places and izakayas (little bars) lining the alley, and cooks cooking yakitori over small charcoal grills. Afterward, the adults might need to head to a few of the bars within the Golden Gai space, nevertheless it didn’t really feel significantly family-friendly.

Godzilla followers must take a stroll over to the Resort Gracery in Shinjuku to get a view of the enormous Godzilla on high of the lodge. Technically, solely lodge visitors or these consuming on the Cafe at Resort Gracery are allowed up on the terrace to get near the Godzilla, however nobody stopped us (and the cafe was closed), so my husband was in his model of Godzilla-fanboy heaven.

Tokyo Day 3

On day three, it’s time to enterprise slightly additional and discover the areas round Tsukiji, Shiba, Odaiba, and Ginza. It’s a busy day so put on your favourite strolling sneakers!

Tsukiji Fish Market

Fish market seller with bins of bonito flakes

One of the crucial well-known vacationer locations in Tokyo is the Tsukiji Fish Market. This world-renowned market consists of two fundamental sections: the inside market and the outer market. The inside market, as soon as well-known for its bustling tuna auctions and wholesale gross sales, has been relocated to Toyosu, whereas the outer market continues to thrive within the unique Tsukiji space and is accessible to guests.

The outer market is a vigorous and bustling space stuffed with quite a few stalls, retailers, and eating places providing a big selection of contemporary seafood, produce, kitchenware, and culinary delights. There’s additionally an inside space the place locals choose up fish for every day meals.

In the event you actually need to discover the perfect locations to eat and get to pattern specialties as a substitute of simply strolling round, I’d advocate taking both the Fish Market Tour from Magical Journey or the basic Tsukiji food tour with Arigato Journey.

Sushi Making Expertise

Sushi plate

One in all my favourite experiences on our Japan journey was the sushi-making workshop we took with True Japan (and I don’t even like sushi!) The women operating this system had been completely pretty and so sort and enjoyable.

We realized all about what it takes to make good sushi (principally good rice, contemporary elements, and the right course of), from the suitable approach to stir the sushi rice to the six-step technique of forming a chunk of nigiri sushi. Ultimately, we every produced 5 items of sushi and two rolls. Then it was time to brighten our plates and eat!

With the sushi making, we additionally added on a tea and sake pairing expertise, permitting us to strive numerous teas and varieties of sake with our meal. Sushi is essentially the most integral to Japanese delicacies and it was nice to get perception into methods to produce this quintessential meals.

Tokyo Tower

view from the Tokyo Tower

There are lots of statement decks to get nice views of Tokyo together with the Tokyo Skytree, Shibuya Sky, and the Tokyo Tower. My husband Glenn is just not an enormous fan of heights (simply the alternative), so we weren’t going to make this into an enormous a part of our journey however since our sushi-making expertise was proper throughout the road from the Tokyo Tower, we determined to provide it a strive.

Impressed by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Tokyo Tower presents two fundamental statement decks for guests to get pleasure from panoramic views of the town. The primary deck is positioned at 150 meters (492 ft) whereas the highest deck, which requires its personal ticket, is positioned at 250 meters (820 ft) and presents an excellent broader perspective, permitting guests to see Tokyo’s city expanse from a better elevation.

TeamLab Planets

Family in crystal reflection room at Team lab Planets Tokyo

TeamLab Planets was one other spotlight and much-anticipated attraction for our Japan journey. This immersive digital artwork museum takes you on a journey by a collection of interactive and sensorial installations that’s not like something I’ve ever skilled.

TeamLab transcends conventional boundaries by merging expertise, artwork, and nature to create a mesmerizing expertise. Timed-entry tickets are required and you must look to buy them a minimum of a few months prematurely of your journey. Simply remember that it is a multi-sensory expertise involving water (you have to to take away your sneakers for the length and stroll by water as much as your knees at factors), darkness, and flashing lights, so it might not be applicable for some with mobility or sensory points.

Tokyo Day 4

Day 4 brings us to a different of Tokyo’s hottest vacationer areas and most well-known sporting occasions.


street with lanterns in Asakusa

Asakusa is a historic neighborhood nestled within the coronary heart of Tokyo. Asakusa’s historical past dates again centuries, and it was as soon as a bustling leisure district through the Edo interval. Right this moment, it retains its nostalgic attraction, with preserved outdated buildings, slim streets, and a vibrant ambiance, in addition to theaters and leisure facilities.

One of the crucial well-known landmarks in Asakusa is the Senso-ji Temple. This historical Buddhist temple, believed to have been based within the seventh century, is Tokyo’s oldest and most revered temple. Guests enter by the enduring Kaminarimon Gate, adorned with an enormous lantern and guarded by two fierce statues. The method to the primary corridor, Nakamise Avenue, is lined with retailers and stalls promoting conventional souvenirs, snacks, and native avenue meals.

One other notable attraction in Asakusa is the well-known “Kappabashi Avenue,” often known as “Kitchen City.” Right here, guests can witness rows of outlets promoting all kinds of kitchenware, together with the enduring plastic meals replicas that adorn the storefronts of many Japanese eating places. I’d counsel doing the Cultural and Street Food Walking Tour with Magical Journey.

Sumo Wrestling

sumo wrestling charge

If you’re lucky sufficient to go to through the Sumo Wrestling Tournaments in January, Might, and September, it’s an occasion value seeing for its dramatic theater and sport. You might want to book tickets as quickly as they open up on the market and every ticket is sweet for the entire day, however until you’re a diehard fan, I’d counsel arriving round 2:00 – 3:00 pm and staying till the matches end at 6:00 pm.

You should buy tickets for field seats on the ground, which is really a small boxed space on the ground with 4 cushions, supposed to suit 4 small folks sitting cross-legged. Nevertheless, they extra comfortably match two folks with legs prolonged. It’s also possible to buy common stadium chair seats within the higher tiers of the stadium.

As soon as the match begins, the wrestlers reveal their power, method, and agility as they have interaction in intense bodily confrontations. The target is to power their opponent out of the ring or make any a part of their opponent’s physique aside from the soles of their ft contact the bottom. The bouts are fast-paced and could be over in a matter of seconds or prolong to a grueling showdown between two formidable opponents.

In the event you aren’t in Tokyo through the event, you possibly can nonetheless go to the Sumo Museum or be a part of a tour of the morning Sumo practice or a Sumo experience that features lunch.

Tokyo Day 5

Your final day in Tokyo is your alternative to pursue the issues that curiosity you essentially the most — anime, historical past, theme parks, and many others.


Polka dot flower at Kusama museum

I’m a fan of the polka dot art work of legendary artist Yayoi Kusama, so we visited the Yayoi Kusama Museum. (Tickets should be bought on-line a couple of month prematurely.) The museum is pretty small and takes not more than 45 minutes to go to.

If this isn’t your cup of tea, there are such a lot of different nice museums and sights to go to in Tokyo together with:

  1. Tokyo Nationwide Museum: The biggest and oldest museum in Japan, housing an intensive assortment of Japanese artwork and artifacts.
  2. Mori Artwork Museum: Situated within the Roppongi Hills complicated, this up to date artwork museum presents gorgeous views of Tokyo and showcases progressive and thought-provoking exhibitions.
  3. Edo-Tokyo Museum: Devoted to the historical past and tradition of Tokyo, this museum offers a complete look into the town’s previous, from the Edo interval to fashionable occasions.
  4. Ghibli Museum: A must-visit for followers of Studio Ghibli movies, this enchanting museum in Mitaka showcases the work of legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki and presents a glimpse into the magical world of Ghibli animations.
  5. Nationwide Museum of Rising Science and Innovation (Miraikan): A science museum that explores cutting-edge applied sciences, robotics, house exploration, and the way forward for science.
  6. Odaiba Gundam Base: An interactive museum devoted to the favored Gundam franchise, that includes life-size fashions, reveals, and a store stuffed with merchandise.
  7. Pokemon Middle Mega Tokyo: A haven for Pokémon followers, this retailer in Ikebukuro presents a variety of merchandise, interactive experiences, and limited-edition objects.
  8. One Piece Tower: A theme park and museum based mostly on the favored manga and anime collection One Piece, that includes sights, exhibits, and character-themed areas.
  9. Tokyo Anime Middle: Situated in Akihabara, this middle hosts exhibitions and occasions devoted to anime and manga, showcasing the colourful anime tradition of Japan.

Imperial Palace East Gardens

After visiting a museum, it’s good to get some contemporary air and luxuriate in a conventional Japanese Backyard with a Stroll by Imperial Palace East Gardens. These gardens encompass the Imperial Palace and are free and open to the general public. It’s a enjoyable oasis with the bustle of such a big metropolis.

Tokyo Character Avenue

character street mural

From the Gardens, it’s a brief stroll over to Tokyo Station, which, along with being a serious transportation hub, can also be dwelling to many eating places and the primary purpose we visited — the Tokyo Character Avenue. This space of the prepare station is stuffed with particular person retailers that includes Japan’s cutest characters and worldwide favorites like Pokemon, Dragonballz, and different anime figures. Households will love doing a little memento procuring right here!


Shibuya crossing

You possibly can’t go away Tokyo with out exploring the bustling neighborhood of Shibuya, together with the well-known Shibuya Crossing, identified for being the busiest intersection on the planet. Along with making the crossing, you too can get a very good view from above from the second degree of the Tokyo Division Retailer on the west exit of the railway station. Additionally, get a view of Shibuya Crossing from above on the busy Starbucks or the quieter (however extra distant) eleventh flooring of the Hikari Constructing. Magazine’s Park and the rooftop terrace additionally supply good views.

If you wish to courageous the outside escalators of the Shibuya Sky Constructing after which the glass stairs to the forty sixth flooring, you possibly can attain the 360-degree observatory over Tokyo and even the “Sky Edge” glass balcony that extends past the constructing over the town.

I want we had extra time to discover Shibuya as a result of I might have preferred to take the Best of Shibuya Food Tour with Arigato Journey.

There’s a lot to do in Tokyo that you’ll find yourself wishing for extra time. Just a few different actions we thought-about are:

5 Days in Kyoto

After 5 days in Tokyo, it’s time to transfer on to Kyoto. For full particulars together with meals suggestions, see my 5 days in Kyoto itinerary, however I’ve included the highlights right here.

To get to Kyoto, the simplest method is by taking the Shinkansen bullet prepare from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station. Keep in mind, you have to to make a reservation on your seat and baggage when you’ve got giant baggage, or you should use one among many transport providers to ship your baggage forward. Attempt to get seats on the suitable aspect of the prepare to get nice views of Mt. Fuji on a transparent day throughout your journey to Kyoto.

Golden Pavilion across the pond

The place to Keep in Kyoto

When selecting the place to remain in Kyoto, I wished a lodge that was inside strolling distance of some main sights and with easy accessibility to public transportation. I selected the Hyatt Regency Kyoto as a result of it was proper subsequent to a bus cease that went to the primary prepare station for the JR prepare and it was additionally inside a less-than-10-minute stroll to the Kintetsu prepare station. The lodge additionally offers a complimentary one-way taxi experience utilizing MK Taxis from the prepare station to the lodge.

The service on the Hyatt Regency was distinctive and we actually loved the rooms. The beds had been comfy, housekeeping was good, and we liked the placement.

Discover different locations to remain in Kyoto:

Kyoto Day 1: Day Journey to Nara

As you permit Tokyo, it’s straightforward so as to add a day journey to Nara earlier than you compromise into your lodging in Kyoto. Take the Shinkansen (bullet prepare) from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station. Right here, you have to to modify to the JR Nara line (or the sooner Kintetsu line, which can also be nearer to the Nara sights — however isn’t included within the JR Move.

Once you arrive in Kyoto, merely retailer your baggage in one of many lockers (lockers price about 400-600 yen and you’ll pay utilizing your IC card) to retrieve them once you return, after which bounce on one of many native trains. You possibly can then take a bus from the JR prepare station or stroll from the Kintetsu line to the primary sights in Nara.


Great Buddha temple in Nara

The primary sights in Nara are the Todaiji Nice Buddha Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage website, and the Kasuga Shinto Shrine. You get to each by strolling by the Nara Deer Park. The deer could be fairly aggressive and if you are going to buy crackers for the deer, you can be stalked. They nipped at us, pulled on our shirts, and even chased us.

In-built 752 by Emperor Shomu, the Todai-ji Temple is an extremely spectacular construction and is reputed to be the biggest wood constructing on the planet. It additionally homes one of many world’s largest bronze statues of Buddha, standing round 15 meters (49 ft) tall.

When you have greater than two hours in Nara, you too can discover the Isuien Backyard or cease on the small museum close to the temple. With a complete day in Nara, you’d have time to hike up Mount Wakakusa for a panoramic view of Nara metropolis and its surrounding panorama.

Gion District

Yasaka pagoda

Plan to reach again in Kyoto in time to test in to the lodge round 4:00 pm. To get a way of the town’s hottest vacationer district, I booked a Gion Night Walk tour with Kyoto Enjoyable. The tour begins off in an space the place you possibly can usually see Maiko (apprentice geisha) and Geiko (what they name geishas in Kyoto) heading off to their night appointments.

We then strolled previous the Kenninji Temple (Japan’s oldest Zen Temple), by different smaller shrines, previous the Yasaka Pagoda simply because the solar was setting, after which by the Ninenzaka path and different small streets earlier than ending on the Yasaka Shrine. We actually liked this tour and attending to discover this space at evening with a information that defined a lot in regards to the tradition and historical past.

Kyoto Day 2

On our second day in Kyoto, we determined to discover the Fushimi district, which is a bit south of the town and residential to the Instagram-famous Fushimi Inari shrine, which has a pathway by 10,000 vermillion torii gates. This is without doubt one of the most necessary Shinto shrines within the metropolis and in addition some of the common vacationer sights.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Torii

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is devoted to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice, agriculture, and prosperity. Inari is commonly represented by foxes, and yow will discover quite a few fox statues all through the shrine grounds. It’s superb should you can go to throughout a weekday (though nonetheless anticipate crowds) and arrive early earlier than the tour busses begin to roll in.

In the event you select to climb all the way in which to the highest, your whole go to will take about two hours, maybe longer relying on how briskly you climb and what number of shrines you cease at alongside the way in which. Needless to say there any many flights of steep steps (my Apple Well being app tracked it as 59 flooring) so costume comfortably and put on good strolling sneakers.

On the high, you can see one other shrine, which is a bit nondescript albeit for the small signal that claims “high”, which is a aid to see after all of the climbing. Right here you possibly can supply prayers or make a donation to see your fortune.

If you’re brief on time, I might advocate simply climbing to the scenic overlook. By then the group ought to have thinned out sufficiently to get a couple of good photographs and you’ll have gotten the texture for the expertise with out having to make all the climb.

Fushimi Sake District

Sake sampler

In any case that climbing, it would be best to reward your self with a drink and a few good meals. You will discover each within the Fushimi Sake District. Situated only a brief prepare experience from the Fushimi Inari Shrine, this space is off of the primary vacationer path and residential to over 30 sake breweries.

One of many highlights of the world is the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum, which offers perception into the sake-making course of and the historical past of sake brewing within the area. Along with the museum, Fushimi presents loads of alternatives to discover the native breweries and pattern several types of sake. There are a variety of sake-tasting tours that you may take on this space, however it’s a must to be 20 (Japan’s ingesting age.)

If the excursions don’t give you the results you want (like us with our 19-year-old), you possibly can nonetheless pattern sake from most of the native breweries on the Fushimi Sake Village. Inside the Fushimi Sake Village there are a number of eating places and a number of tasting bars, however you will get a desk within the middle and order a Sake sampler of as much as 18 completely different sakes, together with meals from a number of eating places.

Other than the sake-related actions, the Fushimi sake district can also be a picturesque space to discover, with charming streets, conventional machiya (wood townhouses), and scenic canals. To benefit from the canals, you possibly can take a experience on a conventional Jikkokubune boat, which is very stunning throughout Cherry Blossom season or fall foliage.

Non-public Kaiseki Dinner with a Maiko

Maiko with fan

If you’re prepared to splurge for a very distinctive and memorable cultural expertise, I’d advocate reserving a personal kaiseki dinner with a maiko and/or geiko. It isn’t straightforward to make a direct reserving with a teahouse, so it’s possible you’ll need to attain out to your lodge concierge. I used to be capable of prepare this by a third-party booking service and tour company.

All through our multi-course conventional kaiseki meal, we had been capable of chat with the ladies by our interpreter and study a lot about this custom and tradition, together with the coaching, the apparel, the abilities, and the variations in look between a maiko and a geiko.

After dinner, each women gave a brief dance efficiency after which we performed some rhythm video games collectively. It was so attention-grabbing to see how this tradition is preserved, but in addition the trendy influences, comparable to numerous geiko or maiko homes having an Instagram account.

Kyoto Day 3

For our third day in Kyoto, we wished to discover extra of the jap aspect of the town and the Higashiyama ward, together with a few of the well-known temples, shrines, and procuring areas. Since we had been staying proper subsequent door on the Hyatt Regency, we began the day on the Sanjusangendo Temple. Whilst you can’t take photos inside, this temple homes 1001 virtually life-sized carved and gold-plated photographs of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. It solely takes a couple of minutes to go to, however it’s fairly a sight to see.

Kiyomizudera temple

From there, it’s a 20-minute stroll to Chawan-zaka or ‘teapot lane’, which is an efficient spot to buy pottery with stunning handcrafted designs. Comply with this highway up the hill to Kiyomizudera Temple.

Constructed within the eighth century, this UNESCO World Heritage website sits on a hillside, providing panoramic views of the town under. The temple’s most iconic characteristic is its wood terrace, which juts out from the primary corridor and offers a vista of the encircling panorama. One other common spot to go to inside the temple grounds is the Otawa Waterfall, which is believed to have sacred waters with therapeutic properties.

After visiting the temple, stroll by the Gion district and discover the numerous retailers and stalls providing sweets and avenue meals. The most well-liked procuring streets are Sannenzaka, simply down the hill from the temple, and Ninenzaka Avenue, the place you’ll even discover a Starbucks.

Subsequent, you possibly can go to the Kodai-ji Temple and the Yasaka Shrine, which you could have already seen through the night Gion strolling tour. By this time, it’s possible you’ll be getting temple fatigue, however there may be yet another that you simply shouldn’t miss — Ginkaku-ji Temple. Nevertheless, when you’ve got the power, you possibly can first go to the Nanzen-ji Shrine after which stroll alongside the Thinker’s Path (Tetsugaku-no-Michi), which is a stone path following a canal operating by the Higashiyama district. The Thinker’s Path connects the Ginkaku-ji Temple and the Nanzen-ji Temple. 

Silver pavilion

The Ginkaku-ji Temple is often known as the Silver Pavilion as a result of it was initially supposed to be coated in silver leaf (in distinction to the Golden Pavilion, which is roofed in gold leaf.) This famend Zen Buddhist temple was constructed within the late fifteenth century and is an instance of Japanese aesthetics and Zen philosophy, providing a peaceable ambiance should you can handle to flee the crowds.

The temple grounds characteristic completely landscaped gardens, together with the enduring sand backyard generally known as the Sea of Silver Sand. Designed to imitate the ripples of a peaceful sea, the Zen backyard offers a tranquil house. Different sights inside the temple complicated embrace moss-covered pathways, a stone backyard, and a picturesque pond adorned with stone bridges.

Kyoto Day 4

On day 4 in Kyoto, it’s time to discover the Western aspect of the town.

the Golden Pavilion & The RYOAN-JI TEMPLE

Golden Pavilion across the pond

The Kinkaku-ji Temple, often known as the Golden Pavilion, is without doubt one of the most iconic and common vacationer sights in Japan. The temple’s shimmering golden exterior has captivated guests for hundreds of years and you’ll usually discover photos of it on guidebooks and different tourism supplies.

Constructed within the 14th century, the temple was initially a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Nevertheless, upon his dying, the villa was transformed right into a Zen Buddhist temple, as per his will. What units Kinkaku-ji aside is its exceptional exterior coated in gold leaf, which represents the Buddhist idea of the Pure Land, a realm of enlightenment, and is a nod to the opulence and aesthetic preferences of the time.

From the Kinkaku-ji Temple, it’s a brief bus experience to the Ryoan-ji Temple. The Ryoan-ji Temple is most well-known for its zen rock backyard, which is claimed to be created on the finish of the Muromachi Interval round 1500 by a extremely revered Zen monk, Tokyo Zenketsu. The backyard measures solely 25 meters from east to west and 10 meters from south to north and options 15 rocks unfold out all through the world on a mattress of white gravel.

We couldn’t decide any rhyme or purpose for the structure or the importance of the variety of rocks, nevertheless it does have a peaceable high quality should you can seize a spot on the sting of the platform to take a seat and ponder for a couple of minutes.

For lunch, take a stroll by the Nishiki Market, generally known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, which focuses on all issues meals associated and is a good place to search out seasonal meals and Kyoto specialties, comparable to Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood, and sushi. Along with these staples, there are numerous stalls providing ready meals specialties that you may eat on the spot.

From the Nishiki Market, it’s only a 15-minute stroll to the Japanese tea ceremony on the Jotokuji Temple. By the expertise, you can be taught the superb artwork of ingesting matcha tea and study in regards to the significance of the ceremony. If that tea ceremony expertise doesn’t work along with your schedule, there are others to select from, together with this one located very close to the Golden Pavilion.

Pontocho Alley

Pontocho Alley

For dinner, it would be best to discover Kyoto’s well-known Pontocho Alley. This slim and atmospheric pedestrian avenue runs parallel to the Kamogawa River and is famend for its conventional teahouses, eating places, and bars with an extended historical past courting again to the sixteenth century.

We ate in Pontocho Alley twice, attempting completely different cuisines, and would advocate each Yamafuku for a shabu shabu scorching pot expertise and Ukiya Pontocho for soba noodles and tempura.

Kyoto Day 5

I’ve saved the perfect for final, which is the Arashiyama ward, positioned on the northern outskirts of Kyoto. This space is most well-known for its stunning bamboo forest, which will get completely swarmed with vacationers. Whereas the standard knowledge is to get there early (earlier than 8:00 am), however we went within the mid-afternoon and didn’t must battle any giant crowds and there was loads of house to get some photographs with out 1,000,000 different folks round.

Arashiyama Monkey Park

Monkey on rooftop with a peanut

Stroll by city and throughout the Togetsukyo Bridge to the Arashiyama Monkey Park to see the Japanese Macaques, often known as snow monkeys. Be ready for a steep, 20 to 30-minute climb up Mt. Arashiyama, the place you possibly can then observe and work together with the monkeys of their pure habitat. You possibly can pay to feed the monkeys from inside a constructing (with the monkeys reaching by bars from the surface), or simply spend a while observing them and taking within the view.

Tenryū-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji temple

From the Monkey Park, you possibly can stroll again throughout the river and discover the lovable retailers and meals stalls alongside the primary avenue. These had been surprisingly good for such a touristy space, and there are such a lot of scrumptious sweets to strive together with mochi, taiyaki, smooth ice cream, and the whole lot matcha.

Earlier than you get to the turn-off for the Bamboo Grove, you’ll arrive on the Tenryū-ji Temple. I like to recommend stopping right here first, partially as a result of it helps you keep away from the primary crush of individuals strolling from the prepare station straight to the Bamboo Grove.

As a UNESCO World Heritage website, Tenryuji Temple is famend for its gorgeous structure, serene gardens, and connection to Japan’s Zen Buddhist custom. Nevertheless, I believe the perfect a part of the Tenryū-ji Temple is just not in the primary corridor, however within the Hatto Corridor, which is dwelling to the Tenryū-ji Cloud Dragon portray by Kayama Matazo. Accomplished in 1997, the Cloud Dragon is painted on a lacquer and clay base overlaying the ceiling and it’s rendered within the happo-nirami model, during which it seems to look immediately at you, regardless of which course you view it from. This phantasm is really fascinating!

If you buy a mixture ticket for the temple and the Sogenchi Backyard, you possibly can then exit the backyard originally of the primary bamboo grove.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Bamboo grove path

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove covers an space of roughly 500 meters with towering bamboo stalks and pathways by this magical forest. Resulting from its photogenic nature, the bamboo grove is a very talked-about attraction, particularly through the mid-day. In the event you make a day (or a half-day) of exploring this complete space, a go to to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is unquestionably value it.

3 Days in Osaka

After 5 days in Kyoto, it’s time to transfer on to Osaka, Japan’s kitchen. For all the main points and meals suggestions, see my Osaka itinerary, however I’ll share the highlights under.

Osaka is just quarter-hour from Kyoto through the Shinkansen bullet trains that arrive at Shin-Osaka station, which is a couple of five-minute native prepare experience from the primary Osaka Station. Nevertheless, you too can take an area prepare from Kyoto to Osaka Station in half-hour.

The place to Keep in Osaka

girl in window looking at osaka view

The Umeda space round Osaka Station offers easy accessibility to public transportation, eating places, and procuring and we couldn’t have been happier with our keep on the Intercontinental Osaka.

Since I booked by the American Categorical High-quality Accommodations program utilizing my AmEx Platinum, we got an early check-in at 12 pm, together with a $100 meals and beverage credit score and every day breakfast for 2. As an alternative of reserving two rooms as we had in different cities, I made a decision to spend only a tiny bit extra to order one of many two-bedroom residences. It was a worthy funding as all of us loved spending time collectively in the lounge, consuming room service one evening at our eating desk, and using the kitchen facilities, together with the washer/dryer combo.

I’d extremely advocate the Intercontinental Osaka whether it is inside your funds, in any other case, there are numerous different selections:

Osaka Day 1

If you’re staying within the Umeda space close to Osaka Station, head over to the Umeda Sky Building for a stroll across the rooftop outside observatory.

Umeda Sky Constructing

Umeda sky tower

One characteristic that makes this statement deck completely different from others is the glass-enclosed escalators that you simply take between the 2 towers from the thirty ninth flooring the place the ticket workplace is positioned to the fortieth flooring and the doorway to the statement deck. These escalators give the looks of being suspended in air, which might both be a thrill or a fright, relying on how properly you do with heights. As soon as on the high, the 360-degree statement deck allows you to take within the metropolis from all angles.


Boutique in Namba Parks

It’s exhausting to depart Japan with out doing slightly procuring and making the most of discovering distinctive fashions that you simply received’t discover within the shops at dwelling. For prime-end procuring, the Grand Entrance Osaka has some acquainted names and Hankyu Sanban Gai is an alternative choice. Nevertheless, teenagers will love the inexpensive youthful fashions on the HEP Five shopping center. You’ll find flooring after flooring of classy kinds and even discover a large Ferris wheel (one thing you see continuously in Osaka.)

Whereas these are each adjoining to the Osaka Practice Station and inside a couple of minutes stroll of the Umeda Sky Constructing, an alternative choice is to take the metro to the Namba Parks shopping center, which includes a multi-floor rooftop backyard with cafe, eating places, and plush inexperienced areas.

Osaka Fort

Osaka Castle

End your sightseeing with a go to to the Osaka Fort and surrounding gardens, some of the iconic websites in Osaka. Constructed within the late sixteenth century, the fort serves as a logo of energy and status, paying homage to the tumultuous feudal period. The spectacular five-story exterior is an ideal photograph backdrop to memorialize your keep in Osaka.

ORIX Buffaloes Baseball Recreation

baseball game at Kyocera Dome

If you’re a baseball fan and visiting through the baseball season, I might counsel getting tickets to see a sport on the Kyocera Dome. Shopping for tickets can get slightly sophisticated, as you must first register and arrange an account. Nevertheless, there are additionally third-party providers that may buy your tickets for you and ship them to your lodge.

After we had been on the town, we had been lucky to get to see the Osaka ORIX Buffaloes play the Hiroshima Carp, which is kind of a rivalry. The entire sport had the energetic really feel of a school sport, as each groups had bands and enormous cheering sections that introduced the noise for all the sport. We had a blast cheering for the house workforce and attending to see how the Japanese have adopted such a love for baseball.

Osaka Day 2

Plan to dedicate a complete day in Osaka to exploring the town’s wealthy avenue meals tradition. We took a meals tour of the Shinsekai district with Arigato Food Tours that we liked! Arigato additionally presents meals excursions of the Dotonbori space, however I felt like that was straightforward sufficient to discover on our personal.


family in Shinsekai

This vibrant neighborhood was developed to imitate the cities of Paris and New York, Coney Island particularly. It’s identified for its retro attraction and distinctive ambiance. The first landmark of Shinsekai is the Tsutenkaku Tower. Initially in-built 1912 and standing at a peak of 103 meters, the Tsutenkaku Tower bears a resemblance to the Eiffel Tower. Right this moment, you possibly can go to the highest of the statement deck and even take a slide down the aspect of the tower.

You’ll not go away an Arigato Meals Tour hungry! Along with filling up on scrumptious meals like kushikatsu (deep-fried skewers) and takoyaki (octopus balls), we realized a lot about this space and the native tradition (plus discovered a superb store to buy Japanese knives!) that we simply wouldn’t have found on our personal.


Dotonbori canal

Dotonbori is without doubt one of the hottest districts in Osaka, famend for its vibrant nightlife, colourful neon indicators, and scrumptious avenue meals. Situated alongside the Dotonbori Canal, the world is a hub of leisure, procuring, and eating, with iconic landmarks just like the well-known Glico Operating Man and the Ebisu Tower Ferris Wheel.

Begin off by taking a stroll alongside the canal and immersing your self within the vibrant ambiance or take a canal boat cruise to view the websites from the water.

In relation to meals, Dotonbori is a meals lover’s paradise. The streets are lined with numerous eateries, meals stalls, and eating places. Takoyaki, the ever-present octopus balls, is a must-try snack should you didn’t get your fill in Shinsekai. One other native favourite is okonomiyaki, a savory pancake layered with elements like cabbage, meat, and seafood. It’s also possible to discover sushi, ramen, kushikatsu (deep-fried skewers), together with many, many sweets.

Personally, I fell in love with the melon pan bread ice cream sandwich, however you too can strive the towering “lengthy” smooth ice cream cones, the 100 Yen pastries stuffed with cheese or different elements, and taiyaki or mochi with crimson bean paste.

Just a few different locations to see within the space embrace:

  • Hozenji Yokocho, which is a slim, atmospheric alley with well-preserved conventional structure, stone-paved paths, and conventional lanterns that illuminate the world through the night, making a magical ambiance. The spotlight of Hozenji Yokocho is the Hozenji Temple, a small Buddhist temple that dates again over 1,400 years. The temple is legendary for its moss-covered Fudo-Myo statue, which is believed to grant needs. Guests to the temple usually partake within the ritual of splashing water onto the statue for good luck and cleaning functions.
  • Round1 Stadium, which options quite a lot of indoor sports activities and leisure services, together with bowling alleys, arcade video games, batting cages, billiards, darts, karaoke rooms, and rather more. It has an intensive number of arcade video games from basic retro video games to the most recent digital actuality experiences.
  • Amerikura, often known as “America-mura” or “Amemura,” is a vibrant neighborhood positioned within the Shinsaibashi district not removed from Dotonbori. The title “Amerikura” stems from its affiliation with American tradition, as the world was initially influenced by American traits and vogue within the Seventies. Now it’s identified for its distinctive and various vogue scene, with quite a few unbiased boutiques, classic shops, and classy clothes retailers lining its streets.The realm additionally has colourful and crowd pleasing avenue artwork, graffiti, and murals, including to the inventive and edgy ambiance. Other than vogue, Amerikura presents a vibrant nightlife scene with an array of bars, golf equipment, and dwell music venues that come alive at evening.

Osaka Day 3: Day Journey to Hiroshima and Miyajima

Osaka is beneath two hours from Hiroshima by Shinkansen and a go to to Hiroshima or Hiroshima and the neighboring island of Miyajima make for a fantastic day journey and a great way to finish your journey to Japan. You possibly can positively discover these websites by yourself, however I made a decision to e-book a full-day personal tour with JGA (Japan Guide Agency) by Get Your Information, and we liked our information Eiji.


A bomb dome in Hiroshima

We began our go to with a fast bus experience to the hypocenter of the nuclear blast that killed roughly 140,000 native residents at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945.

From there, we walked over to the A-Bomb Dome, often known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. It’s the remnants of the Industrial Promotion Corridor, which is without doubt one of the few buildings left standing close to the epicenter of the atomic bomb explosion. It has been preserved in its ruined state, with its skeletal framework and crumbling partitions, to honor the reminiscence of the lives misplaced and to convey the horrors of the atomic bombing.

Within the Peace Memorial Park, we additionally visited the Kids’s Peace Monument. This monument is devoted to the kids who misplaced their lives because of the bombing and the long-lasting results of radiation. It includes a statue of Sadako Sasaki, a younger woman who grew to become a logo of peace by her story of folding 1,000 origami cranes.

As well as, we walked previous the Peace Memorial Cenotaph, which holds the names of all of the identified victims of the atomic bomb, and the everlasting flame, which they vow to maintain lit till nuclear weapons are eradicated.

Our last cease in Hiroshima was a go to to the Peace Memorial Museum, which offers a complete account of the atomic bomb assault and its devastating penalties. It reveals artifacts, pictures, and private tales, permitting you to achieve a deeper understanding of the human influence of the bombing. It dealt not simply with the assault that day, however the long-term impacts on the folks and the town.

It was heavy and rather a lot to soak up, however an necessary a part of historical past is to respect these killed and remind ourselves to not let this occur once more. After a darkish morning, it was a really nice change to spend the afternoon on Miyajima.


Lantern and torii gate in Miyajima

Miyajima is a picturesque island positioned in Hiroshima Bay in Japan. It’s well-known for its iconic floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine. The city streets, stunning seaside, mysterious mountains, and basic Japanese structure make Miyajima really feel fairly magical.

To get to the island, you possibly can both take a brief ferry to the island from a ferry terminal, which is about half-hour from the prepare station by native prepare, or take a ship tour from the Peace Memorial Park on to Miyajima, which takes about 45 minutes.

The primary attraction is the Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Web site. The shrine’s iconic crimson torii gate seems to be floating on the water throughout excessive tide, making a mesmerizing sight. Throughout low tide, you possibly can exit on the seaside and stroll by the gate. The gate was put within the water as a result of guests from Hiroshima would go to the shrine by boat, and enter by the gate.

Miyajima street and mountain

One other common attraction is Momijidani Park, which is a scenic spot identified for its stunning maple bushes, that are particularly pretty through the autumn season. All through the island, additionally, you will encounter wild deer. Not like in Nara, you aren’t allowed to feed them, however the deer can nonetheless be aggressive when you’ve got paper or meals in your palms. One really adopted me into the customer middle and grabbed a brochure off of the counter and began consuming it. The workers needed to chase it exterior and wrestle the paper away from the cussed deer.

It would be best to go away time to stroll alongside Omotesando Avenue, the place you can see avenue meals stalls and retailers promoting conventional crafts, souvenirs, and Miyajima’s well-known wood rice scoops generally known as “mokugyo” (we purchased one to deliver dwelling.) Right here you possibly can strive Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and Hiroshima contemporary oysters, straight from the oyster farms that you simply cross by on the ferry. These are pretty giant oysters, that are grilled and served up both plain or Rockefeller model. If you’re an oyster lover, don’t go away the island with out giving them a strive.

I actually fell in love with Miyajima and it made me need to go to extra of the smaller cities within the Japanese countryside on a future go to. If I returned to Miyajima, I’d additionally e-book an evening within the conventional Ryokan and benefit from the island after the day trippers go away.

Ultimate Day: Journey Residence

Yasaka shrine gate at night

When you have an additional day in Japan, it’s possible you’ll need to add in a go to to Universal Studios Japan or the TeamLab Botanical Garden. Nevertheless, for a lot of who’ve simply two weeks in Japan, it’s time to begin the lengthy journey dwelling.

It’s usually cheaper and simpler to e-book a round-trip ticket to and from Tokyo, versus flying into Tokyo and out of Osaka. Nevertheless, it’s possible you’ll need to take into account including an additional evening in Tokyo earlier than you fly out. Since our flight wasn’t till 6:25 pm, our plan was to take a bullet prepare to Tokyo with loads of time for our flight.

Sadly, heavy rains shut down the trains from Osaka to Tokyo that day and all of the flights from Osaka to Tokyo that might get us there in time for our flight had been booked, so we had been compelled to vary our flight and spend an additional evening in Osaka.

This brings me to my subsequent subject…journey insurance coverage!

Don’t Neglect Journey Insurance coverage!

There are lots of causes to buy journey insurance coverage for any worldwide journey, particularly one as complicated and, frankly costly, as Japan. Relying in your coverage, journey insurance coverage can cowl you within the occasion of journey interruption (like what occurred to us), journey cancellation, medical bills, medical transportation, misplaced or stolen baggage, and give you a 24 x 7 concierge contact in case of any difficulties.

Most of all, journey insurance coverage provides you peace of thoughts. It’s anxious sufficient when one thing occurs on a visit, you need to know that if or when you’ve gotten a problem, you might be coated financially. I’ve carried an annual journey insurance coverage plan with Allianz Travel Insurance for years they usually have been there for us throughout sicknesses and different journey mishaps.

Visiting Japan? Learn extra…

If you’re planning a go to to Japan, make sure you additionally try the next articles:

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Planning a trip to Japan? This Japan itinerary gives a day-by-day guide for two weeks in Japan including visits to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka with day trips to Nara, Hiroshima, and Miyajima. Perfect for your Japan vacation!

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