Japan Itinerary Basics
A new friend recently connected with me for an upcoming trip to Japan to ask some questions about the japan itinerary. I absolutely love getting these emails, giving me the chance to research the max out of all of these fun itinerary options and use my experiences to help others plan an awesome time. So I put together this post mainly for my friend, but if anyone has an interest in a week-long trip (actually about 9 days with travel days) to Japan focusing on Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and a little Osaka then keep on reading and get ready to take some notes (or just print off the post and pack it in your travel binder).
Day 0: Depart from home airport
Day 1: Arrive into Narita or Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan (Could stretch into Day 2 depending on the length of your layover)
Day 1-5: TOKYO
*OneGreenBicycle Tip: Lodging in Shinjuku with Airbnb. Many offerings will give you a pocket wifi or bicycles during your stay which can save a lot of money. Renting your own pocket wifi is also possible from the airports or even local convenience stores like Lawson and Family Mart. Often the cost is $10/day or more. And they usually have sweet extras like pictured below.
- the busy shopping, fine foods, eclectic capital
- the history ridden streets along the Sumida river
- the commercial business area in the middle of lots of tall buildings
- the high end architecture, cafe, shopping, and museum culture
- the diverse shopping and restaurant experience on one street
- the freshest fish, old buildings, all surrounded by sushi shops and river
- the surprisingly small but modern area for corporate life, shopping, and shinkansen
- Shibuya Crossing – (pictured above) The busiest intersection in the world outside of Shibuya station and the Hachiko exit (yes, like the Hachi dog story, there’s a statue of Hachi right outside of the Hachiko exit and it’s a popular/busy meeting spot)
- OneGreenBicycle Tip: The largest Starbuck’s is on the opposite side of the busy intersection. It’s a great people-watching spot to look out over the crazy masses of people floating through the streets.
- Tsukiji Fish Market (moving to Toyosu) largest fish market in the world: with sushi shops (tuna auction is limited-arrive by 4am for a spot) (sushi lines are about 2hrs at breakfast time) Guided tours are available for those who want one, at a price of $50 USD per group. Tour Option 1 Tour Option 2
- Disneyland Tokyo half-price admission in evenings, a fun alternative especially if you have been to other Disneylands to compare the similarities and differences, or if you just love acting like a big kid (no judgment here, I’m totally with you)
- Skytree– admission is 2820 per adult, open 8a-10p, it’s really fun when you can understand the different areas of the city, so I’d recommend going here after you’ve traveled around Tokyo or with a Japanese person, also, you can often see mt. fuji, even on cloudy days On 4F witness Japanese Lollipop art at Amezaiku Ameshin. It’s pretty amazing to watch if you get the chance.
- Here’s a OneGreenBicycle Tip for you: If you are new to Tokyo, instead of going to the Skytree where the lines are pretty long and admission is pretty steep. And go to the Park Hyatt hotel. There’s a solarium cafe on level 56 with amazing views, no lines, and only $7 cappuccino considered as your “admission fee”. There’s also a bar on the very top level but you’ll have to change elevators to find it. It’s not the highest technically but the view is just as great. I could see Mt. Fuji from the Park Hyatt as well. The chairs are perfect for lounging and chatting with friends and family as you hang out above Tokyo. And quick taxi will get you directly to the front door.
- And another OneGreenBicycle Tip for you. Connect with locals more easily by letting them guide you around for free. Check out your options whether you’re in Asakusa or another area. There might be a willing local that would love to give you a free walking tour of their home neighborhood.
- Imperial Palace East Gardens– On Sundays they rent out bicycles and it’s a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.
- OneGreenBicycle Tip: Tokyo Miracle Cycling Tour (It’s not one technical sight but I think it has been my consistently favorite and fast way to see lots of parts of the neighbourhoods in Tokyo while talking with local Japanese who speak wonderful English. Worth the price!) Great Bicycle tour, available every day for 6000 yen for half day tour and 8000 for full day, bike and helmet included, Soshi was my guide and speaks great English, our group was 6 individuals and was good for all levels
- 荒汐部屋 Sumo Practice Viewing – 7:30a-10a daily, call ahead to make sure the practice is still scheduled, and entirely free to watch through the window
- 昭和記念公園 Showa Kinen Koen Park Beautiful Huge Park, has frisbee golf stations, great spot for lunch and an afternoon, it does have a small admission fee, for another fee you can paddle a huge swan boat around the lake. There’s also lots of artistic elements throughout the park that make it almost feel like a living, modern outdoor museum/park. You’ll probably want to spend a few hours here if you like parks.
- Yanaka Ginza– A ten-minute walk away from JR Nippori Station South exit will bring you to the ‘top’ of the market.
- Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens open 9a-4:30pm Tours held 11am and 2pm free of charge (weekends and holidays), admission is 300 yen, Garden’s events include: Bamboo Craft Sessions (May)Rice Paddy Planting (May)Tanabata Festival (July)Rice Harvesting (September)Warabotchi Class (November)Snow-ropes Put on Pines (December to Februrary)Ume Blossom Festival (Februrary). There is a little tea house near the admission desk for lunch but it’s very Japanese. So if you don’t like traditional Japanese food (vinegared, pickled, bento-like) you might want to try finding a different spot. If you like traditional Japanese food, owever, it’s a cute, small tea house that would be fun for an inexpensive lunch. There are chairs if you aren’t comfortable sitting on the floor.
- Edo-Tokyo Museum a new museum, admission is 600 yen per person, has many interactive exhibits and great visuals throughout the museum. I think one of my favorites was getting in the old Japanese car along with the school lunch tray comparisons throughout the decades.
- Yajima Shushi in Shibuya – Be hungry! It won’t look like much from the road and there’s no English sign. So look out for this: やじま寿司 This has become my favorite place to eat sushi without crowds and the perfect amount of wasabi every time. Not to mention the sushi chef and his wife are the sweetest couple to chat with.
- 寿司大 SushiDai in Tsukiji Outer Market- Claims to be the best in the world. Only seats about 10 at a time. The chef is sweet, speaks lots of languages, and is always smiling. Be ready for a 2-hour wait at breakfast time and it only is open till noon.
- Streamer Coffee Company – Get the cappuccino or free pour to see cool cafe art!
- Commune 246– a hip outdoor mobile trailer food market community called 246 Common. Imagine a design-hub food truck community with space heaters. This Japanese street food with a modestly fancy twist was our first foray into takoyaki. Think gourmet hot dogs, fusion Indiana cuisine, lots of vegetarian and vegan options. And my favorite part, outdoor seating with awesome people watching.
- Bunbogu Cafe– stationary shop and cafe, be ready to stand in line for a good half hour or more, or just buy a wine and sharpie souvenir to go
- Ichiran Ramen– Ramen restaurant where you place your order using a machine. Address: 3 Chome-34-11 Shinjuku
- Spice Cafe- The menu has four basic dishes and two meals that change from day to day. The restaurant’s original dish, “Lassam,” is especially the staff’s recommendation. You will be addicted to the spice, and other flavors of curry are also great. Not only curry, but also Japanese, borrowed cultures, food, and different styles of living from foreign countries. 11:45～22:00 No business day：Mondays and the third week on Tuesday
- Monjya- A new fusion cuisine that has pulled a trend in Japan, It’s interactive as the waiter teaches you how to use the center grill to cook parts of your meal a special way to make your own monjya. Try out any of the popular options in Monjya alley in Tsukushima across from Tsukiji.
- Itoya- A huge stationary store with a farm to table restaurant up on the top level. Great views and really great food here, especially if you want to purchase some Japanese stationary at the same time.
- 100% Chocolate Cafe- For a fun dessert after dinner, head over to Ginza’s Chocolate cafe, where you can try any of the crazy flavors of chocolate and desserts. Think options! They had over 70 different flavors with various sections like the European chocolate section or the Japanese chocolate section with flavors like Yuzu, Azuki Red Bean, and Hokkaido Milk. The desserts are like yogurt chocolate drinks, chocolate eclairs, and more. And it’s super close to the subway.
Day 5: Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto ( 3-4 hours)
Be sure to try an ekiben (packaged lunchbox from the train station) and mugicha (barley tea) for lunch in the train if you want to feel like a local. Also, if you’re using a JR Pass you can go on most shinkansens except the fastest like the Nozomi. It shouldn’t slow you down too much but it might extend your route another 30min-1hr.
Day 5-9: KYOTO (lodging in Osaka)
Buses are the main form of transportation for tourists in Kyoto. But if you’re traveling in a group of 4-5 or more, then my suggestion is to rent out a private taxi like Doi Taxi services or the like and tell the driver everywhere you want to get to. It makes the time so much more enjoyable to be together and no stressing about missing or forgetting your bus.
- Golden Temple/Kinkakuji– Like the Byodo-in, the Kinkakuji (Golden Pavillion) was also a former residence from the age of extravagance which was then converted into a temple. However, as you may already know, the Kinkakuji has the unique feature of having the exterior of its two upper floors completely covered in gold leaf, and with the very top floor’s interior completely gilded as well.Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to enter nor even get close to the temple, you must stand far off at a considerable distance. This is due to tightened security.The admission is 400 yen and there is a tea house where you can enjoy some matcha (green tea) and a snack to add to the experience.
- Ryoanji Temple & Stone Gardens– open 8a-5p, use city bus 50, 55, or 59 or tourist bus 20, I think the admission fee was 500yen
- Silver Temple/Ginkakuji– less crowded than the golden pavilion (kinkakuji), there’s a quiet tea house at the souvenir shop too, the bus takes awhile to get out here so be sure to prepare to get here about 30-45minutes beforehand
- Kiyomizudera– Built way back in the day circa 778 before Kyoto was the Capital of Japan, Kiyomizu-dera (Clearwater Temple) remains a one of a kind temple in the structure of its main hall. Nestled high in the Otowa Mountain the main hall juts out on an a slope with heavy wooden scaffolding supporting it. This ‘balcony’ if you will presents a brilliant view of Kyoto and environs and is referred to as ‘the wooden stage’ of the temple. However, there is more than just the hall to enjoy this area feels like it’s own village.
- Daihoonji Temple
- Daikakuji– Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30) Closed: No closing days Admission: 500 yen (600 yen combination ticket with Gioji) Daikakuji is a temple of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. Formerly the residence of an emperor, the buildings were converted into a temple in 876. During its history, the temple traditionally had members of the imperial family serve as the head priest. Beside the main temple buildings there is a large pond and a pagoda.
- Fushimi Inari Taisha– This is the iconic shrine with orange gates that line a long pathway loop up a mountain with lots of sights along the way.
- Gion (Geisha District)– After you’ve descended Mt Otowa’s Kiyomizu-dera, through the winding streets of Higashiyama and finally to Maruyama park…. continue West just a little more and you’ll run straight into ‘Gion’, Kyoto’s living and breathing Geisha District, where on any given moment you are likely to see a pair of Geisha or Maiko shuffling across the street. In this area, you can visit the ‘chaya’ (tea house) where you will be entertained by a Geisha, however, be warned it can be expensive.
- Arashiyama (a 35min. bus ride to a west neighborhood on Kyoto’s west side filled with nature and mountains) – from Kyoto use bus no. 72 or 73 (bus stop c-6) about 230yen, enjoy the bamboo forests here, monkey park, and best tofu in Japan
- OneGreenBicycle Tip: From Arashiyama take a sightseeing/romantic train line that runs along the Hozugawa River and then a river cruise back to Arashiyama. (takes 3.5 hours)
- The tram-train line winds 7.3 km along the scenic Hozu River Valley between Saga and Kameoka Stations. The views from the train windows change with every season. An old steam train is displayed at Saga Station. (Tickets: 620 yen for adults, 310 yen for children one-way) Leave from Saga Arashiyama train station, takes 30 minutes.
- Hozugawa river cruise– Two-hour journey from Tanba-Kameoka back to ArashiyamaBoats have been making the 16 km trip from Kameoka to the Oi River for 400 years. Even today, visitors can experience the thrill of traveling the course in a boat steered with nothing more than a rod, rudder, and oar. (Tickets: 3,900 yen adults, 2,500 yen children)HOURS 9:00 to 15:30 (March 10 through November, hourly departures)
10:00 to 14:30 (December to March 9, departures every 90 minutes) On busy days boats depart irregularly according to demand.
CLOSED December 29 to January 4 and a small number of irregular maintenance/weather days. (no reservations, tickets may be purchased at the boat departure point)
- La Locanda – Fancy Italian Restaurant
- Fortune Garden – Good french food with lovely ambiance,
- Anji – Awesome! No English is spoken or written, but if you point to a course menu they will give you a great sushi experience! 5/5 star, but only authentic Japanese food available here. It’s right around the corner from 9 hours capsule hotel near Nishiki market.
- Kyoto Gyogo- Yanaginobamba nishiki agaru, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan+81 75-254-5567Kyoto’s Gogyo has a reputation for the best Ramen in Japan, whether this is hype or not you’ll have to find out for yourself and try the shops speciality: burnt ramen. Yes, you ready that right! It comes in a variety of standard ramen flavors: miso, tonkotsu, shoyuu and others.Travelers are warned however, the line is typically 30-40 minutes unless you get there right when the store opens. Bowls of ramen go for 850 yen.
- Anywhere in Nishiki Market – Nothing beats a stroll through a busy Japanese market, dodging the crowds and hecklers, taking in the aromas, to get one immersed in the local culture. This particular market specialises in food, with stalls selling anything from meats, produce, snacks, seafood, etc etc. The majority of the stalls sell food stuffs straight up, while some sell prepared food.It goes without saying that if you truly want the most local and authentic dining experience then Nishiki is where you need to be. Operation Hours: 9:00-18:00 TripAdvisor
- Syourian（有）松籟庵- great tofu restaurant, Kyoto is known for their tofu, make reservations days ahead at least Inquiries and reservations 075-861-0123
- Shozan Resort – We enjoyed an excellent yet inexpensive meal in this traditional Japanese restaurant with a fabulous view of the grounds. The fried chicken and chicken in breadcrumbs, tempura seafood are all highly recommended. Take a taxi from the Golden temple and get away from the crowds, definitely worth it. They will call a taxi to take you back.
- Gion Karyo Looks like 10 course set kaiseki meal for $100, Fantastic reviews, probably should make reservations but they aren’t required
- Omen Kodaiji noodle restaurant 1150-2150 yen prices, open 11-2100 daily, I ate here with friends and really enjoyed it. It’s right on the ninnenzaka slope, so don’t accidentally walk past it! No Japan itinerary is complete with noodles.
Day 6, 7, or 8: HIROSHIMA (day trip from Kyoto)
This Japan itinerary continues into Hiroshima. Despite being completely destroyed in 1945, Hiroshima has rebuilt and now rivals Osaka with over 2 million residents in the metro area. Hiroshima, like Osaka, is well known for its delicious cuisine and warm friendly people. It is arguably the home of traditional Japanese dish ‘okonomiyaki’, a savoury vegetable pancake, topped with a zesty sauce and mayo.
The most popular attraction in the city is the ‘Hiroshima Peace Museum’, which features among many things a damaged domed building which withstood the atomic blast. There is also a museum where people can connect to the past and gain an understanding and insight about what happened there.
Streetcars are the main transportation option here with adult fare of 160yen each time you use it, how to use: step 1: be sure the streetcar is going to your destination, you can identify the destination of a streetcar by the route number and the sign located in front of the streetcar, step 2: get on the streetcar through the door marked entrance. if using an ic card, touch the ic card to the card reader. pay your fare when getting off the streetcar, step 3: to signal the driver to stop at your destination, push one of the buttons located throughout the streetcar. push the button before the streetcar arrives at your destination, step 4: put the fare in the fare box when getting off the streetcar. if using an ic card, touch the ic card to the card reader.
- Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum– open 9-5p, 50yen admission, many English resources
- Hiroshima Castle– The original Hiroshima-jo was built relatively recently (as far as castles go) in 1589, however it was completely destroyed in WWII along with the rest of the city. Soon after in 1959, the castle was rebuilt and that is the current rendition that you see today.The castle is centrally located in the middle of the city, surrounded on all sides with a moat and cherry blossom trees. Visitors are permitted to ascend the castle and find a panoramic view of the city.
- OneGreenBicycle Tip- Hiroshima sightseeing loop bus, you can board with a jr pass, one ride is 200yen and a day pass is 400yen, please buy when boarding, two routes (orange and green)
- Miyajima Island- A short trip by train and ferry from Hiroshima JR (all covered by a JR Pass) (30min train and 23min bus and 10 min walk) brings you to the most iconic and photographed sight in Japan (comparable only with Mount Fuji), and that is Miyajima Island’s floating Otorii gate at the Itsukutshima shrine.The current torii gate was built in 1875 and stands at 55 feet tall. It was originally built in 1168 but had to be replaced as the wood only lasts so long, even with chemical treatment and paint. The Itsukushima Shrine was originally built way back in 593. It carried with it great clout and religious influence, viewed as a sacred place where commoners could not set foot. The shrine has suffered much damage through the years and has been rebuilt and renovated many times. Today it serves as one of Japan’s top scenic views, tourist attractions, and National Treasures. There are also sacred deer all over this island.
- Mount Misen- For those who like hiking or nice views, this mountain on Miyajima Island has a cable car that reopens this month (March 2017). If you choose to hike, there are 3 possible routes and all of which could be wet and slippery. Wear good shoes for a wet climb. The Daishoin route has a lot of signage about seeing possible snakes and is almost completely stairs. The Momijidani route has less signage for snakes and is a better mix of stairs and trail. And the Omoto route is the most challenging for those adventurers out there. If you get too tired you can choose to take the cable car down or up (there’s one transfer part way up) and purchase a ticket at the top as well. There are no facilities at the top so better take a drink and snack with you too. If hiking in the spring or summer, prepare for rain and humidity.
- And there’s a great aquarium if the weather happens to be poor for hiking. The admission is about 2000 yen.
- Hassei Okonimiyaki– A few blocks East of Hiroshima Peace Park, on Heiwa-dori you’ll find what many people vow is the best Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima.Okonomiyaki is Hiroshima’s most famous local dish which simply consists of batter, egg and cabbage fried on a griddle, and then topped with a Japanese BBQ sauce, Mayo, nori flakes, shredded and dried pork flakes, and others. You can have your Okonomiyaki with bacon, shrimp, cheese or many other variations.Hassei is a favorite of the locals, so it is not very touristy; therefore you will won’t have to deal with long lines.
- Kazura Restaurant– Located between Ebisucho and Kanayamacho stations, is a brilliant traditional high-end Japanese eating experience at: Kazura. However, it comes with its price tag. Be prepared to spend anywhere from $80 – $150 US for each person.The Kazura is a ‘kaiseki’ restaurant (Western equivalent is Haute Cuisine, where you are served a series of small and artistically prepared dishes) and highly recommended is their Sawada Tataki (salmon) and Sajiko (fish eggs).
- Okonomimura– We hope you’re ready to get good and full during this Japan itinerary. For you certainly will once you step foot into the building: Okonomimura, and begin your adventure. The building consists of 17 okonomiyaki shops spread over floors 2, 3, and 4, (The first floor one has Big Echo Karaoke and other shops).”What am I to do?” You might ask yourself. Each of the 17 shops has their own distinction that they sell in order to separate themselves from the pack. Our advice is to just scan through the website and read the description of each shop and pick the one that you dig the most!