Embark on a captivating journey through the Land of the Rising Sun with our carefully curated 2-week Japan Itinerary for 2023. This comprehensive guide is designed to ensure an enriching experience for first-time visitors, encompassing the cultural wonders, vibrant cities, and scenic landscapes that Japan has to offer.
Explore to Tokyo (Day 1 – Day 5)
Tokyo, a sprawling and dynamic metropolis, presents an array of exciting possibilities. Navigating this vast city can be overwhelming, especially in the initial days of your trip. Before delving into the must-see attractions, let’s begin with some practical travel information to enhance your experience in Tokyo.
How to get to Tokyo?
Commencing in Tokyo, this Japan itinerary aligns with the common arrival points of international flights at either Haneda or Narita airports. Opting for Haneda is recommended due to its closer proximity to the city, offering a time-saving advantage, particularly for first-time visitors. Regardless of the airport chosen, transportation options include public transit, airport transfers, or taxis, with public transport emerging as a cost-effective and manageable choice, despite initial concerns.
Where to stay in Tokyo
For the initial six nights of your journey, staying in Tokyo provides logistical ease, particularly during the first five days dedicated to exploring the city. To streamline your experience and eliminate the need to carry luggage, it’s recommended to remain in the same hotel. Given Tokyo’s vastness, Shinjuku or Central Tokyo emerges as optimal choices for first-time visitors, offering both vibrancy and safety along with convenient access to transportation for exploring various attractions. For personalized recommendations:
- Shinjuku: Ideal for first-time visitors, consider Hotel Gracery Shinjuku.
- Asakusa: Suited for budget travelers, Hotel Sunroute Asakusa is a favorable option.
- Roppongi: For those seeking luxury, The Prince Park Tower Tokyo is an excellent choice.
Things to do in Tokyo
Given Tokyo’s immense size, capturing all its highlights in a few days is nearly impossible. Hence, this itinerary dedicates five days to exploring Tokyo, acknowledging that even a month wouldn’t suffice to uncover all the city has to offer. The plan delves into five key districts, each with its unique charm, along with additional suggestions for your Tokyo experience.
While some districts are adjacent and can be combined based on personal preferences, a comprehensive 6-day Tokyo itinerary is also available to guide your exploration (five days in the city, plus one day for a trip).
Commence your Tokyo exploration in one of the city’s most renowned districts: Shibuya. Even if your time in Tokyo is limited, allocating a visit to Shibuya is essential. This lively and dynamic neighborhood, serving as a hub for business and entertainment, captivates with its bustling streets, diverse restaurants, and vibrant storefronts.
- Shibuya Crossing: Embark on the quintessential Tokyo experience by traversing the iconic Shibuya Crossing, celebrated as the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection. The sheer energy and spectacle of this moment will undoubtedly evoke a distinct “I’m in Tokyo!” sensation.
- Coffee with a View: Post-crossing, head to the Starbucks located across the street. Order your coffee on the ground floor and secure a seat on the first floor for a prime vantage point overlooking the world-famous crossing.
- Hachiko Statue: Adjacent to Shibuya Station stands the Hachiko Statue, a poignant tribute to the loyal dog who waited for his owner at the station for years. A visit to this iconic statue is a must.
- Shopping in Shibuya: Explore Shibuya’s premier shopping destinations, including 109 (housing over 100 boutiques), Muji, UNIQLO, Shibuya MODI, Marui (OIOI), and more, offering a diverse retail experience.
- Shibuya Center Gai: As night falls, venture into Center-Gai, a vibrant pedestrian street that comes to life. Adorned with neon signs, bars, underground venues, and ramen shops, this is Tokyo’s youthful and energetic culture on display.
- Nestled between Shibuya and Shinjuku, near Harajuku station, Harajuku is renowned for its vibrant and eccentric fashion style that bears its name. Beyond the flamboyant fashion scene, Harajuku offers a range of experiences:
- Shopping in Harajuku: Immerse yourself in Harajuku’s unique fashion by exploring its boutiques and street fashion stores. For a concise shopping experience, focus on Takeshita Street and Omotesando Avenue, the main thoroughfares.
- Try the Famous Harajuku Crepes: Indulge your taste buds with the renowned Harajuku crepes, available at stands along Takeshita Street. With numerous flavors and fillings, these crepes are a delightful snack.
- Try Purikura: Experience Japan’s playful side with Purikura, whimsical photo booths that go beyond conventional Western photo booths. Capture pictures with cute filters, edit them, add stickers and text, and take home these personalized and charming souvenirs.
- Visit Meiji Shrine: Just behind Harajuku Station, the entrance to Meiji Shrine awaits. Pass through the grand wooden torii gate into a serene forest boasting 100,000 trees in the heart of Tokyo. Dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, the shrine’s path leads to the main shrine and features a striking wall adorned with empty sake barrels.
- Senso-ji Temple: Delve into Tokyo’s rich history by visiting Senso-ji Temple, the city’s oldest temple dating back to 645. The temple grounds boast exquisite buildings and gardens, establishing it as one of Japan’s premier landmarks.
- Try o-mikuji: Participate in the Japanese tradition of fortune-telling at Senso-ji by trying o-mikuji. For a fee of 100 yen, shake a wooden box until a numbered stick falls out, revealing your fortune, ranging from “very fortunate” to “a great curse.”
- Shop on Nakamise Street: Explore Nakamise Street, a vibrant 200-meter stretch outside the main temple filled with independent vendors offering souvenirs and snacks. It’s a delightful experience to browse through this bustling marketplace.
- Gyoen National Park: Amidst Shinjuku’s urban landscape, discover the oasis of Gyoen National Park. This verdant park features French, English, and Japanese gardens, along with pagodas, ponds, and teahouses. It’s a prime spot to witness the beauty of cherry blossoms in spring.
- Metropolitan Government Building: Ascend the 243-meter-tall Metropolitan Government Building, offering a free observation deck standing 202 meters high. On clear days, enjoy panoramic views, with Mount Fuji visible in the distance.
- Play Pachinko: Experience Japanese culture in Shinjuku’s arcades and Pachinko parlors. While Pachinko involves gambling, it operates within legal loopholes in Japan. While cautioning against excessive gambling, trying the game can be an entertaining experience.
- Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane): Explore the atmospheric Omoide Yokocho, a narrow alleyway famous for its seasonal decorations. Discover small eateries offering freshly grilled chicken skewers and delightful sake, creating a perfect culinary experience.
Known as “Electric Town,” Akihabara is Tokyo’s anime, manga, and video game hub. A visit on Sunday offers a unique experience as main streets are car-free. Explore retro video game stores for nostalgic finds, delve into multi-floor arcades, and consider a visit to a Maid Cafe for a distinctive Japanese encounter.
Extra Things to Do in Tokyo
Beyond the main itinerary, consider additional Tokyo delights:
- Visit the largest Pokemon Centre: Tokyo hosts three Pokemon Centres, a must-visit for gaming enthusiasts.
- See a life-sized Gundam at the Gundam Base: Witness the iconic Gundam statue outside the Gundam Base in Tokyo, a spectacle that moves every hour.
- Climb Tokyo Tower: Ascend Tokyo Tower, a renowned landmark offering panoramic views for a fee.
- Enjoy a view of Tokyo Tower at the Roppongi Art District: Opt for a spectacular view from Mori Tower in the Roppongi Art District.
- Stay in a capsule hotel for one night: Experience Japan’s unique accommodation style with a night in a capsule hotel.
Hakone (Day 6)
Embark on a day trip to Hakone, a serene escape from Tokyo offering scenic views, shrines, and hot springs. Explore Hakone Shrine with its impressive torii gate overlooking Lake Ashi. Take a gondola to Owakudani, the Boiling Valley, formed by a volcanic eruption 3,000 years ago. Don’t miss trying a black egg boiled in volcanic water, rumored to extend life.
Discover the charm of Hakone with these captivating experiences:
- Indulge in an Onsen Experience: Immerse yourself in the relaxing hot springs of Hakone, renowned for its onsen culture. Keep in mind that most onsens observe gender-separated, nude bathing traditions.
- Hakone Shrine: A must-visit in Hakone, the shrine named after the town boasts a stunning torii gate overlooking the picturesque Lake Ashi.
- Ascend Owakudani (Boiling Valley): Take a scenic gondola ride to the mountain summit near Hakone, where Owakudani, or the Boiling Valley, awaits. The landscape, shaped by a volcanic eruption 3,000 years ago, provides a unique and memorable experience.
- Savor a Black Egg: Venture into the volcanic zone of Owakudani to relish a black egg. Boiled in volcanic waters, these eggs derive their unique color from minerals. Legend has it that consuming one may extend your lifespan—a delightful experience worth trying, in my opinion!
Kyoto (Day 7 – 8)
Embark on a cultural journey as you spend two captivating days in Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan, adorned with shrines, temples, and historic Geisha districts.
Traveling to Kyoto
Efficiently reach Kyoto from Tokyo by boarding the high-speed Shinkansen, known as the bullet train, reaching speeds exceeding 300 km/h. The approximately 2.5-hour journey provides a swift and scenic transition.
Accommodation in Kyoto
For a two-night stay in Kyoto, opt for Downtown Kyoto, conveniently situated near the main train station and offering easy access to various attractions. Consider immersing yourself in Kyoto’s traditional ambiance by choosing a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Most Ryokans are found in Higashiyama, the enchanting old Geisha District.
Here are top recommendations:
- Fushimi Inari Taisha:
- Explore the iconic Fushimi Inari Taisha, renowned for its thousands of torii gates guiding you up Mount Inari. Begin your visit early to savor the serenity before the crowds arrive. The 2–3 hour hike promises a dream-like journey.
- Geisha Districts – Higashiyama and Gion:
- Discover Kyoto’s charm in the old Geisha districts of Higashiyama and Gion. Wander through countless temples, including the stunning Kiyomizudera Temple, old tea shops, and encounter real Geishas. Despite the touristy atmosphere, the experience is truly worthwhile.
- Kinkaku-ji Temple:
- Delve into the beauty of the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji Temple. While slightly off the beaten path, allocate a full morning or afternoon to appreciate this zen temple set in a picturesque garden. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s one of Kyoto’s gems.
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove:
- Marvel at the enchanting Arashiyama Bamboo Grove located in West Kyoto, one of the city’s most photographed spots. Open 24/7 and free to visit, this bamboo haven offers a serene and captivating experience.
- Wear Kimono:
- Embrace tradition by donning a kimono in Kyoto, one of the best places for this cultural experience. Rent a kimono for a few hours or a full day, and let professional dressers assist you. Wearing a kimono in Kyoto is a respectful appreciation of tradition.
- Dine on Pontocho:
- Conclude one of your evenings in Kyoto, preferably after exploring the Geisha districts, with a visit to Pontocho. This atmospheric alleyway offers a delightful dining experience. Even if seating is limited, a stroll through its captivating ambiance is highly recommended.
Osaka (Day 10 – 11)
Embark on a four-night stay in Osaka, a vibrant city south of Kyoto celebrated for its delectable street food, captivating aquarium, and the lively Dotonbori district. By choosing to remain in Osaka, conveniently situated for day trips to Nara and Kobe, you eliminate the hassle of moving suitcases.
Getting to Osaka
Take the shinkansen from Kyoto to Osaka, a swift journey of approximately 15-30 minutes covered by the JR Pass.
Accommodation in Osaka
Opting for a four-night stay allows for two full days of exploration in Osaka, as well as two day trips. Osaka offers reasonable accommodation prices compared to Tokyo and Kyoto. Consider the Sonezaki Luxe Hotel, our choice during the itinerary, known for its affordability, spaciousness, and comfort. Situated in a tranquil area close to the main train station, it provides a delightful stay.
Recommended Areas and Hotels in Osaka:
- Umeda/Kita (First-time visitors): Sonezaki Luxe Hotel
- Namba (Nightlife & food lovers): Karaksa Hotel Osaka Namba
- Shin-Osaka (Day trippers): Hotel Androoms Shin-Osaka
- Honmachi (Central Osaka, Budget Travelers): Super Hotel Honmachi
- Osaka Castle:
- Explore the iconic Osaka Castle, steeped in 16th-century history. Delve into its significance in unifying the country through the museum inside. The castle and its picturesque gardens are essential experiences.
- Immerse yourself in Shinsekai, a district developed during the National Industrial Explosion. The Tsutenkaku Tower, reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, offers panoramic views. For food enthusiasts, Shinsekai is a street food haven.
- Discover the heart of Osaka’s nightlife in the Minami District – Dotonbori. Neon signs, music, and the aroma of freshly cooked street food create a vibrant atmosphere. Don’t miss iconic landmarks like the Glico Man sign and the moving crab.
- Osaka Aquarium (Kaiyukan):
- Given Osaka’s proximity to the ocean, explore the impressive Kaiyukan, featuring 15 tanks, including a nine-meter-deep one. The aquarium offers a fascinating marine experience.
Nara (Day 12): Unveiling Ancient Charms
Embark on a captivating day trip to Nara after two days of exploring Osaka. Nara, a former capital in the 8th century, still boasts stunning temples and holds a special place in Japan’s history.
Getting to Nara
Board a train from Osaka, reaching Nara in a swift 30–40 minutes. This journey is conveniently covered by the JR Pass, ensuring a seamless transition.
- Nara Deer Park:
- Immerse yourself in the renowned Nara Deer Park, home to over 1,200 freely roaming deer. These friendly creatures bow to visitors and eagerly seek special deer crackers available around the park.
- Isuien Garden:
- Explore the exquisite Isuien Garden, nestled near Kofuku-ji temple. A prime example of a Japanese zen garden, Isuien Garden offers a serene escape. While there is an entrance fee, the experience is truly worth it.
- Todai-ji Temple:
- A visit to Nara is incomplete without exploring Todai-ji Temple. Recognized as the world’s largest wooden structure dating back to 752, the temple houses the colossal Daibutsu (bronze Buddha statue). The sheer magnitude of the building is awe-inspiring.
- Delve into the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kasuga-Taisha, renowned for its mesmerizing display of 3,000 stone lanterns leading to the entrance. This captivating shrine is a must-visit, adding to the allure of Nara.
Kobe (Day 13): Beyond Steaks to Scenic Splendors
Embark on a delightful day trip to Kobe from Osaka, renowned not only for its world-famous Kobe beef but also for a myriad of captivating attractions.
Getting to Kobe
Enjoy a scenic one-hour journey from Osaka to Kobe, easily covered by the JR Pass, ensuring a convenient and efficient travel experience.
- Indulge in Kobe Beef:
- Immerse yourself in the unparalleled culinary experience of Kobe beef, celebrated as the finest in the world. Specially selected and meticulously raised cattle contribute to this gastronomic delight, inviting you to savor the extraordinary flavors that come at a price but are undeniably worth it.
- Mount Rokko Ropeway:
- Ascend Mount Rokko by taking a cable car from Kobe. The panoramic views from the mountain’s summit offer a breathtaking panorama of the Hanshin Region, encompassing both Kobe and Osaka.
- Kobe Port Tower:
- Iconic and unmissable, the Kobe Port Tower stands as the city’s most famous landmark. Venture to the observation deck for a stunning vista that, on clear days, extends to Osaka and beyond.
- Sake Museum:
- Delve into the rich tradition of Japanese sake, a special rice wine, at the Nada Sake Museum. Given Kobe’s distinction as a top sake region, this museum not only offers a tasting experience but also provides insights into the art of sake production, allowing you to appreciate this renowned beverage even more.
Experience the diverse facets of Kobe, from its culinary delights to scenic wonders, making this day trip an unforgettable addition to your Japan itinerary.
Final Day (14) in Tokyo: Seamless Return from Osaka
Concluding this comprehensive two-week Japan itinerary, the final day sees a smooth return to Tokyo from Osaka, allowing flexibility for travelers with early flights.
Closing the Loop:
- Efficient Travel:
- The journey from Osaka to Tokyo takes approximately 2.5–3 hours, ensuring a convenient return to the capital city. The intentional openness of this day accommodates varying departure schedules, offering a hassle-free transition.
- Extended Tokyo Exploration:
- If time permits, seize the opportunity to delve deeper into Tokyo’s vibrant offerings. Whether exploring uncharted neighborhoods, revisiting favorite spots, or indulging in last-minute shopping, this additional day allows for a more leisurely conclusion to your Japanese adventure.
- Strategic JR Pass Use:
- Consider optimizing your travel expenses by acquiring a one-week JR Pass. Activate it on day 7 when embarking from Tokyo to Kyoto, strategically covering the two longest train rides in the itinerary (Tokyo–Kyoto and Osaka–Tokyo), along with various smaller trips throughout the journey.
As you bid farewell to Japan, this flexible approach ensures a seamless and tailored conclusion to your enriching two-week exploration of the Land of the Rising Sun.
2 Week Japan Itinerary: Frequently Asked Questions
1. How much does a two-week trip to Japan cost?
- On average, a two-week trip for two people costs around $6,100. This includes accommodation, meals, transportation, and activities. The cost can vary based on preferences and spending habits.
2. Is it necessary to rent a car in Japan?
- Renting a car is generally unnecessary due to Japan’s efficient public transportation. Consider JR Passes, regional rail passes, or reloadable cards like Suica for cost-effective and convenient travel.
3. What is the best time to visit Japan?
- Spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) are popular for pleasant weather. However, Japan offers unique experiences year-round, including winter onsens and summer festivals.
4. How much cash should I carry in Japan?
- While Japan is becoming more cashless, having cash is advisable. Small, locally-owned places may not accept cards. Consider carrying around $100 per day and more in rural areas.
5. Are JR Passes worth it?
- JR Passes can be cost-effective, especially for longer journeys. Activate the pass strategically to cover major routes, ensuring value for the one-week duration.
6. What are essential cultural etiquettes?
- Respectful gestures include placing money on trays when paying, learning basic phrases, and adhering to proper etiquette in shrines and temples. Understanding customs enhances the travel experience.
7. Can I use public transportation easily without knowing Japanese?
- Yes, public transportation is user-friendly with English signage. Consider using translation apps or learning basic Japanese phrases for added convenience.
8. What are recommended travel accessories?
- Essential items include a Suica/Pasmo card, comfortable slip-on shoes, handkerchief-sized towels, and translation tools like Google Lens. Research and choose a suitable rail pass based on your travel plans.
9. How many days should I spend in each city?
- Allocate at least a week to truly experience Tokyo. Spend two days in Kyoto to explore its cultural richness. Osaka offers a dynamic experience in four days, and day trips to Nara and Kobe enhance the itinerary.
10. How flexible is the itinerary for individual preferences?
- The itinerary offers flexibility, allowing adjustments based on personal interests and travel pace. Tailor it to match your preferences, ensuring a personalized and enriching experience throughout your stay in Japan.
Conclusion – Two Weeks In Japan
In conclusion, this meticulously crafted two-week Japan itinerary offers a harmonious blend of vibrant urban exploration, cultural immersion, and scenic day trips, providing travelers with a diverse and unforgettable experience in the Land of the Rising Sun. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the historic tranquility of Kyoto and the culinary delights of Osaka, this itinerary ensures a well-rounded journey through Japan’s rich tapestry of tradition and modernity.