Are you ready for your trip to Japan? I hope your bags are packed and your 7 day JR Rail Pass paperwork is in hand. After a handful of visitors made the journey overseas to visit me, I thought I would share the same 10 day itinerary I recommended them to follow. I am assuming you will be flying in and out of Tokyo (Haneda or Narita) and have a JR Rail Pass.
(Tip- If possible fly into Haneda airport. It is the closer of the two airports in Tokyo and supports easy after train hours travel via bus to the city. Also reserve a pocket Wi-Fi and have it ready for pick up at the airport. This will save time, confusion and ultimately could be a lifesaver as Wi-Fi in Japan is scarce unless you have a password or are a member of that provider).
Days 1-3: Tokyo
It is needless to say someone could spend their whole life there and still not see it all. The popular areas are Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku and some of the popular sights are Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo SkyTree, Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Disney and Disney Sea. My favorite area is Shinjuku, try to find an izakaya (or gastropub) offering an all you can drink and eat special. With some luck you can stumble into an hour of nomihodai (all you can drink) for ¥500.Interested in one of the most populars shrines in Tokyo? Meiji Shrine is easy to get to, fun and often not crowded unless you go during the busiest time of the year like I did; check and see for yourself in my Meiji Shrine New Year's Eve Vlog.
(Tip- Tokyo Tower maybe now be the second tallest building in Japan behind it’s big brother Tokyo Skytree, however it still offers awesome views of the city with less crowds. I would definitely recommend it to beat crowds, however keep in mind the Upper Deck is closed for renovation until summer of 2017).
(Tip- Visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market is a must. If you want to line up at 3 AM to see the next morning auction please go ahead. But if this doesn’t interest you, don’t let it discourage you from going! There is still plenty to do (like eating the freshest sushi in the world and buying authentic Japanese knives) during normal business hours in the area surrounding the market. The sushi shop, Sushizanmai offers fair prices, accepts large parties and is English friendly).
Day 4: (Optional) Nagoya
View of Nagoya Castle. Photo by かがみ～ on Flickr
I may be biassed because I live in Nagoya, but despite its reputation as a boring worker’s city I think it is actually very fun. We have the Sky Promenade within 10 minutes of the station that can get you the best views of the city, and see an aerial view of Nagoya Castle and port. Osu Kannon offers some of the best shopping for unique gifts at fair prices, or if department stores and name brand items are more your style, head to Sakae. All of which are within three subway stops or a 25 minute walk from Nagoya Station. Try some regional food like miso udon noodles from Yamamotoya, miso katsu (fried pork with miso sauce on top) from Yabaton, or our local izakaya Yamachan.
A Typical Nagoya Breakfast. Photo by Hajime NAKANO on Flickr
(Tip- In the morning you can have breakfast service from Komeda’s Coffee. Here you order a coffee and receive a piece of toast and your choice of egg or red bean paste for free. This popular breakfast service may be found all over Japan if you know where to look, however it was pioneered in Nagoya).
Day 4-6: Kyoto
This is another one of those places in Japan where one could spend their whole life. Instead of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, you will get a different kind of busy in Kyoto with people soaking in as much history and culture as possible. I recommend two days because there is so much to see and do, and transportation in Kyoto isn’t as efficient as Tokyo (although everything I recommend will be accessible by bus or train).
Fushimi-Inari Shrine in Kyoto
Temples: Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Temple), Kiyomizu-dera, Fushimi-Inari are my favorites, but can bring huge crowds due to their popularity. I would suggest Kinkaku-ji in the morning right when they open to ensure the serene feeling that goes with it.
Visiting Monkeys at Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Arashiyama: This area on the west end of the city is absolutely gorgeous. It offers stunning views of the Hozu River in which it sits alongside, as well as a nice hike up into the mountain alongside it to enjoy the scenic views and feed some monkeys. Don’t forget to take a nice stroll through the bamboo path and see Tenryu-ji temple.
(Tip: Try to do things in order of location, rather than popularity. I would suggest one day on the west side of town, first going to Kinkaku-ji in the morning, then to the Arashiyama area. Head to the Gion District at night for delicious foods and your chance at seeing the mysterious geisha. The next day hit the east side of town with Kiyomizu-dera and Fushimi Inari being the top priorities).
(Tip: There is an entire restaurant floor in Kyoto Station dedicated to ramen. It hosts different region styles of ramen from all over Japan, and is my go to stop for food when in Kyoto. There will be lines, get there early after researching what taste you want to try. Or wing it. You really can’t go wrong).
Optional Day Trip: Nara
Home of famously polite deer who bow to you before taking snacks and Todai-ji Temple (which holds one of the world’s largest Buddha statues). About 45 minutes by train south of Kyoto, and definitely worth a visit.
Day 7-8: Osaka
Osaka is known for its fresh foods, nightlife and shopping. When you get into Osaka Station please spend some time and explore this wonder. It isn’t called Osaka Station City for nothing: it is essentially a city and train station combined. Some popular sights around town are the Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium, which is the most impressive aquarium I have ever been to (and yes I have been to A LOT of aquariums), The Osaka Castle, and Universal Studios Japan.
Enjoy some of the local foods such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Okonomiyaki is cabbage, flour and veggies fried into a sort of pancake with sauce on top. Sounds weird, but trust me it’s delicious. Takoyaki is deep fried octopus balls with sauce on top, and my favorite is to ask for extra negi, or green onion.
(Tip: Ask for light sauce if you don’t want either of these dishes covered with a tangy sauce and mayo. Osaka is also famous for fresh herbs such as green onions, so if you are a fan of flavor pile them on top).
(Tip: If you are a fan of nightlife and shopping try to book your hotel near Namba or Osaka Namba station. This area offers a dense mix of shops, bars and restaurant with a friendly and lively vibe. Look hard enough and you can stumble into all sorts of ‘only in Japan’ type places, like a basement with a pond full of fish for you to try your luck at catching in order to win prizes).
(Tip: Go into Donquijote. Everything you could possibly need and more will be in the store at a great price. It is a great place for all kinds of gifts to bring back home. They are found all over Japan).
Day 9-10: Back to Tokyo
Back to the busiest city in the world! Enjoy the peace of the Shinkansen ride as you pass back through Kyoto, Nagoya and along the side of Mount Fuji before re-entering Tokyo. Like I said earlier, there is too much to see and do in this city for one lifetime. Some unique things I have found there have been an assortment of weird themed cafes like a robot cafe and animal cafes (owls, dogs, hedgehogs). If you are feeling really ambitious then head to the area surrounding Mt. Fuji. It is just a day trip away by bus or train (about ¥2000 and a little over 2 hours by bus). I suggest Kawaguchiko, or Lake Kawaguchi, as there are 36 different views of Fuji-San from around the lake.
(Tip- Stay in a different part of town this time. My favorites are Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, and Roppongi. These neighborhoods may seem very close to each other but they all offer something different and unique).
Enjoy your trip and safe travels!