I’d like to wrap up my Japan series by providing some itineraries based on my experience.
There is so much to see and do, so please note that these are just suggestions. So many things can change your plans: getting on the wrong train (never happened to us in Tokyo, but happened a dismaying amount throughout Osaka and Kyoto), visiting a temple on a day it’s closed, spending more time than expected at a particular place.
On that note, I’m also not going to flesh these out with how much time you should spend anywhere. People look for different things when they travel, and you’ll notice we skipped museums for the most part and spent a LOT of time at temples and shrines. It’s kind of ironic really, as I’m one of the least religious people ever. But I think Japan is covered fairly extensively in many museums worldwide (though of course perspective can be quite different) while seeing the temples and shrines are truly irreplaceable experiences.
I’ll also share some places I wish we’d had the time for. You can visit them if you have the chance, or swap them out for some sights you’re less interested in. These items will be in italics.
We grouped our attractions based on location for the most part, to minimize time spent going back and forth across the city. For the most part we were very successful, so this itinerary is pretty tried and tested.
If you have less time, the sights in Day 1 and 3 are roughly in the same larger area, so feel free to squash them together as needed, particularly if you begin your day early at Tsukiji. Or you can move something to the start of Day 2 before heading to Ueno. You can also skip Roppongi, Ueno Park (if you can get into Shinjuku Gyoen), Akihabara (if you’re not too into gadgets), Takeshita Street (unless you’re already passing through on the way to Shibuya).
Day 1 – Southeast Tokyo (Ginza and Chiyoda)
- Tsukiji Fish Market
- Imperial Palace
- Roppongi — enjoy the lively Tokyo atmosphere and food in this neighborhood
- Tokyo Tower
Day 2 – Northeast Tokyo
Day 3 – Shinjuku and Shibuya
- Shinjuku Gyoen (Garden)
- Meiji Shrine
- Takeshita Street (Harajuku)
- Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
If you have more time
- Ghibli Museum — in Mitaka, 30 minute train ride west of most Tokyo attractions
- Odaiba – man-made island on Tokyo Bay, with cool architecture, a ramen “theme park” in Aquacity Mall, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (interactive, futuristic, has robots!), and the lovely Rainbow Bridge
These lists contain the biggest attractions. However, since it was the capital of Japan for hundreds of years, Kyoto is rich in culture. Temples and shrines everywhere, atmospheric streets, it’s got everything. Take your time here!
You’ll mostly travel by bus and foot through Kyoto, with the exception of Arashiyama, which can be reached by train. Buses come fairly regularly–the Japanese are very punctual.
Day 1 – South
Day 2 – West
Day 3 – Higashiyama
If you have more time
- Kurama Onsen — the only hot spring within Kyoto
- Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion)
- Philosopher’s Path — don’t miss during cherry blossom season
Day trips, etc
- Hakone – a town of mountains and hot springs
- Mt Fuji – would likely need a few days especially if you want to hike
- Kamakura – famous for its giant Buddha. A friend highly suggested this for a great historic and cultural experience.
- Nara (possibly an overnight trip)
- Nara Park
- Todaiji Temple
- Kasuga Taisha
- Nara National Museum
- Isuien Garden
- Yoshikien Garden
- Osaka Castle
- Shitennoji Temple
- Umeda Sky Building
- Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
There is so much to Japan than is covered by this one short post. I hope you get some ideas! In the end, however you choose to explore and whatever you decide to see, I am sure you will enjoy your time in this wonderful country.