Planning a trip to Japan is no easy task, especially because the country seems so mysterious and different. Don't worry, I'm here to help create your best Japan itinerary during your first visit to Japan.
Below you will find 3 perfect Japan itineraries to ensure you see the best of the country in the time you can allocate for your first visit. My itineraries are for 7 days, 2 weeks or 3 weeks in Japan and I made them in such a way that are most efficient to really get to see what's important. My guides are also all about food because Japanese food is one of the main allures for a visit. In my itineraries, I point out local food you need to try and where to buy it from. I also help with main tourist attractions, including useful tips and tricks I learnt during my time in the country.
I remember my first time visiting Japan like it was yesterday. I fell madly in love with the country, and I've seen dedicated a large part of my writing career to demystifying Japan for tourists, so everyone can enjoy what the country is all about. There are so many wonderful things to do in Japan including crossing the famed Shibuya crossing, seeing Mount Fuji, seeing pristine national parks and celebrating Japanese culture.
It's no secret that Japan is my favourite country in the world. I visited many times and I even lived in Japan, so I can put together my book called How to Behave in Japan, written with useful information from locals and full of Japanese style drawings done by a Japanese artist.
Main Japan itineraries
As promised, here are the main Japan itineraries. They are complete and comprehensive and include useful tips to help you plan your visit to Japan.
If you can only spend one week in Japan, then you should divide your time between Tokyo and Kyoto. You will see the main highlights in both cities and get to experience the ultra-modern Tokyo, but also the heart of cultural Japan in Kyoto. You will see plenty of temples, enjoy lots of delicious food and walk through a bamboo forest. And in my humble opinion, it will probably be the best week ever!
Spending 2 weeks in Japan is the optimum time for a first time visitor as it allows you to see all the top highlights without rushing too much. On this Japan itinerary you will visit Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka but also then take day trips to see Mount Fuji, the Nikko national park, the superb Nara park and Miyajima island. This itinerary will give you more room to experience more of the Japanese culture, eat street food but also traditional Japanese cuisine and stay in a traditional Japanese inn with hot springs.
In my opinion 3 weeks in Japan is not too long, because you get the chance to see the main highlights but also take some day trips to lesser known destinations and off the beaten path attractions.
On this itinerary, you see 13 different destinations with plenty of UNESCO world heritage sites. You will stay in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka and from here you will take several day trips to unimaginable places including Hakone, Hiroshima, Himeji, Yoshino and Nagano. You will see a Hell Valley and eat black eggs, you will enjoy a crazy entertainment district in Tokyo, take a tea ceremony and wander through the old geisha district in Kyoto. You will have the most wonderful time.
When to visit Japan
The most popular time to visit Japan is during the cherry blossom season. However, Spring in Japan also the busiest time to visit. I, personally, prefer autumn because of the magical koyo leaves. The best month to visit Japan is November because you will still see the autumn leaves, prices are a bit lower and many attractions receive fewer tourists.
Winter in Japan is much cheaper and an ideal time if you're headed to the Japanese alps to ski. It's also a fantastic time to tour Hokkaido, which is well known for its Sapporo winter festival. The cheapest month to visit Japan is January.
Summers in Japan are warm and rainy because of the monsoon season.
Preparing for your Japan itinerary
I put together a lot of useful information for your first time in Japan. I have a dedicated Japan guide which is as comprehensive as a guidebook. I also wrote a book on how to behave in Japan because I'm really passionate about this country. Here's how to prepare for your first Japan visit.
- Start with this complete guide to planning a trip to Japan.
- I know you are wondering, is Japan expensive? Check out the cost for a trip to Japan. Detailed costs are in USD and Japanese yen.
- Learn what to pack for Japan, so you can have a comfortable trip. And make sure to ready what to wear in Japan, as fashion there is a little different. It's important to note that most Japanese people dress smart casual, and leggings tend not to be so accepted.
- Make sure to check Skyscanner for the best flight deals. This is my preferred way of finding the cheapest flights.
- For Japan, I always recommend using booking.com as many accommodation options come with free cancellation. I have in-depth guide for where to stay in Tokyo, where to stay in Kyoto and where to stay in Osaka.
- I recommend purchasing a Japan Rail Pass for your Japan itinerary. You can buy a 7,14, or 21 days JR Pass. It does save you money and hassle, so I believe it's a great investment. Besides, you can use your Japan Rail Pass to travel on the bullet train. Ideal if you want more than one day trip from a major city. You can read more about why I think you need a JR Pass.
- Once you arrive in Japan, make sure to buy a Suica or Pasmo card. This is a rechargeable, contactless smart card. It's easy to add money to it and can save you a lot of time when you use the subway system in Tokyo. Both Pasmo and Suica are identical.Suica and Pasmo have special IC cards specifically designed for short-term visitors to Japan. They are called The Welcome Suica and the Pasmo Passport.
- You will want to pre-book a pocket wifi as having access to the internet while you're in Japan is a must. By being connected, you can easily check google maps and read restaurants reviews and just use google translate from time to time. Make sure to book your pocket wifi before your arrival to Japan. Trust me, it costs a lot less than activating your roaming features.
- I recommend purchasing your tickets for special museums well in advance. Make sure you prebook your tickets to Disneyland & DisneySea and Universal Studios Osaka. We recommend using Klook or Viator to book special guided tours and admissions tickets. Japan is a popular destination and tickets can sell out in advance.
- The majority of visits to Japan are trouble-free. Always buy travel insurance before arriving in Japan.