Japan is one of the most enigmatic countries we’ve thus far visited. Our first 2 weeks in Japan itinerary was spent between Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka with plenty of day trips. The second time we visited, we decided to spend two sets of 2 weeks in Japan and our itinerary evolved to include off the beaten path destination and less explored districts in various cities.
Even after several visits, Japan remains my favourite place in the world. If I could pick one place in the world which I recommend every traveller, then Japan will be it. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to plan your first Japan itinerary (for 7 days and 2 weeks in Japan). Grab a cup of tea and let’s start planning a trip to Japan.
Table of Contents
7 days in Japan itinerary
Your 7 days in Japan itinerary should be split between Tokyo and Kyoto. Tokyo is the capital of Japan and one of the most vibrant places on the planet. Kyoto is the old capital, a more spiritual place. In a way, Kyoto is the perfect zen pill to the Tokyo madness.
Day 1 - Tokyo
Senso-Ji Buddhist Temple
Start the day with an early morning visit to Senso-Ji, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Tokyo. Senso-Ji is open 24 hours and there is no entrance fee. Because of its popularity, the site gets crowded pretty quickly, hence the very early morning visit. In front of the temple, you will find a long street called Nakamise. During business hour the street is dotted with stalls open for food and souvenirs. Next, to the temple, there is also a large market-like full of intricate, narrow streets, which have even more eateries and shops.
Address: Japan, 〒111-0032 Tokyo, Taito, Asakusa, 2 Chome−３−１
Opening Hours: 24/7
Did you know: Sensoji Temple is dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion.
Next, stroll around Asakusa and enjoy the many stores full of Japanese goodies. It was here that we found plenty of gifts for our friends and family, including Japanese chopsticks, beautiful lanterns and kitchen utensils, including Japanese knives.
Make your way to the youthful and forever crazy Takeshita Street. If you want to talk about unconventional Japanese fashion, this is the place to be. Harajuku is the mecca for kawaii, and it's the best place for fun shopping. You will see many hot pink hair styles, lolita costumes, vampire attire and what not. If it's weird and you thought it's impossible, then probably you will find it in a shop in Harajuku.
To get to Takeshita Street from Asakusa, you will need to take the subway. Take the Ginza line from Asakusa station all the way to Shibuya. Change for the Yamanote line which will take you to Harajuku station. The journey takes roughly 45 minutes, but add a little extra if you need to find your way around the big Tokyo stations.
Take the subway (45 minutes) or walk (1 hour and 30 minutes) to Ginza, the most exquisite shopping neighbourhood in Tokyo. If you are lucky enough to visit during the weekend, then very likely the main Ginza artery will be closed to cars and open for pedestrians only. This is one of the best ways to enjoy a shopping spree in Japan. Ginza is essentially a luxurious neighbourhood with a network of expensive shops. You will find boutiques as well well-known brands. Ginza really looks absolutely outstanding during night time, when all the shops look bright and colourful. Don't forget your passport, you will need it so you can enjoy tax-free shopping. Note that Ginza is expensive. So if budget travel is your target, maybe leave the credit card at home, but bring your camera, as you will find many photo opportunities.
I kept the best for last: the amazing Shibuya Crossing. Featured in so many movies, there is no denying that the Shibuya pedestrian scramble fascinates us all. It's difficult to find a spot to properly photograph it from above and as you might already know, drones are not legal in the cities, in Japan. You have a few options... First, I would suggest you cross Shibuya a few times yourself. It's actually a lot of fun to be in the middle of it all and I promise, it won't get too overwhelming but will be rather fun.
Once you experienced Shibuya as a pedestrian, it's time to experience it as a photographer: head over to the Starbucks right in front of the crossing and wait for your turn in front of the window where you can definitely take a lot of photos and videos. Alternatively, in the train station, there is a viewing point as you cross from one side to another. That also offers a great vista point.
Day 2 - Tokyo
Yoyogi Park is a large park in Shibuya, located right next to Harajuku Station. It is well known for its Meiji Shrine and large Torri gate. It is a great place for photographers and nature lovers. Yoyogi Park is not known for its cherry blossoms, but for its ginko trees which turn yellow during Autumn time.
Address: Japan, 〒151-0052 Tokyo, Shibuya, Yoyogikamizonocho, ２−1
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
A 20-minute walk from Yoyogi will take you to Shinjuku Gyoen. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a large park and garden in the heart of Tokyo. This is an incredibly relaxing place and a wonderful spot for nature lovers. You will find many photo opportunities around the park. It is also a great Sakura spot during the Spring. The garden has more than 20,000 trees and over 1500 cheery trees.
Address: 11 Naitomachi, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0014, Japan
Admission: 200 yen
Hours 9:00 to 16:30 (entry until 16:00)
A short 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Gyoen will take you to the Shinjuku Station. Perhaps the most colourful and vibrant district of them all, Shinjuku is one of the best places to explore Tokyo for what it is. It is here that you will get to understand the character of the city, with jumbo ads, illuminated shops, myriad colours. Exploring Shinjuku is perhaps one of the best parts about visiting Japan. Take one hour, or five, and simply meander around Shinjuku. Towards the evening, visit Kabukicho, Asia's largest Tokyo district. However, I recommend to watch but not touch. Unless you are fluent in Japanese and always aware of your surroundings, note that many tourists can get in trouble in Kabukicho. If you just walk around and take pictures, nobody will bother, of course. If you want something a little spicier, check out 18+ activities you can do in Tokyo whilst staying totally safe.
Still, want to have some fun? Here is what to expect from a Tokyo pub crawl.
Tokyo Metropolitan Building
Why not visit the skyscraper district located in Shinjuku, where you can admire Tokyo in all its splendour. The best place to admire Tokyo from above is also the cheapest. Walk for 20 minutes from Kabukicho to The Tokyo Metropolitan Building. In fact, it's entirely FREE to go to the top. Tokyo is gigantic and seeing it unfold like an endless sea of lights, streets and buildings it's pretty special.
Day 3 - Tokyo
Tsukiji Fish Market
Start your day as early as possible and head over to the Tsukiji Fish Market. If you want something even more exciting, why not attend the tuna auction? There is no reservation and they allow people on the first come first served basis. You might want to consider being there as early as 4 AM in the morning. Whether you attend the tuna auction or not, Tsukiji is the best place for Tokyo's freshest seafood. You will be able to find all sort of sea creatures here. The sushi here is great and the sashimi is as fresh as it gets. It can be a little odd to enjoy raw fish first thing in the morning, but if you like Japanese food, then I promise you will love this side of Tokyo.
Address: Japan, 〒104-0045 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Tsukiji, 5 Chome−２−１
Outer Market: varies by shop, typically 5:00 to 14:00
Wholesale Area: open to visitors after10:00am
Tuna Auction: open to visitors from5:25am to 6:15am (restricted to 120 visitors/day)
Chiyoda is one of my favourite parts of Tokyo. Unlike the rather manic sides of the city, Chiyoda is peaceful and almost entirely quiet. During evening especially, there is this incredible silence in the heart of the city. To me, this is rather astonishing. I learned to love Chiyoda so much, that I tend to use it as my hub when I visit Tokyo. The most interesting thing to do in this neighbourhood is to take a walk in the gardens of the Imperial Palace. It is free to do so. I also like the Hibiya Park which is next door. For epic shopping, visit the Shin-Marunouchi Building. You will probably get lost around here as this is an inconspicuous shopping mall.
Address: Japan, 〒100-8111 Tōkyō-to, Chiyoda-ku, Chiyoda, 1−１
Opening Times:9AM - 5PM (Monday Closed)
There are so many things to do in Ueno Park. You can stroll around the park and pond, or visit the myriad museums nearby. Ueno is a major neighbourhood with lots of shops and eateries. You can visit the Tokyo National Museum, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the Tokyo Zoo.
Address: 5-20 Uenokōen, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to 110-0007, Japan
As the night comes, it's time for the final Tokyo stop during your 7 day Japan itinerary: Akihabara. Many, myself included, have a love-hate relationship with Akihabara. Also known as the electric town, Akihabara is an incredible place for anime and manga lovers. You can find anything and everything around here, from Sailor Moon costumes to mini figurines. It is also a great place to visit maid cafes, one of the main tourist attractions in the neighbourhood. There is also a shop called Don Quijote around which is a discount Japanese store. You shouldn't miss it, as you are guaranteed to find something awesome around.
Address: 1 Chome Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to 101-0028, Japan
Don Quijote Akihabara address: 4 Chome-3-3 Sotokanda, 千代田区 Tokyo 101-0021, Japan
Day 4 - Kyoto
To get to Kyoto from Tokyo, you will need to take the Shinkansen. You can buy the ticket on the day, or you can buy your Japan Rail Pass before your trip, to ensure you benefit from discounts. You can read all about the Japan Rail Pass here in order to make a decision.
The journey from Tokyo to Kyoto will take roughly 3 hours.
Once you arrive in Kyoto and leave your luggage, it's time to explore.
Yasaka Shrine was the first spiritual site I ever saw in Kyoto. I couldn't wait to visit Kyoto and Kyoto didn't just live to my expectation, but it greatly exceeded it. The Yasaka Shrine was once called the Gion Shrine. Here, you can attend many matsuri (festivals) and you will find various street food vendors.
Address: Japan, 〒605-0073 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Gionmachi Kitagawa
Maruyama Park is right behind the Yasaka Shrine. It features a beautiful still pond and several forested paths which lead to many other temples around. There are a few restaurants and a snack shop, but better wait until you finish walking around the park...because the awesome food is coming.
Address: Maruyamacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0071, Japan
Shijo Dori is without a doubt one of the best places in Kyoto to sample lots of free Japanese specialities. Try rice crackers, matcha sweets, biscuits and sour plums. One of the best things I bought here, was a tea called kombucha. It means plum seaweed tea and it's one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted. Sijo Dori is a long street dotted with shops and it starts right in front of the Yasaka Shrine.
Address: Shijo Dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu, Japan
No trip to Kyoto is complete without spending an evening meandering around Gion, the old entertainment quarters. This is the best place for geisha spotting. But if you don't want to take any chances, best to book tickets in advance to see a Geisha performance or better yet, to attend a Japanese tea ceremony. Gion is home to some fantastic old Japanese wooden houses, an absolute wonder to photograph.
Address: Gionmachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0001, Kyoto Prefecture
Day 5 - Kyoto
Start the day by visiting Nijō Castle, a 1603 wooden castle with fantastic gardens. Nijō Castle was the residence of the first Shogun of the Edo Period. The castle is now a UNESCO heritage site and a fantastic place for Sakura lovers.
Address: Japan, 〒604-8301 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Nijojocho
Opening Times: 8:45 to 17:00 (admission until 16:00), entry to Ninomaru from 9:00 to 16:00
Admission: 600 yen
Nishiki Market has been nicknamed Kyoto's kitchen and for a good reason. You can find many stalls selling fresh food and delicious snacks. For something out of the ordinary, I recommend trying an octopus on a stick which has an egg in its head. A little bizarre? Perhaps, but also rather yummy. When in Japan, expect to sample many matcha sweets. Nishiki Market is a great place for it. Why not hunt for Japanese pancakes filled with custard?
Rengeoin Sanjusangendo is a temple in Kyoto, famed for its 1001 statues of Kannoin, the goddess of mercy. Note that you won't be able to take photos inside the temple, but it's too impressive to miss.
Address: Japan, 〒605-0941 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Sanjusangendomawari
Admission: 600 yen
Opening Times: 8:00 to 17:00 (9:00 to 16:00 from November 16 to March 31), admission ends 30 minutes before closing time.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
I recommend walking from the Rengeoin Sanjusangendo temple to the Fushimi Inari Taisha. It's best to visit the Fushimi Inari during the evening. The place gets pretty crowded, especially during the sakura season. I recommend to keep on going up the mountain before stopping to take pictures. Eventually, it will get pretty quiet. You can take the left or right path up. It's a loop hike so as long as you stick to the main road, you won't get lost. As you go up, you will find several smaller shrines along the way. You can stop and catch your breath. Don't forget to stop at the intersection, up the mountain, to admire the sunset over the city. You can read more about it here.
Address: Japan, 〒612-0882 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Fushimi Ward, Fukakusa Yabunouchicho
Opening Times: 24/7
Admission Fee: FREE
Day 6 - Kyoto
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Start the day by taking the train to the Arashiyama station. A short walk from the station will take you to the Arashiyama bamboo forest, a beautiful side of wild Japan. The Arashiyama bamboo forest really is one of a kind, and it looks most alluring on a windy day when the tips of the long stalks rock gently back and forth.
Address: Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Admission Fee: FREE
From Arashiyama I suggest making your way to the following temples. You can essentially temple hop, and you can walk as the distances are between 5-20 minutes between each temple.
Okochi Sanso Villa
This is the former villa of the popular actor Okochi Denjiro (1896-1962), located in the back of Arashiyama's bamboo groves.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Admission: 1000 yen
This mountainside temple was founded in 1596. With small, attractive buildings and gates, the temple has a quiet and understated atmosphere.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30)
Admission: 400 yen
Nisonin Temple is a hillside temple with slightly larger and imposing buildings
Hours: 9:00 to 16:30
Admission: 500 yen
It is known for its moss garden that is punctuated with tall maple trees.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30)
Admission: 300 yen
Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street
A lovely preserved street from the Meiji Period. Many of the buildings here are traditional Japanese town houses. You can fina many shops and restaurants along the way.
Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple is famous for its 1200 stone statues of rakan, devoted followers of Buddhism, each with a different facial expression. This is by far my favorite temple in the whole of Kyoto. It's not as impressive or well known as others, but somehow, I felt most connected at the Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple.
Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:45)
Admission: 300 yen
From Arashiyama make your way to a Zen temple which will indulge your imagination. It is well known for its rock landscape garden. Its gardens are also superb, and pretty wonderful for a long walk.
Address: Japan, 〒616-8001 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, １３
Hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (March to November) 8:30 to 16:30 (December to February)
Admission: 500 yen
Kinkaku-ji is the final stop of the day. This temple is known for its golden pavilion with its impressive reflection shimmering across the rippled surface of the pond before it.
Address: 〒603-8361 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Kita Ward, Kinkakujicho, １
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Admission: 400 yen
Day 7 - Airport
If you wanted a 7 days Japan itinerary, then today is the day you need to make your way back to the airport. I cried on my last day in Japan, I loved the country so much, I vouched to come back (and I did). Japan, to me, remains the best place on the planet and my favourite travel destination. Depending on when your flight is, you have some options.
Option one is to spend some time in the Kyoto train station. This is a 14+ story building with lots of shops and eateries. It's a great place to pass the time and get lost in all those amazing Japanese products. They offer tax-free, so if you didn't buy any souvenirs, this is the place to find some great stuff. I also recommend having a look in the basement where there is a supermarket which sells lots of fresh food, including lovely bento boxes and really nice sushi.
Option two is to make your way back to Tokyo as early as possible. Once you arrived at the Tokyo station, you can spend a lot of time around, again, with all those shops to keep you entertained.
2 weeks in Japan itinerary
Your 2 weeks in Japan itinerary should include several day trips from your base cities. We included what we loved the most about Japan and what we would recommend to any first-timers.
Day 7 - Nara
If you opted for 2 weeks in Japan, then Day 7 will not take you back to the airport but will take you on a day trip to the beautiful city of Nara. Nara is a well known for its cute semi-wild deer which you can feed and photograph.
To get to Nara from Kyoto, you need to take the Shinkansen. The journey is short, about 45 minutes. Don't forget your JR Pass.
I love tea so much with matcha being one of my favourite types of green tea. Naturally, I wanted to stop in Uji, explore the old town and buy myself some authentic matcha from the birthplace of Japanese green tea. This stop is completely optional, but the Shinkansen stops in Uji anyway, so why not take a small detour and add another lovely place to your 2 weeks in Japan itinerary?
The park is home to hundreds of freely roaming cute deer. Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara's nearly 1200 deer have become a symbol of the city and have even been designated as a natural treasure. Please be careful when you feed them and know that they might chase you and even try to bite if they think you have food on you. So keep those biscuits well away from reach.
Horyuji is one of the country's oldest temples and contains the world's oldest surviving wooden structures. Definitely a must see whilst in Nara.
Address: 〒636-0115 Nara Prefecture, Ikoma District, Ikaruga, Horyuji Sannai, １−１
Opening times: 8:00 to 17:00 (until 16:30 from early November to late February)
Nara National Museum
Established in 1889, The Nara National Museum is one of the pre-eminent national art museums in Japan.
Address: Japan, 〒630-8213 Nara-ken, Nara-shi, Noboriōjichō
Opening times: 9:30 to 17:00 (extended hours on Fridays, Saturdays and other selected days); admission ends 30 minutes before closing
Admission: 520 yen (includes admission to both wings of the museum)
Tōdai-ji is a Buddhist temple complex that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples. It is well known for its Great Buddha Hall which has the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana.
Address: 〒630-8211 Nara Prefecture, Nara, Zoshicho, ４０６−１
Opening times: 8:00 to 16:30 (November to February)
8:00 to 17:00 (March)
7:30 to 17:30 (April to September)
7:30 to 17:00 (October)
Admission: 500 yen
Address: 60 Noboriojicho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8213, Japan
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30)
Closed: December 28 through February
Admission: 250 yen (free for foreign tourists)
Naramachi which translates to Nara town is the former merchant district of Nara. There are many shops, restaurants and boutiques all dotted around the quaint narrow alleyways.
Omizutori or Shunie is a series of events held annually from March 1 to 14 at Todaiji Temple. These Buddhist rituals have been held every year for over 1250 years, making it one of the oldest reoccurring Buddhist events in Japan.
Omizutori is held at Nigatsudo, a ten-minute walk from Todaiji Temple's main building.
The Wakakusa Yamayaki is matsuri (festival) during which the grass on the hillside of Nara's Mount Wakakusayama is set on fire. The festival takes place every year on the 4th Saturday of January and sometimes can be delayed depending on the weather. conditions.
Wakakusayama is located about a 10-15 minute walk from both Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Taisha.
Day 8 - Yoshino
Take the train from Nara to Yoshino, a small town located South of Nara, into the Japanese mountains. Yoshino is very special because it has been named as the top location for sakura blooms. This means Yoshino looks absolutely fabulous during Spring when the cherry trees are in bloom. There is a path up the mountain, which leads you through a town dotted with shops, boutiques, restaurants and shrines. Although a little commercial, the town itself looks fantastic. It can get a little busy during the cherry blossom festival, but with a little patience and a small trick I'm about to reveal, you will be able to take those fantastic pictures.
There isn't anything specific you need to do in Yoshino. This is a free day of exploring, photographic, admiring.
Here is what I strongly recommend though: buy your tickets to Yoshino in advance. This is because tickets can actually sell out, especially during the cherry blossom festival. Once you arrive at the Yoshino train station, start queuing to buy your return ticket. The trick? Buy them relatively late, for around 7 pm. Here's why: Yoshino gets mega crowded, but as you will notice, most people will arrive first thing in the morning and leave before the sunset. So after 4 - 5 PM, Yoshino becomes a bit of a ghost town. The shops and restaurants close, the tourists are all gone, and there is a deep and beautiful silence left for you to enjoy. Continue trailing up the mountain for quite some time, so you can enjoy views of the Yoshino from above. Once the sun starts setting, make your way back towards the train station. Stop along the way and take those pictures you couldn't during the busy times. You can also catch some beautiful pink mist just before sunset, as the clouds are coming in. It looks stunning!
Day 9 - Osaka
From Nara, take the Shinkansen to Osaka, first thing in the morning. The journey will take roughly an hour. Check-in and leave your luggage at the hotel, it's time to explore a new city.
Osaka is home to one of the world's biggest aquarium. I was most impressed with it. There is a seating area where you can relax and admire the whale sharks and myriad other sea creatures. It's definitely a must whilst in Osaka.
Address: 1 Chome-1-10 Kaigandori, Minato Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 552-0022, Japan
Opening times: 10:00 to 20:00 (from 9:30 in May, Octomid-Julymid July to August); admission ends one hour before closing
Admission: 2300 yen
Osaka Ferris Wheel (Tempozan Ferris Wheel)
Located right next to the Aquarium, The Ferris Wheel will enable you to photograph parts of Osaka from above. It really looks stunning but note that it might give you a bit of vertigo. Even if you are not afraid of heights, it will still be a bit weird at times. Nonetheless, it's an experience I strongly recommend.
Opening times: 10:00 to 22:00 (entry until 21:30)
Admission: 800 yen
Osaka Castle is a beautiful Japanese style castle with a large park which covers about two square kilometres with lots of green space, sport facilities, a multi-purpose arena (Osakajo Hall). This is a popular hanami spot during the sakura season so it can get pretty busy. There are fantastic picture opportunities around, hence the Osaka Castle is not to be missed. For a fee, you can enter the castle which has been converted into a museum.
Address: 1-1 Osakajo, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 540-0002, Japan
Opening times: 9:00 to 17:00 (entrance until 16:30); extended hours during various holidays and special exhibitions
Admission: 600 yen
Dōtonbori is the main tourist attraction in Osaka. This is a relatively large area which gets pretty colourful during night time. It's best to visit after sunset, but remember that it gets pretty crowded. There are lots of restaurants, with all sort of weirdly animated plastic statues. Here, you can find shops, boutiques and street vendors with some pretty epic food. It is a bit of a tourist trap, but one you must experience whilst in Osaka. It's also a great place to take a night time video, but as I said, keep your wits as it can get mega busy. Great restaurants have really long queues, so don't wait until you are super hungry to sit down and eat somewhere.
Address: Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0071, Japan
Day 10 - Itsukushima Shrine (Hiroshima)
Today is a rather long day trip from Osaka, all the way to Hiroshima's famed floating gate. The best way to get there is by Sanyo Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station (about 1 hour 30 minutes to Hiroshima). To reach the ferry port from Hiroshima Station, take the JR Sanyo Line to Miyajimaguchi Station (25 minutes, 410 yen one way, covered by the Japan Rail Pass). From Miyajimaguchi Station, it is a short walk to the ferry pier, from where ferries depart frequently for Miyajima. Make sure you take the JR Ferry which is also covered by your JR Pass.
Miyajima is quite a large island, but its attractions are concentrated in two main areas: the small town around Itsukushima Shrine and Mount Misen.
I recommend spending the time around Itsukushima, where you can find more cute deer and plenty of narrow alleyways which have stores and restaurants. You can get some great street food and snacks from various vendors. Make sure to buy the Momoji manju, which are maple leaf cakes filled with all sort of goodies, including custards, matcha and chocolate.
You should check the tide time table before your visit to ensure you reach the shrine during your preferred time. For the floating effect, you need to arrive during high tide. If you wish to go close to the gate, then make sure you arrive during low tide.
Day 11 - Himeji (and Kobe)
You didn't think I was going to omit a visit to the Himeji Castle, now did you? Well of course not. When I went to the Himeji, I got there during a rainy day. I honestly thought this will seriously affect my visit, but instead, it was pretty glorious. There were fewer tourists around and more pictures opportunities. Himeji looks pretty grandiose during the sakura season, so of course, that is one of the best times to visit. You can photograph a glimpse of the castle through branches of sakura. Himeji is also known as White Heron Castle (Shirasagijo) due to its elegant, white appearance. Himeji Castle is a UNESCO heritage site.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 18:00 from late April through August)
Admission ends one hour before closing
Admission Fee: 1000 yen (castle only)
1040 yen (castle and nearby Kokoen Garden)
Once you finish with your Himeji Castle visit, I recommend taking a stroll back towards the train station, but by taking the narrow market street in parallel with the main boulevard. You might even find some great ramen restaurants around.
On the way back to Osaka, you can make a brief stop in Kobe. Kobe is well known for its multi cultural scene as well as its fantastic Kobe beef. Kobe beef is rather expensive but it's one of those experiences once must have whilst in Japan. Very close to the train station you can hike to the Nunobiki Falls, a group of 4 waterfalls significant in Japanese art, accessible by wooded hiking trail.
Depending on how late it is, I actually recommend not sleeping in Osaka, but taking your luggage and making your way back to Tokyo as late in the evening as possible. The journey is close to 4 hours so make sure you arrive back to Tokyo just on time to get a good night sleep.
Day 12 - Lake Kawaguchi (Mount Fuji)
This day can go two ways. If you didn't return to Tokyo the previous night, then you probably will spend most of the day getting back to Tokyo, checking and taking it easy. If that's the case, I recommend spending the rest of the day exploring Tokyo at your own pace. There is plenty to do, so you won't get bored, I promise.
If you arrived back to Tokyo the previous night, then I recommend taking a day trip to the Five Lakes to see Mount Fuji. You want to travel from Tokyo to Lake Kawaguchi, which offers fantastic vistas of the mountain. Take the JR Chuo Line from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station to Otsuki Station (70 minutes, about 2500 yen by direct limited express train or 100 minutes, 1320 yen by local trains with usually one transfer along the way). From Otsuki, take the Fujikyu Railway Line to Kawaguchiko Station (55 minutes, 1140 yen one way). The Japan Rail Pass and other JR passes are not valid between Otsuki and Kawaguchiko.
Take a long walk around the lake, admire the beautiful mountains and ultimately spend some time admiring the gorgeous Mount Fuji. There are plenty of restaurants around, but I recommend a stop at the Ogino supermarket, which has lots of food, bakery items and plenty of snacks. We bought bags full of food to have snacks on the train back to Tokyo.
Day 13 - Snow Monkey Pass
You can, of course, enjoy a relaxing day around Tokyo, or you can join the adventure to the Snow Monkey Pass in Nagano. You will have to take the train from Tokyo to Nagano, then change to a local line on your way to Yodanaka. From there, you will have to take a bus to the Snow Monkey Pass, then hike to the park itself, through a beautiful forested path.
Is it worth it? I'd say so. The journey is actually pretty seamless, and not at all as complicated as it sounds. Once you get to the park, you can stay there as long as you wish, and photograph the cute snow monkeys bathing in the onsen. Many stop in Yudanaka for a quick trip around Shibu Onsen. The town looks pretty amazing. If you want, you can even spend the night in one of the ryokans and enjoy a well-deserved bath in the onsen. You can check how to use an onsen here.
Day 14 - Airport
Your 2 weeks in Japan have come to an end, and I'm sure by now you can't wait to start making plans for another Japan itinerary. I just came back from a trip around this beautiful country and I am already missing it so much. There is so much we are yet to discover, and as you probably guessed, Japan sure changed my life forever.
End your 2 weeks in Japan by making your way to the airport. I really hope you had the best of travel times.
Why don't you let me know what you think of my 7 days or 2 weeks in Japan itinerary? Did you find it helpful? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments section below.