Japan is not a country where you can just book a flight and then decide spontaneously where to go (accommodation should be booked in advance since hotels, hostels and guesthouses sell out quickly or get very expensive). For this reason I had to plan the whole trip in advance. We had 10 days on site and wanted to see as much as possible of the country. After browsing the Lonely Planet Japan and reading different blog articles, I came up with the following 10 day itinerary for Japan:
10 day itinerary for Japan
Tokyo [Day 1-3]
Our first stop of our 10 day itinerary for Japan was Tokyo. I was not sure in the beginning how much time to plan for the capital. I was afraid not to have enough time to see the major sights or to miss to try some of the great restaurants. In the end the 3 days were perfect and we didn´t feel like leaving too early.
On our first day we visited my company´s Japanese branch. I was curious to see the office and to meet my colleagues. The office is located close to Hanzomon station, so very central location. We went out for lunch with my dear colleague Yuko. She took us to a great noodle place, where we were sitting on the floor (and where the menu was available only in Japanese and without pictures). She told us that the restaurant is frequently visited by a very popular Japanese singer and that many fans come to this restaurant to order the same food that he is normally eating.
After lunch we went to Shibuya to see the famous and often photographed Shibuya Crossing where hundreds of people are crossing the street from all cardinal points at the same time. We strolled around Shibuya and then walked to the Yoyogi Park to see the Meiji Shrine. Definitely a highlight. It´s an oasis in the middle of the hectic Shibuya area.
Afterwards we walked to the Tokyo Metroolitan Government Building where we visited the free observation desk that offers a great 360° view over Tokyo. For the evening I made a reservation at Ninja Akasaka that turned out to be my gastronomic highlight in Tokyo. An absolute must experience! (I will write a separate article about it in the following days).
In the morning of our second day we had breakfast in the Ginza district, the shopping area of Tokyo. We walked up to the Tsukiji Fish Market, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. Me and my boyfriend both don´t like sushi, but if you are into it you can get the freshest sushi of your life! For hardcore sushi fans you can even order a sushi breakfast. But also if you don´t like sushi or fish at all it´s still very interesting to walk around the bustling market and to see all the different fish types and variations.
Afterwards we took the metro to Asakusa to visit the Buddhist temple Sensō-ji and to try some fried fish cake at Asakusa Menchi. Really tasty! You can see many Japanese couples here dressed up with a kimono.
For the afternoon we had tickets for the Grand Tournament of Sumo at Ryōgoku Kokugikan! I was really excited to see real sumo wrestling and it was a nice experience for sure! I loved the little rituals and ceremonies along the fights (for example they always throw salt before starting to fight). A huge crowd was queuing outside to get an autograph or a picture with wrestlers. They are treated like superstars! Since Sumo is the most popular sport in Japan tickets for the Grand Tournament sell out very quickly. I bought my tickets a few weeks before. You can check the schedule here.
For the evening we had a reservation for Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu the “Kill-Bill Restaurant”. It is very popular among tourists so you also need to make a reservation early in advance. The atmosphere is really cool, the restaurant looks like a little Japanese village inside. Prices are quite cheap for Tokyo and the quality is good (specialty are the grilled meat skewers).
On our last day in Tokyo we went to Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta to try it´s Michelin-Starred Ramen. You have to go early in the morning to get a ticket and then you come back later and queue. All the procedure took some time of our day. Read more about the experience in my article. After that we visited the Kagurazaka neighborhood that has it´s own nice and local atmosphere with many cafes and restaurants. It doesn´t really feel like Tokyo but more like a small lovely town. We continued to the Akihabara area to see the countless electronic shops, a mecca for Manga lovers. In the evening we visited the Tokyo Skytree (but didn´t go up) and it´s huge shopping mall.
My top 3 Tokyo Highlights
- Sumo Grand Tournament at Ryōgoku Kokugikan
- Tsukiji Fish Market
- Akihabara “Manga” district
- Ninja Akasaka offers a unique dining experience with Ninja magic and excellent food – my personal favourite!
- Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu also known as the “Kill-Bill Restaurant” (the famous movie scene “The Bride VS. Gogo and The Crazy 88’s” was filmed here)
- Michelin-Starred Ramen at Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta (read more here)
- Oak Hotel Edo is a new and very modern budget hotel with a good location to explore the city (the metro stop Morishita is 1min around the corner). The hotel is equipped with a nice terrace and a kitchen. We booked a twin room with shared bathroom. It was enough for what we needed. Everything was super clean. Our room had a sink and one of these high tech toilets ;). I would book the Oak Hotel Edo again!
Kyoto [Day 4-7]
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
We left Tokyo early on day 4 to go to Kyoto. The train ride is about 2,5 hours. After checking in at the Kyoto Morris Hostel we decided to directly go to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove which for me was my absolute top thing to see. We took a bus that was going directly there. Since the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a little far outside of the city, it took us almost 1 hour to get there. I saw a lot of pictures of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove before and was excited to see it. The reality is, that you can almost not take a picture without tourists ;). I was trying to imagine it without all the people and how peaceful it must be. I think even if you wake up at 5 you won´t be the only one.
There is another nice attraction just next door Arashiyama Bamboo Grove: Ōkōchi Sansō. It is the former house and garden of a Japanese film actor and really worth to visit if you are interested to see a traditional Japanese garden. The garden offers nice views. At the end of your visit you can relax in the cafe and get a free green tea and a little traditional Japanese cake. It was hard for us to figure out how to get back to the city center since the bus that brought us there for some reason was only going in one direction. We lost at least 2 precious hours in waiting, taking another bus and trying to get back to the city.
We arrived to the neighborhood of Gion in the late afternoon. Gion is the old and traditional area of Kyoto with wooden houses, wonderful illuminations at night and a special atmosphere. It´s also known for spotting Geishas (if you are lucky). The best moment to see a Geisha is around 5:00 pm when they normally are on the way to an engagement. They don´t like to be seen or photographed which is why they are really fast and walk on side streets. It was our lucky day because we saw 2 of them by coincidence. We were sitting on a small wall and reading in our Lonely Planet when they passed by. I was too slow to make a good picture though ;).
Afterwards we walked to the Taisanji temple. There is a nice street going up the hill with many shops and cafes. You can see a lot of Japanese dressed in kimonos. When we arrived to the temple gate unfortunately it was closed already. But instead we could see a beautiful sunset which made up for the walk.
My top 3 Kyoto Highlights
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (free entrance)
- Ōkōchi Sansō garden (~10€ entrance fee including a green tea and a traditional little Japanese cake)
- Gion neighborhood for Geisha spotting
- Zen Cafe is a wonderful cafe, designed like a traditional Japanese house with a shop, a Japanese garden and an art gallery. Prices are a bit higher but it´s worth! Try some Matcha cake, ice cream or the original Matcha tea and relax with nice views to the garden. It is a little oasis and a perfect place to rest and get some new energy after a sightseeing day.
- Cafe Bibliothek Hello! is a cosy and stylish cafe & bakery. Palm trees decorate the entrance. The cake and coffee is really good, but they serve a good lunch as well! It´s a nice place to relax, read a book or simply enjoy a good snack.
- Kyoto Morris Hostel was a great choice for our 4 nights stay in Kyoto. The hostel is really cool, super clean, modern and has a stylish design. We also booked a twin room here with shared bathroom (it´s really common in Japan to have shared bathrooms). A nice extra is that you can rent different pillows types for free. I can absolutely recommend the breakfast that is super cheap with ~ 4€ and had a nice selection of eggs, croissants (that you can heat up in a little mini-oven), pancakes, salads and even pana cotta. The offer is hard to beat (the breakfast selection in cafes is normally not huge and more expensive). The location is also good and you can walk to the main sights of the center. I really liked the neighborhood that had fancy boutiques and cafes.
Day Trips from Kyoto
Kyoto has a perfect location to see a lot around. We decided not to sleep every night somewhere else and to carry luggage, check in and out, … but to stay in Kyoto for 4 nights and then do a trip every day.
Nara [Day 5]
Nara is about 30-45 min away from Kyoto (depending on which train you take). The trains are very frequent. From the train station in Nara you have to walk 2 km to reach Nara Park. It is a public park and one of the oldest in Japan. The highlight are the almost 1200 deers that walk around free in the park and are considered to be messengers of god. They have become the symbol of Nara. The deers are very cute and you can feed them (deer cookies can be bought at some shops for around 1€). If the deers see that you have cookies they will most likely follow you.
The other highlight of the park is the Tōdai-ji Buddhist temple that houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana. The entrance is around 8€.
Kobe & Himeji [Day 6]
The next day we did a trip to Kobe (~50 min away from Kyoto) to try the real Kobe beef at Kobe Plaisir. Read more in my article about the whole Kobe experience. After the lunch in Kobe we continued by train to Himeji to see it´s famous castle. It was a super hot day so the walk to the castle and climbing up all the stairs inside was quite exhausting. The Himeji Castle was the most beautiful castle we saw in Japan!
Osaka [Day 7]
Osaka is a 30 min train ride away from Kyoto. We used our Japan Rail Pass to move around the city (read more about my travel tips for Japan here). From the Osaka Station we walked to the Umeda Sky Building to visit it´s Floating Garden Observatory. Afterwards we visited the Osaka Castle. The castle looks really similar to Himeji Castle which is why we decided not to go in. As a last highlight we strolled around Namba, a bustling area full of shops and people.
- Okonomiyaki Chitose is a little restaurant that offers the best Okonomiyaki in Osaka. The restaurant is located in a non-touristic area and you would never think that such a gem is hiding there. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese version of pancakes, mixed with meat, vegetables and/or seafood. The owner is preparing the Okonomiyaki with a lot of love. The tables are equipped with a cooking plate so you can heat up your Okonomiyaki as you like. The Okonomiyaki is served with mayo and/or with a delicious brown sauce. My boyfriend was in love with the Okonomiyaki. It was the best meal for him in Japan! There is a world map hanging in the restaurant where you can put a pin for your country (if it´s not there yet).
Miyajima Island & Hiroshima [Day 8]
We left Kyoto early to go to Hiroshima (about 1,5 hours train ride). After checking in at our hostel (which I cannot recommend this time since our room was smelling weird and it was not that clean like all others), we decided to go to Miyajima Island first. It is not so close so we had to take a tram, a train and then the ferry (we could use the ferry for free with the Japan Rail Pass). The ferry ride was quite fast and features nice views to Miyajima Island and the famous Itsukushima Shrine that is standing inside the water. Depending on the tide it is possible to walk to the Itsukushima Shrine but we were not lucky. Miyajima Island is a lovely island and home to deers as well. We walked around the island and made a nice coffee stop as well.
Afterwards we headed back to Hiroshima to visit the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It´s hard to describe the feelings when you see the pictures and when you read the fates of individuals. I don´t want to write more about it. Everyone should visit the museum in my opinion to get an idea of human cruelty.
Fujiyoshida [Day 8-9]
Our last stop of the 10 day itinerary for Japan was Fujiyoshida to see the Mount Fuji. I underestimated how long we would need to go there from Hiroshima which is why we spent almost all day travelling (6 hours to go back to Tokyo and then 2 more hours by bus). We couldn´t do much that day anymore so we decided to leave the sightseeing for the next day. In the morning we went to see the Shureito Pagoda. You have to walk up 400 stairs to get there, but the fantastic view to Mount Fuji makes up for it!
Afterwards we bought a bus ticket for the Fuji 5 Lakes tour. The ticket is about 12€ and you can hop on/hop off at every stop. We decided to buy the ticket for both the green and the red line. At some points of the lake you can see the Mount Fuji as well. It´s a nice activity to spend the day around the lakes.
- Maisan-chi Guesthouse & Cafe is a lovely guesthouse and turned out to be the best of our stay in Japan. The rooms were spacious (usually rooms are very small) and with a nice decoration. The best was the included breakfast: Freshly baked waffles with fruits and chocolates sauce or sirup. Yeah!!!
10 day itinerary for Japan – Summary
In the beginning I was afraid that 10 days would be too short to see the major highlights. But my 10 day itinerary for Japan was just right for a first trip to the land of the rising sun. We left with many impressions but we also felt that it was time to go home (I was missing potatoes and cheese :D). If I could change the plan now afterwards, I would have left a bit more time for Kyoto since we didn´t get to see more temples. But all in all I think the plan was perfect. If you want to take it more easy I suggest to take 2 weeks so you can do it more relaxed and also leave some space in between for resting.
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